This past Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day. Even though my New Year’s resolution was to not buy any books until I read the ones that I already own, it’s hard for me to resist this event—it’s the perfect excuse to buy new books. This year, though, I went shopping with a goal. I wanted to purchase books that would help me grow as an educator. When teaching, I often spend so much time preparing lessons and reading student work that I barely have a chance to read for fun or professional development. In order to be more thoughtful about what I read, I have started a “summer reading list,” the beginnings of which I am sharing with the PALS community. I want this list to contain a variety of texts that relate to the teaching of writing or American literature in some way. Outlined below are summaries of the first four books that I will read this summer and how I hope they will inform my teaching.
The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals
What initially stood out to me about The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals is that it was written by social workers who “wanted to create a compact volume that would give readers some practical ways to look at self-care—something that would instruct readers in how to take charge of their own self-care plans.” Fitting under the umbrella of “other helping professionals,” teaching is an occupation that can come with a significant amount of emotional labor, which has already been written about in this PALS post. In addition, many young instructors must cope with the stress accompanied by taking on part-time employment, starting out in short-term positions, or moving away from one’s support system for a full-time job. The A-to-Z Handbook contains a variety of suggestions for how to manage this type of emotional exhaustion and stress. This text was created for “busy professionals who do not necessarily want an academic tome on burnout, but who recognize—experientially—the need to address these concerns.” I actually started reading this text while preparing to write this post and have already begun to reflect on how I can use these strategies to create my own formal self-care plan this summer.
The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and The Road to Civil War
Joanne B. Freeman’s The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and The Road to Civil War has been on my to-read list since I saw her speak about this book at the New York Public Library last fall. The Field of Blood details the “turbulent atmosphere of the decades before the Civil War, when the U.S. Congress itself was rife with conflict.” As someone who has studied American literature that was written between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, I, admittedly, have a much more generalized knowledge of American politics during this time. Therefore, I was shocked to learn how physically violent the sessions in Congress were. In the Author’s Note, Dr. Freeman writes, “When that fighting became endemic and congressmen strapped on knives and guns before heading to the Capitol every morning…it meant something…. In short, it meant the collapse of our national civic structure to the point of crisis. The nation didn’t slip into disunion; it fought its way into it, even in Congress.” I’m excited to learn more about this tumultuous time period as a way to gain a deeper understanding of the political context surrounding the Civil War’s beginnings. I can then use this newfound knowledge when teaching literary texts from this time period.
Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities
As someone who has spent a significant amount of her career teaching developmental writing students the five paragraph essay structure, I am a bit skeptical of this book’s central argument. Do we really need to completely eliminate the five paragraph essay? Is that even possible or feasible in some college classes, such as developmental composition? With these questions in mind, I plan on reading John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities with an open mind. The first chapter is entitled “Our Writing ‘Crisis’” and compares the five paragraph essay to training wheels on a bicycle, in that this structure ultimately limits the opportunities students have to make their own choices while writing. Warner argues, “By trying to guide students toward ‘proficiency’ or ‘competency,’ we wind up providing them with rules and strictures that cut students off from the most important and meaningful aspects of writing.” In this framework, the five paragraph essay becomes one of the many “rules” taught to students that restrict their ability to become independent and creative writers. Warner extends his argument to outline how grading and assessment, among other elements, can negatively affect student writing. The second half of this book then explores different approaches to teaching writing and other ideas that Warner labels the “unanswered questions.” Regardless of whether or not I end up agreeing with his ideas, I look forward to analyzing Warner’s argument and using it to critically think about my own teaching.
Calling a Wolf a Wolf
April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate, NPR’s podcast Code Switch released an excellent episode entitled “Poets, The Life Boats.” It reacquainted me with Kaveh Akbar, whose collection Calling a Wolf a Wolf has been sitting on my bookshelf since last Independent Bookstore Day. The first half of the episode featured an interview between Akbar and Shereen Marisol Meraji, one of the hosts of Code Switch. Akbar was born in Tehran, Iran and came to the United States when he was a toddler. During their discussion of language, Akbar explains a sense of liminality, or in-betweenness, he often experiences: “In a room full of Persian people, I feel like the least Persian person, and in a room full of Americans, I certainly don’t feel American. And that’s an occasion for grief. It’s potent; it’s potent for art and creativity – right? – because it grants a vantage point that is sort of outside of.” This discussion between Akbar and Meraji on identity, language, and grief can serve as an introduction to Akbar’s poem “Do You Speak Persian?,” in which he writes, “I have been so careless with the words I already have.” In addition to exploring the relationship between these themes, poems in Calling a Wolf a Wolf also focus on Akbar’s addiction and recovery. When teaching a unit on poetry, I always try to include contemporary poets, so I would love to use this interview from Code Switch as a companion piece when teaching Akbar’s poems.
These four selections are just the beginning of my summer reading list. Even though including more books might be ambitious (like many of you, I will be working this summer), what else should I add? What other texts can help inform my teaching? I look forward to seeing what the PALS community suggests.