being a teacher, Book Clubs, books, Reading

Great Books for Dystopian Book Clubs

We kicked off our dystopian book clubs this week and the students are pretty excited.  This genre of books is my favorite, and the favorites of many students, and yet there are also some who have never experienced it.  For the past month, we have been actively searching for the titles we would offer up to kids, needing as many perspectives as we could find, as well as text challenges.   One thing we ran into early on was the seemingly lack of inclusive dystopian science fiction, not because it is isn’t out there but because on list after list it didn’t seem to be highlighted.   So this list is our starting point, we will be continuing our curating of finding more inclusive books that are not centered around a white main character.   And if you have suggestions, please share them in the comments!  (And yes, some of these are borderline dystopian, but we are navigating that with the students).

The Marrow Thieves

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (Author)

Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden—but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe #1)

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

They’re known as Firestarters. Boomers. Skychangers. The government calls them Illegals — children with inexplicable abilities — and detains them in menacing facilities so that society is kept out of harm’s way. Ashala Wolf and her Tribe of fellow Illegals have taken refuge in the Firstwood, a forest eerily conscious of its inhabitants, where they do their best to survive and where they are free to practice their abilities. But when Ashala is compelled to venture outside her territory, she is betrayed by a friend and captured by an enemy. Injured and vulnerable, with her own Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to a machine that will pull secrets from her mind. It’s only a matter of time before the machine ferrets out the location of the Tribe. Her betrayer, Justin Connor, is ever-present, saving her life when she wishes to die and watching her every move. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?

The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

One choice can transform you. Beatrice Prior’s society is divided into five factions—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice must choose between staying with her Abnegation family and transferring factions. Her choice will shock her community and herself. But the newly christened Tris also has a secret, one she’s determined to keep hidden, because in this world, what makes you different makes you dangerous.

MiNRS by Kevin Sylvester – 3rd year on this list!

A boy and his friends must find a way to survive in the mining tunnels after their new space colony is attacked in this gritty action-adventure novel, which School Library Journal called “a solid survival story.”

In space. Underground. And out of time.

Christopher Nichols and his family live on a new planet, Perses, as colonists of Melming Mining’s Great Mission to save the earth. Dozens of families like Christopher’s have relocated, too, like his best friend Elena Rosales.

A communications blackout with Earth hits, and all of Perses is on its own for three months. It’s okay, though, because the colonists have prepared, stockpiling food and resources to survive. But they never prepared for an attack.

Landers, as the attackers are called, obliterate the colony to steal the metal and raw ore. Now in a race against time, Christopher, along with a small group of survivors, are forced into the maze of mining tunnels. The kids run. They hide. But can they survive?

Ender’s game by Orson Scott Card

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Matched by Ally Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

 

Legend (Legend, #1)

Legend by Marie Lu

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

In a future where the Population Police enforce the law limiting a family to only two children, Luke, an illegal third child, has lived all his twelve years in isolation and fear on his family’s farm in this start to the Shadow Children series from Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.

Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.

Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows — does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford not to?

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

From Amazon:

If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.
 
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.
 
Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.
 
Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.
 
Everything is going to change.
 
Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.
 
Remember. Survive. Run.

 

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. She and her friend Doon must race to figure out the clues before the lights go out on Ember forever!

Icebreaker by Lian Tanner

Twelve-year-old Petrel is an outcast, living on an ancient icebreaker that has been following the same ocean course for three hundred years. The ship’s crew has forgotten its original purpose and has broken into three warring tribes. Everyone has a tribe except Petrel, whose parents were thrown overboard for alleged crimes. She has survived by living in the dark corners of the ship, and speaking to no one except two large rats, Mister Smoke and Mrs. Slink.

When a boy is discovered on a frozen iceberg, the crew is immediately on alert. Petrel hides him on board, hoping he’ll be her friend. What she doesn’t know is that the ship guards a secret, held down deep in its belly, and the boy has been sent to seek and destroy it.

Imposters by Scott Westerfield

Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . two edges of the same knife. But Frey’s very existence is a secret.

Frey is Rafi’s twin sister—and her body double. Their powerful father has many enemies, and the world has grown dangerous as the old order falls apart. So while Rafi was raised to be the perfect daughter, Frey has been taught to kill. Her only purpose is to protect her sister, to sacrifice herself for Rafi if she must.

When her father sends Frey in Rafi’s place as collateral in a precarious deal, she becomes the perfect impostor—as poised and charming as her sister. But Col, the son of a rival leader, is getting close enough to spot the killer inside her. As the deal starts to crumble, Frey must decide if she can trust him with the truth . . . and if she can risk becoming her own person.

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald’s still would be open.

High school sophomore Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when an asteroid knocks the moon closer to Earth, like “one marble hits another.” The result is catastrophic. How can her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis are wiping out the coasts, earthquakes are rocking the continents, and volcanic ash is blocking out the sun? As August turns dark and wintery in northeastern Pennsylvania, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

Told in a year’s worth of journal entries, this heart-pounding story chronicles Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all—hope—in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world. An extraordinary series debut!

Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

What would you be willing to risk for a lifetime of fortune?

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

One touch is all it takes. One touch, and Juliette Ferrars can leave a fully grown man gasping for air. One touch, and she can kill.

No one knows why Juliette has such incredible power. It feels like a curse, a burden that one person alone could never bear. But The Reestablishment sees it as a gift, sees her as an opportunity. An opportunity for a deadly weapon.

Juliette has never fought for herself before. But when she’s reunited with the one person who ever cared about her, she finds a strength she never knew she had.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape a rigid caste system, live in a palace, and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and competing for a crown she doesn’t want.

Then America meets Prince Maxon—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

It’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony (the former Great Lakes) is celebrating. All Cia can think about—hope for—is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization. When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings (”Cia, trust no one”), she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever. Danger, romance—and sheer terror—await.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world—and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever.

 

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In America after the Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies came to an agreement: The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, a parent may choose to retroactively get rid of a child through a process called “unwinding.” Unwinding ensures that the child’s life doesn’t “technically” end by transplanting all the organs in the child’s body to various recipients. Now a common and accepted practice in society, troublesome or unwanted teens are able to easily be unwound.

Want by Cindy Pon

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

Warcross by Marie Lu

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Freakling by Lana Krumwiede

In twelve-year-old Taemon’s city, everyone has a power called psi — the ability to move and manipulate objects with their minds. When Taemon loses his psi in a traumatic accident, he must hide his lack of power by any means possible. But a humiliating incident at a sports tournament exposes his disability, and Taemon is exiled to the powerless colony. The “dud farm” is not what Taemon expected, though: people are kind and open, and they actually seem to enjoy using their hands to work and play and even comfort their children. Taemon adjusts to his new life quickly, making friends and finding unconditional acceptance. But gradually he discovers that for all its openness, there are mysteries at the colony, too — dangerous secrets that would give unchecked power to psi wielders if discovered. When Taemon unwittingly leaks one of these secrets, will he have the courage to repair the damage — even if it means returning to the city and facing the very people who exiled him?

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from World War III. But adventurous Hope is terrible at inventing. She would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath, the deadly band of air that surrounds the town.

When bandits invade White Rock to steal its greatest invention—priceless antibiotics—the town is left with a heartbreaking choice: hand over the medicine and die from disease, or die fighting the bandits. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. Now Hope and her friends Aaren and Brock are only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath.

For once, the daring and rebelliousness that usually get Hope into trouble might just save them all.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.

But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

EAST ASIA, 2199. After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the academy’s ranks. Abandoned as a child in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands–as a soldier of the Republic, or a rebel of the people.

 

Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti 

A collection of dystopian short stories featuring diverse main characters and by authors of color.  We are using this for short stories and mentor texts.

A more comprehensive list of fantasy and science fiction books that feature protagonists of color can be found here.

Lee and Low also has this post, it is from 2013 though.

Please share more book ideas!

being a teacher, being me, writing

As We Write…

All day, writing has been calling to me.  The magic of the words unfolding, my thoughts becoming clearer, my ideas set to page, taking a life of their own.  Ideas abound, swirling until I feel unsettled, craving the peace that inevitably arrives after the writing has happened.  A picture book?  A new book for educators?  A blog post?  A poem as I prepare to advise our slam poetry club starting tomorrow (wish me luck)?  The urge to write is there even if the ideas are not fully formed, fully present, but the keys call my name as I sit in front of the fire, reflecting on today.

I wonder how many of our students have that urge?  How many are called to write as they process the world around them?  Search for their unique way to sift through the bombardment of images and thoughts that constantly surround us?  How many feel the call of a pen, a journal, a keyboard, as a way to unpack and digest?  As a way to create something that didn’t exist until they decided to create it?

I have said it before, but it bears repeating; in our eagerness to make sure that students can write well, are we extinguishing their very urge to write?  To tell stories?  To reflect?  To process somehow?

When we ask our students who they are as writers, their answers lack little surprise; I am a writer who writes because I have to.  I am not a writer.  I hate writing.  I am a writer who writes in school, that’s it.

“How many sentences do I need, Mrs. Ripp?”

“How long should it be?”

“I don’t know what to write…”

Not let me write.

Not can we write?

But why do we have to write?  I will never use writing when I am… older…in my job…when I leave school.  Fill in the sentence however you see fit.

So for the next four weeks, we will play with writing.  We will form stories, journals, poems, plays, comics, whatever strikes our fancy as we take away the assessment.  As we make a space every day to simply write.  As we make a space every day to share what we wrote if we want to.  As we make room for the conversations that need to surround the writing and the writers.  As we strip away the to-do’s and search for the to-be’s.

As we discover perhaps not just who we are as writers, but more so who we want to be.  As we search and perhaps even find a place for writing somewhere in our busy lives so that perhaps, just perhaps, their answers will not always be, “do we have to write?” but instead can be “Do we have to stop?”

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

being a teacher, being me

One Small Thing

Our house is a mess.  In between coming home from being away, the rush of two school days, the joy of Thanksgiving and now the Christmas decorations, it seems that on every surface, in every corner, there is something out of place.  A job that calls for my attention, urging me to pick up, clean up, fix, do.  It is overwhelming to simply wander, now knowing where to start.

My house reminds me so much of our work as teachers.  Everywhere we see projects half-finished, ideas calling out for us to work on them, conversations that should be had, and, indeed, children who seem to have a long way to go.  Children who we are not quite sure how we will ever get there, wherever there may be.  Children who need us in ways that we have not really discovered fully yet.  Children whose lives will be shaped by the decisions we make, whether we intend them to or not.

It is overwhelming at times, all-consuming at times, urgent at times.  Where do we start?  Where do we go?

Too often we are big idea people as teachers, and yet within this innate quality to juggle many different components at the same time also lies a dangerous mindset; the idea that we must think of all things at the same time.  The idea that if we do not constantly focus on the whole then we will never reach our destination.  It is a paralyzing mindset, one that may spur us into action at first, but then burn us out.

Yet, just like our houses, our lives whose unfinished projects call our names, we have a choice to make.  Do we sit back, looking at all of the projects calling to us, or do we simply go from one thing to the next?  Do we have an overall goal in mind, but then focus in on the one small thing we can do right now?  The child we can sit with?  The lesson we can plan for tomorrow?  The book we can read tonight?  The idea we can try right now?  The change we can when it comes to the inherent wrongs we are constantly faced with in this world?

So I propose a simple reminder today; focus on the next small thing and once that is accomplished then focus on the next small thing.  Be aware of all of the needs, but focus in on one.  Don’t force yourself into this perpetual state of overwhelmedness that seems to envelop us all as teachers, as adults.

Start small with each child focus on what you will try next right now.  The next few days.    Change a text.  Change an approach.  Try something new.  But do it one at a time.  And then pay attention to the small changes.  To the small moments that indicate successes that we so often miss when we keep our eye on the end of the year.  The growth is happening, I promise, we just have to take a moment to see it.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, being me

The Great Teacher Myth

I have spent the last few hours quietly wandering around NCTE, trying to listen more than talk, processing, pondering, and also trying to reflect on the work that lies ahead when I return to room 235d this Monday.  When the reality of what it means to teach comes back versus this dream world where we sit and discuss how we can change what we do to make it work for all kids.  To work for all adults.

And yet, the learning doesn’t have to end when we return to our school.  The conversation doesn’t have to end.  Only if we make it.  Because in our school, every day, we are surrounded by people who have ideas.  By people whose voices may not have been heard, yet.  People whose ideas have not grown past their own classroom doors.  And yet, how many of us will go back and try to engage in the same professional conversations that we engage in when we leave our schools?  How many of us would rather go to a professional development day than spend a day immersed with our colleagues, trying to grapple with the weight of the very reality we teach withing?  How many of us, myself included, would rather idolize someone who doesn’t teach with us because they seemingly have it all figured out and if we only listen to them some more we will, surely, finally be a great teacher?

It’s a lose-lose situation and an unsustainable one at that.  When we assume that “those teachers,”  that “those experts” have it all figured out, we only see ourselves as less than.  As someone who perhaps doesn’t have ideas to share.  As someone who there isn’t space for in the conversation.  As someone who will never be good enough, let alone a great teacher.  And this simply isn’t true.  Our schools are brimming with people, and yes, kids are people, who have so much to share if we only start to realize the wisdom that surrounds us.

Because I can tell you this; as someone who has been given a lot of space, who has had labels, both positive and negative, attached to her very being; I am nothing special.  And I don’t mean it as a false sense of denigration.  As a way to tear myself down so that others can lay on the accolades.  I am simply a teacher who chose to reflect out loud.  Who chose to question her own practices because she faced the very harsh reality that if she continued on the path that she was on, she would harm children.  Who screws up oftentimes privately, sometimes publicly, who is lucky enough to have people who care enough (or are angry enough) to point it out and tell me I can do better (thank you!).  And so are you.

So it’s on all of us.  If we don’t give space.  If we don’t strike up conversations.  If we don’t reach out and ask for help from the very people we work with.  If we don’t share more of our mistakes as some of us are handed pedestals to stand on, then we are doing a disservice to those who come to us or guidance, who trust us with their time, who call us colleagues and mentors.

So find your worth, share your story, trust me when I say; we are all just trying to figure this out.  Sometimes we do great, sometimes we don’t, but we are all in this together.

 

 

 

Be the change, being a teacher, student choice, Student dreams

This Is Hard

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“This is hard…”

The group looks at me, hoping I have answers to give, some ways to make it easier.  And while we have been working together for the past ten minutes, while I have been coaching the best that I could, it is also time for the truth.

“Yes, it is…this is hard work but guess what?  You’re doing it.”

They get back to work, we continue with our learning.

This simple moment together doesn’t fix the work that lies ahead.  The hard work of understanding, of growing, of learning.  It doesn’t make it less hard, but what it can do is make it easier to carry.  Make it easier to stick with it, to try again even when it seems unclear, uncertain, or even just plain challenging.  When we acknowledge that this work, whatever it may be, is, indeed, hard we are letting kids know that it is not that they simply don’t understand it.  That it is not because they are somehow dumber than other kids, or less capable, but that instead, that all kids go through these phases of learning and that at times, the work is hard to do, to understand, to break down and carry on with.

So many of our kids who feel less than.  Less than a reader.  Less than a writer.  Less than a student are not always acknowledged for the incredible effort it takes to learn.  For the incredible work that their brain is doing to make sense of something that seems incomprehensible at first.

And so we must tell our kids that learning is hard work and mean it.  We show our own struggles when it comes to doing the work by working in front of the kids rather than doing the work before they show up.  We tell them when we are unsure, when we mess up, when we really have to break it down into small steps in order to feel like we are moving forward at all.  We show them what learning looks like as an adult and then we remember to acknowledge the work behind their growth, no matter how small it seems at times, is something to be proud of.  That in this moment, that in this class, they have grown as a learner, and that is something to be proud of.

The work we are doing right now is hard.  Analyzing text is hard, even for adults, and yet at that moment, when we recognize that this is not easy work, we offer students a chance to see themselves not as students who cannot get it right, right away, but instead as students who are learners.  And learning takes time.  Let’s not forget that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

being a teacher, global read aloud

The Difference the Global Read Aloud Makes #GRA18

As the 9th annual Global Read Aloud wrapped up, I received the following letter from Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound.  It made me think of how grateful I am for this project, for the people who believe in it, and for the movement it has created around the world.  

And so, this is the blog post I posted on the Global Read Aloud blog, I thought I would share here.

Whenever I choose a book for the GRA, I hold my breath for a long time.  Will the people who read it aloud get why I chose it?  Will they see the beauty?  The possibility of understanding?   The connections between themselves and others whose lives may seem so different?  The books chosen this year once again allowed people to step into a culture that many had not experienced.  To cheer for a girl who seemed to face impossible circumstances and yet trusted herself to make a difference.  To understand a boy who in the end just wanted to be himself.  To hold our breath for three refugees as the world turned against them, to understand a girl’s path to adulthood when the world only sees her through one part of an identity.  To dive into indigenous culture and see it for its beauty and its presence all around us.

To the authors and illustrators of these books, in sharing your words with us, you allowed us to share our words with the world, and that means that the world has now changed.  I cannot thank you enough for creating these books because while the Global Read Aloud may be coming to a close, for us all, these books and their stories have provided us with something bigger – a beginning.  And for that, I will forever be grateful.

Aisha Saeed, the author of Amal Unbound, wrote the following thank you.

Dear Teachers,

When I was eight years old my mother packed me leftovers for my school lunch: keema with roti. Children teased me mercilessly in the cafeteria. They scrunched their noses and pretended to gag at the sight of the unfamiliar food.

During the Global Read Aloud you ordered samosas, pakoras, jalebis, chai, and full Pakistani feasts for your children to sample. I saw a picture of a South Asian child sharing with pride the roti they had for lunch with their class.

When I was ten years old I ran into kids from school while my family and I were at the grocery store. We were on our way to a dinner party and dressed in our finest shalwar kamiz. For weeks after, children poked and prodded me about the “strange” costumes.

During the Global Read Aloud I watched parents visit your classrooms in shalwar kamiz to share their Pakistani culture. I saw photos and videos of children wearing their ancestral clothing, standing before their classrooms as they discussed the beautiful outfits of South Asia.

When I was twelve years old, I went to school the day after Eid with deep orange henna still on my hands from the holiday. Children shrieked and pretended my hands were diseased. Despite my explanations, they refused to sit next to me until the color at last faded from my hands.

During the Global Read Aloud, you discussed henna, you brought them into classrooms. You celebrated the tradition and children decorated one another’s hands.

All through my elementary school years, I was taunted for my identity. And yet I couldn’t hide from who I was. My skin, my hair, my name— spoke too loudly. And as painful as it was, I thought it was normal. I accepted it.

During the Global Read Aloud, so many of you went beyond the book and dove into Pakistani culture. You brought in music. You Skyped with classrooms and people in Pakistan and around the world. You invited local community members to share about the people and the culture of Pakistan. You walked into South Asian markets and clothing stores and bought pomegranates and chadors and did everything you could to bring “over there”— here.

In a world where Pakistan is often equated to dangerous, you helped combat stereotypes. You helped children see the underlying humanity that all people possess which bind us together—because that is the truth. There is no “us versus them”— we are all people.

I’ve read your e-mails and posts. I’ve looked at all your photos and videos. I’ve visited classrooms for school visits and through Skype. I’ve loved the discussions you’ve had with your students on patriarchy, indentured servitude, fairness and justice, and hope.

But you did something else too.

You not only helped children glimpse life in another person’s shoes, you helped children feel seen. You honored them. You validated them. You celebrated them.

When I got the e-mail from Pernille Ripp that AMAL UNBOUND was selected to be part of the global read aloud I was humbled and grateful. What a dream as an author (and a former educator!) that my book would be read by your students. But I could never have imagined just how deeply meaningful and personal this experience would be for me. In honoring your children, the scars from my childhood feel healed.

Regardless of which book you chose, by participating in the Global Read Aloud you opened children’s minds and hearts and connected with the world around us and in doing so you created a whole heaping of empathy that the world can never have enough of. And as the whirlwind six weeks of the Global Read Aloud come to a close, from the bottom of my heart, I  thank you.

With love and gratitude,

Aisha Saeed

Sign up for 2019 is open, join us as we once again try to connect the world, one book at a time.