Friday, October 22, 2010

On display

I 0nce turned down a job offer to teach 4th grade because--in addition to being completely, totally and woefully unqualified to teach 4th grade in any way, shape, or form--I felt like my bulletin board creation skills were not good enough to work in an elementary school. I preferred high school, where I could tack up a few posters and call it a day; and during my three years teaching high school I was a teacher on a cart, so I never even had my own room with bulletin boards to worry about (which, really, is the only perk of being a teacher on a cart).

That changed, however, when I went back for my MLIS. One of my friends from grad school (well, he's still a friend, but I met him in grad school) used to joke that I was getting a degree in arts and crafts every time I had to create some sort of display for class. (He also used to sneak up behind me while I was working in the computer lab and try to give me a hear attack. With friends like these. . .).

I really enjoyed those assignments where I had to create a display; I'm pretty good at presenting information in text, but not so good at presenting information in pictures, and it was good to develop those skills. Students are a lot more likely to respond to something that's visually appealing; turns out I was more than a little off-base in my assumption that by avoiding elementary school I was avoiding the need to create bulletin boards.

Now, despite (or more likely because of) not having a conventional display space, I really like creating new book displays. I don't get to rotate displays as often as I'd like (though, thanks to a friend and colleague wh0's working with me in the library this year, it's a lot easier), but I did want to show off a couple I've done this year.

First up, my Banned Books Week display:

I was pretty proud of the number of frequently challenged books I already had in my collection; I added glaring omissions to my next order. The signs are lists and charts of frequently challenged books by title and reason for the challenge.

I was considering a Halloween display, but I feel a lot of pressure from seasonal displays, given that there is a definite expiration date. I wanted something I could keep up for a while, swapping books out as needed. So I came up with "Get Carried Away by a Book":

And then I decided to do a small Halloween display anyway, as I had a bunch of decorations from a previous display:

On the circulation desk I have my friend Courtney Sheinmel's first book, My So-Called Family, which I finally read and LOVED:

But no matter how many displays I make, or how good I get at it (or even if I ever get a "real" display space), this:

will always be my favorite kind of display.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In the news

In completely unsurprising news, I am, in a word, exhausted. The start of the year has been very, very busy. Mostly in good ways, but not in ways that have provided a lot of time that would naturally suit itself to sitting down and reflecting and blogging. I feel like I'm constantly playing catch-up; I tell myself if I can just catch up, I'll be able to make time to write. But in the midst of getting caught up, a whole other list of things to do is created, and it begins again. Which, I am aware, is not exactly a novel observation.

In expected news, the new schedule--and figuring out how I fit in it--is a big part of this "caught in a whirlwind" feeling. I LOVE having long blocks in which to work with students, but it does mean redesigning all my lessons. And I'm also getting a bit more assertive in terms of "this is how these skills need to be taught, and this is the time I need to do it." All the teachers I'm working with are very receptive, but it also means more reconfiguring of things. But I'm very happy with the new lessons I'm designing, and feel like I'm getting a better handle on the big picture in terms of curriculum writing.

In exciting news, I've been selected for ALA's Emerging Leaders Class of 2011! You can find more about the program (but not my name. . . yet), at this link. And if you're one of my Facebook friends or follow me on Twitter, you'll be sure to know when my name is there. I'm also being sponsored by AASL, which is pretty cool. I'm not always crazy about how ALA functions (for reasons that look a lot like this), but in another not exactly novel observation, I don't think they're unique in being a large organization that is often weighted down by bureaucracy. I debated a long time before deciding to apply, but a good friend helped me figure realize that I can't really just sit on the sidelines and wait for the organization to change; I need to be an active part of making that happen. And given that I'm already involved via CASL and being a part of AASL Affiliate Assembly, I should go ahead and jump in with both feet. So I'll be headed to San Diego in January (don't feel too bad for me) to get started with the program.

In completely unrelated news, I did have an experience the other day in which I had to teach, explicitly, the steps necessary to e-mail a link. In the very basic, "copy/paste/send" sense of the word. Which has me thinking, as I often do, about how carelessly we throw around the idea of "digital natives", and the students who get left out/left behind when we make those assumptions. One of my goals for the year has been to write something and submit it for publication, and I think this might be that something. So I'm going to work on that. When it doesn't get published, I'll be sure to share it here. (My goal is to submit something; the publishing decision is in someone else's hands, so I'm not thinking about it.)

And finally, in other news, Amazon recently recommended The Boxer and the Spy to me, which I would like to offer as conclusive evidence that our computer overlords are not yet all knowing. Amazon also thought I might be interested in men's skinny jeans, which I offer as evidence that we don't need to be that worried about how soon our computer overlords will be all knowing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Swearing at students

The other day (note: I use “the other day” to refer to any day in the previous 3+ years that is not today. This particular “other day” was about three weeks ago) I was booktalking for a 9th grade English class. I had several booktalks that I’d written, and a handful of books from which I’d selected passages to read; one of those books was K.L. Going’s fantastic Fat Kid Rules the World.

I’d read over and over the booktalks and passages in preparation; I’d tweaked my booktalks, selected passages carefully so they started and ended at just the right spots. I’d practiced reading everything several times. And yet, somehow, I didn’t notice in until I was in the middle of reading the passage and saw it lurking on the line below.


Not a “damn” or a “hell.” Not even a “shit.” A full-fledged “fuck,” just sitting there, waiting to be read aloud to a class of 9th graders.

Time slowed down. And as I continued to read the sentence that I was already in the middle of, heading full steam ahead towards that fuck, my internal monologue went into overdrive:

Do I skip it?
Do I replace it with a more innoccuous choice? Frickin’? Flippin’? Eff’n? Doesn’t that just make it more obvious that I’m not saying it?
Who am I to make that choice? This isn’t my book. The word is there. Do I say it? Why would I *not* say it?
What’s the big deal, anyway? It’s just a word.
No, it’s not. I mean, yes, it is “just” a word. But it’s not a word I use with students. It’s a word I actively discourage students from using in front of me. Is it hypocritical if I use it?
Well, it’s not really me using it, it’s the character using it.
That’s a cop-out.
No, it’s not. I selected this book because I love the characters. And Troy says “fuck.” And he uses it for a reason. Who am I decide that he really should have said “frickin’”?
It’s two words away. . . make a decision.
It’s not my role to decide what something “should” be; I can only share what something is.

“. . . I’m a fucking 300-pound teenager. . . “

And then it was done. A couple students giggled nervously, but then we all moved on. And that was the experience in every class. Yes, I read it again. Same passage, same word. Because I’d selected that passage for a reason; to switch passages because of one word (a word that I’ve, *ahem*, used once or twice before) felt. . . wrong. The language--in the entire passage, not just that one word--was true to the characters and true to the story; to not read an entire passage because of one word seemed as ridiculous to me as challenging John Green’s Looking for Alaska over one scene about a blowjob (which is not, when it comes right down to it, *about* a blowjob), or challenging Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian because of “profanity” and mentions of masturbation.

It’s one passage, one word. And if it fits with the book, fits with the story, fits with the character--authentically and in such a way that when you see it in context you think, “Yes, that makes sense. That feels true”--none of us have any business trying to take it out. Least of all me, even if I am standing in front of a group of 9th graders. *

I’m always bothered a little bit by the argument that swearing/sex/violence etc. are okay in books because “kids hear a lot worse in movies/in the hallways/from their friends.” The arguments seems to be that it’s okay only because it’s “too late” to protect kids from these images and words (it bothers me, too, that the natural extension of this logic leads to people challenging The Hunger Games; if they don’t read/hear/view violence then everything will be just fine). But what if I want to work with students to be more civil AND suggest a book with the word “fuck” in it? Am I allowed to do that?

If students don’t watch those shows/live those lives, is it not okay for them to read these books? Are we only allowed to see our own experiences mirrored in what we read? Or do we read to experience lives that are often completely unlike our own--in ways both good and bad? You can probably figure out my answer on that one.

And so I recommend fantasy and science fiction and horror and realistic fiction where characters live difficult lives and bad things happen and sometimes people swear. And I recommend humorous books and adventure stories, and light-hearted books where the conflict has less than life-or-death stakes. I make recommendations based on what the student is looking to read; not based on whether or not I think the student has existing first-hand knowledge of all the plot points and themes in the book.

And for all the talk of “sex/violence/profanity” sells. . . no one checked out Fat Kid Rules the World. But someday one of them probably will. And I bet they’ll be too wrapped up in the story and the characters to notice one little word.


This was one of the many things that bothered me about The Boxer and the Spy; there’s a scene in which an adult apologizes for using the word “crap” in front of a 15-year-old girl. Really? Crap? I’m all for being more civil with our language and how we talk to each other, but in the context of conspiracies about murdering teenagers to cover up crimes, apologizing for the word crap seemed a little forced. Of course, he did use it in front of a girl, and you know what delicate lavender-lined paper using creatures we are.