Thursday, September 23, 2010

She's not a middle-schooler anymore!

Yesterday was my birthday. My wonderful husband made a delicious meal, took the girls shopping for presents, generally made me feel quite special, and so one and so forth. As part of our birthday celebrations, we go around the table at dinner time and say nice things about the birthday girl (or Brock). When it was Brock's turn last night, he said, "I think Mom is special because she has such sexy legs!"

And without missing a beat Emma sang, "Bow chicka bow bow"!

What?! Just last year she would have groaned and rolled her eyes. I guess that's what high school does to you.

And then, of course, we spent the rest of dinner trying to figure out the joke that leads to the punch line, "brown chicken, brown cow." Something to do with a farmer, I'm sure.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An exciting opportunity for you and your family!

I've been a member of a writers' critique group for a little over a year now. It has been a great venue for me to get valuable feedback about my writing. I haven't been as faithful as I should be in submitting my writing every week, but I have managed to accumulate about 90 pages toward a novel.

We have four regulars in our group, two of whom diligently submit pages every week. At this point, it would be great if we increased our group by one or two more writers. So what do you say? Have you always been interested in joining a critique group? Are you a closet writer who'd like to start expanding your readership? Do you live close enough to Brigham City to travel to a weekly meeting in a very comfortable middle school library (we always bring treats!)? If so, please let me know. We would love to include you in our little group.

Here's how it works: our goal is to submit 10 pages of whatever our current project may be via email to each group member by Tuesday every week. Each member then prints the submissions and reads and marks them up with suggestions, comments, and smiley faces. We meet Thursday evenings and talk about our thought and reactions to the submissions we received. We are all working toward publication. Two of our members are currently under contract for a 2011 publication of their first books. One has a completed manuscript she is actively peddling. And I am 90 pages in to my first novel. We're all serious about improving our writing, so we give each other serious feedback. It's a little uncomfortable at first, but I tell you what, this process has seriously improved all of our writing.

If you are interested, leave a comment or email me at .

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mrs. Cheney is currently reading . . .

At our school, the teachers all have these signs next to the entrances of our classrooms:

Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So is currently reading _____ by _____

Mine says, Mrs. Cheney is currently reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. (Though I finished it more than a week ago, and I've read a book and a half since then)

The idea is that students will see that their teachers read for pleasure, and maybe some will be inspired to pick up one of these books to see what all the fuss is about. It's a nice idea, but many teachers keep the same sign up for months at a time. Some keep the same sign up all year. At that point, it ends up sending the exact opposite message from the one we would hope for. Students are then free to use teachers as examples of grown-ups who just can't find the time to read.

As an English teacher, one of my goals is to help students discover there is something out there in the world of literature that appeals to them. I want them to always be in the process of reading a book--and not the same book for months at a time. I want them to eagerly look forward to trips to the library to find new books to read. This is my goal.

To promote this attitude, I give my students reading time every week. They get to read whatever they choose. The 8th graders get 15 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the 9th graders get 40-45 minutes every Friday. I present this reading time as a gift and a privilege. It seems like such an easy way to promote reading, right? Wrong! There are always a few kids in every class who just won't do it. I suggest specific books I think may appeal to them, I let them read whatever they want, including magazines, I take them to book chats with the librarian so they can see what's out there, I ride a unicycle in circles while juggling burning torches, but nothing seems to reach this small group of students.

I am a firm believer that there is something out there for everybody. I'm a firm believer that all students like to read something. Otherwise facebook would fail and texting would be a thing of the past. So what's the trick? How do we translate the hours a kid will spend online or texting with a friend to a quiet 45 minutes with a good book in his hands?

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a former student. She was one of those perfect kids who did everything she was supposed to do. Over the course of our conversation, she told me she doesn't really like to read. She reads because she's required to, not because she wants to. I was genuinely shocked. How could this happen? We talked about it quite a bit, and she came to the conclusion that there have been so many requirements for reading, including the personal reading time each English teacher has given her over the years, that she now looks at all reading as a chore.

That hurts.

I don't know what the answer is, but I've sure been thinking about this a lot lately. I think about my own children. They are all readers. How did that happen? Is it an innate thing? Is it a girl thing? Is it something I did? And if it is, how can I give that gift to my students as well? Maybe this will be my career-long struggle. If anyone has suggestions, feel free to comment.

P.S. I read the best book this weekend--Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. It's been a long time since I've been so emotionally engaged with a book.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jiggity jog

I've been thinking about taking up the old blog again. It's been ages since I wrote anything more than a few lines. I'm sure you've all been wondering, wondering why. Well, I think I'll tell you.

Toward the end of the 2008-09 school year, my principal called me in to his office. I had no idea why he wanted to talk to me. I think I must have felt much like my students feel when they get that call--filled with dread and terror. To make things even more frightening, it was the very end of my third year of teaching, which is a significant time for Utah teachers. During the first three years of teaching, we are considered provisional, and we can be released from our duties without so much as an explanation as to why we are being let go. At the end of the third year, if we have satisfied all the conditions required by the state of Utah, we are promoted to level 2. It is basically the equivalent of being tenured. So a call into the principal's office right around the time I should be triumphantly sailing through the final hoop left me feeling more than a little worried.

When I sat down across from Mr. S in his office, the first thing he asked me was, "Have you had any parents complain about your blog?"

I had started a teacher blog that year where I kept an update of what we were doing in class along with assignments, due dates, vocabulary lists and links to handy reference sites. The parents who had used my blog loved it, so I couldn't understand what he meant. I assured him that the parents of my students loved my blog. Why should they complain?

"No, I'm talking about your personal blog. Your 'Letters Falling' blog."

I involuntarily gave him my best whatchootalkin'boutwillis look. I'd never told any of my colleagues about my blog, and I'd certainly never informed my students about it. How would my students' parents even know I had a personal blog? And why would they care if I did?

I'm sure all these questions were playing around on my face as I sat there in shocked silence. After a few awkward moments, I realized he was waiting for an answer. I spit out a defiant "no" while regarding him through slanted slits that were once my eyes.

I'm sure at this point he could tell I was upset, so he started to explain. Apparently someone had sent an anonymous (coward!!) letter to him, my superintendent and Deseret News (of all places!!) about me and my inappropriate blog. The letter outlined all the terrible things I was publishing on my blog, including "the glorification of self-mutilation!" Whoever wrote the letter, he told me, must have read every one of my posts looking for dirt. In her (I'm assuming) righteous anonymity, she suggested that I be removed from my position as a teacher because I was a negative influence on my students, and my blog proved it.

He went on to explain that both he and my superintendent read my blog (ugh!!) to see if I had posted anything inappropriate.

Of course my mind was sprinting at this point, trying to recall every phrase, every word I had written. Had I been inappropriate? Had I written things I wouldn't want my boss, my boss' boss, my students and their parents to see? And the answer was, yes. I had written things I wouldn't want that particular world of mine to see. Not because they were inappropriate, but because I didn't want my professional life and my personal life to intermingle. I didn't want to always be Mrs. Cheney. I wanted to just be Shannon sometimes.

I'm sure it was clear to Mr. S at this point that I was distraught. He reassured me by saying he didn't believe my blog was inappropriate, but he went on to say that since I was a teacher, I had a responsibility to live the moral code of the community. I needed to be careful, he suggested.

I put aside the fact the he implied that I was somehow living beneath the moral code of Box Elder County, Utah, and I asked him if he was asking my to shut down my blog.

No, no. He wasn't asking me to shut it down. He was just letting me know that someone found it offensive. He wouldn't want to see things get ugly over something as silly as my need to be an individual who has a personal life beyond the classroom. It could be bad PR for the district.

I began to feel somewhat incensed, so I suggested that since I wasn't inviting students, parents, bosses and their bosses into my personal life, they should just stay out of it. He informed me I gave up my claim on privacy when I chose to become a teacher.

And there was nothing more to say.

I left his office in a bit of a daze. I had purposefully avoided telling local people about my blog for the very purpose of keeping a professional distance. Yet someone found it. I googled my name to see if my blog came up--I searched pages and pages of hits without finding my blog. I asked a couple of trusted teacher friends to try to find my blog without giving them an address or any other details. Neither of them could find my blog through searching the web.

All of this left me feeling vulnerable and suspicious. So I decided to lay low for a time.

And now that time is over. I think I'd like to try this blog thing again.

Because dammit, the moral code of my community is far looser than my own personal code of ethics. And I defy anyone to claim otherwise.