Why Read Aloud?

I grew up surrounded by books. My mom was a kindergarten teacher who turned our biggest bedroom closet into a library. I can still hear the metallic sliding sound of the sliding closet door.  Every night I would go into that closet and pick out some books for my mom to read to me. We did not do this because I had a reading log to complete or a book report to do. It was just simply what we did.

LISTEN TO THE MUSTN’TS

Shel Silverstein

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be

When I think of childhood, I think of Shel Silverstein. My mom read A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends over and over to me as child. Many I can still recite from heart for even after reading a different book, I would beg for one or two poems. When I could read on my own I would lay and read his words over and over letting my imagination go wild.

My father read books too, but mostly nonfiction. Books about golf swings and basketball plays were his favorite. I have written a lot about how influential my father was over my life, but when it came to reading it was always my mother who did it. Now that I am sitting here thinking about it, I cannot think of one time in my life where my father read a story to me. Though I guess he must have at some point.

I do remember my older brother Matthew carrying a book with him all of the time, even to the Thanksgiving dinner table. My father would yell at him to get his nose out of the book. But, my mom’s influence sunk in and it sunk in deeply. My younger brother Gregory went on to be an English major in college too.

Reading gets so much focus in today’s schools, yet this focus has caused education to stray away from the actual act of reading. Kids are asked to do so much that there is little time to read. Whether it is a worksheet of comprehension questions, a reading log, a journal entry, a book report, a project or a test, little time is left to read or to be read to. By middle school, where I have spent most of my 12 years of teaching, many students haven’t been read to in years. Once I figured that out, I made a point every year to read at least one entire book aloud that was simply for fun. No tests, no quizzes, no nothing. Just for fun. And let me tell you they loved it.

I am a lover of books. I am a teacher who required and motivated my students to read 20 books outside of class each year. Yet I find my second grade son’s reading log to be a thorn in my side. I read to him every night with his siblings, but making time for him and his kindergarten aged brother to read aloud to me every night is difficult at best. I talked to my husband about reading to them more and helping find time to listen to them read too. More and more my husband has been reading with them and I don’t think I have ever seen anything sweeter.

This past weekend my son read to my husband from his World History book, and they got into some very deep discussions about Roman soldiers.

20150201_085625

20150201_090309

I guess reading logs are necessary in today’s society, though I wish there were a more organic way to encourage reading. It is so crucial for kids to see reading as more than just homework, especially boys.

Over the past forty years we’ve witnessed a marked increase in girls’ academic achievement. Unfortunately, there’s also been a documented decrease in boys’ academic achievement.

There are several theories about why this is happening, but perhaps the most compelling is the assertion that school, and reading especially, is being seen increasingly by young boys as a “feminine” activity.

Even though it’s likely our fathers did not read to us (Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, cites a study where only 10 percent of participants reported having fathers who read to them—see xxiv), fathers reading to children is one of the very best ways to reverse the academic ambivalence we’re seeing in young boys.

http://education.byu.edu/youcandothis/dads_reading_to_children.html

With a focus on achievement and standardized testing, schools run the risk of turning more and more children off to reading. This is especially true for boys who are often already difficult to motivate to read. Reading should be a million things such as fun, entertaining, informative, thought-provoking or helpful. But the problem comes when reading becomes nothing more than an exercise to prove one’s ability or the effectiveness of a teacher or school.

If every teacher started each day with a Shel Silverstein poem and every parent ended the night with one, we may not have a country full of geniuses, but somehow I think it would cease to matter.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

from the book “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1974)


There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.

An Email from My Father: Positivity, Love, and a Call to Action

I asked my Mom, a retired kindergarten teacher, if I could interview her for this blog. In typical “tough mom” fashion, she said she would think about it. Stay tuned…

So as a I sit here, encouraged by the fact that so many people are reading my writing, I was trying to figure out what else to write. There are so many thoughts and emotions running through me that tonight I can’t seem to focus. (Or maybe it’s all the text messages asking me for my new address for Christmas cards that people are sending, when I have yet to give Christmas cards a minute’s consideration.)

I have been reading a lot about race relations in the wake of the Michael Brown case and Eric Garner. But in my current sleep deprived state, I am going to choose to defer to my dad’s thoughts and message.  Tonight I came across an email from my Dad that I had shared over a year ago on Facebook. My father was a leader and a fiery independent thinker.  So even though he died before he knew what a blog was, his story will shine here, as it has in my classroom over years as I told stories to my students about his life experiences.

Dear Paula, Matthew, Paige and Gregory.

I have some special feelings about what has happened on November 4th 2008.  I would like to let all of you know a little about why I have such feeling by telling you a brief history about my life and what I had to deal with as a young person growing up in the small town on Carlisle Pennsylvania.

I was born in 1941 the year Pearl Harbor was attacked. In Carlisle I went to kindergarden and first grade in segrated schools and I went to second grade in my first  interegrated school.  The remainder of my schooling in Carlisle was done in such schools.

My graduating class of 1959 there were eight black students.  I used the term black because there was no such thing at that time as an African-American.  We were known as Negros and not blacks.  I remember reading a article about my basketball ability which was that I was a “negro with gazelle like skills.”

I played football, basketball, baseball and my senior year I ran on the mile relay team in the district finals.  I chose to go to Tennesee State to college because my brother Clyde went to Prudue University and told me that he had a very rough time there with traveling and being with the team so I took his advice and went to an predomently black school in the south.

The city of Nashville was segrated during the sit-ins. Of the 60’s I personally couldn’t allow myself to be subjected to some of the things that blacks had to go to at that time.  We traveled by bus and it wasn’t good.  There were signs telling Negros where to eat written on the floor.

I seem to have to tell you guys so much I realize that It would take reams of paper to do so.  I want to say some other things about my family that I want you to know however, I will stop this part and tell you to look for Part 2 of this e-mail.  I love all of you and I am proud of all of you and I cherish the life that we’ve had and still do have I will always support all of you and particularly my wife, your mother.

I will send you the next part soon.

                                     I Love Everyone

                                     Daddy

This is a historic time in our lives so remember you can achieve anything in life. Yes we can.

Racism did not end in my father’s lifetime, and it probably won’t in mine either. But perhaps, if we as a nation come together and admit that our current education system is broken, then maybe we can start to heal the racial divide whose open wounds taint the lives of us all.

What happened to Michael Brown and Eric Garner was tragic and incidents of police brutality must be investigated and prevented. But thousands of children, not just black children, suffer everyday in schools that are failing to meet their needs. Why not start with the children? When a school is failing, let’s not abandon it to be inherited by those not fortunate enough to be able to move or afford private school. In every neighborhood there are born leaders, but what is missing is the public support.

When the protests are over, and the media moves on to something else….will those protestors get up off the ground and do the long, hard work that will really and truly prove that they believe that “Black Lives Matter”? Because if they do matter, then, Common Core and high-stakes testing are not going fix anything. The solution must come from the people.

As I look at more and more “Stop Common Core” Facebook pages, I find almost as much insulting propaganda as was in the pro Common Core commercials I posted yesterday. Hate only breeds hate.

My Dad never got a chance to send us part two of the email. So it’s a good thing he ended with positivity, love, and a call to action.

dadmom

The Things I Can’t Change

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.

This prayer hung in my kitchen throughout my childhood. My father hung it there, when he received it as a gift from his sister.  When I would get frustrated about something, he would point to it.

I always thought the second line was stupid. Everything can be changed. I believed that with my whole, young fiery heart. And I think tonight, I finally realized my problem. I have never had, “the Wisdom to know the difference”. In my mind, I have always thought that if things don’t change, then people aren’t working hard enough.

Well, tonight I think it finally sunk in. That sometimes it’s not that things can’t or won’t change, but it’s a question of how long and how hard of an uphill battle do I want to fight?

When my husband and I decided to move, I promised myself to do the best research I could to ensure a quality school system and community for our children. The battle I fought in the town we were leaving was long and hard. Some said what I accomplished was impressive, but for me it wasn’t nearly enough. I felt like a failure.

I was leaving a profession that was so important to me. I wasn’t able to help those students I know were falling through the cracks and would keep falling without me advocating for them. I felt terrible that I couldn’t motivate and inspire more like-minded people (fellow teachers, friends, parents, etc.) to speak up and get involved. I felt bad telling parents of my former students that I was leaving and that I would never teach the younger siblings of families that  I had grown so close to.

But in the end, I took a deep breath and walked away. Knowing that I couldn’t stay somewhere and keep banging my head against the wall. I had already developed an ulcer and lost far too much sleep. Many asked me if I really thought I could find better. I was confident that I could and that I did. But one of my colleagues was right to say that the sweeping reforms were national and could not be escaped.

Tonight I realized that though I have found a better place for our family, I still am not sure that it is good enough. I wanted a place with more parent and community involvement. I found a place with three parent organizations. Yet tonight I sat at a meeting for one of those organizations as the ONLY member of the public at the meeting. Sadly the other groups and meetings don’t have much attendance either.

I feel cheated. I feel lost. I feel alone in this battle despite all of the Facebook groups that tell me that there are people out there fighting the same fight.

At what point do I just give up fighting for better public schools and just homeschool?

I just paid $100 to own this blog and $20 to print business cards to promote it. But tonight I feel like letting my kids finish out the school year and then just walking away…again. As inspiring as all of these Opt Out and other reform movements are, I just don’t know if I have it in me to lead one, because the battle is such a grueling one.

My first responsibility is to my children, and I know that leaving them in public school is not the best possible choice for them. But then I think that even if I homeschool my children, they still have to go out into a country that will be so much worse off, if things continue the way they are going.

Maybe I should be up late planning to homeschool next year instead of trying to fix a system that so many people are so complacent about.

Now that I am older I understand why my Dad’s sister gave him that prayer. Because he, like me, was never satisfied accepting that anything was unchangeable.

10 Things My Father Taught Me About Teaching

This is my dad.

dad swing

The picture shows how I choose to remember him most…smiling. That smile lit up the lives of thousands of children that passed through his gym over the nearly 40 years that he taught physical education and coached many teams. At his wake, the room overflowed with people of all ages. Many I knew, but so many I had never met or even heard about, yet my father’s death moved every single one of them to tears.

Here is just some of what I learned from him about being a teacher.

1. You can’t fool kids. If you don’t care or don’t like them, they will know right away.

2. There’s nothing wrong with getting down on the floor to play a game of duck, duck goose with a bunch of kindergarteners. (Not even if you are a 65 year old, 6 foot 3 inch tall black man.)

3. Not everyone is going to work as hard or care as much as you do. But you shouldn’t let that slow you down.

4. Murphy’s always working, so you might as well not sweat the small stuff.

*Murphy’s Law: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

5. Always have fun, but set the bar of expectations high.

6. A custodian is not any less of a person than a principal. Treat everyone with respect.

7. Have zero tolerance for bullying or any sort of put downs in your classroom.

8. Never be afraid to speak your mind at faculty meetings, board meetings, union meetings, or anywhere.

9. If you have a good idea, work hard to make it a reality no matter who or what stands in your way.

10. Don’t be in a hurry to retire.

When my dad kept teaching past retirement age, colleagues constantly asked him when he was going to retire. He used to hate that. He loved his job. Once he retired, he said no one would call him Mr. Washington anymore, he would just be Mike.

Well, there he was wrong. He never was just Mike, or “just” anything….and he never will be.

Teaching is not a job that ends at the end of the day or at the end of the school year. It is a job that keeps working long after the teacher is gone and the students have moved on and grown up.