Stop Saying Sorry

I have a rule in my classroom that you can’t say you’re sorry unless you hit someone with a hammer on purpose or by mistake. Either scenario would warrant an apology. Otherwise, keep your “I’m sorry” to yourself. My high school students will preface a question with “I’m sorry, but–” as if: 1. It isn’t my paid job to help them, and 2. They are somehow hurting me by showing interest in what we’re doing. My students say sorry for passing me in the hallway.  Sorry for having to use the restroom.  Sorry for laughing too hard. So I made…

One to Watch: Gabriel Pulido

Gabriel wasn’t supposed to be in my junior year American Literature class.  He had been in another class for an entire semester, but he heard from my students that I was “hard.”  I gave tons of writing assignments.  My students told him I was nice, but I “did too much.” I made students work. So Gabriel parked himself in front of the counselor’s office until they changed his schedule. Changing the schedule because you might like another teacher better was not allowed. You can’t really run a high school that way. Students can be fickle.   Gabriel wasn’t fickle. He…

Rereading Season

It was actually not a million degrees today. Perhaps fall has decided to blow in after all. For me, fall is the season for rereading novels I’ve loved. For a lady whose To Be Read pile is as tall as mine, it may seem like I don’t have time to go over old territory. But I can’t resist. Besides, as a writer these novels (among  so many others) have specific lessons to teach me that are refreshed as I reread. Here are a few of my frequent rereads as the days grow shorter: White Oleander and Paint it Black by…

I Heart YA

I decided this year to make my students read books for fun. If they aren’t having fun reading their books then I instruct them to pretend they are having fun so effectively that I am unable to tell the difference. In discussion about their books, one student admitted that the YA novel she’d brought was so poorly written it was getting in the way of her fun. She read the first two sentences aloud. Total clunkers. We had to agree that the writing was no fun. We couldn’t even pretend it was fun. Yet some of my favorite writing occurs in the YA novels I…

You Write What’s Real: The Secret Lives of Young Adults

Last December I visited an English class at a continuation high school. The students had read and discussed  my YA novel HOW TO BE MANLY  (Giant Squid Books) and the plan was for me to give a talk and answer their questions. I came bearing a big pink box of donuts (if you read the book you’ll know why). As I put a donut on every desk, one girl jumped from her seat, unable to wait for my presentation to begin to share her thoughts. “I like you,” she said. “Because you write what’s real.”  Her classmates nodded in agreement, glad that she broke…