The Joys of Re-reading

This year I’ve asked the teachers in the SPF English Department to embark on an individualized professional development experience.  Inspired by Heather Rocco’s work in Chatham, NJ (which you can read about here), my teachers have taken on a “Genius Hour” project (or 20% time which you can read more about here) during our designated time together.  Teachers are (hopefully) engaging in a year long project that reignites a passion for English/Language Arts, helps them be a better teacher of reading and writing, or helps scratch a professional itch of some kind.  In an effort to practice what I preach, my goal is to read more for fun and to begin blogging again.  I’m aiming for one to two posts a week.  Here is my first post in . . . a while.

I love the Nobel Prize.  I love the idea of recognizing someone for their life’s body of work and I love the secrecy of the panel–the idea that no one knows who’s nominated or why, or just how close the vote was.  (I don’t always love their choices ::cough Bob Dylan:: but that’s another story.)

In truth, I love most literary awards.  I have very little time in my life to read books that I’m not going to enjoy, so I rely on awards and recommendations from trusted friends (and students!) to fill my TBR pile.  Generally the Nobel Prize is awarded to someone I’ve never heard of, writing in a language I don’t speak.  This is great.  It means that non-American voices get some American airplay and that publishers start to recognize great work.  But it can make the decision anti-climactic.  It’s like when that movie you didn’t see wins an Oscar: it looked good, but it’s hard for you to judge for yourself.

Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize this year.  I’ve read two of Ishiguro’s novels: Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.  I taught the latter and I read the former as a high school student.  When Ishiguro won, I decided to reread it to see if Remains of the Day still “held up” for me.

Truthfully, I don’t remember much about Remains of the Day.  I don’t remember the ways in which it spoke to my 16 year old heart, or why I found its central character’s dilemma so compelling (even though I can remember literally no plot points).  I just remember loving it, highlighting lines and phrases and whole paragraphs that resonated.

I still have my copy of Remains of the Day from 2002.  It’s got my notes and highlights, some from my own reading some from Ms. Mulligan’s (excellent) AP English class.  I’m going slowly as I reread, struggling to find time and motivation to get Ishiguro’s novel of manners into my hectic everyday life.  But I’m enjoying reconnecting with a text that felt important to my formation and a pastime that I love.


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Genius Hour as Professional Development

This year is my second year as the supervisor of a 6-12 English department.  (Well, technically I work with K-12, but I only directly supervise 6-12).  I knew, of course, that the work would be demanding, pulling me in lots of different directions.  In my first year I tried to balance the demands I knew I had to impose on my teachers—SGOs, lesson plans, observations—with what I knew teachers really wanted—support, time, resources.  But it wasn’t easy.  As I would craft my monthly department meeting agendas, I winced at how quickly they filled up with tedium that wasn’t really going to help my teachers stay energized and focused on students.  While I preached differentiation, student choice, and engagement, I realized I wasn’t walking the walk.

This summer I thought back to an article I read in NJPSA’s publication Educational Viewpoints about one of the ways Professional Development works in the School District of the Chathams.  There, Heather Rocco, the supervisor of the 6-12 English Department, helped her teachers to engage in 20% time (also referred to as Genius Hour).  Inspired by practices at Google, Genius Hour gives teachers (or students) 20% of their time together to work on a passion project—anything that inspires them and keeps them going.  You can read more about Genius Hour in the classroom here.  Heather wrote about how her teachers were engaged and invested in their work, and I knew I wanted something like that for my teachers.

So this year we are embarking on Genius Hour at our Professional Development sessions and at our department meetings.  I allot 20% of our time together for teachers to work on a project of their choice.  For some, that’s reading more Young Adult literature.  For others it’s researching new methods of vocabulary instruction.  One teacher is even practicing meditation to bring mindfulness to her classroom.  The projects don’t have to be elaborate or even formal.  I’m letting them take shape as we move through the course of the year, and they’re constantly evolving and changing.  Just like us.

In an effort to continue to practice what I preach, I’m embarking on a Genius Hour project, too.  Instead of cramming in one more agenda item, I’m working on reading more and blogging about my reading.  I kept a blog years ago and enjoyed it, but time just got in the way.  Keep an eye out for more posts about my reading and writing throughout the year!

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Dry Well #SOL17

The well is dry today.

It’s not that I don’t have things to write about.  I had a wonderful snow day with my family.  I could very easily write about the antics of my daughter, or the snow falling softly on our new lawn, or how much I admire my husband for going out again and again to keep our driveway and walkway clear.

But I put off writing this post until after I did some work on my dissertation.  And after working on that, let me tell you, the well is dry.  I’m surprised I can form coherent sentences!

So instead, here are some snippets of what I’ve been working on: the prospectus for my project.

Pater, Pietas, and Patria: Fathers, Faith, and National Identity in Ulysses and the Aeneid

The Homeric epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey have long been the fodder of authors seeking to retell those classic stories.  From antiquity to Hollywood there is no shortage of versions of Homer’s tales.  As author Jonathan W. Rosen points out, the genre of reimagined literature is “a vibrant transnational genre—a genre constituted by the conversion of minor characters from canonical works into protagonists” (Rosen 139).  This dissertation will look at two such retellings: Ulysses by James Joyce and the Aeneid by Virgil.  Specifically, I will be looking at three common elements: the idea of faith and pietas, the recurring motif of fathers and sons, and the intent and struggle of both authors to create a national identity out of disparate political and cultural influences.

While this dissertation will address each of these topics separately, it will also look at the confluence of faith, fathers, and the fatherland in the two texts.  Both Virgil and Joyce use the question of faith (pietas for Virgil, often lack of faith for Joyce) and relationships between fathers and sons as a way to form a national identity.  This dissertation will explore the complicated relationship that both authors had with their homelands and their patrons as well as the ways they used common motifs to develop larger statements about what it means to be Roman and Irish.

My mind is fried, and I still have an annotated bibliography to finish!  Thank goodness for a delayed opening tomorrow!

This post is part of the Slice of Life writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You can find out more about the challenge here!


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Momom, help. #SOL17


“Momom, help,” my daughter says after struggling to open her marker.

“Momom, help,” she says, pulling the chair away from her table.

“Momom, help,” as her hands reach for the coloring book she has left on the floor.

“Momom, help.”  The top of the marker has come off of the back of the marker and this cannot be allowed to stand.

“Momom, help,” as she decides she no longer wants to color that page but this one.

“Momom, help,” gesturing to the Thin Mint her father gave her that she left on the floor.  (Thin Mints are the worst cookie to give a toddler.  Chocolate EVERYWHERE.)

I have been home for less than 20 minutes, and I have heard “Momom, help” over two dozen times.  But help I do.  Because the other day I asked if she need help getting off the couch.

“No no,” she replied, shimmying backwards until her feet landed on the ground and bounding away.

So I help for as long as she’ll let me.


This post is part of the Slice of Life writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You can find out more about the challenge here!

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Family #SOL17


We had a packed house today.  My sister-in-law and her wife brought their daughter to play with Baby McK.  To be fair, there’s not a lot of “playing” a 17 month old can do with a 7 week old.  But she didn’t mind.  My daughter has not been able to stop talking about her new baby cousin.  She says her name, Kaelyn, more often than any other word some days (even more than Elmo, which is saying a LOT).

My brother-in-law decided to capitalize on the proximity of his sister and niece by coming over too.  My sister came over because I left my phone at a party last night and she was returning it.

My daughter was thrilled.  All of her favorite people in one place.  She popped from loved one to loved one, spending more time with the baby than anyone else.  Tonight, as I put her to bed, she recounted her day, saying, “Night night” to everyone she saw today.

It was a long day and I didn’t get to accomplish anything I wanted to accomplish.  But it was nice to be surrounded by family; I was reminded how lucky we are that we can see each other so regularly.

This post is part of the Slice of Life writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You can find out more about the challenge here!


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My daughter’s drawers are overflowing.  For such a tiny girl, she has an awful lot of stuff.  So today, while she and my husband played, I tackled her clothes.

My goal was to get rid of anything that no longer fit.  She is in 18 month clothes now, and I haven’t gone through her things since before we moved in November.  My mother in law packed a lot of her boxes, so I actually barely knew what was in her drawers at all.

The answer?  A lot.  Clothes as small as 9 months, socks that said 0-3.  I purged and purged, tossing onesie after onesie into a bin.  I tossed all of the bibs she won’t let us put on her anymore, and pajamas that no longer zipped over her little belly.  I got rid of pants that were more like shorts and hats that wouldn’t fit on even the tip of her head.

I was sad as I did it.  I spent some time reminiscing over this outfit or that, remembering my baby as a real baby.  But then my husband brought her up to “visit” me in my work, and she sang her ABCs (or at least a 17 month version of her ABCs).  And I thought about the little girl who was taking the place of the baby.  I’ll miss her as a baby, but I’m excited to watch her grow into a girl.


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Notebooks #SOL17

I had an important workshop today about Guided Reading.  I am a new K-12 Language Arts Literacy supervisor, but in my former life I was a high school teacher.  While I know the outlines of elementary education because of various early teaching experiences, I am always trying to learn more.  So I was ready to sit down with my notebook and take as many notes as I could.

I have a notebook for important things.  I’ve been keeping it since I started at my new position in July.  It is carefully indexed so I can easily find information I might need in the future.  It has gone with me to every important workshop and meeting I’ve had in the last nine months.

But this morning, as I settled the presenter in and readied myself for the workshop, I realized that the notebook was not in my bag.  It was in my office.  I panicked.  Yes, I could always take digital notes (and I had been planning on taking digital notes as well as hard copy notes anyway).  But my notebook allows for freedom that the computer does not.  I can write in the margins, make connections.  Computers just don’t do that.

I frantically searched my bag.  I found a small, pocket-sized Moleskin my sister had given me.  I wasn’t sure what I would do with it when she gave it to me, so I did almost nothing.  I had filled a few pages with random notes from a department meeting when I had no other paper, but I hadn’t done much else.  It was a beautiful notebook (don’t Moleskins always make you feel Parisian?  They make me feel Parisian.), and I didn’t want to “ruin” it by using it haphazardly.

But lately I’ve been inspired by the many journal posts I’ve seen, the authentic writing I’ve been doing.  So I kept the notebook on the table in front of me.  And while I took my formal, digital notes, I also kept gems in the notebook: reminders of things I wanted to remember about the workshop, about teaching, about life.  I think I’ll continue to use the notebook this way: as a place to record my thoughts and thinking that I want to remember, even if it’s not as carefully organized as the rest of my note-taking.  It felt authentic and real, and isn’t that what writing is supposed to feel like?

This post is part of the Slice of Life writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You can find out more about the challenge here!


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