Sunday, August 31, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

This sentence on the very first page of Juliet's Nurse, which I haven't read far into, but am already highly interested in with the little I've read!

"Two nights before Lammas Eve, I go to bed believing myself fat and happy. You will think me a fool for being so deceived, at my age. But in our hearts, we all wish to be fooled. And so we make fools of ourselves." Juliet's Nurse, by Lois Leveen

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession

The Teacher Wars, by Dana Goldstein
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: September 2, 2014
Category: Nonfiction, Education
Source: I received this e-galley from the publisher, via Edelweiss, in exchange for my honest review.

I am a teacher, so reviewing The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession, by Dana Goldstein, was inevitable, self assigned, summer reading homework. I made so many highlights on my e-galley to help write a good summary and then read Amazon's perfect sum-up and thought, "Why reinvent the wheel?" The summary of The Teacher Wars, from Amazon:

"Teaching is a wildly contentious profession in America, one attacked and admired in equal measure. In The Teacher Wars, a rich, lively, and unprecedented history of public school teaching, Dana Goldstein reveals that teachers have been similarly embattled for nearly two centuries. From the genteel founding of the common schools movement in the nineteenth century to the violent inner-city teacher strikes of the 1960s and '70s, from the dispatching of Northeastern women to frontier schoolhouses to the founding of Teach for America on the Princeton University campus in 1990, Goldstein shows that the same issues have continued to bedevil us: Who should teach? What should be taught? Who should be held accountable for how our children learn? 

She uncovers the surprising roots of hot button issues, from teacher tenure to charter schools, and finds that recent popular ideas to improve schools—instituting merit pay, evaluating teachers by student test scores, ranking and firing veteran teachers, and recruiting “elite” graduates to teach—are all approaches that have been tried in the past without producing widespread change. And she also discovers an emerging effort that stands a real chance of transforming our schools for the better: drawing on the best practices of the three million public school teachers we already have in order to improve learning throughout our nation’s classrooms."

Okay, so it looks like I've cheated, using Amazon to make up most of my review, but before you give me detention, the hallmark of a good teacher is seeking out and using good materials wherever possible! This summary is good material.

To be quite honest, it took me a good amount of time to read The Teacher Wars and I read many other books alongside it. The Teacher Wars provides the details of the historical figures and accounts that moved education forward, which sometimes gets dry or just needs broken up to keep the reader's focus. If your interest doesn't lie in education, this is obviously not the book for you. Even if you have some interest, this still may not be the book for you. This book is for those who are really interested in educational policy, where it's been and where it's headed; specifically, how these two things are connected.

I found the last three chapters the most interesting because they deal with the past thirty years, which are the policies I have dealt with as I've earned my degrees and started my career. The epilogue was also useful, with a rundown of what would help education the most, based on the accumulated research, along with brief explanations.

As a young teacher with many years left in my career, the panicked talk of Common Core and new teacher evaluation systems stirs more feelings than many people realize, so it was crazy that this book connects today's issues facing education to those that have been around for almost the entire 175 years of American public education. It seems appropriate the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald would come to me here: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Crime and Punishment

My Pevear and Volokhonsky edition.
I love classics. Of course I've run across a few unsatisfying classics, but for the most part I enjoy them...or more so the challenge of them. Last year I tackled The Count of Monte Cristo and the year before that Les Miserables, loving both. Both of them were imposing classics for me, so this year I had to up the ante, so to speak. An author whose books I have, but have not yet read: Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot among the two I've heard discussed the most. However, a friend of mine just read Crime and Punishment, so I figured I might as well read one I can discuss with someone personally and picked it up instead of The Brothers Karamazov. And, what better timing for a decision than while picking books for the TBR Pile Challenge last December?! It's extra satisfying to have it read from my TBR pile.

Crime and Punishment is a murder story. Afterward, murderer Raskolnikov endures fits of guilt induced illness and paranoia. His story becomes one of cat-and-mouse, where neither he nor the reader is quite sure who knows what or how much. Will Raskolnikov completely unravel?

I can't tell you how it ends, but I can tell you I enjoyed the story and was relieved to find it easy to follow. I may have to credit this to the translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. All of my Russian translations come from this pair, who have won numerous awards for their excellence in keeping so closely to the original meaning in their translations.

Crime and Punishment is another positive checkmark on my classics list. Any tough classic you are proud to have read? 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Although it was a so-so book, I found this snippet to be true:

"This is what parents do: shape the emotions that will color memory." The Story of Land and Sea, by Katy Simpson Smith

While on the topic of parents, here's another parent related quote, from This Is Where I Leave You:

"Of course, there was a lot more to [dad] than that, it's just that none of it is coming to me right now. At some point you lose sight of your actual parents; you just see a basketful of history and unresolved issues." This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

End of the Summer

My favorite place in the summer: Home. Where I live
and work are neighboring towns, both beautiful country.

The blog has been somewhat quiet...I've at least had a post a week plus Sunday Sentence, but two things are slowing me down. I'm in the middle of the chunkster Crime & Punishment, which I am finding much more accessible than I expected, but has also kept me from reading for other reviews or thinking up other post ideas.

The rest of my time I have spent dreading the start of the school year. Not that I'm dreading school itself necessarily, just the whole "getting into the groove." There's so much prep work to get a classroom up and ready to run. Plus the graduation project I have to put in place for this year's Freshman class and any students moving into the district. There's also the thought of collecting paperwork and getting my book club running. Nothing very hard, just so much of it to do! So, as someone who is meticulously organized and will be a batty mess until it is done, this week I've been overwhelmed to the point of just doing nothing...just ugh.

I've also been spoiled, which ends this year. The past three years I had students who I already knew before they walked into my room because I'd had them in junior high before I was moved to the senior high grades. The beginning of a school year is so much easier when you already know students' names and what to expect. It was great! This year I know a few here and there, but otherwise, it's all new ground. (English 11 as before and Honors English 9, which I haven't taught for three or so years.)

So, it's about midnight now and tomorrow/today (8/19) is my first day back. (My up til 2am deal is going to crash me quick, but it's still hard to break. I've always been a night owl.) As you read this I am likely eating breakfast, which is kindly provided and served to us by a local church for our first teachers' day back. Or I'm sitting in one of many meetings we attend to establish ourselves for the year. Either way, summer is over and I'm ready to get myself organized. And more importantly, meet the young people with whom I'll be spending the year. Knowing what I do from years and students gone by, much of it from hindsight, I understand the prep is needed, but also secondary. Once those students and I get started, only God knows where the adventure will take us.

Here's to the end of the summer and the start of something new! (Yea, yea, I mixed Theory of a Deadman with High School Musical, so sue creative juices are still on summer vacation.) I promise, by mid September I should be back to regular reading and blogging mode!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

A little example of the hilarious voice in the narration of This Is Where I Leave You.

"There is no occasion calling for sincerity that the Foxman family won't quickly diminish or pervert through our own genetically engineered brand of irony and evasion. We banter, quip, and insult our way through birthdays, holidays, weddings, illnesses." This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Story of Land and Sea

The Story of Land and Sea, by Katy Simpson Smith
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: August 26, 2014
Category: Historical fiction
Source: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

I usually don't post reviews earlier than the publication dates, but this one falls on the second day of school for me, so this avoids it being forgotten! The Story of Land and Sea drew me in because of it's historical setting, as well as the idea of generations of characters' stories being told. To give a quick summary and get to my opinion, here are pieces of the book jacket version from Goodreads: Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution...

Drawn to the ocean, ten-year-old Tabitha wanders the marshes and listens to her father’s stories about his pirate voyages and the mother she never knew. When Tab contracts yellow fever, desperate to save his daughter, he takes her aboard a sloop bound for Bermuda, hoping the salt air will heal her.

Years before, Helen [Tab's mother] was raised by a widowed father. Asa, the devout owner of a small plantation, gives his daughter a young slave named Moll for her tenth birthday. Helen gradually takes over the running of the plantation as the girls grow up, but when she meets John, she falls in love. Moll, meanwhile, is forced into marriage with a stranger. Her only solace is her son, Davy, whom she will protect with a passion that defies the bounds of slavery.

In this elegant, evocative, and haunting debut, Katy Simpson Smith captures the singular love between parent and child, the devastation of love lost, and the lonely paths we travel in the name of renewal.

The first section of the book, about Tabitha and her father John, was interesting. I cared about them and wanted to see where life would take them. When the story flashes back to Helen's (Tabitha's mother and John's wife) childhood and growing up, I was even more so interested. There was also a bit more action to this part of the story than the first.

However, after those two sections the book seems to dissolve into a puddle of misery, or at least the characters do. Granted, there is much to be miserable about. Death and the horrendous lives of slaves are nothing to celebrate, but the characters go on for pages mulling over the purpose of their lives, others around them, and God at this sad point. I understand things don't wrap up easily in real life, but in a book you can repeat certain things only so many times before moving on to the next piece of the story.

If I had to rate it, I might give it a three, but it could land a two on some scales because of its slow ending. Overall, most of the book was good and I liked the writing itself, so I would probably read another book from this author.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Wow, this is hard as it happens, but amazing to look back upon.

“Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days – when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you're out of options, when the pain is great – and you turn to God alone.” ~ Rick Warren

Thursday, August 7, 2014

This Is Where I Leave You

After reading a review or two of This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper, it definitely sounded like a good book to pick up. Then I saw a movie trailer, which seemed quite funny, and figured I'd better get reading.

The story picks up with Judd Foxman's sister nonchalantly announcing their father's death. After going to his childhood home to bury his father, along with his two brothers, sister, and mother, they find out their father requested they sit shiva as his dying wish. In the Jewish tradition, shiva is a week of mourning after the passing of a parent, spouse, sibling, or child. It consists of a lot of family time and guests paying visits throughout the week. Seems like a fair request from a dying man, although his kids think differently. Their father was never a religious man and the Foxman family is a "hot mess," to put it kindly. In one week, what could go wrong? Everything...and they know it.

I have two different opinions of this book. First, the narration is hilarious. It is first person, from Judd. So many funny one liners and his voice was just great! The narration really made the story as much as any part of the plot. I wrote down enough quotes to last me for a couple months of Sunday Sentence!

However, I think the book was a little heavy on the sex talk. I've read and was fine with plenty of books with scenes or language in them. These things don't offend me or cause me to give up on a story, but with this book I'd find myself laughing at a section and suddenly there was something dealing with sex showing up. It threw off the momentum of the funny parts for me and overshadowed scenes where an intimate scene might be needed for the plot. And even for the parts where intimacy was needed for the plot, the description was too much. I guess I felt the humor was the focus and too much unnecessary sex talk took away from it more than anything.

Overall I really liked the book, the narrator so well written I can't help but appreciate it, but I will be careful recommending it. If you are a reader who is not easily bothered or offended by such topics, then you would like this book.

Ever read a book that you truly loved, except for that one thing about it (whatever it may be)?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Student Spotlight

A teacher never stops brainstorming. From Pinterest boards for classroom ideas to picking up classroom books at a second hand sale, things continually leap to the minds of educators...summer or not. (Honestly, one of my best lesson ideas ever came to me in the shower, influenced by watching the movie Sixteen Blocks and my recent study of Joseph Campbell!) This summer has been pretty relaxing for me. I've spent adequate time hanging out with family and friends, reading, swimming, and volunteering. I feel like I hit a good balance this summer, so maybe that's why my brain kicked into teacher gear mid-July.

Thinking about writing one day, I began to wonder why it is so hard to get students to work their way through the complete writing process. Writing is difficult, but I'm not looking for perfection or miracles, just effort really. Most students stop at the rough draft, maybe rewriting it neatly or maybe not, and turning it in as the final copy. There are a few factors that need addressed, but the ones to begin with are the problems of audience and purpose. In a classroom, the teacher is the audience and the purpose is a grade, which becomes less motivating as time passes. I needed new audience and to my students, but something I could control.

And it hit me - this blog! Why couldn't my students post their writing to my blog? After two years, I have an audience, which according to my stats is international. I have plenty of readers and writers who comment and participate. It's a form of publication they haven't experienced and maybe never will again. Student Spotlight will post at least once, maybe twice, a month. Really it will depend upon the students. They have to have solid ideas to work with and if they are chosen, they can revise and edit their work for the blog. The writing will be assignments from class (I teach English, so these would still be book related!) or volunteer posts of book reviews or book related topics.

Here's where I ask a big favor of my readers and commenters. I would LOVE for my students' posts to receive the attention you would give to any guest poster - maybe even more?! Thoughtful comments or questions to make them think or discuss would be optimal. Compliments welcome too, of course! I will be encouraging students to comment back. I really want them to experience the value in reading and writing, along with the diverse community of readers and writers that exist in the real world, not just in English class with their whacked out, book lovin' teacher! I will consider all students for this opportunity, so some posts may not be as good as others, but trust that I have a reason for each student who posts here. Sometimes encouragement is all it takes to move to the next level.

Can I count on you?!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

From the first Jojo Moyes book I've read, this is the main quote that stood out. I'm still contemplating it really.

"The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life - or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else's life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window - is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are. Or how you might seem to other people." Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes