Boundaries, Excellence, and WorkLife Balance (Episode 39)

 Boundaries, Excellence, and WorkLife Balance (Episode 39). Today, we talk about how we teachers can still be excellent while holding firm boundaries between work and rest.       Today, we talk about how we teachers can still be excellent while holding firm boundaries between work and rest ... and how we can model and teach our students how to do this too.
       Watch the YouTube video here >>>
       This conversation is very unscripted and covers a lots of mini topics within this whole conversation. Enjoy! We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and where you're at in your journey. Let's travel this together. :)
       Conversation of the Day: What task do you feel like you must do during the summer so you can survive the next school year?
       Hop on over to watch the video and share your thoughts in the conversation.

LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green ... a Book Review

LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green ... a Book Review
       One person may read John Green's YA novel LOOKING FOR ALASKA and see more than enough questionable behaviors to necessitate the public banning of a book. (Yes, a few schools out there actually tried this.) Another might look past those things and see a tight-knit group of teens exploring the Great Perhaps and trying to decide What will happen in this life? and What will we do when it hurts? and What happens after this life? "Is it nothing? POOF?" Or is there more?
       Maybe Alaska, the girl who intrigues everyone she meets, is right. Maybe "straight and fast" is the best way to navigate this life.
       Miles Halter may not have a clue about Alaska or her philosophy on life, but if you try to stump him, you'll soon learn that when it comes to the last words of famous people he knows his stuff. They've always intrigued him, as if someone's last words say "in bulk" who someone really is as a person. When Miles leaves for boarding school, he doesn't expect to experience much of the Great Perhaps, but he's glad he does, even if it changes his life forever. His life collision with the Colonel, Lara, Takumi, and especially Alaska, fills his life with something he's never had, both friends and experiences he'll never forget.
       But it's the questions that rise from The Old Man's religion class that open up their lives and take this book to a level deeper than most YA books I've ever read.
       "How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?" "How do you fit the uncontestable fact of suffering into your understanding of the world?" "How do you hope to navigate through life in spite of it?" "What is your cause for hope?"
       Big questions, certainly. Questions that thinking adults sometimes stop to ask themselves, and now perhaps, so do young adults.

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson ... a Book Review

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson ... a Book Review
       "You are getting better at this, but it's not good enough. This looks like a tree, but it is an average, ordinary, everyday, boring tree. Breathe life into it. Make it bend - trees are flexible, so they don't snap. Scar it, give it a twisted branch - perfect trees don't exist. Nothing is perfect. Flaws are interesting."
       Sections like this from Laurie Halse Anderson's debut YA novel SPEAK surprised me. It's just an art project tree right? Wrong. Everything's so much more.
       No wonder no one's speaking to Melinda. She called the cops and ruined the party. Narc! The problem is she hasn't told anyone why. Would anyone believe her anyway? Anderson's clever style feeds us clues about the party in small doses. Whatever happened there (No, I'm not going to tell you), Melinda doesn't want to talk about it, or much of anything else, taking us on a journey with her down into her psyche and back out again.
       I found myself enjoying the small stuff the novel has to offer. The fast pace of the present tense. The unnumbered concrete chapters. The lack of indents. The character Rachel/Rachelle with a / in her name. The four report cards. The kissy mark on the page. The three point vocabulary words. And the dialogue that reads like a play.
       The novel seamlessly spans an entire school year, allowing Melinda enough time to begin to take her life back into her own hands. It takes the art teacher, an unlikely hero, to care enough to supply an outlet for her to discover who she is in light of all that has happened. And who would have thought seeds could mean so much? Riddled with symbolism of rebirth and life, the novel offers hope in the middle of the darkest times.

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak ... a Book Review

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak ... a Book Review

      Markus Zusak's THE BOOK THIEF, nominated for best young adult book at the 2006 L.A. Times Book Festival, is an astounding piece of literature. Originally published in Australia as mainstream fiction and arguably not young adult, the novel works surprisingly well both ways. Adults will relish the story's beauty and magnitude, and while the first third of the novel may be a tad too slow for teens, the persistent ones will connect with young Liesel's tragic experiences in Nazi Germany.
      Zusak's novel, set in a small town outside Munich during World War II, chronicles the story of Liesel Meminger, a German girl taken into Hans Huberman's household as a foster child. As likeable as she is well-developed, it's amazing to watch a young girl like that remain so strong in the face of human tragedy, impossible hatred, and adolescent love.
      The twist is that Death is the one telling Liesel's story. From the very beginning, he wants us to trust him. "I most definitely can be cheerful," he tells us. "I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me." An interesting character, to say the least. But what does Death think about our wars? Our famines? Our day-to-day lives? We may not often think about such things, but he does. It's his job to see the world as it is. Infinite in color. And fear.
      John Green, author of the award-winning LOOKING FOR ALASKA, said that this is the novel he wished he'd have written. I must wholeheartedly agree. While the story is painful and lovely, the images are fresh and lasting, the words, poetic and stirring. This story pays tribute to the simple power of words, to their ability to change our minds, destroy our lives, move our souls, recount our memories, and yes, heal our world.

I AM THE MESSENGER by Markus Zusak ... a Book Review

I AM THE MESSENGER by Markus Zusak ... a Book Review
       I AM THE MESSENGER (or THE MESSENGER in Australia) tells the story of Ed Kennedy, nineteen-year-old taxi cab driver and all-around average guy. In fact, he's the epitome of average -- faithful friends, stinky dog, dead-end job, and girl who loves someone else.
       That's why it's such a big deal for Ed, Marv, and Ritchie to get trapped in a bank during a stickup. One of the thieves gets spooked, drops his gun, and somehow Ed ends up with the weapon and the town's praise. That might be a winning hand for Ed if he doesn't receive the first mysterious playing card, the Ace of Diamonds in his mailbox. It's a card with a message for him to deliver. Or else.
       Messages like Ed's will change a person, if he or she lets them. That's the beauty of Zusak's story. Ed discovers the changing power in simple, personalized messages of love, even if they're ones he's forced to deliver. While I could imagine a cynical reader calling Ed's 12 messages a tad forced, I would differ with them on every case. Ed's stories are simple proof that if a "guy like him can stand up and do what he did, then maybe everyone can. Maybe everyone can live beyond what they're capable of."
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