What I Learned in 2016

Everyone seems to be counting down the final minutes of 2016, desperate to escape the clutches of this year before it’s too late.

I agree, I guess. I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to embrace the fresh hope and possibilities of a new year.

But even in a year when so many seemingly lost so much, there are lessons. And despite the disappointments of 2016, for me, these lessons made this a special year.

This year on Election Day,  I learned that reason and facts sometimes aren’t always enough to overcome ignorance, and that in a democracy, fear can be used by artful politicians to manipulate voters to abandon American values like truth, empathy, charity, and hope that we cherish the most.

I learned too, though, that sometimes the most patriotic stance we can take if we truly love our nation is one of peaceful, persistent resistance.

I learned that despite the best efforts of educators and teachers, many Hoosier voters either do not understand education policy, or simply do not value teachers or believe in our community schools. If they did, they never would have voted so overwhelmingly for state and national leaders whose policies for our schools and our children are so misguided and so consistently wrong.

I learned, too, that in 2017, teachers, educators, and our advocates must find new ways to reach out to and talk with these voters about our schools, our jobs, and our children.

We must engage with these voters because we truly are at a turning point; if we fail to convince voters to stop the corporate education “reform” train destroying our schools, removing local control from our communities, overtesting our children, and driving our best teachers out of the classrooms, then one of the bedrocks of democracy, our public schools, will disappear.

I learned that technology in the classroom changes the learning dynamic but does not improve student learning or engagement. Technology is just a tool — nothing more, nothing less.

I learned, despite the disappointments and frustrations of 2016, that when our family, friends, and faith are at the center of our lives, life’s challenges don’t seem so overwhelming, and life’s special moments become that much more special.

I learned to work less and goof off and laugh more.

I learned to shoot more selfies and photos, to preserve the special moments and memories.

I learned I want to write more.

I learned that former students can be my greatest teachers. I learned to let them inspire me. I learned to be a better person because of their example.

I learned pets are family, too.

I learned I like people more than I thought I did.

I learned patience.

I learned that the people in our lives can make us better people, but that we have an obligation to be the best versions of ourselves for them, too.

These lessons made me better. They made 2016 worth it in more ways that I can ever count. They’re the lessons that taught me that 2017 will be special, too.

So, bring it on. And, Happy New Year!

2013: My Year In Reading

by Jim Lang

As 2013 closes I have to look back at my year as a reader. As always, my choices as a reader shaped much of my year. Here’s a look back at what I read and what I learned:

Tris Prior is this year’s Katniss Everdeen

Like many readers I have been hooked by the Divergent trilogy. In fact, I am reading Veronica Roth’s final book in the series, Allegiant, right now. In my mind, Insurgent (Book 2) was even better than Divergent (Book 1). The feisty, stubborn Tris Prior believes in something beyond herself, and her strength drives Roth’s narrative. I am determined to finish Allegiant this week, so I’ll soon know whether the Divergent trilogy belongs in the same group as Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games and Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogies.

John Green rules

2013 was the year I finally gave in to the demands of colleagues and friends and read a John Green book. I began with his best, The Fault In Our Stars, and loved his characters’ strength and quirkiness. I followed that up with the even more disturbing Looking for Alaska and the somewhat disappointing Abundance of Katherines. Paper Towns is in my To Be Read stack for 2014. Green’s books provided me with many relevant,  interesting conversations with my students in 2013.

Khaled Hosseini writes stories that matter

When Khaled Hosseini publishes a book, I snatch it up and devour it. I fell in love with his narrative style and his complex characters in The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, and this year I enjoyed And the Mountains Echoed in much the same way. His writing style differs here, as he does not focus on a single character but pulls together multiple narratives to tell his story of siblings Abdullah and Pari. The result is a story that stayed with me long after I finished his book.

Howard Roark’s NOT crazy

As I trudged my way through Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead this past summer, I admittedly began to despise Howard Roark and his absolute refusal to compromise his beliefs. Ever. I secretly began hoping for a brutal end to Roark at the end of Rand’s novel — Maybe he’ll fall off a skyscraper! Or get crushed by a stone gargoyle that falls from the side of a building! But then something happened. I spent several weeks discussing Howard Roark and Ayn Rand with my AP  Language and Composition students, and as we delved into Rand’s story together, somehow, the idealistic Howard Roark made more sense to me. In truth, we probably need more Howard Roarks in today’s world. And as is often the case, I learned from my students in 2013, which is one of the joys of teaching reading and writing.

Michael Connelly is still the king of mystery

Like every year, I again spent much of my time with some of my favorite suspense and mystery writers: John Grisham, Jeffery Deaver, John Hart, Dan Brown, David Baldacci, James Patterson, Harlan Coben, and Michael Connelly, to name a few. And while I enjoy all of these writers for different reasons, Connelly is still the best. I only read one of his books in 2013, The Scarecrow, which is unusual for me. I am in desperate need of jumping into another mystery with detective Harry Bosch, or another legal drama with attorney Mickey Haller, Connelly’s two best characters. No one blends mystery, strong characterization, and a compelling plot like Michael Connelly.

Appreciate the hidden gems

The wonderful part of being a reader is stumbling onto an unexpected treasure, a story with little mainstream fanfare that pulls you in and makes you feel something. Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars made me laugh out loud and is a must-read for all teachers. John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back amazed me with the author’s ability to weave together seemingly-unrelated stories into a memorable narrative. And R.J. Palacio’s Wonder made me care about the characters so much that I felt their hope, disappointment, worry, and joy right along with them. Great writing in all three cases, and a reminder that sometimes the greatest stories come from unexpected places.

So, these were the books and lessons I encountered in 2013. My reading goals for 2014 include reading more non-fiction and biographies, delving more into “the classics,” and reading more than one Michael Connelly mystery. And as always, I hope to continue discussing books and the lessons I learn with my own students.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!