#IMWAYR

Wrapping Up the Semester

Here is what is probably my last blog post of the semester, and it has been super fun to be a part of this class.  Slowly, but surely, I am powering through the final few assignments I have left, studying for final tests, and preparing for summer classes.  I’m not gonna lie, this semester was rough.  At one point, I seriously thought about dropping out of college because I just could not handle the stress, but I fought through and made it to the end.

Weekend Warrior

Hole In My Life by Jack Gantos

This weekend I powered through the last three books I had checked out for this class but had not gotten around to yet.  The first one I read was Hole In My Life by Jack Gantos.  In the book he details the events that precipitated his involvement in drug smuggling that landed him in prison.  Gantos is very candid about his experiences and his thoughts and feelings throughout the process.  To be honest, I’m not sure who I would recommend it to or why.  I mean, I guess I would recommend it to people interested in memoirs, especially prison memoirs, but beyond that I don’t really know.  The most interesting aspect of the story was that Gantos really only got into smuggling because he needed money to go to college.  With that in mind, I would probably make it mandatory reading for people who think that financial aid is some sort of handout and that college should be expensive.  That is an entirely different rant, so I’m just going to leave that thought alone.

hole-in-my-life

Rules by Cynthia Lord

The next book I read was Rules by Cynthia Lord.  I liked the writing style and found it to be an easy read, but I was rather conflicted about how Lord approached the topics of disability and neurodivergence.  This book is about an adolescent girl whose younger brother is autistic.  The plot follows her struggles with identity in a household where she is expected to take care of her brother at every turn, but is simultaneously reprimanded for how she goes about it by the parents who forced her into that role in the first place.  I could get behind a book dealing with parentification and sibling bonds, but then it almost turned into a pity party for the girl because she has to “deal with” her autistic sibling.  At times it was almost good where the girl would rail against people othering her sibling for being autistic, but then at times she herself would other the young brother as well as another character with a disability.  Then, weirdly enough, the book completely deviated from the brother-and-sister storyline into a could-it-be-young-love storyline and I almost put it down completely.  I would probably not recommend this book as it feels rather ableist and fails to uphold Lord’s reason for writing this book which was to address the topic of autism from the perspective of a neurotypical relative (which is in itself problematic when not done correctly and this was not done correctly).

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Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

This was the third book that I read this weekend, and I did not mind it but I was not blown away by it.  The book was about an adolescent boy in a juvenile correction facility where he is put into a work-outreach program through the local senior center.  As he works at the center, he begins to straighten out his life and figure out his goals for the future.  Simultaneously, he begins to think more about others outside his immediate family and learns to make meaningful connections.  To me, this felt less like Monster where the story was important and the method of telling it was crucial.  Instead, Lockdown felt more like a cautionary tale or like one of those speeches where a former inmate will go around to schools and tell their story in an effort to keep those kids from going to prison.  Because of this, it felt trite and lacked the depth that Monster had where that book dealt with individuality and identity.  Lockdown felt more like it was pushing the reader to think more about how their actions affect others (like a PSA) and it kept me from really connecting with the narrator and the book’s theme.

lockdown

Investing in Our Students

In chapters 8 and 9 of Penny Kittle’s Book Love, she discusses the importance of creating solidarity and cooperation within not only the classroom but the school as a whole.  She talks about how reading time was implemented schoolwide in order to encourage literacy and engagement with the written word.  My school did something similar to this when I was in high school that was much less successful.  You see, rather than creating a supportive and encouraging environment for free reading, my school made it mandatory to the point where you could get a detention if you were not reading during the assigned reading time.  By “not reading” I mean everything from conversing with classmates to trying to finish homework.

This was a problem for many students for multiple reasons:

  1. It defeated the whole purpose of the exercise which was to encourage reading and not make it a chore.
  2. It increased stress for students who were trying to complete homework in what was potentially the only chunk of time they were going to be able to do it.
  3. The responsibility was put on the students to find books without suggestions and support from the teachers.
    1. This was problematized even further because students were not allowed to run to the library to get a book if they had forgotten one and there were none kept on hand for students in the case of this eventuality.  In fact, students were punished if they had not brought in a book.

This gave students the feeling that our school did not actually want to implement this program and were instead doing it because they had to for one reason or another.  Such an issue might have arisen because our school’s teachers and administrators were too focused on state standardized tests.  I remember teachers going over the syllabus the first day of class and summarizing their introductory speeches by saying something like, “Essentially, our entire goal is to prepare you for the standardized tests.”  There was nothing about preparing us for college, preparing us for the workforce, or even preparing us for life.  It was all about preparing us for a ridiculous test that was going to have absolutely no bearing on our lives outside of the hour or two we spent taking it.

Because the school seemed uninvested in both our literacy and our learning, the students were miserable and many transferred to other schools for better opportunities and learning experiences.  Kittle and her school, on the other hand, were successful because they were so invested.  Throughout chapters 8 and 9, you can tell how their investment had a positive impact on individuals and the student body as a whole.  Therefore, I am determined to exhibit that same investment in my own classroom because I do want my students to be healthy, happy, safe, and successful, whatever that means for them.

book love

 

School’s Out for the Summer, but Reading Is Not

What YA books do you still have on your TBR (to be read) list?

To be quite honest, I have no idea how many of the books on my TBR list are YA.  My list was mostly created because the titles interested, they fell under a category that I want to expand my knowledge in, or they were recommended to me by friends and classmates.

How are you going to challenge yourself this summer?

I am taking three courses over the summer and I plan on getting a job to supplement my income in the interim before I can go back to work in the CASS/ENG-HUM offices next semester.  However, with this in mind I am definitely still planning to challenge myself in a manner similar to the #bookaday challenge.  I know that a book per day is going to be too much for me as I work through my classes, after the classes are over I might be able to up it, by one every two days is definitely a reachable goal for me at this juncture in time.

When and where are you going to read?

I am going to probably read in the evenings since I usually use reading to wind down from the stresses of the day.  I like to curl up on a couch or in a comfy chair with a snack and a beverage as part of my reading routine.  I get motion sickness far too easily for reading in the car to be an option, but if I have free time, usually while cooking, I’ll pick up a book and just knock out a good chunk of it by the time breakfast, lunch, or dinner is done.

How will you make sure reading remains a habit?

Reading has always been a habit for me.  The only time I stopped reading is when my teachers in high school decided that quantity trumped quality.  I was never one for SparkNotes, and I always felt weird about not completing the reading, so by the time I finished the required reading, on top of the rest of my homework, it was usually midnight and I was far too exhausted to even think about picking up a book for pleasure.  The weekends were out too since I had homework even on those days.  I would always get back into the swing of things over the summer and read selections from either my own shelves or the local library’s.  Now that I am in college, I am still going to have to use the summers to get caught up, but even that’s problematized with the need to hold a job and quite a few hours each week in order to pay bills and maintain my post-college nest egg, but I am going to try really hard.

How will you make sure you’re finding terrific books to read?

I am finding many great titles and reviews from WordPress blogs, Twitter hashtags, Goodreads reviews, and suggestions from other social media sources.  I know that personal preferences will often inform reviews, but I always pay careful attention to the reviews that discuss oppressive language and plot points.  While I may still read these titles, this will be in order to know what exactly is going on and how to prepare for students that may be impacted by such rhetoric.  I want my classroom to be a safe space for students, and perpetuating oppressive dynamics through the literature I provide them is counterintuitive to my goals.

summer pic
Sourced from Nana B Agyei on Flickr

The Challenge of Choice

What did you find most interesting or challenging in the reading?

I found it interesting that this article pointed out how freedom of choice is being allowed in general English classrooms but not in honors or AP English.  This made me wonder, why are those classes sticking so rigidly to an outdated mode of instruction?  In my opinion, choice should be the entire foundation of honors and AP English classes as one of the main tenets is to challenge the students, and not every student is going to be challenged by the same thing.  Therefore, it would be better for all parties involved to integrate choice with the goal to consistently challenge each and every student regardless of whether the student is in the general class or the honors/AP class.

However, there is a point to be made that such determination to stick to, what I can assume is being implied as I have had experience with honors/AP courses, the “classics” stems from an underlying elitism.  I have an issue with the concept of honors classes anyway.  I mean, I understand that it is important to challenge every student, but differentiation in the general classroom can do that without the school separating out the “cream of the crop” for special treatment and kickbacks while the “general populace” gets to be denied the same opportunities and experiences.

What surprised you?

I was surprised that teachers felt that AR tests could ever hope to hold students accountable for their reading.  According to this article, such was the reason for the unwillingness to give up Accelerated Reader.  Now, I do not know about everyone else, but I know for a fact that there was no way I was going to be held accountable for my reading through AR.  Half the time I was taking those tests, I was simultaneously skimming a book I had never really read to find the answer or the question/s were so obvious that you did not even need the book.  How, in any way, shape, or form, is this a good practice?

What did you learn or find yourself thinking about most?

I found myself thinking the most about how the teachers, mentioned in the two articles I have linked thus far, were the ones who seemed to be the most afraid of change.  Do we not go through each and every Education course being taught to prepare to adapt?  New research, student individuality, educational needs, learning profiles, and more should all have an impact on our teaching methods.  However, we seem to get stuck in the same old pattern either because we think it is a solid, and thus irrefutable, model of instruction or we are afraid to challenge the status quo.  We literally have the future of our nation sitting in front of us every time we teach a class, so how could we possibly think that they deserve anything less than our best?

How do these articles relate to your own experiences as a teacher or student or to your hopes for your own future classroom or work with students?

These articles relate to my hopes for my future classroom in that I want my students to be able to recognize their individuality and what that means for them.  I do not want to teach my students that to matter in this world they have to choose a job that they hate just because it pays really well.  I do not want my students to ever feel like their net worth should ever control their self worth.  Instead, I want my students to become healthy, happy, safe, and successful adults whatever that means to them as individuals.  Therefore, I want my educational practices to reflect this ideal, and giving my students freedom of choice directly correlates to this goal.

choice
Sourced from pdxdiver on Flickr

YALSA For The Win

For this blog post, I read the incredibly awesome Women in Comics: Young Adult & New Adult Novels on the YALSA Hub.  Oh my goodness, I cannot stress enough how great this article was.  Every time I pick up a book, I am practically begging for more representation of women, and especially strong, independent women who may have men in their lives but do not need them to live a healthy and fulfilling life.  I am so here for lady superheroes, characters, villains, whatever you want to give to me, I need all of it.

This kind of representation is absolutely crucial for young girls, teens, and adults to have knowledge of and access to.  These women provide models of proud femininity and power to many demographics.  For example, you have Barbara Gordon, who many might know as Batgirl, but what you may not know is that after the Joker paralyzes her she still maintains her badassery.  She becomes Oracle, a genius computer hacker and intelligence specialist who is an expert in the weapons-based martial art known as eskrima.  Sadly, a 2011 DC Comics relaunch inexplicably made it so that Barbara Gordon was no longer paralyzed and thusly no longer a representative for the disabled community.

Another example is Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, who is a Pakistani American girl from New Jersey with shapeshifting capabilities.  The creation and launch of this character would be the first time that a Muslim hero headlined a comic from Marvel.  This character is also specifically drawn so that she is decidedly feminine without being used as a tool to draw the male gaze (i.e. wearing ridiculously illogical costumes that defy the laws of physics).

Such characters, and more, are being added to the roster of novel protagonists to appeal to people who may not like to read comic books or do not know where to start.  This effort serves a multi-faceted purpose.  In one aspect, it introduces people to characters and universes that they would have never otherwise encountered.  In another, it adds more positive and, hopefully, authentic representation of women to the world of book publishing.  Number three, it may lead to cross-pollination of the readerships of both novels and comic books/graphic novels thus causing an upsurge in popularity and attention for both types of media.

All in all, I am very excited to see what comes of this and whether this leads to new superheroes and more authentic representation of the different demographics of women in the world.

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