Friday Five: Reasons We’re Excited for the NCTE Affiliate Meeting

Today, NCTE affiliates from all over the country will meet in Atlanta, Georgia. There are so many reasons to be excited about this convergence of educators. Here are a few:

  1. Sharon Draper will be making the keynote address tonight! A former teacher and now award-winning author, she spoke at our 2016 PCTELA conference as well as the 2016 NCTE conference and is sure to be an engaging and energizing speaker.
  2. Informal conversations between affiliates. This, like those informal conversations at conferences, is often where we find out best ideas. Collaborations and conversations with other educators in other states is the goal here, and we’re excited to see what ideas the synergy of our conversations generate.
  3. The agenda is packed full of areas for improvement with more formal conversations around: membership, diversity, social media, advocacy. Like in our classrooms, our organization always has room for growth, and we look forward to the presentations and conversations afforded by this convergence of educators and affiliates.
  4. On Sunday, Millie Davis & Leila Christenbury will be presenting about Intellectual Freedom, a topic we’re particularly interested in right now.
  5. It feels like Thanksgiving in the summer! The energy and excitement of meeting other teachers and making connections in the summer is like attending the annual NCTE conference. We’re grateful to be a part of this organization and to add our voice to the conversation.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

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Friday Five: Reasons We’re Excited for the NCTE Affiliate Meeting

Summer Reading Challenge #2: Read from a Prize List

Summer Reading Challenge #2: Read from a Prize List

A few years ago, I discovered the joys of reading from a Prize list, when I read a bunch of Pulitzer-prize winning plays (later this summer, I’ll be talking about that at the AP conference in Washington, DC). This summer, I’ve decided to dip my feet into a few lists: The Newbery Medal, The Printz Awards, and more Pulitzers.

The Newbery Medal is given annually by the American Library Association “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Each year one book wins the medal and a few others are named as Honor Books, ones that had been considered for the medal. Some books you might recognize on this list include The Giver (1994),  Holes (1999), The Graveyard Book (2009), and this year’s, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill.

The Michael L. Printz Award ” exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.” Similar to the Newbery, one book wins the medal and others are named as Honor books. This year’s winner is John Lewis’s graphic novel March, Book 3. (I’ve read the first one, and really want to read two and three). Some of the books named as honor books this year include Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also A Star and Neal Shusterman’s Scythe.  

The Pulitzer Prize is awarded in 21 categories, but I’m most interested in Fiction, Drama, and Poetry.  This year, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, and Tyehimba Jess’s Olio were the winners for those categories (I’ve read the first two, working on the third now).

We all have to-be-read lists that are miles long, but looking at a prize list and reading a few off that list can give you a good place to start if you’re interested in book recommendations for a level of reading you may be unfamiliar with.–the runners up are also phenomenal.  If you’re looking to read more diverse books or expand your reading selections, these lists can be a great place to begin.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Summer Reading Challenge #2: Read from a Prize List

Happy July 4! Read “America,” a poem by Claude Mckay

America

Claude McKay
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
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Happy July 4! Read “America,” a poem by Claude Mckay

Summer Reading Challenge #1: Read a Book Someone Else Chooses for You

Over vacation, I read Tim Dorsey’s Atomic Lobster. I would never have read this book if not for my husband. He confesses he judges books by the covers, and at the recent AAUW booksale bag sale day, he grabbed this book (among many others). It looked like a fun vacation read.

So he read it for the first part of vacation last week, and I read it for the second part. He kept giggling, reading lines aloud, and generally making noises of approval as he read it. My husband and I don’t normally read the same books, so not only was I intrigued by his reaction, I wanted to have a common book we could talk about. I’m glad we did, because in the week since we’ve read it, we talked about what we liked and disliked in it, we’ve discovered Dorsey’s other books, and we’ve used the characters as reference points.

In many ways, Dorsey’s fiction reminds me of Dave Barry’s fiction: hapless characters enter into conflict, coincidence and hilarity ensue. (If you haven’t read Insane City, Big Trouble, or Tricky Business, check those out.) There are three character arcs in the book: the G-Force, a bunch of grannies who discover cruise ships are less expensive than retirement homes (if you stay away from drinks and gambling); Jim Davenport and his wife (he’s non-confrontational to a fault); and Serge Storms, a serial killer who seems to have a good heart. The situations are hilarious, but I’ll warn you, there’s lots of sex, drugs, and rock and roll–this is not a book you’ll give to your students to read.

While I would not have normally picked up this book on my own, the experience of reading the same book as my husband was priceless. So here’s your first reading challenge of the summer: read a book someone else chooses for you. Hopefully it will be a book that person has read, so you can discuss it together.

Happy Reading!

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Summer Reading Challenge #1: Read a Book Someone Else Chooses for You

Friday Five: Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

So now that you’re done with school, the time to decompress and recharge has arrived. Whether you’re at year 3 or year 30, teachers need the summer to relax and build up that energy reservoir for the next year. Summer professional development is important and useful, and I know many of you will do training, meet with teachers, attend conferences, and read professional books (I will, too). But here’s a summer to-do list for teachers that will help you really relax and recharge so you can return to school ready for students.

1. Binge watch that one show all you students were talking about. Especially if you wouldn’t normally watch it. Even if you just watch 3 episodes in a row, you’ll at least know the characters and the basics when you see your students next. (Pro tip: ask students via social media like twitter which show to binge watch). My high school students recommended, among other shows, both Orange is the New Black and 13 Reasons Why.

2. Stay in your pajamas all day and do not cook one meal. Pretend you’re back in college and do not be productive for one entire day. If you have kids, they probably won’t mind pjs and cereal all day. Allow yourself one full day with no responsibilities. This can be hard for us, since we’re so used to getting things done, and the summer is time to get things done you can’t do during the school year.  However, you need to take a full 24 hours off from doing things. Order in, or just eat from your cupboards. Ask your significant other or kids to make food. If you’re not sure how to *not* do things all day, try #1.

3. Leave your computer and phone and go outside all day. We’re so connected, even during the summer. Whether you’re checking the news, finding summer PD, or trying to work on curriculum, give yourself a day without any screens. No TV, no computer, no phone. Go enjoy the natural world. This will allow you, as Thoreau says, to “maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” Recharge your nature batteries, whether it is at the beach, on a hike, or in your backyard. Just don’t forget the sunblock.

4. Call a non-teacher friend and go out to lunch. You should go out with teacher buddies, too, but this one is important. If you go out to lunch with a non-teacher, it means you will probably not talk about school, lessons, administration, students, parents, or curriculum.  It means you’ll have conversations about family, the news, movies, or the food you’re eating.  Enjoy a full conversation and meal without being a teacher, you’ll just be a friend.

5. Freewrite about what you never have time for and then do it. OK, so this is kind of an assignment. Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Freewrite for five minutes without stopping on this prompt: What do you feel you never have time to do, but really want to do? I did this and was surprised. I thought I would discover I wanted to write more. You know what? Deep down, I want to cook more elaborate meals, and in the summer, I have time to do that: time to chop veggies, simmer, prepare complex dishes that normally would not happen when I come home from school. Freewrite until you figure out what you actually wish you were doing. Then take some time this summer to do it!  In the meantime, I’m headed to the grocery store to buy ingredients and start cooking.

Happy Summer!

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

New Poet Laureate: Tracy K. Smith

We have a new U.S. Poet Laureate: Tracy K. Smith! In 2011, her book of poetry Life on Mars won a Pulitzer. She currently teaches at Princeton.

Some things you might not know about this position:

  • The official title for this position is: Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
  • The librarian of Congress (currently Carla Hayden) appoints the position.
  • This position started in 1937 and the stipend accompanying it is only $35,000.

Here’s a link to NPR’s article “Tracy K. Smith, New U.S. Poet Laureate, Calls Poems Her ‘Anchor'”

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picture from NPR


The Good Life

Tracy K. Smith
When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.
New Poet Laureate: Tracy K. Smith

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Summer was here again. Summer, summer, summer. I loved and hated summers. Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out it me. Summer was supposed to be about freedom and youth and no school and possibilities and adventure and exploration. Summer was a book of hope. That’s why I loved and hated summers. Because they made me want to believe.”

Now that’s how you start a book! If you need a summer read, why not start with one, that also begins in summer? I had no less than three students recommend this book to me in the last week of school. Thus, when I went to the bookstore to buy my first read of the summer, I picked up a copy of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Honestly, I don’t know how in the world I hadn’t read this book yet.

With Ari’s voice, Sáenz’s writing, the short chapters, the engaging content–I didn’t put the book down once I picked it up. I read it almost all in one sitting.  It tells the story of a friendship between two boys. It tells the story two loving families. It tells the story many of us might have wanted to read when we were young. Ari and Dante negotiate their teenage selves and various identities: racial, sexual, and overall human identity. I don’t want to spoil any of the major events in the book, but I will tell you I loved that Ari’s mother is a teacher. And at one point, Ari talks to her about her job. The exchange just made me smile, nod, and realize just how remarkable Sáenz is, that he could pinpoint our work so succinctly:

“What are you thinking?”
“You like teaching?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Even when your students don’t care?”
“I’ll tell you a secret. I’m not responsibly for whether my students care or don’t care. That care has to come from them–not me.”
“Where does that leave you?”
“No matter what, Ari, my job is to care.”

This book is a must-read (or a re-read). It won the Lambda Literary Award, the Printz Honor Award, and the Stonewall Book Award.  And if you want to listen to the audiobook, Lin-Manuel Miranda reads it aloud! The good news if you read this and loved it, is that there’s a sequel in the making, so there will be more from Ari & Dante.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

 

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe