Category Archives: Nonfiction

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

 

Compilation of Junot Diaz Stories!

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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?

 

Binge On These: My Top 3 Must-See TV Shows

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Binge On These: My Top 3 Must-See TV Shows

Like Fight Club, there’s one rule: don’t add up the number of hours you will spend binge-watching a TV show.  I think of it this way: it’s quality time with my husband and it gives us tons to talk and wonder about.  Plus, there’s usually a road-trip worthy podcast about the show.  If I’m bingeing alone, I label it time to unwind and decompress.
#rationalizations

Moving on… here are my current top three recommendations for some bingeing fun:

 

1) Scrotal Recall (2014, Netflix) Yeah, I know…the title. It’s awful.  ButScreen Shot 2016-03-25 at 7.15.05 PM I promise you, the show is hilarious. I’m starting with this because it’s only 6 25ish minute episodes. Plot: a twenty-something dude in England finds out he has chlamydia and has to contact all of his partners.  Hilarity ensues.  I mean it.

It’s a comedy about friendship and love and romance.  And…drumroll please…Season 2 is in the works!

2)  Scandal, Seasons 1-4 (Netflix and Hulu)  Season 1 and 2 were so good that I re-watched them with my husband so he could catch up. The feminist yet soapy pScreen Shot 2016-03-25 at 7.13.16 PMlot lines are ridiculously crazy and wonderful.  Drama, intrigue, romance, great clothes and a killer soundtrack.  I only say seasons 1-4 because Season 5 was a letdown – too much Olivia-Fitz drama and not enough “fixing”; Season 6 is boring me with recycled back-stabbing and plotting.  But 1-4, oh man, Shonda Rimes and her writers totally handle it.  Don’t miss “The Lawn Chair” (S4 E14) for some straight-from-the-headlines tear-filled badassery.

3)  Downton Abbey (Amazon) Yeah, yeah, a bunch of rich white folk in the EngScreen Shot 2016-03-25 at 7.17.21 PMlish countryside in the 1900’s.  YAWN.  I thought the same thing, but people whose taste I trusted were addicted.  My husband I started Season 1 over Christmas and finished Season 6 last week. SIX SEASONS IN THREE MONTHS, Y’ALL!  It’s THAT good.You learn about the aristocracy and the downstairs-cracy.  There’s something to love about almost every character, from the cranky Dowager Countess to the conniving Mr. Barrow.  Most of all, it’s a story about family and hope.  The past few months have been especially hard for me, so the hours we spent watching this show helped bring some light to a dark time.

What should I binge on next? Let me know in the comments!

Detoxing From Social Media

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Over my school district’s winter break, I am taking a break from social media.  From December 24th through January 3rd, I am not checking Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  In the interest of transparency, I have logged into Facebook to check yoga class times and to see if anyone has posted anything wacky on my author page, but that’s it.

And it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be to go cold turkey.

I’m a fan of social media, largely in part because I use generally use it for the Forces of Good: keep in touch with friends and family, share information, offer a high five or virtual hug and laugh at funny videos and memes.  I also wanted to be totally present with my husband over the holiday because starting a new job and finishing a book has made me candidate for #1 Slacker Wife 2015.

I also have a very sick family member and I am reflecting a lot on the preciousness of time.  If I get a terminal disease, I am not going to miss liking people’s statues or picture of flowers.  I will miss hugging  people and walking through the woods.

But I didn’t realize how automatic it has become to click on the blue and white F on my iPhone screen.  It was totally automatic.  It freaked me out.  And made me feel ashamed of being so connected to this computer in my hand.

My thoughts so far:

Day 1 (12/24) : This is great!  It’s fun to be so disconnected and to live like it’s 2006. Please text me your photos from Christmas Eve dinner because I’m detoxing from social media.  See, I have self control. Now give me one of those cookies…

Day 2 (12/25)  I want to see people’s Christmas photos!  But it’s so nice to be out of the loop. But I want to see your kids in their Christmas outfits!

Day 3 (12/26) : Periphery, Harlen. Social media is  all periphery.  You’ll be in touch with anyone who really matters. But what’s going on???  I had to text my husband a meme I made instead of posting it on his FB page.  It was an Omar Little meme and it was about ceviche – who wouldn’t want to see that? Oh well. It was just for him.

Day 4 (12/27):  I really want to tell everyone – the entire universe – how awesome Star Wars: The Force Awakes is!  I want to tweet J.J. Abrams and tell him I have officially forgiven him for the ending of Lost.  Instead, I will rave to my husband and the friends we watched it with.  I will text my sister-in-law back because she saw it today, too.  And I am good with that.

Day 4 (12/28):  I am reading REAL news sources more now.  I am actually going to The Washington Post app instead of my friends self-selecting for me.   It’s only been four days? I’m PROUD of myself for being off social media for four days. Proud?  That’s terrible.  Shameful.  Proud.  Wow. It’s a good thing I am taking a break.  I’m wondering what the outcome will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#SmarterSunday: The Insidiousness of Resiliency

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Raise your hand if you work for an organization that uses “resiliency” in its mission statement or philosophy.

Thanks.

Now take that hand and smack yourself in the forehead.

Because that’s what “resiliency” feels like to me now.

As a teacher who is surviving the high stakes testing extravaganza inspired by No Child Left Behind, no word rings more hollow than “resiliency.”  It really means do more with less and make sure you smile while doing it – and come back for more tomorrow.

This article by Parul Seghal explains a dangerous outcome of demanding resiliency:  shaming those who question the system.

It’s time those of us who are asked to be resilient to start asking more questions about the system that demands so much from us. Even rubber bands snap.

Enjoy.

#SmarterSunday: 2016 In Three Words Or Less

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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

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“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!