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TEACHER VOICES: Marni Spitz, #9

My Teacher Box

ms. spitz 4favicon Right before the bell, a student coyly slipped me a card. J’s attendance in my class had been off and on for a while, but recently, he had been present more often. “My mom wanted me to give this you, Ms. Spitz. I have NO idea what she wrote so…yeah.”

He smiled, went straight to his seat, and before I could say thanks or open the letter, sixth period on a Tuesday with all its beautiful chaos and glory was underway.

That same Tuesday, I gave a writing assignment. I thought it was well-planned, well-taught, and so when none of my students were chomping at the bit to get it done, I got frustrated. How could they not want to read FDR’s speech? This is a piece of freaking art, people! I tried to motivate them, to energize them, and at one point, I think I even tried singing. But still, I felt like I was talking to a wall. Or to a bunch of teenagers on a weary Tuesday afternoon. A name by any other name would smell just as sweet. :)

Earlier that Tuesday, I got called into a parent meeting during my prep. A bright, wonderful young man had been suspended for bringing a pot cookie to school. Not the end of the world. But what came to light in the meeting was that this amazing kid was dealing with a ton of trauma at home. Things that no one, let alone a 16-year-old, should have to be dealing with. It made my heart hurt.

Indie MarniThat Tuesday was in many ways,  just a typical day at work: A lesson plan that didn’t go great, a failed attempt to sing Mariah Carey to energize my classroom, and a student who needs some extra support, love, and guidance. But when I came home, I was feeling sad and unsuccessful—two of my least favorite feelings. On most days like this (because they happen—no matter how long you’ve been at this teaching thing), a jam sesh to the Hamilton musical on the elliptical or a snuggle-sesh with my dog (look at her! isn’t she the best?) will do the trick. But on that Tuesday, I needed something more.  And that’s when I remembered the letter.

It was still tucked away in my computer case, and in all the craziness of that Tuesday, I had forgotten to read it. It was 7:22 pm. I was in my pajamas and felt like I could go to bed. I opened the envelope to find a handwritten letter from J’s mom.  The front of the  card was a simple drawing of flowers, and the inside contained one of the most beautiful passages ever:  

“Dear Ms. Spitz,”  she wrote, “I  cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am for your reaching out to J.” The letter continued with her expressing her deepest gratitude that I had emailed J last week to check in on him and let him know he was missed.

The letter ended with “I am a teacher. I know how hard you work. I sometimes want to reach out to a student and don’t (forget or decide against). You remind me never to do that. Thank you.”

It had taken me approximately one minute to write that email to J. One minute.

Weird how that  letter from J’s mom made thoughts of going to sleep seem ridiculous.  It made thoughts of the challenges and frustrations of that Tuesday disappear. It made me want to hold on to it forever because it made me want to teach for the next 50 billion years.

The next day when I saw J, I told him to please tell his mom that her letter was going straight into my teacher box. “What’s that mean?” he asked. I told him his mom would know exactly what I meant. That a teacher box is that thing that teachers keep forever, and so on days that are hard, we pull it out, and look at the gems in there and it reminds us that we have the best job ever and that little things are BIG.

The first year you’re a teacher is the hardest year ever for countless reasons, but the thing that I think makes it the hardest is that you don’t have your teacher box just yet. You don’t necessarily know that when you send an email that took you a minute to write, it could mean the world to a student and their family. You don’t have a collection of letters, pictures, party favors, Post-Its, and videos that remind you that hey, all this work, and all this love, and all this exhaustion and frustration is so worth it.

The teacher box, I believe, is the most essential resource for teachers to stay in the game. It is the holy grail, the sword in the stone, the whole enchilada, the Bey-to-the-once. I tell all the first-year teachers I come across to just hold on, just hold on until you get your first teacher box item. Because once you get it, the thought of not being a teacher just makes no sense.

So on that Tuesday,  instead of going to bed at 7:22 pm,  I decided I’d dive into my teacher box.  Some things I came across that I hadn’t revisited in a while:

  1. A Post-It from a student that said, “I LOVE YOU MS. SPITZ!!” with the  Target logo because she knew that is my favorite store.  Always was, always will be.
  2. A party favor from a student’s Quinceanera that included a plastic replica of her in her dress. It. is. amazing.
  3. A drawing my advisees created of my make-believe boyfriend. According to them, his name is Frank, he wears a tank top, and he is 45.
  4. A Facebook message from a student from my first year teaching apologizing if she was ever rude to me, explaining to me that she is now in nursing school, and remembers that  I was nothing but patient and kind and that I always had her best interests at heart. (For the record, by “rude” she meant cursing me out almost every day and making me cry at least once a week. But I never cried in front of her. Okay, maybe once.)

So on that Tuesday, as I tucked my teacher box away with its newest addition,  all I could think about was how excited I was for work tomorrow. (And how Hamilton is coming to San Francisco in March 2017.) favicon

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Reader to Reader, the KCP Podcast

Episode #2: Tamera, Oakland

favicon After a brief (one-year) respite, I’m back with the second episode of Reader to Reader: The Kindle Classroom Project Podcast!

Reader to Reader is a 10-minute interview with a student participating in the Kindle Classroom Project.

Yesterday I had the privilege to sit down with Tamera, a 12th grader in Oakland. She just received a Kindle Paperwhite from her teacher, Maria.

In this episode, Tamera talks about the book she’s reading, where she’s going to college, and why she’s a reader. But there’s also a special twist — because Tamera was a KCP student back in 2012-13, when she was a ninth grader and when the KCP had only 13 Kindles!

Please let me know what you think about this episode — and include ideas for how to make this podcast a real podcast. For example: Should I be more prepared? Should there be music? What questions should I ask? Should I be less energetic?

My hope is to continue interviewing students and putting out a podcast episode at least every month. If things go well, maybe I’ll send Reader to Reader to iTunes! Thank you very much for your support. favicon

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Give a student a reading allowance!

KCP-at-CATfavicon Did you get an allowance growing up?

I didn’t. Maybe I wasn’t consistent on chores. Or maybe my parents gave me everything I needed. (Probably both were true.)

Some of my friends got allowances, though, which they spent on luxuries, like baseball cards, chocolate malts from the school cafeteria, and books.

Last week, I challenged KCP supporters to become sustaining donors. With the program expanding quickly (now 650 students and 16 teachers!), and with Kindles streaming in (47 in January alone!), students are requesting books left and right (653 and counting), and I’d like to keep the program’s promise that they can read whatever they like, whenever they like.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could give a student a reading allowance?

The other day, I learned about Amazon Allowance through loyal KCP supporter Brian (Leesburg, VA). The program lets you send an automatic, recurring digital gift card to another Amazon account. It hit me: This could be perfect for KCP donors who want to make regular contributions.



The process is easy. You go to the Amazon Allowance page, then click through to your Amazon account. Then you fill out a quick form, where you get to title the allowance (include your name here!), choose who gets the allowance (kindleclassroomproject AT gmail DOT com), how much to donate (minimum is $5) and how often (every month, every other week, every week, daily, or one-time). Finally, you choose your credit card, and you’re done. (Don’t worry: You can stop your allowance at any time.)

I made a screencast to help you. I think you’ll enjoy it. It lasts 2:19.

The biggest reason I like Amazon Allowance is that 100% of your donation goes to the KCP, whereas PayPal takes a 3% fee.

The other reason is that if you choose to donate, you are saying, “Yes, Mark. I am totally in, and I want to promote reading, and I believe in what the KCP is doing, and I want the program to be sustainable for many years to come.”

(By the way, you’re also saying: “And please don’t bother me as often with requests for one-time donations, because I’m already donating.”)

Please consider giving an Amazon allowance to a lucky student. I’m happy to report that there are already 5 sustaining donors: Brian (Leesburg, VA), DSW (Saratoga, CA), Barbara (Oakland, CA), Stuart (New York, NY), and Patrick (Garfield, NJ). Wouldn’t you like to join this illustrious group?

I’ll update this post below as new generous people sign up. Please let me know if you have questions! One more thing: If you’d like to get the word out, you can share this post with the URL j.mp/kcpallowance and the video with the URL j.mp/kcpallowancehowto. Thank you!

Update: Iris (San Diego, CA) and Lori (Oceanside, CA) have given recurring allowances! We are up to 7 sustaining donors! Thank you! favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #14

“You got some nerve! Hold on to that!”

michele godwinfavicon Monday, 1/4/16 – 3:15 pm
Back from the holidays. Everyone is excited that it is finally 2016, the year of their graduation. The end is getting nearer and nearer! We spend several minutes calculating how many more school days there are until graduation. Ninety two!

Wednesday, 1/13 – 12:05 pm
It’s portfolio season, and seniors are freaking out. If they had finished their four school-wide outcome (SWO) essays last semester, as they were supposed to, everything would be smooth and easy. But few of them finished all four, and many of them turned in drafts that need revision. Portfolio is a graduation requirement, and they have two more weeks to get their essays cleaned up, their slideshows prepared, their talking points memorized, and their acts together. Judging by the number of crying jags and temper flares, this is going to be a long couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 1/20 – 10 am
C. has left the school. She’s been talking about it for awhile. Actually, she’s been talking about not leaving the school, but wanting something to change. We looked at inpatient treatment centers and independent study, but neither of those are real options. We finally talked her into transferring to a continuation school, where she can come and go as she pleases, and ask for help when she needs it. It was a sad, sad day when we counseled her out of the school. She needs the LHS community; we know her as well as anyone knows her, and she knows that we love her completely. That’s why she comes to school every day! But she never stays in class long, her temper quick to flame and destroy any ounce of productivity in a classroom. Her boyfriend has gone back to jail, so she doesn’t have that distraction anymore, but it’s clear that she’s full of pain and rage, and there’s little more we can do to help her. When she came back from Winter Break, she was covered in fresh tattoos and cut marks.

We all miss her terribly.

Wednesday, 1/20 – 12:30 pm
A ninth grader, M., comes into the library, as he does every few weeks or so. He paces around the room, stopping every once in awhile to look at the manga section. I’ve ordered a few things for him before, and he’s been appreciative. Often, though, he comes in and asks strange questions about buying things.

“How much will you take for that picture?” he inquired once, pointing to a frame on the wall. Another time, he asked, “Was that printer expensive? Can I buy it off you?” I’ve told him several times that I’m not in the retail business, and that he should focus on checking out books. Or ordering books. That’s what I’m here for.

Today, I’ve ordered pizza for my advisory. M. comes in and asks if he can buy the large pepperoni. I roll my eyes, irritated with his repeated strangeness. Just as I start to launch into a lecture, T. laughs and claps M. on the back.

“You got some nerve!” T. tells him. “I like that. Hold on to that!”

M. smiles, shy but pleased by the attention from one of the coolest 12th grade boys in the school. He walks out of the room grinning, pizza forgotten.

Thursday, 1/28 – 3:30
Another Portfolio Day completed. Phew! The day went off without too many hitches, and everyone is glad it’s over. The seniors are proud and relieved, ready to change out of their job interview outfits and back into their everyday wear. Some of them didn’t get to present today, but they know they’ll get another chance and they’ll graduate with their friends. It’s a good reminder for them that they have to take care of their business or they’ll get left behind. They want to be able to celebrate too! favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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Promote reading. Become a monthly donor.

10th grader at Envision Academy, Oakland, CA.
11th grader at Envision Academy, Oakland, CA.

favicon The past four years, more than 450 generous people from across the country have donated Kindles to promote the joy of reading among urban high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thank you!

The Kindles keep coming (34 so far this month), and the program continues to expand (3 new classrooms so far this month). The growth is uplifting and heartwarming!

By the end of January, the KCP will serve 650 students and 14 teachers in 5 schools. Students get 24-hour-a-day access to a Kindle and 640+ books (and counting).

All of the books in the KCP Library come from student requests. This means these are books that students want to read. Here are some examples of recent requests:

  • All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • Wild Crush, by Simone Elkeles
  • Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
  • The Food Lab, by J. Kenji López-Alt
  • The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
  • Patternmaster, by Octavia E. Butler

When they get choice, students choose well. That’s why I tell students that I will honor their book requests. By doing so, I’m telling them that their interests are important, their reading lives are important — their hearts and minds are important.

I would like to encourage you to promote reading by making a monthly donation to the Kindle Classroom Project. Your contribution will directly fund students’ book requests.

Each book you fund goes on the student’s Kindle as well as in the KCP Library. Up to six students can read a book at the same time. Kindle ebooks never get lost or worn. Your investment will last for many years to come.

If you’re interested in becoming a monthly donor, choose one of the following levels:

  • Book Lover: $5 a month (a book every two months) ($60 a year)
  • Bibliophile: $10 a month (a book a month) ($120 a year)
  • Bibliomaniac: $20 a month (two books a month) ($240 a year)
  • Bookworm: $40 a month (four books a month) ($480 a year)

Choose your level below and then click “Donate Now,” which will take you to PayPal to complete your donation. Afterward, I’ll send you an email to thank you! Remember that you may stop your monthly donations at any time.

Promote reading: Become a sustaining donor of the Kindle Classroom Project!

I can’t wait to see how many of you take the plunge and make a monthly contribution. KCP students and teachers will be very grateful, as will I! If you have any questions, please let me know — whether by leaving a comment or by sending an email. Thank you.

Update: You can also make a recurring donation through Amazon Allowance. The benefit is that 100% of your donation goes to the KCP! The Amazon account to donate to is kindleclassroomproject AT gmail DOT com. favicon

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Kindle Classroom Project: Any book, anytime

IMG_20150911_085254550favicon My good friend Barbara, who is also a sustaining donor of the Kindle Classroom Project, made a great point tonight. It went something like this: The Kindles are great, but the KCP is about the books.

Students who participate in the Kindle Classroom Project get to read any book they want, whenever they want.

The KCP Library, which stands now at 639 titles, grows from student requests. When a student wants to read a book that is not yet in the library, she lets me know through the KCP website. Within an hour or so, the book is delivered and available — not just to that student but also to all 600+ students in the program.

Any book, anytime. Choice and access.

There’s definitely a novelty when a student gets a Kindle. Look, you can make the text bigger! You can look up words! You can turn on text-to-speech! Nevertheless, over time, like most things, the wow factor wanes.

What’s left are the books.

Every new book to the KCP Library originates as a student request. Through these requests, students recommend books to each other. A few students are particularly influential. When Tae’Janai (San Francisco, CA) requests a new book, students in Oakland — whom she’s never met — start reading it, too.

Book requests come in all the time. It’s most heartwarming when I get them in the evenings and on weekends. Students are becoming independent readers. They’re building reading identities. They’re following their interests outside of school time.

It makes me extremely happy that the KCP is expanding. New teachers are signing up, new students are joining, Kindles are showing up on my doorstep, and generous donors are making contributions so that students can read any book, anytime. favicon