This post is written by member Oona Abrams, editor of English Leadership Quarterly
When I was seventeen years old, my (not so) secret wish was to be cast as Marian the Librarian in New Trier High School’s 1992 production of The MusicMan. Really, what was there not to love about Marian Paroo? She was the stunning beneficiary of all the books in River City’s library, single, self-sufficient, uncompromising, and unapologetic about her high standards—in short, my heroine.
Par for the course in my high school theater career, I was cast as Marian’s mother. Meh. Mrs. Paroo wasn’t a fan of Marian’s high standards. She wanted her daughter to “manage her expectations” when it came to both books and romance. But Marian was stubborn. She could see through all the pretense of her persistent gentleman caller, Harold Hill. And in the end, by keeping both her standards high and her heart open, she helped Harold discover the most authentic and successful version of himself. While I never got to play the role of Marian the Librarian, I will always share her passion for books and high standards.
This past April, I chaperoned a field trip to the New York Public Library. The CHS Book Club went on a tour with one of the docents there, and it struck me how enraptured the students were. They were stunned by the volumes of periodicals, by the amount of information that is physically stored in one place. And, like most book lovers, they adored the gift shop. It was tough to get them back on the bus, but the enticement of visiting two NYC bookstores did the trick. Of course the architecture and design of NYPL are awe inspiring, but in addition to those details, our students were in awe of the quiet places held sacred there. It reminded me of some of those scenes in the River City library when Harold Hill is scolded for raising his voice, and it certainly stood in contrast to our school library, where students rush in droves during their study hall periods to collaborate—often loudly.
In addition to following rock-star librarians like John Schumacher, Elissa Malespina, and Joyce Valenza on social media, I’m fortunate to have two librarian friends with whom I have regular contact. Mike Curran, who is my school’s LMS, and Susie Highley, a science teacher turned LMS from Indiana. I talk with Susie almost every day on Voxer. She is my first resource for everything from the latest tech tips to a book recommendation for myself, a student, or a family member. I see Mike almost every day as well—he is a steward of learning and a navigator of change in our LMC. As I write this, our library is being redesigned. At the beginning of every marking period, I send Mike a list of titles I’d love to see the school library carry, and he always manages to get them. And they don’t go up on a shelf—he has them displayed in the front hallways and at the entrance of the library. Every time I begin a new unit (memoir, argument, narrative nonfiction), Mike has a cart of books at the ready for my students to peruse. He brings it down to my classroom, allows students to check them out from there, and keeps a running list of titles on our library database for my future reference. This past spring, Mike spread the word about the 2017 NerdCampNJ among his community of librarians, which resulted in a strong cohort coming to share their expertise with literacy leaders. And then, of course, there are my town librarians. I often joke that I’m as popular with them when I walk in the door as Norm is on Cheers (“Oonz!”)
Librarians play several roles, but the most important one is modeling the inquiry and curiosity that we most want to see in our students and in ourselves. And here is the part where I feel like a bit of a fraud, because there are many years in my career when I simply did not take my students to the library at all, when there was either “not the time” to do it or I settled for a source that came up in a Google search instead of encouraging students to take a deeper dive into databases; when a newborn at home and too many papers to grade meant that I did not take the high road like Marian and instead took the path of least resistance, like Mrs. Paroo; when the librarian in the high school I worked in was just not someone as warm and invitational as Mike or Susie and as such was not someone with whom I wanted to “play nice.” Have you been in this spot too? I sure hope I’m not alone in my confession here.
Throughout the August issue of ELQ, you’ll see that the authors of the articles, like Marian the Librarian, have kept their standards high and their hearts open. They have passion for helping educators and learners on their journeys, and they are “future-ready.” I hope you enjoy the issue as much as I have as I’ve worked on it. As a new school year approaches (or, in some states, begins!), may we all be inspired to collaborate in the ways we see modeled in these authors’ stories.
Oona Marie Abrams has been a high school English teacher since 1996. Editor of English Leadership Quarterly, Abrams has also been selected as an Emerging Leader Fellow by the Council on English Leadership (CEL). She resides in Bergen County, New Jersey with her husband and four sons.
(of body tissue or an organ) waste away, typically due to the degeneration of cells. Without exercise, the muscles will atrophy.
When I was in third grade I fractured my knee skiing. Back then—in the early 80s—a broken bone meant a full-length cast from the tips of my toes to the top of my thigh for six full weeks. Of all my memories from that time, the look and feel of my leg when the cast came off is what I remember most. My already-skinny leg was even thinner, the skin was peeling off as if from a sunburn, and the muscles in the leg were so weak I limped for several days. I couldn’t believe the transformation of my body, and how the disuse of my leg had so completely transformed it into a less-functional version of its former self.
Having worked in and with schools now for over 20 years, I have heard many educators lament the atrophy of the brain that sometimes occurs over the summer, euphemistically called “summer slide” (learn more about summer slide and how to combat its effects here). It’s not that summer can’t be an enriching and fulfilling time for many kids—or that kids don’t need a break from the day-to-day grind of the school year—it’s just that for some, the long vacation becomes a sort-of hibernation. When some kids “wake up” after the summer off, they come back to school a bit fuzzier: math skills often require weeks and even months of refreshing, hands need to build back their strength for writing and typing, and reading levels sometimes are lower in September than they were in June. For all these reasons, many schools now assign summer practice packets, and educational enrichment programs have cropped up across the country to keep kids sharp and moving forward.
Though the competition is tough—the days are long for extended play, the ice-cream truck’s jingle serves as a counterpoint to the school’s institutional bells, and exhaustion from heat and activity make it even harder to settle into brain activity—there is a lot we could do to keep kids reading throughout the summer and to slow the atrophy that sometimes sets in then.
Maintain Routines (or start new ones!): In some homes, kids and families keep to a bedtime reading routine during the school year. Not only is this a good way keep kids reading, but it’s a great way to quiet the mind before going to bed. Depending on the age and temperament of your child, you might be able to maintain this through the summer. But July and August days can be long, and exhaustion often gets the best of kids … in which case, make the most of the morning. For my daughter—going on 10—mornings can be the most productive. The summer’s late sunsets, heat, and activity make evenings less productive for us, but in the morning, she is fresh and ready to read after breakfast and before the day begins. This year we will move our evening reading routine to the morning so she can keep up the habit and explore new authors and genres.
Magazines, Comic Books, and Blogs: I remember getting a subscription to Sports Illustrated when I was 14, and discovering the joy of short-form articles and reading about my interests. It’s why I allow my son to subscribe to his favorite skateboard magazine, and why we used to get Children’s National Geographic. Summer is a great time to explore interests and help kids connect reading to their passions.
Local Libraries: Last summer I walked into my local library and saw hundreds of colorful mobiles hanging from the ceiling. The librarian explained that kids were adding decorations to their mobiles every time they finished a book. Most local libraries have incentive programs to keep interest in reading high, and I have yet to meet a librarian who won’t go out of the way to help match the right book to a kid. If you want to go it alone and find an appropriate book for your child or teenager, check out this handy dandy reading list recommended by the American Library Association. And if your library membership has lapsed, go back . . . it’s free!
Read to a Friend: Little ones in school often read in partnerships—a great way to bring reading into the social realm (think of it as a precursor to book clubs). Over the summer, have young readers read with a friend or younger sibling. You know who else loves being read to? Pets! Seriously, young readers love reading to dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and any other animal that could sit still for a moment, and there’s plenty of research showing the benefit! Don’t have a pet? Stuffed animals are a great substitute, and they make terrific listeners!
Road Trip! Many families will hit the road for long weekends and vacations over the summer. If you don’t believe me, meet me on I-95 on the Friday before the July 4th weekend. Bring some reading material, or better yet, have some audio books on hand for everyone to enjoy together. Here and here are great recommendations for family-friendly audio books—you should be able to find something there for everyone to enjoy!
Make the Most of That Tablet: There are only so many rounds of (insert mindless iPad game here) that one could play, and helping kids realize that their tablet is also a virtual library can be a real eye opener. In a lot of ways, digital reading could enhance the experience for kids. It’s easy to carry multiple books at once, providing them with various options, and the features built into Kindle, iBooks or school-based digital literacy apps like LightSail allow the reader to interact and engage with their books on a deeper level, thus increasing comprehension. If your child used LightSail in school this year, help them keep the literacy train on the tracks straight through the summer months—celebrate Lexile growth, review new vocabulary on the Word Wall, and talk about new genres discovered (and badges earned)!
Little Libraries: Around the corner from my house is an old shaved-off tree that’s been put to good use. My ingenuous neighbors decided to turn their sad, decapitated tree into a gift for neighbors big and small. My kids and I have found books at the “tree library,’ and we sometimes share some of our favorites there for others to enjoy. To find a Little Library near you, use this map. And, if you feel so inspired, pay it forward and start a Little Library of your own as a summer project!
So while summer is a great time to run and play in the free outdoors, make sure you and your kids are taking periodic breaks to exercise your brains as well. Find a nice shady tree or a well air-conditioned nook and make the most of the long days ahead. Before you know it, the new school year will begin anew, and our bodies and brains should be ready to go.
Mitch Center has spent the past 20+ years working in a variety of roles and capacities in the field of education in district, charter and private school settings. He has been a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent and now runs Center Educational Consulting where he supports leaders and schools around the nation. As a parent and educator, Mitch believes deeply that all great schools have one thing in common: outstanding adults who make magic for the kids they serve.
When I opened Twitter on the evening of Saturday, August 12, my feed was full of educators’ responses of outrage at what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the aftermath. I quickly closed my app. The rest of that night, I ignored Twitter, Facebook, even direct personal messages about the event. I didn’t turn on the TV. I couldn’t . . . or, more accurately, wouldn’t. I didn’t want to feel the deep sense of loss and sadness that was sweeping over me. I realized that I was acting out of white privilege, but I continued to shut out the news and my feelings. I could ignore these sad feelings, because for me the feelings would diminish as soon as the headlines found a new interest. For my friends of color, racism isn’t a 24-hour news cycle, but a daily reminder of the hate in our world.
It’s time to stop ignoring what’s going on. As a teacher, it’s my responsibility to help my students make a better world.
I’ve heard too many of my students use the same rhetoric as that coming out of the White House: “Both sides are to blame” or “it’s my job to de-escalate the situation, to keep the peace.” But an educator’s job is not that of peacekeeper. It is that of peacemaker. Peace is not made through a lack of violence, but through social justice, when the righteous are declared and the evil condemned.
Tolerance is a moral stance, not a neutral stance, calling for acceptance of difference but not of evil. Let us not fall prey to the paradox of tolerance; let us teach intolerance of intolerance.
Let us not teach critical literacy and poststructuralism to the point where students trust no one and nothing. Let us teach them to question what they see in order to seek truth. Their history textbooks may read that Rome had peace for 200 years, but a country wracked with oppression, even slavery, is not at peace. Let us teach our students that blanket condemnation of violence does not lead to peace. Peace is living in equality and harmony with others.
In light of recent tragic events in Charlottesville, it’s time to double down on our commitment to education for social justice. To give you the tools to follow through on your commitment to social justice this school year, here is a link to an English Education special journal issue guest edited by April Baker-Bell, Tamara Butler, and Lamar Johnson dealing with racial violence: From Racial Violence to Racial Justice: Praxis and Implications for English (Teacher) Education.
Shea Kerkhoff received her PhD in literacy from North Carolina State University. She now teaches adolescent literacy and young adult literature at Purdue University and is assistant editor of English Education.
Before I begin my tour of the museums here in DC, I want to take a minute to extend my utmost gratitude to a few people. First, the NCTE team in the DC office, Jenna Fournel and Lu Ann McNabb, for being gracious and welcoming. I will miss our little office camaraderie. Second, my family. I was only able to have this incredible experience only because of the support of my amazing mother-in-law, who came down to DC to watch the kids for three weeks, and my sweet parents, who flew out for grandparent duty for the remainder of the time. Finally, my darling husband, who has been alone at home with a screaming cat for over a month. My deepest thanks to you all.
It’s tough to explain to a twelve-year-old the sheer power of words. Ironically, words don’t do themselves justice. As I made my way around the sights in DC, I found myself constantly in awe of the words all around me and the way in which they have shaped, and continue to shape, our country. Below is a collection of my thoughts, lesson ideas, and reflections on five museums, in the order in which I viewed them.
As a teacher of the Diary of a Young Girl, the Holocaust is a topic I discuss with eighth graders every year. The main exhibit experience begins with a large group of people packed into a steel elevator, that makes you instantly uncomfortable. When you exit, you are met with videos taken during concentration camp liberation, and a giant photograph of burnt corpses. The silence in the museum is overwhelming. Two areas in particular spoke to me. The first was the section on propaganda. This year I would like to have students analyze the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels to answer a common question: Why were people angry at Jewish people? How did Goebbels use words to confuse and deceive? The second section I found interesting was about the League of German Girls. During our unit study, we cover Hitler Youth, but I didn’t know about its female counterpart. Finally, I have tried researching contemporary genocides in the past, but I would like to revisit that this year. The USHMM website has a rich library of educator resources, including a couple of interesting professional learning opportunities.
I uncovered a few neat ideas here. Most important is Wonderplace, a super awesome play space complete with a climbing structure, and kitchen with fake fruit, and the Spark!Lab where kids can be inventors and make stuff. Kiddos were happy for hours. The exhibit Many Voices, One Nation made me think, How do the words of many people, across time, unite to form a country? I could have my students look at the works of the authors we study, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Wright, Daniel Keyes, and whoever else gets tossed in there this year-to see how each of their unique voices became a part of the narrative of America.
I also saw Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt, which resulted in the removal of over 110,000 Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes. Another question to pose to students: How have people used words to deprive others of their freedoms? (Check out the Smithsonian’s History Explorer for educator resources. You can search by grade level, time period and/or subject you teach.)
I’ve been a fan of these guys since I met them at NCTE’s Annual Convention in 2014. I’ve used their incredible resources for teaching Shakespeare, and they also offer professional learning opportunities, including a month-long stay here in DC to study Shakespeare in depth. Of course I had to visit! The current exhibit showcased paintings of Shakespeare, the man himself and the scenes from the plays. The library is home to the largest collection of Shakespeare works, as well as other rare Renaissance works. Since I took the tour, I got to peek in the reading room. Swoon. During the tour, our guide mentioned that Shakespeare was not wholly original and that he took many of his stories from other authors. How can words be refashioned into something new and exciting? On an unrelated note, while at Folger I enjoyed learning about Project Dustbunny, dirt from the gutters of books analyzed for past readers’ DNA – wild.
This museum is the newest, opening in September 2016. I noticed a few different ways in which words were important, especially for someone who teaches Richard Wright’s, Black Boy. First, Nat Turner’s Bible and Harriet Tubman’s hymnal were on display. Both struck me, and I thought, How do people find strength and comfort in words during times of pain and turmoil? I look forward to examining this question with my students; it’s a topic that pairs nicely with Anne Frank finding solace in books.
Alongside the reading of Black Boy, my students and I read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. A question for my students will be, How can we use words to fight for change? This question will be especially useful as we follow Wright on his journey of discovering how authors used words to fight against racism.
The Newseum “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.” Tons of great ideas here! Around the outside of the museum are front pages from each of the fifty states and around the world. What a great activity for teaching media literacy. I want to pull the day’s headlines from three papers and have students analyze the differences. How can we use the same words to paint a different picture? There was also a neat exhibit on each of the five freedoms. This might be interesting to explore as my students learn about the Bill of Rights in social studies. How are the words of the past relevant today? I want to explore the modern issues relating to each of the five freedoms.
There was also really cool display about the rights of students, which I know mine will enjoy talking about, especially the parts on dress code. A question I will ask is, How can you use words to fight for what you believe in?
And now I, NCTE’s 2017 Kent B. Williamson Policy Fellow, am signing off. I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I enjoyed the journey. Please contact me, I’d love to connect and chat. Peace.
The members of NCTE’s Standing Committee Against Racism and Bias have felt an urgency since we each joined the committee to stand against racism and bias. We have been working on ways to encourage each member of NCTE to speak out against the systemic and individual acts of racism that disenfranchise our students in and out of the classroom.
We know that racism exists in our classrooms and in our communities. We feel that silence on these issues is complicity in the systemic racism that has marred our educational system. We see no place for neutrality and urge each member of NCTE to educate as many people as possible about the ways that systemic racism affects all of us in negative ways.
There is no apolitical classroom. English language arts teachers must examine the ways that racism has personally shaped their beliefs and must examine existing biases that feed systems of oppression. In light of the horrific events in this country that continue to unfold, and the latest terrorism in Charlottesville, Virginia, we would like to share resources that we hope will encourage all NCTE members to speak out against the racism and bias that have been a part of our nation’s fabric since the first immigrants disembarked from European ships.
Our Action Subcommittee has been working this year on creating classroom resources for teachers to use as statements of love and support. Printable classroom posters and bookmarks for NCTE members will be available at the 2017 Annual Convention, as well as available for download after Convention. Until then, we offer this incomplete resource to help continue the daily work that is antiracism. Please share other resources in the comment box below.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Raising Race Conscious Children
“A resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. The goals of these conversations are to dismantle the color-blind framework and prepare young people to work toward racial justice.”
Resources for Teaching in These Times On June 14, 2016, in response to the Orlando shootings, NCTE began collecting teaching resources from its members that continue to build in relevance given the ongoing struggles and critical conversations taking place across the country.
White Fragility, Anti-Racist Pedagogy, and the Weight of History From Black Perspectives by Justin Gomer and Christopher Petrella, July 27, 2017
“One cannot begin to comprehend the relationship between race and racism without historical investigation. A historically-grounded anti-racist pedagogy, rather than a psychologically-oriented one, allows us to see US society ‘in the act of inventing race.’”
Resources for Understanding White Supremacy
Southern Poverty Law Center “The SPLC is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.”
Ten Ways to Fight Hate “Ten Ways to Fight Hate, which has been updated for 2017, sets out 10 principles for taking action, including how to respond to a hate rally that has targeted your town. It urges people not to engage white supremacists at their rallies. Instead, it offers tips for creating alternative rallies to promote peace, inclusion and justice.”
Oath and Opposition: Education under the Third Reich
“The Museum has developed . . . materials . . . to help today’s educators explore the pressures teachers felt under the Nazi regime, the range of decisions individuals made in the face of those pressures, and the relevance of this history now.” (This rich resource includes a number of case studies you could use with your classes.)
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) “Founded in 1913, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is our nation’s premier civil rights/human relations organization. We have a distinguished history of reminding the world just how tenuous civil rights are and we mobilize people to engage in reasonable discourse as together we find solutions to serve our diverse society.” See their website’s extensive Education & Resources section as well as their definition and historical explanation of anti-Semitism.
Antisemitism and the Bystander Effect
“Students will watch testimonies from survivors of and witnesses to historical and contemporary antisemitism who describe the consequences of the bystander effect in their own lives. Students will construct a social media message for the #BeginsWithMe campaign that describes their own plan to counter bystander behavior.”
100 Days to Inspire Respect “At a time of heightened political uncertainty and polarization, middle and high school teachers are in need of easy-to-use resources that encourage their students to grapple with some of the most difficult but important topics: hate, racism, intolerance and xenophobia. ‘100 Days to Inspire Respect’ provides educators with 100 thought-provoking resources that tackle these challenging topics and more.”
The Charlottesville Syllabus “The Charlottesville Syllabus is a resource created by the Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation to be used to educate readers about the long history of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia. With resources selected and summaries written by UVa graduate students, this abridged version of the Syllabus is organized into six sections that offer contemporary and archival primary and secondary sources (articles, books, responses, a documentary, databases) and a list of important terms for discussing white supremacy.”
7 Ways Teachers Can Respond to the Evil of Charlottesville, Starting Now By Xian Franzinger Barrett, AlterNet “As teachers, our job is not solely to pour mathematics, science, language arts or any other knowledge into the heads of our students. It is our duty to our profession, to our society and to the students to lovingly teach them to learn and grow as complete humans.”
The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) “The People’s Institute believes that racism is the primary barrier preventing communities from building effective coalitions and overcoming institutionalized oppression and inequities. Through Undoing Racism®/Community Organizing Workshops, technical assistance and consultations, The People’s Institute helps individuals, communities, organizations and institutions move beyond addressing the symptoms of racism to undoing the causes of racism so as to create a more just and equitable society.”
Don’t Be a Sucker – 1947
“In this anti-fascist film produced by [the] US Military in the wake of WWII, the producers deconstruct the politically motivated social engineering of Germany by the Nazi regime.”
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards “The Social Justice Standards are a road map for anti-bias education at every stage of K–12 instruction. Comprised of anchor standards and age-appropriate learning outcomes, the Standards provide a common language and organizational structure educators can use to guide curriculum development and make schools more just and equitable.”
Articles and Other Readings
How Two Teenagers Created a Textbook for Racial Literacy From Facing History and Ourselves by Stacey Perlman
“Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi started the student-run organization, CHOOSE, to overcome racism and inspire harmony through exposure, education, and empowerment. This led them to collaborate with Princeton University on The Classroom Index, a textbook devoted to racial literacy.”
How America Is Failing Native American Students From The Nation by Rebecca Clarren
“When the United States signed its treaties with the Indian tribes, stripping them of their land, it promised to provide public services—including education—to tribal members in perpetuity. ‘For too long, the federal leadership has failed to honor that sacred pledge, leaving generations of Native children behind,’ said Washington State Senator John McCoy, a citizen of the Tulalip tribe and a national leader in Native education reform. ‘Institutionalized assimilation and racism remain embedded within our public schools.’”