The 30 Day Unslump Yourself Challenge

If you are like me, January brings excitement, positivity but also exhaustion.  This quiet month is one where I sometimes find my energy running low, my creativity running out, and rather than take the time to take care of myself I barrel on as if that will do the trick.  So this year, I realized I needed to challenge myself.  Challenge me to take better care of myself.  Challenge me to slow down.  Challenge me to focus more on meaningful interactions, rather than hurried conversations.  And yet I know that as soon as I say I will do it, I just don’t.  Such is life.  Such is so many of our realities.

So I created a 30-day challenge to unslump myself.  To remember to take care of me.  You are more than welcome to join me or create your own.  My challenge starts on Monday.  I cannot wait.  To see the challenge document, go here.

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If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

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On My Own White Immigrant Privilige

I often get asked how I started writing, where this blog came from.  My answer has always been the same; this blog should b called Pernille’s Random Thoughts.  Pernille’s  thoughts that keep me up at night.  Pernille’s reflections that I need to to make so that I can grow from them.  While I know others now read it, this was never my intention, it still isn’t.

I write for myself.

For the words that otherwise haunt me.

For the experiences, I have to process.

Sometimes I write to share ideas because I am so proud of something that worked.

Sometimes I write to share failures so that others can learn alongside me.

Sometimes I write simply to think out loud, to hold myself accountable, to set my thoughts out in the world so that I can be reminded of what I believe in to my core.

On Sunday, 8 AM, at NCTE, I was part of a session with 6 powerful women.  That morning Jess Lifshitz, Katie Muhtaris, Kathleen Sokolowski, Sara Ahmed, Katherine Hale, Donalyn Miller and I got the chance to share a personal story to help others reflect on their identity and our society.  The invitation was wide open for me to share whatever I felt like.  I knew that this was an opportunity for me to take the privilege that I have been handed because of my skin color, my socioeconomic status, my resources and so many other things and shine a light on it.

And yet, I was scared.  My hands shook.  Not because my risks are great; what’s the worst that can happen?!  (Although I sometimes do forget that things can happen that would greatly affect my family) But because I was afraid of not saying it right.  Of muddling my words.  Of unintended consequences.  But the words came out and so did the tears.  So for all of you who were not in our little session at NCTE, here is the story I chose to share, some pieces already shared on this blog, and others not.

I remember clenching the steering wheel.  The red and blue lights behind me flashing.  My heart in my throat.  My breathing fast.  In my head, I kept wondering what I had done.  I knew I had followed the speed limit.  I knew I had used my blinkers.  I knew my registration was up to date.  

And yet, I was getting pulled over and all of my kids were in the kid yelling at me about the police car behind us.  As the police officer walked up, I was scared.  After all, I didn’t have my Green Card on me.  That little card that grants me the permission to be in the United States as a lawful immigrant.  That little card that tells authority that I am legal.  That little card that I am supposed to carry on me at all times, in case anyone ever needs to see it.  In case the police, or ICE agents, or any other authority ever decides to question whether I have the right to be in the United States of America.

I didn’t have it.  It was at home.  And then the police officer came up to my window.  

I rolled down the window, ready to ask if I could please go home and get it, ready to make promises to always carry it with me in the future.  I still had no idea why I was being pulled over.  

She asked me for my license and I held my breath as I handed it over and she began to speak.

 My brake light was out.  That was it.  A brake light.  I had seven days to get it fixed or else but my “or else” was a ticket, not questioning, not deportation.

She thanked me for my time.  And then she walked away.

She never asked about my green card.  She never asked if I was an American.  She never even thought to ask.  

I almost cried as I pulled my car out into traffic and went home.  

I was raised in Bjerringbro, Denmark, a small town of about 8,000 people.  My mother moved my siblings and me there, I was 6 months old when she found the courage to look for a better life.  My mother was a strong single mother, who also had a wandering heart and so when I was six years old, she moved us to America so that she could write a book at Berkeley.  I was six years old the first time I spoke a word of English taught to me in an inner city classroom in San Francisco.  For seven months I navigated this foreign tongue, I navigated not understanding what someone said to me when they spoke.  I navigated trying to find the bathroom when you don’t know how to ask to leave or even how to say “Bathroom.”  I navigated how to make friends when you don’t speak the same language, how to show I was smart even if I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing.  And just when I felt like I had mastered this new language, this new culture, this new me,  we went home.  Back to Denmark where we resumed the life we had left behind.  Becoming Danish once again, rather than a kid who doesn’t have English as their first language.   

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So when you see me; do you see a woman whose first language is not English?  Do you see the ESL student I was?  Or do you just see my white skin?  Hear my American English?

When I was 18, my mother decided it was time to move again and she asked me once more if I would come.  “Stay for a year and if you don’t like it, I will buy your ticket home.”  In July of 1998, I walked up to the counter in Logan Airport and declared myself an immigrant.  I was alone, traveling by myself, and clutching my sealed papers as tightly as I could.  The immigration official, a surly man, pulled me into a small room, took my papers and then opened them without a word.  I stood there silent, afraid that I somehow would make the wrong move or say the wrong thing.  Afraid that at any moment the uniformed man, this stranger, would decide that I was not going to America and just like that I would be sent back home to a country where my family no longer was.   After questioning, he stamped my passport, handed it back and simply said; “Welcome to America” as he led me out into what felt like a whole new world.  

 

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Newly moved to Wisconsin, in my 18 year old glory

 

 

For 19 years no one has ever asked me for my papers again.   I have walked freely wherever I wanted to without being questioned, without being pulled over, without name-calling, all because of how I look.  That is white privilege,

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When I wrote about how I am never assumed to be an immigrant, someone replied; “Well, that is easy to understand, after all, you look like an American.”

Let’s think about that for a moment.  How can I look like an American when I do not have a single drop of American blood in me?  How can I look like an American when I can trace my Danish roots back more than a thousand years?  How can I look like an American when my first language is Danish and not English?

Take Martha, our nanny.  She is a full-blooded American and yet she gets pulled over regularly for as she calls it “Driving while Mexican.”  She is questioned about her heritage, asked where she is really from, whether her parents came here illegally.  When we go out together, she is automatically viewed as the immigrant and I am not.  Our assumptions about what makes someone American follows her everywhere she goes.  She shrugs it off like it is no big deal, says that’s just the way it is, but I am not okay with that, we shouldn’t be okay with that.  

And I get it,  I am so white I am like a caricature of whiteness.  You see me coming; blonde, blue eyes, tall, my Viking heritage directly responsible for the four blonde children that cruise around with me in our mini-van while we bungle the words to Despacito.  I was born white, it is who I am, but I am on a journey to use my innate privilege to be something more.  Not just an ally, but a fighter.  Someone who doesn’t just shut the door when the going gets tough but leaves it wide open.

My children go to a school that does not mirror us.  It is through circumstance we came to it but by choice that we stayed.   Learning among other cultures, races and identities have brought many questions to our dining room table.  Questions that were hard for us to navigate with our young children, questions who pushed our own thinking.  I shudder to think whether these questions would have been posed by my children if they did not go to the school they do.  And so I think of the choices we, as white people, make as a privileged society to keep our lives homogenous.  How we live in neighborhoods where people look like us, we send our kids to schools where they float in a sea of whiteness, we not only elect people whose values mirror our own but so do their faces.  I can choose to step away from racism.  I can choose to step away from inequity discussions.  I can choose to step away from anything that may be upsetting, dangerous, or demoralizing.

I am privileged because I get to be afraid of the type of reaction my teaching may cause if I continue to discuss inequity.  If I continue to discuss racism. If I continue to discuss what it means to be privileged in my classroom.  I get to be afraid for my job and I get to choose whether to have these hard conversations or not.  But the truth is, there should be no choice.  We, as teachers, are on the front lines of changing the future narrative of this country.  Ugliness and all.  We are the bastions of truth, so what truth are we bringing into our classrooms?

Where is our courage when it comes to being a part of dismantling a racist and prejudiced system?  It is not enough to have diverse books in our classrooms if we are too afraid to discuss diversity and what the lack of humanity for others does to our democracy.  It is not enough to say “You matter” and then do nothing to change the world that we live in.  Or to celebrate diversity and then not accept a child for who they truly are, differences and all.  It is not enough to say we are an ally if our actions don’t match our words.   I don’t need 100 clones of me, I need to create more opportunities for the students to do the hard work.   To offer them an opportunity to decide.   To create an environment where they can discover their own opinion.  Where they can explore the world, even when it is ugly so that they can decide which side of history they want to fall on.

So this year I am planning for even harder conversations.  I am planning on being an ally, for being a fighter, even when I get scared.  We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories?  Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers?  Do we give the students time to discuss, to formulate their own opinions, to evaluate the society that they live in and reach their own conclusions?

I am so white, I am like a caricature of whiteness, but perhaps even this white person can make a difference by not being so afraid.  By listening, by asking questions, and by doing more than just saying that this world is filled with wrongness.

I am no longer just an immigrant, this summer I became a United States Citizen.  I no longer have to fear being deported and separated from my children, but then again; did I ever really have to fear that? Or did my white skin shield me from what it truly means to be an immigrant to this country?   Did it give me the cover of assumptions when I am assumed to be American?  And so I wonder; what assumptions do you make about those that you teach?

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My beautiful friend, Jess Lifshitz’ also shared her story, please go read it, it took my breath away.

We Got This

As I write this my little boy, Oskar, is getting outfitted with a heart monitor.  For the next 24 hours every beat, every extra beat, will be recorded so we can see if this new irregular heartbeat is something I need to cry more tears about or if we can just breathe a sigh of relief.  For the first time ever when I googled medical symptoms, my heart was actually more relieved than worried.

But still, I sit on an airplane on my way to California, once again not there when I feel like I should be.  Not there when something that is much scarier to us parents than to him is unfolding in my hometown.    Not there when even though there is nothing I can do by being there, I had to go on my own journey and not be with my family.

 

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This kid and his faces

 

The mommy guilt is real.

But so is the support of my husband.  You see, the best decision I ever made was to marry the man I did who turned out to be an incredible father.  I am not surprised, he is an incredible human being.  He’s got this, of course, he does, and he let me know that as I packed my bags this morning and said goodbye.  Oskar didn’t care, he was off from school and so excited to get this machine put onto him, especially since he can’t shower when he has it on.

I think of all the times, I have had to look to my husband to take care of things when I couldn’t.  How when Thea was born we became a team, no matter what.  How as Ida, Oskar, and then Augustine showed up, we grew together instead of apart.  How we have been a team since then.  I chose him, I know he’s got this.

And we can hope the same for the teachers that our children get.

Because we trust those teachers that welcome our children every day to have this.  That they got this, even when we feel like we should be there.  That even when our child cries and says they miss us and ask us if they can stay home today, that we are sending them to a good place.  To a place where they will be seen, and loved, and heard, and protected.

We trust those strangers who welcome our kids to make great decisions for them.  To help shape them.  To see them for the full person they are and not just the child they hoped would show up.

We can’t forget that as teachers.  I can’t forget that.  When that child is having that day.  When that child is doing that thing.  When that child is pushing that button.  When that child is a mystery.

That’s when we remember that we got this.

That by sending their children to us, the parents that we serve are trusting us with their most precious thing.

That by sending their children to us, they are telling us that they need us to be a partner.  To step in when they can’t.  To help raise a child when that child is with us.  Not because we will make that child better, but because together we can do more.

So while my heart may be hurting a lot these days, I know that I chose right when I married my husband.  I know that I don’t need to worry because I know that Oskar will always be in the best of hands.

Just like when we put them on that bus every morning and tell them to have the best of days.

Just like when we say good morning as the first bell rings and we greet each child like they were our own.

We got this.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

 

And Yet…

On the morning of the kickoff to the largest Global Read Aloud yet.  On the morning of what should have been a happy Monday,  One where more than 2 million students would connect through the invisible threads of a read aloud.  One where a global project kicked off that is focused on perspective, understanding, acceptance, kindness, empathy, and everything that is good about our world, we are instead faced with the news of another mass shooting.

Once again the largest in newer US history.  And I spend my day in front of my computer not checking in on the Global Read Aloud, but instead seeing the death toll rise higher, the injured numbers climb, and the desperate pleas for someone to do something.

And we do; we send our thoughts and prayers,  We donate our blood, and then we say to not make it political.  That now is not the time for action out of respect for the tragedy.

And yet, tomorrow I will send my children to school knowing that they have to do active shooter drills in their classrooms so that they can be prepared for the worst.

And yet, I will ask my son about these drills and he will tell me that he did a great job being quiet mom, so the “bad guy can’t get me…”  And I will smile and tell him good job but inside I will rage and tremble.  This is my child, these are my most precious, and they are being taught to sit silently, hoping to not become victims.

And yet, I will go through training in my own district for what I can do to try to protect the very kids I teach. I will be told I have an option to fight or to hide, and that no one will fault me for making the wrong decision.

And I will tell my friends, who sit in my home nation of Denmark, that I am afraid again.  That I am not sure this country is really sane anymore.  That I am not sure I am really able to protect anyone because all it takes is one person with a weapon.

And yet, this is not the time to be political.  So when is it?  Because I am ready, because I am afraid, and I don’t want my children to have to wonder what will happen when they go to school, or a movie theater, or a mall, or a concert, or on a plane, or walk down the street.

 

 

What the Test Didn’t Care About

Dear Theadora,

Today you told me you were stupid.  That you couldn’t even read the stupid test.  That you knew you failed and so you gave up.  That you will never be a reader.  Again.

And I looked at you and I asked if you needed a hug.  As you crept into my arms, there was so much I wanted to tell you and like your bumbling mother I tried.

I told you to remember that you are not a stupid test.

That you are not a correct answer.  Or an incorrect one for that matter.

That you are not just a level, a piece of data, an insignificant number determined by a profit-making entity.  You will never be just a J.

That you are not stupid.

That you are not failing.

But that you are smart.

That you are brave.

That you are a reader.

Because what the test didn’t care about is that we see you read.  We see you listen.  We see you choose a book and make your way through the pages, even when the words don’t make sense.

We see you ask to go to the library and please can I have one more book?

We see you read to your siblings, to ask for just one more page, to tell me everything that has happened in the Lightning Thief since I last drove the car.

We see you try, We see you fight for the words at times, and other times, they come so easily.

What the test doesn’t care about is how far you have come.  How you know all of the strategies but when you know you are getting the answers wrong it doesn’t matter what you were taught because all you can think about is how you know you are wrong and now the rest of the world knows it too.  How does anyone face that as a child?

What the test doesn’t care about is how much you love reading.  How much your teachers work hard to protect it.  How much being a reader, one that reads chapter books, means to you.  Which is why you keep trying every single day, every single time.

So when we look at the data, dear Thea, I wish it told the full story.  That it actually showed us what we needed to know.  Not just a level.  Not just a score.  Not just the incorrect or the time spent struggling.  Not just the suggested lessons or the gaps in your skills.

I wish it knew you.  No test ever will.  That is why we are so thankful for your teachers.

But I can tell you now, and you have to believe this loudly.  You have to believe this proudly.  You have always been a reader.  You will always be a reader.  Nothing will change that if you don’t let it.  So don’t let it.

Love,

Mommy

 

 

For the Kids Who Show Up

This is for the kids whose stories I don’t know yet.

This is for the kids whom I haven’t met.

This is for the kids whose names stare at me from class lists, whose eyes shine brightly in their school pictures, who right now mean little to me.

But they will.

This is for the kids who hope we will like them, maybe even love them.

For the kids who need us to have their backs.

For the kids who are scared to share who they are.

For the kids who were scared and shared anyway.

This is the for the kids who were born this way, somehow deemed not normal in our gender/race/religion obsessed society.  Who fear the wrath of those who label them different.  Who are scared before they come to our schools.  Who don’t think they will be able to find a book among our piles that speak to who they are.

This is for the kids who are part of all of the kids we say we teach when we write our fancy vision statements, when we discuss how we are going to create safe schools and then do nothing to create community.

This is for the kids who need us most, who may not even be able to share why they need us, yet look to us to keep them safe as they try to access the education they have been promised.

So as we head back to school.  As we start our trainings.  As we meet as a community to discuss how this will be the year we try to reach all the kids, make sure we are really talking about ALL the kids.

Not just the white kids.

Not just the money kids.

Not just the cis kids.

Not just the straight kids.

Not just the Christian kids.

Not just the kids that fit whatever default view we have of what normal is.

As teachers, we try to speak up for all of our kids but we need to know that our schools have our back.  That we can create communities that are truly safe for all the kids that show up and not just for those someone decided deserved to be protected.  That our school boards mean it when they say that this school, this community, is for all kids to succeed, for all kids to have a chance.  Not because it is politics, but because it is human decency.

This is for all the kids who dread the first day of school because they are not sure what they will face.  This is for the teachers who fear as well.

We may not be many.

We may not be the majority.

We may not always get it right.

But we see you.

And in our eyes, you are normal.  In our eyes you are just the child we hoped would show up, so welcome.  I am glad you are here.

PS:  Go read Dana Stachowiak’s post