The worst thing about censorship is…..

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Overall, I’m not a fan of censorship. You’ll rarely find me supporting the conservative parent who’s questioning the contents of a book.  Four years ago an author’s free verse young adult series was questioned in the school’s library where I taught, but no one who had concerns about the book had actually read the book cover to cover.  Nonetheless, teachers who had this same author’s work on their classroom library shelves were asked to remove them from our classrooms and I obliged only because I like having a salary that allows me to afford food, clothing, and shelter for my family.  It was my first year in a new school district; I just did it and didn’t argue.

Unless the book is pornographic, I say keep it.  Swearing – fine.  You should listen to the students in my hallway.  They are familiar with cuss words, I’m not teaching them anything new or taking them down with me to “the dark side”.  Drugs?  Well, they do exist.  I have never read a story (with drugs, violence, etc, embedded in the plot line) that actually promoted the illegal activity.  It simply proved that controversial topics exist, these situations are happening RIGHT NOW and many of my students come from complicated life experiences.  If you want them to read, they need characters and situations they can relate to.  More and more young adults are turning to realistic-fiction nationally (I’ve seen this in my classroom as well) and this does not surprise me at all.  If they’re going to read, they don’t want to waste their time with fairy-tale endings, and imaginary worlds. They want to keep it real and find solutions and/or be able to cope with text-to-self or text-to-world connections while they read.

What prompted this blog post?  On my Twitter account, I follow Laurie Halse Anderson, a young adult author who wrote the historical-fiction novel Fever 1793 that I read with my 7th grade students the four years I was a middle school English teacher.  Anderson had posted a tweet about how a school board in Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania wants to remove any books on any shelf in the school that possess, “violence, sexual content, or language.”  My first reaction was: They’ll have nothing left on the shelves. I think the parents’ and school board’s motivation is they feel they’re protecting their children, but educating them on the possible negative scenarios their child could encounter in his/her future and using a piece of literature as an example of how best to handle those scenarios is far better than the shield/avoidance strategy.

I do a censorship lesson with my students when we practice being critical and analyzing literature and we use children’s books as examples.  If you really want to pick a book apart, you could find “something wrong” with every book ever written.  Another pet peeve of mine?  People telling me how to think/feel.  Fahrenheit 451 should remain a book of fiction.  There’s no need for us to bring it to life.

The irony of censorship is that when a book is given a lot of negative attention, it typically draws more readers to that work.  The free verse series I mentioned earlier?  After the student body got wind that they no longer had access to the literature at school, they (many were students who weren’t readers or did not have previous intentions of reading poetry for pleasure) marched on over to the public library and the waiting list to check out these titles was 10-20 names deep.

At my first teaching job, a particular “classic” novel was deemed only appropriate for upperclassman (even though age is really a number, maturity is not consistent merely by grade level) and the book was put on a shelf behind the school’s library circulation desk via administration request.  Again, students’ interest in the book was peeked once it was deemed “forbidden”.  More students had checked out and read the novel than all the others years the school had owned the novel combined.

When deeming a novel “acceptable” let’s focus on the quality of the writing and not just on one cuss word or one scene.  From cover to cover, is the story worth it?  Right now I’m reviewing an early edition reader’s copy of an upcoming novel and I don’t like it.  I’d have no desire to put it on my shelves.  Why?  It’s poorly written and I have yet to detect a worthy theme from the story line.  I also find the protagonist almost impossible to relate to by most teenagers today.

If the book in question is not required reading, but a choice for students to pick from, then the student can simply choose a different book if his/her parents do not approve.  The last thing I’d want as a parent and English teacher is for another parent to have the power to decided what MY child has access to.  Frankly, leave that up to me.

Why I Got Into Teaching

I wasn’t sure what my first post on my first blog was going to be about.  We’re getting close to Christmas so flying out of the gates with a full-on vent didn’t seem fitting.  Why not talk about why I love my job?  I’m sure I’ll slide in a couple sarcastic/quick comments here and there, because that’s how I roll, but overall I’ll try to keep this as positive as I can.

Education wasn’t my first major.  For 16 weeks I was a Broadcast Journalism major.  Spring semester, while sitting in my first journalism class of my college career, “Introduction to Broadcasting” (and the content of the history of television and radio was actually quite interesting) I realized this wasn’t going to be the career for me.  Why?  I’m not petite and I’m female (big guys-not a problem–and yes, I already inserted a negative comment).  No one was going to put me in front of a camera.  Radio?  It would be fantastic to be on air while secretly wearing pajamas, no make-up if I didn’t feel like it, and jamming to music, but at the age of 18, I had zero confidence that I was funny enough to get a morning radio spot.  On top of all that, my professor explained how technology would affect the broadcasting industry and that the need for full-time employed humans was going to be few and far between in the near future, so clearly the odds were stacked against me.  I walked out of that lecture, and immediately withdrew from the College of Journalism and walked my papers across campus to the Teacher’s College.

I remember wanting to be a teacher when I was in elementary school.  Why I changed my mind once I became a legal adult?  I think there was a part of me in my 18 year old brain that didn’t think choosing the same career path as one of my parents was “cool” so becoming a teacher or an accountant (I stink at Math anyway) was not on my radar.  In the end though, the reality was that the only subjects I liked in high school were those that fell into the category of Language Arts.  Now, I sincerely feel this is where I’m supposed to be.  Here’s another negative comment: There are plenty of teachers out there, who have chosen this profession for odd reasons.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of awesome educators out there too, but unfortunately it’s the train wrecks that make the news or grab my attention in the work place.  But, back to the positive.  I want to focus on the teachers in my life that definitely got into the profession for the right reasons and have influenced the way that I teach.  If you’re my former teacher, and I didn’t mention you, it’s not because I don’t think you’re great at your job, I just thought I’d narrow it down to my Top 5 (the order in which I had them-earliest to latest).

*Mrs. Hansel – Fourth grade Language Arts teacher:

She had me at,  “I picked this book out just for you.”  I remember her telling me this as she called each one of us to her book cabinet one by one and explained what our first independent-read book was going to be, a little synopsis of the plot and why she sincerely thought we would like it.  I do that now with my students whether it be book trailers, book recommendations, or coming back  from the weekend with a bag of books and handing different titles to kids to try.  When you show them how special AND powerful AND important AND personal reading can be, your students will read.  Sometimes it really is that easy.

*Mr. Carlson – 8th grade English Teacher

Here was a smart male teaching English, which, for whatever reason, was an anomaly in my world.  Most of my teachers had been female up to this point.  I read The Outsiders the first day he sent us all home with a school copy of the book.  I loved “A Lantern in Her Hand” as well, but what I enjoyed the most from Mr. Carlson is the feedback he gave me on my writing.  He was great with teacher-student conferencing at a time when it wasn’t the “rage” and there hadn’t been a billion professional books written about it.  Right away, at the beginning of the year, he had us writing a persuasive position paper on whatever we wanted.  I took this window of opportunity to let the feelings fly, and I remember writing a paper on name favoritism in our community and how people should be rewarded for hard work not because of what their parents or grandparents have accomplished, but for what they’ve accomplished (yep, I was an opinionated beast back in 8th grade too).  Mr. Carlson had such a kind heart, our whole conference was him worrying that I felt he had been prejudiced towards me, a middle-class kid.  I had to reassure him, that he’d always treated me with fairness, and that I certainly wasn’t using the assignment as a passive-aggressive attempt to tell my English teacher to, “Go Fly a Kite.”  Mr. Carlson was the opposite of picking favorites.  He was fair.  He read every word of our writing and wanted us to like English.  I respect him for his intelligence and the fairness he brought to the room.  I try to be as consistent as possible with my students when it comes to class expectations and even though it’s time consuming, constructive feedback is so worth it.

*J.P., D., – (Jr. High & High School Band) and Mr. Bob (H.S. Drama):

These three guys are getting grouped together, because they were my Fine Arts teachers, but they also collaborated with each other as well, and made a powerhouse team.  What they all share in common, even though  they all had VERY different personalities (and yes, none of us actually called them Mr. Roebke, Mr. Duensing, and Mr. Henrichs), was they never gave up on me.  You see, when it came to playing my french horn with somewhat impressive skill/talent or acting on stage at a level that was praise-worthy, I was a super late bloomer.  Mainly because of self-confidence, anxiety, and always fearing I was going to choke at the big moments, which I did anyway.  I’m so happy they hung in there for my junior/senior years when I finally found a stride and was much more consistent with my performance level.  Not every student clicks at the same time, but encouragement, suggestions, and helpful/constructive criticism can really help a student meet their goals/improve on their skills.

*Madame Lamski – High School French II-IV Teacher

Hands down the most energetic and optimistic teacher I ever had.  She never appeared agitated with our class, even though we were an eclectic group of crazy adolescents.  That 45 minute class period was JAM PACKED with activities.  Never once did she stand up in front of the room for 5 minutes, give a little blurb and then do a, “And now you will work on these pages out of your textbook for the next 40 minutes”.  She incorporated so much audio, visual, body-movement activities, whatever she had to do to help us grasp a concept, new vocabulary, you name it!  We still write Christmas letters to each other and I even got to spend three weeks with Madame in France the summer after I graduated high school.  She is the most worldly teacher (she worked in the Peace Corp prior to teaching French in the states) I ever had and she taught me so much about life, tolerance, and diversity.  She has been a wonderful role-model about the importance of positive relationship building with students.  Her classroom was exciting and energetic from the tardy to dismissal bell, and everything in between, and because that mutual respect was established, we were more than willing to go along for the ride!

*Loretta Tebbe – Honors Communication Arts 9, Novice & Varsity Debate Teacher 9-12

I left my mom for the end, because she was (now retired) an amazing teacher and like all of my great English teachers taught me with my writing, I’m trying to bring my first blog post full-circle.  When I was 18 I didn’t want to be my mom, but in the end she is the person who’s classroom I spent the most time in and who has influenced me the most when it comes to lesson plans, unit development, and classroom delivery.  I had my mother as a teacher all four years in high school, because I chose to compete in Debate all four years of high school.

Another reason I didn’t jump into the teaching saddle right away is I first-hand witnessed the B.S. that many teachers have to go through.    The 6 1/2 day weeks she worked (even though there were no classes or school related activities on Sunday, after church was the only time she had to grade) is  hard for me to wrap my brain around since she also was a mother of three kids and active in her church and community.  How did she maintain her sanity and still be a very dynamic teacher (I loved her Communication Arts class)?

What I learned from those four years of living with one of my high school teachers is that if you’re going to do the job right, it takes HARD WORK.  My mom doesn’t accept sucking at anything, which means there was never half-effort on her part, which also means, she was stretched pretty thin with all the hats in her life she wore.  I don’t consider myself Teacher of the Year, and I’m not the smartest person in my building, but I am proud to tell people that I’m a hard-worker.

Teaching is no small task (when done right—yep another zinger) and I’m so proud to call teaching my profession.