Mrs. Taylor’s AP Literature class wasn’t boring. In fact, she was always sure to entertain by drawing out some oblique Freudian innuendo from a text, then wiggling her eyebrows at us to add to the scandalous situation. And yet, I found myself mindlessly flipping through the pages of my textbook in class.Continue reading “The Poem That Every Angsty Kid (And Future Parent) Needs to Read”
I started off the 2017-2018 school year frustrated and motivated–a dangerously good place to be. I was frustrated because the current trend in language arts education seems to be moving away from literature. Nonfiction is more valuable in the real world, they say. It probably is, but I like fiction.
I was motivated, though, after attending a conference featuring the English teacher gods, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. Gallagher, especially, was arguing for the value of fiction and literature. He proposed daily book talks and reading time to allow kids to build on their reading skills. Prepared for the usual teacher counterargument of “But we never have time,” Gallagher and Kittle even shared a daily time plan that outlined exactly how to make it work.
Gallagher and Kittle’s plan went something like this (sorry, I’m currently moving into a new home and my conference notes are packed away in a box somewhere):
- Opening 2 minutes: Book Talk
- 10 minutes of Self-Selected Reading Time (Students read independently while the teacher has private reading conferences with individual students, coaching them through their texts)
- Work on the current unit in 10-minute chunks of lecture, discussion, and independent work time
- Final 2 minutes: Share a strong sentence or excerpt written by a student.
I felt vindicated because they vouched for poetry and fiction in a modern world. I felt empowered because they gave me a plan to make it work. So I tried it out for a year. I edited it a bit to make it work for me, and to build in one of my new hobbies: handlettering. Going into the 2017-2018 school year, my goal was to start each day with a handlettered quote to start a book talk, then go into at least 10 minutes of reading time a day. I wanted to expose the kids to as many books from different time periods, genres, and types of writers as possible. I wanted to encourage reading, and I wanted to show my administration that fiction does matter.
I logged my lettered quotes on Instagram for a while, using the hashtag #literarywhiteboardlettering. I also kept a log on this blog, as well. I wasn’t really consistent with how I formatted the Instagram log and blog entries… that wasn’t the point. If you missed my earlier blogs on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project, here they are:
- Whiteboard Lettering: Week 1
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 2
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 3
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 4
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 5-6
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 7-8
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 9-10 (HALLOWEEN EDITION!)
- Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 11
- Thirteen Books to Close the Year: Books 40-53 of Literary Whiteboard Lettering
- January’s Literary Whiteboard Lettering: New Year, Old Plays, Fantastic Discussions
And here’s my final set of literary whiteboards for the 2017-2018 year. I tried to mix it up with canon texts, fun reads, and necessary books for modern readers in a global, political world. I gave a few more book talks than this (e.g., Ready Player One; The Hate U Give; Love, Hate, and Other Filters), but spring semester got hectic and I didn’t have time to letter it all in the morning before class started. For the sake of avoiding information overload, I’ll restrain from giving synopses here. Check out these awesome books if these quotes entice you!
Day 61: Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
Day 62: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)
Day 63: Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
Day 64: Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
Day 65: Every Day (David Levithan)
Day 66: Stardust (Neil Gaiman)
Day 67: Author Feature – Rainbow Rowell
Day 68: Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare)
Day 69: A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
Day 70: The Tempest (William Shakespeare)
Day 71: Othello (William Shakespeare)
Day 72: Medea (Euripides)
Day 73: Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
Day 74: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
Day 75: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
Day 76: Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Day 77: All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
Day 78: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)
Day 79: Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Details: All of these were done on whiteboards, using Expo or some other whiteboard marker brand. Most of the lettering varied from 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2m) in length and width, with the exception being the Goldfinch quote. That one was on a ten foot whiteboard wall. I completed all of these in whatever time I had in the morning before class started. Sometimes that was 30 minutes; usually, it was only 10 minutes.
You’ll probably notice a bit of a trend as you go through the school year. My compositions got really intricate and experimental during periods when I didn’t have many assignments to grade or my administration decided not to have so many meetings… and then at the end of the year, things got pretty simplistic and I started relying on my regular handwriting. At first, I hated that I was “giving up” on my handlettering goal, but then I had to remind myself that that wasn’t the point. The point was to give my kids a chance to hear some cool stories, and inspire them to read. And I think it worked.
I saw ninth graders who challenged themselves with Jekyll and Hyde, Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby. I saw kids who went out of their comfort zones, and others who were just trying to get at least one book read. I saw myself growing as a reader and a teacher. I wasn’t able to keep up with reading conferences this year, so instead, I decided to read with them and share my reading journey with them. I felt better as a teacher because, for at least 12 minutes a day, I was doing what made me want to become an English teacher in the first place: escaping into other worlds through the pages of a book… before I had to snap back into the reality of being an English teacher in Texas in 2018.
I have 180 school days in a year. I didn’t have a book talk every day. I didn’t have SSR (self-selected reading) every day. I only got 44% of my goal, maybe 47% if you give me a little grace for a few book talks without lettered quotes. But this is where math doesn’t really help me.
I’d rather look at it as 79 days I hit my goal. Seventy-nine days of reading and talking about books that I didn’t give myself before. Seventy-nine days when I got a little closer to the English teacher I wanted to be when I started teaching.
This next year’s going to be a bit more challenging for me. I’ll be teaching 10th and 11th grade, the years that mostly focus on nonfiction. I’m also starting at a new school… so I’ll be the new kid all over again. I’ve already told my team lead that I would like to continue my book talks and SSR time. I need it. It has helped me focus my classroom, and has even given me new energy to read for myself. I hope I’ll be able to keep it going during the nonfiction years. I think I can.
Bradley Cooper and I have one thing in common: we both threw A Farewell to Arms across the room when we finished it. OK, it was Cooper’s character from Silver Linings Playbook, but still.
I’ve tried to like Hemingway. I tried hard enough to finish A Farewell to Arms, even though with every turn of the page, I felt no connection to his simplistic writing style, his flat females, his bland trudging through the mud. I’ve attempted Hemingway since then, and I still don’t care for him.
Although I’m not a Hemingway fan, as an English teacher, I cannot avoid him. And even though I don’t want to sit through another one of his novels, I still bring him up in my classroom. I like Hemingway in abstraction. I like Hemingway the idea. Here are the only forms of Hemingway I can tolerate:
#1 The guy from Midnight in Paris
I love that he speaks in that monotone, trudging tone. Because that’s what it’s like reading Hemingway. And if that cutie sat in front of me and read out an entire Hemingway novel, I might be tempted to finish the whole thing.
#2 The six word story
Teachers love this story. It’s a great way to encourage kids to be choosy about their words, and to see the power in each little word. English teachers have been using it as a warm-up for years: Tell the story of Hemingway’s bet, then ask students to write their own six-word story. I recently heard of technology teachers using it to structure an autobiographical short movie assignment.
#3 The Hemingway App
Hemingway’s writing style is not my favorite. I prefer long, poetic sentences that flow into one another. However, his writing style is what my students need. Adolescent writers tend to ramble and try too hard to sound academic. I have had to tell so many of my bright students that it’s better to use simpler language than to sound like you used a thesaurus for every word of your essay. They don’t believe me. They tend to think I’m another stupid teacher who doesn’t understand Art. So I refer them to the Hemingway app as evidence that I’m right, and as a tool for them to clean up their writing. But I also want to empower them as writers, so I remind them that the final call for the style of their writing is theirs.
I would close with my favorite Hemingway quote: “Write drunk, edit sober.” But I just found out that there’s no real source attributing him to this quote. It’s one of those apocryphal quotes circulated by unknowing nerds and Google search engines. Go figure. Of course my favorite Hemingway quote wouldn’t actually be by Hemingway. So I guess I really don’t like him at all.
One of those embarrassing pictures of my youth held hostage by the Internet featured The Awakening. My senior year of high school, I posted a series of selfies (before selfies were cool, of course) of my reaction to Kate Chopin’s classic to that early social network, Friendster. Mildly pleased at first, then bored, then scandalized and confused, and finally, empowered and satisfied.
Years later, when I went through my internet photo purge preceding my first year of teaching, I contacted Friendster and asked them to take down the pictures. I had long forgotten my email and password, and I needed their help. They asked for pictures of my driver’s license and other personal information to confirm my identity. Too much work, I thought, mostly because I didn’t have access to a scanner. I crossed my fingers and hoped my students wouldn’t find those pictures and turn me into a meme.
They didn’t. And now Friendster is dead, and I assume, so are my pictures. Alas. I did actually like those goofy selfies.
The Awakening has slipped into my life at infrequent intervals: first during my senior year, then during a college class on feminist literature, then as the literary analysis piece for my ELAR teacher certification test. Now that I am a wife, a mother, and a teacher, I think of it constantly. Particularly, I think of this passage, the one that stuck with me the longest after high school, and consequentially, the one that showed up on my teacher certification test:
“It would have been a difficult matter for Mr. Pontellier to define to his own satisfaction or any one else’s wherein his wife failed in her duty toward their children. It was something which he felt rather than perceived, and he never voiced the feeling without subsequent regret and ample atonement.
If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing. Tots as they were, they pulled together and stood their ground in childish battles with doubled fists and uplifted voices, which usually prevailed against the other mother-tots. The quadroon nurse was looked upon as a huge encumbrance, only good to button up waists and panties and to brush and part hair; since it seemed to be a law of society that hair must be parted and brushed.
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”
When I was a child, my mother would mourn for my future husband, saying I was too strong-willed to be a good Indian wife. When I decided to become a teacher, my friends and family questioned me, wondering aloud whether I was nurturing and gentle enough for the field. When I became pregnant, I worried for 9 months that I couldn’t be like my Facebook friends who had transformed into Chopin’s “mother-woman.”
But it is because of Kate Chopin and Edna Pontellier that I learned that I did not have to lose myself to be a good wife, mother, or teacher. I love and find joy in my husband, daughter, and students, but I do not worship them or see them as infallible. (Although I must admit, my daughter is a toddler and I am fully enjoying these adorable years before she becomes an awkward, intolerable adolescent.) I have a life outside of them, and that is OK. In fact, I find that my ability to set boundaries allows me to be more fulfilled in my roles as wife, mother, and teacher.
This is why fiction is important. It shows us possibilities, allows us to see what we can be, especially when the people around us do not. Through fiction, we can imagine solutions and make them a reality. Were it not for Kate Chopin, my struggle to maintain my individuality and identity through marriage, motherhood, and employment would have been much greater than it has been. Edna Pontellier’s story may not have ended perfectly, but through her I was able to create a better story for myself. Stories have that power.
If one of my students digs through Google Images and stumbles across my selfies from years ago, I won’t be ashamed. That was the moment that a book sowed seeds of strength within me, and of that I am proud. I may look like a doofus, though. Alas, even the most empowered women can’t change those awkward adolescent years.
Title: The Awakening
Author: Kate Chopin
Category: Literature; Feminist literature
What it’s about: Edna Pontellier struggles to maintain her individuality in a society that insists that a woman’s identity should be limited to her duties as wife and mother.
The C for Chopin image is part of my new project, AlphaLit Books. I am currently featuring women writers for each letter of the alphabet. I will be posting these on Instagram using the hashtag #alphalitbooks. Let me know if you have ideas for writers that I can feature!
If you follow me on OneFifty, you know I’ve got a bit of a branding problem. Namely, it’s hard for me to commit to just one idea because I want to do it all! Any rational human being would say, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Oh, wait. That was Ron Swanson.
But branding can also be difficult when you’re still in the process of discovering yourself as an artist, or “a creative,” which may be a better term for me. I’ve always had a penchant for writing and for words—it was my first passion. Lettering, art, and crafting are things I do to unwind, and things I happen to do pretty well, too. But while I’m an experienced teacher in the world of words, I’m a kindergartener in the world of visual arts. And like a child, I want to do it all, learn it all, and be all of the things.
After nearly a year of being engaged in the Instagram lettering community and studying the crafts of lettering, calligraphy, and typography, I feel like I’m starting to get a focus. I had grand ideas of wedding signage and birthday chalkboards (I’ve actually gotten the chance to do the latter over the past year!), but I think my passion lies somewhere smaller.
I had to remind myself of why I started. I had to remember that I started a public lettering journey not just to reduce stress, but because the source of that stress angered me so much that I wanted to create a voice for myself.
I’m an English teacher in an education system that is shifting to becoming entirely career-centric. I was told that the books I wanted to teach were antiquated and had no more value in our modern world. I was nudged in the direction of more practical reading and writing that would be better suited for the workplace. And maybe that’s where education is now. Practical work-related tasks. But that’s not what drew me to being an English teacher. I believe in the power of reading, the value of beautiful words, the magic of those rare moments of connection that we find in the words of others. I believe that the arts and humanities do have a place in the modern workplace–especially now, when we are suffering from a lack of empathy and connection. It was that belief that brought me to lettering; it was that rage that drove me to find a creative outlet.
As I continue learning and practicing the craft of drawing stylized letters, I want to focus on my true passion: literature. Books are where I started, and books are what I want to highlight. I dropped off on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project around February because school got hectic, but I’ll be moving forward along the same lines: handlettering lines from books and sharing their stories. These books will range from “the classics” to modern capital-L Literature to popular YA series. My goal is to encourage people to see the magic within stories and their ability to show the power of the human spirit. To me, this is far more valuable than any practical, work-related texts or writing that I would be told to teach at school.
My blog will finally have a focus: books and lettering. It will go hand-in-hand with my Instagram (@nerdladydraws), where I post my daily adventures in art and lettering. I already started a new series after refocusing: #alphalitbooks is a passion project in which I highlight different works by the alphabet. Currently, I’m working with the names of women writers. I’m also hoping to continue with #literarywhiteboardlettering once school calms down a bit (after our state test ends in two weeks). I hope that pairing my Instagram and blog–the former for all my artistic exploits, and the latter for my Lettering Literature project–will give me both the versatility and sense of purpose I need.
As always, thank you for following me on this journey. Creativity can light a burning desire in you, and it can be really scary to share it all and announce a purpose. It helps to have a supportive group of people when you’re trying out new things. I’m looking forward to exploring new books and styles as I delve into literary lettering! Leave a comment with any book recommendations! I’m always on the lookout for a new book.