3 Books that Changed the Way I Think

I read a lot.  Not an unbelievable amount or anything, but certainly more than the average bear, I think.  Like many people, though, most of what I pick up reinforces my beliefs.  Sure, plenty of books have a subtle impact on my way of thinking, but very few truly change what I believe.  This post is dedicated to those books, that are not necessarily my favorites, but that have changed me in a major way.

Revising History

I was a Navy brat, so growing up we bounced around between Rhode Island, California, and (northern) Virginia.  I got a good education, but suffice it to say my knowledge of the Civil War was spotty at best.  Why?  Californians don’t give a hoot about it.  Neither do Rhode Islanders, despite having been part of the country (and the winning side) at the time of the War between the States.  Northern Virginia, on the other hand, is obsessed.  Not with the Civil War exactly, but with distancing itself from the rest of Virginia, which is obsessed with the Civil War.  (You’ll have to forgive my pathetic generalizations, people.  Sorry!)  Thus, Northern VA comes down hard on the Confederates.  Robert E. Lee might be a hero to the rest of the state, but not in NOVA.  As far as I understood it, the Civil War was about slavery, and only slavery; anyone in the Confederacy was a bad man (or at least a misinformed one); and anyone who said otherwise must obviously be racist.

Then in 12th grade AP lit, we were assigned The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  I devoured it, of course.  I devoured everything Mr. Welsh assigned.  And talk about throwing me for a loop.  My whole perception of the Civil War was turned on its head.  There were–amazingly–lots of good men in the Confederacy.  General Lee was pretty darn admirable.  Not that Shaara’s novel glorified the South or anything.  The Union was treated with just as much respect, and General Grant was as good a leader as Lee.

The point is, The Killer Angels made me question some firmly held beliefs and prejudices.  It, along with a couple other experiences, made me stop being an elitist brat who told people I was from “just outside DC” so as to separate myself from the rest of the state.  I started looking at southern pride with more of an open mind, and didn’t automatically assume that everyone with a Dixie Pride t-shirt was a racist prick.

This is not to say I’ve moved my allegiance to the South, or anything as drastic as that.  I’m not a Civil War or Lee enthusiast, and I certainly don’t wear Confederate flags on my t-shirts.  But since 12th grade, I approach the subject in a very different way, and I thank Mr. Welsh and Mr. Shaara for that.

Redefining Literature

I’m guessing that most people–the non-English majory types in the world–have the opposite experience as me.  At some point (I hope) you read a classic piece of literature that was actually accessible and interesting and you thought, “Hey, this isn’t so bad!”  The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, or Fahrenheit 451 might have made you dread English class just a little less.

Well I was an eager beaver in English, so I never had that experience.  I loved the vast majority of what was assigned to me.  When I was in my tween years, I wasn’t reading classics yet, but I never jumped into the YA bandwagon either.  I’m pretty sure I assumed that reading “adult books” (no, not that kind of adult book.  gross.) made me look smarter–the longer the better.  So that’s mostly what I read, much of which was forgettable (I adored Mary Higgins Clark, for example).

Some of my ed classes required that I read a couple of YA novels, but none of them stuck with me.  And they definitely didn’t make me suddenly think that YA was good literature.  But when I started teaching, I wanted to build up my classroom library, and I knew it was good practice to have an idea what was actually going into it, so I began reading some of the Young Adult novels that went onto my bookshelf.  They were, mostly, really quick reads.  Not unpleasant, but in no way earth shattering.  I was reading them because I thought I should, not because I really cared to.

And then I stumbled on An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.  A totally new experience.  Green’s characters are were so much more real than the standard YA drivel, and his plot was seriously engaging.  I grabbed up Looking for Alaska, devoured that (wasn’t sure if I liked it at first.  turns out it was awesome.), and waited until Paper Towns was released so I could gobble that up too.  Now I’m not embarrassed (okay, maybe I’m a tiny bit embarrassed, but only a tiny bit) to admit that John Green is among my favorite authors.  Another YA novelist entered the ranks too: Markus Zuzak.  So YA lit can be real literature.  Who knew?

Rethinking Thinking

This next one is supposed to change the way you think, so I feel like it’s a little bit of a cop-out to include it here, but I’m going to anyway.

I’m one of those people that excelled in a left-brain world.  School wasn’t easy per se, but only because I really pushed myself to a crazy level of perfectionism.  I could have skated through if I wanted to.  I knew what was expected of me, and did it.  I liked the affirmation.  I never considered myself artistic or creative.  I couldn’t draw something to save my life, and creative writing so terrified me I only took it for a semester in 11th grade (technically it was  semester class, but almost everyone took it for the whole year).  My left-brained way of life got me through college just fine, and into the world of teaching.

A couple years ago my dad recommended A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink.  By this point, I had accepted that I’m actually a little creative (though still definitely not artistically inclined), and was interested in the premise.  I read a good number of these self-help/guidance books, so Pink’s wasn’t too far off my standard path in the nonfiction world.  Long story short, I became obsessed with the ideas espoused in A Whole New Mind.  It’s one of the things that most made me question our educational system and my merit as a teacher.  I’m still not confident we do enough to encourage right-brain creative thinking, even if we claim to honor it in the classroom.  It’s certainly harder to evaluate, and thus, much easier to lower our standards for (another plague of education, in my opinion).  But if you read Pink’s book, you too will be convinced of its importance for America’s young people. This is a changing world we live in.

(All links to books are affiliate links.)

Please share, what books have most changed your thinking?  Did you ever do a complete 180 because of something you read?  Or do you constantly feel yourself more subtly influenced by the things you read?


July 12, 2010 at 1:52 pm 2 comments

30 Before Thirty

One of my favorite design blogs, Making It Lovely, posted her 30 Before Thirty List earlier this spring, and it inspired me to write my own.  Nicole (of MIL) only gave herself 6 months or so to complete her list, and I have 3+ years, so I tried to be a little ambitious with some of my goals.  I also tried to only write down things that can easily be evaluated.  I’d like to consume less sugar and gossip less, but I wasn’t sure how to gauge success for things like that, unless I cut them out entirely, and unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.  I also stopped myself from including lots of items that sound really cool, but probably aren’t right for me, like getting a tattoo or hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Who knows, though, maybe I’ll change my mind.  So here’s what I came up with after some serious soul searching:

My 30 Before Thirty List:

  1. Break my hair twirling habit
  2. Monetize a blog
  3. Find dining room chairs
  4. Successfully make French macaroons (macarons?)
  5. Travel overseas with Eric
  6. Throw a largish dinner/cocktail party
  7. Tone my stomach
  8. Run in a 10k
  9. Find/purchase/move into our forever home
  10. Go to Disney World with Eric (he’s never been)
  11. Take Seamus to swim in the ocean
  12. Cook roast lamb like my mom does (as good as my mom does)
  13. See a really good Broadway show
  14. Take a frame-worthy photo
  15. Go camping
  16. Read Middlemarch
  17. Go to a drive-in movie
  18. Start a Roth IRA (embarrassed I haven’t done this yet)
  19. Compost
  20. Grow an herb garden
  21. Travel somewhere with girlfriends only
  22. Find a way to store all the books I have
  23. Rediscover my faith/join a church
  24. Guest post on a major blog
  25. Invest in a piece of art that makes me giddy
  26. Dance without being self-conscious
  27. Get a grill and use it
  28. Go a week+ without the internet
  29. Order a chef’s tasting menu at a really nice restaurant
  30. Have a baby

Three years is a pretty long time, so I might change my mind about some of these.  If I’m about to turn 30 and we’re not quite ready to buy our house, so be it.  And I’m not going to have a baby just ‘cuz it’s only list either.  If I lose interest in macaroons, I might replace that with something else.  I’ll cross off items as I complete them, and update as necessary.

So what kinds of things would you put on your 30 Before Thirty (or 20 Before Twenty, 40 Before Forty, 50 Before Fifty, etc.) List?  Please share!

June 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm 7 comments

Done and Done

Up next: Delusions of Grandeur


June 19, 2010 at 9:12 pm 2 comments

Why I’m Jumping Ship (Part 2)

In my last post I promised the third “controversial” reason I resigned from my teaching position (I’m still not comfortable saying I “quit.”)

Confession:  After a great deal of thought, I realized, oh shit, this really wasn’t one of the reasons I resigned.  So, to be completely honest, this third “reason” wasn’t really a reason at all.  It’s just something I’ve been meditating on a lot since I resigned.  But it could have been a reason, and that’s the point here my friends.

Do I believe in public education?

In short, no, but also yes.  I can’t decide.  That’s my big secret.  I might not believe in public schools.  And, honestly, how can you be a public school teacher if you don’t believe–or even might not believe–in public education?

Most of this has to do with my own current freaked out state of mind:  AHH I’ll have no income in 3 months!  AHH I have no skills!  AHH Public education, you’ve failed me!  I’ll elaborate on this in another post.

But seriously, I’ve started to wonder more and more what we’re preparing our kids for in America’s high schools.  Aren’t we really preparing them to be teachers?  Because who else uses this stuff?  I’d like some honest-to-goodness answers to this, folks.  I get the question often, as I’m sure most high school teachers do: when are we ever going to use this?  What is the correct answer to this question???  I want to know in case I get it again in my last few days.  Lately I’ve been sticking with:

“You’ll never use 90% of what you learn in high school.  Chemistry?  When do I ever use chemistry?  World History 1?  I can count the number of times I’ve needed that in the last 2 or 3 years on one hand.  That’s not the point of high school.  You’re learning how to learn.  You’re learning how to find information and how to work hard.”

9th graders don’t really like this answer.  Wanna know why?  Because it’s not satisfying.  I’m not satisfied with it.  Learning how to learn sounds great, but why can’t we teach them how to learn–how to think–with tools that really are useful and will still be useful by the time they’re out of college.

A self deprecating example:

We’re studying Romeo and Juliet in all of my classes right now.  We have been for the entire 4th quarter.  I like this unit.  It culminates in a group film project that involves some combination of acting, directing, screenwriting, soundtrack compiling, set designing, costume designing, and casting, depending on what their group members are interested in.  I get some really cool final projects.  So that part of the unit is fun, but remember, we’re studying Shakespeare’s most famous play for an entire 9 weeks.  For about 75% of my students (and for me), this gets pretty darn tedious.  This year we watched the movie first (Zeffirelli’s version for you film snobs) to get the plot down, and have been reading the play more closely to focus on the genius of the language.  This worked well for the first Act.  But then they were sick of it.  “Why are we reading this?  We already know what happens.”  I expected this, of course, because I’m a brilliant educator, but I felt myself echoing day after day “We’re looking at the genius/beauty/brilliance/you-fill-in-this-blank-after-being-asked-the-same-question-100-times of the language, guys.  Look at this!  It’s awesome!”  It got to the point where I was questioning the whole thing too.  Why are we spending so long on this?

If I just want them to know Romeo and Juliet because of its cultural importance, we only needed to watch the movie.  If I wanted them to see the beauty of the language, I really could have just focused on a few of the best parts: the layering of metaphors when they first meet, the banter among some of the guys, a few other select passages.  Maybe the point is to read a Shakespearean play in its entirety, just so you can say you did.  But I’m not any more satisfied with that than I was earlier.

What if, instead, we had watched the movie, closely analyzed a few incredible passages, examined ways Shakespeare and/or R & J has infiltrated our culture, and… moved on.

I shudder when I think of how much time that would have opened up.  The things we could have done.  Maybe I could have used that time to cover things that may  actually be useful to my students when they’re adults: creativity (as in thinking outside the box; not as in art), using computers/ipods/cell phones actively (blogging!  twittering!  whatever’scomingnexting!), being tactful (how and why), being funny (school seriously undervalues this as far as I’m concerned), working in a group (actually teaching this, not just watching forlorn as the same kid carries all the weight and the same kid lets him).  None of these things are explicitly English, so they’ve always felt somewhat untouchable.  But where exactly do they fit in?  Math?  Social Studies?  Some elective that only 10% of students take?  Because they’re important.  Possibly more important than reading all of Romeo and Juliet.

What are your thoughts on public education?  Am I way out of line or missing the point?  Or, if you’re not satisfied either, what do you think needs to change?  And how would you do it?  Sometimes we all need to vent, but without offering solutions, we’re just whining.  And I don’t want to be a whiner.

June 2, 2010 at 10:42 am 7 comments

Why I’m Jumping Ship (Part I)

In my last post, when I announced my resignation from my job, I said (mostly) only good things about teaching, so I felt the need to explain why I decided to leave the classroom.

“Jumping Ship” Image Credit

I’m not a hater.

Ever since I heard the statistic about 50% of teachers leaving the profession with their first five years, I’ve assumed–possibly naively–that it was because of one of two things: the students or the salary.  First there’s disrespectful students.  Distracting students.  Apathetic students.  Students who can barely read, so how can they possibly learn American History/Geometry/British Lit/fill-in-the-blank?

But as I’ve already said, I like my students for the most part.  Actually, I can say with confidence that I LOVE the vast majority of my students.  I’ve dealt with the occasional disrespect, certainly some apathy, and many, many distractions.  And I’ve had some really weak students.  But although most of them would prefer to avoid hard work if at all possible, I’m not dealing with 9th graders cursing me out, threatening me, or skipping class.  I don’t teach at that kind of school (and 9th graders can’t drive, so skipping is a little harder for them).  And even though they tax my patience some days, they’re a lot of fun.  So it’s not the students.

And it’s not the salary either.  I totally agree with those who insist that teachers don’t make enough money for what they’re worth.  It’s true.  But I have to acknowledge that I do make enough money to live comfortably.  It would be harder without Eric’s income obviously, but not that much harder.  So it’s not the salary either.

I want my life back.

Then why am I jumping ship? I have a few reasons, but the one I usually give is just that I want to try other things.  Although I enjoy many aspects of my job, I hate that it takes so much out of me.  It’s draining and so very, very time consuming.

Technically my contract hours are 8:15 to 3:45, which provides a 15 minute cushion at both ends of the school day.  I’m pretty confident that in the past three years, I’ve never once worked those hours.  I’d guess that this year, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve left by 3:45.  And those days I went in extra early to get ahead.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal if I was leaving at, say, 4:00 on most days, or 4:30.  But I’m not; I usually don’t leave until 5:00, and I’m often still in the building until 7:00 or later.  And by the time I get home, I’m exhausted.  (Before I go on, I feel the need to point out that I don’t claim to have the hardest working hours or anything like that.  I have a friend who is in charge of the yearbook, and she’s regularly pulling late hours, and sometimes even comes in on Saturday, which I have never, ever done.  I have another friend who, when preparing for the school plays, sometime stays until 11:00.  At night.  Their meager stipends don’t even come close to compensating them for this insanity benevolence.)

Because of these long and uncompensated hours, I can’t imagine having the time or energy to do the other things I’m interested in.  I’d like to try my hand at freelance writing or possibly open an Etsy shop.  Yeah, right.  Maybe in the summer.  Evenings, weekends, and other breaks are filled with planning and grading, or feeling guilty about not planning or grading.

Even small indulgences, like cooking good, healthy dinners and getting regular exercise feel nearly impossible to squeeze in.  I’m often jealous of my husband’s job, because even though he doesn’t love it and often comes home burnt out, he doesn’t have to even think about work once he leaves at 4:30.  His evenings and weekends are his own.

Teachers get “breaks,” which, don’t get me wrong, are nice, but they’re not (for me at least) a complete break from work.  This past spring break I graded (really graded, with lots of comments and suggestions) over 70 3-5 page research papers.  That was not a “break” the way non-teachers usually imagine it.

I don’t want to live in Richmond forever.

The second reason I usually give (especially when coworkers look at me funny after I explain reason #1) is that resigning now gives Eric and me a lot more freedom in regards to when we move out of Richmond.  Richmond is not our forever home.  We both agree about this.  I’m not sure exactly where our forever home city will end up being, but we’ve been talking for a while about relocating to North Carolina, somewhere within the Research Triangle.  Eric’s degree is in computer science, and although there are many jobs in Richmond that seek employees with that background, Eric tells me they’re more like IT positions than true computer science, which is actually a creative field (who knew??).  Thus, Eric has been interested for while now in “The Triangle,” since it’s the most pioneering region for computer science on the East Coast.

The only problem with all this is that I absolutely refused to move mid-year.  It might be the sin of pride or vanity, but I really believe it would be harmful to my students if I just up and ditched them somewhere in the middle of the year.  Yes, students are resilient.  Yes, I know that no one teacher makes or breaks a kid’s high school experience.  But I also know that unless a really good, qualified replacement is found right away, the year could be completely wasted for that one class, and I happen to think reading and writing are pretty important.  That’s what happened to my brother’s 7th grade year of language arts.  The teacher quit mid-year and then they went through a string of 3 or 4 “long term” subs.  And they didn’t learn anything.  (Okay, they probably learned some things, but they didn’t learn enough.)  It was a wasted year.  I wouldn’t do that to my kids unless it was absolutely necessary, like if I had a baby, for example.

Unfortunately, a summer is actually a really narrow window of time to relocate.  Moving, obviously, is time consuming.  Plus we’d both need to find new jobs, which is tricky.  When, for instance, should Eric start applying for jobs?  He can’t wait until the summer, but if he applies too early, he might not be available for months (my school lets out at the end of June).  But if he holds back, he might not receive an offer until too late, once a new school year has started.

These complications have stymied us, and so neither Eric nor I really got the job search/relocation ball rolling.  It won’t be nearly as big an issue next year though, since I won’t have any students to desert.  I don’t consider giving 2-weeks notice to a company the same as giving 2-weeks notice to a school.  (This might be hiring suicide if I thought there was a possibility of a potential employer reading this blog, but since I have approximately six readers and I’m on a first name basis with all of you, I think I’m safe.)

And one more (secret) reason.

The third reason I’m saving for a separate post.  Partly because this one is already long enough, but mostly because it’s my most controversial reason, and I haven’t really shared it with anyone yet.  I want to take some time to think through it and word in in such a way that it doesn’t hugely offend all of my friends in education (and that’s most of my friends).  I don’t think it should offend anyone, but it could come across wrong if I’m not careful.  So until next time…

What reasons have you had for quitting (or wanting to quit) a job?

May 28, 2010 at 12:24 am 3 comments


I’ve been a little crabby lately.

Not so much on the blog, obviously.  It’s easy to avoid being a whiny blogger if you simply remove “blogger” from the equation temporarily.  Unfortunately friends, I’m going to subject you to my whining.  But not for long, I promise.

Why so glum you ask?  There are a number of reasons:

  1. Marriage isn’t all sunshine and roses. There’s lots of that, luckily, but occasionally a less ideal metaphor would be more appropriate.  I knew this before I got married, of course, but I’m not sure how much easier that makes it.
  2. Seamus reached eight months and turned EVIL.  I have lots of evidence of this, including two torn up bedroom rugs.  In addition to destroying textiles, he’s also taken to stealing food off plates and peeing as he circles the living room couch, which takes about 30 swearing-filled minutes to clean up.
  3. I missed the LOST series finale, and it’s taking way too long to download. I’m actually not upset about missing what’s sure to be the best piece of TV in history, since my brother’s senior show was totally worth it, but I’m pretty pissed at myself that I didn’t plan ahead and start the downloading process this morning because right now it’s at 14.6% and says it’s still got 1 day and 16 hours left until it’s done.  eff.
  4. And probably the biggest cause of my crabbiness, the thing that’s been exacerbating #1 and leaving me with little patience for #2 and #3: a few months ago I resigned from my job. Not resigned like gave my 2-weeks notice.  I’m not an a-hole (honestly, I think it’s pretty crappy when teachers quit midyear unless they have a really good reason) and I don’t hate teaching.  Well, some days I hate teaching, but most days I don’t.  And I love (a large percentage of) my students.  But regardless, I’ve “resigned” as in given up my position for next year.  It’s exciting, but it’s also really, really scary/stressful.  I definitely don’t have anything lined up for next year, and honestly, I don’t even know what my dream job would be anyway.  I.am.freaking.out.

I just thought I’d let you know since this–especially #4–will have an effect on this blog.  There’s surprising little out there about life after teaching, which is weird considering some statistics say that up to 50% of teachers leave the profession within their first 5 years.  Where do they go??  What do they do??  I want to use this blog to contribute to that discussion.  And to chronicle my own journey.  And to post about whatever else I happen to be interested in, because, to be fair, it is my blog, and I’m not ready to pigeon-hole myself yet.  Plus I’m working on a fun decor project at my parents’ house (but no, that’s not where my career’s heading, at least not today).

So, yeah.  I already feel a tiny bit better after getting that off my chest.  Thanks friends.

Anything been making you feel crabby as of late?  Feel free to vent in the comments.

May 25, 2010 at 2:00 am 7 comments

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today Eric and I are celebrating our first anniversary.  As far as milestones go, I think it’s a relatively big one, so I thought I’d share some pics of the festivities one year ago today.

Waiting to head off to the church

I love this "outtake" of my dad

A surprise from my parents (seeing it was my first cry of the day)

It almost looks like the dress won't fit

VIPs (my mom and bro)

My emotional groom

Holy Matrimony

Leaving the church as NEWLYWEDS

We took approximately one million tunnel pictures

Handsome groomsmen

Beautiful bridesmaids

Wedding party

My favorite of the tunnel pics

The sky opened up immediately after we finished portraits

First dance to "Crazy Love" (note the woman peaking from behind curtain)

Singing along to "My Girl"

Eric and his mom dancing to "In My Life"

Eric's grandad eyeing the sweets

Birds' eye view

(All pics by the amazing Tristan Spinski, who in addition to being incredibly talented, is also a lifesaver, since he jumped in to cover our wedding when our original photog broke his foot less than a week before our wedding.)

Thanks for humoring me through this extremely self-indulgent post.  Anyways, May 16, 2009 was an awesome day, and May 16, 2010 was pretty darn great as well.  We celebrated with a dogless weekend at the Jefferson Hotel, dinner at our first date restaurant, champagne brunch, small but thoughtful gifts, a look through our Blurb wedding album, and of course, eating the remaining wedding cake.   I don’t think I could ask for more.  Happy anniversary, Love! xo

Do you have an anniversary ritual? Or a favorite wedding memory?  Please do share!

May 17, 2010 at 1:34 am 2 comments

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