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, November 29, 2011

Taking Action

I am still digesting all the professional development I consumed at the NCTE convention.  I am still looking for ways to make the feeling of inspiration last as long as possible, to let the best practices I absorbed soak deep into my teacher soul.

So far, the words that keep resonating in my head and in my heart are Jeff Wilhelm’s: “I don’t know about you, but I want my teaching to matter.” 

Wilhelm reminded me in 6 words why I get up every morning and head to work.  He urged me not to let myself “off the hook.”  He pushed me to keep fighting against being rendered ineffective by mandates and initiatives that seem to be in direct conflict with teaching that matters. 

I am clinging to his words with everything I’ve got.

I returned to school last Tuesday, after 5 days of NCTE Convention bliss, with Wilhelm’s words on my mind.  To my surprise (and delight), a former student came to visit me after school.  A visit from a former student is a great way to be reminded that my teaching matters!

One of the perks of teaching 8th grade: High school students actually miss it and bother to come back around to say so.  Sadly, one of the main reasons high school students miss 8th grade: High school sucks.  Seriously, I am not just saying that because it seems like a popular attitude to adopt. 

Me: So how’s school?

Visiting Student: Nobody recommends books to me anymore.  My English teacher doesn’t like to read.  She only reads magazines.  When I asked her what I should read, she said, ‘Read your math book and do your homework.’

Me:   {then hopeful} What are you writing?

Visiting Student: Nothing, but my teacher said that we might start an essay on To Kill a Mockingbird next week.

Me:   {deflated of all hope}

Unfortunately, the conversation I had with Tuesday’s visiting student went much the same as conversations I have had with 6 other former students since the start of this school year (BTW, all 7 of these students are in honors classes). 

Although I wish I could do more to enact change in my district’s approach to high school English (personally, I would start by hiring Deb Day—it would be a long commute, but it would be worth it), I decided to at least do something small: I started another blog!  I figure if high school English teachers won’t recommend books; that is at least one thing I can do.  I am still working on getting word out to as many former students as possible, but I have to start somewhere. 

Now, I just have to figure out what kind of blog would nudge them to keep writing…


  1. I have had similar experiences Christy, but I've also recommended to the students that they push harder to demand more from their classes. Sometimes they make connections and it works! Thanks for Wilhem's words and telling us what's keeping you going. It's so wonderful you've started a blog about books for those students. I hope you'll tell us how it's going. And perhaps we can recommend books to you to tell them? There are so many! Happy blogging!

  2. Why is that? I don't think it can be a teaching strategy that high school teachers have. Is it an acquired apathy? Do they not get the inspiring workshops that elementary and middle school teachers get? Are they protecting themselves personally from the antagonistic teens? I've often thought that it would be great to go back to teaching h.s. like you teach elementary students. Why not the "hands on"? Why not the caring? They are still kids. I like that myself...and I'm an adult. We need more caring, compassionate (not babying) high school teachers. There are some, but not enough. And we lose kids then. Why bother any more if your teacher doesn't even have a spark of creativity and desire to learn? I think the blog is a great way to support your former students...and others who may be floundering. Why not make a SOL blog for them to contribute to and encourage their writing that way?

  3. Thanks for the compliment, Christy. If we could start a school with all the great teachers we have met through TWT it would be a fabulous place. As far as high school teachers go, I had the same impression until I moved to the high school. I have found the good ones. I think one problem is that many times PD and workshops are geared more to elementary and middle school. And, believe it or not, it's not always easy to adapt those things.

    On the other hand, I know many teachers at all levels who don't read and write. How can you teach if you don't do those things????

    I feel a blog post coming on

  4. It's great to see the added comments from Donna & Deb. See what you've done, Christy! I told a teacher I just conferred with about this post & your new blog. She requested I send it on! Thanks so much for doing!

  5. ohhh, your former student's description of high school English breaks my heart! I can't imagine a teacher not having any recommendations / basically telling a student not to read! Your new blog sounds like just what these kids need -- perhaps you and they can form your own little blogging community about books! Please post about it once it's gotten off the ground. You should be proud of yourself for doing what you can to inspire these students to keep reading and writing!

  6. Thanks for all of your comments! I suppose I should have included a disclaimer: I wholeheartedly believe that our district's mandates set our high school teachers up to exist in a culture of assigning rather than teaching. The pacing and curricula are really prescribed, and not very deep. Maybe a few teachers like it that way, but I am guessing a whole lot of them would prefer to be more effective!

  7. Very cool book blog, Christy. I will share it with teachers, and not just for the great reviews and information, but your thinking about the importance of recommending books to kids. Thank you for taking action on your own terms. :)

  8. You certainly do make your teaching matter! What a great idea to have a place for kids to check out books to read. Your energy for this project is inspiring. My mind is spinning.

  9. What a powerful quote to have in your head from Wilhelm. May I suggest artsying (Yes, that's now a word!) it up and putting it in a frame. Put it on your desk at home or in a prominent place at school. Remind yourself of his words to live by every day. (I've found this has helped me when I want to hold fast to something.)
    Off to check out your other, NEW blog.

  10. Christy, look at this! Might be helpful. http://www.readwritethink.org/parent-afterschool-resources/podcast-series/text-messages-recommendations-adolescent-30214.html.

  11. Bravo to you. You are impressing your students that a reading life is important. Yeah for you new blog. I'm checking it out now and will share with my daughter who is always looking for great book recommendations. Sooooo glad to have met you. :)MHG

  12. Christy, that is just awesome! And your "kids" will love you for it! It's a way to connect! I can't wait to check it out too! Even as an elementary school teacher, I love keeping up with MG and YA novels. I think I missed out on that when I was a kid because I was told what to read. Thanks for being an inspiration to students old and new!

    I'm sure you'll think of an idea for that writing blog . . .if you build it, they will come -- to write!

  13. Christy-about the verse novels. I will start a list & send it to you. I have some others at school when I wrote the post & couldn't remember their titles. They are amazing to me, too! Want to thank you for you continuing comments. I think we'd make great team teachers!

  14. How sad! My kids have experienced same in their high school years. If your experience deflats ya, try reading this experience of mine with a high school teacher. http://thethingsweread.blogspot.com/2011/03/2011-slice-of-life-challenge-21-out-of.html