I was grading student reading blogs today & noticed a pattern for the first time in literature: Where are all of the great literary moms? I ask because there are lots of great literary dads out there (who I am going to write a bit about), but what about the mothers? In fact, without much digging to think about it, I can't really think of any literary moms I particularly like. As a woman, and (hopefully) a future mother, that makes me so very sad! I'm going to keep thinking on this subject and revisit it, and if you can think of a great literary mother I've forgotten, PLEASE comment below!
Now, on to some of my favorite literary dads:
Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird
I love Atticus. He's patient, kind, treats his children like young adults, and explains things well. These attributes I respect as an educator. In fact, on the days when I feel the end of my rope slipping through my hands, I make sure to channel an inner Atticus to take a deep breath, smile, and say something positive. I also try to channel Atticus to engage curiosity of my students and to explain punishments fully for people who act out. Atticus is one of my favorite literary dads.
Papa from The Book Thief
Papa is quite possibly my favorite literary dad. He's so kind to Liesel, even though he bedwetting phase. He reads to her, teaches her, and lets her have tantrums. He lets Liesel live through her pain, but encourages her to move on from it. He knows what the Nazis are doing is wrong and lives in quiet protest. Papa hides Max because he knows it's the right thing to do, Nazi invasion be damned. Plus, there are few books that made me sob like the ending of The Book Thief. Papa taught me that sometimes fits are necessary to move on and that it's important to do what you believe in, even if it means you might get in trouble. His quiet protests showed me that sometimes doing what you believe is right doesn't have to be showy, it can be simply to save two more lives.
Pa from The Little House on the Prairie series
Pa was my first favorite literary dad. Laura obviously adores him as she grows up and wishes to be a boy to be more like him multiple times. Pa plays music, is a prankster, and treats Ma lovingly. Now, there has been historical evidence to suggest otherwise about Pa, but I'm refusing to ruin a childhood favorite series by acknowledging that. Sometimes fiction is best left alone to stand as fiction.
Now, a common denominator between these literary men. is that they raised strong, spunky daughters. Their girls are tomboys who won't take no for an answer and believe they have just as many rights as men. These girls fight patriarchal society alongside their fathers, even when facing great adversity. My three favorite literary dads obviously push their daughters to be stronger, better women.
But seriously, where are the awesome literary moms?
This post is the final in a series for the Slice of Life writing challenge from Two Writing Teachers. While I didn't participate as fully in the challenge as I would have liked, this challenge provided me the opportunity to write in ways I wouldn't have otherwise. Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for the push outside my comfort zone.
Today is a weird day of school. I woke up to half an inch of ice layered on my car and no 2 hour delay. Cute, right? Anyway, since today was originally "Spring Break" and became a snow make-up day, it's already a weird day with many students absent. That means a lot of adjustments in my classes.
My Creative Writing students are ready to move on to their next project, but I hate assigning a project then sending them away for a 4day weekend, so we improvised a bit. Their next project is to write a children's book in a small group, so we've been reading children's books, learning about children's book structures, and researching fairytales.
Today I put students into groups and had them write new fairytales. I read a rendition of "The Three Little Pigs" out loud (check out The Three Aliens and the Big Bad Robot, it's hilarious. I did not make the robot noises, however), then told students in partners to find a fairytale and retell it making changes to the characters, setting, or outcome, or all 3. The writing exercise didn't take very long, but it stretched them creatively and had them analyzing what was important and should be kept, and what could be changed. Overall, it was a fun activity.
I'm excited to see what these students come up with for their storybooks!
There is a lot of anticipation in the air this week. Anticipation of a long weekend (our version of "Spring Break"), anticipation of Spring (it's 56 degrees today!), anticipation of a snowstorm expected to hit us on Thursday (No think you, 4-8 inches of snow & possible ice). Prom is approaching. Track season is in full swing. The golfers have been on the courses. Driver's licenses will soon be awarded. There are lots of things for teens to anticipate and lots of things for adults to worry about.
All of this has left me, and many others, a little on edge.
This edginess has lead to kindness slipping. The students are being mean to each other. Under the breath comments, unkind reactions to writing, rude language in the hallways: it's all been around lately. Adults, too, are not being as kind to each other as they've been previously. Emails when conversations would be better, quick replies that don't carry warmth, no smiles in the hallways. We're all wrapped up in our own anticipation & our worries. Everyone's Christmas spirt has worn holes and Easter doesn't carry the same anticipation for many.
In short, we need a mood-lifter. A game changer. A chance to rediscover the kindness we've previously shown and remind ourselves we catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
WIll that be a snow day? Only Thursday will tell!
Today we're wrapping up TKAM. The students have also learned about the Great Depression & the trial of the Scottsboro boys. Today their goal was to take a packet & video about the Scottsboro boys we had been working on most of the week and boil it down into 5 important takeaways. First, we started in small groups. Then a delegate from each group took their 5 facts or takeaways to the front of the room and through the help of other delegates and their classmates, students boiled the trial & lessons down in to 5 "class facts." This was a totally student led activity, and it was great to sit away from them and let them go. Only 2 of the 5 sections needed minimal redirection to accomplish this task -- everyone else just worked to complete the task.
In book club we've been reading Learn Like a Pirate about student led classrooms. While I can't quite let go the way the author has, I think teachers often forget to get out of the way and encourage students to grapple with texts and tough issues themselves. Sometimes through being the "guide on the side," teachers accidentally inject themselves into learning that students don't need help with. Today, for example, I observed that my placement during the room directly impacted how much control students took of the room. When I moved to the back and sat down, students built everything together. If I got up or sat too near their working space, students looked to me for the final answer.
Some days I need a sign to remind myself to shut up, get out of their way, and let them learn.
In the gallery below are a few examples of what my students came up with for their top 5 most important lessons to know about the Scottsboro boys trial. Enjoy!
One of the nice...interesting...intriguing...hilarious... [pick your own adjective] things about teaching freshmen is they sometimes forget that my classroom door opens into their locker bay. They also forget that I have ears & can hear them, especially when my room is silent. Most teens forget that voices carry & live by the "out of sight, out of mind" theory. This means I overhear some very interesting things.
The other day, I heard a student tell another student, "She thinks we can read 2 chapters tonight? Mrs. Straube is the meanest teacher in the world."
I am a mature & reasonable adult. This means I laughed out loud. I'm not sure the student noticed it was me, but I stopped listening after that. It's always best if you (1) don't figure out who the voice belongs to and (2) don't listen when people say things behind your back.
This student did transport me back to childhood, however. When I was little, I would often force my niece and nephew to play school. Naturally, 4 years their senior, I was the teacher. This was not negotiable (until we were a bit older and my nephew corrected my spelling on the chalkboard and I decided snarky kids were hard to teach and we played something else). Anyway, these kids had homework, lots of it. Lots and lots of it. So many math problems. Dozens of spelling words. Science experiments like crazy. In short, they often said I was "the meanest teacher in the world."
Once, my brother asked me if I intended to be the meanest teacher in the world when I grew up. I was probably 7 or 8 at the time, and my niece and nephew were being squirrel-like pupils and I was reprimanding them (likely loudly, I was a born yeller). I told him, "Yes, mean teachers make you learn."
This became a running joke in my family. I was raised by pretty strict but very loving parents. I attended a strict but fair & balanced Catholic grade school. My favorite teachers in high school were tough, kind, and gave us lots of important work. My favorite college professor was funny, told great stories, and once made me cry in class not meanly, but because I felt like I had disappointed him. All of these people were strict, fair, and still kind. That's really what I meant by "mean."
Now, as a teacher in my 7th year, I've been called the meanest teacher in the world. I'm sure this isn't the first time, but this is the first time it was in earshot and not under someone's breath. I hope that student meant strict, that I challenge him/her, and that he/she is learning.
I shared this story with my 7th hour students, telling them I'd achieved a major life goal. They laughed, asked if I was having "an existential crisis," and asked me what I would do next. [They also offered to brainstorm new goals if necessary, but only if they could get out of discussing TKAM] I told them I planned to keep being mean, which made them laugh more. A classroom that often erupts in laughter, praises those who work hard and pushes those who don't, and also involves a lot of reminders of the importance of kindness can be a little "mean" now and then.
Seriously, though, what will I do next?
I know I wrote about reading yesterday, but Spring has sprung here in Iowa, and I am dreaming of June, my reading month. I read throughout the school year, but in fits and starts. June's long, warm mornings and lack of regular employment are a gift I give myself, a gift I must think of during the dreary so-much-longer-than-it-seems month of February when I do not have the energy or patience to finish a book. In June, I read. The first full week with no school responsibilities, I often read 5-7 books. I often read a book a day, forcing myself to come to the surface for food and exercise only. Sometimes I shower or interact with other humans, but not always. June is my gift for 60-70 hour work weeks that encompass the dreariest and most depressing part of winter.
Time and a lack of commitment are two of the biggest reasons I am not a very good reader during the school year, but there is another reason I want to share today: I am a book giver. My students are always welcome to help themselves to my classroom library and ask for books I don't have regularly. They also often ask about what I'm reading and if I will share it. I always stop, take out the bookmark, and give the book to a student who is interested. I tell them I expect a full review when they're finished & will read it later. I explain I don't have time to finish it quickly, so it's better if he/she reads it first. Always. Then, often that student hands the book to another student, and another, and sometimes the book gets lost or buried in a locker. That's okay, I will just buy another copy when I want to read it.
Discussing Tom Robinson's Trial...
Today, my students are using the iceberg approach to discuss why Tom Robinson received a guilty verdict in TKAM. They're working in small groups & getting so animated about their discussion. I'm a proud peacock teacher today, that's for sure. Here are some of the truly awesome & intelligent things I've overheard today:
"It's only a fair trial if you're fair skinned."
S1: "Imagine if this happened today." S2: "Ever heard of Ferguson, MO?"
"If she doesn't know what love is, why does she think Tom would love her?"
"Bob Ewell was a drunk and probably raped his own daughter. Why would any jury believe him?"
"[Mayella] doesn't fit in anywhere. She was too privileged & white to fit in with blacks, she was too poor to be white."
"The Cunninghams are not as white trash as they seem -- he did hold out in favor of doing the right thing. He just gave in to too much pressure from the other racists on the jury."
"Well, imagine if both of these people were white and white trash. That would be a totally different story."
"I don't think Aunt Alexandra is racist. I think she is so worried about being popular she can't be who she wants to be."
Across the great state of Iowa, many teachers participate in WRURW - What RU Reading Wednesday with their students. I have always known the importance of silent sustained reading, but Kelly Gallagher's book Readicide taught me to practice what I preach and put that viewpoint into my classroom. This year, I've transitioned to a new school, a new role, and a new grade level. I've changed so many of my practices and learned so much about standards based reporting and standard aligned grading. I've learned about toxic grading practices and changed some of my views regarding teaching practices. I haven't changed the way I encourage and celebrate readers, though.
Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week. Students come in and are treated to 20 minutes of reading in their outside reading books. Then, the last 15 minutes of class they can blog, work on missing work, or continue reading silently. I call it our sacred time and it feels like it. I take time to read with them because I believe it is important to set an example. I want them to read something they enjoy, so I also tell them to ditch books they hate. I remind them teachers will require them to read all kinds of stuff they don't like, so choice reading shouldn't feel like a chore, it should feel like a gift. I plan to revamp some of my expectations for WRURW next year, but I will not let it go away. Students can, and should, always have something they enjoy to read.
A couple of weeks ago, my students read an article titled "Making Graduation Meaningful: A Real Qualifications System for U.S. Students" by Marc Tucker, published on Education Week. The article outlines a system of high school with more emphasis on career skills and an opportunity to earn various types of diplomas. The article also highlights the disadvantage faced by students who have uneducated or undereducated parents.
A student's response made me smile -- she allowed me to share it here:
"The kids won't learn if they don't want to. I relate this to the light bulb/therapist joke. How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but it has to want to change first. Imagine this with students and teachers. How many teachers does it take to teach a class? One, but the kids have to want to learn. You see what I'm saying? Maybe one of those lightbulbs is eco-friendly, one is a standard yellow, and one is green, but the teacher is still going to do the exact same thing to all of them."
This student, an introvert who is generally wise beyond her years, argued throughout her response that it is her responsibility to learn and she cannot blame anyone else if she does not.
That level of reflection & responsibility makes her a joy to teach. It's also refreshing to see and so many times I fall into the trap of focusing my energy and time on students who aren't taking responsibility instead of celebrating, teaching, and enjoying students who don't do that. This week I'm going to focus more energy on students who "get it" and want to learn instead of spending all of my positive vibes on those who don't.
Recently Dr. Alan Zimmerman provided a group of schools in NEIA with a workshop in leadership. His words were exactly what I needed to hear during a dreary winter in a new job where I sometimes feel very lonely. Since he provided such an engaging and meaningful workshop, I decided to sign up for his Tuesday Tips. These weekly emails are short, quick reads that remind me to engage in effective and active leadership in my classroom.
This week's tip was right up my alley: Leadership Lessons Learned from Downton Abbey. For those who don't know, I'm not a big TV watcher. The TV is always on, but I'm rarely paying attention unless it's one of "my shows." There are some shows that the characters, drama, and settings pull me in. While I've had a few favorite shows over the years, none have captivated me as much as Downton Abbey. In addition to it being a historical piece about my favorite time period (1900-1930), the storyline takes place in England, including London. The Lords and Ladies are a sassy bunch, with much drama coming between them. I love the depth of the characters, and have a few characters who I really hate. It's like reading a good book, but all of the work of visualizing is done for me. Plus, the costume, set, and hair/make-up people have won several well-deserved awards for their time & attention to detail.
Another reason I love Downton so much is the way it brings people together. PBS has always been my favorite channel, but I've rarely watched their Sunday night line-up. In the past 6 seasons, however, I have not missed a Sunday night. Before I got married & moved, my friends & I spent every Sunday during Downton season together watching, laughing, occasionally crying, and always enjoying a wide spread of food and fellowship. After many of us left Dubuque, we kept up the tradition via social media (our Facebook conversations are intense!), but it didn't have the same feel. It did, however, provide great Sunday night entertainment and a check-in with people I care about.
So, Dr. Zimmerman was playing right into my hand with this week's Tuesday Tip. His lessons in leadership, learned from a very Carson-like woman, are interesting & engaging. I will speak about 2 of them that I need to be more cognizant of in my classroom, however.
Tip #1: As a leader, teach your people how to do things and then expect them to do it … right.
As a teacher, I set high expectations for my students (that's why I'm so "mean" in the hallways). I teach students how to do something, then expect them to do it. I keep reminding them until they get it right. I know I often sound like a broken record (seriously, how many times can one human say "Use complete sentences!" or "First thing: put your name on the top!" or "Work time is a gift -- use it accordingly!"), but I want my students to know that fair and consistent expectations are something they can expect in the world of school and the world of work. It is not hard to write in complete sentences when attempting formal writing. Putting your name on your work is a given. Yet, these reminders, among others, serve to remind my students that my expectations of quality do not decrease. If I've taught you to do it, I expect you to do it.
Tip #3: As a leader, teach your people that tasks trump titles.
My least favorite phrase in education is "that's not my job." My usual response is: "Is it good for kids?" or "Does it make our school environment better?" If so, leaders in education, it is your job. Yes, teachers have tough jobs. Yes, we have high expectations placed on us by the state, parents, administrators, and students. Tough luck. Sometimes we need to pull up our sleeves and do things that are not our job but make our lives and the lives of those around us better. Until we admit that, we will never be effective leaders.
So, Dr. Zimmerman. thanks for the reminders. And to the cast, crew, writers, and lovers of Downton: Thanks for the memories. May your legacy carry on.
The views on this blog are mine alone and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
Kari teaches English I to 9th graders (!) and other electives in rural Iowa. Her husband is also an English teacher, and their friends have sworn to never help them move again because "even libraries don't have that many books."