Category Archives: Inspiration

A Challenge: An Open Letter To Fellow Teachers

Standard

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

 

Compilation of Junot Diaz Stories!

Standard

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 2.13.20 PM

Junot Diaz‘s writing has strong voice that never, ever shakes.  If you’ve never read him, now’s your chance.  Enjoy these free stories in print and in audio.  These are perfect for any reader and especially English teachers.  His language might be a little dicey for the classroom at times, but his characters speak the way teenagers speak, so find a school leadership ally and ask for support in bringing an authentic Dominican voice to your classroom.

A huge thank you to Josh Jones for putting this list together. Whydontcha give him a follow?

 

If You’re Sassy And You Own It, Raise Your Hand: Top Chef Season 13 Sneak Peak

Standard

top-chef-13-0-0Top Chef Season 13 premieres on Wednesday and Bravo offered fans an eleven minute amuse-bouche into the first competition. Internet snarksters are already wishing  cheftestant Renee Kelly culinary doom.

Why?

Kelly had had the nerve to….renee-kelly

….call herself “the super-sassy chef from Kansas City” and to express outward enthusiasm for her career.

I’m not joking.  She loves her job.  That’s her crime, folks.

She is HAPPY. Check it out at 1:10:

http://player.theplatform.com/p/PHSl-B/tLGNZ7qPWAH0/select/wQNBfylXaTZa

If it were a bearded, tattooed male hipster who’d called himself “sassy,” I would bet dollars to daikon that he would have received some giggles, tolerant eye-rolls, and even some bro-like pats on the back. But Kelly is literally mocked by one of her competitors in the next interview.

This is the conundrum of being a woman.  Look approachable but not too perky.  Be enthusiastic but stay serious. This interview with best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner provides insight into the struggle for women to be taken seriously:

“If you’re smiling in your (color) author photo, it’s chick lit. If you’re smirking, or giving a stern, thin-lipped stare in your black-and-white picture, and if you go out of your way in every interview to talk about how “unserious books do not deserve serious attention,” then it’s literature”

This exact article made me rethink my own professional head shot. I was torn between two.  One happy, one serious.  What was the message to my readers?

Here’s what it boiled down to:   I’m a generally happy person.  I was thrilled my book was published.  If someone won’t read my book because I look happy, well, that wasn’t  my problem.

So this is me. Happy.  Because I get to do what makes my heart sing: write and teach. Deal with it.

Or don’t.

You’ve got this, Chef Renee.  Keep smiling that sassy smile. We need you.

Harlen Photo

I’m a happy writer. Deal with it.

#SmarterSunday: 2016 In Three Words Or Less

Standard

file3191235303437

My life became unmoored in 2015: my beloved uncle died in January; my amazing grandmother died in April; I left a job that was my professional home for ten years; I started an amazing new job that challenges in me in tough ways; my cousin is very sick with lymphoma.   The image that comes to mind when I think of 2015 is a balloon floating into the sky.  It’s not at all what I anticipated.

This article by Donna Talarico  has given me a way to feel more anchored as I end this bittersweet year and look forward to a happier 2016. I hope her words can help you frame your bliss, too.

Enjoy!

#SmarterSunday: Two Harts Beating For Social Justice

Standard

“It was just a normal day” is the beginning of many stories, often sad.

September 11th, 2001.

The day my Uncle Harvey died.

But not this time. This time, this normal day became a revelation.

It was my first day volunteering with Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County, so I was going on an orientation delivery.  I helped Bill and Evelyn Hart load their car with the coolers and we started our route.  We made small talk and when we started talking about my job as a teacher, Evelyn said in passing that she taught in an underground literacy program in Alabama during the 196o’s.  As a teacher, I was fascinated and inspired by her story.

That February, Evelyn spoke at my school’s Black History Night about her experience as this “secret teacher.”  One of our students asked if she’d ever contacted her maid and Evelyn said she hadn’t. That made Evelyn think…

The rest is in this article written by the talented Margie Peterson.

Enjoy!

 

Make Today Count Again

Standard
IMG_6179

Suzie and I making today count at a Penn State Game #girlfriendsrock #selfcare

Sometimes a piece of writing sticks. I’m really proud of this post I wrote for life coach Suzie Bichovsky’s blog, so I’ll share it again.

The best part: I’ve been in touch with Sue Jeffer’s family and have been able to personally tell them how much their sister and aunt’s mantra means to me.

Enjoy. Read it here.

#SmarterSunday: The J Word

Standard
#SmarterSunday:  The J Word

Until last week, I was a notorious juster.IMG_8950

I’m writing you just to see if…

Oh, I’m just working on my next book..

I need just a few minutes of your time…

Until I read this article by Ellen Petry Leanse, I had no idea how often I was potentially sabotaging my credibility.  Do you need to drop the J word, too?