My writing coach through the National Blogging Collaborative is a wonderful woman named Lisa Hollenbach, and I think her getting-to-know-you questionaire is a good tool for thinking about personal and professional goals, so I’m posting my responses here.
So friends, our dear ENC Eddie James Ronks The Fourth ((Ed Ronco)) is doing his darndest to save a radio station out here in the Emerald City. They’ve crossed the halfway point, but there’s still a long way to go to hit $7 million by June.
If you’re a longtime Puget Sound resident, you might not have had the opportunity to live in a community without a thriving public radio news outlet. Trust me as someone who makes cross-country drives listening to NPR: it’s rare. Verrrrrrrrrrry rare. We need to preserve this valuable asset we are fortunate to have taken for granted.
If you know Ed from school, maybe you’re thinking, “Ed gets things done, I’m sure he’s doing just fine with this ENORMOUS UNDERTAKING because he’s kind of a force of nature. A gentle, druid-like force.” And you’re not wrong, but I really think that for this project, we need to summon the #citydesk #campusdesk #Udown2die4this crew. Because #SpartansWill and I’m sure you’ll agree that this #MarchMadness was a bit of a bust.
Do you know that KPLU hasn’t been able to hire an education reporter because of this crazy buyout situation? And, in a brief tangent, I need to point out that the Seattle Times is also hiring an editorial person with expertise in education? Good things, scary things, and crazy things related to education are happening in this region, and I’m desperate for those stories to be told. We don’t have the capacity right now to tell even a fraction of them.
A few months ago I snarkily told Ed over Hawaiian pancakes at Kona Kitchen (I dragged the poor guy all through my first neighborhood) that if they didn’t save the news station, the jazz station that will allegedly replace it wouldn’t matter because jazz only happens when we cover news and build that community connection. My tone could have used adjusting, but I think there’s still truth in that statement.
I left journalism because it got too broken for me to be a healthy contributor.Ed Ronco and the other folks working to tell stories all across the nation and the world are still fighting that battle every single day. I want us all to be in that room where it happens, so I hope you’ll join me.
This piece was originally posted on my Facebook page.
Happy hundredth birthday to legendary children’s book author Beverly Cleary! (Who I always assumed was BFFs with Judy Blume because they were both close to each other on my alphabetically-arranged bookshelf)
Beverly Cleary was one of my top five absolute favorite authors growing up. At one point, I’m pretty sure my mom had found a copy of every single book for me (used, garage sales, etc). (Have I mentioned we’re both completionists?) (this is going to be an excessively lengthy post, #sorrynotsorry)
I first learned about sibling dynamics from Beezus and Ramona. BTW, I always saw Ramona as a leeeetle bit of a brat. Girl, did you really just squeeze a whole tube of toothpaste into the sink? Why are you so hung up on what the cursive Q looks like? Can you puhhhlease get your ish together at your favorite teacher’s wedding? Did you seriously think you could find the end of the rainbow? What are oxfords and why are you wearing ugly old fashioned outfits? (I didn’t know at the time that books often change their front cover without altering the inside art).
Anyway, I get it now, Ms. Cleary. I was Beezus with a healthy dash of Ramona, and I need to be compassionate and patient and loving in a fiercely non-condescending way with the Ramonas of the world.
I carry Ms. Cleary’s stories around inside of me. When I turn on a lamp, I’ll sometimes catch myself muttering about the Dawnzer, which gives off “lee light.” When I think about elementary school theater productions (which I’m realizing in writing this is far more often than is perhaps healthy), I remember the yellow-bordered cover of Ramona and Her Father. When I open a piece of Dubble Bubble gum, I shake my fist at Henry and his stupid schemes.
I discovered my love of the epistoliary novel through Muggie Maggie and Dear Mr. Henshaw. I realized I hated dog books when I followed up my reading with Strider. I scratched my itch for animal-centric books with the magnificent Ralph S. Mouse.
Speaking of which, one of the main reasons I still get star-struck at being friends with @Paul O Zelinsky is frankly not because of all his stunningly illustrated picture books, but because he illustrated a number of Clearly’s books, including The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
Before Poppy (Avi) and the Redwall crew (Brian Jacques), there was Ralph S. Mouse. In 2nd grade I was obsessed with Stuart Little and had not yet discovered Jacques’ work, so I’m sure my parents were at least a little pleased that by discovering Ralph (in a pink-bordered mass market paperback copy from my Troll book order) I finally had more variety in the books I stowed away in my backpack. (I read Charlotte’s Web probably a half dozen times in 1st grade. It was excessive.)
When we were last in Portland, Toby and I happened upon Quimby Street and a nearby apartment building called the Ramona, and I wept tears of delight. Similarly tear-inducing was receiving this month’s copy of the Horn Book, which is a blockbuster issue dedicated to Ms. Cleary’s work.
Beverly Cleary is one of the most remarkable authors I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. She was my constant companion on long car rides (although I didn’t understand why she wrote using a few long chapters rather than shorter chapters like I found in The Baby-Sitters’ Club books). As an adult, I’m impressed that she created a world and characters who are still so relevant despite all the changes since her work was first published.
I felt a little scummy when I discovered she was approaching her 100th birthday, because I assumed she had left this world many moons ago. Maybe today is the time for me to write her a thank you note. But first, I’m going to reread Dear Mr. Henshaw for inspiration.
(Originally published as a Facebook post.)
When I first decided to take a year’s leave of absence, I made a promise to myself that I’d have a plan for next year by Spring Break of 2016. Welp. I have no clue what I’m doing next school year. But I promised I’d tell you, dear reader, so I’ll share one thing I do know. I’ve resigned my position at Federal Way Public Schools. I leaving with a heavy heart and a hope to return. Chronic health issues are preventing me from serving in the classroom next year.
A year ago, when I broke the news of my leave to my teaching partner and dear friend, she told me, “You’re moving on to bigger and better things.” If anyone else would have told me that, I would have rolled my eyes and gotten flustered at the semi-compliment. I believe our most important work in education is being done in the classroom, so where did that leave me?
A few months later, I followed up with her on the comment.
“If anyone else had told me that, I would have told them to — off. But *you* said it to me, and you love me and I value what you have to say, so I need to give more thought to why I respond so strongly to it.” So here’s what I came up with, briefly.
I’m deeply uncomfortable with the phrase “moving on to bigger and better things,” because if we’re always growing and learning, aren’t we always inherently moving on to bigger and better things? And isn’t that a beautiful thing? So why do folks often use the phrase as a loaded way to pass judgement couched in a compliment? I realize now that she wasn’t using it in a loaded way, she meant it sincerely, and I love her for saying it.
Here’s the text of the e-mail I sent to my principal, and in the spirit of completionism, I’ve attached my official resignation letter.
I had hoped to be able to speak with you in person before I submitted my resignation letter, but I hope you’ll be able to understand and forgive me for communicating in digital means instead.
So, I guess, that’s what’s up.
We are Wildwood. #wildcatsrawr
From my collected correspondence.
Monday, April 27, 1992
I haven’t been able to write because we had been busy. Last monday we went to the librab library, Tuesday we went to the show. Wednesday we went to bowl. Friday we went to the craft shop. You can see how busy I was. Today, I went to my friend, Sandra’s house. Oh, by the way, on Saturday and Sunday we worked on remodeling our house.
Busy this week,
Yesterday I visited a high school on the Eastside. The people there were working very hard. I had the privilege to sit in on some tremendous student conversations. I was overwhelmed and spent most of the time with my hands shaking, sloshing my Starbucks drip coffee onto my hands and vest. I’m still working to unpack what spooked and startled me most about my visit to this model high school, but my biggest revelation came when I arrived at home.
I live in an apartment building that’s sorta an in-between neighborhood. Go further east and it’s Capitol Hill, with all the #seattlestereotypes that I love and loathe most about Seattle. Legit coffee shops, amazing food, interesting people, lots of thinking. Go South and it’s a tense combination of a night club that’s been the site of some pretty scary violence with bars, burger joints, and The Quintessential Portlandia Market Experience. This is now loosely referred to as the Pike Pine Corridor, a term developed to appeal to tech employees who can’t afford to live in South Lake Union.
If you go north, turn on Denny, it feels more like downtown. The streets, though clean, seem a little bit less well-maintained than other parts of town. For a few years, there was a sizable homeless camp by the on-ramp to I5, but the city rounded everyone up and had them head somewhere else. (to their credit, it seemed like they brought counselors and social workers to help folks receive the services they might need)
And immediately west is I5. From the fifth floor of our building, we hear the vehicle noise at all hours, even when there isn’t much traffic. That’s because the noise echoes off the Metropolitan Park towers like a river running through a valley. (science)
In this scene, Eric sat on the porch with a giant coffee. I parallel parked (like a pro; I’m a bit of a savant) and sat next to him on the porch steps, giving him a patented Shannon-Bug-Eye-You-Are-Not-Going-To-Believe-This look. Bless him. “Tell me more,” he said.
I ran him through my day at the Modern Major High School, showed him my Snapchat story. We started a really amazing conversation about well-meaning white people in Seattle. He handed me a cigarette and, dear reader, I smoked it.
I told him about speaking at the MSU commencements and how after I spoke with Maya Angelou, the most common question I received was “when you talked about people smoking outside Berkey Hall, does that mean you smoke too?” Seriously? That was your takeaway from the conversation?
Living in this no-man’s land of Seattle, we encounter a variety of dependable archetypes. There are the White People Lost on Capitol Hill, who accidentally go further north than Olive and lose their minds because there’s broken glass on the curb. There are Tech Bros. There are the alterna-teens (I don’t know what we’re calling Youth Culture these days). And there are folks who are just trying to get through their days.
Kevin was one of those guys. As he approached our building from the north, Eric and I made eye contact and said hello.
“You’re not from here, are you?” Kevin said with a grin.
Eric and I knew exactly what he meant. The Seattle Freeze has some pretty profound racial and class manifestations that we as a city haven’t really begun to unpack yet. Eric shared that he’s from Chicago, I said I hailed from metro Detroit.
The next line in a typical Seattle porch exchange like this was well-executed by Kevin.
“Do you have a cigarette I can buy off you?”
But Eric flipped the script.
He pulled out two from the shiny foil inner wrapper of his half-empty box of Camels. “One for now, one for later.”
And usually that’s where the conversation would end. We’d all uncomfortably smile and maybe give an awkward half-wave, and then Kevin would continue on his way (he said he was heading to an AA meeting at The Recovery Cafe further down Denny)
I piped up. “They have AA meetings there? I had no idea! I’ve been working to remove alcohol from my life for the past four, five years.”
“God bless, one day at a time.” *fist bump* “You should come, the people there are great.”
And then he started telling us about the folks who have his back. He adjusted his Seahawks beanie and poured out the shortened version of His Story (I always think of it like the really long passages at Mass, how sometimes the priest skips the bits in brackets? Where the stuff in the brackets is important, but if you’re listening hard, you get the gist even without all the details). I pulled out my notebook.
Things have been tough because he’s been on a half-dose of his meds until his next doctor’s appointment. After scheduling it two months ago, it’s finally happening this week, Thursday, at Swedish Medical Center up Pill Hill (which is a name nobody really actually uses).
“I’m kinda nervous,” he said. “At the cafe, they told me that sometimes when you go back up to the regular dosage, the side effects are bad.”
I expressed concern and said I had a similar experience when I lost my insurance and had to jerry-rig my mental health self-care, by taking half-doses of my antidepressants, combined with legal recreational marijuana.
Then Kevin’s story started to pour out. I have a page of notes, but they’re all jittery and don’t make much sense because my hands were shaking and I was busy making eye contact with this man who was invisible to so many people in the Emerald City. He was a vet. He took two bullets.
“It’s not the bullet that killed me, it’s the VA.”
I asked Kevin how folks could get in touch with him. Kevin is available at ###-###-#### (“I had an Obama phone”). I told him I have friends whose work is to listen to the stories of people whose voices aren’t being heard, and would it be okay if I passed his information on to them? He said yes.
Initial readers of this piece asked what Kevin’s race was, and whether he was black. I chose to tell Kevin’s story without this information inspired by the work of Christopher Paul Curtis in his Newbery honor winning book The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, which takes place in Flint, Michigan.
Tacoma high school teacher Nate Bowling has been sharing some pretty hard-hitting pieces on his website these days.
First there was this #RealTalk Gold, “The Conversation I’m Tired of Not Having,” which was as pitch-perfect a Hot Take Viral-worthy Piece as has ever been crafted.
Anyway, so then there was this straight-up flame emoji, crystal ball, 100% emoji followup, “Just in case things weren’t clear.”
The cited letter in that second post got me thinking. I’ve been interested in researching primary sources ever since I started reading the American Girls books in first grade. I spend most of my energy in the education world advocating for math-related stuff, which isn’t mutually exclusive from being an English major at heart who lurrrrves annotating documents. What if part of open sourcing education looked like large-scale World Game-like voluntary collaboration? What if this was part of a current larger effort on behalf of educators to tell our stories?
Nate’s first post had already shoved my mental ball rolling in the direction of using historical primary sources to ground an education conversation. A few weeks ago, I created a tangentially related lesson plan that taught a close reading annotation lesson using a recent widely circulated public document. It was good fun and genuinely had me thinking more critically and in a deeper way than I usually do in the “real world.” It was a great example of Project Based Learning. So then what’s holding us back from sharing our stories and then leveraging them to find solutions?
Earlier today, Jose Vilson posted this:
.@shevtech If you're a teacher, and you want respect for your story, you almost have to leave the classroom. Glad I didn't have to.
— Jose Vilson (@TheJLV) February 18, 2016
This resonates with me. I’ve been approached by a number of teachers looking to process how nervous we are about being open about our classroom experiences for fear of backlash. I’ve hesitated at uploading lessons and essay reflections for fear of creating drama. (I think my personal concerns about sharing stories from my experience are compounded by knowing what happens when the Internet decides to lash out against a woman. Not ready to unpack this bit yet.)
This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. Three years ago, when I posted a YouTube video explaining recent changes to grading practices, I was contacted by the president of an organization that represented me indicating that “a few dozen” members complained about the video and that I should take it down.
I consider myself lucky to be employed by a school district that values teacher leaders engaging in dialogue on important issues. I consider myself lucky to have worked for administrators who walk the walk regarding whole-child education and teacher self care. I have been lucky, but all our kids and teachers deserve better.
Tomorrow there’s a Walk-In at schools across the country, and you should totally participate! I’ll be attending at my neighborhood high school, Garfield, at “30-50 minutes before bell time.” First bell is at 7:50, according to Garfield’s website.
“There’s an infinite inkwell high above the city.”
Happy Monday! I was thinking of you this morning when I was thinking about teaching, which is something that often happens.
When you transitioned to a new school this spring and I attempted to write you a farewell note, I struggled to find a charming, inspiring duo that I could compare our partnership to. Leslie and Anne wasn’t quite right, but the teamwork shown by Ben and Chris seemed a little more accurate. (I can’t WAIT to watch Parks & Rec with you and talk about how the episodes relate to the world of education)
That made me think about other partners who share their public conversations, like Hank and John Green (did you know Hank Green led the Lizzy Bennett Diaries series on YouTube?), or Mr. Schu and Mr. Sharp, or Steven Colbert and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Actually, let’s pause and watch what I consider to be one of the best conversations ever captured on video.
This fall, I contacted Jose Vilson and asked him if I could visit and be a fly on a wall in his classroom — I just wanted to observe and learn from him. I lost my nerve because I’m working on being less afraid of saying or doing something ignorant or insulting, but I hope to be able to be in touch with him this spring. But my desire to peep in on Jose’s class (or Evin or Kristin or Molly or Cheryl) got me missing creeping on you like a creepy creeper.
I’ve been thinking about how one of us would always pop in to the other’s room to show them something neat or ask a question or share a brilliant realization. And how even when back in the day I was convinced that I was suuuuuuper irritating to you, I’d try to strain my ears to hear what was going on across the hall in your world. That’s something I’ve really missed this year. I miss puzzling out difficult situations, regrouping and figuring out what to do better next time, and building off each others’ excitement. As I’ve been pondering Teachers Who Game and spending more time online, I’ve been thinking of how we could use this technology to help improve our educational practices for our students, our colleagues, and folks trying to understand the education system?
If, like I said, *I* really wish I could spend time as a fly on the wall in Jose’s class, mebbe making our conversations public could be interesting or helpful for not just us, but also for other friends and educators? It’d be a way to show how we “authentically” do think alouds or close reads? And it could cast some light on the processing that goes on in designing rigorous, relevant instruction?
Anyway, you know I’m really good at starting something and then dropping the ball, so I’d appreciate your insights.
ALSO. When I was on YouTube looking up the Colbert/Tyson video above, I rediscovered this, the mathiest movie trailer I’ve seen in a very long time. (I’m having Toby take us to go see it on Christmas!!!)
Also, that trailer was kind of intense so I’m going to conclude with the best Christmas movie ever made hands down.
P.S. Next time I write, I’m supes excited to talk about –> this piece <– that has consumed my brain for the past few months.
I haven’t spoken out much on the Seattle Education Association strike because I don’t feel like I’ve had much to add to the conversation. There have been plenty of well-spoken folks on many sides of the issues, and truthfully, I’ve been somewhat fearful of being perceived as co-opting the movement if I were to speak up.
That said, I’m trying an experiment tomorrow that I’d love for you to participate in whatever way feels appropriate for you. I’ve been streaming on Twitch a few months now, and I’m going to host an educational solidarity teach-in on my stream tomorrow. I want us to use the opportunity this strike gives us to engage in meaningful, challenging conversations. (plus fun! and games!)
I always talk about teaching and education issues on my regular stream while I’m playing video games, but I was thinking of showing some of the online work I do that’s not a part of my regular contracted day as a teacher? Like how when there’s a PBS fund drive, you see snippets of the actual broadcasts? Or for my journalist peepz, like going on a teach-along? So there might be some gaming, some Photoshop work, some rubric making. I’m open to possibilities.
I’ll use the teacher contract hours I’m familiar with, so I’ll be online from 8:20AM PST until noon. At that point, I actually have a tattoo appointment that’s been in the books for a while (my Ada Lovelace portrait!!!), so I’ll regroup and reflect on how the morning went, and potentially continue until contract hours end at 3:50 PM or make a plan for subsequent days this week.
How can you help? Well, if you’ve been one of the folks I’ve talked with over the past two weeks, chances are you’ve already helped me! I’ll add ideas to this original post as I think of them, and I’d obvi love to hear any of your thoughts as well. You can let people know we’re streaming tomorrow at twitch.tv/Theremina (even if our Internet acts up). You can hang out in chat to make sure trolls (if any show up) are kept at bay. You can hang out on Twitter with me.
If you’re in the Seattle area, you’re invited over for coffee, tea, and conversation on the stream. I cleaned the apartment for you! If you’re a Skype person, get in touch with me (shoughton7).
You can run a search for your preferred news outlet’s views on the Seattle strike, but the SEA defines these as major unresolved issues:
Guaranteed student recess
Fair teacher and staff evaluations
ESA workload relief
Office professional workload relief
Student equity around discipline and the opportunity gap
The administration’s proposal to make teachers work more for free
I’m excited for some great intersectional education conversations!!!
Sometimes, I wish I could shut off the equity voices in my head.
What a grotesquely privileged thing to say, right? Absolutely. But I share these guilty feelings publicly so perhaps it will help other people know it’s okay if they feel that way sometimes. As a person with privilege, I believe we can be honest with ourselves and have those fleeting moments of wishing for a simpler time, of a more straightforward paradigm, so long as in the space outside of our brains we’re acting to ensure that they don’t guide the way we operate in our lives.
That’s a pretty heavy opening for a visit to a tourist trap. I begin my entry this way because my desire seemed simple enough on the outset. I wanted to see the Corn Palace. I have for a decade, ever since Toby and I crossed the country in two days, stopping briefly overnight in Mitchell, South Dakota. Stopping so briefly that we couldn’t even experience the legendary Corn Palace.
I wanted to see that Corn Palace. I knew it’d be ultimately disappointing, sure, and that our sojourn there would be quick, but I wanted the experience.
So my parents indulged me. (Let’s be real: Dad wanted to see it too) We parked and headed toward the corn-by-number design embedded in corn around what was essentially the area’s civic center. Each year, the theme changed, and the corn murals changed to reflect that year’s theme.
This year’s theme: American Pride.
The scenes: Cowboys. Injuns. Buffalo running across the plains. A wolf howling at the moon. That last one was actually my favorite.
And I get it, this is the Wild West. That traditional image supports the local economy. South Dakota is a red state, and I imagine conversations about equity and diversity must be challenging to enter into. But the capitalized AMERICAN PRIDE seemed, to me, to have undertones. WHITE pride. STRAIGHT pride. REGULAR good-ol-American patriotic pride raising its fist among a disturbing landscape of #blacklivesmatter and #distractinglysexy and #lovewins. It could have just been me reading waaaaay too far into things, a Seattleite stripped of opportunities to shift discourse in the past few weeks that I’ve been traveling.
I guess maybe I also feel weird because Toby’s introduced me to the US’s corn horrors, courtesy of Montesano, and I just wonder what natural local bounty would be displayed at the palace if farmers had their choice, or, dare I say, if Natives had their choice.
Anyway, visit the corn palace if you want, and let me know how it makes you feel.