Thursday, April 6, 2017

My Reading Experience: Guest Blogger

Coach Kelly and I!

When I started high school, it was difficult for me to read books, because I never read at home. I thought books were boring. Now, I don't think that books are boring anymore, because my English teacher, Ms. Stallworth, helps me pick books that I like. Ms. Stallworth has helped me improve a lot, because she encourages me to read by giving me time to read in classroom and offering reading suggestions. As a class, we set reading goals, and my goal is to read ten books by the end of the school year, and I am halfway to my goal.

I have started to read at home, because I want to become a better reader and read challenging books. The only way I can read more challenging books is by reading a lot. So far, I have read Monsters by Walter Dean Myers, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, Drown City by Don Brown, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes.

The book that I enjoyed the most is titled All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds. The book is about an African-American boy named Rashad who went to a store to buy chips, but he tripped over a lady and a bag of chips fell from his hand. The police officer named, Paul Galluzzo, thought Rashad was stealing, so the police officer beat Rashad brutally, and he ended up in the hospital. In the story, there is also a white boy named Quinn, and he saw what happened to Rashad. He knew that the officer that beat up Rashad was Paul Galluzzo, and he knew Paul personally; he was a father to him. By the end of the story, there is a huge protest to protest police brutality. What I like about this story is the fact that it is based on real life events that is happening in the United States today.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was another book that I enjoyed reading this school year. The story is about a Native American boy named Arnold Spirit who lives on a Spokane Indian Reservation. He lives with his mom, dad, sister and grandmother. His best friend is Rowdy. Arnold switches from his school on the Reservation because of the poor conditions of the school, and he starts to attend a predominately white school that was a much better school academically. His parents agreed to allow Arnold to transfer to a new school. When he tells Rowdy that he is leaving their current school, Rowdy punches Arnold in the face, because leaving the “Rez” is seen as being a traitor. We get to see the changes that Arnold goes through in order to adjust to his new school. I liked this book because Arnold changes school, because he wants a good education and thinks about having a better future.

After reading books that I have personally selected, I am not scared to read books anymore. I plan to continue to read at least forty-five minutes every night so I can become a better reader.

I am happy with my reading life now!




Friday, March 31, 2017

My Reading Journey: Guest Blogger!

Me at six!

Since elementary school I have never really liked reading. I felt like I wasn’t good at reading, because it took me longer to finish books than my friends. Also, when I would read aloud, I would skip words, could not pronounce certain words, and other students would make sounds as if I was doing something wrong. This made me feel like I wasn’t a good reader, and I wanted to stop reading and just give up.

I would read books but did not comprehend them, so I felt like reading really was a waste of time. It was hard to see my older sister, who is eight years older than me, reading and enjoying it, but I couldn’t. I would try to read with her, but I would get bored and frustrated and stop reading. My father would always read in the living room before bed, and I would try to read also, but I would eventually lose interest and fall asleep.


My Dad and I!

In the first grade, we were put in reading groups based on skill levels. On the front of the books there would be different colored stickers. At the time, I didn’t know what the colors meant or why my friends and I were separated. Eventually, I realized that I was on the lower level for reading. Another teacher would come in and take four other kids and me to the computer lab where we would play fun grammar games on the computer, and she would read to us while we followed along. 

In the second grade, it happened all over again; I was pulled out of class and was given reading instructions. I was not happy with it, but it was helpful. However, students began to notice the high and low groups, and the students in the high group would make fun of those in the lower groups. This made me feel different; like an outsider.

With the help of the reading coaches in elementary school, my reading improved. When I got to middle school, I felt like I was on the right track, but reading was still difficult. When we would have to read a book as a class, I would always get behind; it was frustrating. Every year my English teachers would say “I’m going to get you to like reading;” they never did. 

My eighth grade teacher helped me figure out what type of books I liked by introducing me to all types of genres and authors. When I found the genre I liked, she told me about authors and books that she thought I would be interested in. We read Monster by Walter Dean Myers, and I absolutely loved it. I realized that I like realistic books that deal with real life situations that I can relate to.


My sister and I!

When I entered high school, it was recommended by my eighth grade teacher that I be put into a ninth grade intensified English class, and I thought to myself “Why did my eighth grade teachers put me in this class?” I guess my eighth grade English teacher saw or knew something I didn’t.

Everything was going well in this intensified class. We started with writing, then poetry, then she assigned us Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. That book was challenging. I was confused with who was who, and what was going on? Then we were assigned Lord of the Flies by William Golding and my head flip-flopped all around; I was totally confused. With all the different characters, I would forget names and I would think one character did something but actually the other character did it. It would have helped if the teacher had given us a sheet with the characters' name and their roles. Everyone around seemed to get it but me. It was also hard and made me feel pressured, because we were given chapters to read with a due date.

Mom and I!
Going into the tenth grade I was switched from intensified to grade level English, and I was so happy. Going from a intensified class to a grade level class was definitely less stressful. Intensified was fast-paced, and we would work independently most of the time. This year, in my on-grade English class, Ms. Stallworth teaches the lessons, then allows us to talk about the lessons in our self-selected groups, then we open up the conversation to the whole class, and share what we talked about.

My teacher seems to believe that if she gives students the choice to read what they want to read and time to discuss the books, then they will read more. And when she talked to the class about that, I was so happy. I get to choose what I want to read with no time limit. With reading whatever I want to, I have read more books this year than I have ever read for school. I have read a variety of books such as Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Ghost by Raina Telgemeier, Ask The Passenger by A.S King, The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle. I liked reading Crossover, because I could connect with the basketball terminology. The rhythm and onomatopoeia of the book made it fun to read. I also really enjoyed Ask The Passenger; It’s a great book about giving and receiving love.

My sister and I!

I’m not saying that I love reading now, but I have enjoyed seeing my progress in reading, and I will continue my reading journey.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

10to40Book Challenge: Guest Blogger Kathleen O’Connor!

Kathleen and the writer Ibo Zoboi

#10to40BookChallenge
           
When Jackie invited me to join the 10to40 Book Challenge, it seemed like an ambitious goal, and while I eagerly agreed to participate, I doubted if it was possible for either of us to actually accomplish it; we are busy women!  

Competitive by nature, I figured I could pull out a fast lead by choosing a few of Jacqueline Woodson’s shorter books from my middle school library that I had been meaning to read. I started with After Tupac and D Foster and The House You Pass Along the Way, then moved on to Another Brooklyn. I love these books for reminding me that girlhood, young womanhood, is for all of us so very much the same, even as it is in other ways tremendously different. 

Books are mirrors in which we can see ourselves, windows through which we can see others, and sometimes we can do both simultaneously. So, I made a conscious decision to include a cultural variety of writers in my challenge. 

Jackie often says, “I like books with characters who look like ME!” So do I! I read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and wept at the experiences of the Irish immigrants in that story and felt the warm glow of familiarity in traditions, expressions, and unique turns of phrase that you only find in Irish/Irish-American families. I could feel the homesickness that often resonates through generations of Irish American families, even for the members who are born here.

Likewise, I read We Are Not Ourselves by Mathew Thomas, an epic novel. A good part of it also takes place in Brooklyn, and it’s about an Irish-American family grappling with their patriarch’s downward spiral into Alzheimer’s disease. I found the “mirror” quality in this novel almost frightening. It was as if Mathew Thomas had been a fly on the wall as my own family fought the very same battle. And I wrote Mathew Thomas to tell him so and to express my gratitude for his book that somehow validated my entire experience with losing my own Dad to Alzheimer’s. I wept bitterly through much of the book and often felt like Thomas had sucker-punched me right in the gut. But, I was thankful and I told him so. And guess what?  He wrote back.


Me, Kathleen, and the author Brendan Kiely

In an interesting twist, an overwhelming number of the books I read in the first months of the challenge take place in Brooklyn. The African-American characters in Woodson’s and Jason Reynold’s novels lived in the very same neighborhoods and walked the very same blocks as the Irish characters in Toibin and Thomas; however, it was two generations later. I’ve given a lot of thought to this important link, because it has many conflicting messages. So many, in fact, that it should be a topic for a blog entry all on its own. My wheels are turning!

My most recent favorite is Ibo Zoboi’s American Street, a wonderful novel that was nothing but a window for me!  In it, Fabiola, a young immigrant from Haiti, moves in with her cousins in Detroit. I have to admit that the existence of a Haitian community in the United States was not on my radar at all, and I have never been to Detroit in my life, but Fabiola’s story of trying to maintain her old ways while acclimating to her new surroundings touched me, and I could not turn the pages fast enough. And, now I feel like I have an entire perspective that I never even had a glimpse of before reading this book.

Me, Kathleen, and the writer, Ibo Zoboi

I’m more than halfway through the 10to40 Book Challenge, and it is no longer about the numbers. When I think of all that I have learned in a short time, connections that I have made, experiences that I have had in speaking and reading with others, I am committed to continue reading at this pace forever: a minimum of thirty minutes a day, every day. I don’t want to miss a thing, don’t want to leave a single stone unturned. What began as a friendly competition has turned into a life-altering discipline. We set aside time to prepare our food, exercise our bodies, connect with our family….why do we so often reserve reading for a few paltry minutes at the end of our busy days? 

Jackie’s 10to40 Book Challenge has encouraged me to give reading the time that it deserves in my life. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Very Own American, Literary Canon....

Jason Reynolds, My Student, Me, and Brendan Kiely
(Authors of All American Boys)

I have some ideas running around in my mind that I must unpack....

Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing the author, Jason Reynolds, speak about his and Brendan Kiely’s book, All American Boys. (On a side note, I love Jason Reynolds’ books; the care that he gives Black folks is quite amazing.) So, I asked Jason to tell us about his reading life as a young person, and Jason stated that “Your literary canon ain’t my literary canon; mine includes The Color Purple by Alice Walker and books written by James Baldwin and Richard Wright.”

Jason went on to say that he never wanted to read Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn or any of the other books in the American, literary canon that his schools were trying to force him to read so, he just didn’t read. Finally, he discovered Black Boy by Richard Wright and a few other books that he felt were telling his story, and the rest is history.

So, I have been thinking a lot about the American literary canon. The American, literary canon typical includes titles such as To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Emma by Jane Austin, 1984 and Animal Farm both by George Orwell, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Waldon by Henry David Thoreau, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Odyssey by Homer, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain etc. 

Where are the books that made me fall madly in love with reading such as Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin, Life is Short but Wide by J. California Cooper, The Big Sea by Langston Hughes, Native Son by Richard Wright, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe etc.

There are some books that have become my bible such as The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Think and Grow Rich by Dennis Kimbro and Napoleon Hill, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, Democracy in Black by Eddie S. Glaude Jr., The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates...

Why are they not in that canon? Are they not in the canon because they were not written one hundred years ago and many have characters who look like me?

According to many schools, I should put aside the books that I love, and adopt a love for the American canon?

Y’all, I ain’t doing that.....

I have made my decision that I will no longer, and I can do that, because I am not a K-12 student, feel guilty about being an English teacher and not being in love with those traditional, American classics. (I have tons of friends who have never read any of the books in the American, literary canon, and they are better than ok.) I am going to continue to develop and grow my very own American canon and best believe that my list will not contain books such as Jane Eyre, Emma, Huckleberry Finn and most of the traditional, American classics. My canon will include Men We Reap by Jesmyn Ward, As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin, and all of the other books that speak to my heart.

I will no longer beat myself up because I absolutely hate every, single word of Pride and Prejudice, or that I think that Wuthering Heights is one of the most boring books under the sun, or the fact that I tried over and over to read Huckleberry Finn and just could not finish it, and the fact that I do not think that anyone needs to read the entire Odyssey unless he/she wants too.

Y’all, I will no longer think that I am not a legit reader or teacher, because I do not love most of the books in the American, literary canon......

If you dare to join me, what books are you putting in your very own literary canon?








Monday, February 6, 2017

Forty Books and My Soul....

Statue in Phildelphia that I visited over the Christmas Break
“Freedom"

Since September, I have read twenty-seven books, and the more that I read, the more that I want to read. You really can make reading a habit.

Friday, I did not go to work, and I really wanted to start reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith. It was not available through the public libraries in print nor digital form. So, I drove to the school, because I had seen it in the school’s library, AND, the library was locked! But Y’all, I HAD to start this book. Sooooooo, I asked a custodian to unlock the library, I got Swing Time, and left a note for the librarians....

Since, I have been conscious about always having something to read, it’s like an addiction, and I hope that giving my students' choice in what they read is also causing them to turn reading into a habit and perhaps even an addiction.


One of the books that I have read recently is Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequalities Thrives In Good Schools by Amanda E. Lewis & John B. Diamond. Y’all, I have wanted to pass it out to every single person who works in my school, from the custodian to the Principal. Then I wanted to call CNN, NBC, ABC to beg them to allow me to talk about this book. I desperately want this book in the hands of all of us well-meaning people who could potentially be causing folks' children damage. (If you work in schools, in any capacity, if you have children in schools, read this book.)

Reading this book, has caused me to be even more intentional about equity and access. I make sure that I give out tardies equally. I make sure that if my advanced students ask me to drop their lowest grade, I also do that for my on-grade level students as well, even if they do not ask. I make sure that I don’t skimp on my duties to some students, because their parents will not complain etc. Y’all, I do not want to play a role in racism thriving in good schools, especially when the people who are negatively impacted just happen to look like me.


I have also read The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle AGAIN! Yes, I have read it multiple times, and I have ‘gotten it’ every single time, but this time around it really resonated. Tolle states that all we have is right now... I have been conscious about enjoying every, single moment, intensely.

So, yesterday, a long lost friend called, and she was in town. She asked if I wanted to go shopping with her, and immediately I said NO! I HATE SHOPPING! However, she said that she was only going to one store and that she would pick me up. I reluctantly agreed, thinking of the quality time that we could spend together.

We stayed in this store for about three hours! (Didn’t I say that I hate shopping?) I had to remind myself to stay in the moment, don’t get impatient, and ride this out. I found a chair in the store and sat for a very, long time, focusing on the fact that I was with a friend whom I have not seen since we left high school... Quality Time!

After the shopping trip, I was ready to go home. She wanted to go to dinner, but I really wanted to go home. Once we got to my place, we were talking in the car, and I was enjoying her immensely, which led to her coming in, and I consciously did not focus on my hair that I wanted to wash, but I cooked and we talked and talked and talked...

Quality time is my number one love language and therefore, after she left, my soul was completely satisfied, and I am happy that I was able to be in the moment and not focus on NEXT!


Speaking of love languages, I have also read the The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, both the married folks version and the singles version. The married folks version is GOOD, but the singles version is REALLY GOOD. I would recommend it to people whether they are married or not.

This book reconfirms that we are all connected and that everything is about love. Yep, love! When we love people, we may want to consider trying to figure out their love language or even ask them their love language and provide it and watch the heavens open up. My sister, Tracy, would tell me that if you meet other folks needs, the returns are greater than you could ever image.

Y’all, find out your love language and other folks love languages, and reap the benefits.

I took the love language test, and my number one love language is quality time, and once I read that, a light bulb went off.... I LOVE QUALITY TIME. I love spending time with folks: talking, laughing, and doing some type of activity such as going to brunch, a museum, a play, the movies, cycling etc. This is why my relationship with my dear friend Dr. Semple has lasted soooo long; this man is always ready to give me quality time, whenever I want it on, even at the spur of a moment.

I called him Friday about one hour before I wanted him to meet me to see a movie, and he showed up......  My heart was happy!

I love Quality Freaking Time, My People.


Challenging myself to read forty books between September and June has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I have always loved to read, but my love for reading has intensified to a point that is soooo good for my soul.

What y’all been doing?

I miss you guys dearly.......

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016....BLESSED!

Today, I had some time to reflect on 2016, and I must say that it was pretty amazing....




I had a strong pull on my life that could only be God....



The pull was soooo strong until I had no choice but to answer......



I am soooo happy that I answered even through the fear....



As stated by my big sister, Tracy, “Brave women do it afraid." 



Once I answered the call, the divine connections started to occur....



 Things that I would have never imagined or even asked for....



The things that God had for me were much bigger than my faith.....



Doors opening that only God could open.....



And, my Faith GREW AND GREW AND GREW..........



Things that I can’t talk about right now, BUT...



Trust and believe that the whole world will know SOON!



I just can’t keep these things to myself, because



I know that God is blessing me so that my blessings can be a testament for others....



Every morning since school has started back, I take time to be with God by reading or writing.....



Sometimes, I write “I AM” statements....



Sometimes, I read The Bible.......



Sometimes I read my prayer requests.....



And, then I start my day.....



I know that to do the work that God is calling me to do....



I MUST give him time every single day......



Blessed and Highly Favored.....



I’m ready to go even higher in 2017....

To God be the Glory.....Forever and Ever!

Happy 2017 to each and every one of you....
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