notes from the field -- i'm learning

August 27, 2020

Once again, a book from the early 90s examines the problems I see in our 2020 educational institutions. Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality by Jeannie Oakes, was actually written in 1985, and was one of my summer reads. 

The school I currently teach in is one of the remaining middle schools in our district that separates math, science, and English into “regular” and “advanced” levels in the 7th and 8th grades. 6th grade was added to the school later, so I am fortunate to not have classes that are tracked this way. We notice huge declines in classroom behavior as kids move from 6th to 7th grade. I’ve never believed that something magical happens between 6th and 7th grade that makes kids disconnect from school, so I’ve been wondering i...

July 11, 2020

Jia's book of essays, Trick Mirror, comes out in paperback this week. The audio version is excellent--I recommend!

Here's are some excerpts from a recent interview with her in Interview mag. I think a lot of it can connect to what we do with schooling.

INTERVIEW: What has this pandemic confirmed or reinforced about your view of society?

TOLENTINO: That capitalist individualism has turned into a death cult; that the internet is a weak substitute for physical presence; that this country criminally undervalues its most important people and its most important forms of labor; that we’re incentivized through online mechanisms to value the representation of something (like justice) over the thing itself; that most of us hold more unknown potential,...

July 7, 2020

preamble/why am I here?

I’ve posted so intermittently here, and often just cataloging my reading, like a running record.

(Check out my new lists. It’s an affiliate link, full disclosure, though I’m not even sure how that works. Mostly I appreciate a space to share books in categorized lists that supports small bookstores and is aesthetically pleasant.) 

I am currently trying to maintain my quarantine bubble as much as I can, so while this summer is full of pain and tension and and confusion and  limbo, it is also, perhaps. My READINGEST SUMMER EVER. Look forward to some recs at the end of this note.

Anyhow, I haven’t written here a ton or consistently because, well, the first few years of teaching are tiring, but also I’ve be...

April 25, 2020

(drafted earlier this month)

I watched a video of a friend, an art therapist, talking to a local public radio personality about using art therapy activities to cope during social distancing and I cried because my first thought was: this is the kind of work we should be doing in schools. But we mostly don’t.

Just before the covid-19 response kicked in here we were on strike. Watching and experiencing the switch from adversarial strike mode, returning to the top-down model as we hard shifted into “distance learning” prep, was like watching several car crashes all at once, standing next to them and figuring out how to react, deflect, intense and confusing. Some people going into hyperproductive mode as an anxiety response, others puttin...

December 8, 2019

This weekend I returned to a handful of articles by Gay Ivey, looking for inspiration for building the reading community in my classroom. (Click on her image at right for her google scholar citations. Also Peter H. Johnston, her collaborator on several of the articles.) 

I am going to excerpt two of them here--I will try not to paste the articles in their entirety, though I will want to. In reviewing these I felt regret that I never was able to visit a classroom at a high school in Madison that was built on these strategies during my time there, but I also felt edified about the practices that I hesitate to bring into my own classroom because I feel they are counterproductive.

(Things like reading logs or teaching reading as a ver...

May 18, 2019

We have three weeks left of school. I started the year by writing a letter to my students, and I will end the year with a letter, too. A draft of a poem came to me the other night and I typed it up this morning. It will likely go through more editing before I give it to them, but I'm sharing it's current state here, for memory's sake or for anyone who wants or needs to be reminded about 6th grade moments.


June 2019

Dear 6th graders, soon-to-be 7th graders,

This has been a long and challenging year. My dad died, I started at a new school, woke up way too early every day and had more students than I’ve ever had before. I’m figuring out a curriculum that’s not always my favorite, trying to balance meeting our needs with teaching what I’m “s...

May 2, 2019

About a year ago I taught unit on language and power with 7th and 8th graders that felt like a risk, but the students stepped up to the challenge wonderfully. I found this essay recently that articulates what I was working towards in that unit. This essay directly addresses the needs of English Language Learners, but I think the critical skills should be shared with all learners, as well as the responsibility of using them to reshape our educational spaces. This type of language fluidity and hybridization is also already a natural part of young people's lives, so I think they are equipped and ready to run with it.

"Do We Need a Revolution in Educational Linguistics?"

What might it look like to treat institutional racism a...

April 28, 2019

This post has been lingering in draft form since maybe November of last year. I fussed with it here and there, so there may be time shifts below. It started out just as a title placeholder: "new old teacher." I kept thinking I might split it into two posts, not sure it all gels, but I'm just gonna go with what's here.

Britt Hawthorne did an instagram live back in January in response to online chatter

on White saviorism in education. (Follow her and support her work! There is always good discussion happening. You can also support her on Patreon and she shares great resources there, too.) It was a great conversation and connected the dots between things that have felt "off" to me in my journey into the world of education. She went back to...

November 16, 2018

The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not.  To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society.  If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is t...

November 16, 2018

It was October turning to November and according the the New Teacher Adjustment graph my district sent me, this time of year should feel a bit like a pit of despair...

About this time, on a beautiful Fall weekend, I visited Chicago. While there I attended a one-day version of the Teacher Self Care Conference. I learned about TSCC through instagram mainly, as some of my favorite teacher follows mention it often--@teachlikeagirl, @mrsrussellsroom--and one of them was giving the keynote:

@valencia_valencia.  (If you’ve never seen her teaching videos go follow her--her work is exciting and empowering.) The conference was held in a huge old Chicago school and teachers from all over attended, though mainly from the midwest. The conferences happen...

October 15, 2018

As I wrote about last time, I'm currently in the particular transition of starting at a new school, but I've also been noticing and thinking about the start of the school year in general.

The beginning of the school year is hard. 20-150+ students are plucked from their widely varied everydays and placed into a room with you, where you will spend 9 months creating a small town to live and work in together.

In teaching school and books they tell you: "You must set up routines right or you'll regret it! You must be very clear or you will suffer all year! Do it right or everything else will be less effective!" These things are true, and helpful to know. But I think the best thing I've read about the beginning of the year was on a teacher social media...

September 12, 2018

“As teachers we need to stop waiting for someone to create the perfect lesson plan or curriculum we can take word-for-word. We need to read journal articles and professional books, network with colleagues and read our own independent reading in order to create lessons for our kids.”

--attributed to Sarah Mulhern Gross on instagram via @msadamsteaches, saved as a screenshot in my phone

you’re scared, but you begin.

the floors are so clean they squeak and are almost hard to walk on

a new school year is about to begin

the third school in three years

if you’re counting

not because i was fired or choose

this particular strange way to torture myself,

starting over, not knowing

where the most convenient bathroom or box of paper clips 

or helpful person is. . .


August 11, 2018

In my experience as a student in middle school and high school there was no such thing as a classroom library. Our classrooms were often used by multiple teachers so there was little in the room besides chairs, desks and a white board, maybe a poster or two. If we had books it was a textbook or the class novel we were studying and being tested on. (Granted, there was no internet, either, this was a long time ago.) I read recreationally in phases as a kid, but it was school texts that were seen as the "important" ones. There are so many negative consequences to this way of doing things--limited viewpoints are learned and validated, reading is seen as a unique-to-school task instead of a useful-to-many-aspects-of-life task, and many kids are turn...

August 10, 2018

The final big project this past school year was a collaborative magazine examining language and power called the "Languazine." It was a bit of an experiment, as are most things at this point in my career, but as a first attempt it went really well. The project also served as a fundraiser for our classroom library. Though I am not returning to my school next year, I feel great to be leaving the new teacher the gift of $500 to spend on books--and $500 that the students can feel responsible for bringing into the classroom library. What a joy!

The Languazine was the culmination of a few months of talking about language, power and representation (read more about that work here.) I created five thematic sections: Stories (personal or fictional st...

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