I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Best Books of 2020

My list is not extensive by any means, but I need to share out my favorites from 2020 like I have the past six years. I read a bit for myself, along with many books I thought my 7th graders would enjoy or books they recommended for me.

     2019 Favorites
     2018 Favorites
     2017 Favorites
     2016 Favorites
     2015 Favorites
     2014 Favorites

Here are the books I would most recommend from my list of 81 books I've read this year... I tried to whittle it down to one or two per genre, but I read some genres more than others! I'm not going to describe them for you - you can check out the complete list with my thoughts for this year here. Another note: One of my goals again this year was to read many more books by authors who are not white.

Biography / Autobiography / Memoir
     Such a sweet story of innocence, humility, and effort. My Name Is Tani… and I Believe in Miracles was one I will purchase and share with my students. I also believe I'll be rereading Between the World and Me.

Graphic Novel
     I only read two this year. Guts is relatable to my seventh graders on so many levels.

Historical Fiction
     It was another good year for historical fiction for me. I'd recommend Saving Savannah by Bolden, Death Coming Up the Hill by Crowe, and Show Me a Sign by LeZotte for my own seventh graders, for sure.

"How to"
     One for my students and me: This Book Is Anti-Racist Here are my notes for this book
And one for educators (and any other adult, really): Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less    I wrote about that one here.

     One of my six nonfiction books this year... and I read it twice: So You Want to Talk about Race    My notes from this one are here

     I loved listening to the teacher in this audio book. I'd have to take notes as I drove. Once I got over the fact that it was a sequel of sorts, I could just focus on the lessons. The Courage to Be Happy: The Japanese Phenomenon that Shows You that True Contentment Is In Your Power

Realistic Fiction
     Always so many. So Done by Paula Chase, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kelly Jones and Gilly Segal,  SLAY by Brittney Morris, Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes, This Side of Home by Renee Watson, and my adult favorite was The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

     New for me was a bit of romance this year. Two more mature reads I enjoyed: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (adult), and Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (YA).

    I only read four (and that's good for me!), so I'll share them all, as I think they all have different audiences... How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trohy by Crystal Allen is for 7th grade on up, Bear Town by Fredrik Backman and Painting the Black by Carl Deuker are both for high school on up, and Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt is for middle schoolers who understand the witty references.

My reading gap this year? I only read two new science fiction books (the rest were re-reads for our scifi unit), and even though I tried a couple of short story collections, I abandoned them due to their mature content. I'll look for a couple more graphic novels next year and also a couple more mysteries.

What awesome books should I put on my list? Please share your favorites in the comments below!

For the quotes I love, check out this slideshow that I update with each quote that touches my heart or soul:

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

What I Hope I Continue in 2021

I've got time to write today. How did that happen? It's winter break, and I've been leaving more work at work... something I hope continues in 2021. Here's a list I hope to add to as I think of more: 

  • Leave more work at work.
  • Breathe.
  • Be in the moment.
  • Continue to walk outside - when I'm frustrated/mad/sad... and when I'm not.
  • Keep the hard conversations going, even if it's at a different time.
  • Slow down.
  • Know it doesn't have to be perfect.
  • Keep lessons simple and organized.
  • Read more books written for adults.
  • Judge less.
  • Listen more.
  • Ask questions.
  • Give more to food banks.
  • Make more home-made gifts.
  • Enjoy the little things to the fullest... yes, even washing dishes.
  • Share more gratitude.
  • Make quality time for others.
  • Have ONE priority to guide all actions.
  • Sing loud and proud.
  • Do my part.

As for any parents reading this... I hope you continue with the Binny's gift cards for your children's teachers. 👍🏻 Hehehe!

What do YOU hope to continue in 2021?

Thursday, December 10, 2020

His words...

We were hesitating over taking the niece and nephew to camp - in our own trailer - in Holland, Michigan this summer. We'd had reservations since January (they're tough to get!), and the campground was open once again. It's something we'd done for many years in a row. We would bring our own food, have our own shower and toilet, and only swim in the waves. We'd be away from people. 

What did it matter? Why was the decision so huge? Because it was the summer of 2020.

I wanted to go so bad. We hadn't been anywhere all summer! I was so tired of this whole quarantine thing! Our niece and nephew wanted to go even more. I cried over what to do. They may have cried not knowing if we were even going. This year has brought "too many" cancellations and oh-so-many tears. Who has it not affected?

What helped me figure out what the right thing to do was my husband's words. We were sitting in the truck after visiting my parents in their backyard, exhausted from going back and forth on this decision. Finally, these words of his sunk in.

"If I'm wrong, we are all safe. If you're wrong..." 

We didn't know what would happen if I was wrong. It could affect us, my sister's family, my parents...

His words have helped steer my own decisions since that day. 

I truly hope that our school board made the correct decision in not having an adaptive pause for the last two weeks before winter break until the two weeks after winter break. (More numbers: Most students would only miss EIGHT days in the school building).

I truly hope more parents who travel will keep their children out of the schools for two weeks afterwards (even though this was not always the case after Thanksgiving - please, please, students, stop telling me where you went if you're going to show up in my classroom for 80 min of my day).

If an adaptive pause was wrong, at the very least we (students, staff... and my sensible spouse) were all safe.

I do not let my students know I worry - about my husband's physical health, along with my own mental health trying to be my best for all 75 students. At least during remote learning, I can break down between classes with no one knowing. While in front of students, I'm still acting like my "normal" teacher self. I have it easier than many teachers - every teacher I know is struggling. Every teacher I know is working on making it through.

I don't know the rates of cases in the community where I work. I do not live in the community where I work. Instead, I'll document here the rise in deaths in the US for the past weeks our district has been in hybrid mode: 

This piece was another story I had to make sure to document. Sometimes writing about struggles helps my heart and mind.