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.)