Category Archives: literacy

Christmas 2011

27th December 2011

Merry Christmas, y’all! It was a whirlwind, but I really enjoyed it. My brother was in from New York, and we really enjoyed all being together. I’m so grateful he has been able to come down each year since he moved there, even though I know we won’t always be so lucky. So the best part of my Christmas? My family and working together on my dad’s big surprise. It’s been a really rough year for a number of reasons, but mainly because starting on January 1 this year, my dad got pretty sick and was sick for several months. He’s doing much better now, but it was nice to be able to do something really special for him.

However, my sweet family also spoils me, so I thought I’d share some of my Christmas spoils below. Maddie wasn’t left out, never fear. She is currently sacked out in her Christmas sweater, a Christmas dog cookie hidden away somewhere for later. 😉

Created via Olioboard

 {From top left: Thirty One tote, Kohls SO moccasin slippers, Jonathan Adler elephant bud vase, Jenni Jewel four leaf clover gold necklace, Steinmart houndstooth scarf, Houdini vacuum wine stopper, Marshalls gift card, Grip shopping bag grippers, Fujifilm Instax Mini 7s}

I hope each of you had a fantastic holiday if you celebrate Christmas. I also hope you had a chance to remember those less fortunate at this time of year. Tomorrow I hope to spend a good bit of time trying to catch up on reading and some reviews, getting ready for a new start with 2012.

ESL: One Semester Gone

7th December 2011

16 weeks. 16 weeks have gone by since I frantically began a new semester teaching a totally new class/subject: ESL Reading and Writing. The program at my university was undergoing changes, and I was hired to a full-time position right as the semester began. I am a super-organized teacher, so the last-minute prep was really taxing. Books didn’t come in until several weeks into the semester. The other teacher and I were at our wit’s end trying to be prepared for these students.

But let me tell you, once I calmed down and realized that teaching writing is teaching writing, and hello! Teaching reading? Heck yeah. I took it in stride. It was an incredibly challenging semester, but it was also extremely rewarding, and for the first time in many years, I can honestly tell you that I love my job.

The students? They came from China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, and Brazil. They are a variety of ages and cover a whole spectrum of jobs – doctors, attorneys, accountant, architects, radio hosts, entrepreneurs. The relationship I had with these students was so different from the traditional instructor-student connection. I had each student for 10 hours a week and also spent time with some of them outside of class. Almost every student was dedicated and prepared to work intensely toward their goals. I have never been more impressed and so grateful for a group of students.

Even with the rough start, we quickly settled into a routine, working on reading Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and writing on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We read several books together and had some really great discussions. In fact, even though most students claimed to hate reading, several asked when we could continue when we were in the middle of a book. 🙂

As for me, I also learned quite a lot, as an individual and a teacher. It was difficult, at first, to slow my speech and search for synonyms and antonyms spontaneously. Seriously. Try it sometime on the spot. Your mind goes blank. Having to search for words and new ways to explain words was a challenge. As a teacher, I was a bit overwhelmed at first. I thought I would have to approach instruction in a totally new way. No. I simply had to modify. These students are so intelligent and were very eager (for the most part) to soak up every lesson. What I had to realize is that confidence is the most important skill for a teacher. I know how to teach students to write and read. I just needed to trust myself to do that.

One of the most fun parts of teaching ESL? Halloween. As a college instructor, holidays come and go without comment. These students had so many questions, specifically about Halloween. Do I have to give out candy? What if I don’t have candy? Why do the kids say “trick or treat”? I had a ball creating articles about the history of Halloween in the States. I brought in treats and got more into the holiday than I ever have in the past.

The Latin students were amazed when I could pick up on what they were saying and sometimes (roughly) answer them. The Arabic students were so generous and patient in teaching me parts of their language as well.

So…thank you guys. Thank you so much for such an amazing semester. I care for each of you so much and will miss those of you returning to your home countries. I appreciate you trusting me and encouraging me as your teacher. Be safe, and be well.

Hasta luego.


أراك في مابعد


Hẹn gặp lại sau

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Get ready, y’all…it’s Texas Book Festival time!

28th September 2011

Ok, so maybe I’m just reinforcing the hick-ish view of Texans by this title post, but I am super excited about this year’s book festival. Texas Book Festival is an annual event in Austin, and this year it will be on October 22 and 23. Austin in the fall is fantastic, not too hot and not too cold. Plus, the line-up is, as always, spectacular. Some big names this year are Lev Grossman, Libba Bray, Tom Perrotta, Chuck Palahniuk, Ernest Cline, Marcia Clark, Sarah Dessen, and many others. My favorite part, though, is just being in an art-friendly town with other people who truly appreciate books.

Some of the personal highlights of past festivals including hearing Margaret Atwood speak in a fantastic old theater and listening to “Literature on the Lam,” a great panel with four new-to-me nonfiction authors talking about their books on John Wilkes Booth, James Earl Ray, Al Capone, and El Chapo. My mom and dad have come along the last two years, and it’s just really fun. The proceeds from the festival go to the event itself and to literacy and library projects across Texas.

Aside from the bookish environment, one of my favorite parts of last year’s festival was getting to meet other bloggers! It was the first time I met any book bloggers in real life. Amanda from The Zen Leaf organized the blogger meet up, but I don’t think she will be there this year. I wanted to see who might be interested in getting together and when. I will go up Friday afternoon, so I would be available for drinks Friday evening or possibly lunch on Saturday.

Check your schedule, and leave me a comment if you’re interested. And Feminist Texican and Indie Reader Houston… you better be there!

An Open Letter in Support of Libraries*

1st March 2011

*Forgive me, dear reader. In the midst of all this political insanity, I had to take a minute to talk about libraries. If you have anything to add, I sure wish you would in comments.

Seattle Public Library received this from a young supporter.


Dear Legislators:

This nation is in a financial crisis. At this point, you would have to be one of my freshman college students (I say this with endearment) in order to be oblivious to our debt. I also understand you have to find ways to cut back, but I urge you – no – I plead with you to reconsider the massive public library budget cuts.

Growing up, my public library was a magical place. My mom would take me for story time, and I will never forget walking into the sizable children’s section where there stood a circus cage with all manner of stuffed animals – giraffes, bears, monkeys. Even though I had to be incredibly young, I still feel that wholesome rush when I step back into that library all these years later.

We moved several times when I was young, but the library was a constant. The librarians knew the names of all my family members, and my mom’s huge tote somehow managed to carry all the books we checked out. My biggest problem at that age was the checkout limit or the missing Babysitter’s Club book 12 from the series. Where was that book? What insufferable pre-teen had not returned it?

One night during the hot, humid Texas summer, the librarians hosted a lock-in. I still think their sanity may have been compromised, but oh my goodness, was it fun. All activities were library themed, and any movies were adapted from beloved books. I, though, didn’t go in for the popcorn and Coke float crowd. No, I wandered the aisles, finding books and curling up in my sleeping bag to read. It was a dream come true. I won the summer reading contest that year and several years after.

As a high school, college, and graduate student, libraries became pragmatic, a means to an end. In fact, after graduating with a Master’s degree in English, having checked out over 100 books from the university library to complete my thesis, I was finished for a while. I appreciated what the library had done for me, but I didn’t want to be anywhere near it.

Then this past year, I was an adjunct instructor at a local university, and as secondary education suffered budget cut after budget cut, I again returned to the library. I had very little income, and I had no money for entertainment. The books I had so loved purchasing were now out of reach until I remembered all those happy days spent at the library.

I marched down, signed up, and checked out almost a dozen books. The librarian seemed surprised, and I told her she hadn’t seen anything yet. Nearly a year later, I am still at the library every couple of weeks. I have struck up friendships with the men and women working behind the desk and in the stacks. I bring paperback books to donate as I cull through my personal library, as well as DVDs I will never watch again.

As an adult, what strikes me most is not story hour or lock-ins with sugar-hyped children running around. No, this time around, I am astounded by the other purposes for the library. My library downtown is a place for those with no Internet access. They can pay bills, catch up with family members, or file taxes on the computer. There is a large contingent of homeless people who sit in the chairs quietly with a magazine or a book, resting tired feet and enjoying the heat or air conditioning the building provides. Children dressed in mismatched clothing and worn shoes eagerly look through the shelves to find a book to take home for a little while.

Of course, there’s me, loading up on new releases and filling out requests for books I cannot find among the shelves; however, the library does not and should not exist for people like me alone. The library also provides much-needed services, teaching literacy and language courses, offering book club times for those who want or need company and community.

That is what makes libraries so vital; they exist for those who love to read and those who don’t, for those who can afford to buy books and for those who would not read without the library. They exist for the man who cannot read and the man with a desire to teach him how to read. They exist for students to have a safe haven to study with no distractions from home and television and noisy dorms. Libraries exist, not for profit, but to provide information. Its civic duty, as well as yours, is to educate citizens.

Take my library away, and even with my limited income, I will still read. However, take a library away from a society, and watch as your citizens plummet further into ignorance.


jenn aka the picky girl who will get a heck of a lot pickier if you close my library

*end rant*

The End of a Semester (or, How I Turned into a Softie)

22nd December 2010


I have tried and tried and tried to finish a blog post this morning and just can’t. I have about 10 drafts going, but alas. Nothing. So I’m going to go au natural this morning.

I think part of it is the end of the semester has just really wiped me out. Grading nonstop until 1:30 in the morning is exhausting. And then, brilliant me decided to have a Christmas party. THE DAY AFTER GRADES WERE DUE. So that turned into a whole evening/morning of manic cleaning, menu planning, and decorating. The next day my parents moved out of my house (they stayed with me for a month between the sale of their old house and the closing of their new house), so the weekend was spent painting rooms and unpacking them. Their new house is beautiful and closer to me and not 100 years old, which is good for a number of reasons. Then Monday, my brother (aka Picky Boy) came in from NYC. In other words, it. has. been. crazy.

However, it’s a good crazy. I’ve done a little bit of reading, but honestly, I’ve been so busy, reading hasn’t been much on my mind. Plus, reading dozens of essays right at the end of the semester did me in. I had to share one story, though:

I had one student who, from the beginning of the semester, I really liked. He’s a young kid, from an inner-city school, and he was just so enthusiastic. When the class turned in its first essays, his was awful, though I could tell he spent some time on it. Truly. It was terrible. There was no organization, no coherence. The grammar was abhorrent, and there were sections I could barely read. So I pulled the kid aside and asked him to set up a time to meet with me because he failed the assignment. Those of you who teach know, not every kid will take advantage of extra help. This student did. He came to my office. I gave him two specific areas of concentration to focus on and told him to rewrite one paragraph. He did and brought it to me, and I increased his grade based on that paragraph.

Throughout the semester, he remained engaged and worked diligently, but he could never seem to really make the cut. We continued to work on several problems in his writing, and he improved steadily. During the final, I graded their final essays, and when I came to this particular student, I put my pen down. I read it through, and it was very obviously still his own work, but guys, it was good. It was organized. The essay topic was dead on, and I was so proud of him. I marked a few things and slapped a 90 on that essay and wrote him a note about his hard work.

When he came up to turn in his final, I pulled him aside and told him he couldn’t take the essay with him, as I wasn’t handing them back but that I wanted him to look at his grade. He scowled at my mark-ups on the first couple of pages, but when he got to his grade, he clutched his chest, looked at me, looked down at the essay and back up at me: “Really? I really got an A? I’ve never made an A on a paper.”

I told him he had done the work, had improved steadily and that he did a fantastic job on the essay. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he looked at me and said “Thank you so much. You made my Christmas.” I explained to him that the grade had absolutely nothing to do with me and that he should be proud of himself. He thanked me again and walked off, saying he would text his mom and grandma. I discreetly wiped tears from my eyes as well.

And you know what? He really made my Christmas. It’s easy to wish I made more money and gripe about how teachers don’t get paid enough (we don’t). It’s simple to fall into the trap of whining about those who don’t put in any effort and then complain because they get a C in class. But to really see a student persevere and improve and then appreciate your and his own work? It was really touching. The only problem is, ever since, I have been boo-hooing at the smallest things, and I am not a crier. Hell, last night we watched Cupcake Wars, and I practically cried. We watched Miracle on 34th Street yesterday, and the second Santa spoke Dutch to the little girl, off I went again. Don’t even let the ASPCA commercials come on. Frankly, it’s embarrassing, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.

So, to you and yours, whether or not you celebrate Christmas or just use the break as an excuse to read, I hope there is a little softie in you (if, for nothing else, so I don’t feel quite so foolish), and as always, happy reading.