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“Real” 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.  You can read more about my project here.

My sister sent me a text message the other day, rejoicing about a book she read.  My sister is Reader-with-a-capital-R for sure.  She is constantly reading books, articles, magazines.  Most of what she reads comes recommended from the New York Times or The Economist (she’s also a BIG nerd).  And while she has often recommended books that come to her from those kinds of sources, she was extolling the virtues of what she deemed a “fun read” the other day.


I told her I, too, was in a reading rut and had picked up what I deemed a “light” read.  Not YA, not dissertation-related, not Pulitzer Prize winning, and not going to be on the New York Times notable books list.  I told her that I had done a lot of reading recently, but that most of it had been via audiobook or for my dissertation.  I wanted to find my groove with a paper book again.

Enter this post by Amy Gibson on the Nerdy Book Club blog.  Amy writes about what “counts” as real reading.  Do audio books?  Do graphic novels?  Do picture books?

Like Amy, I would of course answer yes to all of those categories.  Yes as I reacted with a (mental) cheer to Amy’s post, I couldn’t help but think about my own rhetoric regarding reading.  Hadn’t I just told my sister that I felt like the journal articles I was reading and the audio books I rely on as I drive, run, and cook weren’t real reading?

The answer, I think, is that while I DO consider all of those things real reading, and while I would rejoice, celebrate, and applaud any reading any student did, I find joy in sitting with a physical book (be it digita or paper, I’m no snob) and racing through chapter after chapter just because I enjoy it.  Not because I want to book talk it to teachers, because I have to participate in Book Club, or because it might hold the key that unlocks my argument, but because I want to.  Both of those kinds of reading are important and valuable, but they don’t give me the same fulfillment as curling up on the couch with the Discovery of Witches series and turning page after page.

I’m still reading Remains of the Day, still pushing forward on my dissertation, still plowing through A Man Called Ove for our department book club, but it’s nice sometimes to give myself permission to get lost in a book that’s just fun and just for me.  An important reminder that what we read is maybe not always as important as why we read.


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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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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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Hamilton #SOL17

I can see the way the other people in the park look at me.  I’m running with my jogging stroller, enjoying a rare morning at home.  My daughter is starting to whine.  The whine grows louder and louder.  It is nearly a cry.  How selfish, I can hear them thinking.  She should take that baby home.

But I know what will calm my girl.  I slow to a walk and remove my phone from the basket of the carriage.  “OK,” I assure her.  “Mommy will put on your tunes.”  I scroll through my albums and hit play.  Not shuffle.  She hates shuffle.

Dun dundundundun dundun 

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore . . .

If the people doing their laps of the park weren’t judging me before they are surely judging me now.

They may not be able to hear it over the hiphop coming from my phone, but my daughter’s whining has stopped.  I don’t have to look down at her to know this for sure.  It always stops when I put on Hamilton.


A VERY old picture, but it shows how deep her love runs.

When we were in the hospital with her after she was born, there was no television in the room.  So my husband and I listened to the Hamilton original cast recording, which had come out the week before.  We had seen the show several times: once on Broadway, once off-Broadway, and once in a concert version at Lincoln Center.  He is a history teacher, I am a theatre nerd.  It was a natural fit.


And when I would drive with her to see my mother and grandmother, when she was so small she barely fit in the car seat, I would listen to it to calm my nerves.  And somehow it just became the songs she liked.  Now whenever we are in the car and she fusses we play it.  She calms down immediately.  For her, Lin-Manuel Miranda is an old friend.  When she sees him on TV she stops and sits and watches with an attention that is usually only reserved for Elmo or another resident of Sesame Street.  (The first character’s name she could say was Murray.  Is it a coincidence that Lin-Manuel sings Murray’s song?  Probably not.)


My girl and I finished 3 glorious miles in the sunshine today.  It’s supposed to snow tomorrow.  At some point one or both of us will get cabin fever from being cooped up all weekend.  Fortunately, I’ll know I have my secret weapon.


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Little Purple Flowers #SOL17


These are not my crocuses, but they sure are pretty!

We moved into our new house during Thanksgiving weekend.  Sometimes it feels like we’ve been living there for years.  Other times it feels like we are trespassing in someone else’s space.  We have painted and put new floors down; taken down wall paper and put up our pictures.  We are starting to make the space our own.

Our new house still surprises and mystifies us.  We don’t know how to turn on the lights in the back deck.  There are outlets everywhere.  The house creaks and groans in the wind.

Still, we are learning.  How to drain water off the pool cover (we have a pool!).  How high we need to set the heat at night.  How quickly our ice maker can make ice after a party.

This morning as I walked out our front door I noticed them: tiny purple crocuses peeking through the dirt.  I grew up in an apartment in Brooklyn but spent many years helping my grandfather and then aunt plant these flowers.  I know they need to be put in the ground in the early fall, just as we put an offer in on the house.  The previous owners planted these flowers knowing (or at least hoping) they would never see them.  Now they are here to welcome us.  Purple is my favorite color.

I want to remember these purple flowers and the joy they brought me this morning: spring is almost here; our house’s surprises can be good; time marches on whether we’re noticing it or not.  And this fall I’ll be sure to plant crocuses again.


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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