My students and I have been working on argumentative texts, and I swore on Facebook not too long ago that I would ensure my students would never forget how to evaluate an argument and a source.
So I turned to Google while lesson planning and discovered the CRAAP method for examining sources. All you have to do is ask yourself is this source CRAAP to analyze for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose–and voila, the children remember how to evaluate a source! And they get to say CRAAP in the classroom, so it makes them feel like they can cuss but actually aren’t! Students love that cusp of danger feeling!
And my teacher soul radiated warm fuzzies every time I heard them say CRAAP while discussing texts about failure.
CRAAP never sounded so good! CRAAP was magic! They were learning! They would know forever how to evaluate a resource!
While my students did test corrections yesterday, I examined exit tickets that analyzed if a failure fluff piece from Medium.com was a compelling argument.
What did my students do in their formal writing???
Used the word CRAAP–EVERYWHERE.
I audibly groaned everytime I came across a sentence that said “this source isn’t CRAAP.”
Not only did they come up with incorrect answers (sigh, only like five kids said the source and the argument itself was crappy), they actually thought saying CRAAP in their writing was a brilliant idea!!!
After having done a badass job of teaching how to evaluate sources and arguments using articles about failure, I WAS AND AM THE FAILURE AND IT MADE ME FEEL CRAPPY.
Crap. Crap. Crap. Extra Crap.
What if they do that on their benchmark???? Or god forbid the LEAP test????
How do I get the CRAAP out of them?
Well, that sounded terrible, but you know what I mean!
Looks like they’re in for a crappy Tuesday because they’re going to be rewriting those exit tickets.
(Sidebar: When I looked at these same exit tickets, so many students kept referring to the author by his first name. I asked my fourth block why–because they fully know to use the author’s last name. Their response? His last name was too hard to spell so it was easier to use his first name.)
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: And Other Questions About Dead Bodies by Caitlin Doughty–published 2020–nonfiction/science–four stars: Ummmmm, well, that was equal parts fascinating and horrifying. Did I need to know any of this dead body trivia? Nope! But now I’m as full of corpse facts as a cadaver is full of funky smells. Also, my mind is still reeling from now knowing that in Germany and Belgium graves are rented and that instead of eating eyeballs cats would more likely eat their dead owner’s noses or lips. I’m never looking at my already evil cat the same way again. From now on, I’ll be smearing orange essential oil (you know, because cats hate oranges) all over my body daily–in case I die an untimely death alone in my own home–in an attempt to repel my cat from feasting on my carcass.
A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir–published 2018–YAL fantasy–four stars: I put off reading the third installment of this series because I was terrified it would disappoint me. IT DIDN’T! Now I finally understand the choice to have the Blood Shrike as a narrator, which I disliked in book two. And hello unpredictable plot twist!! Since the Nightbringer is brought in as a narrator in the last chapter, does that mean he’s going to have his own chapters in book four? Also, Elias–Is. Making. My. Darn. Heart. Hurt. I have so many questions.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson–published 2020–YAL mystery–four stars: Seventeen-year-old Enchanted wants to be a music star, and when uber-famous musician Korey Fields wants to take her under his wing to groom her, she convinces her parents to allow her to go on tour with him. The book begins with Korey’s murder and flashes back to Chanty’s story of being caught in his predatory snare. Did Chanty do it? I rounded up my rating for Grown. The plot is compelling and hits relevant criticisms of our racist, sexist society. There’s an R. Kelly/Jeffrey Epstein vibe to Korey, and Jessica is totally a more vengeful Ghislaine Maxwell. Parts are hard to swallow because of the ick factor, but it doesn’t get explicit. My main issue with this book and why it’s not a flat-out four is because I found it dialogue heavy with light narration. The dialogue felt cheesy too.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria–published 2020–romance–three stars: Jasmine, an up and coming Latinx soap opera star, lands a lead on Carmen in Charge, a telenovela on a big-name streaming service. When the actor originally slated to be her love interest falls through, he is replaced by Ashton Suárez, a dashing telenovela staple. After their meet-cute where Ashton spills coffee all over Jasmine on day one on set, Jasmine can’t deny that he’s unbelievably sexy and more than a little aloof. But before she knows it, their chemistry on screen and off has her “Leading Lady” plan all in a tailspin. I liked that this wasn’t first-person alternating chapters between Ashton and Jasmine. A third-person narrator slips in and out of both their minds throughout the narrative. I liked that this was different from any other romance I’ve read. A romance novel set on a Telenovela with a wide range of Latinx characters? Heck yeah! And it’s so steamy in places that I had to turn the fan on. It’s a fun read, but it lacks real substance and quality writing.
A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes #4) by Sabaa Tahir–published 2020–YAL fantasy–three stars: A disappointing end to the series. I’d like to chalk up my disinterest to being preoccupied, but the storyline had major gaps, particularly at the beginning. The cliffhangers were anticlimactic and pedestrian. When POVs switched, I couldn’t keep track of who was telling the story–because Laia, Helene, and Elias all read like the same character by the end. And the characters who were killed off? I didn’t even cry. And I should have, but they were obvious choices. I hated the last few chapters because things felt too perfectly wrapped up. After reading, I get the uneasy feeling that Tahir is planning to write a prequel featuring Keris’s story, even though all the Commandant’s loose ends were tied up.
How to Be an Antiracistby Ibram X. Kendi–published 2019–nonfiction/race–four stars: A fascinating argument. I liked how Kendi examined his own ideas about race and explained how his own thinking had been wrong.
People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd–published 2021–thriller–three stars: And my first published in 2021 read features…wait for it…an influencer who has a stalker! Didn’t I read four different variations of this book last year? Except this time, it’s set in England and features an Insta-mum and her has-been novelist husband…
The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5) by Andrzej Sapkowski–published 2007–fantasy–two stars: Can a girl Witcher wrong? I started with the book that should have appeared chronologically first, but ughhhh. It’s a whole bunch of long-ass short stories, so every time one would end, I felt like I needed to read a different book. The stories were confusing. This was originally published in the 90s in Polish. I don’t feel like it aged well. It’s pretty heavy on let’s-kill-lady-monsters in the first few stories. Is it any good on Netflix?
Magic Lessons (Practical Magic, #0.1) by Alice Hoffman–published 2020–historical fiction/fantasy–four stars: Can we just appoint Alice Hoffman witch laureate already? That’s a thing right? Get ready to find out how the Owens’s family curse began.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas–published 2020–YAL LGBT fantasy–three stars: Fifteen-year-old Latinx Yadriel, trans and gay, lives in a cemetery and can see ghosts. His father, head of the brujos, refuses to let Yads join their magical ranks because his father doesn’t think that the brujo’s magic will extend to Yadriel. When Yadriel’s cousin Miguel goes missing, Yadriel takes matters into his own hands and performs the rite of passage ceremony anyway with the help of his cousin Maritza. While searching for clues for Miguel, Yadriel summons another ghost Julian, a recently deceased boy of his own age who’s hyper and inquisitive, and promises Julian to help find out who murdered him. I wanted to love this book, but I anticipated the major twists.
Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida–published 2021–romantic comedy–four stars: Apparently cracked screens are the new book jacket rage?Mia wakes up in a hospital bed with amnesia, but she’s donning a fantastic designer dress, so she figures she’s a big deal. Using Instagram and her boyfriend’s (who she hasn’t met yet and isn’t sure she trusts) housesitter as a guide, Mia sashays (bumbles?) her way into unlocking her true identity. In order to completely enjoy this book, disband your sense of reality. Its premise is pretty far out there, but I found it funny and lighthearted. It reminded me of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, total guilty pleasure reads.
Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women #1) by Evie Dunmore–published 2019 historical romance–four stars: A COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE GENERIC BAND-AID TO SLAP OVER THE GAPING WOUND LEFT AFTER BINGEING AND FINISHING NAME BRAND BRIDGERTON.
Concrete Rose(The Hate U Give #0) by Angie Thomas–published 2021–YAL–four stars: Once 17-year-old Maverick (Starr’s daddy from The Hate U Give) finds out that he has a son, he struggles between cleaning up his act or continuing to deal drugs. I love that this is written from Mav’s first-person perspective. Overall, it’s not as well done as THUG–enough with cheesy dialogue in YAL already–but it’s still a great book.
1984 by George Orwell: I read about 130 pages. It was boring. It was narration heavy, and I couldn’t figure out if Orwell hated women or loved them.
How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century by Erik Olin Wright: I quit this one after 50 pages or so. I wasn’t expecting a history lesson about communism.
(P.S. WordPress and I are fighting today. I apologize that some cover art is bigger than others and that Concrete Rose is left aligned. It won’t let me left align the other pictures now either. Hmmmmppphhh. There’s some glitch that’s preventing me from fixing these unsightly things.)
Miss, take my hopeful heart and
eat it à la carte.
There's too much at
Stake it to your
Stake it to your
Miss, take it for
before you find out I'm
a selfish rake.
Don't let it
Miss, take my hopeful heart--
before you realize it's
If I were to open my MyChart app for you, you’d see a scary list of my illnesses: ulcerative colitis, fibromyalgia, Ménière’s, and IBS–to name a few. And while they sucketh harder than all marathons ever run collectively, most of my chronic issues are hidden beneath my cracked wide-open and bleeding (thanks visible psoriasis), painful to the touch most days (thanks invisible fibromyalgia), and purple-then-blue-then-white-then-red (thanks visible Raynaud’s) epidermis.
But if you were to open my classroom door and stay for a while, you’d see another of my afflictions (and I’m not talking about my very visible llama problem). While it doesn’t cause me any physical pain, the emotional distress it inflicts upon me makes me feel embarrassed and like a failure.
You’d expect this funny, vibrant, spunky, whimsical (if I do say so myself) English teacher to be downright eloquent, a blonde version of John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society, but, y’all–I. Hate. To. Read. Aloud. In. Class. Because. I. Fuck. It. Up—-so hard.
I read ALL the time but–to myself. And while my dad read the funnies out loud to me as a child, I don’t remember other adults consistently reading texts aloud to me. I might be misremembering, because my brain is fickle, but I’m fairly certain that by middle school, we did most of our reading for English class by ourselves. What does this boil down to? I haven’t heard a shit-ton of words that I would recognize in print ever pronounced. So throughout the years, I made up my own pronunciations. Yeah, I used to sit with a dictionary to look up a word’s meaning, but I never bothered with the pronunciation. It’s a whole hell of a lot easier now to stop and have Google’s online dictionary pronounce schadenfreude for you than it was in the 90s because a hardcover Webster’s Dictionary lacked that feature. I’ve blundered through words like caste, propitious, and scythe because I’d never heard them spoken only to have students correct me. That shit’s embarrassing. And it happens all the time. Once I even had a parent call to complain that I didn’t pronounce yeoman correctly while teaching The Canterbury Tales for the first time. Sorry that I’m not fluent in Middle English? How often is that word used in casual conversation? Also, get over yourself. I can’t ever get ahead of myself either because the curriculum is always changing. Next year? I get a brand-new curriculum (woohoo?), meaning new literature and an unexplored minefield of words I’ve never heard spoken.
Y’all. The amount of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, and Spanish that is embedded in the texts that we read throws me for a loop as well. This Midwesterner who relocated to the deep Cajun French South only knows how to say bonjour in French. I can read some Greek, from studying abroad, and am even better at reading Russian (thanks college), but pronouncing Greek and Russian words? Nope. I bombed every Russian oral exam. Last year I taught The Odyssey, and I told the students, hey, I’ve never taught this before, there’s a lot of Greek, let’s work through this together. And it took us several rounds to remember how to say Telemachus, Antinous, Aeaea, etc., correctly. We just finished Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize Lecture “Hope, Despair, and Memory” last week, and I know I mispronounced every single thing in Hebrew and several allusions–despite looking up how to say them beforehand. It takes time to commit how to say previously unknown words to memory.
There are just some words I can’t say. Like magnanimity. Despite listening to how to say this word on repeat, I can’t say it. I go all Nemo trying to say anemone and start thinking about magma and then the Magna Carta, and now I’ve exposed you to the rabbit hole that is my brain. Sorry!!!!
Fibromyalgia. Most of the time, my fibro is invisible, but I struggle with cognitive function and brain fog if I’m in a flare, making my fibro finally visible. It’s worse in the morning and at night. What’s it like? Not being able to pronounce words that you know how to say. Slurring your words when you’re reading or talking when you are dead sober. The inability to find the word you want to use, even when it’s staring you dead in the face. Transposing letters in words. Saying one word when you meant to use a different one. Not being able to form a sentence period in the morning when you’re supposed to get students excited about literature and the kids look at you like you’re stupid when language fails you. And now that I’ve written this, I wonder just how much my fibro prevents me from mastering numbers 2-3.
So how does this English teacher who hates to read aloud because she can’t spoken-word well cope? She relies heavily on audio versions of texts, and when she can’t find audio, she explains herself and asks for a little grace.
As a teacher, talk about your own struggles, issues, illnesses, etc., to normalize that it’s okay to discuss things that society would rather see swept under the rug. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, Mrs. Ram is struggling today due to a fibro flare, so please excuse her as she tortures your eardrums while she reads this aloud to you.”
And answer their questions if they have any, and move on. Some of them will judge you, no matter what you say (or in my case how you say it), but you’d be surprised how forgiving students (and people in general) can be when you’re honest about your own limitations and invisible battles you might be fighting.
Waste less food. I throw away an embarrassing amount of food. If anyone has any tips for this, please share. I can solve part of this with some thinking and research. But my ulcerative colitis, IBS, and fibromyalgia cause very weird, very real food issues, making me waste food too. My stomach hates food reheated in a microwave. I can taste food packaging and taste smells from stores, like for real; Costco meat tastes like plastic and what the inside of the store smells like. I can taste the difference between a bag of On The Border tortilla chips purchased at Walmart versus one purchased at Winn-Dixie or Rouses. If I eat food that’s been open for longer than a day, like a bag of chips or chicken stock, I’ll end up curled up in a ball of pain in my bed until the pain passes. Unless we order in, I cook every night, sometimes three different meals because why should Goose and Little Thing suffer? Is there an affordable meat delivery service that I’m unaware of? (And I’d love to eat less meat, but my body tolerates it. I can’t handle most protein alternatives.) Should I shop more frequently so things don’t go bad? I know wasting less food is going to be challenging with all my bizarre issues, but I’m really going to try.
Start working out again. I have serious foot problems that have prevented me from truly working out for a couple of years. I love yoga, but how do you do yoga when you can’t even walk barefoot around the house anymore? I tried to get back into it before Christmas break, and icing my feet after and massaging them out with a rolling pin helped, but it wasn’t a panacea. Would yoga shoes help? I go for walks around the neighborhood and would like to jog, but if you see me walking around the neighborhood, it’s not in a true tennis shoe. Vionics have worked wonders for me, but both their tennis shoes and inserts don’t–at least for me. If anyone knows of an exceptional orthopedic tennis shoe that I should try, please let me know.
I ended up reading way less young adult and middle grade literature this year for some bizarre reason. Maybe because I read more nonfiction? And while I only had one five star YA/MG read this year, the four star books on this list are totally excellent and binge-able.
Sadie by Courtney Summers–published 2018–young adult mystery–five stars.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo–published 2020–young adult contemporary/poetry–four stars.
Tired of giving gift cards, coffee mugs, and home-baked goodies to your children’s teachers every year for Christmas?
Have you put off shopping for teacher gifts because you lack good ideas?
Look no further! I’ve got some great teacher gift ideas for you.
Plants. I squealed in delight when the school librarian dropped off this perfect little succulent in my room this week.
Once, I received a begonia hanging basket and about died on the spot. If your child showed up with a tiny poinsettia for me, I would explode with Christmas joy. Seriously, consider giving plants this Christmas. They’re inexpensive and unexpected.
A lunch-sized Crock-Pot. If you’re willing to spend a little more on a Christmas gift, this is perfect for teachers. I purchased one for myself, and it has been life-changing. Some schools don’t allow teachers to have their own microwaves in their rooms, and right now using a communal microwave grosses me out. With COVID, lots of teachers have to monitor students during lunch and can barely find the time to eat, let alone heat up their lunch. I plug in my baby Crock-Pot at the end of third block, and my chicken and veggie soup or pot roast is the perfect temperature by the end of fourth block. Every teacher I know who has one can’t live without theirs.
Cool handmade shit you or your friends make. ‘Tis the season to promote yourself! Last year, I received a gorgeous pottery ornament and bowl made by a student’s mother. I’ve gotten the most delicious salsa that a student’s mother sells, and once I tasted it, I turned around and bought some to give to my friends for Christmas. And while I’m not crafty, I have friends who are. One of my besties from high school makes the MOST gorgeous and fantastic artisan soaps, so guess what Little Thing’s teachers are getting this year?
I’m sure you have friends who make earrings, bath bombs, hot chocolate bombs, etc. Support your friends, and give the cool shit they make to your kids’ teachers.
Cool handmade shit your kids make. I have received gifts that have made me cry and are framed and precious and I will cherish them forever and ever. (Rambly incoherent sentence intended because I’m incoherent just thinking about them.) I had a student two years ago paint me this. I was a mess for the rest of the day.
I had a student draw this for me one year. (Context: Mrs. Ram, that’s me, loves Goose, my husband’s nickname, with Little Thing watching the two of us. I die now, okay?)
Your kids are talented. I love to get their works of art.
Gifts that relate to the teacher’s classroom theme. More than likely, your kids’ teachers’ classrooms are decorated with a theme. Mine’s decorated in llamas, so anything llama related is welcome! Llama sticky notes? Yes, please! Llama pencils? Sure! Llama stuffed animals, hand towels, or journals? Absolutely! Ask your kids how their teachers’ classrooms are decorated and go from there.
Gift cards to local businesses. Okay, I know I started this post by saying Tired of giving gift cards…but but but. Think outside the box with this one. Don’t just go with gift cards for Amazon, Walmart, Target, or Starbucks. Think local, especially with small businesses being hit hard this year. Give the gift of a manicure or pedicure! Give the gift of your favorite Mexican restaurant! Give the gift of your favorite florist or boutique!
But in all honesty, teachers enjoy all the gifts they receive. They will love every coffee mug and Starbucks gift card they receive.
It’s just nice to be recognized and appreciated, especially during such a tumultuous school year.
I’m rather wistful this morning. Here are two things that I’ve been missing HARD because of the pandemic:
Wearing fancy earrings. I have a whole drawer full of golden hoops, tortoise shell danglies, leather teardrops, and Kendra Scott knockoffs that are slowly going out of style. Instead, I’m donning studs, BORING, because I am fearful of losing an earlobe when tearing my mask off my face after class ends. Have you ever ripped a piercing wide open? I have— between freshman and sophomore year of college waiting tables at my cousin’s restaurant. I bussed a table using a big Rubbermaid container and brought it back to the dishwashing area. As I was setting it down, its lip got caught on my belly button ring and ripped that senior-year-in-high-school-spring-break-bad-decision right out. I screamed. It hurt like hell. For years the top of my bellybutton looked like it had floppy devil horns hanging upside down from it. I don’t want my ears to suffer the same fate. Occasionally I’ll sport my fancy earrings anyway when I want to live on the wild side or simply forget the dangers of fancy earring wearing. The only upside to wearing them is if you wear hoops. Then at least when you take your mask off, the hoopies catch the elastic and your mask can hang like a hammock from them if you don’t feel like putting your mask on your desk.
Name brand hand sanitizer. All I want for Christmas is some Germ-X or Purell. That cheap shit smells like tequila, and by nine a.m., WHILE I’M TEACHING CHILDREN, all I can think about is a giant top-shelf margarita. I’ve had to stop myself mid lesson from sniffing it because I’m all nostalgic for bygone Friday afternoon happy hours with my teacher friends. It’s not fair that my classroom smells like a Mexican restaurant when it’s unsafe to even patronize (Patrón-ize?) one currently. So if you walk past my classroom door and see me fondling a bottle of GermsNoMore and bringing it lovingly up to my nose, I might need you to come in and confiscate it and replace it with some chips and salsa, thank you very much.
If you need me for anything this Thanksgiving break, you can find me in my backyard wearing my favorite tortoise shell oversized hoopies sipping a massive margarita in my not-yet-purchased hammock.
What are the random things that you miss, friends?