Thursday, July 23, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Summer of 2020

photo via Unsplash

Summer of 2020

Happiness is morning light
and -- except for birdsong -- silence.
A book to get lost in,
and a cup of tea to begin

a day soaked by rain.
It will not stay
cool, but at least starts
pleasantly, unmarked

by stress and worry
about all that is unsure.
Hold this moment close.
Capture this fragment of hope.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

Margaret has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Reflections on the Teche.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Say Her Name

This is SUCH an important book, and it is incredibly humbling to realize that I am not the intended audience. What a (white) privilege it is, that for almost all of my life I could open any book and find some version of me or a life somewhat like mine between the covers. As I read this book, I humbly looked over the shoulder of my BIPOC students and colleagues to read the "Poems to Empower" that were written with them in mind.

In the acknowledgements, Zetta Elliott shares that discovering Black women writers was a recent experience for her, too, but a very different experience from mine: "When you realize that your small, soft voice is actually part of a chorus, you begin to sing with more confidence." From the introduction: "We do have allies, but some days it feels like all we have is each other. This book of poetry is for us. I love us."

The book begins with a trio of haiku, and then every seven (or so) poems there is another set of three haiku. I love how these three short punches slow the reader down to breathe and process. After the final three haiku, there are notes for many of the poems that illuminate Elliott's mentors (Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, James Brown, James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Gwendolyn Brooks [her two poems inspired by "We Real Cool" are AMAZING], and many others).

Here is the final haiku:

stop killing us stop
killing us stop killing us
stop killing us STOP

©Zetta Elliott, 2020

This book is best suited for middle school and high school students, and adults.

Jan has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Bookseed Studio.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Fallibility

image via Unsplash


I am flawed. I make mistakes. I fail.
Miserably, and in cringe-worthy ways. All
the time. Yet I lift
myself up and flail
away at life, flatly
refusing to give up, refusing to take the bait
of “good enough.” I have the ability
to see the light in my aspirations, so I need to stand tall
and not bail
myself out with an alibi.
not be a liability.
and try
until I fly.
Until we all fly.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

I tried the new poetry form introduced by April Halprin Wayland at Teaching Authors last May -- In One Word. I started with the word FALLIBILITY. I used an online word generator to find all the words that are inside FALLIBILITY. Then I wrote my poem, using those words as the last word in each line.

Doing the internal work of antiracism is hard. It's painful to unpack privilege, to understand that I have harmed children (and colleagues) with my blindness, to lose my individuality and take group responsibility as a white person for systems of inequity perpetuated by whiteness. No matter how hard the work is, no matter how many times I fail, I have to get right back up and keep going. I have to stick with it for the long haul.

Ruth has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at There is no such thing as a God-Forsaken town.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Poetry Friday -- If

photo via Unsplash

If it weren't for the fireflies'
Nightly silent
I might have forgotten how much we
Need even tiny sparks of magic
In our lives
To remind us of the size of

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

It has been so delightful to spend the week with the word IF! Thank you, Charles and Irene for the call for poems using IF as the first word of the first line.

I have poem notes and drafts in my writer's notebook between notes from Phil Bildner's talk on BookLove, Dr. Paul Thomas' NCTE/LLA talk "Teaching Without a Deficit Lens," Kelly Gallagher and Julia Torres' talk on BookLove, Cornelius Minor's NCTE Member chat, and April Baker Bell's NCTE talk about her book Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity and Pedagogy. It's been the kind of week that has needed poetry woven throughout.

This poem got a lot of love when I polled adults and former students. But the more I thought about Heidi's feedback, the more I realized that it was the other one that needs to be submitted...after I revise the ending. Thanks, Heidi!

Linda has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at A Word Edgewise. She's got an In One Word Poem for us today.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

It's Time to Get Rid of Some "Classics" in Elementary Classrooms

Recently I read this article in School Library Journal--Weeding Out Racism's Invisible Roots: Rethinking Children's Classics by Padma Venkatraman. There is a lot to think about in this article and a lot of actions to take once we do that thinking.

If you follow #DisruptTexts, they've also really pushed my thinking about the books I have in my classroom, the books I read aloud, the books I recommend to students. We are so lucky to have Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena German, Dr. Kim Parker, and Julia Torres pushing our thinking and sharing their expertise. Their mission (stated on their website) it is:

"Disrupt Texts is a crowdsourced, grass roots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum that our students deserve. It is part of our mission to aid and develop teachers committed to anti-racist/anti-bias teaching pedagogy and practices."

Much of the work around rethinking the canon is connected to secondary classrooms. When we think of the "canon" we think of high school English classes. But there is definitely a canon in elementary schools. There are classic books that we have deemed "must have/must read" titles for our students. There are books that are grade level reads across a school or district. There are books that as individual teachers, we have committed to reading every year in our own classrooms. We hold onto them because we say, "Every child needs to read this book because I loved it." or "Every child needs to read this book because every class I've read it to has loved it."

Much of our commitment to these classics is about nostalgia. I love The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. My mother read both to me when I was in elementary school and I have great personal memories of them. I imagine during my first years of teaching I probably read them aloud to my 4th graders because I believed it was important to share books I loved so my students too could love reading. But when I revisit these books now, I realize the racist (and other) issues in both and would never read them aloud to students now. Dr. Laura Jiménez was the person who helped me understand the role of nostalgia in teacher book choice. In the article, The Overwhelming White, Straight, and Able Face of Children's Literature (Michigan Reading Journal, Fall 2018) she says, "Literacy gatekeepers want to share their experiences with important literature with their students." She then adds, "One major issue literary gatekeepers have is the assumption that a book that was good for them is good for all readers."

I have been thinking about my own personal nostalgia since listening to what Dr. Jiménez says about nostalgia. I have also been thinking of teacher nostalgia. I realize there are several books that were staple read-alouds during my early years in the classroom. I remember reading these books aloud to children and remembering them as anchors for joy around reading. I also remember these books as being popular with students in the years I did not read them aloud.  The Indian in the Cupboard and Touching Spirit Bear are two that stand out to me. At the time, I would have considered these fabulous choices for read aloud and independent reading. They were well reviewed by professional journals, well loved by students and really invited lots of incredible conversations. It didn't take me long to see the racism in The Indian in the Cupboard but in all honesty, it took me a while to give up Touching Spirit Bear. This misrepresentation in this book was less visible to me, but just as harmful. I am thankful for Dr. Debbie Reese's blog for helping me see the things I missed.

There are so many books that we hold onto as teachers and we have to stop. I have learned to recognize and ignore my own nostalgia when choosing books to share in the classroom.  I have learned that I can't let nostalgia get in the way of my professional responsibility. The nostalgia I have for certain books--either from my childhood or as a teacher -- cannot be the excuse I use to justify keeping these books in my classroom. 

Dr. Seuss and Laura Ingalls Wilder are just two authors that elementary teachers tend to hold onto. I recently read this NPR article about the reasons classics have such staying power. One point was, "And when planning lessons from year to year, it's easier for teachers to prioritize books they're already familiar with. But when these books include offensive stereotypes, teachers have to decide whether to continue teaching them and how."

It's time we all take a hard look at our classroom libraries and really look at the books we have, the books we hand to children, the books we use in mini lessons, and the books we choose to read aloud.   We have to ask ourselves questions like --Am I keeping this because I loved it as a child? Am I reading a book aloud because I always start the year with this one? We have to be honest with ourselves about the reasons we keep them.

And then we have to let some of our old favorites go. 

We don't have to let go of the happy memories we personally have of these books, But we must look past our own nostalgia to disrupt the elementary "canon" in our schools and classrooms. 

I am going to end with one more quote from Dr. Laura Jiménez, "You can hold onto the stories that build you at the very same time you are reaching for stories that will help the next generation of readers see themselves and others in this complex world."