Three Albums I’m Loving Right Now

Tinashe, Aquarius: This album turned up as my most-played on Spotify during the last quarter of 2014, and it’s no surprise to me; I agree that she is the new wave of sultry R&B songstresses, reminding me of Aaliyah in particular but with a fresh new 21st century gloss. It’s not really an album full of club tracks (though I’d love to hear 2 On out dancing some night), but instead, it’s perfect for evoking a cool and sinuous mood.

Mary J Blige, The London Sessions: Mary J. Blige is one of the great R&B divas–not in the “demanding hysteric” sense, but in the “legendary powerful woman with an amazing voice” sense, and I’m thrilled to see her reinventing her sound while maintaining those precious pipes of hers. London sees her collaborating with British artists like Disclosure and Sam Smith, and everyone benefits from this creative teamwork. I’d love to hear tracks like “My Loving” out on the dancefloor.

Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint: I confess that the majority of Minaj’s past work has left me cold, with the sole blazing exception of her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster”–I like her poppier stuff like “Starships” but was never convinced that I should listen further. But then came the Flawless (remix), so I gave The Pinkprint a few listens on Spotify and fell in love. There are ballads, dancefloor tracks, and some Minaj-style craziness, and all in all, the album is wonderful, revealing Minaj’s struggles and style in revelatory ways. It deserves critical acclaim it’s getting

Cookie Time

It’s holiday baking time again around here, and while I’ve been pinning new recipes and thinking about what to try out on Christmas, this week I made a few batches of cookies so I could send my girls in with gifts for their teachers before the winter break began.

Like last year, I looked to Sally’s Baking Addiction for some likely candidates, and found two winners:

White Chocolate Pumpkin Snickerdoodles: Last year I made Sally’s pumpkin-chocolate-chip cookies for several occasions, so this year I decided to put a spin on things and try this pumpkin variation on snickerdoodles, which have always been one of my favorite cookies. I also had a fair amount of canned pumpkin puree on hand after making pumpkin pancakes for dinner recently, so I made a double batch of this to use up more of the pumpkin. This is a flavor we never tire of around here, so even though it isn’t quite seasonal anymore, I think many would enjoy getting one of these spiced little treats over the holidays.

Cake Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies: I’ve wanted to try this again for a long time; shortly after I treated myself to Sally’s cookbook, which features these beauties on the cover. My first go-round didn’t do too well, as I think I messed up the cooling process and the cookies spread all over the pan. This time, I left the covered dough in the fridge for 48 hours and kept the dough in the fridge while some cookies were in the oven, and thankfully, the double batch I made this time was much more successful! Cake batter is a popular ice cream flavor for my girls, and they were thrilled to try this recipe.

My girls were glad to be able to bring in these gifts for their teachers, and though we’ve done this for years, I admit it has taken on a special flavor (pun intended) once I was baking not just for amazing teachers who have been such strong positive influences on my girls’ lives, but for colleagues I’m proud to work with in our school community.

Next up: what to bake/make for Christmas brunch? These doughnut muffins are a tradition and I always make my mother’s favorite peanut butter blossoms, but I also like to try new things each year. Last year I was so glad to have chicken barbecue in the fridge on Christmas Eve, so that will probably happen again. Otherwise, who knows? I’ve got some planning to do!

Personal Goals: 2015

I’m a big believer in personal goals. I set them every year instead of resolutions, and I set them for myself periodically and then reflect on how I’ve done in progressing towards them. Over the years, I’ve tackled many challenges, failed at some and succeeded at others, and gained many insights along the way at what does and does not motivate me and what values I really want at the center of my life.

2014 was a year of upheaval and change in my personal life, so in 2015, my overarching goal is to start a new phase of my life and be intentional about the way I want it to look and what habits will help me achieve it. Here are the guiding phrases I’ll be keeping in mind, followed by some concrete ways I’ll be working towards putting them in practice.

Physical Strength is Linked to Mental and Emotional Strength

This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve internalized in the past few years, and I intend to build on the successes of last year as well as learn from where I stumbled. After my strong spring, I let my fitness goals really lapse in the tidal wave of personal and professional responsibilities in the fall, and I could feel the effects mentally and emotionally as well. Starting in January, I’ve joined a fitness challenge at my school involving activity trackers and am planning to run both my school’s 5K and the Warrior Dash again. The new challenge will be finding a goal for the fall season and really maintaining this habit, building towards strength in all areas of my life. So far, I’m thinking about some fall hikes, in addition to finding a race or two.

Creativity is the Key

One of the big 2014 personal goals I really regret missing is that I did not make time for writing a priority in my life this year. I enjoyed the morning pages I wrote on my artist’s way but didn’t make any headway on my personal essay goals, and never quite got back on track after the mean reds derailed me. This spring, I’m trying again, in the hopes that working on filling the well will work its magic once again. I’m already thinking of incorporating small area concerts as artist dates, and even dabbling in clay. I’m figuring out what inspires me and feels enriching to me, so now I need to weave it more closely into my life. It’s also important to me not to use time/scheduling as a excuse; I made plenty of time for binge-watching and internet usage that did not enrich my life or make me feel healthier in any way.

Embrace Adventures with Grace

There are a lot of cliches you could throw in here–lemonade, curveballs, punches–but the essence is that this year, I want to surprise myself in good ways as well as deal with unexpected challenges gracefully. There are places places in my city and experiences I want to have, and I want to seek them out again this year. A fascinating article I read recently asked women to think How Have You Made Yourself Proud This Year? In 2014, I learned some new things about myself after shifting with some stormy winds, and I feel all the better for it now. I tell my kids consistently that you cannot control everything that happens to you in life, but you can control how you react to anything that arises. I am proud of how I handled anything that came my way this year, and hope that at the end of 2015, I’ll be able to say the same.

Strength, grace, creativity: three core and guiding values I hope to use to define 2015.

The Palace

On the glass. Post player. Forwards, point guards, rebounds. Perimeter. Threes. Backcourt, buckets, box out.

These are all terms I’ve come to know and love since becoming a rabid, dedicated fan of our school basketball teams. Now that basketball season has rolled around again, I’m checking the home game schedule, chatting with players about this year’s new prospects, and devotedly hoping that we can triumph over our biggest conference rival, who beat us in last year’s championship game in a heart-stopping sequence of play that was thrilling to watch.

I actually combed through my archives before drafting this post because I just couldn’t believe that I haven’t written about this before, but then I remembered that I turned an old partially drafted blog post about watching basketball into a short creative nonfiction piece for Indiana English. Now that’s it been published, I feel free to reprint it here below:

The Palace

Jackie Regales

The students call it the palace, the cathedral of athletics. They crowd the bleachers and stomp their feet and chant and clap their hands; they lean over their clenched fists and watch the girls run up and down the court in matching red and white uniforms. They shout the names of the girls they know, and their voices echo in counterpoint with the squeaks of soles and the thumping heartbeat of the basketball on the floorboards. Some are ladies in waiting, yearning for their chance at the throne.

And the players! The players, they are incredible; they are young and fierce and graceful, their faces intense and their movements quick. The freshman point guard storms the basket, and the junior power forward dominates the rebound shot again and again. The sophomore sensation is tapping the ball out of the air, she is passing it behind her back before you know she has it, she is on the foul line again and again because the other team knows they have to stay close, they know what she can do if they let her. The Catholic school team is playing city ball, throwing elbows like confetti and taunting her as she tenses for the free throw. These Catholic girls are tough, they are hungry; they are the insurgents, clamoring at the gates. At every turn, they are a moment of ahead of where our girls want to be, but even as they lose, our queens hold their noble heads high.

We are their teachers, and we have come to worship too, here under the bright lights and steel beams. We sit on narrow hard bleachers in our high heels, with our bags full of ungraded tests and freshly copied handouts, families waiting at home for a dinner we haven’t cooked. Some of us are remembering the waves of adulation that crashed over our own regal adolescent heads, and others of us have been watching from these bleachers all our lives, knowing that mental agility and grace will never win us this particular crown. We watch our girls, these amazing girls playing their hearts out on these shining boards, these girls that we see in the halls and in our classrooms, these girls we try to inspire. We see these girls’ faces, we shout their names too; we hope they know we are here, here in their lives, when they need us, when they are ready. We are here in the palace, hoping for a corner of these crowded hours, waiting for them to notice our offering and graciously accept it.

Slice of Life: Holiday Fair

This past Saturday, our school had its annual Holiday Fair. You’ve probably seen something like it before: moonbounce over here, tables of women selling handmade jewelry and custom-made doll clothes over there, green wreaths and baked goods for sale, streams of people bustling around, children running everywhere, begging parents for slices of pizza and just one more ticket pleassseeeeee.

These kinds of events are always too overwhelming for me to handle for long, but I feel obligated as someone who values the community to come and participate anyway. My girls brought a friend and they evaporated once I doled out some cash, so I was on my own until my volunteer shift began. Luckily, there were a series of student performances in our theater at the same time, so I got to sit in the semidarkness and listen to a young male a capella group, followed by a different group of young men playing jazzed-up versions of holiday standards. Listing to recorded music is one of the constant threads of my day, but any chance to hear live music reminds just how soul-satisfying it is to me.

I had agreed to help staff the goldfish booth as a seventh grade parent, so at 2:00, I found myself warding off dented ping-pong balls, asking children to stand right on the line as they tossed their balls in hopes of winning a goldfish, carefully decanted into a plastic bag by my daughters and a few of their friends. “Two tickets, three balls, come win a goldfish!” we chanted as the children and their parents walked by. I chatted with a few parents I recognized and cheered for some of my ninth grade students as they valiantly tried to win a fish for themselves or younger siblings.

I’ve been a little worried about my girls and friendship lately–nothing in the bullying realm, but what I think are just some of the classic shuffles and weirdness of middle school. Part of the challenge is that their friendships have less and less to do with me; I’m not always friends with the parents of girls they want to get to know, circles and cliques and strata have developed that I am unaware of, girls who seem perfectly average to me are so obviously the popular girls, Mom, why don’t you get it?! We’ve left the Playdate Era far behind, and this brave new world of adolescent socializing is unsettling for all of us. I try not to hover, try to let them navigate it, try not to blame myself for not pushing them to be more sports-focused when they were younger, as so much socially seems to revolve around sports. I tell myself all the wise pieces of advice I’ve dished out to parents over the years who were concerned about their daughters.

So we drove out to the suburbs to bring a friend with us, and I let them stock up this weekend on lip gloss and iTunes cards for the friends they want to exchange gifts with, and I watched them, not too obviously, as they swirled and mingled with the other girls at the goldfish booth. They whispered and giggled, ran away to get more tickets and put each other in “jail,” and asked to stay an extra hour. When we got home, they both chatted excitedly about the fun they’d had, and I put my worries away for the day, satisfied I had done what I could, knowing that the worry would surface again in the future and I’d have to trust them and myself all over again.

This is my first Slice of Life post!

Wrap-Up: My Time at NCTE 2014

As a first-time attendee, I did not know quite what to expect as my department headed to the annual NCTE convention, but even if I had developed detailed expectations, I’m fairly sure they would have been exceeded. We only stayed for Friday and Saturday, but even in those two days, I absorbed so much, gained such inspiration, and sparked so many new ideas that I feel it was an incredible investment of my time and energy, even at a time of year when I am feeling even more depleted than usual.

Here’s some brief descriptions of the workshops I attended and found most useful; for each, I took pages of notes on the ideas and materials presented, but also found myself filling the margins with ways to adapt the topics for my own classes. Any teacher knows this is the sign of truly beneficial professional development, when you gain global insight into a theme, text, or instructional method, while also acquiring ways to immediately put the theory into practice in your own classroom.

Friday:

Text and Image or Text as Image? New Approaches to Teaching Visual and Media Literacy: This was a great way to start off my NCTE experience: thought-provoking yet extremely practical, with plenty of examples and ideas to make me feel energized right away. These presenters focused on how we can synthesize texts and images in our classrooms, thinking about how visual elements enhance texts and helping students become “selective and active creators of content.” They gave examples of texts interpreted as images, texts remixed into images, image to text, and images inspiring text, inspiring me to think about new ideas as well as ways to deepen and better assess projects I already do.

Portfolios: Reflective Processes for Independence and Innovation: This presentation made me think globally about the value and possibilities inherent in “making thinking visible” for my students, and how that can deepen their learning, enhance our classroom community, and help them see themselves as scholars. Like many of the convention presentations, these Wisconsin teachers have thankfully made their slides available for post-convention viewing. Even though I teach in a very different environment from these presenters, I gained so much insight in to how to aid student in being more reflective about their work and about themselves as scholars-in-training.

Queering(ing)Literature in the Secondary English Classroom: I attended this one partly through my work as our school’s GSA sponsor, but also because I’ve made some tentative inroads into using critical theory in my senior elective and wanted to think more productively about how I might do so. The discussion and resources (like this set of inclusive frameworks), helped me push my thinking in directions such as wondering how I might lead my seniors in a discussion of “queering” One Hundred Years of Solitude .

Interactive Notebook Foldables: After getting shut out of a “featured session” that was jam-packed, I ended up in this one, which ended up answering some questions I’ve had about “foldables” since I read a pair of blog entries from a high school history teacher who used them with success in her classroom. Foldables are all over Pinterest as well, but without seeing concrete examples, I never quite understood how they would be used with my classes. This session focused specifically on their usage with poetry lessons and included Dinah Zike, who seems to be the queen of foldables and refers to them as “manipulatives for learning.” After this session, which involved us all making our own foldable book with instructions and examples, I can easily see how these could be useful in vocabulary work as well as a prewriting tool for my ninth graders when they write poetry explications in the spring. I even thought ahead to next summer and how I might use them with my CTY kids.

Saturday:

Methods of Teaching Writing: Power and Cohesion in a Writing Curriculum: This workshop started my Saturday off with a starstruck jolt, as Lucy Calkins was one of the presenters. While she is known primarily for her work at the elementary school level, I have found her work very helpful in thinking through how to incorporate elements of writing workshops in my classes. This session was no exception, as Calkins and the other presenters gave me structured and insightful ways to think about how I conference with my students as they are working on drafts, as well as ways to think about mini-lessons and whole-group instruction. One topic touched on a puzzle that’s been worrying me lately: how can I help my students see that in writing their successful personal essays, they’ve been working on skills that will help them with critical essays as well? Again, I felt I gained both insight on how to think globally about these dilemmas as well as some practical suggestions.

Letter-Essays: Engaging Kids in Social and Analytical Response to Stories: Another brush with someone I’ve long admired: Nancie Atwell, who writes primarily for 7th-8th grade teachers, but again, in whose work I’ve found much food for thought. One of my long-debated ideas is how to incorporate independent reading into my 9th grade course, and Atwell’s devoted scholarship on the subject is the main reason I keep returning to it, even though it is not customary in my division at my school as a year-long practice. This workshop focused on one aspect of how Atwell and her teachers use “letter-essays” to communicate with their students about what they’ve been reading, and I found the examples they shared fascinating and inspiring. I even brainstormed about a mini-choice-reading project I could do with my seniors over spring break and added The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers to my wishlist as soon as I got home.

Understanding the Middle East Through Literature: I chose this session because after truly enjoying teaching Persepolis, I realized that I felt confident about teaching graphic novels but not very much about placing the work in a greater context of literature from the region. This session included the work of two teachers who have been teaching semester-long senior electives on the topic for years, which was immediately inspiring to me because our senior English classes work on the same system. The materials presented were so comprehensive and engaging that I emailed my department chair this weekend to ask about proposing a similar elective in the 2015-2016 school year. Found myself a winter break project, clearly, and I think a course of this nature could be so enriching for our students. I am already looking forward to asking our Arabic teacher for assistance, as well as one of our history teachers who spent a few years living in Turkey.

When I got back, I saw I had missed workshops by some great teacher-bloggers, including Epiphany in Baltimore on John Steinbeck, Glenda Funk on Landscapes of Truth and Fiction, Dana Huff on online writing workshop techniques, Nerdy Book Club and more! As you can see, I covered a fair amount of intellectual ground in the hectic two days I was able to spend, though of course I feel like I missed out on some great sessions as well. I also got to hear an amazing address by Marian Wright Edelman and seeJacqueline Woodson appear on a panel, fresh off her National Book Award win. This doesn’t even include my trips through the jam-packed exhibition hall, where I managed to pick up an armload of free Poetry Out Loud materials, get a free copy of David Levithan’s Every Day, signed in person by the author himself, as well as a free Agatha Christie-themed totebag for my daughter, a nifty Scholastic shoulder bag (also free!), along with an assortment of catalogs, posters, and other giveaways. I don’t know when I’ll be able to make it back, but I’ve added a few goals to my professional dreams (attending, and then presenting), and re-experienced the joy of truly worthwhile professional development in a community of dedicated colleagues I’m proud to call my peers.

Filling the Well

Without deliberate intentions on my part, 2014 has turned out to be quite the year of travel for me.

In January, I spent several days in New York City with a dear friend and then traveled to Philadelphia as one of the chaperones for our Model UN club. In New York, modern art stopped me in my tracks, and in Philadelphia, I wandered the legendary museum of art and felt inspired around every corner. At this point in the year, I was working my path on The Artist’s Way, and I remember jotting down impressions and fragments of poems in Philadelphia and feeling renewed.

June saw me in Nashville with a good friend and colleague, soaking up professional development training and marveling at the Johnny Cash museum. We’ve been conducting our first CFG meetings this year, and it’s been a supportive and challenging experience for me, the other facilitators and the participants. This week, I spent a few days in Las Vegas with my sister, touring a neon graveyard and feeling dazzled by more lights and fabulosity than I’ve ever seen before. She was there for a conference, but we managed to squeeze in some fun before I left and her schedule got much busier. Tomorrow, I’ll be diving into more development and inspiration during my first trip to the annual NCTE convention. I’m already inspired by teachers like Epiphany in Baltimore, who is presenting at several panels and is a repeat presenter and attendee. I’m hoping to get to hear from teachers like Jim Burke, whose work has been so helpful to me, and teachers whose names I don’t know yet, but are doing such exciting things in their classrooms and open to sharing with peers in the field.

Looking back, each trip offered rich experiences and sources of inspiration. Personally, this year has been one of the hardest I’ve ever experienced (in non-blog-friendly ways), but one of the saving graces has been these trips, journeys outside of my daily juggling act, time to rediscover what makes me energized and what I’m capable of when I’m navigating the world outside of my regular little family bubble.

News Analysis, Halloween Style

Our first quarter just ended, I turned in grades and comments this morning, my students are turning in personal essays before we start our next text, and I expect Friday’s half-day to be fairly chaotic, so I’ve been thinking about how best to transition between units while still building skills. Here’s the email I’m sending my students as classwork over the next few days:

Hello students,

The New York Times has a feature called “Test Yourself,” designed to help students use context clues to detect vocabulary usage using articles from the newspaper itself. At the bottom of each “test yourself” exercise is a link to the original article. See how well you do on figuring out the context clues, and when you get the end of the “test,” read the full article and answer the following questions for each in a Word document. Whatever you don’t finish today, we will continue on Friday.

1. How well did you do on figuring out the vocabulary in context?
2. What was the headline for the original news article? Explain who, what, when, where, why of this article.
3. Did you find it an interesting read? Why or why not?
4. How did the author keep you engaged as a reader? Think about techniques, phrases and sentences you found especially well-done or written.

Links:

Ghost Hunting in the Asylum

Theme Park Frights

Halloween on the Subway

Scary New Pumpkins

American Horror Story

How to Make a Black Hole

In case you end up using this with your students, all NYT articles linked through their Learning Network section are free to read. I’m planning to have my students work together fairly independently on these, but you could easily split them into small groups and have each group analyze one piece.

Girls Who Wear Glasses

glasses

Eighteen years ago, I swore I would never go back to wearing glasses. I had spent too long feeling trapped behind them, hobbled by my terrible vision, held back from ever feeling attractive by the weight of plastic and glass I carried around on my face. But here I am today, wearing glasses and feeling liberated.

I got my first pair of glasses when I was six or seven, already a voracious reader and thrilled to be able to see the words I loved more clearly. In those early years, my frames went from pink to blue to amber, always heavy plastic containing even heavier lenses as my vision grew worse and worse. As I entered middle school, I learned that my heavy glasses marked me clearly as the super-nerd I was, awash in gifted classes, completely clumsy at sports, always with a book in my hand. In high school, I grew to hate my glasses, agreeing with Dorothy Parker’s famous warning: Men seldom make passes/ At girls who wear glasses and bemoaning the fact that I had to add braces to the package for three long years. I never had a pair of prescription sunglasses, so on every summer day, you could find me squinting in the glare or fumbling around blindly in the water. Finally, after working in an ophthalmologist’s office, he gave me my first contacts as a graduation present. I remember feeling so grateful, especially because the first pair was ready in time for my senior prom, and I truly felt like I had left my ugly-duckling years behind.

So why change?

This past Saturday night, I went for my sister’s birthday, dinner, dancing, and a punk rock show that stretched long past midnight. I wore my new glasses, jeans, sneakers, and a black t-shirt I got at the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville this summer. I pulled my hair into a ponytail, wore no make-up, danced the night away, attracted admiring attention, and generally had a blast. Fifteen years ago, the time in my life when I went out dancing or to shows regularly, I would never have dressed to go out in such a…..comfortable ensemble. But instead, I felt fantastic. Relaxed. Ready to twist and twirl under a disco ball to the sounds of New Order, the Eurhythmics, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, ready to wake up the next day without terrible aches in my feet and knees from “cute” heels, ready to stay out till all hours and not feel like my eyes were burning or drying up completely.

Maybe the truth is that it was never my glasses holding me back at all; maybe it was my lack of confidence all along, my inability to see a beautiful self that could include “face jewelry,” as I heard one of my students say recently. Maybe the cocoon I hid in was of my own making, and the chrysalis could only fall away once I was ready to step into a new way of seeing, all my own.

I’ll still keep contacts around, especially for the summer months, but it’s great to have the option, and I like how confident and comfortable I feel in my glasses now, standing in my own light and looking far ahead.

The Opposite of Loneliness

It’s like I can hear her talking right to me, my student said, and all the students around her murmured in agreement, and I knew I had found another great teachable piece of writing.

We were reading Marina Keegan’s essay, The Opposite of Loneliness, as a model text to help them get ready for writing personal essays. A former student of mine had bounded into my classroom two weeks before, saying, “Ms. Regales, you’ve got to read this book!” so I had taken her copy of The Opposite of Loneliness home with me and read it fairly quickly, enjoying the book itself very much but also thrilled to be able to tell her how much I had liked it.

Marina Keegan was a young and incredibly talented writer who died in a car crash five days after her graduation from Yale. Her work was collected by her parents and some of her professors for posthumous publication, and the shadow of her untimely death is hard to put aside while reading her pieces. However, I think the book stands alone as a fresh young voice, and the personal essays are strong, well-written, accessible, and provide excellent lessons in voice, focus, imagery, alliteration, and many other tools in any writer’s toolbox. Several of her pieces from the book, like the title essay and Why we care about whales (would make a great mentor text for “why we care about _____” essays), are available online, and I also chose “Against the Grain,” an essay she wrote about having celiac disease, as a longer example. Again, my students loved it, dissecting paragraphs and discussing her humor and voice, while recognizing how skilfully she portrays her mother and her childhood self. Her essays show her skill, but they also show my students how beautiful work can come from seemingly mundane experiences.

Teaching mentor texts as a scaffolding for teaching writing is a technique I’m still mastering, especially since most of the writing I assign is standard literary analysis. The Poet to Poet project I did last year was a successful experiment with mentor texts, and as a complement to Persepolis, we decided to begin our 9th grade year with personal essays. The first time around, I used This I Believe essays as a framework, but I found that for whatever reason, the payoff wasn’t what I was expecting, so I knew I had to tweak it some this year. In addition to choosing new mentor texts, I’m giving them a menu of options, including This I Believe, but also some current college essay prompts, as well as the Letters About Literature contest, with examples from the previous winners. Allowing for more options, while still guided, will hopefully be inspiring to my students.

We’ll see how it goes!