After a long hiatus from writing here, I have been thinking about how I might want to return. With a book review? With some of the summer planning I’m doing for next fall? Finally getting to writing a reflection on my learning at All Write a couple of weeks ago? A post with my son? A post about the personality profiles that my husband has been doing for work (and I have been doing when he brings them home)?
All those ideas will have to wait because I have had one of those moments where a convergence of posts and ideas from all over the internet have been bugging me this morning in this quiet house and I am grateful that my husband is still sleeping soundly because I can’t just throw these ideas out to him. (Please forgive me for the long post.)
Let me start by saying that I have been looking at all things through the #WeNeedDiverseBooks lens – because my mind is automatically drawn to thinking about my students and who is represented and who isn’t. It’s not just so that my students can find books they can relate to though; it’s to show me, my students, my son, and anyone else who might pick up that book what the rest of the world beyond their own experience is like. I’m looking for the places to show my students that there are far more similarities than differences. There are a thousand ways I’m not like the him, but my heart raced with fear and competition and frustration and anger with Dirty McFilthy’s as I read Crossover by Kwame Alexander this week. Despite almost 30 years difference in age, I know what it feels like to make new friends at a new school and how utterly frustrating it is to think you are a disappointment to everyone – like Albie in Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.
But as much as I’m looking at the common experiences I can use to link readers to titles like these, I can’t help but think about how different our experiences can be as well.
I read (and listened to) this beautiful story on NPR: “Don’t Sneak”: Dad’s Unexpected Advice to His Gay Son in the ’50s. I read it for the obvious message of the father’s acceptance and encouragement to his son to be proud of who he is; I also read it as the daughter of a minister who would, in my much younger years, get embarrassed when he was seen wearing his clerical collar when he’d pick me up or drop me off around people who didn’t necessarily know or remember all the time that I was a preacher’s kid. (This was a source of some childhood teasing – and sometimes exclusionary bullying – so I was a bit self-conscious of it.) I started to think about how Diversity goes beyond just our own traits – gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, race, hair color, how we spend our free time, whether or not we like fart jokes or think Comic Sans is a real font… – but also to how we see ourselves defined by our experiences and by those around us, especially as we are growing up. We all have stereotypes of what it must be like to be part of this group or that group – and I was moved by the first two comments about the father on this story:
I am proud that my students probably don’t realize how groundbreaking Nancy Garden‘s Annie on My Mind was when it was first published. I like that they can wander my shelves and find a stack of books that have been published where they can see LGBTQ characters. Because story is where they learn on the “individual level where we can see each person for who they are.”
I want them to realize that the experiences between girls/women and boys/men are different:
- Look at the back and forth between Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper on The Daily Show (starts at 2:16) about how to stay safe in college. (As unfortunate as the need for them is, there are thankfully many incredible books like Speak that address the issue of sexual assault in the safety of YA literature – and, unbelievably, there are people who think that this is not a discussion worth having with teens.)
- There were two beautiful posts this week about advertisements that show us that how we speak to our girls affects the way they view themselves and their abilities.
- The Huffington Post shared a Verizon ad that addresses the sad statistic that a startling number of girls lose interest in STEM subjects between 4th grade and college.
- The advertisement below by Always looks at the phrase “like a girl” to get people to think about what those words might mean – and where there is a change in what that phrase means to both girls and boys. (In a proud mommy moment, when I asked these questions of my now-awake son, I got back a blank stare and, “I don’t know what you mean.” Oh, child, I love you.)
- I cannot help but think with a heavy heart about how this happens with boys, too:
- All of these posts show that words have POWER. The power to change how we see ourselves. The power to influence our stories.
This story also crossed my path this week – a Facebook friend sent me the link (Thanks, Lindsey!) and it led me to do a bit more digging. A nine-year-old boy set up a Free Little Library as a Mother’s Day present to his mom* — only to be told that it had to be taken down because it violates a city ordinance against structures in the front yards of their homes. I love that this story has been picked up over and over – the promotion of the Free Little Library movement can only be good – but just like the rest of these stories, it highlights something important: You can make rules. You can create boxes of classifications. You can make these generalizations about what certain characteristics mean. But it’s the story – it’s the rest of the details – that make you rethink and rework and revise your schema.
All of this pile of new posts and remembered posts made me remember a piece I had read a while back on Daily Kos about the effect of the political teacher-bashing on public perception of teachers. I dug around and found the original Gallup report (since the link in the Daily Kos piece is dead). The adults surveyed consistently scored the schools their children went to higher than the schools in their community or in the nation. Why? It’s because they know more. They have spent time with these teachers and administrators. They have seen the work their child has done and the progress they have made. They have stories about their children’s days to go back on. And they are far more positive than what makes it on the news about education.
On a seemingly unrelated note, I have thought long and hard about the digital footprint I leave as a professional. I have gone here to document my thinking and to learn from a community of fellow educators. The “hive mind” of the people I follow or who follow me or who just use hashtags and social media to capture ideas and to solve problems is the online version of “the smartest person in the room is the room.” I have been lucky enough to be part of a small group of educators who has thought about (and written about – see our English Journal article that was just published this week!) all the ways in which being online has helped us professionally. (This article is an off-shoot of Luke Rodesiler’s research and if you’d like to read more about his study, check out his also-recently-published article at Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education.)
But all of this thinking – about #WeNeedDiverseBooks, about our differences, about our stereotypes, about public perception, about being online as a teacher – it leads to my thought that there is another very important way that we as teachers put ourselves out on the internet: to share our story and the story of our classrooms.
I got to see Colby Sharp present at All Write a little more than a week ago and his presentation was about how his students have been sharing their classroom’s story with their school and the larger community through the internet. They are taking pictures of what they are doing, crafting news reports, creating blog posts that give a window into Colby’s classroom. The students are participants in how the story of their classroom is documented and shared.
Like Albie in Absolutely Almost, we crave positive feedback. We want people to believe in us and what we do in our classrooms. We want to not feel frustrated by wave after wave of changes that have happened in public education that run counter to what we know are best practices. We want to know that we are on the right path. We want people to believe we are doing the very best we can do for the students we see as our own children.
Because we believe it.
I sat in that crowded room in Warsaw, Indiana, listening to Colby finish his presentation. He finished by asking, “Who is telling your story?”
It’s not just my story. It’s mine. It’s my students’. It’s my family’s.
And I aim to revitalize my online life by telling it with them.
*Hint: I would love one of these, Jr. Librarian!