Summer Reading: World Crime Fiction

Here’s a mystery: why, when I talk to teachers about what literature they teach, does crime fiction rarely if ever make the list? I can make some guesses: lurid subject matter, graphic descriptions of gore or sex, a kind of literary snobbery, anticipated parent and/or administration disapproval. However, having spent the last several years reading crime fiction—primarily from countries outside the U.S.—I could easily put together a collection of titles whose content is in no way lurid, does not truck in gore, and handles sex scenes, if any, in mature and discreet ways. That leaves the presumption that crime fiction is not serious literature and should therefore not be taught in school. Let me use the rest of my allotted word count to help us get beyond the loner, gumshoe, Sam Spade stereotypes and create an argument for those outside your classroom who would raise eyebrows or hackles or worse.

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Summer Reading: A Stack of Choices in Multiple Genres

As a high school English teacher, summer means one thing to me: reading for pleasure. Each May, I get giddy with the thought of the stack of books I plan to delve into during my two months off. Inevitably, I almost never reach my goal of getting through the whole stack. Sometimes it’s because my eyes are bigger than my timetable, sometimes it’s because I stumble upon different books throughout the summer I want to read more, and sometimes it’s because a book that seemed so promising turned out to be a slog that I can’t bear during summer days (War and Peace, I’m looking at you!). No matter the end result, at the beginning of every summer I try to build a stack that’s a mix of professional and pleasure reads that will inspire me for the coming school year, ones that span several categories aimed at broadening my horizons and challenging me as a reader and educator. Here are the categories and selections I’ve chosen for summer 2019.

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Summer Reading: Learning About Race

We have all heard that collaborating is an opportunity to stretch our thinking by hearing what others have to say, or have read, or are reading on a topic that we are exploring.  That is what is occurring as I co-write a book with Ivannia Soto; I am learning about resources from my writing partner, in addition to reading what she has to say, and the combination makes collaborating a powerful experience.  One book Ivannia recommended is Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race.  A self-proclaimed “internet yeller,” Oluo brings a fresh, current, and serious look at racism in ways that are on the one hand personal and on the other generalizable.  She helps us to see, in today’s climate, how it comes in many subtle, but no less-damaging forms than overt racism.  

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Summer Reading: The Freedom to Choose

The last pieces of writing I see from students each year are reflective in nature. Some celebrate areas of literacy growth and proudly exclaim, “I am a writer!” Others share classroom routines, like creative writing and poetry, that have stuck with them throughout the year. There are a few students who are gracious enough to thank me for enlivening a love for reading and writing that they had lost over the years. These reflections would brighten any teacher’s soul.

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Summer Reading: On Gender and Identity

My summer reading has begun with This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel. I chose this book for two reasons; I am a parent trying to raise gender-aware and sensitive kids and also an academic, a sociologist who studies gender. These are two roles that often overlap but at times can be difficult to negotiate. I want my children to express gender in whatever ways they see fit and yet I am aware of the constraints of social structures on gendered bodies.  This novel is a wonderful depiction of how and in what ways a family deals with gender. Frankel tells the story of a family, made up of two-heterosexual, cis-gender parents that have four kids, all boys. However, the last child, Claude, struggles with his gender (boy) and sex (male) identity. The story follows how and in what ways the family influences, reacts to, and shapes the transition of the young child.

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Summer Reading: Exploring Student Choices

When I was a kid, I always kept a novel on my lap during class, hidden (I thought then) from teachers’ eyes. Between math problems and history lessons, I’d sneak-read a few paragraphs. Summer was, for me, a chance to binge on books without interruption or subterfuge. It still is.

As a teacher I’ve purposely overlooked the lap-reading of my book-obsessed students,  though I do insist that they keep up with the actual classwork, as I did when I was on the other side of the desk. Indulging them isn’t an exercise in nostalgia but rather a chance to learn about the genres and authors they treasure, which I then explore during the gloriously free hours of summer vacation. Some works have become part of my teaching strategy; many have given me a connection to students I couldn’t reach in other ways.

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Celebrating Pride: From a Student’s Perspective

In high school, I was a quiet, serious student. I worked hard to get good grades so that I could reasonably apply to top-tier colleges. As high school graduation got closer and closer, I began realizing that I was attracted to women. My plan shifted from getting into the most academically rigorous college to getting into the most queer-friendly (and still academically rigorous) school I could find.

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From a Therapist’s Perspective: We Have to Go Out of Our Way for LGBTQ Kids

Certain Basic Truths

When an LGBTQ teenager walks into a therapist’s office, the therapist needs to keep certain basic truths in mind. Even though things are getting better for LGBTQ adults in our culture, they are not necessarily better for teens or children before they come out.

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Celebrating Pride: ‘Are You a Boy or a Girl?’

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

I caught my breath and looked down at Justin, who was staring at me with intense curiosity. We were standing with the rest of his preschool classmates in the stairwell outside of the classroom, waiting for the head teacher to open the door. All twelve of the jostling, chattering three and a half year olds stopped and turned to look at me. They knew me and accepted me as another teacher at their school—I had been to their classroom several times that year: to build block towers with them, to help them paint, to scaffold their play and their interactions. No one had wondered aloud about my gender until now. I hadn’t had to answer this question yet.

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Celebrating Pride: Supporting Students’ Gender Identity

Creating a Supportive, Inclusive Environment

School policies and practices must send a message that all students are safe and free to bring their “whole” selves to school, that every student can safely explore the many varied aspects of their identity, and that harassment and bullying are never acceptable by or toward any student. The best practices do not simply make schools safe and affirming for trans and gender-diverse youth; they make schools  safe for all students—lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth; youth whose gender expression varies from what  is considered normative for their birth-assigned sex; gender-expansive or gender-creative youth; youth whose gender identity and/or expression goes beyond the binary; and cisgender, gender-conforming, straight youth.

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