October 21st, 2014


I’ve been staring at this blank screen for too long. I’ve flipped the pages of my worn and marked Mrs. Dalloway book for inspiration, scrolled through my photos to see what story I’ve lived that I haven’t yet written. I type and then I delete and the screen is blank again.

I’m not sure what my story is tonight.

But I know I feel words wanting to boil out, feel the weight of having taken more than a week away from this task that sets my mind at ease.

So I’m typing.

Miles has a fever. He woke up from his nap yesterday warm and I left early to go and pick him up. I walked into his class and he was milling about but as soon as he saw me he slumped his shoulders, lowered his eyebrows and declared, “I’m sick.”

But I’m not sure if he is. He’s happy. He’s running around pretending to put out fires with his flashlight as he wears his plastic “fighter-fighter” helmet around the house. He’s running outside in his cowboy boots and his too small cowboy hat, climbing to the top of the play fort before coming in and asking for milk with a special straw.

He doesn’t seem sick.

Except when every so often he’ll hold his head and tell me it hurts. He’ll feel just a touch warm and he’ll rest for just a second before he gets his energy back. He’s the kind of sick that made me cancel his doctor appointment I had made early in the day because I could only see a doctor looking at my like I was an insane mom to take such a happy kid to the doctor and declare him sick.

I cancelled the appointment and then the fever came back.

That always happens, doesn’t it?

He wished today that he could see inside his head, that his eyes looked inwards occasionally instead of out.He said he might see oceans if his eyes looked inside his head.



Linking up with Heather for Just Write.

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October 9th, 2014

What Happened When I Wrote About Moldy Doughnuts

My post about day-old baked goods hit a chord with people. It’s been read and shared more in the past few days than anything I’ve written in the recent past. And for that I am grateful. I’m grateful that other people share my frustration at the way teachers are undervalued by most of society.

But really, the most amazing thing about writing that post hasn’t been the readers or comments or shares. It’s been the reaction from my most important audience, my students.

I’m not secretive about the fact that I write a blog. I don’t openly promote it to my students, but I do share the fact that I am a writer, I am shaping words and stories the same way that I encourage them to. Some of them read my words. And some of them share their own in the most spectacular way.

This morning I got a text from a fellow teacher. “Did you bring baked goods today?” she asked. No. I hadn’t. “The teacher’s room is filled with real, homemade, fresh cookies and muffins,” she said.

What Happened When I wrote about moldy doughnuts

And it was. It was filled with perfect blueberry muffins and sugar cookies in huge quantities. And on the table was a note. A note from my students. A note that I couldn’t possibly love more. A note that demonstrates all at once why I do what I do and how amazing teenagers are.

Because they are.

Teenagers are awesome people.

We should say that more often – to them and to the world.

This letter? It was perfect.

student letter

I’ve blocked out the name of my school because I feel better that way. But I hope that this response to my original post gets shared and read just as widely.

This is why I teach.

Thank you, students, for your words. (And your baked goods. They were pretty awesome too.)

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October 7th, 2014

Day Old Baked Goods and Respect for Teachers

There were doughnuts in the teacher work room this morning. And muffins. Slices of cake piled on top of each other. Pieces of pie and a few boxes of cookies.

Bleary-eyed teachers walked in and lit up momentarily – sugar tokens of appreciation.

Except they weren’t.

More than one of us took a doughnut, a guilty pleasure as we stood in the morning copy machine line. We took that doughnut and we lifted it closer and closer to our mouths in anticipation of its sweet reward. Some of us even took a bite. And then we realized the doughnuts were moldy.

These tokens of appreciation? They were baked goods left in the containers past their sell-by dates. They were old. They were garbage, really. And they were moldy.

Suddenly we all wondered where they had come from. How had they gotten here? All these containers of baked goods that could no longer be legally sold in stores? Who had dropped them off here? In our teacher work room? To taunt us as we prepared for our day?

Investigation led most to conclude that someone from the grocery store where they were baked had brought them to us.

Let’s feed the teachers old baked goods, they thought. That will be so nice of us. Who would appreciate moldy doughnuts more than those hard working teachers?

I’m not sure where they came from, really. I actually doubt the store would allow these old foodstuffs to be donated to a school, but what do I know? Maybe they were brought by some well-meaning grocery store employee.

I know that to me, these day old muffins and doughnuts and cakes are a metaphor. A metaphor for how much the public thinks of teachers. Can you imagine anyone donating old food to a law firm? Or a group of investment bankers? No? Neither can I.

But, sadly, I can see someone thinking that teachers would appreciate old food. That we wouldn’t mind just a little bit of mold. Sadly, I can see someone thinking of teachers as a charity group, deserving of these donations because part of our job expectation is to sacrifice our financial security for the good of the future.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time you know that I love my job, that I am, at my core, a teacher. But something about those baked goods got to me today. Something about bringing a moldy donut almost to my mouth made me contemplate my place in society.

Teachers are undervalued. Our paychecks hardly change from year to year. Sure, the starting salary for a teacher is pretty competitive, but when you’ve been at it as long as I have, my monthly check only changes by single digit numbers from year to year. Teachers like me are pushed out of the classroom, enticed by more money if we become principals, burned out by the hours we spend in the classroom and at home, downtrodden by the culture of teacher-blaming, drowning in data that means far less to us than the humans that sit in front of us each day.

This is my 15th year in the classroom. And when people find out how long I’ve been at it they look at me like a rare species – someone whose survived beyond the dreaded 5 year mark, when we lose so many teachers to other careers. At 15 years, I am the senior member of my department. I’m asked more often then not when I’m going to become an administrator. This is part of the problem with the expectations for good teachers today: we are expected to leave the classroom. But here’s the problem: we need good, experienced teachers IN the classroom. We need incentives for good teachers to stay. Part of that incentive should be monetary, but part of it also should be respect. Respect for our work and our pedagogy and our intelligence and our diligence.

We need to be respected enough that no one thinks about bringing us moldy doughnuts.


(Make sure to read the next post – the amazing reaction of my students to this post. It’s worth it. I promise!)

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October 4th, 2014

I Let Them Write Poetry

A few weeks ago at a teacher professional development session for English I, the woman in charge said that there is no reason for our kids to ever write poetry. We were in the midst of a unit that culminated in our students writing poems about themselves, the places that define them, trying tricks of the poetry trade on for size.

“They will never be asked to write a poem on STAAR,” she said. “There’s no reason our kids should ever be writing poetry.”

I held back in the moment because it wasn’t the place or time to have an argument. I subtly rolled my eyes and made eye contact with the rest of my team. They know me well and they knew without my saying anything that I will always believe there’s a reason for “our kids”  – kids who are amazing individuals who happen to live through struggles of poverty and language acquisition – to write poetry. To write period. And the reason is never that it will help them pass a test.

This morning I read an interview with one of my favorite poets – Billy Collins. He said, “Poetry can do a lot of things to people. I mean it can improve your imagination. It can take you to new places. It can give you this incredible form of verbal pleasure.” My students deserve that as much as any others. They deserve the right to explore language and unique ways to tell their stories. They deserve the right to swim in the ambiguity of poetic language and to see what words they have to offer back to this world.

Collins, in the same interview, said of teaching, “Well, because teaching is a very mysterious process. You’re throwing information, in a sense, into the dark. I mean, you spend an hour talking to this group of increasingly younger people and you walk out of there and you think sometimes you’ve had a good class, and other times it’s not been that great. But no matter what it is to you, you’re not sure how it’s being taken or what effect you’ve had.”

When students write poetry or respond to poetry, many times you can see the effect. I’ve had colleagues whose students tell them that writing and sharing their poetry was the first time in their school lives that they’ve felt the power of their words. I have a colleague who teaches an entire class on poetry and she unleashes their words and experiences in a way much more profound than a test ever can.

They won’t need to write poetry to become better test takers. But writing poetry might make them better humans.

So I will let them write poetry.

Found poem by student

Found poem by student

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October 2nd, 2014

True and Complete

“I want to take up this mantel so that their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.” –Emma Watson 

He looks straight at me and tells me he loves me. Ten minutes later, he stops what he’s doing to say it again. I’m ordering my dinner and as I speak to the man across the counter, Miles grabs my face between his hands and kisses me loudly. He smiles at me so big I laugh as I tell the man what kind of salsa I’d like in my burrito.

He holds my hand and more often than not still wants to be held. I carry him even though he’s three and he’s heavy because how can I not?

He tells me, as I’m putting on his night-time diaper, that he’s just a little boy. “I’m not a big boy,” he says. “I’m just a little boy. Growing.” We walk to his room so I can cover him up with his blankie. “I’m just a little boy who always loves his mom.”

He tells me how much he loves his sister, how much he misses her when she’s not around. He fights with her and calls her names but he mostly loves her. And she him.

He pushes Elmo around in the stroller and he covers him with a blanket and the other day I caught him reading Elmo a book in his room.

“Every afternoon, after lunch, he whispers to me that he loves me,” his teacher told me last week.

Of course he does, I think. That’s his favorite thing to say. Some days he says it to me so often I laugh at its frequency and marvel at his sincerity.

True and Complete

I’m a week late to the Emma Watson HeforShe party, but I am here now. I listened to her speech last week amidst many distractions of life but when I sat down to relisten and to prepare to read the transcript with my students today, my breath caught at the line quoted above. Because I have a daughter. Because I have a son. And what I want for both of them is to be their true and complete selves. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?

But just like I find myself worrying more about Miles’ love of guns than I ever worried about Nora’s love of princesses, I find myself wondering more and more often how long he will be this sweet love-declaring boy. How long will he say I love you out loud to me? How long will he hold my hand? Those things will ebb and flow as a normal part of growing up, I know, but I also worry about his ability to hold fast to his tenderness in a different way than I worried about her growing out of holding my hand.

Superheroes and dragons, swords and things that shoot – those are his favorite things to play with still. He is the good guy fighting the bad guys. Always. He sets up battles – Batman v. the dinosaurs, himself v. the invisible enemy. He pretend chops and pretend shoots and pretend kicks and then he comes right back to me and hugs me so tight it almost hurts.

He runs around on the playground with his friends, pretending that they have fire power and super fast running power. He pumps his arms as fast as he can so that he looks like the flash. He sees me at the gate to pick him up and he runs to me so quickly he almost knocks me over. He hugs his friends goodbye too. He’s the class hugger. And I want him to be like that forever and always.

Himself. True and complete.

True and Complete

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September 29th, 2014

Riding Without Training Wheels

“It was an extraordinary beauty of the kind she most admired, dark, large-eyed, with that quality which, since she hadn’t got it herself, she always envied – a sort of abandonment. as if she could say anything, do anything…” — Mrs. Dalloway

I’m 15 and on top of the three meter diving board. I’m standing backwards, unable to see the water and only able to hear the coach telling me that I’ll be ok. That I just lean myself backwards in the same way that I’ve nearly mastered on the one meter. I stand, my heels dripping over the edge of the board, willing myself to just go. To let myself fall backwards into the water as I have so many times from lower heights.

There’s a boy next in line. He’s 8 or 9, fearless – jumping and diving and smiling the whole way through each stinging slap on the surface of the water.

Every time I watch him take his turn I think that I should be less afraid. I’m older and wiser. And terrified.

The Augusts of my childhood were spent on the side of the pool. I dangled my feet in, sometimes stood on the steps and splashed around. I could be occasionally coaxed in further with a tube around my waist. But mostly I stood off to the the side and watched everyone else lose themselves to the joy of swimming.

Until I was in 7th grade, I couldn’t swim. It wasn’t until a dear friend gently coaxed me into the deep, until it was too much to watch the tiny kids hold their breath and kick their feet and go, that I finally, somehow, got the guts to do something that I had grown more and more afraid that I would never learn.

Two years later I’m on the high dive telling myself that I have to do it. I have to dive backwards into the deep water. I can’t let an 8 year old know that he’s so much braver than I am.

I crouch down, hold the sides of the board with my hands. It’s more stable that way. I’m not so high up.

I roll back and I hit the water with absolutely no grace.



Fast forward twenty years and I’m standing on the sidewalk of a city park, my six year old in tears in front of me. The training wheels came off her bike a few months back, but then we went on vacation and the heat set in, rendering any prolonged outdoor activity pretty miserable. Today is supposed to be the day she masters her bike with two wheels. It’s supposed to be fun, but instead, just like I was so many years ago, she’s scared.

I want to let her quit, let her just get back in the car and drive home, but I can’t. I talk to her about not knowing how to swim. About watching from the sidelines. About getting older and more afraid. About learning, finally, to trust myself.

We move forward towards the grass still wholly unsure. She comments on all the four-year-olds zipping past on their two wheels. She feels scared and shamed that they are younger and already adept at what she thinks she cannot do.

I’ve been exactly there, I tell her. I know how you feel, I tell her.

I guess I remember it so well because that looking on from the side, that feeling too cautious, that yearning to be in the middle but not having the guts to push myself there, it seems so much a part of who I was for so long – who I still am on many days. I see others just go out and claim what they want, put big words and big dreams out into the open, run after it all with so much self-assurance. Part of me is envious. Part of me knows now that’s just not who I am. On rare days, however, I spy in myself the beauty of abandonment.

And some days I see it in her too.

In the shade on the lawn she lets her dad push her as she pedals forward, as she suddenly, on her own two wheels, rides away without even realizing it. Pedaling faster and faster, over the bumps of the grass, she rides.

I watch her and I’m in awe.





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September 18th, 2014

Handwriting and Handwringing

She’s sitting on the bathroom counter with a book propped in her lap. She’s holding the tiny sparkly pen she earned out of the prize box at school last week and I’m giving her words to spell. The lines on her paper don’t match the lines on the paper from school – the blue and red lines, some solid and some dotted, the lines meant to guide her towards understanding of which letters are tall and which are short and how they should all look in relation to one another.

“Cat,” I say, and she sets off to make the c and a the same short size and the t a bit taller.

She insists these words I’m throwing her way are too easy, so I ask her to spell soap (she gets it wrong) and driveway (she gets it right).

She tells me which letters should be tall and which ones short. She sounds out the words and hears the sounds they make roll off her tongue and then slip onto the paper in their assigned shapes.

She’s practicing her handwriting and her spelling.

This isn’t her homework. This is her pleasure.


I picked her up today at 5 from her after school art program. She was outside with her teacher and the rest of the class, wandering in the huge city park with the skyline looming behind her. They were making a movie, writing scenes with fairies and robots and I forgot what else. Their first grade excitement was palpable as I saw them walking towards me. “Our story is awesome!” one of them screamed. “The whole world should see it!”

Yesterday she had been picked up from a computer lab where she was using a program to animate stick figures on the screen.

Last week she made three dimensional art using clay and paper and cardboard.

She always asks to stay late. And we’ve been obliging her despite the fact that I can’t really imagine a six year old wanting to be at school from 7:45 until 5. But she does and she’s handling it well and she’s doing pretty amazing stuff.


Ken is out tonight and I am tired from a cold I’ve somehow caught only three weeks in to school. Rather than torturing myself with the thought of cooking dinner, we went out to a restaurant where we sat, the three of us, in a huge booth and I let the kids eat breakfast for dinner because why not.

We ate and paid our bill and ran in the rain over to the half-priced book store where we stocked up on superhero books and all of the Cam Jansen’s Nora has yet to read, which isn’t many.

We got home and Nora ran off to start reading.

“Wait!” I said. “You have to finish your homework!”

“Ugh. But I want to read.”

“I know, but you have to finish. It’s due back tomorrow.”

“I hate homework,” she said as she moped over to the dining room table.

Homework came home with her on Monday – a scavenger hunt for doubles around our house and neighborhood, a language arts worksheet asking her to write about the beginning, middle and end of a book, a social studies page asking her to write about a family tradition and a double-sided math worksheet that was marked as a challenge.

Monday she was excited to do homework. It was her very first homework ever to be assigned. Guess what she did first? The challenge. She struggled through it, thought it was fun. Then she moved on to the doubles sheet since that is the one that was actually due back to class. It was engaging since it asked her to look around the house and outside, just to notice things that have always been there from a slightly new perspective (what all good education should do, I believe). Then she stopped and we pretty much forgot about it until today.

She’s in bed now. The one paper to bring back tomorrow is done – she had actually finished it on Monday we realized. But the story paper, the beginning, middle and end paper is blank. She didn’t want to do it and I didn’t want to make her. She did the same one at school last week and did it really well. It didn’t seem like something I thought she really needed to practice.

Here’s the thing about this, though. I always, every. single, day. did my homework. All of it. All the time. And if I forgot it at home or accidentally left off one part, I was devastated. Upset. Chances are I probably cried about it.

But now, as a parent, as a teacher who reads so much educational research that says homework is of no value and probably of some harm to young kids in their education, I couldn’t make her do it. I know that kids might be better off with no homework – “that there are no academic benefits to homework for kids in primary grades”. I know that parents report better attitudes towards school and learning in general when a school assigns no homework to the youngest students. I know that there is immense value to reading at home daily.  I know that there is some value to homework as students get older, as they need to practice more complex skills. But we aren’t there yet.

So while part of me wanted her to finish every sheet in that homework packet because it is what I would have done. Because even looking at it sitting blank over there makes me nervous. I didn’t make her. Instead I let her tell me more about the awesome movie she is making with her friends. I took her to a bookstore to get more books. I let her practice spelling and handwriting because she wanted to. I let her read three chapters of her new book in her bed, headlamp shining on the pages like it does every night – not because it is homework, but because reading is awesome.

I’m not sure what I’ll do when she has more homework or when the paper in question is the one that is supposed to go back to the teacher. I like to think that I’ll stand up against homework that is just a worksheet and up for the learning that happens organically around here every night. I like to think that she’ll only get homework that matters, that helps her see things in a new way. I like to think I won’t force my compulsion to do it all and do it perfectly onto her. But I’m not so sure. I guess we’ll just see what happens when the time comes. But for now, the worksheet is staying blank.

Handwriting and Handwringing

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September 8th, 2014

Turning It Round In the Light

“…the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light.” — Mrs. Dalloway

I make lunches at night now. For six years I’ve resisted spreading peanut butter on bread, pouring goldfish into bags, cutting fruit into bite-sized pieces every evening. I know why.

It feels a bit like torture.

I stand at the kitchen counter and I think about all that is ahead. I think of all the to-dos that tomorrow will bring. The unfinished papers waiting to be graded. The inevitable morning struggle over clothing or shoes. The meetings I’ll have to squeeze in. The groceries I need to buy.

Making lunches at night is supposed to make me feel more prepared. It’s supposed to earn me time and peace the next morning. It’s supposed to make me feel like a responsible adult.

But instead it just makes me anxious and a little bit mad.

Every night lately I wonder why I just don’t go back to the old way. To making them in the morning in a bit of a rush, to accidentally getting jelly on my shirt and having to hurry up and change. To sitting the night before with a blank screen and words and thinking instead about the good that’s passed and not ahead to all the rest that sits undone.

For some reason I keep making the lunches at night.


We are watching My So Called Life. I just watched this one yesterday, I think every time we press play on a new episode. But I didn’t; I watched it 20 years ago. It just seems like yesterday.

Yesterday I was Angela Chase, dying my hair a deep shade or red/purple to stand out and fit in and find myself. Or, at least I tried to – the color never really took. Yesterday I was worried about what I wore and who was looking at me and what if the English teacher asked me a question in class and I didn’t answer it well?

Today I am the English teacher. My hair is my natural color and my natural frizz and maybe one day I’ll have time or care to do something to it again, but today is not that day.

I watch Angela Chase and Brian Krakow and Jordan Catalano and I remember being them and there and slamming my locker and feeling awkward and writing in my diary instead of on a blog.

It’s different now, watching it from a totally new world. I am Angela searching for myself and I am her mother worrying about her and I am the teacher wondering how best to find Ricky help.


I get in the car in the afternoon and it is so hot I feel like my skin might start to melt. The air blowing out of the vents seems like a cruel joke until finally it decides to live up to its name and air condition the space. I wait in the line of cars to leave my parking lot and feel the sweat start to drip. I wonder when the first days of relief will come.

I walk into Miles class to pick him up and he’s always busy. He’s playing with puzzles or blocks or sitting and listening to a book. He’s happy. And as soon as he sees me, he leaves his spot to run at top speed into my arms and hug me with a might I never imagined would feel like the biggest gift of every day. He kisses me on the cheek and reaches up to hold my hand as soon as I put him down.

We walk hand in hand to the hot car and I buckle him in, careful not to let the hot metal of the buckles touch his skin in the process. He talks at me as I buckle, as I close the door and walk around to my side. He’s full of words these days. And with each one he speaks I start to feel lighter.

He tells me he loves me. He laughs at himself as he relays stories of he and his friends being silly. He screams with joy as we pass school buses and city buses and his favorite – the fast bus.

The fast bus is never moving. Ken or I told him a few weeks ago about the new city bus that stops near our house – it is faster and can change the lights. They were running so many buses by our street, training the drivers on the new routes. We must have talked about it and he listens to everything and soaks it in.

“THE FAST BUS!” he screams with pure joy.

“There it is.” I say.

“But it’s not going bery fast,” he points out.

“It’s picking up people,” I say.

“And then it will go fast. It’s learning how. Buses need to learn too.”

Turning It Round In The Light

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September 1st, 2014

And I’ll Trust

On Monday she forgot.

I wrote it down. I spoke it aloud. Clear directions. 10:30 and 2:30. Please give her the inhaler.

She didn’t.

On Tuesday I was still beyond mad. I marched into the nurse’s office and asked how she dared. How did she dare to forget my girl. And her breathing? How dare she make me feel ignored?

She blamed the teacher.

I told her that wouldn’t fly.

She didn’t know what to say.

She didn’t forget again.

But neither have I. I haven’t forgotten the sound of her cough, the one she gets now only every so often. The one she used to get too frequently. The one that led us to doctor’s visit upon doctor’s visit,  that had us sitting on the couch watching videos while she inhaled air through the nebulizer. I haven’t forgotten the way she gasps between breaths when it’s bad, the sounds of her wheezing and rasping. I haven’t forgotten the first time it happened all of a sudden, out of the blue, shockingly fast. The rush for the inhaler and the steamy air of the bathroom with the shower running.

All week I kissed her goodbye at her classroom door, sent her in to settle her things, turned to go and remind the nurse that she must never forget. That she shouldn’t need reminding. That this is indeed her job. I reminded and then I left.


And I worried

All week I went to my classes, my first classes, summoned my best teacher energy, looked at the students in front of me grateful for their smiles and their cooperation and their questions. The distraction from my worry.

Worrying is exhausting.

Tomorrow, rested from a long weekend, I’ll send her off again. Send her off with a cough that’s subsiding, that doesn’t need constant medication. I’ll send her off and I’ll worry less. I’ll remind her to take care of herself, to speak up for what she needs. I’ll meet the eye of the teacher who understands a mother’s worry.

I’ll kiss her goodbye and send her into class.

And I’ll trust.





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August 18th, 2014

My Teacher Summer

One family vacation.

More reading for pleasure than I’ve done in years.

Many afternoons at the pool.

Two week-long workshops.

Two professional texts read and annotated.

Many half-days at school

     working on schedules

          and interviews

               and materials.

A week of planning for next year.


“Are you sad it’s over?” They ask.

“Aren’t you lucky to have three months off,” they say.

Usually I answer that of course I’m a little sad that summer is over. Aren’t we all?

But I’m also a little glad. Because it is time and just like any other parent, I can think of many many reasons that going back to the routine of the school year is a good thing right about now.

And, really, if you know a teacher, you know that we don’t really have the summer “off” as much as people like to believe. We keep working and learning and planning. We travel and we read for pleasure, yes. But I would argue that time – to simply read for the joy of it and to explore life from some new perspectives – is some of the most valuable professional development I could have given myself this summer.

And this summer? It’s been an amazing one.



My Teacher Summer


Want to help me better inspire readers this year? You can click on over to donors choose and give any amount – large or small – to help some of the struggling readers I’ll teach this year know that reading is so much more than just a chore for a test. (And if you feel so inclined to donate in the next 7 days, enter the code INSPIRE and donors choose will match your contribution!)

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