Words on Words

So it’s been a month since I wrote last. And it’s been a week since I got home from Teach for America’s summer training, called Institute: a non-stop five weeks full of professional development (of questionable efficacy), lesson planning and execution, and getting to know my first class of students. It was intense. I’m still recovering.

Which means I’m still processing everything I learned and everything I experienced: It was information overload to its finest, and now that I’m “back in reality,” in addition to making sense of everything, the confusion is compounded by the quest to secure housing in Milwaukee, planning my move in two weeks, and arranging visits with my friends in North Carolina before I leave. It’s been incredibly overwhelming.

I intend–and we know what we say about intentions–to share my thoughts on Institute more fully at a later time (after I’ve considered more deeply what I’m willing to share, and what’s in my best interest to keep private), and with all the uncertainty in my life right now, it’s difficult to articulate any amount of profundity on current events.

So to write something, I’m writing a post on words–in particular, the words I’m reading.

The Five Books I'm Presently Reading

The five books I’m presently reading–and what the rest of this post is about.

I thrive on structure and routine, and the way I’m regaining some semblance of security is through committing myself to reading: Books provide tangible, measurable goals, and reading itself is relaxing and helps me process all the things I’ve learned lately.

The first book I’m reading is What’s Math Got To Do With It? by Jo Boaler. The book was recommended to me by one of the greatest, most supportive individuals I met at Institute, who helped me through some of the most emotionally challenging times I had in Houston. While I was talking about how I believe all people are math people and that all that matters is that math is taught the right way (which was, at the time, contrary to what I had been told to do), I was told this book captured my frustration and articulated it. So I’ve read now through the intro and first chapter, and while part of me has had some negative gut reactions to what’s been said, I find myself resonating with most of it–the philosophy, the passionate approach to mathematics education, and the examples. I might not agree with everything, but as a novice teacher, if I can reap Boaler’s insights and meld them with my own, I can be all the better for my students.

The second book–yes, I am reading an entire bookshelf right now–is another one to empower me to be the best teacher I can be: It’s called Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov, and it’s a collection of teaching techniques learned from highly successful charter school teachers. Now, even with the knowledge I’ll be teaching at a charter school myself, I’m not sure how I feel about charter schools as a whole, but all of that’s besides the point: If these techniques work, then they work. And the truth is, as I read through the first few, I realized a lot of these techniques are ones I used in college tutoring, and I can easily see the merit and mindfulness in each of them.

The third book I’m actively reading is purely for pleasure: Everland by Wendy Spinale. The author’s debut novel, Everland is a steampunk retelling of Peter Pan, and while it’s obvious it’s a first book by the sheer vastness of moments where it could have been written better (more descriptively, less redundantly, avoiding basic fallacies in grammar and syntax that I learned to avoid by reading the best book on writing I’ve ever read, called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, which I highly recommend any aspiring writer to read), I’ve finally found myself drawn into the story–and I must admit, despite a frequent reliance on overworked distopian tropes, it’s rather inventive. However, I’m still slightly confused by exactly what time period this is set in (some details seem oddly anachronistic), and I frequently find myself groaning over the tense and person.

Please, for the love of all things literary, if you ever write a book, please do not write it in the first-person present-tense. This pairing was especially common in most fanfictions that I’ve read, and honestly, it should stay squarely in the amateur arenas: it’s clunky, and confusing, and begs for better use of literary devices. The only time I’ve seen it used successfully was in the Hunger Games, and every other time, it leaves a lot to be desired: either important moments are washed out because of narrator blind spots and an inability to distort time and tension without taking it out on the characters and implying they’re all sorts of mentally messed up, or so many details are included, the logical relationship between details begins to blur and break apart.

The form seems ingenious (after all, isn’t it like living life right in the moment?) and when done correctly, it can be, but it takes a lot to make it work correctly, and there are so many better ways to write a compelling story. So if you ever feel compelled to write an epic in the first-person present-tense, please, just don’t.

Or edit yourself until it’s done right, and don’t settle for anything less than literary perfection. Your readers, whoever they are, will appreciate it, and let’s be frank, your story deserves better than the mistakes made in Divergent and Everland.

Anyways, there are two other books I’m technically reading right now that are, realistically, inactive endeavors: The first of these is the Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal (I know, I know, the irony’s a killer), and the second is Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, which is a book on the meditation practice called sleep yoga.

Eventually, I’ll get through all of these books, and others: I’m dreading moving all my books to Milwaukee, but if I budget my time correctly, I should be able to begin reading through all of them, and trust me, there’s a lot of volumes I don’t intent to keep past reading. Hopefully there’s as good a used bookstore in Milwaukee as there is in North Carolina (that’d be Edward McKays, in case you’re wondering).

Anyways, I’ve said in this moment all I’ve intended to say, and hopefully I’ll return after this with more regularity. Now that the silence is broken, perhaps the words will flow.

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3 thoughts on “Words on Words

  1. I have never heard of sleep meditation but would like to check it out. As for the teaching part, I am a teacher and I have to say how lucky the students will be to have you. You went to this intensive course, am assuming it is not mandatory, and you are spending your summer reading and preparing for Sept. Whoever thinks Teachers have the summer ‘off’ is misguided. I am not sure what grade or subject you will be teaching but feel free to msg me if you have questions :)

    • The summer training is required for new Teach for America corps members, as is being co-enrolled in a certification program (my classes begin next week). With that said, I do want to go above and beyond for my kids, because they deserve it, but I also know I need to strike a balance in my life so I don’t burnout, because then I won’t be a good teacher at all. Thank you for your kind words, and I apologize for not replying any sooner.

      • Hope your summer training went great. Summer training is not required in Canada. Have never heard of Teach for America but they sound like they offer great programs. Good luck in the new teaching year. If I can be of assistance please ask.

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