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Chattin' with Chapin

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  • Andrew Chapin
  • October 13, 2014 07:03:32 PM
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A Little About Us

Chattin' with Chapin is a blog focused on writing and the writing process both from the perspective of an aspiring fiction writer and a teacher who teaches it every day to middle school students. The blog also includes updates on author Andrew Chapin's nonfiction book From Tragedy to Triumph and teasers to the coming-of-age fiction novel Knowing When You're Too Young to Grow Up.

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The Kids – A Poem

I wrote this piece earlier in the year as a position poem sample for my students. The assignment called for students to pick an issue that mattered to them and draft a free-verse piece that shed light on the issue. The parameters of the assignment were broad-by-design. I wanted students to give life to an […] The post The Kids – A Poem appeared first on Andrew...

I wrote this piece earlier in the year as a position poem sample for my students. The assignment called for students to pick an issue that mattered to them and draft a free-verse piece that shed light on the issue. The parameters of the assignment were broad-by-design. I wanted students to give life to an issue, challenge a powerful system, call for change, examine their feelings – really just take a position on ANYTHING that mattered to them.

To quote Daniel Hill, author of White Awake, and removing his religious beliefs and his theistic lens, Hill posits that “young people who navigate this world on a daily basis” serve as the “greatest subject matter experts on race, justice, and identity” (179). And I couldn’t agree more that our youth have so much to teach adults if we are willing to listen – I’ll be expanding on this topic in a coming blog, so check back for that.

In the poem below, I’m trying to challenge the misconception that many kids nowadays are all the same – lazy and apathetic – when, really, they just need a chance to grow up.

Sometimes, I feel like the Catcher in Rye

Sometimes, I feel like the Catcher in Rye

The one who can’t save all the kids,

All the kids who fall over the cliff.

Sometimes, I feel like a gnat,

Buzzing in and out of their ears,

Neither seen nor ever really heard.

Sometimes, I used to tell myself 

The kids don’t want to be saved,

And maybe they don’t want the help.

But it’s a lot easier to tell yourself that

Than to get up and give them your best

Until they too uncover their own very best. 

And they will, trust me, they will,

For an education is a gift always appreciating

An education is a future infinitely. 

An education is a skeleton key

That unlocks as many doors

And one is willing to turn.

So, give them time, our hope, our dreams,  

The next generation are they

And everything in between.

For they will come to conclude 

What you have never not known:

That they’re worth fighting for

That they’re worth fighting for

That you are worth fighting for – 

Believe it or not, 

It’s true.

The post The Kids – A Poem appeared first on Andrew Chapin.


My White Privilege Conversation

I stood in front of my students at the beginning of the school year. We were about to start our first unit built around Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The unit was going to require many mature and sensitive discussions about race, both in the text and in our own lives. To paraphrase, “I’m […] The post My White Privilege Conversation appeared first on Andrew...

I stood in front of my students at the beginning of the school year. We were about to start our first unit built around Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The unit was going to require many mature and sensitive discussions about race, both in the text and in our own lives.

To paraphrase, “I’m white,” I said unabashedly, raising my hand. Some of the looks I got ranged from This guy is nuts to WTF?!?! Some were just blank.

Still, I continued, “I cannot claim to have been the object of racial scorn or prejudice. I cannot claim to know what it feels like to be considered different or a minority or to be judged based on my skin color or culture or religion. But I will always listen and try to understand, try to be empathetic, as we work together to challenge systems that have been unfair to people of color for far too long.”

Would I have started out a discussion like this my first year teaching in Bridgeport, CT, or even when I was a more established teacher at a private, international school in Westchester, NY? The answer is no.

Why?

The easy way out would be to say that I was not comfortable enough with myself. Digging deeper, though, it was because I was colorblind at the time. Part of me really did believe that we, as humans, were all equal regardless of culture, ethnicity, creed or gender and, by extension, were therefore treated equally.

However, that was the perspective of a naive educator with minimal experiences with minority individuals, someone who disregarded upbringing and opportunities afforded to oneself and instead cited individualism and hard work as a means to better one’s position. And that was the end of the examination of subject for me at the time. Either you did put in the work or you didn’t – and there was no in-between.

Because that’s what was comfortable. The “in-between” was unsettling. It made me feel uneasy to consider that others did not have the same privileges I did and that their futures might not be as bright as mine because of those chances I received that they did not.

I, though, was not ready to look into myself for greater understanding, for I was still on the defensive. I resented any assumption of white privilege and felt as if I was being personally blamed for an inequitable system that was in place long before I was.

I had worked hard to earn my degrees and my position – my respect. And the assumption that special treatment contributed to my opportunity was a flagrant affront to my dedication – really, my pride. I always reminded myself that I was not an oppressor. In fact, I thought as an educator in an under-served, urban setting I was on the frontline fighting for educational equity and providing my students with the best possible opportunity to succeed. And I still am.

But that doesn’t mean that I was not the beneficiary of a system systematically stacked in my favor. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had the opportunity to attend schools with strong academic track records that others did not; I had the opportunity to be taught by excellent teachers who prepared me for future success; and finally, I had the opportunity to go to college and not necessarily worry how I would pay for it. I’m where I am today in part because of these chances others simply do not have because of their ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

That acknowledgment, however, does not need to come with furious protestations and defensiveness. So many White Americans have simply never thought to ask themselves some of these questions posed by author Robin DiAngelo in White Fragility:

Did your parents tell you that race didn’t matter and that everyone was equal? Did they have many friends of color? If people of color did not live in your neighborhood, why didn’t they? Why did they live? What images, sounds, and smells did you associate with other neighborhoods? What kind of activities did you think went on there? Were you encouraged to visit these neighborhoods, or were you discouraged…

What about schools? What made a school good? Who went to good schools? Who went to bad schools? If the schools in your area were racially segregated (as most schools in the United States are), why didn’t you attend school together?

If you went to school together, did you all sit together in the cafeteria? If not, why not? Were the honors or advanced placement classes and the lower-track classes equally racially integrated? If not, why not?

When was the first time you had a teacher of the same race as yours? Did you often have teachers of the same race as yours? (35).

Pointing fingers and ruminating in the past does not lead to progress; neither does assigning good or bad over-simplifications to complex racial issues. However, in order for a racially divided nation to continue to grow, the past must be examined and acknowledged to learn how to move forward together. For me, and likely so many who grew up in white, homogenous, middle-class communities, I never considered just how much I had in comparison to others, in particular members of the Black community. One of my earliest memories of racism was a neighbor who railed against the only black family on our block for “bringing down our property value.” I was no older than seven or eight, yet I never really thought about those words until a few years ago. 

Racism certainly wasn’t a conversation in my parents’ or grandparents’ house where I was raised. They oftentimes recounted my grandfather’s immigrant story to support this: If my grandfather could emigrate from Calabria, Italy, learn English under duress, do well-enough in school, survive the Great Depression and fight for his country in WWII, and THEN run a successful canning business, any American citizen could realize their dreams. That is what they believed, and that doesn’t make them evil in any way.

And I believed that for a while, the ideas of American individualism and meritocracy – that is, that everyone can achieve whatever they want in this country if they were willing to work hard for it. And then we went back to comfortable, insular existences, shielded by a false belief that all Americans have the same opportunity, which unfortunately is not true.

I’ve always told my students whenever they’re trying to grow up too quickly: Once you know, you can never forget.

So, here are some facts:

According to a June 7, 2018 piece in The Hill, “College graduation rates are 24 and 17 percent higher for white students than for their black and Hispanic peers, and the richest kids complete four years of college at almost four times the rate of the poorest” (Bridgeland & Martin). The correlation the author is drawing here is that access to quality activities and teachers, in addition to being in a school that supports you instead of condemning you, DOES directly affect one’s success inside and outside the classroom.

Furthermore, a 2017 study from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which charted and analyzed standardized scores from 1992-2005, found that whites across the board performed better than Black and Hispanic students:

Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2017 via NAEP

What’s more, the number of Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans living in poverty is significantly higher than that of Whites living in poverty. Note that the below chart uses the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in one’s income combined with the value of assistance one receives from the government:

Simply falling back on the tired pull yourself up by your bootstraps to achieve the American Dream narrative will not do anymore. Better questions need to be asked that get to the root issues that have tied our segregated communities down for far too long. Change, though, has to start within the hearts of the majority.

Like any change, it will not happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean we stop working to have conversations and stop trying to deconstruct prejudicial power structures. As DiAngelo writes, “Stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them” (129).

The White majority does have these tendencies within ourselves and built into all structures of society. That realization and the soul-searching that comes with it – no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel – is where real change begins.

For denying this reality means the majority is complicit in it. And when that rings true, there really is no US at all.

The post My White Privilege Conversation appeared first on Andrew Chapin.


The Wisdom

Below is the PowerPoint I showed my students on their final day of 8th grade ELA: Find your motivation for yourself.  Realize that there are others in this world besides you and make your community better starting with yourself.  Be humble & and recognize that you haven’t achieved anything until you actually achieve it.  Talk […] The post The Wisdom appeared first on Andrew...

Below is the PowerPoint I showed my students on their final day of 8th grade ELA:

Find your motivation for yourself. 

Realize that there are others in this world besides you and make your community better starting with yourself. 

Be humble & and recognize that you haven’t achieved anything until you actually achieve it. 

Talk is cheap – let your work speak for itself. People who take care of their business don’t need to broadcast their greatness to the world. 

Help others around you – it’s a lot easier to work together than it is to work against one another. 

Be kind – my father always told me it doesn’t cost anything to be kind. 

Ask for help – everyone eventually needs it. 

Avoid excuses – eventually, nobody cares why something didn’t get done, only that you didn’t get it done. 

For those who want to lie: 1. It always catches up to you; 2. It makes you look awful when you get caught; 3. The longer your story is, the less believable it is. 

Recognize that your words and actions truly do matter moving forward, so think about your future and your family and how your decisions will affect your own life, and no one else’s. 

And finally, proofread your work!!!!!!

The post The Wisdom appeared first on Andrew Chapin.


The Longest Shortest Year

This year was the longest shortest year of my life. Sounds paradoxical, but it’s true. In my nearly 10 years as an educator, I haven’t worked this hard at grading student work, developing curricula, keeping a consistent dialogue with families, or even monitoring and following up with students regularly since my first year or two […] The post The Longest Shortest Year appeared first on Andrew...

This year was the longest shortest year of my life. Sounds paradoxical, but it’s true. In my nearly 10 years as an educator, I haven’t worked this hard at grading student work, developing curricula, keeping a consistent dialogue with families, or even monitoring and following up with students regularly since my first year or two as a teacher.

This year, I was challenged to be better than I’d ever been. I received constructive criticism for the first time since my time in Bridgeport nearly a decade ago. And honestly, I didn’t know how to take it, at first. Not that I couldn’t handle it – I’m my harshest critic – but what did I do with it or rather where did I even start when it came to fixing some of the highlighted issues?

My lowest point came within the first month or two when I broke down at like 5:45 in the morning, lamenting to my wife if I had made the right decision to leave a place where I had established a reputation, had built a foundation.

Even if I was miserable for the past few years there, at least I had the respect of my students.

Was this new situation better? The kids weren’t responding, weren’t listening, weren’t respectful of my position or what I was trying to teach them. I had spent the summer revising my units of study, making them academically rigorous – or at least that’s what I thought I was doing until they fell flat to start the school year out. I was failing, flailing in every direction trying to find something that worked, yet nothing I did seemed to resonate. I could not help but think that maybe all the years I had spent in a cushy private school had made me soft. Maybe I just was not cut out to be an educator in an urban setting anymore.

Leading up to that moment, I actually wasn’t. I needed to adapt in order to survive. The more I thought about what was missing – higher quality work, preparedness for class, and the requisite pride needed to produce one’s best – the more I realized I needed to adjust my instruction and slow down. My students were not where they needed to be academically or in regards to their maturity. That, though, did not mean they would not get there if I developed my lessons in a way that built my students up with them.

Then, it clicked and the feedback I was receiving from both my in-class observations and unit-planning meetings started to make sense. It became clear what I had to do. Stop trying to do so much in each lesson; instead have a clear focus of how the exercises prepare them for the culminating assessment and contribute to the skills you want the students to take away.

That was really the beginning of the work. Except it now had purpose. And I began to see the results in the classroom as the quality of work increased along with student engagement across the board. Kids were excited to come to class to see what we would learn about next – or maybe what crazy musing I would utter next – and I was believing more and more that I had made the right decision to be their teacher.

While I know there is so much more for me to do in the classroom and far more challenges that lay ahead, I am in a good place professionally.

For the first time in a long time.

The post The Longest Shortest Year appeared first on Andrew Chapin.


I’m Back!

After what has been a LONG year with more late nights than I’ve had in a while as an educator, I’m back! Over the past year, I was challenged to think about the needs of every single student, challenged to bring content to life, challenged to assess in myriad ways – challenged to be a […] The post I’m Back! appeared first on Andrew...

After what has been a LONG year with more late nights than I’ve had in a while as an educator, I’m back!

Over the past year, I was challenged to think about the needs of every single student, challenged to bring content to life, challenged to assess in myriad ways – challenged to be a better teacher overall. The adjustment certainly tested me, but because of it I am in a good place professionally for the first time in far too long.

That’s exactly why I took the year off from writing: to rediscover my passions and to recommit myself to them. With a clear head and fresh eyes, I look forward to the boundless possibilities ahead.

Check back for a new blog each Monday & regular updates on the projects I’m working on in between!

The post I’m Back! appeared first on Andrew Chapin.


What’s Andrew Reading Update

While I have not been reading as often as I would like, I am ANXIOUSLY awaiting the arrival of Angie Thomas’s new novel ‘On the Come Up‘. In the meantime, if you need any YA and adult book recommendations, check out the What’s Andrew Reading tab that I’m committing myself to updating on a more […] The post What’s Andrew Reading Update appeared first on Andrew...

While I have not been reading as often as I would like, I am ANXIOUSLY awaiting the arrival of Angie Thomas’s new novel ‘On the Come Up‘.

In the meantime, if you need any YA and adult book recommendations, check out the What’s Andrew Reading tab that I’m committing myself to updating on a more regular basis.

If I’m not going to be working on my fiction and blogging as regularly as I have in the past, the least I can do is share what I’m reading.

Also, be sure to check back weekly as I intend to start sharing some of the work I’m writing with my students. Although I’m not writing with them on a daily basis as the reality is they need my help, by the end of the year I would like to say that I am able to write with them for an entire Do Now.

The post What’s Andrew Reading Update appeared first on Andrew Chapin.


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