Monday, February 12, 2018

Books, Books, and More Books!

My last post, nearly half a year ago, announced my new career. I can say, I am loving being a Media Specialist! It has a major learning curve, but looking at where I am now compared to where I was back at the start of September, I have come a long way. I am blessed to have terrific mentors, and support staff.

My school is an ENVoY demonstration site. ENVoY is a non-verbal management tool. I have learned, and am continuing to learn the non-verbal strategies for helping me to manage classroom behaviors with influence, rather than power. I had been wanting to learn ENVoY for several years, but did not have the opportunity until my new job. Click here to learn more about ENVoY. I wish I had learned this while I taught Special Education. I can see many ways in which I could have strengthened my teaching, and my relationships with my students.

But, let's not look at the past. It's time to get back to my blog! One of the joys of my job is that now I am surrounded by children's books every weekday. One of the challenges, though, is that now I am surrounded by children's books every weekday. Where do I start? What do I read first?

So, my plan, beginning soon, is to have Monday Musings where I'll share my perspectives about books that touch me again. I may do other random posts on different days as the muse to write and share strikes me.

For now, here's a preview of some of the books I plan to share more in depth in the coming days.

These are books that students have requested and I love, books that I have discovered as I continue to acquaint myself with my school's collection, and books that make great read-alouds with Little Sapling (the name I use to refer to my daughter online) and other children.

Both of these books are favorites of mine now. I highly recommend them for 3rd grade and up. In fact, every adult I know who has read these so far has loved them, so there is no upper age limit in my opinion. Visit the author, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

I read this book after the movie preview sparked my curiosity last fall. I have not seen the movie yet, so I cannot make a comparison. What I can say is that I love this book! Author Brian Selznick uses his magic again to create a story that incorporates black and white hand-drawn illustrations and text to bring the reader into the worlds of two different people and two different time periods before they merge in an unexpected, yet pleasing way. Visit the author, Brian Selznick.

I'm reading this now, but I cannot recall a novel that has made me smile, laugh, and feel as much I have while reading Humphrey the hamster's perspectives on his world as a classroom pet. Visit the author, Betty G. Birney, and meet Humphrey. 

More on these and other fabulous books to come (including the Roscoe Riley Rules series by Katherine Applegate, the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne, the Rainbow Fairies series by Audrey Meadows, and tons of picture books).
Stay tuned! 

Today and tomorrow,


P.S. If you have missed reading my voice, I did a post for Hamline's The Storyteller's Inkpot back in October. Happy reading.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A New Journey Begins...

It finally happened.
In July, after 10 years teaching special education full time (the last seven at the middle school level), I resigned from the school district where I completed my K-12 schooling, substitute taught four and a half years, and started my path as a public school teacher.

Courtesy of
Today I begin my official first day in a new school district at an elementary school. I am now a Media Specialist / Instructional Technology Teacher/ Core Support teacher in the areas of Language Arts and Math.

Through last week, excitement outranked anxiety. I am considered a "new teacher" again and completed new teacher training. I love what I have learned so far! However, today, anxiety outranks excitement. This is typical of my head each time I return to teaching after summer break. But, it is different this year. Today, it relates to the newness of my path. It relates to the not-knowing what I don't know and not fully knowing what to expect. It relates to knowing that there will be a learning curve for each role and that I am not expected to be an expert from the start--yet in my head, it also relates to the fact that I have to keep shutting down the thoughts that maybe I am expected to be great right away.

Change is scary. The familiar is safe. I could have kept doing what I had been doing for my job, but it had become a 24/7 job. It was in my head--the paperwork, the pressures to do everything "right". The pressures to place paperwork first, and teaching and my students, second. I did not feel peaceful. I told myself after my thyroid cancer diagnosis in 2015 (see past posts) that life was too short to be doing something that did not make me happy. This past school year was better. I was the Autism teacher, as well as a resource teacher in the special education department. I learned a lot from my students about autism. I also learned how little I knew. Despite being out of special education now, I carry my experiences with me. I expect to continue learning, and I wish to continue learning--only not in the role I have done for 10 years.

Courtesy of
I love teaching! I love helping children or anyone who I teach, problem solve and grow, and learn how to accomplish tasks maybe they struggled with before or maybe never knew how to do. Sometimes I wonder if I care too much. Can a person do that?

I will miss my former colleagues and many of my students. I thank my colleagues for the glowing references when contacted by my new employer. I especially thank my former principal for believing in me, recognizing that I have something to offer in what used to be my new career goal, and now supporting my decision to move on, even if it meant losing a devoted teacher at her school.

Today is the first official day of my new career. I look forward to collaborating with colleagues. I look forward to supporting my colleagues. I look forward to meeting my new students.
Change can be good.

Today and tomorrow,

~ Tamara

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Listening to a Student

To K, this post is for you.

Near the end of this past school year, a teen who I have worked with for the past two years as a female shared openly that she identifies as male. His announcement did not surprise me, even though it was not what I expected. And it certainly did not bother me. He had been a mature, friendly, yet seemingly insecure and often sad girl, who I desperately wished I could connect to more. She read incessantly, sometimes to the point of foregoing other expectations, such as school work. (It is a dilemma, as a teacher when I see students who love to read, but choose to read instead of focusing in classes and participating in school work. I love kids who enjoy reading, especially by their own accord.)

I knew though, that something was going on, something personal. Having my own history with various struggles, I do not wish anyone to struggle, especially internally, and especially as a youth.

After his announcement, he may have still been struggling, but now he exuded confidence, and frequently, he smiled. He talked openly about future plans for transition. He gently reminded others if we used the incorrect pronouns or name, but never shamed us. His family accepted him even though I know his father admittedly was working on adjusting to using the correct pronouns in his daily use. My student excitedly showed off a new necklace one day that allowed him to show his pronoun of choice so that he did not have to remind others each time. And from what I observed, he did not encounter bullying or harassment from peers, at least in my presence. Unfortunately, I fear this will not always remain the case, but I believe he is now at a place of personal strength and will always have people nearby who support and love him. I know though, that this too, for many youth and adults, is sadly not always the case.
*          *          *

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children Written by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (c) 2012  (First Edition, Tenth Printing 2016) 
Flux, an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. (Publisher)
2014 Stonewall Award 

Recommended by my student, I have to say first, I loved this book! Not since I read Sachiko (see earlier post) have I encountered a story that I did not want to put down. It pained me when I couldn't keep my eyes open a couple of nights to continue reading. 

The story focuses on Gabe, a transgender male whose family identifies as Elizabeth, whose classmates identify as either a lesbian or an "it" or other derogatory term, but whose closest friends identify as a friend, a music lover, a person. Written via first person point-of-view, the reader has easy access to Gabe's thoughts and internal dialogue.

Gabe is a high school senior at a school in Minnesota. (For Minnesotans, several references in the book will be familiar.) Thanks to a dear neighbor and friend, Gabe becomes a host of a late night radio show which shares the title of the book. It is here where Gabe can comfortably be himself as no one can see him or recognize him as Elizabeth, and he can speak about the classic music he knows and loves. Each chapter title compares someone to Elvis Presley and appears to come from Gabe rather than the author. On a personal level, Gabe compares himself to the B sides of 45's (records/vinyls that have a single song on each side). He's the lesser known song, but comparably good to the well-known song on the A side.

As the story progresses, more people become introduced to Gabe in person. As a result, struggles with acceptance (Gabe's own, and that of other people including his family and beyond), discrimination, and other challenges occur; however, there are several little bursts of cheer-worthy events throughout the book, especially related to followers of his radio show.

Gabe's voice in the story possesses a realness that draws in the reader. I felt like he was talking to me and that I could talk to him if that was possible. The details and descriptions turned the story into pictures in my mind. I found myself visualizing Gabe's story like a movie (which I would love to see). It did not matter that I lacked familiarity with many of the tunes he and his friend John referred to, or even if I had the familiarity, I did not always understand the fascination or the connections between Gabe and John's ideas and the songs. This did not matter, in the same way that people dear to us have interests we may not always connect to. We still love the people. That's how I felt and feel about Gabe. I would love to be his friend!

The story radiates personal processing and growth. Perhaps that's another reason I connected so well to Gabe. I gravitate toward stories where people have goals and make a concerted effort to move toward them, even if they struggle with figuring out how to do this. While the conclusion of the book may not be what readers expect or want, I found it hopeful and satisfying.

What is a great book for youth that you have read recently? Share below.
Let me know, also, if you read "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children."

If you are interested in the pronoun necklace that I referenced in the beginning of this post, here is the link to the Etsy site where my student got it. SpacerobotStudio This site also has emotion/feeling necklaces for displaying how one is feeling without talking, which is great for people who have autism or other challenges.

Until my next post (which I assure you will be much sooner than between my last post and now),

Today and tomorrow,