Phone home

A few weeks ago, Jessica – who blogs over at Where There’s Joy – wrote about making a positive phone call home. Oh, I thought, I love making these. In fact, earlier this semester I called home for a young person who often struggles but who had a really wonderful Thursday. I waited until Friday afternoon & called home. On the phone, their father was quietly delighted; by the time the student made it home, their father was over the moon. The student was still happy Monday afternoon when they got to class. “What did you even say to him? Can you call home every Friday?” It was wonderful.

Today, however, I steeled myself for the not-so-positive phone call home. I should probably use a moniker that is more, well, positive, but these are the calls I make when I find myself worrying about a student. Frankly, even with the worry, I often put them off. I hem and haw and tell myself “tomorrow will be different” or “they’re probably at work.” I hesitate, face to face with systemic inequity and cultural differences: what does it mean for me, a white authority figure, to call home when the student’s racial or cultural identity is significantly different from my own? What do I need to understand before I call? What are the results that I might not anticipate? I waver.

Eventually, my inner teacher voice gets louder. “If it were my child,” I think, “I would want to know.” Then, more powerfully, “These parents know and love their child. What if we were a team?” The team thing gets me every time. As soon as I know that I am truly calling to ask the parent to help me figure out how to best support their child’s success, I am ready to pick up the phone.

Which is how I found myself on the phone this afternoon, laughing with the mother of a child who has been increasingly belligerent over the past ten days or so. She was almost relieved that I had called, she said: she knows her child struggles with some parts of school, and she knows his IEP is woefully inadequate, so she had been waiting for a phone call ever since he transitioned to high school. No one had called, and she had started to wonder if we were aware of him at all. Last night things had gone a little sideways at their house – the way things do when kids are growing and rules have to be enforced – and he had come to school frustrated. Knowing that we were both seeing the same things, that each space was feeding into the other, assuaged some of our fears. “How is he in class?” she worried. “What helps calm things down at home?” I asked. We shared ideas and observations, parenting woes and commonalities until, suddenly, we were laughing because sometimes helping teens grow can be exasperating and ridiculous, all at the same time. Somehow we recognized that this is just a moment in time, and it, too, shall pass.

Before the call ended, I reminded her – and myself – of some of the wonderful things her child does in class: he’s whip smart and always willing to speak up. He cares deeply and is making friends. Even though he has had some tough moments lately, he often comes to class early and chats with me. Recently, he mentioned one of her accomplishments. As we began to sign off, I added, “You know, he’s really proud of you. He’s told me all about [the accomplishment].” Her voice caught, “Thank you. After last night, after these last few weeks… I guess I didn’t know.” I laid out our next steps one more time, and we said goodbye.

“I’ll call again and let you know how it’s going,” I said.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she replied.

And you know what? So am I.

Remind me of that the next time I’m hesitating to call home.

Book Love

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the student teacher looking around the classroom in astonishment. 9:30 on a Tuesday morning in mid-November and every one of the students in Grade 9 English was reading a book. Every single one. L had finally caved last week when I plunked a shiny copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes in front of him and walked away as though I didn’t care even the tiniest bit if he opened it. (Reader, I did care. I cared a lot. And I walked away anyway.) Now, for fifteen minutes, the regular rhythm of ocean waves filled the room (thank you YouTube) and we all read.

He commented on it later; I knew he would. A room full of 14-year-olds reading books is, after all, truly an unusual sight, and it was this young teacher’s first day with us. “How did you do that?” he wondered. I almost laughed. Those fifteen minutes are the result of a career’s worth of practice, a lifetime of reading and a lot of support from other people.

My classroom is full of books. A wonky combination of scavenged bookshelves line the back wall, full of novels and nonfiction, poetry and graphic novels, all shelved according to the eclectic organization that more or less mirrors students’ reading tastes. Books have been tossed into class bins, waiting to be picked up the next day. Books lean against the blackboard, begging to be chosen next. They teeter in uneven stacks on flat surfaces around the room, waiting to be reshelved. They linger in desks where they were stashed just in case the reader could sneak in a few extra words before class ended. 

Some students enter this room and feel at home; others are less excited. By 9th grade, some people have already abandoned reading. Every year I ask, “When was the last time you read a book cover to cover?” Every year, I hear stories of reading lives gone dormant, reading lives that have never had a chance to grow.

“It’s ok,” I say, “it’s ok. There’s something here for everyone” and I offer books from childhood, books they used to love, books someone once read aloud or books they’ve seen as movies or books full of pictures. I tell them about stories that have made me cry or laugh out loud. I ‘fess up to my serious crush on Jason Reynolds and admit that I have read past my bedtime and that I still can’t read horror novels – then I show them the collection of horror novels that I won’t ever read.

I tell students that I am a scavenger. I frequent little free libraries and I know which public libraries sell books cheap. At garage sales I explain why I need to buy all the books for much less than they are asking. I convince friends to pass along the books their teens are done with. Once, a former student cleaned out her room and brought me all the books she thought other students might like. I even ask on Facebook (because I’m old).

And this year? This year I won a grant from The Book Love Foundation. I applied last Spring, knowing that it was a long shot – so many teachers apply; so few can be funded. When I found out that I had won the grant, I cried, and then I got to work making my list. The books arrived last week – boxes and boxes of them. Books by Indigenous authors and Black authors and Muslim authors and LGBTQ authors; books with characters who wear hijabs or who face monsters or who had a child while they were in school or who found success beyond their dreams. Books about sports and books about travel and books about memories and books about the future. Books you’ve definitely heard of and books I haven’t read yet. (That might have been the students’ favourite part. “Wait. You haven’t read this one? Are you kidding? I’m going to read it before you!”) So. Many. Books. Good books.

We unboxed the books together, and already the Rupi Kaur is tucked next to someone’s bed; two of the Maze Runner series are out; Alice Oseman is circulating; Girl in Pieces has a waiting list; Kwame Alexander went to basketball practice, and Tupac’s poetry may have lured in the one last reading holdout – the lone student who hasn’t really read anything yet. These books honour the students in the classroom. Thanks (at least in part) to the Book Love Foundation, the students know that they are valued and valuable.

As for that student teacher, I don’t think I’ll have to convince him that choice reading is magic. Oh, I’ll I need to let him know that in September we could barely read as a class for five minutes, but he’s seen what happens when people know that they can read what they want, for real. And once I shelve these new books, maybe I can help him start his own classroom library, too.

(FYI – these grants are made possible by donors. If you want to help support classroom libraries, please consider donating here.)

Who is Charlie?

Lately I’ve been having trouble getting to sleep. I finish reading, turn off my light and close my eyes… then some rebellious part of my brain hears “PARTY!” and gleefully begins to list all of the things I need to do. These wild worry-happy neurons are willing to let pretty much anything in:

  • things I should have completed but haven’t
  • things I need to do for school
  • things I need to do for my family
  • things I need to do in the morning
  • things I need to do before I die
  • things I don’t really need to do but, you know, I might as well add to the list

Any self-respecting 50-year-old working-parent-brain knows how to handle an unplanned fret-festival: paper. I live by the mantra on the paper is out of my head, and I keep a pencil and post-it notes next to my bed. I like using the little ones because they imply that my lists are somehow manageable. I also like to pretend that I won’t fill up three or four or five…

Things usually look more manageable in the morning, even if sticky notes litter the cover of my book. But Monday, I woke up to this:

Um, y’all… I don’t know anyone named Charlie. And who is the questionable person who goes with Charlie? What activities do they need? Was I planning them? Do I need to plan them? I have no idea.

I spent Monday dutifully crossing off most of the things on this list, but Charlie lingers. What does Charlie need? Who is Charlie? If I didn’t know better, I’d say that my list-making brain was playing a practical joke on me. I suppose the only solution is to go upstairs and read for a while and see what I put on tonight’s list… Maybe I’ll wake up with things for Charlie to do.

All Hallow’s Morn

Andre calls up the stairs, “Honey, have you seen the raven?”

“It’s in the basement,” I holler back.

“I’ve checked there. Surely we didn’t give it away. That’s not our style.” He keeps muttering as he goes back to making biscuits.

I put the finishing touches on my mascara and check on the “Midnight black” eyeliner that now forms dark circles around my eyes, then confirm, “There is no way we gave away the raven. I’ll look when I get down.”

In the bedroom, I slide into the old-fashioned gray dress that spends most of its life in a heap at the bottom of the closet. Because of the way it’s made – sleeves that button on, a heavy hood in the back – it regularly slips off of its hanger and I rarely notice until Halloween comes around again. The thick material doesn’t wrinkle much, and I don’t think it would matter anyway. I pull my hair back into a short ponytail and head down to the kitchen.

“Are you sure the witch hat is in the box?” I ask. “I only saw the wig.”

“It’s there,” he assures me, “but it might need a little dusting.”

To the basement, to hunt for a raven and a witch hat. By the time I’m back in the kitchen, both boys are downstairs. 

“Do you have the permission form?”

“Yeah, did you see the viking helmet?”

“Oh, I couldn’t find the raven, either. Mr. 12, any chance the raven ended up in your room?”

His mouth stuffed with half a biscuit, Mr. 12 shakes his head.

“What are you wearing?” I ask him.

He counters, “Did you find the screaming mask?”

“No, all I could scare up was a scythe. You could use a graduation robe for the gown.”

He ponders for approximately one second. “Nah. I guess I’ll do the lion for school,” he says, “but I’m definitely going as the dinosaur tonight.”

I nod, and put on my wig.

Mr. 14 looks up between biscuit number two and 3. “Weren’t you a witch last year?”

“She’s always a witch,” says Mr. 12, then he giggles.

“Has anyone seen the raven?” Andre is still hopeful, but if that raven is in the house, it’s really well-hidden.

“Dad, give it up,” says Mr. 14. 

“Fine, then I get the Viking helmet,” Andre retorts.

“No way!” Mr. 14 gulps down his drink and moves towards his backpack.

“A hat is not a costume! And don’t forget the permission form!” I call after him.

I finish breakfast and put on my chunky witch shoes. I find the hat and shove it onto my head over my wig, forgetting that it won’t fit into the car and I’m just going to have to take it off again. I grab my bags and get ready to go. At the door I look back to say goodbye. The viking is gone. The lion is wiping away biscuit crumbs. No one has found the raven. And the permission form is still on the table, waiting.

Happy Halloween!

October Multiple Choice for English Teachers

  1. How many books have you read since school started six weeks ago?
    • Easily a book a week since all of the students in all of my classes read independently and silently for at least ten minutes per day. 
    • Do you mean the books I read to model reading behaviours for my students or the books I read at home? Or maybe the professional books I read?
    • Does it count if I don’t remember them?
    • [quiet weeping] I keep starting the second chapter but someone keeps farting loudly… in every class.
  2. When you model writing in front of your students, they…
    • watch with interest, asking questions and noticing how I am shaping my work.
    • glance up from their own writing occasionally if they are stuck and need some inspiration.
    • keep talking
    • Wait – I’m supposed to write in front of them? I’m not sure I should turn my back to the class.
  3. How many phones have you confiscated so far?
    • We have incorporated phones seamlessly into our daily routine so that students recognize them as useful learning tools.
    • My students and I co-created classroom rules; as a result, they respect the rules and only use phones at pre-determined times.
    • 14. Yesterday. During first period.
    • [quiet weeping] I’ve started loaning my phone to students when theirs run out of battery.
  4. How many assignments have you graded?
    • We have a routine where students choose their best work every Friday. They polish it and hand it in so that I can provide feedback over the weekend. We don’t need grades because each student has individual goals that they set for themselves and they are monitoring their progress. So far, everyone has an A.
    • Six weeks of school; six assignments. I strive for a 24-hour turnaround.
    • One. The next one is due at the end of the week.
    • One. Mostly. [quiet weeping] Ok, I’m lying. Some students have turned in *something* and I swear I’ve looked at it.
  5. What is the current state of the magnetic poetry on your chalkboard?
    • We have a multi-class collaborative poem that is currently up to four stanzas of rhyming iambic tetrameter. 
    • Students are using each other’s creations as springboards for their own writing.
    • Someone separated the words “pretty flowers” from the rest of the bunch.
    • Even though I removed all of the potentially vulgar words from the set, one student – who has yet to turn in any actual work – has managed to write “I want to tongue your mother” and other vague obscenities every day.
  6. Which unit are you studying?
    • We have eschewed “units” as a colonial construct; instead, each student has determined their own course of study, including stretch goals.
    • We are right on schedule: we’ve completely wrapped up the second of four units, leaving time in the semester for a final project.
    • So… that first unit is taking longer than I thought.
    • I think this semester might be one long unit.
  7. How effective are your anchor charts?
    • My students have worked together to create attractive, informative anchor charts that cover the bulletin boards and indicate that this is *their* classroom.
    • The anchor charts around the classroom both support and reflect student learning.
    • I have some.
    • I’m waiting for the chart paper we ordered in late August to finally come in.
  8. How often do you eat lunch?
    • Daily. With my students. I supervise a club every day. Interactions with students are paramount.
    • Every day. With my colleagues.
    • I mean, I eat…
    • I keep forgetting to pack a lunch. Yesterday I gave a student some money when he took a “bathroom break” and he brought me a McDonald’s hamburger and some fries.
  9. Your sleep patterns can best be described as…
    • An effective routine that allows me to function at my peak
    • 8 hours per night.
    • Erratic
    • I just want to get through a night without school nightmares.
  10. According to your therapist, how many weeks before you go on stress leave?
    • This is simply unthinkable. My students need me.
    • Stress leave? Teaching is my dream job.
    • We think I’ll probably be fine.
    • I’m just trying to survive to November.

Call them by their name – or whatever

Yesterday a new student joined my class. He showed me his timetable to confirm that he belonged in this room, and I asked him his name. He replied with the name written on the paper, then followed up with, “but call me xxx”. So I did.

I know there’s a lot of fuss right now about teachers using the name students ask to be called. (Brief background: in the US, some people are demanding that teachers inform parents when children ask to change names or pronouns; some people are demanding that teachers not do this, in part to protect vulnerable students;  Canada’s laws are different, but the same issue is cropping up.) Just before school started this year, a colleague in my school board posted a thread on Twitter about why we should use students’ preferred names, and spiteful commenters piled on, calling the teacher a “groomer” and worse. I was astonished by their ignorance. Well, maybe not astonished – I’m too old to pretend that I’m not a little cynical about the outrage; but I found it, at a minimum, fatiguing.

Here’s what they don’t know: teachers have long used students’ preferred names. I’ve been calling students what they want to be called pretty much forever, and I have never – not once – phoned a parent to let them know about it. My first memory of this is from years ago when a student asked to be called Kronos. Kronos! My instinct was to say no, mostly because this 8th grader was decidedly neither the king of the Titans nor a god of Time, but before I could say a word, the teacher standing next to me said, “Ok.” So we called the child Kronos. We didn’t phone home or worry about report cards. We just called him Kronos until he asked us to stop.

In that same school I had a student who went by Sarah while her family called her Sally. I’ve had students ask me to call them by their nicknames, middle names or last names (there are a lot of Emmas and Mohammeds out there; sometimes these name changes are a godsend). Before parent-teacher conferences, I often ask students what their parents call them, so that I can communicate effectively. 

For a lot of young people, names are a good place for a bit of experimentation. When we were little, my sister wanted to be called Christy instead of Kim. I have no idea why. I grew up in the South, so I knew plenty of kids whose first names were someone else’s last name – Madison, Perrin, Riley come to mind. When I was in my early teens, I longed for a name that could be mistaken for a boy’s. I blame Little Women for my dreams of being called “Jo” or “Alex” while behaving in unladylike ways. Later, I was awed when Shannon Faulkner took advantage of her gender-neutral name to become the first woman to enroll in the then all-male Citadel. Meanwhile, my aunt and uncle named my cousin Andrew, insisting that he not be called Andy; this worked fine until someone started calling him Drew. These days, he answers to either.

In the classroom, I’ve had students use a gender-neutral version of their own name, use a name frequently associated with the opposite gender, and use a name that, frankly, no parent in their right mind would choose. (I think most of us would try to talk our kid out of “Kronos.”) Sometimes their parents know; sometimes they don’t. It’s never really been an issue.

Look, I’m not naive: I know that people are using the name issue as a proxy for homophobia and transphobia. They say “name” and mean something else altogether. They’ve worked themselves into hysterics over this and decided that when teachers respect a child’s request to be called by a certain name or pronoun, something terrible will happen. In all my years of teaching, calling a child what they want to be called has never – not once – made a child feel less welcome; it’s never interfered with their learning; it’s never made them unhappy. I have 26 years worth of experience suggesting that using a child’s preferred name or pronouns won’t change who they are – but it might make them feel a little more like themselves.

So, when a child asks me to call them a particular name, I say “yes”. Why wouldn’t I?

What we discussed

My friend’s tweet caught my attention this morning as I stared down another school day: pictures of her students thinking and writing about the juxtaposition of the Queen’s funeral and Powley Day. She and her colleagues had worked together to devise a wonderfully thoughtful series of prompts about this, prompts designed to help them think about equity and Indigeneity and the importance of historical thinking. Their lesson went well; the students did some powerful learning. Even as I admired the elegance of the work, I felt a quick stab of jealousy, then a sense of deflation: I had failed to talk about either topic with my classes. Not only that, teachers had been explicitly told that we had to address both of them. One direction came from the Ministry of Education, requiring a moment of silence; the other from our school board, requiring sharing information about Powley Day.

I exhaled, warm breath across my hot tea, and wondered how I had missed this. Then I remembered. We hadn’t discussed any of this because my Monday morning class opened with a discussion of murder. There had been a fight – maybe gangs? – and a knife. Two people were badly injured; one person died. I say “people”, but my students said “kids” or “guys”. No one involved attended our school, but somehow many of the students in the classroom knew or knew of several of the young people involved in the fight. There was a video. They had seen it. The fight had taken place near-ish to the school. Some students had been near the fight. Someone’s family was close to the family of one of the kids involved. 

The details are all still  pretty confusing for me – after all, I learned about this at 9:30 on a Monday morning, and all of my information was coming from 14 year olds. Or, as one student piped up, “I’m still 13, Miss!” The conversation swerved through the classroom, pausing at stops I could have predicted – should we watch videos of someone’s death? – to stops that took my breath away – “If you’re in that sort of situation, don’t call the cops. They could say you were involved. Just get away.” Over and over I reminded students that we had time to talk, that we wouldn’t rush this, that they needed to listen to each other, slow down, take turns. One boy – Mr. 13 – said, “Wait! This is just like that book some of us are reading. ‘No snitching. Always get revenge.’” Heads nodded seriously: they didn’t need to have read the book; they know the rules. I made a mental note to get out more copies of Long Way Down (and sent another blessing in Jason Reynolds’ direction – that book. Just… wow.). Someone wondered how a kid not much older than them might end up killing someone. I brought up Romeo and Juliet – Tybalt, Mercutio, Romeo. Young men, hot tempers, knives… Someone had read that last year – yes, they said, yes, this has been happening for so long.

Slowly, slowly the conversation settled. Someone asked, almost plaintively, “but what are we supposed to do?” Someone else replied, “Make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Someone snorted, “Of course it will happen again.” Someone said softly, “Make sure it doesn’t happen to us.” Quiet descended. They looked at me.

And what could I say? Only the truth: “I don’t know what to do next.” I offered options. I suggested playing the same quiet reading music I play every day and, well, getting lost in another world. That’s what they chose. Books came out. No one fussed. One student, then another, called me over to say, “Miss, I have seen worse: or “Miss, in my country…” I heard stories that I will not share. They were reassuring themselves that things would be ok. Ten minutes passed and we all kept reading. Eventually I noticed people starting to shift their weight, and we went on with class. 

All day, each class wondered and worried about the fight, the boys involved, the police. All day, we created the calm we could. As the last bell rang, I knew I had done enough; we had found our way through. Monday was over. Tuesday would come.

So, no, we didn’t talk about the Queen or Powley Day – heck, my first period barely touched on any lesson I had planned. And I know that’s ok. And yet, I need to remind myself that social media – even that of people we admire wholeheartedly – can be insidious. I know this; we all know it. Next step: remember this lesson first thing on a Tuesday morning when Monday has been so hard.

First Impressions

What he likes best, my 12 year old, is comfortable clothes. What he likes are sweatpants and t-shirts, sneakers and worn socks. He likes things that are broken in, soft, slouchy. 

Because of this, he spent the summer showing more and more of his ankles as his legs grew and his pants didn’t. He spent the summer with gaping holes at his knees and growing holes in his t-shirts. He spent the summer in stained, ratty clothes – familiar and freeing.

But September loomed and the week before school started, his dad insisted on clothing culling. Both boys dragged clothes from various drawers and dark corners and piled them up in giant heaps in the middle of the floor. Sizes were checked. Those things that were barely holding together were consigned to the rag pile. Items that were still in good shape but nonetheless did not meet individual style standards – such as they are – were gifted to the neighbors’ kids. Everyone agreed that having pants with intact knees and shirts without stains was a desirable goal.

Or so we thought.

On the first day of school, Mr. 12 appeared in the kitchen wearing perfectly respectable sweatpants (if there is such a thing) and a beloved but besmirched t-shirt. I pointed out the stain and asked if he would change it, just to humour me. He agreed. Moments later he returned… wearing a shirt dotted with several small holes. I maintained my composure but suggested that this shirt, too, should be changed. Mr. 12 was less enthusiastic about my second request.

At this point, his dad, somewhat chagrined, I think, by the reappearance of these shirts that he had assured me were gone, chimed in. “Have you ever heard the saying ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’?” Mr. 12 had not, and he agreed to change one more time.

And that was the end of that. 

Just kidding.

The next day, I only got a passing glance at my child as I scrambled out the door on my own way to work. His dad didn’t look too carefully either. This explains why we only noticed his less-than-new shirt (ok, it had holes. again) after the school day was firmly over. I shook my head and started to explain our “your shirts shouldn’t have stains or holes” theory – the simple idea that seems to be anathema to him. He listened patiently, then shook his head with mock sadness. “It’s ok,” he reassured us. “After all, I can’t make a first impression twice.” He skipped away, laughing.

Since then I’ve gone back to letting him dress however he likes.

Many thanks to twowritingteachers.org who have created this community where teachers practice and share their writing. What a gift!

Watching and worrying

“Hey,” I say, all faux-casual-like, leaning against the doorframe that leads into the tv room. Two lanky fourteen-year-old boys look up from the couch where they loll contentedly. Across the room, the twelve-year-old glances away from his computer to see what’s happening. “So, um,” I realize that my casual act is not fooling anyone, but I press on, “have you heard of Andrew Tate?”

I can practically hear their eyes roll. And though I would not have said it was possible, they relax further back into the couch, bodies stretching. They are already done with this conversation I have just started. My oldest glances up languidly, “Yeah. Why?”

“Well, um…” I don’t know what to say. Maybe I thought they weren’t watching Andrew Tate? Or that somehow they wouldn’t know who he was. I hesitate. I want to say, please tell me you are not watching videos made by a misogynistic racist jerk, but that seems like overkill.

My fourteen year old gives me a withering look and says, “Mom, if you use the internet, you know who Andrew Tate is.” I do not tell him that I did not, in fact, know who Andrew Tate was until relatively recently.

“Do you watch him?” I ask. By now the 14 year old friend is joining the conversation. He smirks while my son sighs.

“MOM! It’s like, you can’t not watch him. If you watch videos his videos are there. He doesn’t even post them himself. He gets other guys to post them. They’re just there.”

The friend concurs, “Yeah, they’re kind of everywhere. You can’t avoid them.”

I take this in. So, yes, they watch Andrew Tate. Now what? “So, um, what do you think of him?”

The boys have had enough of my beating around the bush. They tell me that he’s obviously a racist and a jerk. They can’t quite come up with the word misogynist, but they know that what he says about women is not good. They watch his videos anyway and insist that they are not actually influenced. “We know what he’s doing,” they assure me.

I am not comforted, at least not right away. I don’t like this, my boys out in the wilds of the internet listening to jerks who say hateful things to preteen and early teenage boys.

I try to broach the topic again later, but my kids shut me down. “MOM! Just… stop worrying about this.” I tell them that what we consume affects what we think. They are stoic. I suggest that their brains are wasting energy on not believing this. They disagree. Finally, I let it drop.

The next day at dinner, my older son tells us that Andrew Tate has been banned from several social media platforms. We talk about whether or not other platforms should ban him. Mr. 14 says no. “If he hasn’t violated their terms, they should leave him up there. If they don’t want him there, they should change the rules.” My husband tries to push his thinking, to encourage him to consider when something should be banned. Mr. 14 is nonplussed. “You can ban what you want, but it’s not like it goes away.”

Dang. We continue the conversation, but he doesn’t budge.

For a week, they tease me with information about Andrew Tate. They tell me about his money and his cars. I respond by sharing the idea of the Bechdel test, by pointing out places where we encounter systemic inequities in our daily lives – should the prime minister of Finland be censured for partying? (Mr. 14’s take: “Probably most people who run countries shouldn’t really party.”) Should a female news anchor be fired when she lets her hair go gray? (He says, “I don’t think TV is a good choice of careers if you think they don’t care when you get old. They do.”) For a week, I worry that I should do *something*, although short of banning the internet, I’m not sure exactly what.

Several days into this, one of the boys yells, “Hey Mom, come quick! It’s another Andrew Tate video.” He bursts into hysterical laughter. And I start to get it. To them, Andrew Tate is a joke – he’s a show, and a stupid one at that. My kids are internet skeptics, completely unphased by the idiotic behaviour that shows up on their screens. They don’t believe that Tate has all those cars or even all those fans. They see him for what he is – a flash in the pan who behaves badly to get attention. They watch him when he shows up in their feeds, but largely to mock him with their friends.

So maybe what I was worried about is not quite the right thing. I can’t prevent my children from seeing things on the internet; there aren’t enough parental controls to stop the world from coming in. My boys aren’t any less at risk than other kids, but their generation has a different relationship with the internet than mine does. We’re going to have to negotiate this together, and in the meantime, I think the kids are alright.

Many thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org for hosting the Slice of Life

Presenting

I have been futzing with the same slide show for hours. Hours and hours and hours. I’ve added some icons, resized them, resized them again. I changed fill colours and checked fonts. Oh, and I re-jigged one slide from three columns to four. That took at least 30 minutes and somehow seemed very very important.

I could be doing other things, of course. I could be helping with dinner or practicing on Duolingo. I could be heading to Knit Night or reading a book. I could be relaxing or chatting with my sister. But the slide show keeps calling me.

Tomorrow I will be doing my first-ever presentation at a conference. I am a little nervous. I have been reassuring myself that a teacher being nervous about a presentation is, honestly, silly. After all, I present all the time in the classroom, right? (Ok, well, not so much lately since I’ve tried to make my classroom much more student-driven, but I definitely presented for years.) And I’ve co-hosted an online book club for colleagues – complete with slide shows! – with no problem. And I’ve spoken on podcasts! How different can this be? (Different. It can be different.)

And it’s not like I’m doing this alone. My friend, mentor & colleague, Melanie White, is presenting the session with me. She is, frankly, inspirational: a powerhouse of thinking fueled by an almost unimaginable volume of reading and listening. In fact, I’m pretty sure that *she* is the reason people will attend. After all, *I* would attend her session in a heartbeat. (And yes, Melanie, I see you reading this and shaking your head. Let me have my nervous moment over here.)

Even as I write this, I am starting to laugh at myself a little. Sure, I am nervous – but writing about it down makes me realize that perhaps this is not as big a deal as I think. After all, Sarah Zerwin (of the book Point-less) was the keynote speaker today, and she presented for 2.5 hours. Now *that* would be nerve-wracking. She nailed it: my brain was spinning with ideas and questions right up to the last moments. And she told us that it was her first time presenting for that length of time – and that she over prepped. Sigh… such a teacher move.

Which brings me back to that slide show for tomorrow. I’m pretty sure that I need to just double-check a few more of the slides. And maybe tweak the script a little. I swear I won’t add any more columns, but one more icon might make all the difference…

(Wish us luck! Here’s hoping we share things others find useful.)

Many thanks to twowritingteachers.org for hosting this space for teacher-writers.