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Review: Shen’s “Legendary Ladies” and “Bad Girls Throughout History”

First off, a funny story: yesterday, I was giving my (9th grade) classes a quiz over figurative language (personification, onomatopoeia, metaphor, etc.) and before the quiz, my 4th period decided that Hyperbole is when someone is “just being so extra.” I gave examples that I’ve heard in the halls, like “OMG if I don’t see my boo right now, I’m gonna die” and “ugh, this class is taking, like, forever.” We finished the quiz and I walked by a table group that (sometimes, very unfortunately) has a bf/gf couple, who were playing keep away, or something dumb. I told them to STAHP or they were going to make me throw up, and the whole table group yelled “HYPERBOLE!!! That’s a hyperbole, CT!!” I cackled with laughter and gave them all “Glad Points” as a reward for using their knowledge AGAINST ME.

Now, to the review. As specified in my last post, I asked for these beautiful books for Christmas. Thanks to my mom and mom-in-law, I was gifted both and devoured each in a day. Although they are by the same author/illustrator and, on the surface, look quite similar, they have substantial differences that need to be sussed out. Therefore, I’ll be taking them one by one, starting with my favorite!

Aphra Behn, first female professional writer. Sojourner Truth, activist and abolitionist. Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer. Marie Curie, first woman to win the Nobel Prize. Joan Jett, godmother of punk. The 100 revolutionary women highlighted in this gorgeously illustrated book were bad in the best sense of the word: they challenged the status quo and changed the rules for all who followed. From pirates to artists, warriors, daredevils, scientists, activists, and spies, the accomplishments of these incredible women vary as much as the eras and places in which they effected change. Featuring bold watercolor portraits and illuminating essays by Ann Shen, Bad Girls Throughout History is a distinctive, gift-worthy tribute.

Goodreads.com

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World was published in 2016 and features 100 women spanning many centuries and cultures who did “bad” things (more on that in a bit) or were considered improper by their (and sometimes also our) society. The women are featured chronologically, so our amazing, gender stereotype-breaking ancestors segue gently to modern glass ceiling-breakers.

Now, when it comes to calling these women “bad,” I assumed it would focus on women who did things considered improper for women during their time. However, the term “bad” seems to be used more loosely than I had thought. Yes, of course misogyny runs rampant through each story in some way or other, but not all stories are focused on what these women did in reaction to oppression. Intermingled among the Queens, scientists, adventurers, and visionaries are murderers and thieves. As it should be, “bad” is subjective. I especially appreciate this in reference to my intentions to make this book available as a point of inspiration for the upcoming research unit. ELA is all about the ability to argue and support your point, so if someone wants to argue that Bonnie Parker is a hero, I look forward to hearing that argument.

From the beloved author and artist behind Bad Girls Throughout History comes this lushly illustrated book of goddesses from around the world. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess whose love overcame mortality. Mazu, the Chinese deity who safely guides travelers home. Lakshmi, the Hindu provider of fortune and prosperity. These powerful deities and many more are celebrated in gorgeous artwork and enlightening essays that explore the feminine divine and encourage readers to empower themselves. Ann Shen’s signature watercolors make Legendary Ladies a unique, gift-worthy homage to the mighty women within.

The other book, Legendary Ladies: 50 Goddesses to Empower and Inspire You, focuses on goddesses from various cultures. The book seeks to inspire the reader, so Shen even goes so far as to suggest the strengths of each goddess and when the reader might want to “call on” each one for different benefits. I appreciated the variety of cultures featured in this book and learned a great deal about various origin stories. I honestly wish it had been longer, like its 100-page predecessor, but I imagine a tremendous amount of research had to go into this book; I also imagine that this one stands more of a risk of offending readers, since Shen attempts to add so much variety that she is inevitably treading (bravely, I think) on unfamiliar territory and might risk getting something wrong, here and there.

So, obviously, the showstopper is the illustrations. Each woman listed in both texts has her own accompanying original illustration. Again, the amount of research that must have gone into these is amazing, especially in the goddesses text, since each woman is drawn “in her element.” Shen apparently got her start in illustration and has worked for some impressive, well-known companies, so I like to think that all that experience is what made it possible for her to produce these works of obvious passion. I can’t imagine that anyone would take lightly the responsibility to educate readers about the history of womankind; however, since she does so not only through words but all through illustrations, this book will naturally appeal more to younger audiences, who benefit from visual stimulation for prolonged attention, than those that convey the same information without illustrations. I would gladly, after choosing very carefully, read some of these to student audiences (and might do so in the weeks leading up to the research unit). I honestly wish someone would make a similar illustrated compilation with male rule-breakers.

Now, to discuss the only major issue I noticed. The number of European goddesses vastly outnumbered those of Asian, African, South American, or North American heritage. Legendary Ladies featured one “ancestor” from Native American heritage (I don’t know what to call these characters collectively, since they’re not all goddesses), a few Africans, a few Pacific Islanders, a few more of Celtic, Welsh, Aztec, or Egyptian origin, a good number Hindus, as well as Chinese, but predominantly featured Greek goddesses. On the one hand, I loved seeing them since I have studied Greek mythology extensively, but it seemed disproportionate to the numbers featured for other cultures. I should acknowledge that this might be greatly due, at least in part, to the fact that Greek mythological beliefs were passed to all conquered nations and, although it is not still a practiced religion, the impact of that belief system is still evident in classical texts, as well as all those that were inspired by the classics. I mean, for goodness sake, like I teach each year when we read The Odyssey, Greek mythology still permeates our culture, even Spongebob Squarepants, for crying out loud. Greek mythology is inescapable. But that almost adds to my desire to see less of that which we already know and more of that which is not as well-known globally. Surely there are more African and Native American ancestral ladies that could have been featured?

Obviously, I greatly recommend these texts to anyone and everyone. The illustrations are dazzling and I could look at them all day, but they don’t necessarily mean that this text is directed at younger audiences. These women are painted in a realistic light, for better or for worse, and learning about each one of them is well worth your time.

Has anyone else read these? If so, did you read them just for fun or do you have ulterior motives, like me? Does anyone have any other recommendations for texts featuring compilations of notable men or women?

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Holidays: Gimme Dem Books

I remember many many moons ago when my sister (two years my senior) started asking for books for Christmas and I was so disappointed in her. You. So. Boring. And then, as with all the other trends she got into (clothes, cookware, decor, etc.), there I was, her shadow on a two-year-delay, asking for books for Christmas.

Now, I have two literary degrees and teach ELA, so books and book-related things have become a staple in my Christmas list. I always work in a few books I want, but I usually also ask for a few book-related items, especially clothes. I love seeing other people sporting symbols or phrases that reference books we have in common so, understandably, I also get a kick out of wearing my own references, especially when someone gets it and mentions it. 

So, without further ado, here are my Christmas requests:

Out Of Print Clothing has so many things I want. I got a Gatsby sweatshirt for Christmas a few years ago and it is still my favorite thing to wear in the winter. It’s survived many washes and even more wears and is so warm, so now that I know that the quality is top notch, I’m asking for more.

One of the books I want is a journal. I’m not much for journaling and I can’t imagine when or whether I’ll find time for this, but I’ve been feeling strangely negative lately and I’m trying to focus on things that will remind me of all the many reasons I have to be blissfully happy. I’ve been writing down two positive interactions I have with students each day, I’m wanting to re-start doing the “daily thankfulness notes” my husband and I did for while, and I think this journal would help, too. It gives a space for morning gratitude and hopefulness, as well as nightly ruminations and determination.

I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s books. I don’t know why, but for some reason, to admit that I enjoy Dan Brown feels a bit cheap, like when someone says their favorite books are the mass-produced, non-imaginative, “change a few details and crank out another sub-par thriller novel” books that fly off the shelves at libraries. Yes, Brown’s books have similar vibes, but that’s because they focus on the same protagonist. Yes, they have been turned into blockbuster films with my main man, Tom Hanks, which means they’re mainstream. Yes, some “facts” are fudged or completely fake. SO WHAT?? Every time I read a Brown novel , you can just color me entertained.

I want these for obvious reasons. One awesome thing we did last year was finish the school year with a research unit where students present on a hero of their choosing. I am so blessed to have some beautiful, brilliant independent young women in my classes and I think these would be a delight for me to read, but even more of a delight to pass along to the right young reader (male or female).

So, what did you ask for for this holiday season? Any other book-related requests out there? I love seeing what others ask for, especially since I’ll probably add them all to my wish list for future years!

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Review: Miller’s “Circe” and Lindsay’s Opinion vs. Mrs. C-T’s Opinion

What a beautiful respite from my reading slump! Of course, after my long trek through the desert of boring books, I was over-thirsty for quality and, thus, finished Madeline Miller’s Circe in a few days, so now I’m back to square one. What will I read now?

Hannah finished Circe before I even received it and texted me a few afterthoughts; it sounded like she was somewhat underwhelmed, but I was adamant that I would go into it as a “blank canvas” and let it paint all over me. I was not disappointed.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Now, I am rather well-acquainted with Circe as a character from Homer’s The Odyssey, which I teach to freshmen every year. I went into this reading hopeful that it would contain something I could incorporate into this year’s unit (more on that in a bit), but due to my recent bad luck with books, my number one goal was to read and be entertained, to enjoy a book as I haven’t done in a while, regardless of academic application potential.

I loved this novel. The story was narrated from Circe’s 1st-person perspective and felt almost like sitting by the fire listening to story time. She was looking back on her life and telling her story to an anonymous audience (me!) and occasionally interjected her past story with musings about how naive she was or how later she would think differently. Due to these brief snaps back to the “present” story time, the vibe of the book was easy-going and familiar, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Considering the fact that most people only know Circe as a witch and temporary love stop on the Odysseus Express, imagine my surprise when the emotions and relationships weren’t 50 Shades levels of cringe. Mythology is fascinating, so we all roll our eyes and shrug at the unhealthy relationships and mistreatment of women, as though they’re just as unbelievable as gods wielding thunderbolts or six-headed sea monsters, but the truth is that misogyny seems to have weathered the test of time in a way that gods and monsters didn’t. I give 100% credit to Madeline Miller for her interpretation of Circe’s story, as well as her story-telling ability. Instead of relating every detail of each copulation session (be it willing or forced, so yes, be trigger-warned), she implies and leads the reader to understand what’s happening, but dedicates her time to the why.

The Odyssey presents Circe as a witch who transforms men into pigs because it pleases her and only Odysseus could outsmart her, changing her heart of stone to typical female emotional mush. FINALLY, Circe is portrayed as an individual, whose life was difficult and complicated long before Odysseus came along and made it more complicated. She is given a why. Why transform the men? Why be there waiting for him? Why be so enamored by a turd like Odysseus? Like all women, Circe is a complicated being and she existed outside of her connection with literature’s most well-known “hero” for centuries. Homer wrote The Odyssey around 800 B.C.E., so we’ve known one side of the story, the male’s perspective, for almost 3000 years. Let’s hear HER side of the story!

Okay, I can feel that I got on my soapbox there. The point was to say that depending on how deep down the Mythology rabbit hole you’re known to go, anywhere between a little to a lot of this novel will be yesterday’s news to you. Spoilers aren’t really that big of a threat, since we know how it will end, generally. However, the refreshing and necessary thing about this novel is that we are given insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of an ancient woman.

So, from what I’ve seen, people have disliked this when they aren’t fans of historical interpretations. Again, this is a tale as old as time, but Miller’s work came from embellishing stories and creating a new perspective. Some times, her embellishments stray from the original and a lot of hard-core mythology junkies reject any creative license. For instance, in The Odyssey, Odysseus is given moly by Hermes, he eats it, drinks Circe’s potion, and is not transformed, thus beguiling her with his “power.” It doesn’t go that way in Circe and I could be mad about it and be all “look at me; I’m so smart; I know the original; this is wrong; I’m right” but what’s the point in that? It’s no fun to be such a know-it-all that you can’t enjoy anything but the original. Chill.

The other thing about that divergence from the original is that it must exist for a reason! That is one of the most well-known plot points; anyone can point it out (so calm down, know-it-all’s), so why would Miller change it? The new version must serve a purpose in telling the audience more about Circe. This is where my mind swaps from Lindsay, the “for fun” reader, to Mrs. C-T, the critical reader. The wheels were turning nonstop towards the end of the novel, to the point where I had to get out some post-its so I could refer to important excerpts later. Here are some teachery thoughts that are still mulling and taking shape in my pre-planning mind (we won’t get to our Odyssey unit until November, so I have time to hammer out details). However, I must say that these sort of critical reading thoughts and questions do not exist exclusively in a classroom; anyone can read, but it is an entirely different skill to read critically, allowing texts to tap into your mind beyond surface-level enjoyment. Even if you are not a teacher or student, even if you don’t enjoy when this reader blog crosses the line over to a teacher blog, I encourage you to take a look at the questions posed below. You don’t have to be a student to continue to challenge your thinking. Now, to the musings:

  1. Read Book 10 of The Odyssey and then read the excerpt of their meeting from Circe. Consider how the two main characters’ vices and virtues are shifted and challenged with the difference in narrative. How are the narrators biased? Which story do you believe? Why? How are you biased?
  2. Our textbook does not include Book 11 (Odysseus’ trip to the land of the dead) but I think it is interesting/important. Last year I just did story time for missing sections and I’ve asked my department chair for a class set of Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel, but if those options fail or fall short, I can use the excerpt from Circe where she gives him guidance.
  3. This one is exciting: include our article about PTSD to read after Odysseus comes home and he and Telemachus slaughter all the suitors and “unfaithful” servants. Also, include the excerpt where Telemachus talks about what Odysseus was like when he came home. Is it human nature to hope “they all lived happily ever after”? Why do so many stories lack falling action and end after the climax? What do you think life was like for Odysseus/Penelope/Telemachus after his return? Why? How does Telemachus’ account support or challenge that?
  4. Include excerpt of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, specifically including the Chorus from the servant maids Odysseus killed. Then, include excerpt from Circe that gives Penelope’s account of Odysseus’ return. Why is it so unbelievable that Penelope and Circe would meet and interact so positively? How are readers of The Odyssey led to believe these women would treat each other? How does Penelope’s account shift your perception of Odysseus? Recall how Odysseus portrays Penelope in The Odyssey: how does Penelope’s portrayal of Odysseus in Circe and/or The Penelopiad compare/contrast? How do these characters show bias?
  5. After completing the epic, discuss whether Odysseus is a hero. Further discuss whether he fulfills the steps of Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Journey. Can one fulfill the steps but fail to be a hero? Can one be a hero without being “heroic”? Include an excerpt from Circe where Telemachus talks about Odysseus’ life and legacy. Does the inclusion of personal experience and opinion alter your perception of Odysseus’ heroic status? How could it be biased? Can one determine heroic status without the inclusion of personal accounts?

As you can tell, I LOVE to include various perspectives in my classroom. I know that it is human nature to form opinions and, sadly, some people spend more time building their own opinions by ignoring or attacking the opposition and stacking up supporting arguments than by exploring and engaging those adverse opinions in constructive discussion. It is my goal that students learn to explore the opposition as much as their own side, challenging their own biases as well as those of others, and building informed, malleable opinions. Circe will undoubtedly help me work towards this goal.

Hope you enjoyed this and I’d love to hear any and all thoughts!

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Ready As I’ll Ever Be: Classroom

A while back, I posted about my budding classroom and the many tools I would need in order to prepare for the beginning of school. Well, that beginning is less than a week away now, so I’ve been slowly but surely “setting up” my classroom so that my focus won’t be compromised during pre-planning, which started this week. Thanks to the kind responses both on here and on my social media pages, I got a ton of great suggestions on ways to streamline the processes in my classroom in order to make my life easier and my students’ educations more effective.

I’m also lucky to have a number of family members and friends who want to contribute to my classroom and, accordingly, to my peace of mind. A big fat THANK YOU goes out to my siblings and their spouses, my in-laws, my parents, and my friends, Savannah and Hannah. Due to their kind contributions, I’m way more prepared and not bankrupt!

 

In addition to my luck at having the most thoughtful and generous friends and family members in the world, I’m also really lucky in that I somehow was given the biggest room on the hall! I have 5 double windows facing east-ish, so I get immense amounts of sunlight and it looks like I won’t have to worry about the overhead fluorescent lights being an issue, since I won’t ever need to use them. Another interesting detail is that the room is a rectangular shape with the majority of the room to the right when you walk in the door; to the left of the door, however, is about 6 or 8 feet of space that isn’t exactly functional in terms of student desk space. I’ll use it for my storage closet and student station, but otherwise, I’m able to spread out! I brought in my bookcase and positioned it next to my desk, which gives me a nice private space that will be all my own.

class1

Special shout out to the hubs for modeling my desk

Don’t worry, I’m under no delusion that I’ll ever have much time to sit down at my desk, but I’m just a big fan of privacy and personal space. In conjunction with that, the desk provided by the school has a gap at the bottom which would show my ankles (again, just give me some privacy, please) and more importantly, let out valuable heat from my space heater for my little footies. In an effort to come up with a creative solution, I decided to make “book spines” that could serve double-duty while also looking fly and relevant.

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I know what you’re thinking; yes, they’re awesome and yes, that’s a HP pencil holder on my desk. It’s amazing what you can find on Etsy and, as a fellow person-who-tries-to-be-creative-sometimes, I want to support people in their creative endeavors as often as possible. And you should, too. Here is the link for the pencil holder and here is the link for these AMAZING author posters, with which I am certifiably obsessed.

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Tangential to my aforementioned attempts to be creative, here are some pics of the DIYs featured in my classroom!

lamp

These obscenities are the original versions of my lamps. I don’t have a lovely “after” pic, so just scroll back up to the pic of my desk and you’ll see them. I replaced the shades with cute beige/brown specked ones and spray painted the bases with textured gold outdoor spray paint. They remain as “thic” as ever, but now they’re also fierce!

You may have noticed my golden snitch string lights on my bookcase. These took one slow afternoon plus some yellow paint and white construction paper I already had. A.k.a. free.

In summation, I love my family and friends and I’m extremely lucky and totally optimistic. Again, let me know what I’m missing and wish me luck!!

 

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Love This? Try This! – “Romeo and Juliet” Graphic Novel

r&j

It’s been a hot minute since I did one of these! But then again, it’s also been a while since I read something that so strongly reflected its predecessors or inspirations. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve read another graphic novel by Gareth Hinds while teaching Homer’s The Odyssey; similarly, I know I have to teach Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet this year (*eye roll*), so I got Hinds’ graphic novel version to see if I can find a way to incorporate it.

Gareth Hinds’s stylish graphic adaptation of the Bard’s romantic tragedy offers modern touches — including a diverse cast that underscores the story’s universality.

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all-consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together? In a masterful adaptation faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, Gareth Hinds transports readers to the sun-washed streets and market squares of Shakespeare’s Verona, vividly bringing the classic play to life on the printed page.

First things first, if you love the classic tale of literature’s most famous star-crossed lovers, this adaptation does the original story justice. The language remains the same, so you’re not getting a “cheat sheet,” per se; however, in this format, you have the visual advantage of being able to see the characters and conversations, see who is speaking and to whom they are speaking. I really can’t say enough about having visuals, especially for stories that have elevated language that might confuse current-day readers. Having that visual assistance can only aid in understanding the plot.

Another advantage (in my opinion) of this format is that the content must be condensed so, thankfully, many of the pointless, rambling monologues are cut out entirely or reduced to only the parts that drive the story. To me, those moments where the Nurse would go off on a tangent never added to the story and instead only added to the level of student confusion. I’m thrilled that those are omitted and, honestly, wish I could teach with this graphic novel as the primary text. This adaptation includes everything that is pivotal to understanding the plot and social references. For those who are only reading this out of obligation and not by choice, this version would serve just as well as the original.

The most obvious difference between this graphic novel and the classic play is that the character families are portrayed as minority groups; the Capulets are Indian and the Montagues are Black. Hinds makes it clear that the choice to portray them as such is not pointed in regards to either culture and simply exists in order to show that the story is “universal” in its popularity and influence. Whether it was the goal or not, portraying the families in this way also makes it easier to determine which characters are Capulets vs. Montagues. Instead of just having a bunch of white people fighting and not knowing whose side each is on, for better or for worse, the difference in ethnicity helps readers understand sides. However, potentially also unknowingly, this gives the impression that the family feuds could relate to cultural differences, when such is not likely to be true in the original play.

My mission is to find a way to incorporate this graphic novel into our reading of the classic play as much as possible. If you remember my efforts with The Odyssey and Nimona, I have faced trouble with giving students access to the text. However, those attempts were at a school that did not have one-to-one capabilities, which I will have this year, so it is possible to give students access to an electronic copy. I’m going to go with that and see where it takes me.

In addition to the graphic novel, there are numerous film adaptations of the play. I was kindly gifted a copy of Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet,” featuring my boyfriend Leo. There are also other versions, like “Romeo Must Die,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” and “West Side Story.” I also have several songs that would be great for lyric analysis in regards to this play. I’m excited to teach it, in spite of the fact that Juliet and Romeo are as irritating as the day is long.

 

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Poll: Classroom Must-Haves

This week I went to sign my contract for my new job and fulfill some county training. While I did totally pay attention and no one can claim otherwise, I will admit that my brain was constantly thinking of items that I need to get for my classroom. While we were instructed about the hazards of overloading and outlets, I noted that I need like four power strips. While being told to be cautious about securing cleaning solutions out of student reach, I jotted down a desperate need for an endless supply of Clorox wipes.

It made me think about all the many things I may not realize that I need. Whether these are things for a brand new classroom that I’ll need to stock to levels of functioning, or if they’re just secret tools of the trade which are known only to seasoned veterans, I need to know about them! So let’s think about what all I know I need and then I can “poll the audience” to see what I’m missing!

The Bare Necessities

Let’s talk logistics. My classroom is a rectangle of four walls (obvs), but they’re made of plaster (god only knows why), which poses a problem in terms of being allowed to hang things. The “front” wall has the smart board and two white boards plus some empty wall space on either end, the “back” wall is all windows, and the two small walls are empty space. I’m restricted to painter’s tape should I want to hang anything, so I need that. Each of the four walls has one outlet station (with two or four outlets each, I forget). That’s right. ONE outlet spot per wall. So obviously, power strips are a necessity in the highest. Also, I’ll have 5 classes with at least 32 students in each, so I’ll see over 150 kids every day. This means clorox wipes, kleenex, hand sanitizer, and all other germ deterrents are mucho necessito. I’m fortunate in that my school will provide most basic classroom supplies (pencils, paper, index cards, post-its, etc.), but one thing I consider to be a basic necessity, which isn’t usually provided by the school, is a set of anchor charts with sticky adhesive on each page. They’re like giant post-its and are as versatile as their smaller counterparts. NEED!!

Personal Necessities

I am cold-natured. I get cold easily and often. The blessed thing about schools is that they keep the temperature low in order to deter the spreading of diseases, a courtesy for which I am most grateful. However, that means that I am FREAKING COLD for at least 40 hours a week, a fact which I cannot abide. Long story short: I need a space heater for my little tootsies. Similarly, I like a warm drink in the morning as my good-for-you-for-getting-up-so-early reward. Thus, I need a(nother) candle warmer (I already have one but it must stay home for my weekend tea). Has anyone else realized that those things keep your drink at the perfect temperature?!?! Lastly, I simply must have plants in my classroom. Back in the dark ages when I worked as an accountant, my cubicle resembled Fern Gully in the best possible way and I intend to continue that trend in my classroom. Must have Pothos!!

Personal “Luxuries”

I am going to try to avoid fluorescent lights. Thus, I need some good cheap lamps. I found a couple at Goodwill yesterday and they were bulbous and baby pink with dusty, gross shades, but they were $5 each so I got them and bought some new shades and spray paint. They’re in the midst of a renovation. I’m also looking for cheap, comfy chairs so that I can include some alternative seating options in the classroom. Now, this is year one so I’m not going balls-to-the-walls by making everything about my classroom an “alternative option,” but I would like to go ahead and start a collection so I can incorporate it slowly over time. I’m also way into book talks, so I got some small book easels on Amazon so I can feature new or relevant books each week.

I spent the past few days obsessing over my classroom library. I realized that the time off that I have now will be a thing of the past in a few short weeks, so I need to get done as many things as possible so that my transition into the classroom is fluid. Thus, I took down all my books (totaling over 150 at this point, and always growing), entered each ISBN into my Classroom Booksource account, stamped each with the embosser Hannah gave me, wrote my name on the top of each book, listed each (categorized by genre) on a master Google Doc., made colored genre labels, and put the corresponding colored sticker on each book. If it isn’t clear, this took days to complete and it messed up my living room, but with the hubby away, the wifey will organize/label/categorize/inventory. That’s the old saying, right?

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So, here is my question to you: what am I missing? What did I forget or overlook? Maybe you’re a teacher and you see a glaring error in my preparation. Or perhaps you aren’t a teacher, but you remember something a teacher has done that stuck out in your memory. Did you play games that made your learning fun? Was there one poster that captured your attention? Or maybe on the other end of things, was there something that was highly distracting or discouraging for you, the student? Any insights won’t just help me, they’ll help my students! Thanks and looking forward to what everyone has to say!

 

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Re-reading Things Because I Must: “The Odyssey”

I had the opportunity to teach [excerpts of] The Odyssey to two separate classes this past school year, so I had plenty of opportunities to experiment with secondary sources and supplemental texts. One text I want to go right ahead and endorse is Gareth Hinds’s graphic novel of the epic poem. It can be difficult to teach from a text when you don’t have one-to-one copies for all students, so I could only scan the chapters we read and project them as we read along with the poem. It wasn’t ideal, but it often helps striving readers to have visuals (besides the 90’s movie we watched), and it’s just a more modern medium. I adore this adaptation!

As with the previous units, I focused on an overall idea or theme, this time being “heroes;” the texts and discussions included in the unit led students to question the traits and actions that typically lead to the title of “hero,” as well as challenge whether someone can still be a hero if s/he occasionally acts in ways that go against those traits/actions. Odysseus is a perfect character upon which to focus these questions, since he is generally considered one of literature’s great heroes, but also does a great many things that challenge that title.

My main goal in this unit was to present the students with materials and questions that would force them to practice looking at events and actions through various perspectives and determine whether that perspective change affects heroic status. As with all my units, I want this to make sense on a literary level (obviously), but I also want it to make sense in the everyday lives of my students. I want them to practice seeing things from various perspectives. I want them to understand how those perspectives lead people to have different opinions of who is heroic and who is not. We live in difficult times. The more we equip the future generations to be compassionate, understanding individuals, the better our chances of creating a society in which we all treat each others with kindness and respect, and one way to gain respect for others is by making the effort to see his/her perspective.

savI challenged the students to begin by attempting to assume how the perspectives might have varied between the Greeks and the Trojans during the Trojan Horse episode, as a bit of background. To Greeks, it was a witty and brave action to infiltrate the walls and capture the city, thereby winning the war. To Trojans, though, the same actions look more like being tricked and massacred by an invading army. Similarly, students challenged Odysseus’ actions on the isle of the Cyclopes and his interactions with Polyphemus. Using a chart, students recorded the moments in which Odysseus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage, as well as when Polyphemus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage. The result was that both parties were clearly to blame for the death of Odysseus’ men and the delay in his return to Ithaca.

circeWe continued the challenge on perspective by pairing modern works with the ancient poem. Margaret Atwood is a pioneer of feminist perspective and often writes accounts of historical stories from the point of view of a minor character. After completing Book 10 and discussing Odysseus’ account of his time spent with Circe, we read and excerpt of Atwood’s “Circe/Mud Poems,” in which we get an interpretation of Circe’s negative opinion on Odysseus’ year-long visit. Students spent time reflecting on how this perspective conflicted with Odysseus’ account and in what ways the change in perspective affected Odysseus’ status as a hero in this particular Book.

pennyOur final perspective challenge was that of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Since women’s points of view were rarely included in ancient texts, Atwood takes the liberty to give voice to the voiceless, daring to reveal that Penelope might not be as chill about Odysseus’ 20-year absence and multiple affairs as Odysseus would have us believe. Since The Penelopiad is a full-sized novel, I gave students a handout containing the intro (from a dead and pissed Penelope) and first chorus (from the maids Odysseus slaughtered for “befriending” the suitors), and were again given time to reflect on how these perspectives challenge Odysseus’ account and his status as a hero.

Unsurprisingly, these brilliant students picked right up on the fact that the point of view was pivotal to heroic status. Most students finished the unit with powerful and passionate opinions on Odysseus’ heroic status, opinions which they argued and defended in final persuasive essays. We ended the unit by re-addressing the status of “hero,” as well as by briefly analyzing two antiheroes (Sir Ballaster Blackheart from the graphic novel Nimona and Dr. Horrible from “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) who often act more heroically than the heroes they fight. Going forward, if I get the chance to teach The Odyssey again, I’d love to spend more time with each of these, really digging into why the heroes in these accounts fail to to actually be as heroic as the “villains,” as well as what that means and how it applies to real life.

I truly hope that I get to teach The Odyssey again. As old as it is, I have no doubt that this unit was the most interesting and the most relevant for my students. I’d love to hear what others have done to teach it, or just what anyone thinks might help make it more meaningful and fun for 9th graders!

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