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 

We Are Stories

I am in the air, headed to another conference, headed away from home for the next three days.  As home fades to a pinprick, my husband’s grandmother lies in hospice, surrounded by family, finishing her journey through life.  The guilt weighs heavily on me, they know I would be there if I could, but still….

 

Our kids are trying to process what it means to die.  Our four-year-old son cries at bedtime telling me, “I will miss her so much, Mom.”   Our eight-year-old asks me why people have to die and how is that fair.  Our three-year-old asks us when Old Grandma will go home, not sure why she isn’t answering when she asks her questions.  My husband, stoic as always, keeps his emotions close to his chest, he never was one for public displays.  We are all processing in our own ways, trying to bumble our way through something we know is inevitable, yet always comes as a surprise.  As each child asks their questions, we try to navigate as best as we can, offering up shallow answers and lots of hugs.

 

 

As our children process, I try to think of what they will remember.  The stories Anita leaves us with.  The little things that stand out to us, to me, as she welcomed me into this family.  As I recognize that without her, my husband would never even exist.  The little gestures that mattered the most, such as how she brought pickled cucumbers to every gathering because she knew they reminded me of my grandfather.  How she met Brandon’s grandfather and the trouble they got in together as they married young, knowing they were meant to be together.    How when Augustine came ten weeks early, she crocheted two blankets the size of doll bedding to keep in her incubator and tiny hats to keep her warm, saying they would be better than the ones the hospital had – and they were.  How she slipped her false teeth out of her mouth just to scare my kids and they didn’t even notice.

Her stories become our stories, but only the ones we know.  There are so many we don’t know. Death is never easy.  Neither is grief.  The thought of all of the missed opportunities.  The missed moments where we could have asked for more stories, more of her.  The times we were too busy.  The times we didn’t ask more questions.

And that’s it, isn’t it?

Stories are all we are.

All we leave behind are the stories that when read from start to finish make the book of our life.

We take life for granted so often, We live as if our time will never run out.  We get too busy to stop and listen to each other.

So as I think of the year ahead in our classrooms, I think of all of the stories we are waiting to begin.  The stories awaiting us.  How it feels as if we don’t have the time to know the kids we teach because we have so much curriculum to cover.  And yet, either way, our story will continue.  The story we will create together will be written into existence whether we give it our time or not. And we can hope that this coming year is one of the good chapters, the one where there is more good than bad, more happy than not.

As Anita slowly passes, our own mortality is remembered.   We tell her thank you, we love her, and hope that it is enough.  That we were enough.  And I hope that one day, my own family will gather around me as I get ready to leave this Earth and will share their stories.  Will have enough to remember me by, not as someone who was there once in a while, when work didn’t call, but who was there for the small moments, where there are more stories than time to share them.

We can’t just wait for it to happen.  We write the story of our year, of our lives.  We are the authors of what awaits.  So make it matter.  Make it one that will be shared for years to come.

We have no more grandparents left after this.  The generation that gave birth to our parents has vanished into memories, ready to be overtaken by the next one.  Ready to have the next chapter written.  As we grieve and process, we are thankful and grateful.  At least we got to be a part of this one story.  This one life.  May we all be so lucky.

 

On Hard Conversations and Having Courage

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.

We live in a neighborhood that does not mirror us.  It is through circumstance we came to it but by choice that we stayed.   Living 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 we did not live here.  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?

I saw this tweet from ILA

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and it has kept me up at night.  Where are the white allies?  Where have I been?  Have I done enough?  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?  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.

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.

On This New Country of Mine

Brandon stood outside the door, ready to congratulate me.  My best friend, my better half, took one look and asked why I was crying.  It was hard to find the right words…

I came here in 1998 with the idea of staying one year.  I had said my goodbyes but they felt like so longs and yet as the years progressed, my home, Denmark, slipped further and further away.  Once I married Brandon and Denmark changed its immigration laws, I realized that this country was probably my home, because no longer could the man I loved come with me.  It hit me like a ton of bricks because in this country, as an immigrant, I was not seen as a full person with equal rights.  And yet, I stayed, believing in this nation and the work that we do in education for the future of us all.

But I’ll tell you; the past eight months, as an immigrant to this nation, have not been easy.  Every time I have left, I have wondered whether I would be allowed back in.  When I have discussed my political opinions, I have wondered if my name would show up on a  list somewhere.   I have worried that this country which has been my home for 19 years and is the birth-nation of my husband and children, was no longer a safe place for me or anyone who does not fit this version of what it takes to make America great again. I have been reminded of my own white privilege and then also been reminded that just like that, what I take for granted, could be taken away.

It wears on you when day in and day out, you don’t know if this is the place you belong.  I cannot imagine what it must feel like for those who feel this way every day, with no end in sight.

So when I took the oath today, I cried.  Not just because I am proud to become a part of the glorious mess that is the American experience.  Not just because I can now travel without worry.  Not just because I get to vote, but because I feel this sense of relief.  Like my rights cannot be so easily dismissed or taken away.  Like I now matter to this nation, as if I am fully human here now, and not just someone with pseudo rights that can be easily tossed out.

When you are born with these privileges you may not know what it means to be handed them.  This is the closest I will ever come to feeling marginalized and that is something worth remembering.

So I cried my tears and then I registered to vote and in my heart, I said yes.

Yes to seeing the greatness that already exists.

Yes to being a part of the change that we need.

Yes to fighting for the things I believe in.  And fighting loudly.

Yes to seeing the flaws.

Yes to realizing that my voice matters now more than ever.

Yes to taking responsibility and also being in awe of that.

I am now a citizen of the United States of America and I am ready to work for change.

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