Tag Archives: education

Of Reading and Writing: An Overview

Writing 1

My ability to lose sight of my love of reading and writing never ceases to amaze me.  At times, the strength of the connection between the two comes back at me two-fold, and I fall in love all over again.  For example, years ago I read Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.  It forever changed the way I read and how I view the time I spend reading.  If I were to make a list of books that profoundly shaped who I am today, it would certainly be at the top of the list.  Currently, I am in the middle of rereading it.  When I read it years ago, I borrowed it from the library and carefully noted its recommended reading list.  Today I purchased the Kindle version for easy annotation (Kindle books versus traditional books is another blog post altogether – one I plan to write soon).  I am picking it apart in hopes of learning why it resonated with me so deeply.  That, in fact, is the entire point of the book.  We learn to write by dissecting what we read.

Recently – as always – I came across the perfect books at the perfect time.  I just finished The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley.  Of course, there is a story behind my love of these books.  Incidentally, I had the opportunity to hear Donalyn Miller speak at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) a few years ago while completing my teaching certificate.  Knowing that she was to speak on encouraging students to read, I eagerly headed to SVSU on a cold, snowy Saturday morning hoping to learn more.  I hoped to learn how to reach students who do not like to read.  The entire concept of not loving – nevermind liking – to read is completely foreign to me.  That day I left inspired to create an extensive classroom library in spite of the fact that I will not be teaching English Language Arts (ELA) classes, along with her latest book, and little else.  She encouraged us all to reach those students who do not see the connection between reading and pleasure.  Her ideas were (and are still) practical; however, I still was not convinced that I could make a difference as a non-ELA secondary teacher.

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Fast-forward several years and my sister happens to mention the book The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  It immediately rings a bell, we discuss it, and I have to read it as soon as possible, along with the sequel.  There is so much to discuss in both of Donalyn Miller’s books.  The ideas she presents should be the focus of reading education, but that would require a fundamental shift in how reading is taught at all levels which is a shame.  Both books deserve their own blog posts, as well as a post tying the two together.  Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley inspired me to reread Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.  It is an example of what Donalyn Miller coins “wild reading” in action and demonstrates how “wild readers” stay inspired, continue reading, and challenge themselves.  I am now convinced that I do indeed have a role to play.

Stay tuned for a series of posts discussing the many angles of all three books, as well as my own take on the importance of reading and writing in my life.  It is taking center stage now for a variety of reasons.  I am still patiently trying to create a writing and reading routine that works for me.  I will not let this go.  It is too important, and I have too much to say.

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A Fresh Start

trust-the-magic

No matter how many times I start over again, it never gets old.  I love feeling as though this time I may get it right.  This time, there are many loose ends I need to complete.  When I think about all I have experienced over the last five years, this isn’t surprising.  First, I moved in with my grandmother in November 2012 to help take care of her.  Nearing 88 years old at the time, she needed company and no longer wished to drive.  Unfortunately, she became incredibly sick that winter and ended up needing nursing home care.

A year later, I decided to go back to school to earn my teaching degree.  I started substitute teaching and taking classes.  In April 2014, my other grandmother passed away.  Even though I didn’t see her daily, I was close to her too.  Shortly thereafter, my relationship with my boyfriend of 10 years dissolved in the worst way possible.  In May it will be nearly four years, and it still hurts at times, even if I have no regrets about the outcome.

As I finished my classes and student teaching, my surviving grandmother became less active and generally sicker.  She passed away just shy of her 92nd birthday.  On Sunday, it will mark one year since she passed away.  There are several other details I could include here, but I had to see for myself, in writing, some of the major events that have marked these last several years.

I am still going through my grandmother’s things and mine as well.  I am still coming to terms with no longer being a student.  When I returned to the classroom after almost exactly 10 years since I graduated from Michigan State University, I realized how much I missed it.  Before I move ahead, it is necessary to appreciate where I have been.

It is now time for me to figure out what I want out of life.  There are some non-negotiables.  I will be a part of the canoe livery, I will have a teaching career, and I will eventually adopt.  It is the personal details that I need to work out, and I have no idea where to begin.  It is so tempting to compare myself to others and feel as though I should have accomplished more at this point in my life.  I just have to remind myself that it is my life and no one else’s.

fresh start

New Year, Old Question

Think for YourselfHere goes nothing. The new school year is upon us. In late June, I accepted a position teaching Spanish and world history at an alternative high school. At this point, as I have completed several professional development sessions and prepared my classroom with my colleagues, I can safely say that I feel right at home. I am eager to meet my students on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

This upcoming school year is the culmination of several years of taking dozens classes at both the local community college and university, seemingly endless testing, and hundreds of hours in countless classrooms both as a student teacher and a substitute teacher. I am as ready as I will ever be. While it would be a flat out lie to say that I am not nervous, I can safely say that I prepared. Better yet, I am excited.

Over the last five years, I found my way out of depression and an awful relationship. I didn’t focus on anything other than completing my education and training to become a teacher. I am now well on my way to becoming “me” again. The questions I face now are as personal as it gets. I am now where I want to be with my career. I just need to stay on my current path. The same cannot be said for my personal life. Frankly, I am unsure of what I want anymore. It is true that I want more than anything to be a mom. That is non-negotiable. I will adopt. Beyond that, I do not know.

The details get me. I find myself wondering if I truly want to do this alone. I know I can do this on my own, but when I am completely honest, I do not want to raise a child alone. It doesn’t mean that I won’t or can’t do it alone. I know I can, and I will. At the same time, I want a man in my life that I can count on. I want someone to share all of this with day in, day out – an actual partner. For several reasons, many of which are way too personal to share here, I don’t see it happening. My instinct is to be as happy as possible alone, focusing on what I want and starting a family alone. I am afraid of shutting the right man out. It feels as though I am caught between doing nothing and risking utter humiliation. Again.

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The Day I Became a Teacher

At this point, I’ve logged hundreds of hours in the classroom due to fieldwork, student teaching, and substitute teaching. As a sub, there isn’t much I haven’t done K-12. Yes, I’ve even subbed kindergarten, although I now avoid if I can. It isn’t that I don’t like young students. I do, and some of the best days I’ve spent subbing have been in 1st grade. I can understand why my great-aunt loved teaching 1st grade so much. The problem is that many kindergartners don’t quite get school yet. The whole idea of a substitute teacher throws them off, and it can become a nightmare if you don’t do things in exactly the same way as their regular classroom teacher. One would think that by now I would feel like a teacher, especially after completing student teaching. Well, I didn’t fully realize that I didn’t until Friday, March 10th, 2017 – the day I became a teacher.

There is some background I can’t get into, but it is enough to know that on that particular Friday, I headed to Oscoda High School to support a student performing with the Pinconning High School Band. They were competing against several other local high school bands. I wasn’t prepared for the reaction of some of my former students (from my experience student teaching at Pinconning Middle School/High School). As most of the classes I had during student teaching involved 8th graders, I hadn’t expected to see many of my former students that day. I was wrong. I saw several of my former students, and one look on their faces made me realize how much they appreciated the fact that I came to watch them perform. One student even caught up with me in the parking lot as I was leaving. He just wanted to thank me for coming out to support them. The funny thing is that I hadn’t even thought about that when I had decided to go. I am glad that I had the opportunity to support them though. They certainly deserve it.

What I call the public part of teaching always takes me by surprise. It really shouldn’t. My mom taught all throughout my childhood, and due to the fact that she knew so many people in our small town (not only did she spend most of her teaching career at the same elementary school, she had grown up in the same town as well), it always took us much longer to do the grocery shopping after school. I dreaded having to run errands with her as she always ended up talking with someone when all I wanted to do is go home. It didn’t take long for the same thing to happen to me. It took me by surprise then, and it takes me by surprise now. For whatever reason, that experience at Oscoda High School will stay with me. When I finished my student teaching, many of my students were sad to see me go. I reassured them that I would be back as a substitute teacher, and yet, this semester it hasn’t worked out (yet) for me to sub at Pinconning Middle School/High School. At least I had the opportunity to see a few of them that day. I will always consider March 10th, 2017 the day I truly became a teacher. It reminded me of why I decided to become a teacher after all these years:  The students.

Discouragement

There are few things I find more depressing than a teacher discouraging a student. It doesn’t matter what level, students should never feel that a teacher doesn’t believe in him or her. Unfortunately, teachers like this exist at every level. I found myself thinking about this recently when I came across one such teacher, now retired, in my daily life. I never had her as a teacher, but she always seemed to go out of her way to be negative. I occasionally see this women in my business life, and she well knows that I went back to school to become a teacher. It never fails: She always brings it up and always acts as though I will never find a full-time teaching job. Excuse me? Neither one of us knows what will happen. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

The worst is overhearing negative teachers talk. One woman bluntly stated that she would pay for her children’s college educations in full, as long as they did not become teachers. I didn’t say anything, but that statement didn’t sit well with me. If that teacher happened to have my child as a student, there might be cause for concern (frankly, I am being nice here).

Even as a high school student, I went out of my way to avoid such teachers if I could help it. I knew of one teacher who had years earlier discouraged my aunt from pursuing her chosen profession. He didn’t particularly like my family. Fortunately, my aunt didn’t listen to him and went on to have a successful career in her chosen field. Well, for whatever reason, he must not have made the connection that I am related. I had to have him for one class, and it was OK. However, I did have a choice as to what I could take as a senior. Even though most of my peers took an additional class with him, I chose a different class. I am so glad I did. The last thing I have ever needed in my life is someone to tell me that I can’t do something. I am already my own worst critic, and I know that I am not the only one.

How many students have been discouraged from trying something new due to an overly critical teacher or parent? What a sobering thought. I am convinced that everyone has innate talents; some people just haven’t discovered theirs yet. Imagine if we were all a little more supportive and a little less critical of those around us. What a wonderful thought. So many of our biggest, toughest problems might actually be solved. Maybe people wouldn’t turn to drugs and alcohol quite so easily if they felt what they did mattered, that they could contribute to society.

This actually gets to the heart of what I believe to be wrong with society. We are too hung up on perfection. We don’t value ingenuity. We don’t honor work ethic the way we should. We don’t honor true diversity of talent. Well, I guess I’ll leave it there.

Perception Is Reality

One of my former bosses used to say that perception is reality. At the time, I didn’t fully agree, but the more I thought about it, the more I recognized the fundamental truth in that saying. It goes along with the saying “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right” (Henry Ford). I have to keep telling myself this, but it goes beyond personal plans and self-determination. I took it a step further and realized that it definitely applies to politics.

Without getting too overtly political, all I can say is that whomever controls the narrative controls the perception of reality. This is why fake news and outright media bias is so dangerous. Does it happen on both sides? Yes, of course. I’ll leave it up to my smart readers to determine where the truth actually lies. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this gets to the heart of my political beliefs. It gets to why I believe what I believe. This is also why it is so difficult to change another’s political opinions.

More than anything, I am truly tired of people telling others what they should believe. Excuse me, am I not capable of making my own well-supported decisions? It doesn’t matter if it is politics or something else, I will not blindly follow anyone or anything. Will people try to persuade one another? Sure. No problem. I am always willing to listen to a well thought-out opinion. That is not what I am discussing here. I am talking about the arguments used by many that state if you are x, y, and/or z (for example, a woman, college educated, etc.), you must believe 1, 2, and/or 3 and lockstep with this politician or political party. It happens. It happens every single day.

This entire idea can be taken one step further. It explains some detrimental beliefs we have in our society. The one I want to talk about here is the belief that everyone needs a college education. While I don’t necessarily believe that college is for everyone, I do believe that everyone needs some kind of additional training or education after high school. Unfortunately, we as a society place a much higher value on a four year college degree than we do trade school experiences. The sad thing is that we need people to become electricians, plumbers, builders, and so much more. There are many people out there who much rather work with their hands than do straight academics. Unfortunately, many of those students are talked into four year degrees when they might be much happier learning a trade. In the end, our society loses. We have gutted the trades, and those who pursued a traditional four year degree instead are left with a mountain of unnecessary debt. By the way, there are so many other examples.  This just happened to be the least controversial example I could think of at the moment.

I suppose my biggest frustration is that so many people do not base their perceptions on the truth. The truth doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. This sad fact is precisely why we are not resolving any of our political, economic, or social issues. No one wants to listen to anyone else.

Leading By Example

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http://nothingbutbonfires.com/2011/06/sixty-years-memories

As my brother, sister, and I work on a project for our Mom’s 60th birthday (see link above for more information on what we are doing), I can’t help but think about role models.  It is clear from the letters we’ve received so far that my Mom left a lasting impression on at least a few of her students.  Those letters, preparing for student teaching in the fall, all combined with working with my parents and brother on a daily basis at the canoe livery make it clear that I am once and for all right where I need to be.

I do not remember a time when I did want to be like my Grandpa B. and my Dad when I grew up.  I loved my Mom dearly, but I never wanted to be “just” a teacher (how awful this sounds now).  In the case of my little sister, that is all she ever wanted to be.  In fact, I admired her for her determination and having the sense of self to know what she wanted to do with her life from the time she was born.  I just knew that I needed to create.  I’m not sure when I made the connection between business and creativity, but I did.  I watched as my parents grew their business throughout my childhood.  I watched as Grandpa B. grew his during the same time period.  The funny thing is that as much as I admired both Grandpa and my Dad, they had vastly different visions for their businesses.

Neither my Dad or Grandpa started their respective businesses.  My parents purchased Russell Canoe Livery from my Grandma Reid, my Dad’s mom.  In the case of my Grandpa, he took over his grandfather’s business with his younger brother.  After my Dad lost his father to cancer, he and Grandma Reid kept the business running.  When my parents married in 1977, they purchased the canoe livery too.  I saw the early sacrifices they made to grow their business, and even though no one expressly said so, I always believed that my Dad was more concerned with creating a business around our family’s lifestyle than business itself.  During the summer business came first, but there always seemed to be time to make memories of our own as a family.

Grandpa, on the other hand, truly loved the convenience store business.  During summer time trips to the UP (the Upper Peninsula for those not from Michigan), we would stop at his convenience stores to see how things were going.  He constantly sought to expand his business and enter into new business ventures.  My Dad sought to innovate at the canoe livery as well, and did so successfully; however, he never had an interest to expand into new business opportunities.  As I later managed one of Grandpa’s convenience stores for a short time, I learned so much from both men.

Only fairly recently did I fully appreciate my Mom’s role in the success of the canoe livery.  As I have taken on more of her responsibilities, I have a new respect for all of those summers she worked while other teachers took much needed time off.  She continues to be the glue that makes everything work.  Late in her teaching career the superintendent at the time asked her why she never pursued her Master’s degree (she ended up with the equivalent).  She simply stated that she was too busy spending her summers building a business.  I include that here because it illustrates just how under appreciated my Mom’s contributions to the family business can be at times.  There is no doubt that my Mom had a successful 32 year teaching career.  I argue that her nearly 40 year career as a co-owner of a family business is just as successful.  She worries about how our Crystal Creek Campground will run without her.  As a future owner, I worry as well.  Our Crystal Creek customers love her, and I can’t imagine Crystal Creek without her.

The funny thing is that I am largely following in her footsteps.  Not Dad’s.  Not Grandpa B.’s.  Those men taught me so much about business and impacted my career in thousands of ways, but it is my Mom’s example I will follow.  I plan to teach and spend my summer’s continuing to build Russell Canoe Livery with my brother.  If I am half as successful as my Mom as both teacher and small business owner, I will do well.

home

The "back yard" of my childhood home:  Crystal Creek Campground.

The “back yard” of my childhood home: Crystal Creek Campground.