Author Archives: Heather Harlen

About Heather Harlen

Heather is the writer of the HOPE YOU GUESS MY NAME: A THRILLER (Book 1 of the Marina Konyeshna Thrillogy) and teacher who is trying to make every day count without burning out. Look for SHAME, SHAME, I KNOW YOUR NAME (BOOK 2 of the Marina Konyeshna Thrillogy) in early 2017 (Northampton House Press). www.heatherharlen.com

A Challenge: An Open Letter To Fellow Teachers

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Dear Fellow Teachers,

Fired up about the latest mass murder in an American school?  Great.  Me, too.  And if I see one more well-meaning teacher on a social media post ask for advice while trying not to be “political”,  I’m going to snap my very favorite purple pen in half.   And you know that means business when a teacher vows to destroy a favorite pen. So, fellow teachers…

STOP SAYING “NOT TO BE POLITICAL, BUT…”

STOP IT NOW.

OUR JOBS ARE POLITICAL.

Everything we do is legislated by the state or federal government or decided upon by a school board.  From the backless, toeless shoes we’re not supposed to wear in my district to the funding we receive as a Title 1 school, EVERYTHING IS POLITICAL.

Saying you’re not political is political. 

It places you firmly in your privilege, siding with the status quo.

Your non-voice, your silence, emboldens others to tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and how much you’ll be paid to shut up and fake-it-to-make it.

I’m not saying your classroom is the place to indoctrinate your students with your views on abortion or 2nd Amendment rights. As a professional, your job is to helps students explore all points of view. What I’m saying is that you need to educate yourself and take a social media stand on issues that impact the four walls you teach in every single day.

For example:

If you can’t talk about these topics with a modicum of insight, it’s time to stop grading and read about them.

You can still use social media to ask for advice and share your favorite activities, but please get out of your Pinterest stupor and GET INFORMED.  What can you do?

  1. Find your local school district’s social media accounts  and follow them.
  2. Find your town’s social media accounts and follow them.
  3. Find your county’s social media accounts and follow them.
  4. Find your governor’s social media accounts and follow them.
  5. Find your STATE legislators’ social media accounts and follow them.
  6. Find your CONGRESSIONAL legislators’ social media accounts and follow them.

THEN

7) “Like” what you agree with a write a comment telling them why.

8) If you disagree with what your elected official posted, tell them why.

9) Do both professionally and diplomatically. No name calling, no sweeping generalizations. Keep it positive.

10) And when someone in your social circle posts something  you know is factually dubious (because you’re informed), TELL THEM ABOUT IT and add a credible link. Do not engage with a back and forth and be ridiculous.  Use your teacher voice.  Then get on with your life.

“But Heather, it’s JUST social media!”

It’s never JUST anything when it concerns our students.

Quick story:

In the mid 2000’s I was at a National Writing Project Annual Meeting and chose a session about supporting LBGTQ students, back when it was still precarious professionally to do so openly.  The hotel conference room was packed with teachers from all over the country, wanting to make a difference without losing their jobs.  One man said, “Listen. Even if all you can do is tell a student ‘That’s so gay is not OK in this classroom,’ you have done something. You have made your classroom safer for the closeted student in the back row or for another student whose uncle just came out.”

Those two sentences changed me.  Since that November afternoon  years ago, my classroom has never been the same.  Some people might consider it a political act that I stand up so openly for my LGBTQ students. I long to live in a culture where treating everyone with dignity and respect is a norm, not a political leaning. So until then, the rainbow  drawing on my classroom door is political. I can live with that.

I believe that every student has the right to feel safe in every classroom across our great, complicated, bruised country.   And they will never feel totally safe until we, as teachers, stop being afraid of being called “political.”

 

With love,

Heather

 

An Invitation To Listen: A New Podcast

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episode-one-coverbThe Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project has been my happy place as a teacher since 2004.  It’s provided me opportunities to learn, lead, write, make mistakes, develop friendships, and more. Because life is about the sweet and the bitter, he horrific events in Charlottesville this summer were the catalyst for an LVWP bucket list initiative: our own podcast.

Thanks to the our fearless site director, Doug Antonioli, I am now part of Open Mic, a monthly podcast exploring the intersections of education and social justice.  Enjoy our first episode: Teaching In The Wake of Charlottesville.

Our next episode is about supporting transgender students. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

#mybp2017: The Role of Audience In Project Based Learning

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Thank you for coming to my session on the role of audience in project based learning at the Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project Best Practices 2017 Conference!

In the essence of saving paper,  I am posting my presentation for you here.

Thanks for coming today! I look so forward to our conversation and connections.

 

 

 

 

 

A Challenge from The White Lady at the Front of the Classroom: 6 Ideas for Secondary Teachers During Inauguration Week

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Dear Fellow White Folks at the Front of the Classroom:

In less than a week, Donald Trump will be president of the United States.  Maybe you supported him.  Maybe you didn’t.  Maybe you really don’t care who is president.

However you feel, I promise you are in front of plenty of students who DO care, students who have paid attention to Trump’s stances on building a wall with Mexico, his support of stop and frisk, his derisive comments about women, and more.

You are also in front of students who supported Trump, whose families supported Trump.  These students are part of the conversation, too.

And so it’s a delicate balance.

In the interest of providing space for real dialogue and accurate information,  I issue you a challenge:

Teach something from the Black Lives Matter Syllabus this week.

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It was designed by Frank Leon Roberts (frankroberts@nyu.edu) at BlackLivesMatterSyllabus.com  and is is a rich, current curriculum to investigate and discuss race relations in our complex, beautiful, and divided country.

For example:

  1. Discuss/debate/find examples of these non-violent actions.  What have students witnessed?  What issues need attention in their schools and communities and which actions could they use? Which shouldn’t they use? Why?

2.  Watch one of the many Ted Talks on the syllabus.  What did your students learn, like, and wonder?

3.  Create a scavenger hunt of Black Lives Matter.  Have your students scour the website and find real information for themselves, not filtered through another site. A great example of using primary sources.  In fact, check back – I’m going to make one.

4.Debate Colin Kaepernick’s controversial decisions to kneel for the National Anthem at NFL games.  This is a wonderful opportunity to discussion professional vs. personal and non-violent protest.

5. In the spirit of Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete?, investigate the school-to-prison pipeline.  What is your school and community doing to support all learners and to limit students’ involvement in the judicial system? How does stop and frisk impact interaction with the judicial system?

6. Although this isn’t from the Black Lives Matter Syllabus,  many people are participating in an inauguration blackout, meaning they are refusing to watch it in protest. Research this with your students and ask them what they’d like to do and why. If they want to watch it, watch it. If not, what kind of alternative activity can your students design?  As they sang in Rent, “the opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”

Finally, if like me, you are worried about this administration and Congress, start thinking about how you personally are going to help get out the vote for midterm elections. Our work is just starting.

 

 

Please post any and all comments/ideas below.  We need you.

Heather’s Top Two Movies Of 2016

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“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

– Meister Eckhart, German Christian mystic

2016 was a challenging year for me personally, for many of my loved ones, for my students, for our country, for the world.  I want it to be sealed with a kiss of hope and happiness, so My Favorites posts are expressions of gratitude for the people who created things that made me happy this year.  I hope they make you happy, too.

 

These are the best of the movies I saw in the theater in 2016.  They were memorable for the sheer “butt travel factor,” because they took me away from my regular life for a couple of hours in powerful ways.  For a year that had many ups and downs, it was a gift to visit these strange places and witness the stories unfold:

 

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Take tissues, fyi.

 

Arrival – I had no idea what to expect from this movie because I’d only seen the previews and I’m grateful I went in as a blank slate for this gorgeous movie. For a film about linguistics and the power of words, the dialogue is elegantly sparse and utilitarian.  It’s beautifully-shot and the message is pitch-perfect as we embark on a Trump presidency.

 

 

 

 

 

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A great escape!

 

Rogue One –  A stand alone film that functions like a novella between Episode 3 and Episode 4, this installment is full of Easter eggs and connections that are fabulous for an OG Star wars fan like me.  There’s great action, beautiful scenery, wonderful chemistry, and a Jimmy Smitts cameo (swoon!).  This almost makes up for the messes that were Episodes 1 and 2.

 

 

What are your favorite movies from 2016? Please share in the comments!

Heather’s Favorite Reads of 2016

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“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

– Meister Eckhart, German Christian mystic

2016 was a challenging year for me personally, for many of my loved ones, for my students, for our country, for the world.  I want it to be sealed with a kiss of hope and happiness, so My Favorites posts are expressions of gratitude for the people who created things that made me happy this year.  I hope they make you happy, too.

This first post is about my favorite books.  It’s hard to write about all of them, so please follow me on Goodreads to see what else I loved.  In the meantime, here are two of the most memorable:

 

 

 

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay: If I were to write a horror book, it would be like this: contemporary and full of pop culture allusions.  I stumbled upon this page-turner on my Kindle one night.   It was on sale for $2.99 and with a blurb from Steven King, I thought I’d try it.  It’s part psychological drama/mostly horror about a teenage girl who may or may not be possessed by a demon.  The point of view expertly switches so the readers sees things from different angles.  As a high school teacher and former teenage girl, I am acutely aware of the mood swings that might only be described as possession.  The movie comes out in 2018 starting Robert Downey Jr, but don’t wait until then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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He could read the alphabet for 80 chapters and I’d buy it.

 

Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen:  “Uncle Brucey,” as The Boss calls himself in one part of the book, reads to me every day in my car and it is the epitome of delightful.  As a huge fan of his music, it’s amazing to hear his life story unfold in his voice, to hear the timbre darken when he talks about his father and to catch the light  when he talks about his mother.  I don’t often re-read books (so many books, so little time), but once I finish listening to this as a fan, I’m going to buy a hard copy and read it as a writer, mining it for his wisdom about the creative process, the business of art, and perseverance.

 

 

 

 

What are your favorite reads from 2016? Please share in the comments!

Heather’s Top Two TV Shows of 2016

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“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

– Meister Eckhart, German Christian mystic

2016 was a challenging year for me personally, for many of my loved ones, for my students, for our country, for the world.  I want it to be sealed with a kiss of hope and happiness, so My Favorites posts are expressions of gratitude for the people who created things that made me happy this year.

I hope they make you happy, too.

This second post is about the best TV I watched in 2016.  I was able to escape from life courtesy of  Downton Abbey, Justified, American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare, Orange Is The New Black, House of Cards, Scandal, Modern Family, The Goldbergs, and more, but these two stand out and deserve some extra applause:

 

 

Sense 8 (Netflix, drama) –  My husband and I are only six episodes in, but it’s so good already that I would be remiss to not write about it.  This is one of the few TV shows I d0n’t want to binge on because it’s so, so good. I want to enjoy it in small doses, like running my finger through icing on cake, in little tastes.  It’s the story of eight people around the world who are figuring out they are psychically and physically connected.

The Wachowskis combine gently unfolding storytelling with their fast-paced action in a way that is wonderfully balanced. The cast is richly multi-ethnic, which is used to great effect in scenes of their cities, their culture, their clothing, their music – it’s all very sensual, a play on the title. One of the leads is a transgender woman, another display of diversity on TV that offers more faces and stories to learn from. Oh, and all of the main characters are talented and absolutely gorgeous and their chemistry is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crazyhead (Netflix, horror/comedy) –  These two female British demon hunters in their twenties are just trying to get through their quarter life crises without being killed  a la Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets Broad City. I stumbled across this show one night and gave it a play without knowing anything about it.  The opening sequence turns out to be not at all what you think it is and once you figure it out, the British dry, dark humor takes over and you’re off to the demonic races.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What TV made you happy in 2016?  Please share in the comments!