Saturday, September 16, 2017

Semblances

Thanks to Brandon Mull, I have a new code word for certain people I encounter in my life. I knew the actual word, of course, and its meaning...but never thought to use it to describe a certain type of person.

In Mull's novel, Sky Raiders, semblances are people that look real, but aren't. Most of them don't know they aren't real.

Here's an excerpt where the protagonist, Cole, questions a gladiator-type warrior, Lyrus, after he puts a cloak around him that helps Lyrus see himself for what he really is:

Cole blinked. "You know you're a semblance?"

"Not until you gave me the cloak. It freed me to know what I had to know in order to serve you. Whoever made me caused me to ignore my true nature. You were helping me catch glimpses, but now I see plainly. I didn't realize I had been fabricated. This is common with semblances. We play a role without much self-reflection. It helps us seem more authentic."

When I read that the first time, I was stunned. Such truth! Such wisdom! And to find it in a middle school book? I love it.

So, from now on, when I meet someone who lives their life by playing 'a role without much self-reflection,'...I'll know to do what Cole does: use my magical Jumping Sword to get as far away from them as possible.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Andres, Will, and Me

Once upon a time, I had a student named Andres. Andres didn't like to read very much when he was in the sixth grade, but there was one series he loved: The Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan. Because I was curious about a boy who loved a series of books, when he claimed he didn't like to read, I decided to read the first one when he asked me to. And, boy, was I glad I did.

That was over six years ago. Andres has already graduated from high school (which is why I can actually write his real name), the book series has grown since then...and, yes, I've read them all. While Andres is the reason I read the first book in the series, The Ruins of Gorlan, I read all the rest because they are excellent books. I hesitate to say "excellent middle school books" because I believe they are more than that. I assure you I enjoy the series just as much, if not more, than any middle school student. I highly recommend it every year to my students and keep several copies of the first three books in my classroom. 

Now, to present day...

I have a new student this year, let's call him Will (also the name of the beloved main character in The Ranger's Apprentice series). Will entered my classroom on the first day of school with a smile on his face and kindness in his eyes. He is a thoughtful and caring young man, and he impressed me within the first few days when he took my recommendation about The Ranger's Apprentice to heart. He asked if he could borrow the first one off of my book cart. I said yes, without hesitation, and hoped he would enjoy it as much as I did.

We just finished our third week in school, and Will has already finished the third book in the series and has moved on to the fourth, as of Friday afternoon. He loves the series, which pleases me greatly, and it's such fun to talk with him about it. He approached me on Friday, at the end of school, and said he had a recommendation for me. Will said he just knew I'd like The Five Kingdoms series by Brandon Mull. He asked me to please try it.

As you know, if you've read my last two posts, I've been having a bit of a dry spell when it comes to my reading choices. I felt like I should take Will's recommendation to heart since he had taken mine. I told him I would try it when I got the chance.

Needless to say, I began reading The Five Kingdoms Book One, Sky Raiders, this weekend. I really like it! I would've finished it, too, but it's been a busy weekend for me. I'm mentioning it now, before I've finished it, because it would be a great book to begin reading at this time of year.

The book begins on Halloween, when Cole (the main character) is at school and everyone wants to go check out this scary, haunted house attraction in the neighborhood for Halloween night. It's a really great beginning, even a bit dark, but so good - such a good, creepy set up to take the reader into another world. I love it! I'm not giving anything away by saying that Cole's friends are in trouble, and he's going to have to figure out a way to save them. There's action, adventure, and daring rescue attempts! Good stuff!

I'll let you know next week if I'm satisfied with the ending, or if each book is a cliffhanger to the next book. At this point, I have no idea,...and I like it that way.

Happy reading!


"Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage."
~ C.S. Lewis


Monday, September 4, 2017

Changing Channels

Okay, so,...I've just not chosen the right kind of book for me...again. I'm sorry I don't have some fabulous book to tell you about. I will tell you, instead, about what I learned from a book I didn't particularly like.

The Water is Wide was written in 1972 by Pat Conroy. While it is sometimes classified as fiction, it is actually a memoir. Conroy was a young teacher, back in 1969, who decided to teach on an isolated island off the coast of South Carolina. The book tells about his experiences in teaching the children on the island for a year. The children he taught were all African-American children ranging in age from 10 - 13 years old with different learning styles and difficulties to overcome. Not an easy task, I assure you, but he was fortunate there were only 18 of them in his school room. 

(I'm pausing,...wondering exactly how to approach what I have to say next...)

While I cannot imagine what his experience was like, I can say that he could've done a much better job. I guess standing in a classroom in 2017 with more than 30 students at a time, which sometimes includes students with learning disabilities and reading levels that range from second grade to twelfth grade, I look at Conroy's story with a raised eyebrow. 

While his stories are interesting and well-written, I found him greatly lacking as a teacher,...and I just couldn't get past it. In fact, there are times he seems to be trying to justify his lack of structure and academics in the classroom. What he describes is more like a daycare than a school room. I didn't really have a problem with some of the adventures he exposed the students to or the guests he invited to the island to bring the outside world in, but I didn't feel he was giving the children the structure and feeling of safety they needed to learn. 

I do not recommend this book, unless you want to read it as a "how a teacher shouldn't do things" kind of book. While it was depressing to think of how backwards some white people thought and talked back in "those days" (and the racial slurs were far too abundant and unnecessary in the book), it was absolutely heartbreaking for me to think of those children looking to Conroy for guidance and structure and an education that would help them move beyond their own borders, while he's busy putting on the next film or using the same inappropriate language with the children that he allows them to use. In my opinion, his own words make it seem more like he was a playmate than a teacher.

This is the second "bad call" I've made on a book and both lured me in with the hope that I would gain some knowledge and insight about how to grow and improve as a teacher. I have learned something, though. In fact, I've learned two things: 1) No more "teacher books" for awhile and, when I am finally ready for one, I'll wait for a recommendation from a trusted friend in education. 2) Having a degree in education and working in a school does not make you a teacher. Not by a long shot.  

And last, but not least, someone should have told Pat Conroy that no matter how wide the water is, true educators find a way to build a bridge.

(Now, please excuse me while I go find something pleasant to read so I can change the channel in my brain.)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Seeing Things in a Different Light

I promised you a book review today. I like to keep my promises, when possible. The thing is, I really don't want to write about this book. But a promise is a promise.

I was introduced to "Teacher Misery" on Instagram. I randomly came across it one day, and it gave me a chuckle. Inappropriate? Sometimes. But it gave me a chuckle. You see, there's some humor that only a teacher in this day and age would get. "Teacher Misery" has a tendency to post things that I'm sure some teachers would like to say, but never would...for fear of losing their jobs. I'm not quite sure how she gets away with it, but...more power to her. Everyone these days seems to have the right to free speech...except teachers.

(Yes, this IS a book review. I'm getting there.)

After finding "Teacher Misery" on Instagram, I then discovered she wrote a book. I was intrigued. I figured it would be a collection of teacher stories to give me a bit of a dark laugh at the end of my long school days. I was wrong. Boy,...was I wrong.

Teacher Misery: Helicopter Parents, Special Snowflakes & Other Bullshit by Jane Morris (not her real name, of course) is a collection of teacher stories that would scare anyone off from teaching. The stories did not make me happy, they made me sad. They shocked me and made me shake my head. Do I believe them? Yes, I have no doubt every word is true, other than names that have been changed to protect the guilty...and the innocent. 

I bought the book expecting to laugh at the ridiculousness of our public education system in these United States of America. What I found myself doing instead? I found myself thanking my lucky stars that I've never had those types of experiences in my ten years of teaching. And I can honestly say that as lousy as some of my own public education was growing up, it was never that bad. Ever.

On a good note, the first week of school just ended on Friday, and it was a really great week for me. I can't help but thank Jane Morris for making it even more special to me than usual. In light of the things she has come up against, it made me look at my own school in a different light -  the kind of light that illuminates everything wonderful about where I work. I've always loved my job, always loved my students, but there are days that the red tape and bureaucracy of it all almost smothers me...

After reading this book? I will still stand up for what I think is right for my students, hold those difficult parent meetings, and I will still roll my eyes at how the public school system expects us to do all that they expect us to do in the limited time we have to do it,...but I will also give thanks, every day, that I work in a school where respect is required from everyone and students are loved and cared for, as they should be, and where most people try to give their best to make the world a better place.

God bless all teachers, wherever you are!


Monday, August 21, 2017

It Begins

WOOHOO! Today was the first day of school for my students and me! It's been a whirlwind of a day, and I have so much to do - but I'm so excited! It's going to be a GREAT year! 

And that is all I have the time I have to blog for now. I'll be back on Sunday with a book review. I promise.

(And have I mentioned that I absolutely have the very best job in the world? I do. I really do!)

Happy reading!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

(Sigh...)



I barely began reading The Summer Before the War, and I put it down. This is no reflection on the book or the author. It's a reflection on me and my life. Teacher in-service week starts tomorrow, and my plate has been loaded with school stuff for over two weeks now,...and I'm just getting started.

This bibliophile has had to put regular pleasure reading on hold. And I hate that. Reading gives me peace, but...I have big plans for this school year and, when I'm in a time crunch at this time of year, working on what is best for my students takes precedence over just about everything else. 

While I wish I was enjoying a good book right now, I consider it way more important to plan things for young people who haven't learned that joy yet. They are tough customers. They think reading is boring, and they haven't learned to value their education and their intellect...yet. But they will.

I won't take anymore of your time, as I have nothing to review. I hope you're reading something that you enjoy or taking a journey in a book you've always wanted to take. Books are filled with endless possibilities!

(Sigh...)

Hopefully, I'll fit in time for a book sometime this week and be able to tell you about it next week.

Happy reading! 




Sunday, August 6, 2017

Upping My Game

Ah, yes,...it's time for 'back-to-school' stuff to begin. For some, school has already started - but not for us. Not yet. I have one more week "off" (I say it that way because I'm actually working two days this week) before teacher in-service week begins, and...after that? We will welcome the students back with open arms and celebrate a new beginning! I always love new beginnings!


This year marks my eleventh year as a middle school teacher. To say I have seen my ups and downs...would be an understatement. My "downs" have never been my students. My struggles have been more about the grown-ups and the politics and the lack of funding where we need it most. But I am happy to say that, unlike the familiar public education statistic in this country, I did not burn out after my first five years. In fact, I burned brighter when I hit my fifth year,...and I burn brighter still.

Teaching is a calling. If it isn't a person's calling, they should not teach. Period. It isn't an easy job, but it is a necessary one...for so many reasons other than academics. Academics are, of course, what we teach, but good teachers do so much more than that. I cringe when I hear a teacher say, "I'm just supposed to teach, I'm not supposed to raise the child! I'm not their parent!" I think back to how many teachers I had who loved me, gave me advice, and felt very much like a parent to me. I thank God for those teachers every day. I wouldn't be who I am today without them.

Every child doesn't go home to warm cookies and milk. And, even if their home life isn't tragic, it can sometimes be lonely and children can feel emotionally neglected. Many parents work a lot of hours to make ends meet and their family time is very limited. Some parents may pay more attention to their dating life, their phones, and their "likes" on social media than they do their children. And, often times, phones have become babysitters to keep children quiet. If you think I exaggerate, go out to dinner at a restaurant and look around you. As our society continues to grow more and more narcissistic, at an alarming rate, what will happen to our children? What is happening to our children?

I say all of this to let you know some reasons why I haven't quit my job as an educator or tried to become something in education other than a teacher. I know how important my job is because I know how important my teachers were to me when I was growing up. Teachers have not become less important in today's society, they have become much more important. Does that make the adventure more difficult? Absolutely. That's why I said it has to be a calling, not a job.

I have maintained the same level of commitment and energy to my job for ten years. And now? Now, it's time to up my game, take it to the next level. And I've been working hard this summer to prepare to do just that. You see, I'm old enough to know that things don't get better unless you step up to help make them better. And nothing gets better from sitting around complaining how difficult things are or "how kids are today." My future students need me to do more and to do better - so I shall. :) 

As for books, I've not read as much as I usually do in the summer. I've been having fun outdoors, and I have been working on good things to help my students learn. Reading helps me with that, no doubt, but I've had much less 'quiet time' this summer for leisure reading. I have enjoyed every single minute of everything I've done, though - even the work part. 

I finished Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and I absolutely recommend it! It is such a good story because, while it is fantasy, it is also reality. His stories are about how people relate to each other. He simply chooses a fantastical, magical setting and odd situations to put his characters in and see what happens. The audio version by him is a true delight! Neil has definitely stolen this reader's heart.

I am currently reading The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. I just started it, but I'm excited about it. I've read plenty of books around the time of World War II, but this one is in reference to World War I. I've read very little historical fiction for that time period. Since I'm so busy these days, I decided to download the audio for it as a back up, even though I'm reading the book. I thought I could listen as I take my morning walks, sometimes. Neil was excellent company on my walks, so I thought I'd give Fiona Hardingham (the Audible narrator for Simonson's book) a try. 

I hope you try something new! Whoever you are, whatever you do - I wish you a new journey, a new joy, and a new goal to reach for!

Happy reading!