It was 2006 and the students of Stafford Middle School filled the auditorium, waiting in hushed anticipation for our writer-in-residence to appear. The doors burst open and a booming voice filled the space. A man, seemingly larger than life, bounded toward the stage, exploding a poem. The students were transfixed – and so was I. Kwame Alexander was in the house!
For the next few days, Kwame, writer extraordinaire, led writing workshops and helped teens find their voice. (All of this thanks to Kate Messner, teacher-turned-award-winning-writer, who arranged his visit.) Lucky me, my job was to make sure his visit went successfully, so I sat in on all of his workshops, learning from a master, just like the others. A memorable student quote that stuck with us and has resonated through the years: “Poetry is a get-together of emotions.” We bonded as kids poured themselves out onto blue-lined notebook paper.
It was powerful. And it changed my life.
Kwame Alexander is a man who embraces “YES” – he takes chances, seeks possibilities, and jumps all-in. This is why he has owned companies, wrote books, produced shows, and helped kids. Why he is now THE Newbery Award winner for THE CROSSOVER, his 2014 novel in verse.
THE CROSSOVER (photo from ala.org)
Our friendship was cemented in Brazil. Periodically, Kwame rounds up a group of writers and heads to some exotic local so they can commune with international authors, soak up history and culture, and work on their craft. When one writer had a conflict, Deanna Nikaido suggested they fill the spot with a teacher/writer. A contest was held. Interviews were conducted. And I was chosen.
Brazil! How many teachers have a chance to travel with well-known award winning authors? It was surreal. I figure I would earn my keep carrying their luggage or massaging their feet. Instead, they welcomed me as an equal – sharing their words and helping polish mine. Day after day I traveled, wrote, and learned from masters. Nana and I giggled when Kwame and Randy sang impromptu songs; we all wept when Lesléa read us poems about Matthew.
Since then I’ve tried channeling Kwame…seeking opportunities, spreading joy, and saying yes. I teach in a different state now, at a school for first-generation college attendees, children of poverty, and underrepresented minorities. Although my location has changed, my students still learn about Kwame, study his words, and hear his message: Say “YES” to life’s possibilities. Who knows? Maybe one day, one of these teens full of promise will share a gift of words with the world. Now when they see a shiny seal on the cover of their hero’s book – and their hero looks like them – they know anything is possible.
(I used the names of some of my students who had signed up to attend the event.)
"TESTING, TESTING ONE-TWO-THREE"
[in a test proctor’s voice]
“Fill in each bubble completely”
“Erase all stray lines”
“Leave no question unanswered”
[Teacher’s angry voice, with attitude]
Oh yeah? I have a question
for all the test makers and law makers
Answer me this…
Will this test measure how Haley
can dance? How her words glide across
And which bubbles show
Seikou’s loving spirit
or Darrion’s smile when helping others in class?
When you make multiple choices,
will you question the soul
of a poet, which beats
in the heart of Lucero?
How about measuring Shanya’s twelve edits
of one personal narrative
as she strove for writing perfection?
Can you rate on a chart
Amanda’s voice as she sings
clear and strong
When test results are tabulated
where will it show deep discussions
by Ike, Nelson, and Damon
in literature circles - ninth grade boys
more accustom to a basketball court
Students will bubble and erase
Then Fret while they race
The clock will tick down
And finally when done
We’ll go back to our room
And then we will write, read, and create.
Because THAT's where REAL growth takes place!
By: Marjorie Light
In honor of my students who read and write daily.
When urban areas were redesigned, family-friendly areas and bikes usage were included.
Bike racks were located near park cafes, office buildings, and subway stops.
All streets had designated bike paths OR a double sidewalk - shared between walkers and bikers.
One tour guide explained commuters in Munich have two bikes: one near their home, which they
ride to the subway, and then another one at their work station, which they ride to work. He said bike
theft was not a real issue.
Street crossings had special buttons for bikes to enter the roadway.
Different methods of protecting bikes from the elements were employed in various locales.
School yards and college campuses were filled with bike parking.
This covering, one of my favorites, was in the solar district of Freiburg.
When I was a teen, I rode my bike everywhere - to school, practice, the beach. One day in college, while stopped at a red light, an elderly man hit me. My bike was mangled and I was scratched up and shaken. I couldn't afford a new bike, so that was the last time I rode.
After moving to NC and living close to the Tobacco Trail bikeway, I'm ready to try again. I can't ride my bike to work, as it is too far, but I can make some changes to save energy in other ways. So now, I'm saving up for a bike. Do you bike?
By Marjorie Light
As we traveled around the country (Teachers from NC with the Center for International Understanding), one recurring theme of discussion was the children, their freedom, and the relationship to their parents.
At a fountain in Berlin, I sat with my roommate Holly and watched children scamper across a jumbleof large slate rocks, with a bubbling waterfall cascading over a section. Parents set around the perimeter on a low wall: reading, chatting with friends, eating a snack. On the way back from our walk, we stopped by the same area. This time, there was a man on the rock fountain, following around a boy of nine or so, arms outstretched, as if to save him from a fall that never came. After a few minutes, we realized they were the only American family there.
At dinner each night, the group would compare notes. Most babies were carried in front backs, or ensconced in raised prams, within easy reach. They were nurtured and nuzzled. As the children grow, however, a time of play and exploration began.
The children in the solar community played hide and seek in the green spaces or slid down incredibly fast slides.
The children of Freiburg play in the Freiburg Bächle (runnels or rills - dtich-like, water-filled streams), running after origami boats, splashing, or making dams with their feet.
Berlin child on fountain rocks
Secrets shared over Boat Races Solar Community Sign Playground
We asked ourselves, from where did our culture of fear originate in the United States? Why, in a generation's time have we gone from a nation of children playing in the neighborhood to one of helicopter parents? Would you care to chime in with your ideas?
Summer is when we teachers recharge, research, and plan. Not only do I read for pleasure by catching up on new middle grades and YA books, I also read to learn. When the school year begins in the fall, I will have finished a number of education-related texts, as well as worked on K-12 Curriculum Mapping and Common Core Curriculum alignment for my district. I love being a lifelong learner!
Below are some of the books on my reading list this summer, a few which shaped me as a teacher, and a peek at what I’ll be reading in August.
Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
My principal said, “You must read this book – it is so YOU.” She went on to explain the book’s premise of designing lessons from an end goal and working backward. Since Mrs. Rudolph was so enthusiastic, I knew I had to get a copy. I’m glad I did.
Since working on my National Board Certification, I began looking at learning units this way. I ask myself what I want my students to know and why I want them to know it. Understanding by Design explains how teachers should be goal oriented, intertwine their work with other disciplines or use different strands from the Common Core, and be multidimensional with creating lessons. Throughout my reading, I’ve found so many great quotes about learning and education, as well as ways to strengthen my work in the classroom. It seems as if every few pages I stop and contemplate how the examples apply to me or how I can transpose a sample lesson into my own room.
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this text…four? Five? Each time, however, I am reinvigorated and encouraged to take the steps needed to help my students on the path of becoming lifelong readers. There is practical advice on how to set up your classroom library, tips on conferencing with students about reading, and ways to streamline your teaching to allow for ample reading. Donalyn is one of the people I follow online, as well, so I can continue to get glimpses inside her reading-centric room.
Next on my list, the follow-up book: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, also by Donalyn Miller. I can’t wait to read her companion book. Isn’t that what we all want, for our students to become lifelong readers? Donalyn shares strategies to help us teach reading habits. I'm reading this the first week in July (after my Germany educational trip)
Real Revision by Kate Messner
Kate worked on this teacher mentor text while we were co-teaching Advanced Creative Writing in our former school. Watching this brilliant educator and award-winning author in practice was as much a learning experience for me as it was for the students. Now you can use revision techniques utilized by children’s authors in your own classroom. When students see the edits done by authors they know, they are more likely to tackle the revisions needed in their own works. Trying various editing techniques help ensure students discover the ones that work best for them, along with building up an arsenal of devices they can utilize when working on future writing pieces.
I Read it, but I Just Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani
Writing with authority is what you’ll get from Cris Tovani. She is a full-time high school ELA teacher who also previously taught at the elementary level and worked as a reading specialist. When she explains how students make connections while reading and the technique teachers can use to help them increase fluency and comprehension, she knows her subject. Her passion for her work is also evident and the layout of the book is useful, as most chapters contain a bulleted summary at the end for easy reference.
If you are looking for further guidance, Tovani includes reproducible tools at the end of the text. These are great for helping students make connections with their reading.
So What Do They Really Know? By Cris Tovani
The author explores authentic classroom assessments that are practical and real.
A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Paine
In various studies I’ve found the majority of educators are from middle-class backgrounds. According to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, 83% of elementary schools teachers are white, middle-class females. For most of my life I have been middle-class, so those are the societal norms I inherently understand. Ruby Paine opens middle-class educators’ eyes with her (sometimes) controversial book on poverty. When I first read this book a few years ago, it not only helped me understand my husband’s background more clearly, it also made me a more effective teacher. If we already know from Bloom that children need their basics needs met before they can advance, Paine shows us how to successfully deal with poverty issues with empathy. Her questionnaires and examples help educators examine the underlying concerns people dealing with poverty have and how they look at their situation and the world impacting them.
Next on my list: Boys in Poverty: A Framework for Understanding Dropout, also by Paine
Now that you’ve perused my list, what teacher texts are you reading this summer? Which ones shaped you as a teacher? Please share your recommendations!
Happy Reading - Marjorie
Berlin, Stuttgart, Freiburg, St. Peter, and Munich
Thanks to the UNC Center for Understanding, North Carolina teachers have chance to learn about technology, sustainability, and education! (And see castles.) #globalteachers
Watch for updates!
The world became a lot less funny this week.
My cousin John lost his hard-fought battle against cancer and died in a Hospice facility in Charleston, WV.
He was one of the most hilarious people I knew and could turn a simple story into one that would make you do one of those laughs where you accidentally honk like a goose or snort like an old mule.
We always joked he was a ghostwriter for Larry the Cable Guy.
Most of them I wouldn’t tell in a church….like the Old-Naked-Guy story or the Stole-A-Beer-And-Buried-It-To-Drink-Late
He’d pull you in with his good ol’ boy drawl, those piercing blue eyes, and the lip he could curl like Elvis. Before you knew it, you’d be begging him to stop – just so you could catch your breath, or wipe the tears from your eyes, or run real fast to the bathroom (for those cousins who have a weak bladder, which thankfully doesn’t include me, but they will remain nameless, but their initials are Trisha.)
He was a gentle soul, a good dad, and a loving husband. He coached his kids’ team, did maintenance on his mom’s house, and would lend a hand when needed to friend and family alike. I don’t think I was ever mad at him, not even once. Not even the time when he mooned us or the time he locked us in the cubby closet.
John was the one who took me to a mountaintop top party one rainy night and we hung out in the back of an abandoned tractor-trailer, listening to the strains of a country song and the rhythm of a clogger dancing up on the roof. A soft rain was falling and we dangled our legs off the back end of the trailer and talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up.
And here we are, all grown up…and he left us too soon.
But tomorrow, after the funeral, when we are all standing around in our pretty black outfits sipping punch, I’ll be thinking of the times he made me laugh until I cried. And I’ll smile and cry at the same time, in honor of John.
Tomorrow I have another first. After twelve years at Stafford Middle School in Plattsburgh, NY, I accepted a teaching position in North Carolina. Soon I will teach 7th grade students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District at Culbreth Middle School.
Last Thursday, the other new teachers and I started school early and received such a warm welcome. From the opening gathering with the superintendent to lunch with the principal; from the custodians helping us prepare our rooms to the organized binder filled with information; from the box of supplies prepared for each of us to the gathering with our mentors at the principal’s home, we have been made to feel valued and welcomed.
In the morning, I’ll drive to my new school and meet the entire faculty and staff. Once again I’ll put into practice my “new kid” survival techniques. If you know a new kid or are going to be one yourself this fall, here’s how I do it.
1) Smile – I keep a smile on my face even when I feel nervous, scared, or lonely. It is much easier for others to talk to me if I look approachable.
2) Learn Names – I borrow a yearbook from the previous year, write down names when I’m in meetings, and study the nametags on doors. Then when I talk to people I try to use their name in conversation, as well as use little pneumonic devices to help me.
3) Be Kind – Is there someone who needs help? Appreciate what others do for you.
Give honest compliments. Positive energy is the best kind.
4) Be Open - Let others get to know you. Go outside your comfort zone. Volunteer. Raise your hand. Participate in conversations. Talk.
5) Listen – Pay attention to what other people say. Learn what you can about their lives and hobbies. Take an honest interest in them.
For those of you who are in the same situation as me: Have a great time with your new beginning! I love to explore new places, make new friends, and learn about new ideas. Throw your arms wide open ~ live your life with joy.