a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thank You

I have been following the Two Writing Teachers blog for quite some time.  However, it wasn’t until long after I started silently stalking the site (in the shyest and least creepy way possible) that I realized I actually already owned a book by Stacey Shubitz, one of the “Two Writing Teachers.” 

Very recently, I pulled this book out again: Deal With It! Powerful Words from Smart,Young Women by The Extended Day Girls with Stacey Shubitz and Christina L. Rodriguez.  This book was just the reminder I needed that you don’t need to be a teacher who is portrayed on the big screen by Hilary Swank to make an impact on students (my apologies if my bitterness is actually palpable here). 

My self-invented intervention class, which we currently call 25 Voices Strong, did not get off to a flying start this year (to put it mildly), and I needed support. 

The basic premise is that by using the ID Program, developed for 9th grade students by Dr. Alfred Tatum, as the foundational structure of this 8th grade language arts class, I would be able to take students who are able to think at an advanced level (even though their performance on standardized tests does not reflect that ability) and use edgy, relevant, rigorous materials to re-engage them with text, with their own voices, and eventually with school.  The advanced nature of the program is partially to boost the academic self- esteem of each of these students and partially to help increase literacy skills at an accelerated rate to make up for lost time.  Because the program is designed to be delivered in a much shorter time period than an entire school year, I am doing a lot of inventing as I go, and my confidence is easily shook.

Within the first few weeks of class, this note was anonymously left behind on a desktop:

I am a fan of the line from the movie Toys about fighting fire with marshmallows.  So, my response was to start class the next day by sharing my genuine, sincere excitement over my discovery of evidence that someone in the class really gets what the program is about.  Everyday we recite a mantra (as part of Tatum’s program) that includes a line about writing unapologetically.  I shared the piece of writing and celebrated how brave and “unapologetic” it was. 

Much to my surprise (and secret delight), a student spoke up and claimed the piece. 

That day, another note was left behind:

 *note: the text to which the student is referring today is the poem "Chop, Chop" by Dr. Alfred Tatum, who grew up in the projects in Chicago

The following day, a third note:

As long as the notes were coming, as brutal as they were, I knew I was getting somewhere because the lines of communication were open.  Somehow, this student felt safe sharing his voice with me.  That is, until the brother the author of these notes idolized told him writing was “gay,” and his notes ceased.

This past weekend, I reread Stacey’s book.  I wondered why Hilary Swank never played her on the big screen (though with Stacey as inspiration, Swank’s performance would blow the other one away).  And I reminded myself of the power of words and what an impact a good teacher is truly capable of making (even in the absence of an invitation from Steven Spielberg, mind you). 

I walked into class on Monday armed with the strength of this knowledge. 

The student who previously let his voice be heard in (not so anonymous) notes, decided to speak up in a new way: “Hey guys, shut up!”  “I have an example to share!”  “Q, sit down!”

Was it my attitude?  Was it something his brother had said?  I am not sure what inspired this student to use his leadership powers for good, not evil, all of a sudden, but I do know what inspired me to stay hopeful and centered on a Monday afternoon.  Thank you, Stacey.


  1. Hang in there Christy. You are the voice they need to hear. This year will be a challenge, but you will be stronger for it.

  2. Thanks for sharing the notes; they showed a lot. I admire you for your resistance to giving up and your persistence to keep looking for what works. The book looks great. I didn't know about it, so thanks for telling us about it. Best wishes for many more minutes of good times!

  3. Wow. That really could be a movie. Stay strong and confident. Remind your self that you are doing "good" for them. You certainly aren't doing damage!! Forge ahead. Keep inventing. Don't be discouraged though, with two steps forward and one step back...or even two. It sounds like there is some engagement already taking hold.

  4. Christy, this is awesome! One child at a time. I can't imagine how hard this intervention class must be for you. It is so hard to stay excited and enthusiastic when students don't "get it". Good for you for staying with it. And hurrah for your student for bravely leaving you notes and finding his voice.

    Hang in there--keep this post handy. so the next time you are doubting what you are doing, you can reread it and know that you are making a difference!

  5. Christy,
    Thanks for the kind words you had about Deal with It. It was truly a labor of love. I hope that it continues to provide inspiration to you for all of the things you will accomplish as a teacher this year and beyond.