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Flipping the Script on Fairytale Femmes: Debut Author & Awesome Teacher, Carey Torgeson

Cinderella, Belle, Arielle, Rapunzel, Snow White et. al

Fellow girls, no stranger to the ball

Flipped over pumpkin carriages, dwarfs, and the like

Tiaras strewn over faux yellow brick roads, thighs exposed due to petticoats they hiked

Tired of waiting for princes with complexes

The women hopped into a baby blue Lexus

Ditching the label of damsel in distress

Desiring to be more, not less

–By Alexandra Caselle

 

 

 

Carey

 

Introducing  Carey Torgeson, A Debut Author  on the Cliffhanger Press imprint

The Princess Paradox, expected publication date Christmas 2014

 

Twitter: @CareyTorg     Blog: http://seattletfiles.blogspot.com/

 

 

Author Interview

1)      How did you come up with the idea for The Princess Paradox?

I have a beautiful daughter who, at the time, was only around four years old and she was absolutely smitten with all things princess, as most girls are at some point. While watching her play with her dolls, all vying for the prince’s affections, I thought this is where it happens. When we are little girls we are kind of programmed to believe in this mythic fairy tale love. And at times I feel like this thought is all consuming as we get older. We begin to act out, in real life, what we have seen time and time again in Disney movies. We wait for a perfect love, our prince charming, our happily ever after, assuming that if we don’t find it the way we think we’re supposed to, something is wrong with us. Watching my daughter, I had two ideas. One: I would love to write something that becomes the antithesis of the perfect princess story. And two: I wanted to write a strong female role who is able to make it on her own. So The Princess Paradox is quite literally, what I envision a modern fairy tale to be. And the story follows all the tropes of the traditionally Disney tales, but then twists them and turns them inside out.

2)      How do you balance teaching and writing?

That is a tough one. I don’t have an answer. If you find a way, let me know. 🙂  I try to write on weekends and on breaks. I find that I go in spurts. When a story or character wants to talk, I literally find every spare minute to write it. I have written parts of my stories in class at times. I have always been pretty good about not taking my work home with me, so that part makes writing at home easier. I am pretty decent at compartmentalizing my time.

3)      What will make The Princess Paradox stand out among other books in women’s fiction genre?

Like I said, I have tried to take all the traditional romance tropes and break them. I think that is what makes my book stand apart. Also, I originally wrote the book with commentaries on characteristics of fairy tales then paralleled my main character’s journey with it. So, with lots of feedback and revising, it ended up being fairytale clichés. My book blends a bit of satire of the whole fairy tale story arc, while still telling my main character’s story. I think it’s smart “chick lit,” it comes off at first as very light and fluffy, but I think the story really tells about what, as women, we go through while navigating love and life. Because my main character, like all of us, have to figure out what we want versus what society has told us we want. The whole story, while funny and romantic and swoon inducing, is also a commentary on society as a whole, and how the princess phenomenon has become a part of who women are.

4)      If you could be a Disney princess, which one would you be and why?

This is so difficult. In many ways, I wouldn’t be one. Because, I think too often they put the needs of everyone else before themselves. Some have no backbone, and some just flit about from here to there oblivious of the world around them or how they might be being manipulated. That being said, I think I would be a combination of them. I would want Belle’s intelligence, strength and loyalty. I have always been enamored with Sleeping Beauty. Her beauty, her innocence, and her kindness set her apart for me. And I love Ariel’s sass and spunk. I love that she is willing to sacrifice for love. I think I would want a combination of all of them.

5)      If a Disney princess started attending the school in which you teach, which princess would it be and what would her typical day be like?

It would probably be Ariel because my school is literally less than a mile from the water. 🙂

She would have 5 periods of classes, science, math, PE, block (which is English and Social Studies –which is what I teach), and an elective. She would have lunch with her fellow classmates (by grade level) and probably be a part of the Leadership class and ASB. And hopefully she would think it’s a pretty positive school and that the teachers really care about the students.

6)      What advice would you give to teachers who want to pursue writing as a career?

Advice…I think the best advice ever given to me wasn’t even advice. It was from a literacy coach who was helping me hone my craft of teaching. She is the reason I started writing. If you want to write, read. First read like a reader, then read like a writer. When I began deconstructing stories at the structure and sentence level, it really demystified writing for me. It no longer was something others could do. It was like the veil was lifted. I realized when I looked at characteristics and structure of books and stories, I was able to then plan my own. I took what I liked from the masters of writing, and morphed it into my own style. I ask myself the questions “what did this writer do that has me hooked?” or “how did this writer structure the narrative” and that gives me things to work on and do in my own writing.

 

I would also say, share your process with your students. I think what is so cool is that through all of this I have become a better writing and reading teacher. And it’s because it’s what I live and breathe. How many teachers have people had that actually live what they teach? I am able to take them through the real process of writing, the messy part. The part where you want to tear your hair out. And I let them know it’s ok.

 

Finally, write your inspiration. Whether it’s from a day in class or something you experience, write what strikes you. Then you can’t go wrong.

7)      You are currently in the process of preparing your book for publication at Cliffhanger Press.  What have you learned about the publishing/business side of writing?

Well, one thing is that there is nothing in a book that is not there for a reason. EVERYTHING is well chosen and necessary, because if it doesn’t move the story forward in some way, it is not needed. Also, I have learned that there are a lot of people that go into creating a book. It is not unlike an assembly line or a well-oiled machine. All the parts are integral to creating a solid product. I also realize how much work is involved and as I near the release date, I know things are going to get crazy hectic so I’ll really have to work to balance it all. I am excited for it all though.

8)      What advice would you give new writers?

The best advice would be that if you think it’s going to be easy, or that it’s a hobby, maybe writing isn’t for you. Make no mistake, it’s a full time job and it’s work. It’s fun work most of the time, but it isn’t some “Sex and The City” glamorous life. And much like teaching, if you’re in it for the money, walk away now. Because like teaching, you have to do it because it is who you are, not something you do. It’s like breathing or sleeping, you need it to survive and without it, there’s an emptiness. That’s why I write. I teach because I love not only the content, but inspiring others. I write for very much the same reason. I hope in some way I can make a mark on this world, a stamp to say “Carey Torgesen was here…and she made a difference.”

 

Also, you must network. Find other writers to help you, to critique you and give you honest feedback, surround yourself with others who understand. And make sure you’re not only taking but you’re giving back to them too. But don’t take on more than you can handle at any given time.

Because there are times when your social life will suffer and people in your life may say you are giving too much to this hobby, that you’re ignoring reality for want of fiction. And it may be true, but it’s worth it.

 

Finally, know that sometimes, you aren’t going to know when a story is going to die out, when the voices are going to stop narrating, where the story is going and you will have doubt, doubt, doubt. But this is all part of it. And it’s how you deal with those setbacks that differentiate you from someone who writes and being a writer.

 

9)      How would you describe your writing process?

I usually am struck with an idea and then I map it out. I try to outline the basic plot. I usually try different methods; I’m not committed to any one type yet. I have done post-its for each chapter, written the query first, written a synopsis, plot lines, and even used some basic charts. So far, I’m still looking for one way that works enough to where I want to use it again and again.

 

I also reread as I write, editing as I go. So when I get to THE END, it usually isn’t a true first draft. It has gone through changes. Then I reread it again, making small changes. Then I send it out to my CPs and betas to get feedback. I DO have a great alpha reader who also sometimes gives me feedback chapter by chapter. THAT is indispensable.

 

And I have about three WIPs that I have pages for, so sometimes I go back and forth. I have a YA Contemporary Romance that I’m querying right now too, a Little Mermaid retell (YES AGAIN WITH THE PRINCESS THEME) So, I like to be in all stages at one time. It keeps things from being monotonous.

10) Name 5 books (young adult, classic, middle grade, children’s literature, etc.) that you recommend for any classroom?

This is my favorite thing to do. 🙂

MG:

Freak the Mighty

YA:

Fault in Our Stars

Mockingjay (last of The Hunger Games)

Classic:

To Kill a Mockingbird

The Great Gatsby

 

11) What are some ways that you engage students in the learning process?

I try to remember they are just kids and that they work better when they feel safe and that I am someone who “gets them.” I try to make learning connect to the world. I want them to understand that reading and writing are simply forms of communication. We’re all just trying to be heard and understood. We write to tell the stories of our lives, or how we feel or what is important to us. We read to see that we are not alone in all of that. We read to live in other’s shoes, to learn what we go through is not so different from what others’ do and we also learn about the world we live in through books.

So, I try to make them work hard. But we play hard too. We have fun. And that is what my students always remember. They come back and say “You made learning fun” and “I didn’t realize how much I learned until (years) later.” One student who just visited looked at the essays we were doing and remarked that it was more rigorous than what they expected in high school. That is the best compliment.

I give my students a lot of privileges and I include them on decision making processes. And I ALWAYS let them know I have a clear purpose for everything we do. It’s never to fill time. It’s always because we are building on our prior knowledge and working toward a clear end.

I try to teach as if we are a team moving forward to a common goal. And because we are in it together, I think there is more buy in.

12) What is one lesson that has really made an impact in your students’ lives?

This one is really hard because I try to teach them not just academics, but about life. I try, all the time, to connect the books we read to their lives. And the common themes that run through all that we read is this idea that no one is really alone; we all go through things, have our crosses to bear, but how you respond to difficulty will build who you are and who you will become. My favorite quote is written in the front of my room. “The world is a stage, and we are merely players. That you get to contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” It’s from Dead Poet’s Society. And I think it captures what I try to teach my students. Whether they are “good” or “bad” in school, everyone leaves their mark. I tell them, “You don’t get to decide IF you affect people. You only get to decide HOW you affect people.” I also tell them constantly, I don’t believe people are “stupid”. There are people willing to work hard, and there are people who aren’t. Again, it’s a choice.

So, I don’t think there is one lesson. I use these threads throughout all my lessons for the entire year, and I hope by the time they leave my classroom, some of it has rubbed off.  🙂

 

princess

Book Blurb

Jaded by fairy tales, twenty-four-year-old Nora Roseberry has written off the probability Prince Charming will come rescue her. Which is great. She’s not interested in being saved. But fate is about to step in, offering this “damsel in distress” a shot at happily ever after.

 

When Nora takes her love life into her own hands by placing a want-ad in the local newspaper, she’s shocked, not to mention apprehensive, when roguish neighbor Aidan O’Neill comes-a-courtin’. Aidan’s not the kind of prince who needs relationship help–evidenced by the sheer volume of maidens crossing his threshold. Besides, he doesn’t go for women like her. He dates knockouts. But his flirtatious manner and dimples-to-die-for are sure making her consider the possibility of becoming his princess. Which is why Nora is more than a little disappointed when Aidan reveals he answered the ad for his brother, Finn. Unsure of what fate has in store, Nora figures ‘what the hell?’ and agrees to the blind date.

 

She quickly finds out Finn is everything fairy tales promised and more. Romantic, sincere, and ready to commit, he’s totally husband material. And Nora knows she’s on her way to her fairy tale ending–just when Aidan seems to have decided to change his ways and pursue Nora himself. Talk about crappy timing. With magic in the air and two handsome heroes vying for her attention, Nora will need to make a choice. Prince Charming or Prince-Damn-He’s-Charming? Perhaps there’s a third option? Happily ever after is about to get messy.

 

Fans of Emily Giffen and Sophie Kinsella will enjoy THE PRINCESS PARADOX a lighthearted novel that unabashedly breaks the rules of traditional fairy tales. It’s Sex and the City meets Disney Princesses, with a twist.

 

 

Make sure you check out THE PRINCESS PARADOX later on this year!

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Setting the Mood for Literacy Learning through YAL & Theme-Based Literate Environments

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google Images

Their lives, fears, needs, dreams

THEIR objectives, tests, demands

Meeting ground needed.

There lies the conundrum.

The Power of Words

Struggling literacy learners enter my room already wrapped in a cocoon filled with negative experiences in reading and writing and with educational labels attempting to define them.  As their teacher for the school year, my job is to give them the tools to emerge as literacy learners.  This ten-month journey begins with recognizing and harnessing the power of words.  Struggling readers and writers develop an aversion to literacy because words have become a mystery and a hindrance to them.  They have not cracked the code.  They tend to ask questions such as “Why I gotta read or write this?”

The purpose and the process of literacy have eluded them.  Amidst their problems with decoding, comprehending, composing, and other literacy skills, some struggling literacy learners have not found an author or a writing topic that has titillated their desire to read or write.  They seek initiation into the “literacy club” where their peers laugh at and discuss books or reign words into well-crafted writing.

They know words are powerful because their daily struggle with them has resulted in a wall of resistance against literacy learning.  The words themselves have forged the outer shells of their cocoons.  Standardized assessments, teachers’ comments and (mis)perceptions, constant academic failure, and sometimes peers’ ridicule have assailed struggling readers and writers and created their lack of confidence in literacy learning.

Whether positive or negative, words carry energy and evoke memories.  When struggling literacy learners enter my room, they will still associate reading and writing with their past experiences.  “The written and spoken word determines what we do in life and how we do it.”  (Iyanla Vanzant, One Day My Soul Opened Up)

The written and spoken word can also hinder struggling readers and writers.  Negative experiences enable them to concede to defeat when it comes to literacy learning.  As a language arts teacher, I want my students to gain back their confidence.  Theme-based literate environments allow me to utilize the classroom as a tool for setting change into motion.

Elements of a Theme-Based Literate Environment

When people enter a pleasant home or restaurant, the ambience—the arrangement of furniture, the array of paintings, collectibles, and plants, the aroma of meals, scented candles, or air fresheners, and the feeling of positive energy radiating throughout the place—surrounds them with warmth and invitation.  They feel comfortable and relaxed in being themselves with no noticeable threats to the peaceful environment they have entered.  The mood of the home or restaurant solicits conversations, celebrations, and memories.

As avid readers or aspiring writers stroll through Barnes & Noble, the literary atmosphere instantly mesmerizes them with mahogany cases filled with books.  Bookstores contain oversized chairs sporadically spaced and cozy cafes alive with conversation.  Budding writers find refuge and inspiration as they perfect their craft in the company of hallowed authors.  These places become literary havens where people lose themselves inside literacy.

The elements of the places described above characterize the concept of theme-based literate environments.  Students should be able to walk into a soothing setting with several selections of texts, snug chairs and pillows to sit on, and invitations to be themselves as readers and writers.  An abundance of print and non-print texts, ranging from picture books and audiotapes to young adult literature and nonfiction (and if funds permit, digital texts), are present to whet their appetites.

Theme-based Literate Environments Contain the Following:

  •  A multitude of learning experiences requiring students to question, evaluate, experience and appreciate all types of texts
  • An underlying theme evident through classroom décor and ambience
  • A central guiding question that ties together the course concepts
  • A sense of flexibility in movement of classroom furniture and students
  • A reflection of students’ interests
  • A collaborative framework of student and teacher input
  • An ample supply and implementation of young  adult literature

Looking at the Concept in Action

During the course of my teaching career, I have created several theme-based literate environments.  The themes have ranged from coffeehouses, gardens, oceans, boutiques, and safaris.  I have painted bookcases to reflect the themes, and bought butterfly chairs, body pillows, and bean bag chairs for independent reading areas.

I have decorated wall with fabric designed with parrots to convey my safari theme and hung up curtains behind a writing conference table with candles in glass bowls and a tablecloth to accentuate my boutique theme.  Along with the infectious nature of the classroom, I bring a positive energy into the classroom.  If teachers enjoy what they do, their attitude will rub off on their students.

I have had students who were considered lost causes blossom in these environments.  Olivia* (pseudonym) used her writer’s notebook as a place to record her feelings about living with her dad and his new wife.  She copied down their conversations and conveyed her emotions through poetry and song lyrics from favorite artists.  We wrote to each other in her notebook about her feelings.  These snippets of life formed the basis of personal narratives and stories she composed in the writing workshops.

Writer’s notebooks became a literate space where reading and writing informed each other’s practices.  In class, she used her freedom of expression to write about her life.  She volunteered more in whole class discussions.  Her face brightened, a better alternative to the saddened eyes she once had.   My theme-based literate environment coaxed a timid girl out of her shell and invited her to participate in literacy learning.

Alex* (pseudonym) was an eighth grade student who read on a second grade level.  He never completed a book on his own.  Through interactive word walls, read-alouds, literature discussion groups, learning centers, and differentiated instruction, Alex gained confidence in reading.  At Open House, he expressed his newfound interest in Walter Dean Myers’ book, Monster.  This student, who is described as a Level 1 reader, told everyone every detail of the book and explained how the book had changed his life.  His parents approached me after the event and expressed their gratitude.  Alex was reading more of Myers’ books with confidence.

Sometimes the classroom environment is just as important as the curriculum in literacy learning.

Other YAL Suggestions for Struggling Readers

Step to This  Nikki Carter

Who Am I Without Him?: Short Stories About Girls and the Boys in Their Lives  Sharon Flake

The Misfits  James Howe

Tangerine  Edward Bloor

Conception  by Kalisha Buckhanon

Domino Falls  by Tananarive Due & Steven Barnes

Green Angel  Alice Hoffman

Artichoke’s Heart  Suzanne Supplee

Bucking the Sarge Christopher Paul Curtis

Jason & Kyra  Dana Davidson

Tears of a Tiger Sharon Draper

Forged by Fire  Sharon Draper

Born Blue   Hans Nolan

If You Come Softly   Jacqueline Woodson

Hush   Jacqueline Woodson

Slam! Walter Dean Meyers

Make Lemonade V. Wolff

True Believer V. Wolff

Pushing Pause  Celeste Norfleet

Shortie Like Mine  NiNi Simone

Seedfolks  Paul Fleischmann

YALSA’s annual list http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklists/quickpicks/2013

Teacher Resources for Building Literate Environments

A Time for Meaning:  Crafting Literate Lives in Middle & High School by Randy Bomer

Literacy in the Secondary Classroom:  Strategies for Teaching the Way Kids Learn  L. Meeks & C. Austin

Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives  by Donna Alvermann et al

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When Your Back Is Against the Wall, What Else Are You Gonna Do Except Hustle?: Tyrell by Coe Booth

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google Images

Edu-my-cation

By Alexandra Caselle

Extra! Extra!

Read all about it!

Urban schools

are failing, failing, failing!

People, people,

What must be done?

Our kids can’t read or

write ; they can’t do math.

Man, please.

I know how to read and write.

I know that 2 + 2 =4.

I am not illiterate.

See, where I come from

2 + 2 don’t always equal 4.

It equals me getting shot

if I walk on a certain set

or getting beat down for

what I wear, who I associate

with, or where I live.

I know how to read words.

I sometimes comprehend what I read.

But, I also know how to “read” life.

I got to “read” guys standing on

the block trying to find out if

they are trying to be down with me

or use or abuse me.

I got to “read” the cops patrolling

my hood, trying to figure out

if they are really trying to serve

and protect or are they trying

to put another brother in the clank.

I got to worry about if my mama

is coming home tonight or if

I  have to feed my little brother

and be both parents

and on top of that handle being

a kid my damn self.

Oh, yeah.  I know how to write.

But, writing on some bs topic about

why the principal should enforce uniforms

doesn’t help me.

Let me write about why society

doesn’t erase the class boundaries that

make junkies and the homeless

roam aimlessly.

Let me write about the importance

of daddies sticking around so

their daughters don’t seek love inside

a fifteen minute sexual excursion

instead of themselves.

I know I need to get the skills

needed to survive in the real world

and gain my e-co-nom-ic  mo-bil-i-ty.

But, every time I look around you telling

me how I am failing and I’m trying to push

all these obstacles out of my way.

And now you wanna wonder why so

many of us are dropping out.

You hear those bells ringin’?

Class is over.

tyrellBooth, Coe. Tyrell. Push: 2007. 978-0-439-83880-1.

Tyrell is facing a lot to be only fifteen years old.  His father has been sent to jail for the third time.  His mother is not the poster child for the typical parent.  She wants him to get out on the streets and hustle to bring in income.  The burden of taking care of his young brother falls squarely on his shoulders.  To add to the family drama, he has girl trouble.  A new girl, Jasmine, poses a threat to his relationship to Novisha.  But he discovers that Novisha may have some skeletons in her closet that may destroy his trust in her.  Will Tyrell succumb to the sway of the streets?

I truly enjoyed reading this book.  I had used this book as a read-aloud with 11th & 12th grade struggling readers who had failed the state assessment exam several times.  They connected to Tyrell’s story and looked forward to hearing about what happened next every day.  Some of these kids abhorred reading.  A book was the other four-letter word just like pork was the other white meat.  But Booth pulled the students into the narrative.

Tyrell is a gritty tale that includes some mature scenes.  With the read aloud format, I could skillfully skip over those sections and maintain the students’ interests.  Since my classes had no set curriculum, I read aloud young adult novels as an opening exercise for my classes.  It gave me an opportunity to model reading strategies, teach vocabulary, and hone comprehension skills.  I often created tests based on the read aloud books because I believed in the interconnections among curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

 I specifically chose Tyrell for another reason.  It highlighted the broader definition of literacy that our students function in today.  Learning the basic tenets of literacy such as reading, writing, and mathematics is very important.  Literacy also entails technology and discourses.  According to James P. Gee, author of Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses, literacy is a type of a discourse.  A discourse can be defined as ways of reading, writing, acting, believing, thinking, etc.

With school literacy (reading, writing), there is a certain way to interact with text.  Within one’s neighborhood, church, family, workplace, culture, or society itself, there is a certain way to act, believe, think, etc.   All of those literacies impact our students, and we should embrace those other types of literacies in our classroom as a stepping stone toward guiding our students to the mastery of school literacy.

Tyrell is an excellent example of how different types of literacies or discourses impact an adolescent.

Text-to-Text Connections

upstate Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon  This epistolary novel describes the relationship between a young girl and her boyfriend and how his imprisonment changes both of them. I used this novel as a read aloud as well and used the epistolary format to teach different reading skills and reinforce vocabulary development.

bronxmasq  Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes  This multigenre novel blends poetry and narrative to tell the stories behind each chapter’s character.  Adolescent readers see how domestic violence and other social issues affect young people.  This is another great choice for a read aloud because the chapters are short and it works well for teaching different reading strategies.

bees  The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd  Lily and Tyrell are connected by the impact their circumstances make on them.  Both live with one parent, and Lily’s father and Tyrell’s mom are cut from the same cloth.  One can’t say that kneeling in grits for a long period of time will not distract a child from learning the three R’s.  Adolescent readers also learn the discourse of sorrow as they read about May’s wailing wall.

firstpartlast The First Part Last by Angela Johnson  Being a teenage father is hard enough.  Raising a young daughter alone because her mother is no longer there is even harder.  This is the dilemma that Bobby faces as he takes care of Feather.  Johnson’s narrative style of alternating chapters between the past and present engrosses reader into Bobby’s life.

Teaching Exercise for Tyrell

This exercise depicts a scene that did not occur in the novel.  I used the cloze technique (removing words from a passage and requiring students to use clues within the passage to choose the correct word) to assess students’ understanding of the weekly vocabulary words. In the upcoming weeks, I will begin posting short stories that will teach a vocabulary word, a reading skill, or literary term because I believe that stories can teach concepts.

Directions:  Choose the word from the list below that will best complete the sentences.

ransack

panache

circumvent

ambivalent

expatriate

Novisha was angry with Tyrell.  Her girlfriend, Tasha, stayed at the same hotel.  She saw Tyrell walk into Jasmine’s room.  She called Novisha on her cell phone and told her what she had seen.  Novisha cried at first. Then she wanted to believe that Tyrell would not cheat on her.  She felt (1) ______________.  Novisha caught the subway over to the hotel.  On her way there, she noticed several people from different countries on the train.  They were (2) __________________from their homelands.  Even though she was mad at Tyrell, Novisha felt badly about them leaving without choice.  Novisha got off at her stop.  She showed (3) _______________ as she walked quickly down the sidewalk with her Timberland boots, Apple Bottom jeans, and matching Apple Bottom sweater.  She went inside the building and found her friend in the hallway.  Tasha pointed to room 207.  Novisha cracked her knuckles and popped her neck. The door was slightly cracked.  She threw it open and cried about the sight before her.  Tyrell and Jasmine were kissing each other passionately.  They did not notice Novisha at all.

Tasha took off her earrings and put her hair in a ponytail.  “Oh, no!  Girl, let’s beat both of them up!”  Tyrell and Jasmine looked up.  Tyrell stumbled toward Novisha.  Novisha slapped him so hard that she left her handprint on his jaw.  Jasmine got mad and shoved Novisha.  Tasha jumped in and the girls started to fight.  While they fought, Novisha (4) _______________the room and looked for more signs of Tyrell’s unfaithfulness.  Tyrell saw his chance to (5)_____________the drama.  He paused at the door and smirked at the girls.  It made him feel good to see three chicks fighting over him.   Today was a good day.

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Leading Urban Students into Literate Lives (LULL): A Serial Teaching Narrative

When Your Purpose Changes

(Installment#1)

LULL icon

With grace and power,

it calls me to its domain.

Once inside, overwhelmed.

I snuggled inside the covers.  My imagination began its transformation of the tree-shaped shadow hovering outside my window into a grizzly bear, the passing cars whizzing by on the main road into low snarls, and the wavering branches tapping on the glass into reaching claws.

My nine-year-old frame compacted against my sister’s.  She growled in half-sleep for me to move.  We’re the epitome of sibling rivalry.  Why would Goliath help David, especially when the rivals constantly got each other into trouble?  As I plotted pranks for revenge, sleep embraced me.  A dream emerges.

Dressed in white and illuminated in light, a group of people and I stood upon a hill facing a crowded valley.  A voice bellowed: we would affect many lives in a positive way.  I didn’t know what I would do. The dream scared me more than the bear.

At first, I wondered if I was having one of those psychedelic trips from too much sugar.  Those banana-flavored Now-a-Laters were addictive.

Then, I thought otherwise. At the time, writing was my first love, my escape hatch.

I woke up and accepted the dream as a sign to stop being so mean to my sister.  Little did I know, not only writing would enable me to make a change.

I squinted at the window again. The bear was gone.

Passion does 360o

Desire to teach formed by truth:

It’s more than learning.

My AP English teacher sauntered towards me, her asymmetric bob brushing against her cheeks.  Her manicured hands clutched my most recent short story.  She was the sole audience and trusted reviewer of my writing, the one who instilled confidence in my budding craft.

After my teacher complimented me, she peered over her glasses with the signature stare.  The no-nonsense look—arched eyebrows, attitudinal eyes, and ambiguous smile—always segued into words of counseling or chastisement.

She asked me why I had stated my collegial ambition as a secondary English teacher in the senior section of the yearbook.  Broadcast or newspaper journalism should be my choice.  My shyness held my tongue hostage.

How could I explain that she ignited my spark for teaching?

Besides, my family wanted me to pursue a career that would make me self-sufficient and offer stability.  Anything associated with writing was not on their list of options.  Law, engineering, accounting, nursing, and teaching—those careers were top choices for me, in my family’s eyes.

This woman exemplified and extended the universal definition of teaching as an art and a science. She had a demeanor to command respect, a sense of with-it-ness defying the parameters of human sight, an ability to integrate creativity with critical writing, an expectation of nothing less than excellence, and a flair for fashion coupled with infectious wit bringing literature to life.

When I looked at her, I discovered my purpose.

I wanted to transform a beloved subject into a fun, challenging, and life-changing experience.  But at seventeen, I didn’t know how to articulate my sentiment.

Bowing my head and fidgeting with our literary calvacade projects, I murmured, “I want to be like you.”

She smiled back and expressed her desire for me to use my writing talent to change the world.  My teacher envisioned a world containing millions of people connected through media.  As I walked out of the room, my shoulders hunched, my Jheri curls shielding my face, my vision consisted of millions of children connected by the yearning to learn.

One of them needed change more than the other.

Copyrighted by Alexandra Caselle. All rights reserved for all original writing and works of Alexandra Caselle.

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Flight as a Means of Escape From Making an Impact

As I thought about Ida and her courageous story in Flygirl, I thought about one of my own teaching experiences.  It was a time when I lost confidence in my own drive and determination and missed out the beauty of one chance experience.  It was originally published on the This I Believe website in 2009, not under my pen name, Alexandra Caselle, but published under another name.  I write and publish my blogs, fiction, poetry, and memoirs under my pen name, and all of my social media sites are under that pen name as well. On this blog, I plan to write new stories on my teaching experiences, but I thought it would be a great story to share in connection to Flygirl. 

Here is the link to that piece:  http://thisibelieve.org/essay/57577/

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Think about how Ida’s persistence and courage influenced other characters in the novel and also adolescent readers.

Have you ever had an experience in which you influenced someone or missed out on the opportunity to make an impact on someone?

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