Reflecting on Tomorrow

Dear Teachers:

I have teachers to be with tomorrow, on November 9, and that is where I want to be.

What I have learned tonight is that the anger and hurt in this country is deeper and stronger than I understood.

I am a teacher. I am a teacher. I tell children “Don’t bully. Respect others. Don’t call people names. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t lie. Work hard. Prepare for important things. Study. Read. Think before you speak.” And yet tonight I sit here and watch how those qualities matter less than I thought they would, they should.

And so I sit here tonight and cry. I cry for the teacher who told me today that her colleague is Latina and has said she and her family have their escape plan to Canada because of a family member who is here illegally. I cry for the taxi cab driver in NYC who told me his eighth grade daughter is afraid to go to school the day after the election because they are Muslim and students at her school have said “You’ll be kicked out, you terrorist.” I cry for my friend’s son who is afraid his mom will die if Trump “gets rid of the healthcare my mom needs because she has cancer.” I cry for my friend whose son is disabled and he has wondered why people like a man who “makes fun of people like me.”

Dear teachers, some of your students will arrive sad and scared. And some will arrive boastful and willing to share that walls will be built and terrorists will be kicked out. And in one classroom they will sit looking at each other. And then they will look to you. If you are like me, you will wonder “What now do I do?”

Turn to books. Books have always saved us and they will again.

Our kids must read Wonder to sob at the way we treat those who are different and never, never, read that book to identify vocabulary words. We must read Speak to find our own voice and not to compare and contrast characters. We must walk across the bridge into Terabithia to stand in awe, not to answer a multiple-choice question. We must read Ira Sleeps Over and watch how one confronts fear. We must read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and wonder how, oh how, could we have ever have made those mistakes. We must read to laugh; to cry; to learn; to grow; to get lost and to be found.

And we must write to discover who we are as we hide in an attic; as we walk along a dusty road; as step through a wardrobe. We have turned literature into a multiple-choice test and writing into a chance to earn points on a rubric and in those moments we have forgotten that literature and writing heal; literature and writing never give up; literature and writing give us voice.

If we read to go places we have never been, then we write to become what we never knew we wanted to be. We must read and write more. More. And then more again.

So tomorrow, let your kids read. Let your kids write. Let your kids discover their voices. Let your kids know that kindness still counts.That bullying – in your classroom – is not tolerated. That stories can heal.

Tomorrow will be followed by the next tomorrow and the one after it and the next. And each day, you will help kids learn that words – those they read and those they write – can help them through the hardest of days.

So proudly, I stand beside you. Today. And tomorrow.

And so, we begin

Many thanks go to Bud Hunt and Karl Fisch for helping me get this space up and running.   I’ll be using this space for an on-going conversation about literacy in the twenty-first century.

And what better day to launch into a conversation about literacy in the twenty-first century than today, October 20, when we celebrate the first National Day on Writing and the opening of the virtual National Gallery of Writing.

Almost a year ago, the Executive Committee of the National Council of Teachers of English began planning the National Day of Writing.  Last week, the US Senate passed a resolution in support of the work of NCTE and its sixteen non-profit national partners in establishing the National Day as part of an effort to raise public awareness of the importance of writing in daily life and as the kick-off of a year-long effort to provide supportive resources to writers of all ages and occupations. You can take a look at the Senate resolution and find those supportive resources.

Today, the virtual National Gallery of Writing opens to the public and will remain open through next June.   Take time over the next couple of weeks to browse the galleries and read any of the over 10,000 pieces of writing.   You’ll be delighted with the range and struck by the fact that in spite of what some would say, America does write.

When I look at the submissions to the gallery, I see pieces by writers of all ages and from all walks of life, people who have written about a myriad of topics for a variety of reasons.  Communities, schools, and civic organizations from across America have established more than 1,400 virtual galleries. NCTE’s hope is to build a comprehensive portrait of how America writes in the months to come.  We expect to add thousands of pieces of writing as the year continues.  Learn more about the National Day on Writing and how to submit your own writing at the NCTE website.

Join the Celebration

To celebrate the National Day on Writing, NCTE will be hosting a daylong interactive webcast from the studios of the New York Institute of Technology.  The program for that day will feature a mix of in-studio interviews, remote webcasts from celebrations of the national day taking place across the nation, “look ins” to work in the National Gallery, and commentaries/endorsements offered by writers, teachers, and civic leaders from across the country.  Joining me throughout the day will be Carol Jago, Lucy Calkins, Sara Kajder, Robert Probst, Cathy Fleischer, Doug Hesse, Kathleen Blake Yancey, Karl Fisch, Bud Hunt, Eric Cooper, Dickie Self, Louie Ulman, Sara Kirkpatrick, Linda Adler-Kassner, Troy Hicks, and…well…the list goes on!  Take a look at the schedule for the day here or here and then join us at the webcast.

A Moment of Reflection

In the September 2009 NCTE Council Chronicle, I wrote about the National Day on Writing:

On October 20, 2009, the National Council of Teachers of English will open to the public the National Gallery of Writing that celebrates the National Day on Writing.  As President of NCTE, I approach this day with more than excitement and pride.  I approach it with the vision of what this day can show us all—youngsters and teens, parents and teachers, policy makers and politicians, principals, superintendents, bus drivers, lawyers, hairdressers, computer technicians, waitresses, orthodontists, journalists, and factory workers—that each of us in every walk of life writes . . . or could write . . . each day in a variety of modes and for a variety of reasons.

We write reports and editorials, poems and songs, stories and novels, get-well cards and thank-you notes. We write love letters and to-do lists; birth announcements and party invitations; book reviews and postcards, and sometimes, with tears in our eyes, we write the memorials of those we have loved.  We write diaries and reminders and instructions; emails and text messages, Twitter posts and Facebook updates.  And we write about dads who, absent or close, always seem to matter.

We write to remember, to explain, to persuade, to tell, to encourage.  We write to discover what we know and to figure out what we don’t; we write to entertain and explore, to wonder or cajole, and sometimes we write in anger, sometimes even to hurt.  But underneath it all, we write so we can be heard.

Being heard—we rarely mention that reason for writing to students, perhaps only occasionally admit it to ourselves.  We offer purposes for writing—persuading, informing, entertaining, etc.—but underneath any of those purposes sits the most basic:  to be heard.  At times, we want only one person to hear our thoughts—ourselves.  But whether the audience is one or many, close or distant, familiar or global, we need to be heard.  We need someone to listen to what we say.  It is in being heard that we come to feel part of a community, bound to one another.

Those words seem particularly important now, in this blog space.  We do write to be heard because it is in listening to one another that we do become a part of a community.  Perhaps what this space is really about is community, a community of learners in the twenty-first century.  Welcome!