Category Archives: book geek

One Down…

… and I don’t know how many more to go, but it’s all good…

This was a great (though short) week. We managed to get through two rounds of orientation on Monday (one for the incoming kids and one for the returning ones) and started classes on Tuesday. With a couple of notable exceptions, everything went beautifully.

I’ve got an awesome bunch of kids. I’m delighted to have back some of my favorites from my previous classes, and I’m excited to have some kids that I met during lunches and common times in my classes for the first time. I’ve also got a bunch of brand-new freshmen (and a couple of never-been-to-CHS-before juniors) that I’m already starting to love. Really; in three days, I’ve developed quite an affinity for a number of them (though I’m not sure that they quite know what to do with me yet…).

On the downside, I’ve got some real issues with how the board is handling the operation of the school. While I understand that we need someone to see the big picture and take the long view (while we’re in the trenches dealing with the minutiae), I want to point out that the minutiae is often very, very important to the day-to-day running of a school.

Example? We ran out of copier paper on day two. DAY TWO, People. Last year, I made some noise and got a bit of hardware installed on our photocopier that would turn the sheets we fed into the thing to PDFs, which we could then email to ourselves and post on our websites so the kids could access much of our material paperless. Great idea, right? Well, only HALF the work got done; the hardware got installed in short order, so the printer is ready to make PDFs, but the software isn’t working so she can’t get them out of her brain – it is still not possible to email the files out of the printer, so the whole scheme is essentially useless. We’ve got the business machine people pointing to the cable company as the problem, and the cable company pointing to the business machine people, and I’m standing in the middle unable to do my job because I’ve got no books, no paper, and no way to get PDFs to the kids. So. Not. Cool.

I’m choosing to look at the positive, though. I’m back doing the work that I love. I’m working with top-notch people who take their jobs as seriously as I do mine. I’ve got great, funny kids. I’m excited about some of the work I’ve got planned. I’ve been saying for a while now that I’ve got a really good feeling about this year, and that good feeling hasn’t let up yet. I hope it’s the same for you.


Filed under book geek, colleagues, concerns, failure, frustrations, I love my job, I've got this kid...., really?!, Teaching, the good ones, The Job, winging it

Summer Reading

I always loved the idea of summer reading programs, even though I didn’t participate in them as a student (don’t give me any crap, either; I was working full time by the time I was a sophomore in high school, so I didn’t exactly have time to lug a book to the beach, you know what I mean?).  Reading is one of the major activities of my summer as an adult, though.  I love all the lists that come out, I can’t wait for my public radio to do their annual summer reading show (it aired today, but I was away from a radio, so I’ll listen to it tomorrow when it gets posted on their website), and I end up with a “my eyes are bigger than my tummy” situation in that my stack of books is often way out of proportion with the actual time I have during the summer to read them, but I don’t care.  Summer, for me, means ice cream, salads, the Cape, the lake, and books – lots and lots of books.

For our first annual book list, I’ve taken the easy out and hit up the American Library Association’s banned books list as a starting point, though I’m telling students that they can read any novel they like.  I’m thinking that, since I’m asking the kids to write a full-blown essay for every book they read*, I should give them some sort of incentive for doing the work.  I’m thinking of giving each summer reader a few “pink paper” passes; while I’m not willing to let them blow off a major essay, I would be okay with their skipping a reading response or two.  What do you think?


Why read?  It’s a lot of work, after all, this reading stuff.  It requires a lot of effort on our part; we have to take the time, we have to participate in the actual act of reading, we have to think and question and remember.  It’s so much easier to watch T.V., where we can just sit back and let ourselves be entertained; the sets are designed for us, the lighting is carefully manipulated to convey a particular tone, and actors tell us exactly what we need to know.

Reading, though, engages us in ways that other media can not.  Reading asks us to hear voices in our heads that are not our own, to see places we’ve never been, and to partake in experiences we otherwise wouldn’t have.  Reading lets us travel in time and space, gives us insight into how others think and live, and asks us to be a part of the story.  Reading opens our imaginative and intellectual doors.

Below is the first annual CHS Summer Reading List.  The theme for this inaugural list is “banned books” and celebrates the right to read.  This list is taken in part from the American Library Association’s Banned and/or Challenged Books (  Students may look online for other reading choices from the ALA, or they may read another novel of their choice; please don’t feel limited to this list:

The Great Gatsby; F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Catcher in the Rye; JD Salinger

The Grapes of Wrath; John Steinbeck

To Kill a Mockingbird; Harper Lee

The Color Purple; Alice Walker

Ulysses; James Joyce

Beloved; Toni Morrison

The Lord of the Flies; William Golding

1984: George Orwell

Their Eyes Were Watching God; Zora Neale Hurston

Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck

As I Lay Dying; William Faulkner

Native Son; Richard Wright

The Lord of the Rings; JRR Tolkein

Students who read should write a brief summary of the novel(s), which should include a short description of the plot, personality sketches of major characters, the tone of the work (i.e., what message does the reader think the author was trying to convey?) and an explanation of the novel’s major theme.  Along with this summary, students should include a 3-5 paragraph personal response in which they address a) whether the story (or the themes in it) reminded them of anything – a personal experience, a film, another novel, a poem, etc. and, if so, how the two experiences are similar, and b) what stood out for the reader – where did the story provoke the most emotion?  Where did the reader see the story’s “turning point”?  Which character changed the most, and why?  These should be printed in plain, 12-point font on white paper and turned in during the first English class of the term.

Students who choose to participate in CHS’s summer reading may earn credit in their core English classes based on their summer work; students should consult with their individual English teachers to determine how credit will be given.  If a novel crosses the curriculum, students may be able to earn credit in other courses (math, history, science, etc.) as well; check with your teachers.

If you have any questions about the summer reading program, or you would like a personalized book suggestion, feel free to email Mrs. Chili at any time.  Happy Reading!


*understand that this in no way constitutes an expectation on my part that anyone’s going to actually READ.  I’m hopeful, but only a little…


Filed under book geek, critical thinking, Extra-curricular Activities, I love my job, lesson planning, reading

Credit Recovery


I’m trying to put together an 8 week credit recovery program for the students who failed junior English this term, and I’m bumping up into a serious creative wall.

I want for the program to be largely self-directed; that is, I only want to meet with the kids once a week and have them do the rest of the work on their own.  I also want for it to be substantial; I’m resisting the urge to reign in the material because, well, if they couldn’t handle what I gave them in small doses every day for 15 weeks, what makes me think they can handle a lot on their own in 8, right?  The point is that they COULD handle the work, they just chose not to and besides, the point here is for them to prove that they’re ready for senior level English; one of the main themes of that class is moving toward independent, self-directed work.

I’ve got the first week knocked; they’re going to write a personal literacy narrative in which they relate how a literacy has helped to shape how they read, write, think, or behave.  It’s an assignment I do with pretty much every writing class I teach; what I want for the students to understand is that reading and writing are intimately connected and not, as so many of them think of the experiences, discrete activities.  I can point to any number of books that have been instrumental to shaping how I view myself and my place in the world, and I want for my students to be self-aware enough to understand where their influences come from.

After that, though?  I’m stumped.  I can’t decide if I want to continue the theme of social justice that we were working on over the semester (though I am leaning heavily in that direction) or if I want to branch into something completely different – adventure literature, say, or biography.  I can’t land on whether I want to teach one book in-depth, or work from a collection of short novels, stories, and film.  Further, I can’t decide if I should make the summer term all about critical analysis, or if I should make it a straight writing craft course (though, to be honest, I’m likely going to keep pushing the critical analysis, as that’s going to be the primary objective in senior English in September).

I’ve got a stack of potential books on my desk; A Long Way Gone; Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Beloved by Toni Morrison (or possibly Song of Solomon), The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman are all in the running, as is The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (because my plan is to work that book with juniors next year, and these students, if they complete the summer session successfully, will enter September as seniors, so they won’t have to work the book twice).  I’ve not read the Beah or Gaiman books yet, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve read Conrad or Morrison, so I will have to work those right along with the kids, but I’m not opposed to that.

What do you think?  How would YOU go about building a summer school term that had a heavy independent study feel to it?  Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Please?


Filed under book geek, critical thinking, failure, frustrations, I've got this kid...., lesson planning, Literature, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, winging it, writing, Yikes!

Coming of Age

The theme for next year’s curriculum is “coming of age.”  CHS is entering its fifth full year, we’re re-imagining our vision and purpose, and the director of the school is dying to stage a production of Alice in Wonderland, so we settled on the theme of personal growth to inform our curriculum choices for the next school year.

I’m asking you, dear readers, which novels, short stories, plays, poems, and films you’d recommend for the theme for my core English courses.  Keep in mind that I’m designing classes for all four levels – freshmen to seniors – and that I’m invested in a wide variety of genres.  Also keep in mind that we’ll likely read Alice in Wonderland as a school community, so that’s already in the plan.

In 10 minutes of brainstorming, I’ve come up with:

The Book Thief     To Kill a Mockingbird     The Secret Life of Bees   Atonement  Speak    The Perks of Being a Wallflower    The Diary of Anne Frank   Siddhartha     Frankenstein

What would YOU want to read (or what would you want your child to read) in this theme?

Aaaannnd, GO!


Filed under book geek, great writing, I love my job, lesson planning, Literature, Questions, reading, Teaching

Pssst! Wanna Buy a Book?

(Here’s another “does anybody but me remember” question: Does anyone but me remember “give the an to Stan; he’s the man in the tan van” on Sesame Street?  I tried looking up the image for the guy in the trench coat for this post, but I couldn’t find him from that skit; this was as close as I could get (and do be a dear and try to ignore the fact that it looks like Ernie is picking his nose, would you?)…)

image credit

I’m going to go out and represent CHS today at a book fair at our local Barnes and Noble.  I’m dressed in teacher clothes, I’ve got a dozen balloons in school colors being blown up as we speak (I hope they’ll all fit in my car!), and I’m going to photocopy 50 vouchers with CHS’s donation number on them in the hopes that a lot of people will be willing to let a portion of their purchases be donated to our school.

I’ve asked about half a dozen kids to come and perform something at the store; one girl is going to “do” art right there in the store – she’ll set up an easel and sketch for most of the afternoon (I don’t know about you, but I find that impossible to not watch – whenever someone’s out in the open drawing or painting, I can’t help but watch for a while).  Several kids are bringing their guitars, one girl is bringing a keyboard, and yet another is going to recite poetry.  I’m relatively certain that the principal and the music teacher are coming, too, and they’ll probably play a set, as well.  I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

If this goes well, I’m going to make it a twice-yearly event for the school.  I’m also looking into other similar fund-raising opportunities; one of our local pizza shops (which I adore!) does a “percentage of every bill goes to your organization” fundraiser, and I know that many of the big chains do this sort of thing, as well – Applebee’s is one of them, I think, and I know Uno’s does, because I’ve participated in it.  I think that, especially in this kind of economy, people want to “get” something for their donations.  Having a percentage of money you’re going to spend anyway go toward a cause you support feels like an entirely painless way of giving (because, really, it’s the company that’s doing the giving, but whatever).

The point of all this rambling is that I suspect there’s a great deal of advantage to be taken of these programs; it just requires the effort on someone’s (my) part to organize them.  The Barnes and Noble gig was stupidly easy to set up, the coordinator at the store is awesome and, if this all works out well, I’ll be that much more inspired to do it again.

Wish us luck!


Filed under book geek, colleagues, Extra-curricular Activities, I love my boss, I love my job, out in the real world, student chutzpah, the good ones, winging it

Quick Hit: Keeping Track

One of the things I promised myself I’d do in 2010 is keep track of my reading. To that end, I’ve started a page on my home blog where I’ll post short reviews of books as I finish them. I just posted my entry for Native Son and wowie, are my students in for it right out of the gate! Thanks, Carson!


Filed under book geek, colleagues, Mrs. Chili as Student, reading

How to Make Mrs. Chili Very Happy

Send her free books!

My dear friend Sooza is an assistant director for an organization that coordinates grant-funded teacher education seminars. She and I were talking about this job and all of the wonderful opportunities it presents (both for her and for the people who get to take advantage of the programs) and I asked her whether there were a similar outfit operating in my neighborhood. Not only did she tell me that there is, in fact, a sister organization here, but she was pretty sure it was coordinated by someone I already know.


I sent Joe an email on Thursday asking if he remembered me (and dropping a couple of names (yours and Bowyer’s, Falcon), and inquiring about the program. I acknowledge that it’s aimed primarily at history teachers, I told him, but would there be space for an English teacher who finds herself, as a consequence not only of the material she teaches but of her ethics as well, teaching a hell of a lot more history than she ever imagined she would?

He DID remember me and told me that a new workshop was opening up THAT DAY (Goddess, but the Universe takes good care of me!) and that I would be more than welcomed to join them. He commented on the depth of inter-disciplinary work that I do in my English classes and said that he expects I will find the workshops incredibly useful.

I’m beyond delighted by this whole thing. Not ONLY do I get to go to some pretty intellectually rigorous seminars (taught by professors from Local U.), but they’re free. Better than that? They send me BOOKS! ALSO for free! More than THAT? They pay me $75 a day AND they cover the cost of my subs for the two days (one a month for two months) that I’m out! It’s like presents from the Goddess of Geeky Teachers!

I am very, VERY happy!


Filed under book geek, critical thinking, ethics, I love my job, Learning, Mrs. Chili as Student, self-analysis, success!

Hey, Mrs. Chili! Whatcha Readin’?

I’ve signed up for  If any of you are on it (be careful; it’ll suck you in!), find me and add me as a friend!  Book Geeks unite!


Filed under book geek

The Average Russian Doesn’t Take a Dump, Son, Without a Plan…*

…and boy, oh BOY!, have I got a plan!

I’ve been given the official word that I WILL be taking the English III/IV class next semester (which starts on February 1st.  Yikes!).  To say that I’m delighted would be an understatement, though there is a fair bit of discomfort that’s attendant to this in that the teacher who was planning to teach it… well… isn’t.  I’m going to keep focused forward, though; the decision wasn’t mine to make, so I’ve nothing to feel guilty about.

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going to center my class around the observances that we make during the months we’ll be together as a class.  Since the school-wide theme this year is tolerance and social justice (I can SO work with that), it is terribly convenient to match up my reading list with the things that we pause to remember and consider as we make our way through the rest of the school year.  I’ve decided I’m anchoring the class with a single, thematically-appropriate novel for each month.  Let me know what you think:

February is Black History Month – I’ve totally got that knocked; we’ll probably be reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X (which I’m 99.9% sure none of my kids has read, though they may have seen the movie, but I doubt even that), but I’m still waiting to hear back from Carson about whether or not he thinks we should read Native Son together.   We’ll probably watch Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, or maybe Amistad… or maybe Mississippi Burning… and we’ll likely see scenes from Denzel Washington’s stunning portrayal of Brother Malcolm, whether we read X or not.  I’ve also got plenty of primary source documents to go over (like, you know, the Constitution and speeches from Reconstruction to President Obama.  I just bought a GORGEOUS tome full of Dr. King’s writing that I can’t wait to have a closer look at).  I’ve also got relevant poetry up to hereDone!

March is Women’s History Month, and I struggled a bit here.  I was thinking of having The Secret Life of Bees as the novel, interspersed with some short stories and poetry and, probably, some primary source documents, too, but I was not confident about my novel choice and I really needed some guidance on how best to represent women’s literature (and not just women writers, either, but works that show women as something other than a victim or a showpiece).  I’m about 90% convinced that I’m going to go with Khalid Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns (even though I’ve not read it yet, people whose opinions about such things I trust have told me to go for it).  The other 10% is resting on The Handmaid’s Tale; I’m still waiting to hear opinions on which I should put on my reading list before the syllabus is final.

April is Genocide Remembrance month (Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – is usually celebrated in April; I’m making it a month-long theme).  I’ve decided that I’m going to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee with my students.  I’ve never read it before, and *I* want to; plus, I like the idea of looking at the American genocide (I also really like the idea of approaching the material fresh with the students.  By the time we get to this unit, we should be a pretty cohesive community and they’ll trust me enough to let me lead them through something that’s new to ALL of us).  I’ve got MORE than enough resources for this unit from my work with the Holocaust center, so I’m all set here.

May is Mental Health Awareness month.  The novel will be The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and I’m probably going to look at The Yellow Wallpaper, too.  I’m also interested in dissecting Poe’s Raven, and maybe Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde… or Hamlet.  There are plenty of poems about insanity (or, at the very least, mental instability), but I’m looking for suggestions here, too; I THINK I have enough material for the month, but I’m open to more.

June is Gay Pride Month and, believe it or not, I had a really hard time coming up with the novel to anchor this unit.  I didn’t know of any YA / high school-appropriate novels with GLBTQ themes – I CAN’T teach Brokeback; even though my school is pretty liberal, I’m pretty sure I can’t squeak that by – so I turned to NPR and found a review of Gay Pride Month reading, where I found out about Bow Grip.  A copy is coming to me from Amazon as we speak.  I’ve got plenty of novels by GLBTQ AUTHORS, but none that come to mind that have the themes I want to talk about; I’m hoping that this novel hits my proverbial spot without poking too many parents in uncomfortable places.

I’m TERRIBLY excited for the new semester to begin.  I’m sure I’m going to be documenting this adventure pretty carefully; I’m betting it’s one that I’m going to want to come back to in years to come.

* In case you were wondering about the title of this post, it’s a quote from one of my favorite films, The Hunt for Red October, and is one that my husband and I trot out quite a bit.  It fits in a lot of places, and it fits here.


Filed under book geek, colleagues, concerns, critical thinking, Dream Course, film as literature, great writing, history, Holocaust, I love my job, lesson planning, Literature, parental units, reading, rhetoric, success!, Teaching

I LOVE My Readers!

You guys are awesome! You’ve given (and continue to give) me a ton of really wonderful ideas for books to offer my English students at CHS, and I’m grateful and excited and, well, I just love you guys.

The latest news is that it looks like I will be taking the senior English class next semester. That’s a good news/bad news proposition in that I really want that class (and I’ve been approached by several students who will be taking English next term who say they want me to take it), but it’s bad news in that my taking it means my taking it away from my colleague. I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to go, but it’s not my decision to make, so I’m just going to follow the flow.

I also had a meeting with Carrie, the school’s principal/director, the other night and we decided that the English classes will be planned according to the year-long theme that CHS chooses as a focus for the entire school. Next year’s theme is “coming of age and self-identity.” We know for sure that Alice in Wonderland will be a centerpiece of the year; Carrie wants desperately to do a production of Alice with the Theatre Arts group.

SO! You’ve all given me such great ideas for books in general; now tell me what books you’d consider must-reads for next year’s theme, please!


Filed under book geek, colleagues, concerns, I love my boss, I love my job, lesson planning, Questions, reading, Teaching