The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society Fall 2012, Volume 49, Number 1
Inside this Issue: Stories from our Classrooms: Nicole Piasecki Amy Braziller Mike Wenk Tiffany Schaab Dedra Montoya Tanna Shontz
A Conversation Between Three Literacy Educators
Karen Hartman Erica Rewey Jay Stott
In Favor of Argumentation by Debra Houser
Columns: YA Literature by Jill Adams
Stories Will Keep Us Human by Philippe Ernewein
Todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Not the Day by Meredith Collins
Star Spangled by Josh Curnett
Fall 2012 Issue Artwork: Fairview High School, Boulder “Bag Head” by Izzy Deluca Vierra (cover) “Reputation” by Madison Webb (p. 6) Untitled by Lauren Davis (p. 10) “Faceless Stress” by Monika Franaszczck (p. 13) “Dresses and Dinosaurs” by Shawna Gustafson (p. 17) “Water Fall” by Nancy Stone (p. 24) “Absolutely” by Keaton Brown (p. 30) “Confusion” by Eddie Christensen (p. 32) Teacher: Michael Jaramillo Jaramillo explained: The pieces completed in pen and ink had to do with some type of teenage social issue. Some examples of these teen social issues are insecurity, stress from school work, and bullying. The pieces in prisma colors are recreating a dream and trying to better understand the subconscious. All of these pieces focus on building one’s visual language by communication through art.
The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society Fall 2012, Volume 49, Number 1
They’re Not Widgets. They’re Human Beings by Sarah M. Zerwin................................................................................................................................... 4 ELA in the 21st Century: Stories Will Keep Us Human by Philippe Ernewein................................................................................................................................ 6 YA Literature: What’s the Best Young Adult Novel You’ve Read Lately? by Jill Adams............................................................................................................................................. 9 Middle Level ELA: Today’s Not the Day by Meredith Collins................................................................................................................................. 11 Before the Bell: Star Spangled by Josh Curnett....................................................................................................................................... 31
Feature Articles: Stories from Our Classrooms Changing Course by Nicole Piasecki.................................................................................................................................. 12 A Tale of Two Writing Teachers by Amy Braziller and Mike Wenk........................................................................................................... 14 The Reason I Teach by Tiffany Schaab................................................................................................................................... 16 Spencer by Dedra Montoya................................................................................................................................. 19 Teaching is Not for Sissies by Tanna Shontz...................................................................................................................................... 20 A Conversation Between Three Literacy Educators with Karen Hartman, Erica Rewey, and Jay Stott............................................................................... 22
Thinking about Teaching In Favor of Argumentation by Debra Houser..................................................................................................................................... 28
Resources Call for Submissions.................................................................................................................................. 2 Guidelines for Contributors...................................................................................................................... 3
Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
Call For Submissions Statement is published two times a year and is one of the benefits of being a member of the Colorado Language Arts Society. The mission of Statement is to advance the teaching and learning of English Language Arts in Colorado. While we welcome readership beyond the Centennial State and we encourage submissions from outside of Colorado, what makes our publication most relevant for our members is content which addresses the interests and issues of Colorado teachers.
Theme for Spring 2013 Issue: Our Role in the Digital Age
In Sherry Turkle’s latest book about social identity in the digital age, “Alone, Together,” she addresses her view of today’s interpersonal landscape with one concise statement, “We expect more from technology and less from each other.” As teachers, our daily interactions with students are part of a continuously morphing social climate that reaches beyond the classroom and home to include the virtual world as a third space. The internet has given birth to many children: social networking, virtual reality, gaming environments, and e-classrooms to name a few. In the midst of all of this change, we must ask ourselves about the shifting role of teachers in the 21st century. Do our roles as traditional teachers compete with or work in unison alongside what was simply known as the “internet” yet now has so many different (and more specific) names? We teachers are a part of a shrinking middle class. There are many entities that would vilify us or use us as scapegoats, and every day we face unique challenges. One ongoing conversation as we rise to meet these challenges is how we, as part of a larger system of education, can keep up with the rapid pace of change in 21st Century communications, interactions and information sharing. What is the current and future role of teachers in the modern world? Can we still be caregivers if kids respect authority less and value independence more? As the world changes, what opportunites and challenges come with living in a virtual world? Does society still support and encourage traditional learning if, in many other areas of life we, along with our students are “alone together” in the digital age? Where do we stand in the conversation about the effectiveness and validity of eLearning? What possibilities are there for virtual teaching when classrooms are filled beyond capacity, and educators are pushed beyond the limits of human endurance? Deadline: March 1, 2013.
Recurring Topics for Articles
The theme is only one source of inspiration for contributors. Statement is also seeking articles that address a variety of topics, especially written by Colorado teachers, but also from writers who can speak with authority about current issues or best practices in ELA. Contributors may wish to consider: Teaching ideas Quick teaching tips Current issues Interviews Outstanding lesson plans Vignettes from the classroom Book reviews Technology Expressive writing by Colorado teachers Reviews of professional research
Submission of Photos and Artwork
We are always seeking original artwork or photos: classroom images, Colorado scenes, artistic representations, etc. We value contributions from youth and adults equally. We also enjoy featuring the work of professional Colorado artists. Please send images to the editor as a jpeg attachment. Student work must be accompanied by a “permission to publish” form signed by a parent (available on Statement’s website at https://www.CLASstatement.org). 2
Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
Visit CLAS and Statement On-Line CLAS: http://clastalk.ning.com/ Find information about: • conferences and workshops • publications • grants • CLAS membership • licensure updates • updates on state standards and assessments And find inspiration by connecting with colleagues from across the state! Statement: https://CLASstatement.org Read this issue and prior issues and find information about: • calls for submissions • submitting artwork • becoming a reviewer
Guidelines for Contributors Formatting Issues and Submission Process Submissions to Statement should be in MLA style, using in-text documentation with a list of works cited if needed. Documents should be single-spaced and formatted in Word. Charts, graphs, or illustrations should be sent as separate files. Manuscripts should adhere to the “Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language” which can be found on the NCTE website at: http://www.ncte.org/about/over/positions/category/ lang/107647.htm. Statement is a refereed journal, meaning that at least two outside reviewers will read each submission. Once the manuscript has been accepted, the editor may consult with the writer regarding revisions and may share comments from the editorial board as an aid to revision. In light of deadlines, we reserve the right to make minor revisions or formatting decisions. Because we recognize that many of our contributors are not
professional writers but instead actual educators, we will collaborate with contributors to ensure that the article meets the personal standards of the writer as well as the high standards of our readership. In the body of the email which contains the attachment of the manuscript, include the title of the piece, author’s name, author’s job title, affiliation or place of employment, city, state, email address, and website (if there is one). Also include a statement verifying that the manuscript has not been submitted or published anywhere else. Contributors will receive an email acknowledgement once the manuscript has been submitted. Please direct all inquiries or submissions to the editor, Sarah M. Zerwin, at email@example.com. Also see Statement’s website at https://www.CLASstatement.org.
Editorial Information Statement Editorial Board Members Jessica Cuthbertson District Coach, Secondary Literacy Aurora Public Schools, Aurora
Julie Meiklejohn English Language Arts Teacher East Otero School District, La Junta
Katheryn Keyes Instructional Coach Adams 50, Denver
Vince Puzick K-12 Literacy Coordinator Colorado Springs School District #11
Shari VanderVelde Writing Consultant and Coach Mesa County Valley District 51, Grand Junction
Mark Overmeyer Elementary Literacy Coordinator Cherry Creek Schools, Denver
Editor-in-Chief Sarah M. Zerwin Language Arts Teacher Boulder Valley School District firstname.lastname@example.org
Online Assistant Editor Julia Barrus Language Arts Teacher Adams 12 Five Star Schools email@example.com
Before the Bell Josh Curnett English Language Arts Teacher Singapore American School Singapore firstname.lastname@example.org
Becoming Better ELA Teachers Gloria Eastman Associate Professor of English & English Education Metropolitan State College of Denver email@example.com
ESL in ELA YAL Update Columnist Needed Marge Erickson Freeburn University of Colorado, Denver Marge.Erickson@ucdenver.edu Elementary ELA Jill Adams Columnist Needed Metropolitan State College, Denver firstname.lastname@example.org
ELA in the 21st Century Phillipe Ernewein Dean of Faculty Training & Development Denver Academy www.rememberit.org Middle Level ELA Meredith Collins Language Arts Teacher Cherry Creek School District FmtheSidelines@yahoo.com
Statement, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, is published two times a year. ISSN: 1085-2549. The subscription price is included in the CLAS membership dues. Single copies are $10.00. To join CLAS, visit www.clastalk.ning.com. Reproduction of material from this publication (excluding poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction) is authorized if: a) reproduction is for educational purposes; b) copies are made available without charge beyond the cost of reproduction; and c) each copy includes full citation of the source and lists Statement as the original publisher. Address other requests for reprint permission to the editor. Statement is a member of the NCTE Information Exchange Agreement. The Colorado Language Arts Society opposes discrimination against any person and promotes equal opportunities for access to its activities and publications.
Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
They’re Not Widgets. They’re Human Beings. by Sarah M. Zerwin, Editor
In Making Stories: Law, Literature, and Life, Jerome Bruner explains, “We are so adept at narrative that it seems almost as natural as language itself” (Bruner 3). We order our world, our lives, our memories through story. Stories do not only present models of the world (25), but they provide models of how we think of the world, how we “seek to give it meaning” (27)--and then, of how we could think of the world by imagining other possibilities for it. In this way, stories actually have the power to dictate how we see the world: “we come to conceive of a ‘real world’ in a manner that fits the stories we tell about it” (103). Bruner continues, “but it is our good philosophical fortune that we are forever tempted to tell different stories about the presumably same events in the presumably real world” (103). Our temptation to tell these different stories is important because if only one story is told about a certain aspect of the human experience, then that one story defines that human experience. That one story--what Bruner calls “the tyranny of the single story” (103)--defines what is canonical about that human experience. But if we also tell alternate stories, this can actually change what is canonical: stories “[have] the power to change our habits of conceiving what is real, what canonical” (94). Stories order our world, define our world, and reflect how we think of our world.This is powerful--so powerful that simply telling a different story about some life experience can actually change what that life experience means and can actually change how people think about that life experience. That is what this issue of Statement is all about. There is a dominant story out there right now that the world tells about schooling. The world codifies this dominant story in full-length documentary films, in sound bites from political campaigns, in lawmakers’ arguments for policies that affect the daily lives of students and teachers in classrooms, in media reports seldom contextualized in actual classrooms. And it’s a story that has traction: American students are falling behind the rest of the world! Public schools are dangerous! Teachers are lazy and overpaid! The sky is falling! Yes I have horribly oversimplified a conversation that is so complex I can hardly see it clearly most of the time. There ARE issues in our schools that we need to work diligently together to address. But what I do know is that if we do not tell our own stories to define the work that we 4
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Sarah M. Zerwin teaches language arts and journalism at Fairview High School in Boulder. She completed a PhD in secondary literacy curriculum and instruction from CU-Boulder in 2009. Her email is sarah.zerwin@ bvsd.org.
do, the stories the world tells about us will define us. In this issue, you will read some stories about individual Colorado teachers navigating the complex landscape of the classroom. These stories show teachers working to use reading and writing to help students navigate the challenges that face them as human beings. I hoped to tell you a story from my classroom for this column. I wanted to approach it by telling an alternate story (as Bruner explains) that might challenge some dominant view out there about what we do in language arts classrooms. I looked through my memories for one such story. What I discovered was this: there are times when I feel as if the world is asking me to approach teaching reading and writing in ever-more standardized ways, holding me accountable toward ever-more standardized curriculum with ever-more standardized and mandated tests happening more frequently in my classroom. I’m not writing off the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or the PARCC assessments that Colorado has signed on to use in place of the CSAP for language arts. The CCSS are asking us to resee what we teach and why we teach it by challenging some long-standing assumptions that many of us carry about teaching literacy. And from what I’ve seen of the PARCC assessments (http://www.parcconline.org/about-parcc), I’m hopeful that they will be the kinds of tests that truly challenge our students to do work that is meaningful and relevant to their future adventures in their lives. But still I worry. In the midst of all this standardization, how am I to differentiate? How am I to have the flexibility to work with each of my students as the individual human beings that they are? Our students are not widgets, and sometimes I worry that laws and mandates about testing and teacher accountability presume that they are. I asked my students (high school seniors in a year-long reading, writing, speaking, thinking course) to share with you something about who they are. With the few sentences that each of them have given me, I hope that you will be able to construct some sort of story that helps you to see clearly what I see when they come into my classroom. They are extraordinary human beings, all each individuals, very far from standardized widgets. Widgets are the things that a factory pumps out, all in perfect replicable form. My
students are far from that. They come into my classroom with wishes and dreams and unique needs as human beings. They hope that what they experience in my classroom will mean something to them, will help them achieve their dreams, will get them somewhere real and relevant in their lives. And the set of wishes and dreams is different for each and every one of them: •
When I enter the classroom I am looking for a mental challenge, something that will make me think and be creative. I want to have a better understanding of something; whether this be about a political issue or the origin of a word. I understand that this cannot happen every day but even more tests would be counter productive. (MacLean Freund) I want a dynamic class. The ability to argue and debate with my peers will help me develop the skills I will utilize in the ‘real world.’ I want to be taken seriously, therefore I need to learn how to convey my opinions and thoughts in a way that will prove my points and persuade my audience. I need to learn how to write with conviction and eloquence because I don’t want to be looked over or counted out when I have ideas. (Camryn Schultz) As I head to class every day my hopes are that I will be able to learn new information that will challenge my thinking and to be challenged by my peers, expanding the way
I see the world. No test will ever be able to accurately measure how much you have grown as an individual, so why would we add more? I am not good at taking the timed tests and they often times don’t reflect what I have learned in class. I hope that the classes I take will help prepare me for the “real world” and my future outside of high school. Instead of testing our individual knowledge more, we should be measuring how well we can work and collaborate with others, how we are as leaders, or how well we can deal with obstacles placed in our path to success. (Lauren Peck) I am not a number. The amount of correct bubbles I fill in with a #2 pencil does not represent me. However, the government seems to think otherwise. SB191 will take effect in 2014. It will reward the teachers with the higher classroom scores and punish the ones with lower scores.Teachers will be forced to disregard the diversity and uniqueness that exists in every classroom. This bill will push them to teach solely toward improving on standardized tests. As a result, U.S. school systems will enter a “gilded age” where serious educational problems will be masked by golden test results. Our scores will improve, but to what avail? So we can appear intelligent to the rest of the world? From afar we will look stronger and more powerful. But in reality, we will just be a nation of good test takers. Unfortunately for us, being able to score well on standardized tests isn’t a skill that will land us our dream jobs. (Cory Munsch)
- noun 1. a small mechanical device, as a knob or switch, especially one whose name is not known or cannot be recalled; gadget: a row of widgets on the instrument panel. 2. something considered typical or representative, as of a manufacturer’s products: the widgets coming off the assembly line.
In a world of standardization, there must be flexible space to account for the beautiful cacophony that is every single class of students in every single classroom. I hope my students’ words have helped to tell that story. I believe that the narratives you are about to read will refine it even more. Works Cited Bruner, J. Making Stories: law, literature, life. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2002.
definition from dictionary.com
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ELA in the 21st Century Stories Will Keep us Human by Philippe Ernewein
“Sun come up it was blue and gold Ever since I put your picture in a frame.” -Tom Waits, “Picture in a Frame” from Mule Variations A good friend of mine and fellow educator, Matt, recently shared a story that brought my mind and thinking right back to the language arts classroom. Snap. This often happens, a curse, or a blessing perhaps; I leave the classroom at the end of the day, but the classroom, and my students, don’t seem to leave my mind. Matt’s story resonated with me. It was a reminder of a critical ingredient that we as educators need to make sure we include in our recipes of lesson plans and unit organizers.
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Philippe Ernewein is the Dean of Faculty Training & Development at Denver Academy. Learn more about his latest project, a teacher training video titled, “How Are You Smart? What Students with Learning Differences Are Teaching Us” at his website www.rememberit.org.
Matt found an old typewritten letter, more than twenty years old. It was written to him for his 21st birthday by his father, now many years deceased. The faded letter spoke of life transitions: seeing his son moving into adulthood and lamenting the opportunities he felt he missed as a father who traveled for his work. His dad also wrote of specific examples of the magical times they did have together. He told Matt how proud he was of him as a son. Matt had long forgotten about the letter, tucked away in a shoebox with relics from college. He threw out the old notes and papers from school, but he kept the letter; his wife put the letter in a frame. After reading the letter myself, it was clear to me that the contents, the message contained in the letter, is a vi-
tal part of Matt’s story. It is part of the fabric that makes up his character. This is part of the story that cannot be downloaded.There are no zeros and ones that will replicate this story for infinity. The letter is one of one. Authentic. Original. Real. These are the descriptors I want my students to use when they talk and think about their own writing. And my mind turns back to the classroom and specifically an idea that I learned about from Marshall Ganz, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Ganz has written extensively about the power and importance of story. He has even gone so far as to say that those of us in public work, like teachers, have a responsibility to offer a public account of who we are, why we do what we do and where we hope to lead. Matt’s framed letter and the words of wisdom it contained would be a great starting point for him to think about his public story, his teacher story. Ganz writes, “Some people say, ‘I don’t want to talk about myself,’ but if you don’t interpret to others your calling and your reason for doing what you’re doing, do you think it will just stay uninterpreted? No. Other people will interpret it for you” (Ganz). While Ganz is thinking here in the framework of leaders and politicians, the connection to teachers is easy to make. Teachers are the instructional leaders in their classroom; they are actively involved in public work. Ganz’s recipe for this public narrative starts with the Story of Self. He explains the importance here: You have to claim authorship of your story and learn to tell it to others so they can understand the values that move you to act, because it might move them to act as well. We all have a story of self. What’s utterly unique about each of us is not the categories we belong to; what’s utterly unique to us is our own journey of learning to be a full human being, a faithful person. And those journeys are never easy. They have their challenges, their obstacles, their crises. We learn to overcome them, and because of that we have lessons to teach. In a sense, all of us walk around with a text from which to teach, the text of our own lives (Ganz). The text, the content that each of us walks around with, is of course vast and diverse. It is left up to the individual author to decide what that public narrative will include. He proposes a simple series of questions to start the thinking for the Story of Self: • Identify a challenge you’ve encountered in your life. • What were the choices you made when you were faced with this obstacle? • What were the results? For Ganz the Story of Self is the first of three components, the other parts are Story of Us and the Story of Now.
The Story of Us can best be summed up by asking the question, “What experiences and values do we share as a community that call us to what we are called to?” I have found that successful classrooms often capture these Stories of Us, perhaps without specifically naming them as Ganz does. There are classrooms I’ve observed, from elementary to high school, that not only acknowledge the collective group, but also find ways to celebrate the diverse backgrounds, interests and readiness-levels found in each classrooms. That’s the Story of Us, focusing on similarities and common experiences held by a group, in the case of teachers, our classrooms. In explaining the third part of the story cycle, Ganz writes, “After developing our Stories of Self, then we work on building relationships, which forms the Story of Us. From there we turn to strategizing and action, working together to achieve a common purpose, learning to experience hope—that’s the story of now” (Ganz). I have also seen examples in classrooms where teachers are able to capture the Story of Now; their students are acutely aware and invested in the challenge and wonder of the content they’ll be learning and grappling with. To borrow from Wiggins & McTighe, these classrooms are engaged with seeking answers to the essential questions and creating frameworks for enduring understandings. Because the instructional leader of the classroom has set the purpose and created connections beyond the walls of the classroom, the students sense the urgency and importance of the now. The Story of Us and Now however are difficult to reach without first authoring the Story of Self. This demands reflection. It implores that we step off the merry-go-round of the everyday routine and pause to interrogate ourselves with these questions. Authoring our own stories will help us maneuver through the bombardment of images and stories in media that report on what teachers are supposed to be and do. I firmly believe that carving out this time to reflect and think about matters of the soul, ideals and our purpose is a necessary component of effective professional development. Along with other key training in our content area, technology and strategies, composing our Story of Self will make us better teachers (or possibly highlight that we have selected the wrong profession). Over the summer the teachers at Denver Academy had the assignment of composing their Stories of Self. During our first week back of professional development training teachers shared their stories. It was a powerful and invigorating activity. The stories we shared mattered; reading the stories in small groups felt like a sort of sacrament. Bonds and partnerships were established or strengthened between teachers. Some teachers brought in artifacts like pictures or objects to supplement the sharing of their stories. The seeds that were planted at the beginning of the year during the training are starting to take root across campus. Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
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A number of teachers brought this idea back to their classrooms and assigned similar writing for their students. In conferencing with a number of students it was clear that the assignment was having a similar and powerful impact, but in a slightly different way. For that students I met with, their writing evolved into their Stories As Learners. They identified challenges they had encountered while learning or in school, wrote about the choices they made and the outcomes that resulted from those decisions. During a writing conference this morning with Jackson, an 11th grader, he asked me if being called “lazy, crazy and stupid” in elementary school constituted a challenge. I said it did and asked him to elaborate. He went on to say that he wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until 9th grade and wanted to write about that as well. “I think if my 4th grade teacher knew I had dyslexia, maybe they would have been able to teach me better.” Our conversation turned to advocacy, learning strategies and even forgiveness. Jackson said he doesn’t hold a grudge against his 4th grade teacher; “I wasn’t the easiest kid to have in class back then.” Jackson wasn’t writing about his summer vacation or an essay illuminating the themes he found in his summer reading (although both types of writing may have their place); his writing and thinking was real. It involved heavy cognitive lifting. His reflection amazed (and I told him so). The Story of Self provided a framework, a way for him to archive his specific learning experience. I could never
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have specifically assigned Jackson to write and deeply reflect about his 4th grade experience, but the questions Ganz offers act like a roadmap that can help move students toward honestly starting to draft their own stories. And after they’ve found the words to shape and tell their stories, I firmly believe our students will have a stronger sense of who they are as learners and individuals. With Stories of Self intact and in-draft, we could even reach out to the tools of digital media to help us tell the story. So what does the Story of Self have to do with navigating the 21st century digital waters that seem to be ever-present and ever-growing? I believe that stories will help keep us human; our stories are reminders that not everything we need to know can be found by the right combination of words in a search engine. “I love you baby and I always will Ever since I put your picture in a frame.” -Tom Waits, “Picture in a Frame” from the album Mule Variations Works Cited Ganz, Marshall, “Why Stories Matter,” Sojourners: Faith in Action for Justice, March 2009, 38, No. 3. Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe, Understanding by Design (expanded 2nd edition). ASCD: Alexandria,VA, 2005.
YAL Authors featured at 2012’s Colorado Teen Literature Conference by Jill Adams Young Adult Literature was abound at the 2012 Annual Colorado Language Arts Society Conference in October. Not only was YAL the focus of several sessions, but conversations centering on it permeated the entire event. In an effort to collect some of the ideas that were being shared, a call went out to the presenters in hopes they would share some of their favorite recent reads. These are the recommendations obtained. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker Random House, 2012 Recommended by Nannette McMurtry Recently, I heard an author remark that you may be finished reading a book, but a book is never really finished with you.That’s how I feel about Karen Thompson Walker’s book, The Age of Miracles. This is the story of Julia, a young girl who falls in love with a teenage boy named Seth; both are outcasts and both are looking for meaning in life. The catch, however, is that it happens to be the end of the world, too. Julia wakes one morning to find that the earth has slowed, that day and night are no longer consistent and so begins the end of civilization as we know it. But this book isn’t about the science of that moment, it’s about the coming-ofage story of young Julia, who still has to be a teenager even in the midst of such change. What lasts beyond the book, the reason the book isn’t finished with me, is the constant reminder of the fragility of what we have--and much like other apocalyptic novels, it just plain messes with your mind as you contemplate what would happen if the earth slowed down. Simple, raw and riveting, The Age of Miracles (which has already been snatched up by a production company) is a great read! Bruiser by Neil Shusterman HarperTeen, 2011 Recommended by Kathy Deakin Some gifts come at a great price. Brewster “Bruiser” Rawlins is a 16 year-old loner who possesses the power to heal the physical and psychological hurts of those he cares about. When Bronte, the 16 year-old daughter of two English Literature professors entrenched in their own personal turmoil, is strangely drawn to the kid most likely to end up
Jill Adams is an Assistant Professor of English at Metropolitan State College of Denver. She teaches courses in composition, young adult literature, and teaching composition. Her email is jadams82@ msudenver.edu.
in prison, her twin brother Tennyson attempts to intervene. What follows is a story told from three different points of view: Bronte’s, Tennyson’s, and Bruiser’s young brother Cody, all of whom come to depend on Bruiser’s heroic nature. Shusterman invites us to explore the price of friendship and love. I was intrigued by a review on Goodreads that described this book as unexpected and unique, and I am inclined to agree. I was drawn to the quality of writing, the depth of the story, and the authenticity of the characters; I simply couldn’t put this book down and highly recommend it for readers both adolescent and adult. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein Hyperion, 2012 Recommended by Marge Freeburn In desperate need of experienced pilots, the British in 1943 enlist women to fly spy missions and work as radio operators. On such a mission, Maddie and her friend, a radio operator, are shot down in Nazi-occupied France. The pilot escapes, but the woman carrying Maddie’s identification is captured. Known to the reader as Verity, she is repeatedly tortured and eventually agrees to write documents revealing the locations of hidden English airfields and divulging secret radio codes, passwords, and frequencies in return for her life, her clothes, food, and less arduous imprisonment. Determined to survive, Verity convincingly gives the Germans the information they demand. But what she writes is FAKE! The truth is gradually revealed in this compelling account of mistaken identity, intrigue, and incredible loyalty, creativity, and courage. Although this has been released as YAL-high school, the thorough research, the appealing characters, and the novel’s literary quality will reward adult readers. Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon HarperCollins, 2012 Recommended by Sharon Nehls Don’t Turn Around introduces Noa and Peter, teenage hackers who are pitted against a corporation that is experimenting on orphaned teens to find a cure for PEMA, a disease that is plaguing the young adult population. Noa, who has been a ward of Child Protective Services since her parents died, wakes up on an operating table in a wareStatement Vol. 49, Number 1
house, with sutures in her abdomen. After a hair-raising escape, Noa uses her hacking skills to try to find answers, while being relentlessly pursued by those experimenting on her. Meanwhile, Peter finds files in his father’s office about the experimentation project and enlists his hacker group, of which Noa is a member, to delve into the subject of those files and then attack the corporation via the Net. When their paths cross, Noa and Peter find themselves running for their lives. Although it is not billed as a series starter, there could be follow-up books to this heart pounding page turner. Every Day by David Levithan Knopf, 2012 Recommended by Sharon Nehls. In Every Day, “A” wakes up each morning in a different person’s body. Learning to adapt, he decides never to get too attached, to avoid being noticed and to never interfere with the person’s life. Until the day he is in Justin’s body and falls in love with his girlfriend Rhiannon. The following days evolve with “A” trying to spend time with her and find a way to be with her day in and day out. “A” inhabits a wide variety of bodies, including heterosexual and gay boys and girls from diverse cultures with a variety of problems from obesity to drug addiction. Yet “A’”s intellectual, compassionate voice dominates, providing a consistent reflection on the events taking place. The author’s musings on love, longing and human nature, opined via “A”’s journey, are a thought-provoking catalyst for discussion about the nature of love. This could be my favorite YA novel this year. Son by Lois Lowry Houghton Mifflin, 2012 Recommended by Jill Adams If you’ve ever thought about the world of The Giver long after the last page had been read, you need to pick up Lois Lowry’s new book, Son. The book enables you to relive part of Jonas’s world through the eyes of Claire, Gabriel’s birthmother. After being switched from Birthmother to Fish Hatchery Attendant, Claire orchestrates meetings with the number 36 and longs to have him become part of her life. When Jonas and Gabriel leave the community, Claire’s own journey begins as she strives to reunite with her son. This book is the final volume in Lowry’s quartet (The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son), and characters from each of the books intersect. It’s a powerful read and lingers in your mind, just as Lowry’s other novels do. I am truly sad that my own journey with Jonas and Gabriel is at an end. Wonder by R. J. Palacio Knopf, 2012 10
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Recommended by Jessica Cuthbertson This book lived up to the hype and is a beautiful story of kindness triumphing over bullying, external vs. internal appearances, and the depths of the human spirit. The characters can be poignant and comical within the same paragraph. And the plot, while predictable, is a page turner because the writing is both simple and artful. I know there are many “Jack Wills” and “Summers” on my roster -- kids who do the right thing even when it is not the popular thing. Of course, I also know there are “Julians” on my roster who battle for popularity and succumb to cruelty to be the “it” guy or girl in middle school.Through reading books like this, I believe that the “Jacks” and the “Summers” will always outnumber and overpower the “Julians.” And there will always be an “Auggie” in every class--a student who needs protection or friendship; one who sees themselves as “ordinary” (or who desperately wants to be ordinary) when others do not. Every child in our classrooms is beautiful (on the inside and the outside) but I know there are many that don’t see themselves that way. R. J. Palacio has created a book that has an entry point for every adolescent, and while perhaps it is overtly moral and values-driven, this book is also, in a word, “wonder”-ful.
Middle Level ELA Today’s Not the Day by Meredith Collins Editor’s Note: Please help me welcome Meredith Collins as the new columnist for middle level English Language Arts. Here she introduces herself with a story from the beginning of her teaching career in a ninth grade classroom. Look for her thoughts on teaching language arts at the middle school level in future issues of Statement.
I was a 2nd year teacher, just getting my roots in a local high school. My classes were filled with students from all different backgrounds. In my English 9 class, I had one student who wrote about very disturbing things. His stories were filled with tales of his father, who happened to be living in the federal penitentiary down in Canon City—serving life for murder. Perhaps it was knowing how he idolized his murderous father, perhaps it was the way I’d have to break the eerie silence he greeted me with every day. Whatever the case, my senses were on full alert whenever he entered my classroom. One sunny Thursday afternoon, he walked in wearing his bulky, blue, oversized coat. He was a large boy for 15— already past the six-foot mark. I smiled at him, and told him good morning—and he acknowledged me with pursed lips and a nod of his head. There was something different about his demeanor this day, mostly to do with the placement of his right hand, which was tucked safely inside the left corner of his jacket. And there it remained. I watched as he took his seat, glanced at the other 35 kids taking theirs, and made my way closer to this young man. He lowered his body into the cramped space, legs outstretched, eyes looking downward. His hand still didn’t move. “Proximity,” was the word flashing through my mind— much like one would see on a movie screen. And so I moved closer toward the boy. I wanted to see why his hand was still inside his jacket. So I moved behind him—placing my hand on his broad shoulders as I asked him about his evening the night before. He was not in the mood for conversation, and tried to shake me off. My heart picked up its pace. Something was not quite right on this sunny day. His hand was still steadfast inside the blue. My eyes glanced past his shoulder, down his chest, and into the jacket. And that’s when I caught just a mere glimpse of silver. My pits began to sweat, panic was felt in my chest, and yet the only thing I could think of was how was I going to save 35 students? There were silent alarms in our rooms, but they hadn’t worked for years. No buzzer was going
Meredith is a mom, sister, wife, friend, teacher, critic, Starbucks junkie, writer, coach... She currently teaches 8th graders and writes for Statement, Glass Heel, and Women Forbes. An avid lover of fiction, Meredith is working on completing her first YA novel and publishing her first chick lit novel, Mr. Rights Gone Wrong. You can find her blog at http://merelovesthepack.blog spot.com or on Twitter: @FmTheSidelines.
to save them. The sun’s rays still made their way inside my classroom. My mothering instincts raced through my brain as though it’d be the last time. Today’s NOT going to be the day, I repeated silently. Not today. I kept close to the boy wondering how my vertically challenged frame would do against his, kept the conversation moving, kept sweating profusely, and kept my lesson going. I couldn’t tell you what I taught that day. But I can describe the over abundance of Axe spray that he was wearing. I can tell you I thought about how I was going to take down this kid. I can tell you I began to worry like none other about the other 35—looking at their faces and knowing I was their only hope. Other than the sweating, which I couldn’t seem to control, I kept myself calm. I kept myself near the boy. Ten minutes in, his hand began to move. Slowly. Out of his jacket. Today is NOT the day, went through my mind again, along with flashes of Columbine. I took a breath, stayed even closer to the boy, and prayed I wouldn’t make a wrong move. It felt as though the room stood still, with everything suddenly moving in slow motion. My eyes locked upon his hand as it began to slide so slowly to the outside of his jacket. And then I saw the silver pen make its way to his notebook. Relief flooded my body. I remember continuing on with my day, with my fear unbeknownst to anyone other than me. It was the first time a student, a child, has ever scared me. That day, that moment in the classroom, changed me forever as a teacher. Maybe the impact was made because it was also the last day I ever saw that student. I was later told he had decided to stick up a convenience store, and yes with a gun. He ended up in the same situation as his father. Locked up. Regardless, I was forever changed. I realized the love I have for my students is far greater than what I have for my profession. And believe me when I say I love what I do everyday—not always the lessons, but always the impact that I’m able to have on my students. In that moment, the faces that sat in front of me were what mattered. Not how well my lesson went. Not how well they could read or write. Not how well they performed on a test. All that mattered was them. It’s love, it’s passion that keeps me motivated to teach every child, every day. Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
Changing Course by Nicole Piasecki
“Silence is pain that writing relieves. Our uniqueness isolates us. Writing, we make our way out of our isolation onto the commons that we share...Writing is a form of making, and making humanizes the world.” --Richard Rhodes As I slide my keycard through the vertical reader, I become acutely aware that my hands are shaking from the adrenaline of teaching back-to-back classes on opposite sides of campus. I can feel my shirt sticking to the damp skin on my back. The students line the hallway, waiting for me to let them into our computer classroom. They still seem like strangers, seas of ears plugged into headphones, eyes pointing down at books or smartphones. Our class has met five times, and I still don’t know all 25 of their names. This makes me feel guilty and inept. I direct a friendly “hello” to the group as I pass through the hallway. I’m thinking about unlocking the windowless door and the announcements I will write on the dry-erase board at the front of the room. I’m thinking about taking attendance, cuing up the Billy Collins video where he reads his poem “The Lanyard,” and the daily writing prompt. I’m thinking about the amount of material I plan to cover in such the short 75 minute class period. Looming in the back of my mind is the hundreds upon hundreds of student papers (four classes’ worth) that will pile into a leaning tower on my desk in the ensuing weeks. The lock releases. I turn the metal doorknob. We enter the rectangular room. Brown horizontal mini-blinds shield our view of the Denver city skyline. Instead of opening the blinds to let the light in, I turn toward the instructor PC at the front of the room to complete my pre-class preparations. The students take their seats. At 12:29, Billy Collins is ready to go and everything else feels under control. At 12:30, I welcome the students to class and introduce the video and the daily writing prompt. Collins uses a physical object—a braided, handmade, plastic lanyard—to address the abstract idea that a boy can never truly repay his mother. The poem is both hilarious and contemplative. After watching Billy Collins read the poem, I ask students to freewrite about someone whom they could never repay. 12
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Nicole Piasecki grew up in Michigan and moved to Colorado after completing her undergraduate degree at Adrian College. She earned an M.A. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of Colorado Denver, where she now teaches composition and directs the Denver Writing Project. Nicole studies creative nonfiction at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.
A student asks if he can write it sarcastically. Another asks if he can write a poem instead of a paragraphed freewrite. “Yes,” I reply to both of them. “Write however you wish.” I sit down to write alongside them. My pulse radiating in my temples distracts me, but I eventually settle in. Students’ fingertips tap at the computer keyboards, creating a quickening percussive rhythm. I feel satisfied that everyone is on task and hopeful that they’ll generate some valuable material for the upcoming creative research project. As I type my own response to “The Lanyard,” I feel the presence of a student standing next to me. He whispers, “Ms. P?” When I look up, I see Jack* bending down to get my attention. His blonde hair falls over his eyes. Jack is half my age but several inches taller than I am. I know him only as a musician and recording arts major, as most likely to flash a warm smile, and most likely to put others at ease. But now, he is a fragile young man standing beside me, red-faced and sobbing. “Can I,” he squeaks out and points toward the doorway. I try to mask my surprise. “Absolutely.” I follow him out into the hallway and feel the sickness of concern rising up in my stomach. We stand outside the door of the classroom. Jack is crying so hard that he can’t speak. He’s wiping his nose and face on backs of his hands and choking on his tears. He buries his right hand deep in the pocket of his jeans. “My dad just died,” he says. “I just started writing a poem and....” he points to his face. “I just got really…” He tries again. “I just really miss…” His explanation trails off into more tears. He struggles to relax enough to breathe. In that moment, it ceases to matter to me whether the other 24 students stay on task. It ceases to matter whether each moment is under my control. Before me is this singular young man who had expertly disguised his deep sadness behind his broad smile until he couldn’t anymore. “Jack, I’m so sorry,” I repeat. I put my right hand just above the elbow of his left arm, and I feel as if I am really seeing him as a whole individual for the first time. “I’m so sorry.” I say again. “It’s unbearable. It’s so hard.” I knew all too well grief’s paralyzing and lasting hold. I
had lost my own dad when I was only 17. I knew how invisible I had felt when trying to keep myself pulled together, when the most natural thing would have been to simply hide away and fall apart. He just nods and cries. “Do you have someone you can talk to?” I ask him.
He nods. “Would you like to leave for the day?” I ask. He nods. “Okay. It’s okay. Just. Please take care. Just don’t be too hard on yourself. Okay?” I say. He nods. “Thanks.” He turns away, taking big steps down the hallway toward the elevator. I immediately wished that I had hugged him. I wondered where he was going to go from here. I wondered if he would go cry alone, like I was known for doing, or if he would allow himself to grieve with another person. I wondered if he feels guilty, like his dad’s death was somehow his fault, or if he worries that he hadn’t been a good enough son. When I can no longer see Jack, I return to the classroom, feeling softened and more humane in my own existence as a teacher and a woman. I realize that my carefully designed plans for that day’s class are all wrong: too rushed and impersonal. I change course and ink an X through the typed agenda that I’d clipped into my tabbed, three-ring binder. We spend the remainder of that class period sharing the stories that we had written. *The student’s name has been changed.
Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
A Tale of Two Writing Teachers by Amy Braziller and Mike Wenk
Mike Wenk is the current past president of CLAS and is pursuing his Ph.D. in Literacy Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His email is email@example.com.
Amy Braziller is a former punk rocker, banjo twanging foodie, and Professor of English at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, CO. Her writing muses and demons travel the spheres of flash fiction/nonfiction and personal essays. Amy blogs about food, film, music, GLBT issues, and social media distractions at http://www. amybraziller.com. She is the co-author of The Bedford Book of Genres, published by Bedford St. Martins; it’s anticipated publication date is July 2013.
As teachers, we are taught to never waiver, to project an air that proclaims Knowledge, Expertise, and Certainty that our students can consistently rely on. When we don’t know, we assume we need to hide, to pretend knowledge, to not let our students see that sometimes we are as clueless as they. When we fear failure – afraid to try something, to share something, to take the leaps we ask our students to constantly take – we stand apart from our students. Teach—Amy’s Story In my nineteen years of teaching, I have only been given one nickname – Teach. Wavy, a student, a friend, named me years ago. She also bequeathed me her childhood Mr. Potato Head, who sits proudly on a bookshelf in my campus office. I have only performed at an open mic once. Approximately ten years ago, I agreed to meet a student, promising that if she read, I would read. For years, I didn’t write with intention; I didn’t call myself a writer. I taught writing, listening to and believing my voice that said I teach because I don’t write. Two years ago, I quieted that voice, taking writing classes, putting myself where I ask my students to stand. I started to intentionally write, embracing words and language on the page, embracing a passion I wanted my students to discover. For years, I always skirted the issue when my creative writing students asked me to share my writing. I possessed a litany of excuses: “I’m focusing all my writing energy on the textbook I’m writing,” “I don’t want to share my writing, because I don’t want to privilege my voice,” and “I’ll read something at the end of the semester” (hoping they would forget and not ask again). Really, though, my truthful answer was, “I don’t want to share my writing because maybe you won’t think it’s good.” Last year, the conversation shifted when I began to regularly enroll in creative writing workshops and share my work for critique. I felt my own fears when I had to read aloud my work and hear from classmates what wasn’t working. I felt my own paralysis when words didn’t come easily, and I wanted to quit writing before struggling through my own re 14
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Request—Mike’s Story There are times as a teacher when your students put you on the spot. It happens to me several times a year: my face turns red, I stammer, my brow furrows. When I taught middle school, my students asked, “Why aren’t you married?” One year an eighth grade student persisted in challenging me with really difficult vocabulary words: “Mr. Wenk, what does pulchritudinous mean?” Students pointed out in mid-lesson when my socks didn’t match or if I wasn’t wearing a belt. When I taught high school, a couple of students wanted to shave my head. I have been asked if I do drugs or what kind of beer I like to drink. Teaching a writing methods class for elementary preservice teachers at CU-Boulder, a similar thing happened-this feeling of spinning out of control. I had just spent 45 minutes describing a unit plan assignment: students had to create a three-week genre unit, with instructional objectives, assessments, and learning activities. Pleased with my thorough explanation, I called on a student, who asked me, “Can you give us an example of a unit plan?” The edgy response in my brain--never uttered--might have been wielded against my students like a shiv: “How dare you expect an exemplar for this writing assignment?” My (barely contained) rage was paired with an image in my mind of the same student making the same demand of their English professor, who I imagined dismissing the silly idea with a wave of the hand and a bemused chuckle. Fortunately, I remembered that I am a writing methods instructor. I recalled telling these pre-service teachers--on the first day of class--that a writing teacher should be a writ-
(Amy’s story, continued) sistance. Stories of my writing process, shared with my students, became literal tales of struggle rather than theoretical musings about writing difficulties. When I assigned my creative writing class poetry prompts for quick in-class exercises, I no longer sat and watched; I wrote along with my students. When I asked them to share what they’d written, I would read my piece aloud too, participating as a writer. I wasn’t seeking accolades; I just practiced with them. Throughout the semester, I not only saw the community students built in their support of each other’s work, I felt a part of that, invested in their work along with mine. They had inspired me with their writing, their bravery, their willingness to trust me, so in return, at the end of the semester, I not only shared a piece of writing with them, I recited a poem I composed for them in honor of the class. I included their names in the poem, calling out their roles in the workshop, their strengths as poets, and their individuality that had lodged memories in me, with such lines as “The trio of Yvette, Cody, and Anthony swore to woo the ladies.” When I read the poem for the class, I kept my eyes to the paper, nervous about how it would be received. Would they find it corny? Did they believe it lacked rhythm? Had I made the same poetic mishaps I pointed out to them all semester? After class, a student told me, “You should have seen all the smiles and nods as you read the poem.” I smiled deeply and thanked her for her words, for the class, for allowing me to transform with them.
(Mike’s story, continued) er. Writing teachers should join the community of writers in their classroom, not reside like Zeus in the clouds above the mortal work of drafting and publishing. I shared Donald Murray’s admonishment of teachers who don’t write: “What? You don’t write yourself? You teach writing but do not write? For shame. Would you send your child to a piano teacher who couldn’t play the piano? A tennis coach who never charged the net? Of course not.” In the heady days of our first few classes together, I had offered my own biographical poem – with personal details revealed! – as a way of demonstrating my passion for writing. Standing in front of my students, with their expectant eyes, my anger quickly came and went when I realized the request for an exemplar, written by me, aligned philosophically with everything I had taught them. And so I consented, telling my students I would post an exemplar on our class wiki by the week-end. I did my best to smile, even though I had signed up for a task I really didn’t have time to complete. And yet--the promise had been uttered, heard, and noted. Nothing theoretical about the lesson from our first day together. Over the weekend I created a “how-to” unit for fourth grade, complete with a list of mentor texts and a culminating activity. I knew my unit plan wasn’t perfect, and that my students might offer critiques, which is a risk of joining a community of writers. By completing the assignment, I was able to detect potential landmines, such as burdensome requirements, confusing instructions, and possible misconceptions. In class, I could talk credibly about writing a unit plan, because I had just written one. Most importantly, by creating an exemplar, I had shown my students what I expected, because effective teachers --like effective writers--show instead of tell. In hindsight, I realize it was perfectly reasonable request to share my own writing with my students.
Often we are reminded in this profession that young people are watching us.What we say and what we do form a lasting impression. And if what we say does not match our actions, our students notice. Our younger students are preoccupied with fairness, and our older students detest hypocrisy. In writing alongside our students, we come down off the mountain and become mere mortals, as vulnerable as our students. And yet the pay-off: the return we get from writing and sharing our writing is stupefying, especially when we realize we might have taught this way all along…
Congratulations! CLAS will receive the following awards at the upcoming NCTE national conference in Las Vegas: Affiliate Excellence Award Affiliate Website Award Affiliate Journal Award (Honorable Mention--for Statement) Affiliate Membership Award
And CLAS executive board member Louann Reid was selected for the Rewey Belle Inglis award as Otstanding Woman in English Education.
Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
The Reason I Teach by Tiffany Schaab
Another meeting, another instance of the mean girls shooting me down. I must be a glutton for punishment because I keep opening my mouth, sharing my opinions, and being surprised that they say such rude things to me. Normally, they tell me to sit down and that their experience far outshines my silly new teacher dreams and excitement. This time, they refused to even let me finish. Many times I began a sentence only to be interrupted with a “much better idea.” For the last few weeks, I have cried every single day. I’m not good enough. Nothing I do or say matters. My students learn nothing from me. I should have never become a teacher. This will never work out. These women have torn me down and made me feel like I shouldn’t be a teacher when I know that’s all I want to do. The most frustrating thing is how many teachers acknowledge this group of bullies and their impenetrable power. Some have even whispered, “Thank you for fighting this battle,” and reveal that they plan on leaving or that past teachers left this school due to the group. And yet, I am told that I’m taking things too personally and I should grow tougher skin. At first, I was proud that I was the one standing up against them and not putting up with their consistently rude behavior. Now, it has worn me down and I am exhausted. I no longer want to fight. They are winning and I have no one to back me up. Why are these women the leaders in our school and in charge of everything from the rules, the schedule, the meetings, and everything in between? The one ray of hope I have is that I know not all schools are like this.The school I was at last year was incredibly supportive and helpful. The staff made sure I felt comfortable and lent their guidance when I had some new idea to try. When this current school tears me down and makes me feel worthless, I repeat my mantra: Not all schools are like this.You just need to get out of here. However today, I am done. The hopes of other schools can’t even poke into my brain. This is it. I’ve had enough. I’ve made up my mind and it is time for me to quit. I need to move on to a new profession because I’m clearly not cut out for this one.The support I received at that other school must have just been their guilt and obligation to make a nervous newbie feel confident. I am anxious to leave. What other job could I do? What else would I want to do? What would my judgmental family 16
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Tiffany Schaab is in her third year of teaching. She currently teaches 8th Grade Language Arts at Everitt Middle School in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. She graduated magna cum laude from Metro State and is currently working on her ESL license and Masters degree in Creative Writing.
say when I tell them I’m walking away from my degree? What other professions could I do and still help kids??? Then everything changed. One girl. One glance. And one short conversation. That’s all it took for me to know that I could never leave this profession. Andricka* is an 8th grade girl in my last class of the day. She is somewhat popular and incredibly smart. She has all A’s, is involved in many sports and extracurricular activities, is very friendly and always works hard. I’ve taken a liking to her since the beginning because I see a lot of my middle school self in her. At the beginning of the year she was really quiet and looked somewhat angry most of the time. She never spoke in class and she rarely approached me about anything. As the year progressed, Andricka slowly started to emerge from her shell. First, she found out that we had read some of the same books and thought that was cool. This led to her sharing out occasionally in class. Then she wrote a magnificent response to a writing prompt and I made it clear how impressed I was with her work. She even got the opportunity to read her response over the announcements, which helped her creep out of that shell even more. Slowly but surely, her participation in class increased as well as her willingness to share about the events in her life. So today while I’m teaching Andricka’s class, I’m stressing and stuck in my own head about whether I should leave or not. My students are working on a short piece of writing as I circulate and conference with individuals. I grace by Andricka and glance at her notebook. Immediately, I do a double take--not because of what she is writing, but because of her arms. The clean skin on her left arm stops me dead in my tracks. From the middle of her forearm to her elbow, she has multiple angry red welts. I pause in the aisle, unsure of how to continue. I’ve dealt with teens cutting before, and even I was guilty of that charge as a minor. However, the students in the past who cut were kids who were outwardly sad; they were never such a positive person with an amazing future in front of them. I feel like Andricka and I have a pretty good relationship, so I don’t want to ruin it but I know I need to do something. When I was in high school, I admitted to a teacher via writing that I used to cut but hadn’t participated in that activity
for nearly a year. She told the counselor and never once approached me about the subject. I never trusted her again. She knew something intimate about me and pushed it off on someone else without ever checking on me. I don’t want this outcome for Andricka and myself. So I shakily ask Andricka to stay just a minute after class to talk to me. Her wide eyes force me to use that common response, “Don’t worry.You’re not in trouble.” The minutes tick by slowly while I fight the battle in my head between the present lesson and what I would say to Andricka at the end of class.The bell finally rings and I usher the rest of the students out of the room and sit across from her. I am so nervous and my hands are sweating. I don’t even know how to start this conversation. What can I say that would gain her trust, show her I am here for her, find out why she’s doing this, get her to stop, and let her know that I have to tell the counselor all in one conversation? Awkwardly, I begin, “Um…I wanted to talk to you about…um…” There is no way to put it lightly, “I noticed the cut marks on your arms.” Her whole body suddenly goes rigid. I have never really
seen that before--when someone literally stops moving and breathing and stares blankly while you wonder what’s going on in their head. Straight away I begin talking to fill the uncomfortable silence, “I want you to know that it makes me sad that you feel like you need to do that. I would love to help you in whatever way I can and if you want to talk about it, please know I am a safe person to talk to. I really enjoy having you in class and you should know that I know what you’re going through.” I am clearly rambling. I say everything that pops into my head that I think might comfort her. All I really want was to know is what I can do to stop her from doing it again. The tears in her eyes and tightly pressed mouth tell me that she is not ready to share with me just yet, but maybe if I say the right thing. I need to get her to open up. If she knows she can come to me, maybe she won’t resort to this anymore. I decide to take a big step--one that I’ve had stored away in my brain for such an occasion. I push up the sleeve of my left arm and show her my tattoo. She has seen it before, as have all of my students, but I ask her if she knows why I got Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
this specific tattoo. She shakes her head and I explain that I got the tattoo because for four years of my adolescent life, I hurt myself on purpose. I point to some of the scars and admit that I hate them now. I got the tattoo because I wanted to always see my wrist as a place of beauty and to cover some of the scars. I got a compass rose so if I ever got any sad thoughts again it would point me to the right direction and away from my wrists. Andricka’s tears fall with little resistance now. She confesses that she is never good enough for her parents. Her siblings have all gone to college on full-ride scholarships and are in highly competitive professions with many accomplishments under their belts. Her mother expects a lot from her and kicks her out of the house during fights. She stays at a friend’s house for an indeterminate amount of time whenever this happens. The last fight, her mother slapped her across the face, which was a first. She feels worthless and miserable. This is the point in which I realize I’ve started to cry as well. How could she feel like this? She is amazing! I wish all my kids were like her--why doesn’t she see this? So I start,“Andricka, you are one of my favorite students. I mean, you’re the only student with an A in my class and you have an A in every one of your classes. You are always participating and attempting to inspire other students to work and to grasp their potential. How could you think you are worthless? If my future children turn out anything like you, I would dance in the streets! I shouldn’t say this, but if your mother doesn’t see that then she needs to open her eyes.” We then talk about my rocky family history, how I left at 18 and other similarities to her life. I tell her how I got through and what made me stop cutting. I focused on my studies because I knew I wouldn’t successfully escape the situation I was in unless I had a strong career or education to support me. After hearing all of this, she tells me that no one has ever had such an adult conversation with her about real things and real feelings. Now that everything is out in the open and I know her story, we come to the part I am dreading.The evil line where I have to tell her I am required by law to inform someone else of the harm she is causing herself. My imagination shows images of her crying and storming out and taking her life in the bathroom down the hall. I imagine screaming. I imagine anger. I imagine every terrible thing that could happen.What she actually does didn’t even cross my mind. Andricka simply nods her head and stops crying. She hugs me tightly, thanks me for the kind words, and goes home. I sit silently in the same position for what seems like an infinite amount of time. Suddenly, I realize that I didn’t think of the mean girls once during that entire time. This is the longest I have gone without stressing over the actions and words of these women. As I make this realization, a literal shift occurs in my 18
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mind and body I can’t even articulate. I literally feel lighter, my heart hurts in a bittersweet way, and yet my mind feels clearer because I finally understand. I became a teacher because of my enthusiasm for helping kids. I enjoy sharing knowledge and passion as well as supporting kids through any event. I considered being a counselor, but I wanted to ensure I was around kids more than adults all day. Here is a girl crying for help. Here is what I came to this profession for. My job--no my purpose--was to be here for kids like her. Why was I wasting so much energy and time focusing on what these hurtful women had to say when I could see the impact I was making with my own students right in front of my face?! I have the sudden urge to run up and down the hallways screaming and crying with joy. It feels like a brick wall has suddenly appeared around me and nothing these women say could ever touch me again. I have a renewed energy to teach. I can’t wait to see all my students again tomorrow! I can’t wait to see how things go with Andricka. It’s amazing that working with one student and putting forth the time in class, out of class, and in her life would make such an impact in both of our lives. Little did I know that supporting her growth as a learner and showing that there is still someone who cares about her would give her the strength to move on and give me the knowledge to keep fighting. The next morning, Andricka walks into my room before school. She explains that she had a long conversation with her mother the night before and told her why she was hurting herself. She says that her mother never realized the pain she was causing her daughter and they had a rough night of confessions. I am so proud of her and can’t believe her strength. She again thanks me before she leaves the room and again I feel so amazing. Later that day, another 8th grade girl named Sheridan approaches me in the back of the classroom during group work. She quietly says, “Andricka said you were someone I could trust and you had some powerful advice.” “I’m glad she thought so. Thank you,” I reply with a triumphant grin. Sheridan rolls up her sleeves to show me the painful scars, some even forming words and names. “Can you help me too?” I look her straight in the eyes and nod. This.This is why I teach.This is why I’m here--it just took me a minute to remember. *Student names have been changed.
Spencer by Dedra Montoya
“Hello, Mrs. Montoya! How are you today?” The tall, chubby kid with the buzz cut hair approached me on the playground during my duty, cheerfully chirping away about the weather, telling me about his day, asking me about mine. I had no idea who he was. I’d never seen him at Steele. And I didn’t know how he even knew who I was! Turns out he was new to Steele in fourth grade, so I never had him in second. Other teachers said that though he was likable, he was lazy and stubborn and sometimes disagreeable in the classroom. But during conversations I would occasionally have with him, I couldn’t help but feel like I was talking with a 35-year-old adult rather than a 10-year-old child. Spencer made it hard not to get to know him because every time he saw me in the hall, on the playground, whatever, he initiated conversation. He was like that with all the staff. He was the child of older parents, and I observed that his relationships with adults came much more naturally to him than with his peers. In fact, he seemed ostracized by his peers. I rarely saw him playing with kids—except for the younger ones who seemed to accept him much more. He was like a big happy teddy bear to them. But he just didn’t seem to fit in with his classmates. His manner of speaking was a bit more matter-of-factly adultish, and his girth didn’t lend itself to playing the soccer games the other kids played. He wasn’t “cool.” He was just this happygo-lucky, goofy, affable, slightly too mature kid who wanted to be everybody’s friend, yet didn’t seem to feel rejected when he wasn’t. I liked him. I liked him a lot. But I felt a bit sorry for him. He reminded me of another kid who never seemed to fit in. Me. Every year I audition fifth-graders for our annual Steele Shakespearean Players production. The kids have to come to the audition having memorized a scene from the play they would be doing. As the day of the audition approached, Spencer informed me with a big grin on his face that he was trying out, and I told him to break a leg. He knew what that meant. Audition day arrived and the library after school was electric with the excitement, nervousness, and anticipation of the 40 or so kids who were trying out. Every year the kids amaze me with their preparedness, their energy and enthusiasm, and their talent. This year was no exception. Two children at a time (a boy and a girl) got up in front of the group and did their scene. After each audition, the arms
This is Dedra’s 23rd year of teaching. She has taught grades five and six and currently teaches second-grade. Each year she directs fifth-graders in a Shakespeare play (The Steele Shakespearean Players). In 2011 she was awarded a Fulbright Teacher Exchange grant and taught in England for half the year.
of waiting auditioners shot up, hands eagerly slapping the air. After about 20 or so children took their turns, I called on Spencer. All hands retreated into laps. Not one child raised a hand to be Spencer’s scene partner. As Spencer waited up front, grinning from ear to ear, I called on a girl to do the scene with him. After quickly finishing up my notes from the previous pair and waiting for the room to go silent, I said, “Okay, go ahead.” What is the word that means getting something delightful when you weren’t expecting much? Serendipitous? This was one of those moments. Serendipitous. When Spencer opened his mouth to speak, magic wafted out and drifted over the audience, holding us all spellbound. How often does one refer to a ten-year-old boy as eloquent? That is what Spencer was. Eloquent. And confident. And magical. And LOUD. He acted not just with his voice--with perfect diction and projection and understanding--but with his whole heart and spirit and body. He WAS Nick Bottom, one of Shakespeare’s most outrageous and beloved characters. And that is the role he was awarded in that year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Well, Spencer became a star that year. The kids performed for two large audiences, and it was Spencer who stole the show with his big booming voice, his incredible stage presence, and his unforgettably hilarious portrayal of Nick Bottom. Other kids’ parents would approach me on the playground for days after expressing their amazement over this surprisingly talented young thespian. Who knew!? Spencer’s relationship with his classmates had changed. No longer was he the dumpy, strange kid on the fringe; now he was cool. They not only accepted him, but they respected him . . . and I suspect they were even a bit awed by him. He--and they--now knew where he fit in. He had found his niche. In my 22 years of producing Shakespeare plays with children, I’ve known kids like Spencer. We all have. Those disinfranchised kids, the ones in the back of the classroom who never open their mouths and the ones who open them too much. The ones who don’t get invited to play. The ones in the “low” reading groups. I’ve known kids like Spencer who can’t seem to find their way . . . until they walk onto that stage and open their mouths and magic comes out. They always remind me that all kids have a gift. It’s just up to us as teachers to find it--or stumble upon it--and nurture it. Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
Teaching is Not for Sissies by Tanna Shontz Fifth period is my most challenging class. The class is composed of a cross section of American society with respect to ethnicity, gender, intelligence quotient, and even sexuality. On any given day, I deal with ethnic wars among and between the different races in this single class. I deal with the inevitable middle school drama of males and females whose hormones are raging out of control, and they don’t understand why. I deal with the realization that some of my student are in 8th grade and operating educationally somewhere around a 3rd grade level, or even lower in the case of the child who has autism and is mainstreamed into this class. I even deal with young people who are bewildered about their own sexuality and dare anyone around them to question that confusion. I am tasked by the state and the school district to impart grade level curriculum to the point of mastery to these students and keep them engaged and thinking critically while I teach them. I am tasked by my administration to teach “bell to bell” instruction every single day. One particular day I will never forget happened in fifth period. My lesson plan was to do a short review on the parts of speech and then have the students do a quick write response to a simple prompt in their Writer’s Notebooks. The Special Education teacher, who co-teaches with me and acts as a one-on-one aid for our student with autism, was called down to the office and had to leave for an indeterminate length of time. As soon as she left the room, all hell broke loose. Three Hispanic kids started arguing in one corner of the room…in Spanish. I called them back to attention, and one started crying while the other two kept up a non-stop dialogue about something very intense…still in Spanish. One got up and walked toward me with determination and tears in her pretty brown eyes. “Meess,” she said, in a thick Hispanic accent. “Pleeze, Meess, we need to go to the hallway to work this out, Meess. Pleeze let us go to the hallway. I promise it weel only take a few minutes, Meess,” she pleaded. I needed them out of the room so I could settle the class back down, so I walked them into the hallway and told them I’d join them in a minute to help them settle their dispute. In the meantime, when I stepped back into the classroom, a tall redheaded boy who had been displaying slightly effeminate behavior all year long was going nose to nose with a short but stocky African-American male student who 20
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Tanna Shontz is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher at Sabin Middle School in Colorado Springs District Eleven. She is celebrating her 11th year of teaching, loves to teach writing, and enjoys writing with her students. Her favorite model for writing instruction is the Writer’s Workshop, which she studied through the Colorado Writing Project.
had been razzing the redhead about his manhood all year. Redhead’s voice was rising emphatically, as he challenged the other kid. “What are you saying? I know you think I’m gay, so just say so, and I’ll beat the crap out of you right here!” Meanwhile, at the back of the room, the child with autism had spread belly down on the conference table, arms and legs spread wide, and was gleefully decorating my table with his spittle as he made raspberry “airplane noises” with his tongue sticking out of his mouth. At that moment, the principal walked in to do one of her frequent walk-through observations. She took one quick look around the room, saw me separating the redhead from the African-American, gave me a pointed (though sympathetic) look, then turned around and walked back out. I managed to break up the impending fight, then peeled the fighter pilot off the conference table and did a quick wipe down with an anti-bacterial wipe. I then stepped back into the hallway to discover the three Hispanic kids locked in a conciliatory hug. Problem solved, whatever it was. While I was herding them back into the room, the SPED teacher showed back up, apologizing profusely for not being in the class. I smiled wanly at her, and told her not to worry about it. At that point, there were ten minutes left in the class period. Quickly, I got the class settled back down. I looked over at the remaining corner of the room where my on task, always do their work well, never cause behavior problems, mostly (though not all) Caucasian, mostly female students sat watching wide-eyed. I smiled apologetically at them, and started reviewing parts of speech with the kids for the last few minutes of class. It’s not easy to teach. Teaching is definitely NOT for sissies. Many who don’t teach subscribe to derisive notions like “those who cannot do, teach.” In point of fact, teaching requires that a person be equipped with a strong sense of self, intelligence and a knowledge base that must be constantly expanded, and a heart full of thoughtful compassion. Teachers must have the ability to mete out discipline with a sense of fair play. They must also possess a keen sense of humor and the moxie to confront the unexpected with grace and self-confidence. Those who have never spent any extended time in a classroom full of students have no idea what really goes on. Legislators frequently mandate new educational requirements without truly considering and investigating how
those requirements affect the staffs who teach and the students who learn inside school walls. Those legislators frequently create more problems than they solve. How many lawmakers consider that teachers are required to continue their own educations as long as they teach? Teachers are expected to pay for that education themselves in order to get pay increases on pay scales that are frequently frozen for years at a time. How many legislators tie student achievement to job security for teachers? Do they consider that students might have a difficult time achieving when they go home to unsafe living conditions and frequently have to take on responsibilities no teen-aged child should? How many legislators track the numbers of students who have dropped out, or are at risk of dropping out, but don’t grasp that the communication between the school systems and the court systems is poorly legislated so that neither side can help the other to support these students to graduation? And painfully, teachers have to watch as kids they love and mentor get in and stay in trouble, and eventually leave the building for good. Teachers have no control over these
particular variables, and yet these variables, overseen by forces outside the building, might eventually affect career security for those same teachers. How many legislators understand that a teacher’s work day is not eight hours a day with summers off, but at times 12 to 15 hours a day to handle every task that needs to be handled, and sometimes an extra job in the summer to supplement an income that doesn’t always make ends meet? Our administrators have the unenviable task of passing on the legislative dictates as they come, and often get caught in the middle as “just the messengers.” Those administrators, who, by the way, work as hard as we do, are obliged to insist that teaching and learning must occur every single minute of every school day. They realize they are asking for something that is not always feasible. On a lighter note, how many legislators have spitballs flying across their meeting chambers and are still expected to soldier on and get the job done anyway? “Bell to bell” instruction in fifth period? Some days it just doesn’t happen…
Second Annual Colorado Literacy Policy Summit Saturday, December 8, 2012 – 8:30-11:00AM The Tivoli – Adirondacks Room 440 Auraria Campus – Denver
In Colorado there continues to be lots of legislative and policy-making activity around education in general and literacy more specifically. Recent legislation about 3rd grade reading proficiency raised awareness and generated conversation about early childhood literacy. Students, parents, and teachers are wondering how changes in standards and assessments will impact reading and writing in schools. New evaluation systems promise to influence how schools conduct the art and science of teaching for years to come. Have questions about literacy policy? Get answers from people in the know… Schedule of Events: 8:30am – coffee and pastries 9:00-10:30am – moderated panel discussion 10:30-11:00am – reception and time to mingle with our panelists Our Esteemed Panelists: • Pati Montgomery, Executive Director of the Office of Literacy – Colorado Department of Education • Debora Scheffel, Colorado State Board of Education (R-Parker) • Ron Asmus, Program Coordinator of the Senior Hub (seniors tutoring young children in reading) • Bill Jaeger, Stand for Children Policy Analyst What You Need to Do: Just show up and make your voice heard. No RSVP, no registration, and no fee. If you have questions or need more info, please contact: Mike Wenk, Past-President, Colorado Language Arts Society, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summit Sponsors: Colorado Language Arts Society Colorado Council International Reading Association Denver New Millennium Initiative
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A Conversation Between Three Literacy Educators Karen Hartman has been the director of with Karen Hartman, Erica Rewey, and Jay Stott
Erica teaches reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking (English) at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, CO. She has taught in the IB Progamme for the last ten years, and this is her fourteenth year as a teacher of young people. She enjoys the outdoors, photography, and camping and fishing with her two sons and husband.
From the editor: Here I present a conversation between three literacy educators from Colorado. As explained in the previous issues of Statement, inspiration for this regular feature came from a conversation on the pages of Adolescent Literacy: Turning promise into Practice, a recent book by Kylene Beers, Robert E. Probst, and Linda Rief. Beers, Probst, and Rief argued that they wanted not a co-authored chapter by three national leaders in litearcy education, but “something that suggested the starting and stopping, the rethinking, the interrupting, the contradictions (of self and each other), the hesitations, the silences, the rush of ideas, the spontaneity of the moment that comes when you put three very bright, very passionate, very dedicated teachers into one space” (105). That’s what I am going for here. Teaching litearcy is complex, and I hope that these ongoing conversations between Colorado literacy educators (and the occasional guest from the national stage) will capture that more effectively than anything else. For this issue, I recruited three Colorado educators who I knew (either based on my own interactions with them or based on recommendations from others) would have compelling things to say about the need for teachers to tell their own stories. To these three educators, I posed several questions.They each responded to the questions via email and then had the opportunity to read and respond to what the other two had said. What follows here is the resulting conversation. 22
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the Colorado Writing Project (CWP) for 10 years. CWP helps teachers to become better teachers of writing and better writers themselves. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her main goal while teaching was to make her students lifelong readers and writers. She is director of conferences for CLAS and a grandma to 5 beautiful grandchildren.
Jay Stott likes teaching literature and writing for the same reason he enjoyed being a guide in Alaska. You don’t always know where you are, and you don’t always know where you are going, but the journey is always interesting. He teaches at Fairview High School in Boulder.
Editor:What do you think is the dominant story that society tells about schools, about reading and writing, about teachers? And where do you think this story comes from? Erica Rewey: Our schools are failing because our test scores are not rising. Students don’t see the value in reading anything longer than a text, nor in writing anything longer than a tweet. Teachers are lazy, overpaid, and hide behind unions. These are the types of headlines that catch a reader’s attention, that make us shake our heads and click our tongues and say, “What’s happening to public education?” The media uses stories of a few bad apples and unfairly generalizes our schools, our students, and our fellow teachers--and well-intentioned people who aren’t actively involved in the public school system believe them. When was the last time a member of the community, a parent, a politician sat in on one of my classes? In fourteen years of teaching, I can tell you exactly--never. So the story that’s being told about our failing schools isn’t being told from within the classroom walls. Karen Hartman: You are so right, Erica. Too often we are so busy going about the jobs of teaching, planning, grading, attending meetings, writing curriculum, hall and playground supervision, testing, and calling parents to attend to our own stories. So, instead we hear our stories from the voices of those who would like to privatize education, those
who want to make money educating kids, those who use us as part of their political agenda, or those who have good intentions but just don’t know what it is like to teach in today’s world. That is why we have to take the time to tell our own stories--those are the stories that will help shape the public’s perception of education and teachers. Unfortunately, too often politicians, businessmen, the media, and educators with an agenda--such as Michelle Rhee, tell the public that our schools and our teachers are failing. They talk about test scores in writing and reading and yet seldom mention the teachers who go to work every day with too many kids in their classrooms, too many students who live in poverty and come to school hungry and sleepy, too many kids from broken homes, and too many kids who have learning disabilities. They fail to mention those teachers who work in run down buildings and who don’t have enough books or supplies. They also fail to mention just how many of our young live in poverty. Poverty is a national disgrace and must be addressed before many of our school age children will have the resources and the simple necessities to be successful at school. I get tired of hearing that poverty is no excuse. Have these folks ever tried to learn on an empty stomach or with little sleep because they were watching their brothers and sisters through the night while mom worked a second job or third job? Have they tried to learn even though their family is homeless or their parents have kicked them out of the house? These people, who think they know how to educate young people because, after all, they went to school themselves, often dictate programs that have nothing to do with what educators know about engaging and motivating students. But, they are so sure these programs will get better test results. They are sucking the joy out of learning and teaching and not addressing the needs of our students.
discourse. As far as any story that articulates something about reading and writing, most stories I am familiar with follow what I will call the ‘heroic teacher’ narrative in which a teacher overcomes obstacles to help students read or write. The obstacles are usually external, not internal. In other words, we get very little articulation about how reading and writing actually happen, just how students and teachers overcome external obstacles (poverty, culture, institutional structure, the student’s own lack of desire, etc.) to learn. I think this story is at its heart, the narrative we (we being humans) like. Heroic individual overcomes external obstacles and self-doubt to help others achieve a worthy goal. It has a captivating power to it. As a story-oriented creature, we gravitate towards stories that cast our avatar (the protagonist) in an heroic light (unless you are feeling post-modern, where the story gets its power from violating that tendency, and so confirms the tendency as our narrative ‘center of gravity’). Karen: I wrote about this idea in the English Journal a few years ago. In Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, Jonathan Kozol tells us we do not need to hear only positive. He tells us we are tempted to focus only on the success stories because they console us and tell us there are good things that happen in our schools. He would agree with you, Jay, that the public likes to hear about the heroes, but he would also tell us that it doesn’t take a hero to tackle the issues we see in our schools. I think it takes dedicated, passionate teachers who are willing to go to work every day and face those problems you mention above. These are the stories we need to tell, along with the stories about our successes. Editor: How close to reality is this dominant story?
Erica: Karen’s right when she says, “These people, who think they know how to educate young people because, after all, they went to school themselves, often dictate programs that have nothing to do with what educators know about engaging and motivating students.” And yet, just because I’ve been to the dentist doesn’t mean I’m qualified to make decisions on their behalf about what’s best for their institution as a whole. But, that’s just what most of our politicians are doing on behalf of public education. Jay Stott: I think Karen has hit something really important. While there has been concern about education from many angles historically, there is now an ‘agenda’ underneath certain strains of that concern. Sadly, the agenda is a commercial one, and the stories that get told often serve to amplify this agenda. The overall narrative is that our public schools are a failing institution. Considering how long this has been the narrative it can’t possible be true, but it dominates the
Jay: About as close as an episode of “Law and Order” is to describing the everyday lives of police officers and attorneys, which is to say, not much. But the disconnect is exactly the same. The truth is that the everyday lives of attorneys and teachers are not particularly interesting. Mostly competent people go about the work for which they were trained, doing a better or worse job than the day before. Repeat. Not much story there. In fact, I’ve just described most human experience. ALL stories that have any captivating power at all live at least somewhat outside the ‘normal’ context of their subject area. This is true in fiction AND journalism. We rarely see plots or stories about pursesnatching in the headlines or on TV. Yet crimes of this type dominate the lives of criminal attorneys and police officers. In fact, all the “Law and Order” franchises have to keep coming up with even more outrageous plot lines to keep us interested. These stories rarely show, except in the briefest of snippets, the day in, day out drudgery of doing the job. Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
In the same way, the day in, day out work of teachers does not make for great drama, though it does make for great education. Erica: And just like a TV show, there is so much going on behind the scenes of teaching that many people just don’t think about. Like a good TV show, there are hours of planning and staging and imagining and re-imagining and trying and failing going on BEFORE the actual production. The teaching part is often the most fun and rewarding part, but it can’t happen without the research, the lesson plans, the calls home to parents, and the grading and providing of feedback on student work. “Teaching” isn’t the half of it! Karen: Jay is right--Hollywood glamorizes or demonizes our profession, and they make it seem as if kids need a hero to succeed. I think all of us would agree we aren’t heroes, but we have all helped our students become better readers and writers and thinkers. Erica: The dominant story, in my own experience, is light
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years from the reality of my classroom and school. Yes, we’re struggling to get students’ scores to improve from year to year, but we know that’s only a sliver of a way to measure a student’s success in our class. Can I measure a student’s ability to read with a multiple choice test? To some extent. Can I measure a student’s ability to write with a multiple choice test? Not hardly. My students read a variety of texts, from blogs to poetry, from Shakespeare to Twilight. They read voraciously, and for fun. Sometimes, during our extended learning periods, they beg me for more reading time. “Can we read for 20 minutes today instead of just 15?” they plead, using the same voice they’ll use on their parents on Friday night, trying to extend their curfew. And they write every day.They write about themselves, they make connections between texts, their own experiences, and the wider world. They write to inform, to persuade, and to help their readers see the beauty in a world that sometimes seems oppressive and scary. And they don’t just write essays. They write poetry, and creative non-fiction, and blogs, and newspaper articles, and journal entries.
They write for a variety of purposes, a variety of audiences, and they write to discover their own voice in the world. In my first year of teaching, I made the mistake of adding up the hours I worked per week, including grading, planning, prepping, and teaching, and calculated my hourly wage. It was far less than minimum wage. And in that moment, I realized that it didn’t really matter. I love what I do, and to do it with any less zeal just because of my salary would be to punish the students--the whole reason for teaching in the first place. Teachers work hard, and not just during the teaching part. We spend hours planning units and lessons. We spend more hours grading papers and giving students meaningful feedback so they can improve.We spend our “summers off” attending conferences and Masters Programs making sure we’ve got the most up-to-date and effective teaching strategies for the next school year. And most of these hours are spent at home, before and after the school day. Teaching is a 24-7 job. Jay: I agree with Erica here, that what my students are doing is not ‘failing’ in any way. They are bright and enthusiastic and can compete with any students in the world (and do!). Over and over again the ‘failing schools’ narrative is driven by a very distorted view of one sort of data--test scores. Not only are, generally speaking, test scores not my favorite barometer of success, we know from looking at disaggregated NAEP data that even on that basis schools are not failing. The more accurate narrative is that schools are struggling to mitigate the effects of poverty and class with scant resources. Schools in affluent suburban areas are doing, generally, fine. One story not getting told is that we are the only country in the western world facing widespread poverty in the way we do. That said, I try to show my students that tests and grades really aren’t a measure of success anyway. The things that are worthwhile can rarely be quantified so simply. Some numbers (and letters) data are useful, but they are never the end-all be-all. Karen: I believe we can do better at teaching reading and writing and yet I also believe too often our failures come from what is forced on us from the federal and state government, from school boards and administrators--who all feel the pressure to get higher test scores. I believe teachers work incredibly long hours doing their best to meet state and federal mandates, to meet district and school demands, and to encourage a love of reading and writing in their students. The disconnect comes because those who criticize don’t have a clue what it means to go to work every day and be responsible for 30 fourth graders or 150 high school students. They don’t have a clue what it means to try and respond to student papers, plan, attend meetings, respond to parents, and also worry about whose couch Johnny is going to sleep on tonight.
Editor: How do you think the dominant story out there about schools, about reading and writing, about teachers helps (or not) to support students in schools? Erica The dominant story--that teachers and schools are failing their students--definitely undermines the entire process. When students hear that public education, or their school in particular, is “failing,” they’ve got much less incentive to do the hard work. Karen: The dominant story doesn’t support students. Too often people believe the hype that teachers aren’t knowledgeable about curriculum so buy them a program--a program that too often doesn’t consider good pedagogy or student learning. The Michelle Rhees of this world tell society they can take a young person and turn him/her into a better teacher in 6 weeks than the licensed, experienced teacher. And some districts hire those inexperienced teachers and let their experienced teachers go. Students need the very best trained teachers we can find! The dominant story is test-driven. Though it is important to know where kids are and where we need to take them, teachers are being asked to teach to the test way too often. Our students aren’t learning the critical thinking skills they need to be productive in society--they are learning to take tests. Jay: I think casting the teacher in the ‘heroic’ mold does our profession a disservice. Reading and writing are technical skills, about which we understand a considerable amount. Trained professionals (teachers) are able to do excellent work with a wide variety of students, but it is work, not magic. It takes long term commitment on the part of students, teachers, families and communities. While there are ‘heroic’ moments, most of the time it is the day in, day out work that does the trick.Work informed by specialized skill and knowledge in the hands (or head) of a trained professional. Expecting only heroic moments in education is like expecting heroic moments from your tax attorney. I don’t need the person who helps me with a tax matter to be heroic, I need him to do his job well.We need to stop expecting our teachers to be ‘heroes’ and stop talking about them in that way. We need them to be competent professionals, which I think most of them are. Editor: What can teachers do to make sure the story being told about their work is an accurate reflection of what they do? Karen: Teachers need to tell their own stories and the stories of their students. We need to be honest about our challenges and how we meet them. We need to be honest about what we need from politicians, school boards, administrators, and the public. By telling the stories of our students and our own stories, we can help others see the Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
challenges and the joys that meet us each day at our classroom doors.
want what is best for their children, their grandchildren, and for America’s children. They all need to hear our stories.
Erica: We need to tell the stories of our classrooms, our students, our profession, and our school communities. We need to stand up for each other and what we do. We need to find ways to make our voices louder than the ones who are dominating the narrative now, using only numbers and data generated from standardized tests given once a year to determine the effectiveness of our job. There is so much more to teaching and learning than can be measured by that one test.
How have you changed as a teacher over the course of your career, and how has teaching changed you? (question from Erica)
Erica: When I first started teaching middle school Language Arts fourteen years ago, I established myself as a no-nonsense teacher who expected that every child would walk into my classroom prepared to learn. No name on your paper? No credit. No pen to write with? Borrow one from a neighbor. I had high expectations for my students, and many of them rose to those expectations for behavior. Looking Jay: I think that is tough. We can tell stories about what back on those first few years of teaching, I realize those teachers really do every day, but I think those stories will little battles took up a lot of my teaching time. Over the be about as compelling as stories about what tax attorneys course of fourteen years, I’ve learned to raise my expectado every day. Not everyone is Erin Brockovich. Nor do we tions for their learning experience. My own experience has want everyone to be. I think the ‘heroic’ narrative does ev- taught me that many kids who walk through my classroom eryone a great disservice. It paints an inaccurate portrait of door are woefully unprepared to learn. They’re teenagers, what teachers really do. It fails to illuminate what the actual and their minds are often on the social dynamics of the work of teaching looks like. It reinforces the narrative about thousand other kids in the halls. Some of them have difficult ‘failing schools.’ And, I think it relieves our society of thinking home lives and come to school hungry and tired. Some of seriously about the problems we do have in education. If all them struggle with writing but excel in math. As a teacher, we need are more ‘heroic’ teachers, then we commit energy I’ve learned that empathy is a powerful tool. No name on to finding heroes--a resume that’s difficult to discern. If we your paper? Whoops. Put your name on your paper so that I looked at education in the same way we looked at lawyers, can give you meaningful and personalized feedback. No pen? then when there were problems in the system we might There are some on the supply table – go ahead and borrow approach the solutions differently (it occurs to me that I one. Removing the barriers to learning means that everyone should ask some lawyer friends if they feel they suffer in the has opportunities for success in my classroom. same way, but I never expect “Law and Order” histrionics In my first few years of teaching, I was barely aware of from the people who help me with my taxes or with a real the impact I might have on my students’ futures. I was tryestate transaction). ing to get them through eighth grade Language Arts and to If there is to be a ‘counter-narrative,’ I think it will have recognize the parts of speech. In recent years, I’ve become to be about those forces that are encroaching on education much more aware of the larger role I’m playing in their lives: and what they are doing. The story of how I make progress writing them letters of recommendation for college, being with my students in reading and writing is compelling only invited to their weddings, attending their funerals. Teaching to the students and myself. Frankly, that should be enough, high school students is less about standing up at the front of though I know in this politically fraught world it is not. the room, throwing them information. It’s much more about forging collaborative relationships with young people and Karen: Jay, I think there is room for all kinds of teacher sto- empowering them to be critical consumers of what they ries. I agree that we have to tackle the “forces that are en- read, see, and hear, and coaching them to find their own croaching on education,” but I also think we need to share voice in the world. Teaching is about relationships. our stories and our students’ stories to a public that really doesn’t understand what we do on a daily basis. I remember Karen: In 1969, as I began my teaching career, I promised sitting at a dinner party with friends--6 teachers and a doc- myself my students would learn to love reading. And, I tor. That doctor said, in front of us all, “Those who can, do. promised myself that I would find texts they wanted to read. Those who can’t, teach.” What? Really? I doubt if the man Without much YAL and with lots of trial and error, I was would have survived an hour in my reading classes with kids I able to get many of my students reading, sharing, and loving adored--kids who were never easy but who always made me it. I wasn’t as successful with writing; I cringe when I think laugh, made me cry, made me figure out ways to reach them. of some of the things I asked kids to do. When I took the So, yes, we do need to attack those forces that are dragging Colorado Writing Project in 1987, a light bulb went on! I us down: politicians, publishing companies, businessmen who learned about both reading and writing workshop and my want to profit from education, and “do-gooders” who don’t teaching changed dramatically. I was no longer the “sage have a clue. But we also need to address those who only on the stage” but became the person in the room who got 26
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things rolling and moved aside so my students could learn. I discovered the importance of choice in not only reading but also writing, plus I learned how to confer and to respond to student writing. I learned that the workshop approach was successful with my reading classes and my sophomores, but it also worked with the college-prep classes I taught and with my I.B. classes. As a teacher of teachers, I have learned humility--working with so many talented, passionate Colorado teachers has been an amazing opportunity for me. Teaching has given me so much joy. I loved my students and my colleagues, and I loved learning. I discovered early on if I was going to be a successful teacher I also had to be a life-long learner. What a gift that discovery was for me the teacher and the reader and the writer! I believe teaching gave me the appreciation of diversity, of culture, and of young people who struggle through adversity with strength and grace. I’m sure teaching has made me into the liberal, feminist old lady I am today. I want each of my students and my grandchildren to live in a world that is just and caring and that believes in social justice for all of humanity. I want each of them to have equal opportunities for success and for a quality education. I believe teaching has taught me that teachers have to fight to make sure our students have the opportunities they deserve. So, we come back to stories. Teachers need to tell their stories and their students’ stories so that our communities know what is important. We have to be tough in this time of anti-teachers, anti-education, anti-unions.We can be the power that makes the difference! Jay: Well, I hope I’ve changed a lot. I resonated with what Erica and Karen said above. I fought a lot of battles in the name of ‘excellence’ in the first few years that were in hindsight, unnecessary. I really try to focus on the kids in front of me today. What do they need today to get a little better at reading, writing, thinking? I don’t seek big breakthroughs anymore--though when a student has one I am happy to celebrate that moment with him or her. I spend a lot more time just connecting with kids now, showing them that I care about who they are, not their grade or score.
the stories of our students can help us grab that power. Our voices must be heard. Jay: I’ve been so fortunate in where I teach and who I work with. We have been encouraged in innovation and experimentation. I agree with what Karen said; it helps when we really understand the state of research in our field. I speak with more authority now than I did ten years ago precisely because I am armed with knowledge. And I think we, as a profession, have to engage the larger discourse, whether you blog, as I do, about education, or attend meetings with elected representatives, or educate your neighbors while standing in the grocery line, we have to make space to tell these stories. Erica: Teaching and learning is so important to me that I won’t do it if it means undermining my students’ ability to learn and grow. In my first year of teaching I told myself: I’m going to do what’s right for my students, even if it means I’m unpopular with my colleagues and my administrators. We have to stop being afraid of “what might happen to us” if we don’t ram test preparation curriculum down our students’ throats. We have to focus on what will happen to our students if we continue to practice pedagogy that we know doesn’t work just because it’s popular. There’s too much at stake. Editor:Tell us a little story from your teaching life, a story that you think helps the world to understand the work you do. Erica: When I was at a former student’s funeral this summer, one of the parents overheard me introducing myself to someone else. Later, she scolded me: “Please don’t ever tell people you were just his teacher. What you do is so much more than that.” That still makes me cry.
Karen: Yesterday I went into a 9th grade classroom in DPS and helped one of my CWP participants introduce memoir. We spent a great deal of time finding good mentor tests. Watching his students so engaged in the reading and then Penny Kittle says, “Teachers make the difference, not tests. What hearing them cheer for the slam poet Daniel Beaty made power--what opportunity--lies in our hands.” She goes on to say, all that time well worthwhile! Teaching is so much about “Because I know this, standardized tests will not rule my world. finding what engages and motivates kids and what can make Politicians will not tell me how to do my job.” I would like to know them think and learn. how teachers can grab that power and do what is best for their students? (question from Karen) Jay: I show up every day and try to be present for my students. I have accumulated considerable knowledge about Karen: I think one way we can grab that power is to make the work I do, and I do my best to use it in the best way I sure we know the recent research in the teaching of reading can. If it doesn’t work today, I’ll be trying again tomorrow. If and writing, and that we stay on top of best practices. We there is any magic, it comes from that. have to show that we can get great results without programs and formula and test prep every day. We have to know what is best for our students and be politically active. We have to be the best we can be. Telling our stories and
Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
In Favor of Argumentation by Debra Houser
Students must be their own advocates. I tell my students when writing argumentation, “Opinions are like belly buttons, everyone has one. Now, the key is to explain what makes your opinion special.” My task then is to help my students move toward the thinking and writing that makes them strong and confident advocates. Frustrations and concerns with Colorado’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards have led to multiple voices crying out in defense of creative, narrative, and expository writing and eloquent memorials for the loss of teachers’ hopes and dreams of doing what is best for students. However, I’ve come to view CCSS and the focus on argumentation as a new tool in teaching students to think and create. In our modern world of vicious political campaigns, manipulative advertising, and reality TV, the word argument has such a negative connotation that a simple diction adjustment to discourse or persuasion would move things along. We don’t have a choice in the wording of the adopted standards, but we do have a choice in the attitudes with which we deal with those words, and as I continually tell my students, “Attitude is everything.” In order to adjust our thinking from the ugly arguments that we see people engage in from our media-saturated perspective to the more civil, sophisticated, and intellectual pursuits of discussion or persuasion, we can look at some educational basics. We certainly don’t have the time to add yet another item to the already over-burdened curriculum of the English teacher who is in large part responsible for the teaching of reading, writing, and communicating. We can, however, use the understanding of persuasion and the techniques used to persuade to develop instruction and process in our writing and reading curriculum that will help students in their own writing for Common Core Assessments, while also supporting them in becoming informed consumers and critical thinkers. George Hillocks, Jr. qualifies argument as “not simply a dispute, as when people disagree with one another or yell at each other. Argument is about making a case in support of a claim in everyday affairs—in science, in policy making, in courtrooms, and so forth.” He also proposes argument 28
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Debra Houser is in her 20th year teaching and her 11th year at Delta High School. She has taught 7th through12th grades but her love is high school. Her classes for this year include sophomore and senior English, speech, creative writing, and reading. She has a masters in curriculum and assessment. She is a Colorado native whose new passion in life is her first grandchild who is now 9 months old.
as one of the key components of a Democratic society. Students must be able to make strong arguments and learn to evaluate the arguments of others. One activity described in the text uses a picture from Lawrence Treat, “Slip or Trip,” to get students thinking about facts, observations, assumptions, and critical thinking.The introduction and chapter one, including the picture activity, of Hillocks’ Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12: Supporting Claims with Relevant Evidence and Clear Reasoning are available on the Heinemann website. A Brief History of Persuasion Contributions from 350 BC to those looming “21st Century Skills” tell us that words find their energy and impact in the act of persuasion. So if we really want to teach students the power of language, what better way than teaching them to persuade. Because we are focusing on the teaching of writing, it is easy to have missed these contributions from public speaking theory. The study of persuasion set forth in Aristotle’s essay Rhetoric still provides support for instruction in our classrooms more than 2,000 years later. Quintillian made his contributions a couple hundred years after Aristotle. For our 21st Century purposes, Stephen E. Lucas provides a concise and user-friendly overview of persuasion in his text The Art of Public Speaking, and George Hillocks, Jr. analyzes persuasion and relates historical thought to classroom instruction in his Teaching Argument Writing text. Aristotle’s contributions in today’s consideration of argument include the value placed on logic (logos), which might be objective (facts and statistics); the importance of emotion (pathos), through metaphor, storytelling, or other evocative means; and the need for ethics (ethos) to maintain our consumer’s trust and attention. Common Core key points include “the ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence [as] a cornerstone of writing standards, with opinion writing— a basic form of argument—extending down to the earliest grades.” Quintillian’s contribution connects neatly with the writing process. Invention, which is the development of the argument (inventio), is our prewriting and arrangement (dispositio); revision incorporates style (elocutio) and presentation
(pronuntiatio); and finally publication, which for the orator is delivery (actio). While writing for a listening audience and writing for a reading audience may have some distinct differences, the purpose of argumentation or persuasion remains the same. Lucas provides in his text some basics for persuasion that can be used for writing instruction with few or no adjustments. Audience and purpose take on new levels of importance when persuading, so becoming young masters of persuasion will help students write with a specific purpose and direct their writing to a target audience with greater clarity, whether their products are narrative, expository, or creative in nature. Persuasion typically attempts to elicit a change in the listener, and even a reader response where a student justifies an opinion can be said to promote a change in a reader’s thoughts. The Psychology of Persuasion Stephen E. Lucas’s references to consumers of persuasion are timely for writing instruction. Listeners and readers examine and evaluate the author’s “credibility, delivery, supporting materials, language, reasoning, and emotional appeals. They may respond positively at one point, negatively at another. At times they may argue inside their own minds with the [author].” The potentials for agreement, disagreement, and argumentation guide the analysis of purpose and audience for writing persuasively. Expository writing is impartial, simply a stream of information flowing from author to reader, but argumentation adds a new layer to the discourse through advocacy for one view and refutation of a competing view. First, consider what the issue is that is being argued. Fact-based arguments are most closely tied to informative writing. Who really shot John F. Kennedy on the streets of Dallas,Texas in 1963? Who wrote Shakespeare’s play? Why is eating chocolate good for our minds and bodies? These are all fact-based arguments. The first two are historical discussions that have been the focus of argumentation for years. The third is scientifically supportable and very relevant with recent new research announcements. Value-based arguments are the most personal because they relate to our own perspectives and moral judgments. Our own beliefs on the death penalty, euthanasia, and gene research, as well as the best pizza or video game, all depend on our own opinions, but the persuasion enters into the discussion when justifications for those opinions are constructed to help others agree, see our perspectives, or disagree, depending on their own perspectives. Questions of policy are developed using justification for action. Promoting some action by the listener or reader at the end of the persuasive product is necessary because policy questions encourage or discourage a particular course of action. Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, developed at Purdue in the 1930s by Alan Monroe, is one method of moving an
audience to action. According to Monroe, the author first gains the reader’s attention. Next, the author establishes the critical nature of the situation (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs is a good discussion tool here). Then, the writer satisfies this need by proposing a solution and raises emotions by visualizing with the audience how the success of the plan will benefit them and others. Finally, the writer promotes action by explaining exactly what the audience must to do to make the writer’s visualization a reality. Argumentation in Classroom Instruction and Activities For students, learning argumentation is also developing tools to use in advocating for their own opinions in ways that build confidence and critical thinking, empowering students and encouraging their efforts. I have frequently seen this empowerment in my public speaking students and, with the use of similar techniques in reading and writing activities, have begun to see that change taking place in other classes. In argumentation, students are not just examining what they think and what they believe, but also why they think and believe as well as working to prove they are correct in what they think and believe. Students are strengthening their learning and deepening their understanding of topics of persuasion while becoming critical thinkers. Introducing students to argumentation aids in learning to express and justify their own opinions. There are model texts available in many different places: commentary, op-ed pieces, book and movie reviews, newspaper and magazine columns, and essays. I like to find timely pieces that interest students, and finding two examples on the same subject gives students an opportunity to look at how others justify their opinions. Being able to state one’s opinion and support it is a good first step, and there are multiple examples available to use as models for young writers. Once students are willing and able to express, explain, and support their own opinions, it’s time to start looking at opposing opinions and refutation. Working to build strong word choice into stated opinions, and gathering research and data are necessary in justifying opinions. As important as supporting one’s own opinion is recognizing the value of opposing views and validating others’ opinions or refuting those opinions with contradictory evidence. Refutation is a big step in the road to argument, and students may even learn more about their own opinions through looking at the opinions and justifications of others. Research is a key component of argumentation, not only in supporting one’s own opinions, but also in refuting the opinions of others. Students must, then, evaluate evidence and the reliability of sources of information. In this age of Internet information, it is especially important that all consumers of information become critical of sources and the misinformation that is available via the Internet. Logic is the next concern for writing argumentation. Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
Giving students the basics in logical arguments and the dangers of fallacies helps them become more critical thinkers and consumers. It’s one thing to look at a poor argument and say “that doesn’t make sense” and something else entirely to qualify a poor argument for its logical fallacy. The big issue with logic is “how much is too much?” Remember that your writing classroom is not a philosophy classroom and overload on logic can come really fast. There are also several sources of general information on writing argumentation. The Writing Center at Winthrop University writing handouts and the OWL, Purdue Online Writing Lab “Understanding Writing Arguments” both offer some good support for teachers’ understanding of argument. A PowerPoint presentation, “The Common Core and Argument Writing,” developed by Granite School District in
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Salt Lake City, Utah is a great informational resource covering much of the information teachers need to understand argument writing. Argumentative writing requires research and data collection as part of pre-writing. The author must also consider and explain different points of view. Evidence for argumentation can be fact-based, statistical, or anecdotal, so argumentation requires that the author become educated about and develop a deeper understanding of the topic, which is taking informative writing to a new height. So I will not mourn the loss of expository writing but incorporate expository as a step toward higher-level learning, critical thinking, and understanding that bellybuttons may simply be lint repositories but opinions can be justified and given strength and convictions through argumentation.
BEFORE THE BELL Star Spangled
by Josh Curnett
She sat on an empty deck chair next to me. “I cain’t believe y’all’r moving to China,” the woman from the neighborhood--Donna, I think it was--said as we watched our children swim at the community pool just before my family’s departure for Singapore in July. “We’re not, actually,” I said. She looked askance at me. “Y’all ain’t movin’ now? I thought you were movin’ to China!” She had a little dot of caramel frappucino on her nose from where the vent hole in the plastic top of her to-go cup had been repeatedly cantilevered. Her sunglasses were oversized Gucci knockoffs. Her hair was streaked violently with hues not found in nature; the back porcupined out while the front waterfalled down. “No, actually. We are not moving to China,” I repeated. “What? It’s off, then? Ya’ll’s stayin’?” I paused for effect. There were sounds of kids and of splashing and of a radio. Donna’s black lenses were fixed upon me. “No, we’re not staying. Actually, we’re moving to Singapore.” She considered it and then offered this: “China.” No, I said, Singapore is not China. “Well, where is it then? Don’t they speak Chah-neez there?” She had begun texting while asking these questions. She looked at the tiny screen while speaking sideways to me. “It’s actually located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula,” I said, fairly certain Donna had exactly zero idea of where this is. “Do you know where the Malay Peninsula is?” I asked her. “Oh, oh yes. Sure. It’s down there near India.” I sighed. “No. It’s not near India. It’s quite far from India.” “It ain’t near India?” Kind of like how Alaska is near Florida, I thought. “No, actually. The Malay Peninsula stretches slightly south-southeast from the Asian mainland. In fact, the peninsula is so long that Singapore lies just a few degrees north of the equator and is actually an island, surrounded by water on all sides. You could say it’s an equatorial island.” I could tell that the geography lesson had gained no purchase.
Josh Curnett taught in the Cherry Creek School District for 14 years. He currently teaches high school English at Singapore American School in Singapore. His email address is josh. email@example.com.
“So what do they speak there, then, if it’s not in China?” She was still tapping away on her phone, her lacquered nails flying. The four fingernails of each hand were painted either red or white. The two thumbnails were painted blue with a white star on each.They were slightly chipped, this being July 15. I noticed a rhinestone drilled into in each one and commented upon them. “Swarovski,” she stage-whispered. She then waggled them about, looking at them twinkle. I braced myself and began again about language in Singapore. “Wow! Four official languages, huh? Ain’t Mandarin Chinese? Are your students going to be talking Chinese to you?” She said this as she finished her text. I knew that she had finished because there was a sound of a turbo jet engine from her phone’s tiny speakers. “No, no they won’t be talking Chinese to me, Donna. I teach English. High school English.They will be speaking English with me. Our language, Donna.The language of Stamford Raffles. The international language of business. English.” Donna had opened up a bag of cheese-flavored potato chips that she apparently had hidden somewhere on her person. In the meantime, to free up a hand, she slid her phone under her collar and into the top of her brassiere, the way I imagined a madam of the house might do with a roll of cash. The chips were no match for Donna’s zeal. “Englmfff isth imphfrortnat flor twchenty flrist shencshry,” Donna chomped at me while adjusting her clothing and rocking back and forth a bit in her chair, each rock allowing mashed fabric to be freed. Yes, Donna, you are right. English is important for the twenty-first century. Because I was wearing a dark-colored shirt, I could see flecks of cheese chips flying with abandon from Donna’s mouth onto my person. We were not sitting terribly close to each other. She simply was not a closedmouth chewer. “Whchen y’allhf lreavink flur Shingpour, thven?” “Tomorrow,” I said. “We are leaving tomorrow.” The bags were packed, the house was on the market, the dog had been vaccinated and licensed, and all of the important goodbyes had been said. We’d get up at 4 AM for the flight out Statement Vol. 49, Number 1
of Denver. I had memorized the trip and it had become a mantra: Denver to Minneapolis. 3 hour layover. Minneapolis to Tokyo Narita. 1 hour layover. Tokyo Narita to Singapore Changi, arriving just after midnight and two calendar days later. The Curnetts would never have a June 17, 2012. As I sat listening to Donna’s mastications, I hoped that Singapore would be all that it promised. I wanted to find out for myself about this magical red dot on the globe with the notoriously clean streets and the polyglot culture and the amazing food and the ease of settling in for Westerners. I could barely wait one more day to leave. Singapore. The beauty of its name. Sometimes I found myself just saying it when I drove around town, the syllables like small birds: Singapore. Singapore. Singapore. “Dang! Tomorrow! Y’all’s leavin’ tomorrow. Well, shoot. We never did get to have y’all over for a barbeque. Oh, well. That’s how it is, ain’t it?” Donna seemed genuinely upset that we had lived in the same neighborhood for five years but had never had a barbeque together.
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I was secretly relieved. And then, her phone made a noise that I recognized as a guitar riff from a Nickelback song which the morning radio station always played while I shaved. Un-self-consciously, she extracted the (probably warm) device from its clandestine, cushy spot and put it up to her ear. She gave me the look and index finger gesture that expressed “one minute.” I looked at her and mouthed the words, “I gotta run.You take care” and stood up. I really did not have to run. I had just seen our friends David and Annie walk in through the pool gate with their kids, Gabi and Jacob, in tow. David and Annie knew exactly where Singapore could be found on the map. I was going to miss David and Annie and Gabi and Jacob a lot. I was going to go sit with them. “One sec,” Donna said into the phone. I was already out of the personal space for a conversation, but we were facing each other. She had my attention. She wiggled her sparkling nails at me and stage-whispered, “Good luck in China.”
Colorado Teen Literature Conference Morning Keynote Speaker:
Author of Before I Fall, Delirium, Pandemonium, and The Spindlers.
Luncheon Keynote Speaker:
Author of The Future of Us (with Carolyn Mackler), and Thirteen Reasons Why. www.jayasher.blogspot.com
Saturday April 6, 2013
8:30am â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 4:00pm
Auraria Campus at the Tivoli, downtown Denver
Registration: Adults $50, Students $25. Open January 1 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; March 23, 2013 (or earlier if our
registration cap is met.) No onsite registrations will be available. Visit www.coteenlitconf.org to register online.
Teen Panelists & Grants: To apply to participate as a Teen Connection Panelist, or to apply for the MagwitchFund grants, CLAS-Bellin student grants, or Colorado REFORMA student grants, visit the website after January 1, 2013. Applications are due by March 1, 2013.Applications must be submitted online. Please apply for only one grant; duplicate applications will not be considered. Previous grant recipients may not reapply.
Presenters & Exhibitors: The Call for Presenters will be issued online October 10, 2012, and proposals are due December 1, 2012. Exhibitor information will be posted by November 1.
Questions: For Program details and book bag pre-sales, please visit the website. Sponsored by: Metropolitan State College at Denver, University of Colorado Denver-SEHD, Colorado Language Arts Society, FleetThought.com, Colorado REFORMA, Colorado Young Adult Advocates in Libraries, & Pikes Peak Library District
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