It’s me!

How seeing themselves in books can help students read better

Hamilton was released on Disney+ just in time for Independence Day. In light of recent events, I know alot of people did not think year was a good year to celebrate Independence Day. I disagreed.

In fact, events like Hamilton are THE reason why Independence Day should still be celebrated during tumultuous times in our country. Alexander Hamilton was an orphan from the Caribbean who became one of the founding fathers of the U.S. Hundreds of years later, my White dad and Asian mom brought me to this country. Mixed couples like my parents who tried to get married a few decades earlier were thrown in jail. That is why I celebrated Independence Day this year.

After Hamilton was released for streaming, a video of a young girl seeing Phillipa Soo portray Eliza Hamilton went viral. “It’s me!” the girl exclaimed. The little girl was Asian and excitedly recognized her face in Soo’s face, just as I, a 39-year-old-woman, did.

Growing up, seeing someone like me on tv or in books usually just meant looking for the character who was good in school or, if I was lucky, the girl with brown hair. Thinking on it now, it’s interesting because my school was about 50% White and 50% Hispanic and Black (I was one of two Asian kids in the school). Fourth through sixth grades switched to primarily hispanic because we bussed in kids from a smaller and poorer school who were all hispanic. So, even though I went to school with mixed cultures, most of the kids still flocked to the books entrenched in White culture. There were only two books in the library that featured Asian culture at all, but I still identified more with the Black faces on books than I did with all the White faces.

As I got older, I loved fantasy books and mystery, but they usually featured White boys (Chronicles of Prydain, My Father’s Dragon, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher among my favorites). I loved my Baby-Sitters Club books because there was an actual Asian girl in there. Later, the books featured a Black baby-sitter too. Two characters of color out of eight total doesn’t seem like much, but it was in the 1980s. It always seemed like the girls in school were divided by the Sweet Valley High fans and the Baby-Sitters Club fans. There was no way that I could identify with the pale skin, blond hair, and blue eyes, much less twins at a well-off school.

Last year, I taught first grade at a school with primarily low-income Hispanic students. My class mostly picked picture books that were related to popular characters – Pokemon, Disney Princesses, etc. My higher kids really liked series books like Dog Man and Pete the Cat. The most popular pop culture characters in my class were Sonic, Mario, and Pennywise (!) among the boys and Elsa, JoJo Siwa, and any fuzzy animal among the girls. Because their own picks did not seem to reflect their own heritage, my teacher team made sure to provide classroom reading books with diverse characters. We actively added topics and images of students in our lessons who looked like our students. One of the reading objectives was for students to find how they could relate to characters and events in stories. Truly, how could a student of color living in Section 8 housing identify with a story where a White kid’s White parents have two cars and live in a two-story house with more rooms and bathrooms than people?

As a book lover and teacher, maybe I am biased about the power of books. Even so, I honestly believe that one of the best things you can do for your children is surround them with books about a variety of subjects and characters. This year, I will be teaching third grade. The diverse library of books I have for first graders needs to be updated so that my new third grade class can see themselves in the books. If they can see themselves in the characters and relate to the stories, then they are more likely to be interested in the books and want to read more.

With that in mind, I created a Donors Choose project because I cannot afford to buy all of the books for a new class library. Texas schools will be opening in person in August and my students will already be stressed about our new rules and having to come back to school after five months at home. While we try to deal with the ever-changing landscape that the Coronavirus forces us into, I want my students to be comforted by familiar things like books. When the virus gets bad enough and we all have to return to remote learning, I want to be able to send books home to any student who does not have internet access or limited access to technology and/or parental help. These students and parents are struggling and trying their best in a difficult situation. For many of my students last year, the couple of books they took with them were the only books they had to read at home.

If you are able to, please donate to my Donors Choose project and spread the word! If you add the code LIFTOFF, donations up to $50 will be matched for the next seven days! If you have any other suggestions about what I can do in my classroom to encourage an environment of inclusion or to help my students when we switch to distance learning, please let me know. I am open to anything that will help my students learn or ease the stress that they and their families face during these confusing times.

Random Saturdays – No! Sleep! ‘Til…uh…hmm…

The Beastie Boys have written part of the soundtrack to my life, which is why it’s so great that the new Star Trek movies have incorporated my favorite Beastie Boys song into their DNA.  The only problem is that I am no longer young enough to keep going on the rockin’ musics and adrenaline alone.  I require that oh so in demand necessity that I once thought was for babies and old people – SLEEP.

When I lived alone and my job was different, I did not get enough sleep.  I found myself napping on the weekends with a kitten curled beside me and PBS making some nice quiet noise in the background.  I’d feel lazy and useless, but well-rested by the time I got back to work on Mondays.  Then, things at work changed.  I began getting to work early, working through lunch, staying late, and then working all night as I got calls.  I still didn’t mind much, though.  I mean, it’s not like I was missing time with my husband or kids.  It was just me and the cat and the cat was fine as long as she could curl up beside me on the couch while I worked.

Eventually, a family did calculate into my life and I struggled to figure out how to keep all my priorities, well, priorities.  I kinda sorta found a semblance of what I could pretend was balance, except that my health evaporated.  I had no time for sleep, so I hate high energy foods and drank high calorie beverages.  That might not have been so bad if I had been expending high amounts of physical energy rather than high amounts of emotional and mental energy.  Even worse, my diet and lack of energy meant that if I sat still, my eyes would close and I would fall asleep.  So, even when I was at work or with my family & friends, I was not really with them because I was either willing my eyes to stay open or falling asleep.

I’m trying to eat better now (the whole, smaller, but more regular meals thing), which is working well.  I don’t eat seconds.  I even skip desserts.  Sometimes.  I’m trying to stay active, at least doing more around the house and making sure I get some yoga stretches in daily.  Yet, I still cannot get enough sleep.  Even when I lay down and have time for sleep, I cannot sleep.  My body is exhausted.  I cannot keep my eyes open.  I cannot sleep.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been battling some kind of sinus thing that turned into a head cold.  Before it turned into bronchitis or anything truly fun, I got on the Z-pak and steroid regiment for a few days.  Today was the last day.  It helped me limp through the weekend of outdoor football with the kiddos, but I didn’t really feel any better until I finally got some sleep on Saturday night.  I knew that I would have my first subbing job on Monday, followed by a full evening of my regular job.  So, I was in bed by 10 PM and I did not get out of bed until 5:15 AM.  I didn’t sleep much, but I did rest.  The steroids make sleep difficult.

At school, I ran mostly on adrenaline and steroids.  It was exhilarating and new!  I loved it!  As I told Ben, “I only repeated myself once or twice to even the most confused or worst behaved kids and it was so much better than repeating myself 15 times to someone who gets paid three times more than me to be five times dumber than me.”  I came home and took a nap until Ben was ready to grab a quick dinner.  I also requested a stop by Starbucks for a coffee.

Guess who called on the way out – the teacher for whom I subbed today!  I was baffled, sure that she had called to personally chew me out for doing such a terrible job today.  It turns out, her flight was late and she was wondering if I’d be able to cover for her tomorrow morning.  My first thought was, “No.  It cannot be done.”  Then, I thought, “Well, I probably won’t be able to sleep until tomorrow afternoon when the last of the steroids wear off anyway.  I get off work at 5 AM, which is exactly enough time to have breakfast, have some coffee, take a shower, and get ready to go to the school.”  Plus, wow, this teacher still trusts me enough with her kids that she wants me to sub again?

I felt like this is one of those teensy tiny opportunities that can so easily be thrown away.  Later on down the road, when I have my certificate and am trying to get a job at the school, these teachers might say, “Oh, she’s subbed for me before, and I guess she was okay.  I dunno.”  Or, they might say, “Wasn’t that the weirdo who agreed to sub that one time for a few hours when we really needed her?”  Plus, alot of the teachers are out right now because of colds & flus and I’m just getting over mine.  So, I can feel for them and I might as well try to help where I can.

By the time this blog is published, I may have slept.  Maybe I’ll be in Brooklyn.  Most likely, I will be at the kids’ football games in Nowheresville, TX, trying not to fall asleep.

Random Saturdays – Fall Time, Busy Time

Man, it has been a really long time since my last post.  I think of new blog posts daily, usually when I’m in the bathroom, driving in the car, or falling asleep.  By the time I sit down in front of a computer with internet access, I’m either working, looking for a teaching job, or working on the budget and blog posts are the furthest thing from my mind.

I do not like my job anymore.  I am not proud of the company for which I work.  I absolutely adore the people on my team, though.  There are some other friends that I’ve made at work that completely make it worth having gotten that job at all.  I appreciate my team and my boss being so supportive of me trying to switch careers and allowing me to adjust my work schedule.  There is just not a better group of people with which I could hope to work.  Even so, I feel like all of our hard work is for naught and that we’re all just biding our time until we are let go.  I feel like the only reason to stay in a situation like that is if you really believe in your work and what it contributes to the company as a whole.  I do not feel this way at all.

That’s why I decided to switch gears and get into teaching.  I see all of these ads encouraging people to become teachers.  I read article after article of how in demand good teachers are in Texas.  I have known people who are in teaching for all the wrong reasons and cannot understood how they were ever hired in the first place.  I figured that if I was going to have to deal with the difficulties that come with any job, I would also like to have the feeling, at least once a year, that I may have actually made a difference to at least one person – one child.

Becoming a teacher, especially if you are switching careers and cannot afford to work for free for a year is extremely difficult.  I’ve learned that I just have to to bide my time, and wait to jump on every tiny little crack in the door that I find.  I have never pursued a career so aggressively in my life.  I am SPAMming people with my applications.  I am updating my online applications weekly.  I am reading articles and literature, trying to find advice for teachers, for their struggles, for their successes, for teaching methods, for all things education (especially in Texas).

I did get accepting as a substitute into a local school district.  It’s actually a really top notch school district and I consider myself lucky that my first foray into teaching will be in such a great school district with wonderful support staff and eager students.  Because of my primary job, my family obligations, and my health, I will only be able to sub on Mondays and maybe the occasional Friday.  I wish I could sub more, get to know the schools, employees, teachers, and students in the district more, but I’m lucky that I get to have a full-time job and still sub.  Tonight, I signed up for my first job subbing at an elementary school!

I.  AM.  SO.  EXCITED!!!

I’m sick, feel like crud, running on fumes, and filled with cold meds, asthma meds, allergy meds, and steroids.  It’s going to be a struggle to get through this week, and I’m not completely sure how I’m going to get through Monday.  It’s important that I kick this teaching dream into gear, though.  Part of the reason I’m on all of these meds is because we have our kids this weekend and have to spend all of Saturday in Nowheresville, TX for the boys’ football games.  (I’m not going to rant about that right now.)  Why am I spending Saturday in towns that I hate watching the only sport that I hate?  Because I love my kids to the moon and back.

I almost didn’t accept the subbing gig on Monday because I thought maybe I’ll still be sick, maybe I should use that time to rest, maybe I should wait until a better time, blah, blah, blah.  Then, I slapped myself, realizing that if I want to teach, then I need to teach.  I’m lucky that my first exposure to this is as a sub because I have minimal responsibility and can follow in the express guidance of an experienced teacher.  I can get the feel of teaching, get the feel of this school district, and get the feel of this school without putting my entire career on the line.  That’s purty danged cool.  Plus,  Monday is the last day that I’ll have the steroids and antibiotics.  So, if my health doesn’t improve after I’m done with this round of meds, then I’m going to be sick awhile and will need to go back to the doctor, which will delay teaching even more.  Instead of looking for reasons to delay my dreams of teaching, I have to find ways to make it frippin’ happy.

This weekends plans:  Work.  Cook a buncha pancakes for brunch on Saturday.  Spend the rest of Saturday in Nowheresville, TX and Other Nowheresville, TX for small town elementary school football games.  Go to church.  Work on the budget.  Get family photos done.  Laundry.  Clean.   Prepare to teach.  Get healthy.

That’s not so bad, right?