Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Personal Wednesday: 2 days before schools start

I switched schools at the end of last year. I took a position at a K-8 school and left special education behind. I'm to teach social studies, the content area that I am originally certified and intended to teach. There was a grade switch (7/8 is now 5/6 grade and I'm actually considered an elementary school teacher in the system). Though this is my 4th year teaching, I have to start over from scratch with lesson planning. I also have to start over from scratch with classroom management; it's been a while since I taught youngsters. 

Despite all of this, I'm relieved to not be at my prior school anymore. Every Sunday for the past 2 years, I would have so much anxiety and my stomach would cramp up thinking about the week ahead of me. I started therapy my third year into it, and even if I didn't work out the rest of the week, I worked out on Sunday so I could get some sleep. 

Work piled on me. They backed me in a corner to be testing coordinator, and on top of the pain that was special education, the people I worked with in my department were also not easy to get along with. I also wanted to teach, and I was given 9th grade English last year. I did ask to teach it, because I had be out of the classroom for 2 years, and I felt my skills melting away. Even though I am certified to teach English, and I love to read, it wasn't what I went to school for. I was given no support and at the end of all of it, I was given a developing on a job that I volunteered to do and didn't reflect everything else I did for that school. 

It seemed like since I was competent and seemed I had a good head on my shoulders, everyone looked to me to do things that wouldn't get done. How could anyone sustain that? I'm getting anxious just thinking about it. 

The point of this post isn't to slam my prior school, though I hate to say that my feelings of my past school has tinted how I'm feeling about this school year, despite everything being new. I'm still having anxiety and last night, I tossed and turned thinking about things that are due by September. I'm anxious about the team I'm working with, my students and my unit plans. I want everything to go well. 

I also can't shake this feeling that I won't be a teacher forever, and despite trying to think positively (I'm teaching the grades I want to teach, the content I want to teach, in a nice, new school), I'm looking around for other opportunities. I'm not sure if it's because my past school practically gave me PTSD and it seemed like for all of my hard work I got a poke in the eye and I don't want to relive the same experiences again this year. 

School starts for Baltimore City next Monday, August 31st. I'm excited and nervous at the same time. I have so much to do before then and I want this year to go well. I want to like teaching. I put a lot of time and money into becoming a teacher. Though it is OK to switch careers, it would be nice to not have to do that. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb

So, I picked up this book in March for my step-father, but ended up giving him another book instead. He likes biographies and autobiographies, so I thought Malala would be a good fit for him. It was also 30% off at Target, so…. of course I got it. I kept it when I gave him another book and finally got around to reading it. 

Malala is one of the most famous activists for education out there today. She is the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which is quite remarkable considering where she grew up and her culture. Her parents, despite their conservative culture, are progressive people. Her father is a teacher and a principal, and has a vision to extend schooling for all children in the Swat Valley. Even before the Taliban infiltrated her village and Pakistan, Urdu culture firmly believed in Purdah, and the idea that women should be segregated from society and wear the burqa. However, her father has ambition for Malala and together, they pioneer and give education, and girl’s education, a voice. Unfortunately, this also made her family, especially her and her father, a target for the Taliban. She was shot along with two classmates on her way to school due to her activism.

Even though Malala’s story is sensational, and her recovery to becoming one of the most well known voices is also sensational, her book falls flat. Even though I had a lot going on these past few weeks (Reflection Wednesday is coming out soon!), this book took me a while to get through. Malala had a co-writer, by the name of Christina Lamb, and it really shows. The book leaps from explanations of Pakistan history and politics, including the emergence of the Taliban, to her history and her experiences growing up. The books also delves into her parent's backgrounds along with her village. It seems like Lamb was trying to give context and a background to Malala's fight for education, but instead of sounding like a 16 year old girl, it sounded like a foreign journalist who involved Malala so her writing could have a personal touch.

I found myself zoning out to many of the political and historical parts of the book, (even though I am a history and political science person!) because Lamb didn't really tell Pakistan's history that well. I found myself drawn towards Malala's personal journey along with that of her father's. It would have been nice to break apart the sections of history and Malala's history so we could see the micro and the macro of the situation leading up to her being targeted by the Taliban.

The last 50 pages, when she is shot, I thought was the most riveting part of the book and I also thought they were the most "her" throughout the entire book. The way she describes the Pakistan hospitals are terrifying and I also particularly was interested in how Britain was involved for her recovery. I also found it was interesting that her family was kept in the dark about Malala, along with everyone visiting her for political gain. I found it was very sad that many Pakistanis were negative towards her, but she alluded to jealousy, which doesn't sound far fetched.

Overall, I wished there was more of Malala's philosophy and ideals behind her becoming an activist. She's a huge credit to her parents, who pushed her and believed in her, despite her being a girl. Malala is very lucky to be born to a father who was progressive despite his culture and he wanted the best for all of his children, either gender. I felt like Lamb should have narrowed down on her lecture on Pakistani history, because it was told in her voice, not Malala's. I would have liked Malala to discuss her religion, which she touched on at the end of the book, but was absent for most of it.
I'm interested to see what Malala does for her life. She is 18 (I think) now, and I'm not sure if she is going to go to University or not. She was incredibly invested in school and though her work as an activist is strong, I would like to read about her going to school.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reflections and Events

For the past few months or so, though really, ever since I went to Alaska, I thought it would be neat to add a few more post series to my book blog. 

Though I have actively writing about books and movie adaptations of the books since November, my book blog was exactly that, about books. I went to a few places since May, and it was only after I went to said few places that I thought it would be great to have blogged or vlogged about them. Also these past few months, I had a lot of personal changes that occurred, that would have been some neat posts as well. 

And so, drum roll please.... Reflections and Events post series! They'll appear on Wednesdays, so my post cycles will be more during the week. I swear I'll have catchier post series titles, but for now... I think that is pretty straight forward. I'm not sure if I'll do separate blog posts for each (one for event and one for reflection or have just one series with either/or depending on what is going on that month. This will also give me a good avenue to really think about my blog in context to everything else that is going on. I missed quite a few opportunities this spring and summer because it was only after I went to the convention or went on the trip did I really think about what my blog could have benefitted from. 

"Reflections and Events" will be centered around things that are going on in my life, whether it be personal or events that I attend that I think bookish booky readers would be interested in. On my pages, I'll post Events that I'll be attending for that month (if any) just so readers can expect a blog review about it. 

Stay tuned next week for the first blog post! 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Which is better? Ender's Game

So, like most books I've stumbled across in this blog, I nabbed Ender's Game by Olson Scott Card from the Independence School book closet last summer. I've heard about Ender's Game from many people over the years, praising the book as a must read for science fiction. Getting the opportunity to read the book (for free), I decided to take it on as a summer reading project. This was before I knew about Card's beliefs against homosexuality, gay rights and gay marriage, though I believe it was made more apparent as the countdown began with the movie's release.

The movie was released 2 years ago. My co-teacher and I assigned Ender's Game as an extra credit project for 10th grade English and we were both a little worried they would watch the movie and not read the book. Well, we didn't have to worry too much because none of them did it anyway!

I wanted to first start off with my impression and attitude toward the book, in spite of Card's strong advocacy against gay people, is that the book is insightful and thought provoking and is about the atrocities of war, and of young men fighting the old men war. Ender's journey is the hero's journey, with a twist (and a few prequels and sequels). I'm surprised by Card's stance on homosexuality and gay marriage because Ender's Game seems to be a book about inclusiveness and misunderstandings. Upon reading many reviews and articles about Card, he has also turned into a conspiracy theorist (though he's not a racist, which... I guess is good? Why a social justice warrior for one cause and not all others?)

Now, onto the movie. I will say, the movie does a good job of adapting 1st person perspective. I felt like the movie does really good highlights of what the book was about and touches on the main points without sacrificing much of the story. The viewer understands his loneliness and isolation through scenes with other characters and how they treat him. The viewer gets how smart he is through his actions, and the movie does a pretty good job of showing, not telling, the society and the desperation they all feel to defeat the aliens. They show highlights of his journey through battle school and command school, up to his final war game with the Formics and his friends.

Whereas I believed most of the actors in the movie, (Harrison Ford just seems to be collecting a paycheck, I feel) and I felt like Ender could really kick anyone's ass who crossed him, I felt like there was a lot missing from the movie. I'm not sure how it would have been remedied, but though there were scenes where you see Ender be sensitive and empathic with strong ties to his sister, I felt like the final impact of realizing that the Formics couldn't orally communicate didn't really come across. It happened in the book through the game and through his exploration of the game, which was lost in the movie.

I also understand there was a big difference in technology between when the book was written and when the movie was filmed. When I read the book, I envision the kids playing video games and playing the war games in a literal video game (like N64). In the movie, though some of them seemed to be using consols and sitting at like arcade games, Ender was looking a full size screen which looked like a legit camera to zoom in on the actual fighting. To me, it didn't seem like there was much of a separation there between the game and the actual fighting.

Even though the movie wasn't bad and I enjoyed watching it (there was a great cast assembled, Harrison Ford included), I feel like reading the book adds more dimensions to politics and war that is not seen in the movie. The movie also left out the political side of the book, which is an another part to war with Valentina and Peter, Ender's siblings.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

So, for the past month, I was preparing to move. I was diligently going through my things and getting rid of books, clothes and other materials. I was packing boxes and wondered daily how I managed to keep so much stuff around. It wasn't like I used it... and completely forgot about it when it was put away. 

However, as my adventures to find my wedding dress led me to the Goodwill (I planned my wedding in a month, so there was no stone left unturned when I was finding my dress), I couldn't resist looking at the books when I couldn't find what I was looking for. There were a lot of good books at the Goodwill, and though I resisted getting many others, I couldn't resist Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I stumbled upon the movie on HBO go, and figured that it would be a perfect fit for a review, and of course, 'which is better?' post. 

I didn't like how the book started. I thought it was cumbersome, the way the author described each entrance of characters with weighty metaphors and colorful prose. It almost read like a role play thread where each role player spent their own post describing the character before writing their action and reactions. I thought the beginning of the novel was very slow and I was disinterested in all the characters...Until I wasn't. 

Somehow, Chevalier snuck up on me and turned the story around, weaving connections between Griet and those she came into contact with. Griet would navigate a world that clearly was not meant for her. She fell in love with her master, Veemer, immediately when they met and as a maid working in their home, is on the brink of finally being able to peer into the art world when everything comes crashing down. 

Griet has no power. She is from a destitute family, charged with supporting her family when her father is blinded by his work. Her poverty and sequential low status, follows her wherever she goes. She is on the bottom of the totem pole as a maid in the painter's house, and possibly even sinks lower when she becomes his assistant. She does double the work without a thought from her master. She is made to navigate the social world that goes on below Veemer's art studio in the attic. When the butcher's son takes an interest in her, her mother, despite years telling her to "be a good girl" and that she is too young to be married, pushes her to court the butcher's son, Pieter. 

The theme of powerful individuals extends to which individuals wield the most influence over Griet's life, which include the wealthy patron, the mistresses of the household and finally, the master. It shines a light on women in poverty and how little they mean to those who seek to possess them. Griet at first, chooses the master, until it gets her in the end. When his painting is finished, he does not see her anymore and those who helped him paint, do not defend her against the mistress, his wife, consumed with jealousy. 

At the end, she chooses Pieter. She runs out of the house and goes to the person that will give her safety. I have no problems with that, except the times in the book where they are kissing and fooling around in an alley way and their conversations makes it seems like she is settling. He seeks to possess her too, not taking into consideration her feelings or wants. It just so happens that he is the only viable way out for Griet, and one where she is almost beholden to no one, except her husband. 

I like to think that maybe her attitude changes when she is betrayed by the entire household, including the man she loves. However, the book reads like she is telling a story, and the story is told with little side notes that are tinged with regret. It's not clear whether she regrets her treatment at the house, or if she regrets not being bolder? I think she navigates the world around her with the acute awareness of what happens to maids when they catch the attention of the master's eye and maybe she runs towards Pieter because she finally accepted her feelings towards him. 

The book was a quick read, and possibly a very good book to to read in high school English. A healthy dose of high school English standards (theme, symbolism, motifs, etc.) along with a lot of potential supplemental texts, including the actual painting the book is based off of. It almost makes me wish that I taught English next year, I would definitely have read it with my 9th graders.