“Coming Out for Owen” . . . Coming Out on August 25th!

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I am very excited to announce that my story “Coming Out for Owen” has been published in Kevin Jennings’s book One Teacher in Ten in the New Millennium. The book will be released on August 25th. (You can pre-order it now on Amazon!)

“Coming Out for Owen” is my story about coming out to my sixth graders in my eighth year of teaching. Up to that point, “I never saw the need to tell [my fifth- and sixth-grade students] about my sexual orientation. The word sexual in that descriptor gave me pause in coming out to them: “Fifth or sixth graders don’t need to know who I sleep with,” I thought.” But, when the parents of one of my students complain that he’s being picked on because “he was perceived to be gay,” I have a change of heart.

Recalling the humiliation I felt when my fifth-grade teacher sent me to the guidance counselor to be evaluated with a note that read, “Alan is a sissy and seems to enjoy being that way,” I realize that I can’t remain silent any longer. My students’ reactions were nothing short of amazing, making us a real community, and “it made me a better teacher–and a better person.”

This third edition of One Teacher in Ten includes “voices largely absent from the first two editions–including transgender people, people of color, teachers working in rural districts, and educators from outside the United States– . . . providing a fuller and deeper understanding of the triumphs and challenges of being an LGBT teacher today.”

While “Coming Out for Owen” is my story, it also reflects the story of gay and straight allies, from the teachers and administrators at School of the Future, the public school I taught at in Manhattan, to the group of teachers with whom I workshopped the story at the Hudson Valley Writing Project. No teacher, straight or gay, should feel alone in her or his classroom.

If you are in New York City on Thursday, September 10th, come to the book launch for One Teacher In Ten and hear our stories as we read from the book! The event is from 6:00 to 8:00pm at the Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School at 40 Charlton Street between Sixth Avenue and Varick (the high school’s location). Please RSVP by clicking this link by Tuesday, September 8.

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I forgot what I could do . . .

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I finished a great three weeks with the Hudson Valley Writing Project last week–learning, writing, and forming a community with other teachers. It made me sad that I’m not returning to my own classroom this fall, but . . . I know that something’s going to happen from this!

In the meantime, I did a lot of writing during those three weeks, and I want to share this with you (and get your thoughts on it). Which version of the poem do you like better, the first–more existential–one, or the second–love–poem?!

“because it never forgot what it could do.”

—from “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye

 

I forgot what I could do.

I forgot that I could laugh and

that I could cry.

I forgot that I could sing . . .

in the shower,

Where no one else would hear me,

My voice ringing out sure and strong.

 

I forgot that I could carry . . .

I could carry wood from the yard to the house;

I could carry the groceries in from the car;

I could carry chicken soup up the stairs

to you when you were sick.

 

I forgot that I could see . . .

I could see the stars at night,

flickering on and off in the night sky;

I could see the stars at dusk,

fireflies flickering across the lawn;

I could see you across the room,

even if I couldn’t see you.

 

I forgot that I could remember . . .

I could remember our first date;

I could remember the feel of your hand,

sweaty palm in my own sweaty palm;

I could remember last night’s kiss goodnight.

 

I forgot that I could do all this.

I could laugh and cry and sing.

I could carry and see and remember.

All this I can do.

 

I can be.

It is enough to be,

to laugh,

to cry,

to sing,

to carry,

to see,

to remember,

to be in this world.

It is enough to be.

_______________________________________________________

“because it never forgot what it could do.”

—from “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye

 

I forgot what I could do.

I forgot that I could laugh and

that I could cry.

I forgot that I could sing . . .

in the shower,

Where no one else would hear me,

My voice ringing out sure and strong.

 

I forgot that I could carry . . .

I could carry wood from the yard to the house;

I could carry the groceries in from the car;

I could carry chicken soup up the stairs

to you when you were sick.

 

I forgot that I could see . . .

I could see the stars at night,

diamonds sparkling in the velvet sky;

I could see the fireflies at dusk,

stars sparkling across the lawn;

I could see you across the room,

even if I couldn’t see you.

 

I forgot that I could remember . . .

I could remember our first date;

I could remember the feel of your hand,

sweaty palm reaching out for sweaty palm;

I could remember last night’s kiss goodnight.

 

I forgot that I could do all this.

I could laugh and cry and sing.

I could carry and see and remember.

 

All this I can do.

 

I can be.

It is enough to be.

 

To be in this world

—to laugh, to cry, to sing, to carry, to see, to remember—

with you.


 

Germ Theory

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It’s snowing here, in the Catskills. Again.  This will go on top of the four inches from yesterday that went on top of the three feet already on the ground. It’s been quite a winter, and I can only imagine what the spring thaw—called the “Mud Season” around here—will be like! For now, though, it’s beautiful.  Unlike in the City, the snow here stays mostly white (until the Mud Season), except for the border of plowed snow along the roads.

I took our dog, Lily, out for a walk after the snow stopped yesterday, and I got to thinking. Thinking about snow and writing. Not the kind of writing that you do in the snow—you know, the kind made famous by the book, Yellow Snow, by I.P. Freely. Not that. I got to thinking how snowing is like the act of writing.

I read a story over the weekend that “germs are the most common snowflake starters and lie at the heart of 85 percent of all flakes.” Apparently, water needs a seed or nucleus to form around, or it won’t turn into snow at the kinds of temperatures we get here, even if there is a Polar Vortex.

Germs! We usually think of germs as pathogens—and that is the kind of germ that lies at the heart of so many of our snowflakes—but germs are also “something that initiates development or serves as an origin.” The “germ of an idea” is what lies at the heart of every story. Writers are constantly collecting ideas, germs of ideas, to write about.

As a teacher, I taught the “Writer’s Process” to students:

  • Gather Ideas for Writing
  • Choose a Seed Idea to Write About
  • Draft
  • Revise
  • Edit
  • Publish
  • Celebrate (you’ve got to celebrate!)

Writers should constantly be gathering ideas for writing—ideas, characters, quotes, “noticings”—in a Writer’s Notebook. These become the germs that develop into writing. The rest of the process is germinating those ideas into stories and poems and essays. Without the germs—the seeds—there is nothing to germinate!

One of my germs grew into a poem about this. You can decide if it “germinated” or not!

Writer

I am a collector.

A collector of words,
Of thoughts,
Dreams,
Hopes.

A collector of sights,
Of sounds,
Smells,
Tastes.

I collect feelings,
Memories,
Emotions,
In lovely little
Lined boxes.

Like this one
With the color of your eyes,
The smell of your hair,
And the salty taste of your neck.

Or, this box,
High on the shelf.
I take it down
And hug it to my chest.
Inside, the first time I saw you,
Our first date,
Our wedding.

I collect them all,
Waiting to weave them together
In a tapestry,
Our story.

Do you use online lesson plans?

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Let’s start this week with some information from YOU!  Teachers, please let me know whether or not you use online lesson plans:

I am interested because both the NEA and the AFT have launched new online lesson sharing networks for lessons that are linked to the Common Core.

If you have used any lesson plans from the internet, whether it be the NEA’s, AFT’s, or any other site’s, please message me about what you thought about the site, how you used the lessons, how they worked for you, and if you would use online lessons again. 

Please forward this post to any and all teachers you know!

Support the Common Core!

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As a teacher, it concerns me that the New York State United Teachers union has withdrawn its support for the Common Core standards.  According to  Politico and the New York PostNYSUT doesn’t simply oppose the Common Core standards, but it is the way that they have been implemented that they oppose.  Admittedly, the implementation of the standards in New York State has been botched, but I disagree with the union for pulling its support for the standards.

Common Core standards began as an initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and were developed with the input of teachers through their major national teachers unions, the NEA and the AFT, in addition to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Teachers of English.  The standards were designed to reflect “the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.

Much has been made over the years about how far behind our students lag other countries, especially in science and math.  The latest Program of International Student Assessment results show that the US average score in mathematics is lower than 29 other nations and higher than 26, putting us right in the middle, and “that pattern has not changed much since the PISA test was first given in 2000” while 18 other countries saw their scores increase between 2009 and 2012.  The results are much the same for science and a little better for English, although there still has been no movement in our English test scores.  Obviously, this is not the time to be withdrawing support for more rigorous standards.

So, why would NYSUT pick this time to withdraw its support?  As noted, the implementation of the standards has not gone well in New York.  The state realigned its testing last year to the Common Core curriculum, and, as expected, student scores went way down.  As an ELA teacher, I sat in many meetings with parents warning them that student scores would go down while promising to do the best I could to prepare students for a test we knew little about.  In fact, our scores did go down, but remained above the state median.  The test was difficult, but it was not out of reach for good teaching with good professional development and preparation for teachers.

NYSUT would like to see a three-year moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of these tests so that all teachers can be brought up to speed.  So far, New York State Education Commissioner John King has not agreed to this, although he did say that “he would work with the legislature, governor and Board of Regents to “make necessary adjustments and modifications to the implementation of the Common Core“” after NYSUT voted “no confidence” in King and called on the Board of Regents to remove him.

Whether King stays or goes, this is no time to withdraw support for the more rigorous Common Core standards. Instead, this is the time to work to implement those standards so that our students’ standing in the international community improves.  When New York State implemented a law requiring seat belt anchors in all cars in 1961, not all car manufacturers provided them.  Should the state have backed off its law?  How many lives might have been lost if it had?  Regardless of the problems with the implementation of the Common Core standards, we must not go back.  Work on fixing the implementation issues, but don’t throw the standards baby out with that bathwater.  Our children’s future depends on their ability to succeed at college and compete in the global economy.