Drop Everything and Read

At a minimum I have four tabs open (one for general use, one with my to-do list, one for tweetdeck, and one for my RSS reader). Right now I have 35. Some of those tabs have been open for weeks, waiting for me to do whatever it is I was planning to do with them. At some point this begins to cause low-grade panic on a regular basis because something could go wrong and I could lose all those tabs. They could just not show up when I open my browser one day! Then all that potential could be lost. I’m sure there are healthier ways to go through life but I know who I am.

This morning I am finally prioritizing sharing some of the pieces I’ve kept open for far too long. I won’t say I haven’t had time for this before now. Dean Shareski convinced me some time ago that we have time for whatever we are willing to prioritize. I haven’t prioritized this. I am now.

That face on the left? That’s me.

Nearly a month ago Amal Giknis wrote a piece that would have been more useful if I’d shared it then, at the start of the school year. Read it now and hang on to the ideas for next year, but also the bigger ideas of how much our identities matter and how we need others to truly see us. Being an elementary school teacher makes learning students’ names a little easier as I usually have about twenty to learn. By the end of the first day I’ve got their first names down, although I may still be working on pronunciation. (I’ll admit that with six weeks behind us I still don’t have their last names memorized.)

I tell them all about my name.
What it means and what it means to me.
Why my parents gave it to me, and how their story shapes mine.
How it’s pronounced and how it’s often mispronounced.
My conflicted choice to change my name when I got married.
And how I dreaded the first day of school when teachers would mess up my name.
About the same time, Leslie Doyle wrote White Power Signalling, and “Pretending’ to Take the Mean Pills. I’ve never seen the Casper the Friendly Ghost episode she references and I’m grateful for that. But her analogy is strong.She writes about the white power signal that has been seen in images and videos fairly often lately and how frequently the response is that it was just a joke.
But let’s think about that. What actually is the difference between pretending to flash a white supremacist message, and really doing so? Who would take ownership of that message who didn’t assent to it at some level?
I have never met Leslie in person but reading her words always makes me think I know her. She is a phenomenal writer so please don’t take my synopsis here on its own.
Nate Bowling is another I haven’t had the chance to meet in person but am so glad to get to know through his writing. I live in Virginia which is “Right to Work” state so strikes are something foreign to me. His piece, A Tacoma Teacher Strike Reflection, was a window for me into a world I don’t know but also a powerful reflection on our profession in many ways. He writes to the community (families, other public servants, and students. Nate sees the profession in the context of the community and society. He recognizes the reasons the strike challenges that and supports that.
Someday I hope to be in the same physical space as Sherri Spelic. Her presence on twitter is such a gift. She lifts others, she asks important questions, and she brings people into conversations. This piece, Anti-Racist Parenting While White: An Inquiry would have sat open in a tab even if I weren’t planning to share it in some way because I needed it to sit with me. I needed to go back to it again and again. The responses to her questions in this piece are fascinating and thought-provoking but the questions themselves are the real gut punch as a white parent. I should have them hanging everywhere around me as a reminder.
How do you talk to your child or children about racism? What led you to open or continue the conversation?
What have you learned from your child or children about their understanding of race and racism? Under what circumstances have they shared their experiences which involved racial aspects?
What have been the most challenging barriers you’ve encountered in attempting to lay an anti-racist foundation in your child’s life or children’s lives?
Please tell us a success story of anti-racist parenting.
Read those again. Let them sink in. Let them become a part of who you are and your daily thinking.
Be the Lighthouse from Julia Torres spoke to me for several reasons.
As they say, the devil is in the details.  For me, the most important detail is making sure children are not forgotten in all the shuffling, re-shuffling, and adult chaos that bubbles up at the beginning of the year.
Two decades into teaching and I have learned to recognize the people for whom this is true. The people who are ‘making sure children are not forgotten’. That sounds a little silly but it is amazing how easy it is for the children to be forgotten in the midst of everything it takes to do these jobs.
Changing lanes will force you to realize your limitations.
If you’ve spent many years teaching the same grade level, the same content, you will not understand this. Realizing your limitations is an important thing to do. Changing lanes forces you to be a better teacher.
And this idea of being a light-house, wow…
Being a teacher-librarian who needs to be a lighthouse for everyone to find safe harbor, rather than just a select few, is challenging….
I’ve also realized that as teachers we have academic content and skills to teach, but also social-emotional learning skills and content. When I work on the balance between the two I will always err on the side of the social-emotional learning. I just hadn’t realized my goal to ‘be a lighthouse’ for my students to find safe harbor and to help them become their own light-houses.
 Asking questions is critical, in my mind, to being a learner and growing. So it isn’t surprising that this post from Michelle Haseltine was one I wanted to reread. Her questions range from ones that seem fairly straightforward:
How can I find a way to better organize their notebooks?
to ones that really made me stop in my tracks:
Why do I do what I’m doing in the classroom?
Her questions about grading and tests are ones I think about a lot. As well as her questions about balance. I’m with her on the importance of asking questions, even if we don’t have answers. Yet.
Just this morning I read Zac Chase’s piece I Bet Killing a Mockingbird Wouldn’t Be So Bad. When I first began reading it reminded me of the work being done around #DisruptTexts on twitter. Brilliant work and a hashtag well worth following. Zac examines why we teach To Kill a Mockingbird and whether or not those reasons make it worth it. (Spoiler alert, they don’t, at least not if we’re requiring students to read it.)
These are not the lessons we would explicitly teach children. If this is so, then we must be more on guard against implicitly passing these ideas along as truths. What goes unexamined or is understood as condoned through silence shapes how our students understand and interact with one another and the world.
Read Zac’s post, but also jump on the #DisruptTexts hashtag on twitter and see how much more there is to think about and examine when it comes to the texts we are assigning students.
Finally, the past few weeks have been emotionally very difficult for me. For many of us. As a woman and as a rape survivor this has been demeaning, punishing, and disheartening. This morning Shanna Peeples lifted me up.
This is hard and it will get harder. It will break your heart over and over, like everything we love will do. But as Leonard Cohen reminds us, the cracks in our brokenness are how the light gets in.
The light has been hard to see. The reminder that it is still there, that we are the light, that together we can shine it brighter than before, was a reminder that I desperately needed.
I’ve had an RSS reader for more than a decade. But it still amazes me how much learning, thinking, and joy that tool brings into my life. None of the people here are in my day-to-day life in person. I do see some of them sometimes, but none of them regularly. Several I’ve never met. But they all have touched me and helped me through sharing themselves in their writing.

4 replies on “Drop Everything and Read”

  1. garystager says:

    A wise Australian colleague taught me that there is no such thing as a right-to-work state. Every man and woman has a fundamental human right to withhold their labor. Otherwise, we are slaves.

    • jenorr says:

      I might have questioned this a year or so ago, but having watched teachers strike in right-to-work states has proven this is true. And I am grateful to and have immense respect for those teachers. I am also grateful to be in a situation in which I don’t feel the need to withhold my labor. If I taught in DC or Baltimore (both of which were considerations at one time for me) I might feel differently. I am lucky.

  2. garystager says:

    “Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.” – Deborah Meier

Leave a Reply