I’m Published on HerStory

An essay I wrote is going up today on HerStory, a blog of women’s writing. It’s kind of a journal entry from almost a year ago. I wrote the meat of it back in March 2016 about how miserable I was at the end of my pregnancy, and returned to in October. That was when I cleaned it up and made sense of it to present to an audience. I hope it helps explain some of my time away from the blog. Here’s a permanent link. Enjoy!

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Ready to March

The Women’s March is tomorrow, and I’m excited to attend in Nashville with my baby. When I took him with me to vote in November, I was excited to think that years from now I would be sharing with him that he helped me elect the first woman president. Maybe someday he still will. This protest is a historic moment, one that I’ll be proud to tell my child he was present for. I still would have preferred to tell the other story, but at least we’ll be on the right side of history, as active dissenters rather than passive consenters.

This march will be the fourth protest I’ve attended since the election. I went to the Marcha Contra el Odio de Trump (March Against Trump’s Hate) organized by Dignidad Obrera, among other Nashville organizations, the Sunday after the election. There was a small bilingual discussion beforehand among parents and teachers looking for ways to support children who may be encountering racist bullying triggered by the election. About 300 people marched.

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The other two protests were smaller. There was one on the day of the electoral college vote. It was cold, so I brought hot chocolate to share with the persistent protesters who stayed longer than I did. And then a couple weeks ago, I joined a couple dozen people protesting outside of the offices of our Republican senators, focused on the climate change deniers who are nominated to the Cabinet.

I understand that not everyone can protest–and in fact maybe the size of this weekend’s protests is getting out of hand and borderline unsafe. Protests like this are by their nature a one-time event, when what we need is ongoing commitment. That’s why I wanted to share some of the other things I’ve been doing since the election and hope to continue to do as long as necessary.

I went to a meeting, sent emails, passed out flyers, made phone calls, and talked to coworkers about the vote on collaborative conferencing for a teachers’ contract in our school district. This victory, coming just a week or so after the crushing defeat in the election, has been a definite bright spot. I’m looking forward to watching this process and hope for a contract that will improve teachers’ pay and working conditions, and thus students’ learning conditions as well.

Inspired by the Indivisible guide, I have been calling my two Republican senators at least weekly. I’ve made over 20 calls so far. I receive daily action alert texts that give me ideas about what issues to talk to them about, but usually I already have something I’m mad about. Since education is my pet issue, I’ve been focused on the Betsy DeVos nomination for Department of Education. So far the senators haven’t done much that I wanted them to do, except push back DeVos’s hearing a week and say in the media that they want to replace the ACA. I want to participate in a growing wave of angry calls, so that these senators start to feel like their seats are at risk if they don’t change the way they vote. Senator Bob Corker is up for re-election in 2018, and getting rid of him should be a #1 priority for all Tennesseans.

I’ve done a lot of small things online: signing petitions, tweeting, using an app called Countable, liking, commenting, and using the angry or sad reaction emoji on facebook (Why is there no ‘scared’ or ‘yikes!’ reaction emoji? We need that one now). It’s easy to feel like these are throwaway actions, but they’re also effortless and cost me nothing. Why not spend the miniscule extra energy of a click or two? I like to think that when I click ‘like,’ that means that my facebook friends are more likely to see a story, and that may influence them.

I’m not detailing my activities here in order to brag, and I don’t want to participate in some kind of ally theater. I don’t need to give myself a pat on the back because nothing I do can ever be enough until our world is just and free. But on the other hand, I made a commitment to do these things, and I want to hold myself accountable, and there’s nothing like publicity to do that. My hope is that hearing about what I’m doing can encourage others and give them some ideas about what they might do as well.

These protests are only the beginning of a resistance movement that will have to last for several years. Going forward, my goal is to do about four things every week: a call to each of my senators, one local or state-level action or phone call, and one in-person action, like attending a meeting. I probably won’t reach that goal every week, but it’s a dramatic uptick in my involvement compared to last year, and it’s close to my limit for the amount of time and energy I have to devote to these activities, considering I have a full-time job and two little kids. So far I’m finding these actions very doable and empowering. They’re a great outlet for the frustration and anger that would otherwise build up just from scrolling my newsfeed. Compared to helpless inaction, doing something, anything, is a relief.

Let’s march!

Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

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This is a really, really long book. I picked it up because I liked Middlemarch, and I think most people who liked Middlemarch would like it too. The beginning was a little hard to get into, as a long flashback confused me initially about the order of events. But once I got to know Gwendolyn, especially the cheeky, haughty thing she is in the beginning of the book’s chronology, I was hooked. I’m still not sure what to think of the education she receives in the book. In a way she’s broken down, and there’s surely an argument to be made that she loses the thing that attracted me to her–the fact that she had a mind of her own. According to the book’s strict morality, she is improved, and she and her family are materially more secure, but her spark seems to be gone, and she’s kind of submitted to male authority, even if it’s just Daniel gently speaking as her conscience.

The one part of the book that I found boring and sentimental and annoying was the character of perfect, meek Mirah, her saintly brother, and the Jewish community in general. I’m sure it’s very progressive for the time to portray Jewish characters in a positive way, but I found them sentimentalized, idealized, and unrealistic. But considering the ending, I can see why that material kind of has to be in there, and sentiment is kind of a general hazard of lots of books of this time period.

There’s also an extended gambling metaphor, lots of business with jewelry, paintings, and singing, and a long-lost mother resurfacing near the end (she might have been the most fascinating character in the whole book). This is one story that might actually be improved by adaptation to screen, assuming it’s a lengthy, faithful adaptation like the ones the BBC usually does. I’m going to try to find it and watch it. I love costume dramas.

Books on Teaching, part 2

Here are two books I’ve read recently that are written for teachers about improving their classroom practice. My favorite things about these books are their titles, and for once they actually live up to them.

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Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn R. Jackson

The title of this book comes from something I’ve seen and done many times–a teacher working really hard in front of a passive group of students–working so hard she’s actually doing stuff they should be doing, like answering her own questions, and voicing all sides of a discussion. A lot of this book’s info is stuff I learned in my MAT classes–begin with the end in mind, zone of proximal development–but it’s the kind of stuff that’s good to hear again in a new way. I liked that Jackson is so reasonable in her expectations of what teachers will be able to actually accomplish. For example, she acknowledges that you can’t teach every standard, so she gives you a principle to help you pick which ones to teach and which ones to skip. Her advice is grounded in the reality of a teacher’s classroom experience and she acknowledges at every turn how hard this job is.

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Why Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom by Daniel T. Willingham

Again, the title of this book was tailored to appeal to me. I’ve joked that the reason I became a teacher is because I like school, am good at it, and never wanted to leave it. Even 7 years in, it’s honestly a little baffling for me when students don’t feel the same. This book is organized around questions teachers might ask about classroom challenges that psychologists can answer. The title question is also one answered in Thinking, Fast and Slow: the brain isn’t made for deep, abstract thinking, but for doing minimal work with minimal effort. Willingham focuses a teacher’s attention on whether or not the specific actions they’re asking students to do will help them build skills and remember facts or not, pointing out that “dog and pony shows” are often counterproductive (no matter how much principals may like them). He also gives a few concrete strategies, like storytelling and building background knowledge.

I loved the way this book debunked several myths about the brain and education that create more work for teachers without enhancing student learning, especially the idea of multiple intelligences, and the idea that students need to learn to “think like scientists” and other experts.

Best of 2016

There is general agreement that 2016 has been a terrible year for the world in many ways. I’ve written a little about why it was hard in my personal life. But books are always my escape from that hard stuff, the personal and the political, and even in a bad year, there are good books. Here are a few of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

 

Mereader: Year Five in Review

2016 was a tough year for the world, and in a smaller way, for me personally. I’m relieved that it is over. Here’s what I did on the blog this year.

I was published in the LA Review of Books!

I had a baby and took a break from the blog

I spoke at the school board and shared some links about education issues

I wondered why writing can be so hard for mothers

I attended the Southern Festival of Books (with my baby)

After the election, I resolved to get involved

In all, I read 122 books, reviewed 35 of them, and wrote 4 essays, for a total of 36 blog posts in 2016. Tomorrow I’ll post a list of my favorite books of the year.