Last weekend a group of language arts educators gathered to work towards WLAC’s goals for the coming year, and to share projects and events we already have in the making (more on those soon). As part of our introductions we used the New York Times “By the Book” interview questions to share a little about ourselves. Below is a list of some of the books our members shared and recommended to the group.
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee, “follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan” according to Goodreads.com.
One member gave high praise for Binti, by Nnendi Okorafor, a rare addition to the science fiction genre by a Nigerian American woman author. The teaser on Okorafor’s website for the first book in this series says, “Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs” (nnedi.com).
A middle school teacher is reading Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories, thanks to recommendations by her sixth and seventh grade students. From the book’s website: “When the twins’ grandmother gives them a treasured fairy-tale book, they have no idea they’re about to enter a land beyond all imagining: the Land of Stories, where fairy tales are real” (thelandofstories.com).
On the other end of the continuum one of our higher education members shared her fondness for the New York Times bestselling How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas C. Foster, “a lively and entertaining introduction to literature and literary basics, including symbols, themes and contexts, that shows you how to make your everyday reading experience more rewarding and enjoyable” (harpercollins.com).
Another recommended Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “A powerful, tender story of race and identity” (chimamanda.com), but also recommended virtually anything written by her favorite author, Toni Morrison.
One high school teacher is making her way through that series that seemingly everyone is talking about -- A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. The titular character “has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him ‘the bitter neighbor from hell.’ But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?” (simonandschuster.com). If that description doesn’t make it sound too appealing consider that the book is a blockbuster in Sweden and beyond.
For another recommended nonfiction read, one of our members told us about A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School, by Carlotta Walls Lanier and Lisa Frazier Page. This book tells the story of Walls Lanier, one of the “Little Rock Nine” and described by the publisher as “an engrossing memoir that is a testament not only to the power of a single person to make a difference but also to the sacrifices made by families and communities that found themselves a part of history” (penguinrandomhouse.com).
Professional texts mentioned included Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World by Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner and published by NCTE. Only have to time to read the short version? Check out this article written by the authors for the English Journal.
Others like Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style Into Writers Workshop by Jeff Anderson and Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives by Jennifer Buehler.
Most of us in the teaching and teaching-related professions struggle with a lack of time. At WLAC, we want to be so purposeful about what we do -- together -- that joining, participating, and leading feels like something you can’t live without rather than “one more thing.”
We put together a short list of examples of what we have done, can do, and will do in the future at WLAC.
English Teachers Talking and Working Together
We want to gather teachers in our state (and others whose work includes the support of teachers of English and teaching students English) to rely on one another as resources. Here we are thinking not just of resources related to the teaching of English, but also resources related to sustaining ourselves in our important work. We see this initiative as part of many others described below.
No matter where you are at in your career, it is helpful to have people you can seek for questions big and small. While sometimes those mentors appear in our school buildings, other times they do not. In fact, there are benefits to having some mentors who work outside of the building where you teach. WLAC is working on building mentorships for all English teachers, and especially for new teachers and teachers of color.
In addition to sustained and ongoing discussion, we facilitate purposeful time together to influence our teaching. This includes group trips to museums, cultural sites, book studies, performances, writing groups, and more. We are interested in removing barriers to access these kinds of opportunities for teachers in Washington state and productive work around using what we learn in our classrooms.
WLAC has a history of bringing some of the best authors and speakers to Washington state to talk to teachers of English. Our annual conferences are a great place to learn and share knowledge for your classroom practice.
NCTE affiliates produce award-winning national publications from a local perspective, and one of our initiatives this year is to add our state’s voice to this venture. Washington state is a leader set apart in many ways, and a WLAC publication that promotes these voices on the teaching of English is a project we think is valuable and needed.
We have to be passionate about what we are doing and why we are doing it. That is why it is important to us at WLAC to encourage active participation and say in what we do together. Do you have ideas and/or needs as a teacher of English that WLAC might help serve? We want to work with you to improve our support. Email WLAC.NCTE@gmail.com to find out about how you can participate at the level that feels right to you!
The long Labor Day weekend has come to a close and for schoolteachers the fall semester will officially begin this week. Of course, the planning, decorating, and thinking about the year that will begin started long before, probably the week after school ended in June!
For my part, the summer has been busy with teaching. Still, the fall continues to offer that anticipatory feeling that I have always loved as a teacher. I looked forward to seeing my class list, and matching the lovely names to the lovely humans who walked through the door that first day. I think there’s so much serendipity in those lists and those chances we have with the kids we inherit. When I was teaching youngsters last, one child in particular stands out to me crystallizing this point. A wonderful sixth grader, Emily, made a last-minute switch onto my class roster before the year began. She was seconds away from belonging in Ms. Williams’s class instead. How could I have known then how grateful I would be to have this person in my class, in my life. She was the kind of kid you remember, and the kind of kid who helps you sustain your reason for teaching, beyond day one, when the joys of teaching seem (to me, anyway) so obvious.
So, so much serendipity in the connections and school communities made, especially in those transition years between schools when we know little or nothing about each child. I admit I am partial when I say sixth grade is the best grade, and for the sixth graders I taught that first day was especially filled with anticipation because it marked the transition from elementary to middle school. For students, surely, there is a sense of anticipation. When I ask students what they hope to find most in their teachers this time of year, answers usually take some form of, depending on how old they are, “I hope I get a nice teacher.”
While our students are holding out for the nicest of teachers, we have dreams of our own. For me, the first day of school means nearly anything seems possible, but I know that feeling is a privilege many of our students can’t afford. For those children feeling most vulnerable, we can help stave off fears by drawing a circle around our classrooms, and hopefully our schools, and defining precisely the values we hold most dear.
For me, that means respect for others in talk and deed, safety from all harm (physical, emotional, psychological), a relentless commitment to and modeling of disentangling reliable and factual evidence from propaganda, and discourse faithful to democratic and equitable principles that make up the foundation of what has been, in American history, one of the most democratic ventures -- the public school. At a moment in time when we cannot take “truth” for granted, we can ensure that some ground is not relative. Our classrooms may be one of the last remaining stable places, for both our students and ourselves. John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” If we hold the line on values that make us considerate, collaborative, productive members of a democratic society in our classrooms we sow the seeds of a better life outside of our classrooms as well.
Wishing all teachers a first day filled with joy and anticipation and a year that lives up to all your hopes!
Jeana M. Hrepich
President of WLAC