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Read Any Good Books Lately?

A Gateway staff member reading a novel

Between the months of August and June, teacher calendars are seriously packed. For many Gateway staff, the summer months are a chance to catch up on the books they’ve spent the whole year promising themselves to read! Here, three Gateway teachers share their summer reading highlights and what has stuck with them as the school year gets underway.

Name: Therese Arsenault
Teaches: Math and Science @ GMS
Book: Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aquilar

What did you find most challenging/ engaging about this book? Elena Aquilar is one of my favorite authors. I look to her work for inspiration and guidance. She writes with clarity and vision. Each chapter aligns with a particular month and explores a particular habit and disposition. The calendar of learning begins in June with “getting to know yourself” and ends in May with “celebration and appreciation.” Throughout there are readings and exercises that allow you to understand your emotions, tell your story and be present. As you move through the book you learn how to cultivate compassion for yourself and others, and most importantly you discover strategies for riding with the never-ending sea of change. 

How has this book impacted your work in the classroom this year? Much of the work that we do at Gateway Middle School is aligned with the principles outlined in Onward. One principle is the importance of self-care. At GMS, we started the year by cultivating mindfulness along with self-care practices. Aguilar also talks about the power of storytelling as a way of creating connections and as a way of creating more calm. I have brought storytelling to the meetings that I facilitate, and together with my colleagues and I are learning about each other. Last, I have focused much on listening to and acknowledging the emotions and feelings of those I work with. In doing so, I have noticed that naming them allows each to be heard and opens up conversations for moving forward. As a teacher leader, reading and experiencing Onward is cultivating within me a desire to coach and lead for transformation.

“Just-for-Fun” Recommendation: One of my all-time favorite books is the The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared  by Jonas Jonasson.  It is a story of a 100-year-old man who does not want to live in an old person’s home. He was to live and experience. And that he does! Woven within each of the tales of his adventure are actual historical moments, bonds of friendship, and outright absurdities.

 

Name: Elizabeth Colen
Teaches: 8th grade Humanities @ GMS
Book: Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M Steele

What did you find most challenging/ engaging about this book? Honestly, how could you not find this engaging! This book is about how stereotypes, stereotype threat and "how pervasive stereotypes can actually influence behavior and performance" while also discussing how stereotypes continue to perpetuate themselves if they are unexamined. 

There were a number of chapters around stereotype threat and its impacts in the classroom. Studies have been done to show that when in a classroom of someone deemed more dominant, the person who sees themselves as having a lower standing will regularly do worse on tests. Women will more regularly do worse on science or math tests compared to their male counterparts, white men will do worse than Asian men and people of color will do worse than white people, etc. There are so many instances where stereotype threat is pervasive and impacts so many people not just in the classroom but also in their everyday lives. They even talk about Sandra Day O'Conner and her experience as the first woman on the Supreme Court and how this experience was, as she said, "asphyxiating" until Ginsberg joined the Court and there became a "critical mass," when there were finally enough of a particular group of minorities that they no longer felt uncomfortable or an "interfering level of identity threat."

How has this book impacted your work in the classroom this year?  I think it has shaped my thinking about my classroom environment and the way in which I help students to see that their identity is valued in my classroom. To start, the book lists a number of different strategies that help to minimize stereotype threat in our classroom. This ranges from the way we give feedback, to fostering intergroup conversations, and affirming students sense of self. I also have been working with other teachers in the Bay Area through the Middle School Consortium which has allowed me to think through these strategies a bit more. Together we read parts of Whistling Vivaldi together while analyzing our common principal: "We value the complexities of identity and combat prejudice in our school community." We discussed stereotype threat in our classroom and ways we can work to ensure our students feel safe and heard so that we can then engage them with content. Our future sessions together will build off of this work. 

“Just-for-Fun” Recommendation: To be honest, I am an avid reader and can't remember all the books I read this summer. Towards the end of the summer I started reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I know that it is an older book, published in 2013, but in a regular book exchange between my aunt and grandmother it came up that I had never read it and they were both a bit shocked, so I decided to pick it up!

 

Name: Mary Plant-Thomas
Teaches: Science @ GHS
Book: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

What did you find most challenging/ engaging about this book? It feels uncomfortable to engage with this topic because our society brings us up to believe that admitting to any racism makes you a bad person. However, DiAngelo argues that our society is built on white supremacy, so we all have been steeped in racism our whole lives. In order to move forward towards a more just society, we need to first face this reality. The entire premise of this book is that yes, this work is uncomfortable (that discomfort is white fragility manifesting itself), and it is super important, so it's worth working through the discomfort. 

How has this book impacted your work in the classroom this year? At Gateway we are constantly engaged in work related to race, bias, and privilege. This work is uncomfortable at times, but this book helps me to remember to push through that discomfort, not shy away from those challenges, and continue to engage in the work. 

“Just-for-Fun” Recommendation: I read Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarity (the author of Big Little Lies). I'd highly recommend any of her books!