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Corey and The Crossover

Teaching English Literature is the best and hardest job I think I’ve ever had. There are so many reasons behind that statement but the biggest one is students just don’t read for fun anymore.
I don’t think reading has ever been cool, it wasn’t cool when I was young and that was never not the case from various people I’ve spoken with.
However, now it seems as if reading has become something amongst teens that almost seems impossible. I’m met with comments such as, “I’ve never read a book,” or “I don’t know how to read this,” or even “We have no books in my house. My parents never read.”
This blows my mind.

My love for reading easily came from my dad. Instead of taking us to the movies or to various activities on the weekend, we went to the bookstore. Upon entering, the entire family spread out in various sections.
You’d find my brothers in the children’s section playing with the toy trains and other children. My dad would find the latest mystery novel by Anne Perry and place himself in an armchair for at least two hours. He always bought the book because he’d read so much by then it would be stealing if he didn’t.
I would stroll the middle grade and YA aisles. I loved that often, these weren’t busy aisles in the evenings and I could sit on the floor undisturbed. I created giant piles of books I intended to read, holding them as if they were treasures. I’d sometimes even imagine myself on the cover.
I’ll tell on myself and say my 11 year old self loved romances. Blood and Chocolate Annette Curtis Klause, a werewolf romance no less, was loved so much that my copy began to fall apart.
I later read it as an adult and it just wasn’t the same. I loved it, but something was different. Maybe it was a better understanding of romance and good writing but I digress.

It has been my mission to show my students that reading isn’t just classics they don’t understand and stories they can’t connect with. Reading in school can be fun.
My game plan, which has been rather successful so far, has been to pair each classic I teach with a recently published YA book. This does cause me to face a few challenges in regards to ensuring they’re appropriate for the age groups and my Christian school but my supports admins and department chair have helped with that challenge.
I’ve paired Fahrenheit 451 to a post apocalyptic Orleans by Sherri Smith.

I took Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and introduced students to the world of Faerie with Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince, and recently I’ve introduced my freshmen to poetry by way of Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover.
The Crossover is the first and only book to win the Newbery Medal, the highest honor for middle grade literature, written in verse.
The Crossover tells the story of Josh Bell, nicknamed Filthy McNasty, and Jordan Bell, who are two young basketball players destined for greatness. The narrator Josh experiences some difficulties both on and off the court after he finds out his brother has a new girlfriend and his dad has health issues.
I knew this group would love the book because they loved sports but what I didn’t expect was ninth grade basketball star Corey to cling to this book with everything he had.
He memorized the poems, he brought a basketball to class and acted out the moves described in the poems, amd most importantly, he begged to read the book.
He told me, “Mrs. Warren I’ve never loved a book. I love this book.”
During class when I read aloud to the students, Corey was all arms, tossing a pretend basketball in the air, finishing the lines that stood out to him most, and cheering as if he were standing right before the narrator on the court.
I emailed Kwame a few days after we started the book and told him all about Corey, who I fully believe will get a full basketball scholarship to a large university and continue his career.
I told him about Corey’s love for the book and ability to memorize the poems.
He wrote back, promising to send a signed copy and requested a video of Corey reciting one of the poems.
The next day in class, the students became a team. They prepared Corey for his debut. They checked his uniform, snagged a basketball from the gym, wrote the poem on the board so he could practice without stumbling over lines, and coached him on how to recite the section.

As we recorded, another basketball player tossed Corey the ball where he dribbled between his legs, tossed it back, and recited Ode to my Hair.
“If my hair were a tree/I’d climb it./ I’d kneel down beneath/and enshrine it/I’d treat it like gold/then mine it…” in this section Josh is asked to bet on a game and if he losed he has to cut his locks, which he is rather fond of.
Corey recited perfectly and was then tossed the ball back. After the recording the kids cheered and told him he did a great job. They watched and rewatched the video to ensure perfection before we sent it on. They then settled back down and once again begged to read more of the book.
I love this challenge. I love that they think they hate to read. I love they’ve never read a book. I love to be the one to make all of those thoughts and ideas change. I love them.
As teachers, it’s so important to stay current on the books that are available to our students---not only know what’s out there but also read what’s out there.
They want to talk about it, they want to gossip and celebrate with these characters as if they are friends and it’s our jobs to find those characters for them.
For some of us, it’s our job to write those characters for them.
So as we prepare for exams, state testing, and the end of the year...as we burn out and count down the days to summer, I’m clinging to Corey and The Crossover.
Because I can close my eyes and hear him recite poetry.
Let me repeat, I can hear a ninth grade boy, recite poetry not because he was required to but because he loved it.

For more information about any of these fabulous books mentioned, I highly recommend my favorite bibliophile Ms. Virginia Oneal, who can be found in her bookstore on Cotton Row.

For more information about Kwame Alexander visit his website.
This column first appeared in The Bolivar Commercial. 

John Ford: Thank you for the fascinating days

I never thought I’d be good at reading, or even be close to liking Shakespeare however, every once in a while we have someone come into our lives that has the ability to change even the strongest of opinions.
Mr. John Ford was that person for me.
When I read of his passing, I immediately thought of my first interaction with him.
He accompanied his wife Dr. Susan Allen Ford on the Delta State Ireland trip and I couldn’t help but admire his love for absolutely everything he encountered during our time there.

Another student grinned as she told us that evening how Mr Ford came into the lobby and said “Today was fascinating.”
It seems that’s how he viewed all things—or at least any experience I happened to be witness to. Everywhere we went as we explored Ireland, the Fords held hands. They did this in Cleveland and I often saw the two of them strolling the sidewalks as I drove home or to Charlie’s house.
Their love for each other meant a great deal to me. From the outside, it seemed so kind and genuine. He spoke of her with the utmost respect and she spoke of him the same.

Their love for each other inspired me. Their kindness and respect towards one another was my example as I navigated how to treat my own spouse.
Shortly after his retirement, I had the opportunity to interview Dr Ford about her and her husbands teacher careers. In that interview I asked a question I always had. Why is it you call Mr. Ford “John Ford?” I noticed it when I took Dr Fords advanced comp class for the second time. It was something so cute that I copied it making Brettwarren a habit that has stuck for the last 8 years.
Her answer made me appreciate their relationship even more. She said there were several men named John in their family so the need to differentiate was important. She also said that with his personality, “One name just wasn’t enough.”
That got me. It was so true the more I thought about my classes with him and times learning from both of the Fords. One name just wasn’t enough.
I had the privilege of being a part of his last class at Delta State. By then, he was a man of few words but each word he spoke was an important one and never fell on deaf ears. Our class loved and respected our professor so there was never a time where his students did not wait patiently for him to gather his thoughts and teach us about each play we read.
He was a little put out with my bringing our giant collection of Shakespeare to class but also using a No Fear Shakespeare right alongside the text. He said I should be able to read the plays on my own with confidence. I remember giving him some song and dance about how I’d get there but in reality I was more intinimated in that class than any other.
I was in good company with students that excelled in the English department, which added to my intimidation. However, with each class I was met with encouragement and insight from not only Mr. Ford but also my classmates.
I later learned during my Spotlight interview that Mr. Ford felt some nerves in regards to preparing for our class. He was worried we wouldn’t grasp the material or understand what he was trying to convey.
On the last day of class as I sat with my No Fear beside my massive textbook, in the second row second desk (my favorite desk) Mr. Ford looked at me and said quietly and slowly, “do you think you can do it on your own now?”
I answered yes, because he’d made it so.
Years later, Dr. Ford cleaned out her husband’s office, offering up some of his books to former students and fellow teachers. I made the time to swing by and choose a text. 
So, in September when I stood before a group of junior high school students, preparing to present to them Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” I had a realization.
I couldn’t do it alone.
As I taught the play and did my very best to recreate the excitement for Shakespeare Mr. Ford gave me, I kept him in the back of my mind.
I stood at the front of my classroom clutching his very own copy of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," filled with is own scribbled notes and revelations. I clung to it like a life raft.
Mr. Ford got me through a 400 level Shakespeare.
I didn’t expect him to also get me through a junior level Shakespeare as well but I am forever grateful.

We all have those teachers that leave something on our hearts. Many of mine were loud and excited, bringing costumes to class or treats or taking us on trips.
But Mr. Ford stands out for the exact opposite. He was quiet, he was thrilled, he was fascinated.
I can only hope I give my students even a small piece of an appreciation for literature that John Ford gave me.
I can only hope I approach and end each day with the same thought he did. “Today was fascinating.”



This column first appeared in The Bolivar Commercial. 

Some photos borrowed and saved from fellow DSU students.
Read more about John Ford's life and influence on those around him.

Glitter shoes and a bright heart

I guess every person has their “thing.” My things are writing and all brightly colored organizational tools.
I’m beginning to think Nana’s thing is shoes.
I have never seen a little one get so excited about a new pair of shoes.
Recently, we went to the huge Flea Market in Canton to explore and buy plenty of things we probably could have lived without, except for a pair of shoes.
I turned a corner and there they were--glitter sneakers.
They sat glimmering in the sunlight on a table but what made it even better was when I picked them up, I was facing a smaller table with matching baby glitter sneakers.
Friends, I think that’s a sign.
My sweet mother-in-law is also a shoe girl, maybe that’s where Nana gets it from, purchased the shoes as gifts for both of us.
When I brought them home, I let Nana open the box all by herself.
I loved watching the joy she got as she realized “mama! Nana!” had the same shoes!
She slept in those shoes that night and has wanted to wear them every day since.

Yesterday, when I got us both in from school, I walked into my closet to change out of work clothes.
Nana walked right in behind me, my little shadow.
She pointed and said, “Doc? Doc! Doc!”
Doc is what she calls my dad, whom we talk to every afternoon on Facetime, so I assumed that’s what she wanted to do.
When I looked down, I realized she was pointing to my Birkenstock shoes, the same kind my dad wears every single day.
She very rarely sees his feet, and hasn’t seen him since we visited last month but I was shocked that she could pair a style of shoes with a person.
Watching her do this really gave me pause as I realized how much she’s paying attention to what’s around her. She loves looking just like Mommy and she’s watching what we do right down to our shoe choices.
How often have I watched her change a baby doll’s diaper or say “Good Girl!” any time she does something she thinks is good or pleasing? It all clicked as I stood in that closet--she’s mimicking what she sees.
My next thought was HOLY BANANAS I better pay more attention to what I’m doing!
Oh how this little one has turned into a parrot. She loves to repeat words, she watches what we do and comments on our actions, and she even mimics us with her own toys.
This got me thinking of what she sees versus what I want her to see.
I want her to see me pray. I want her to see me love others. I want her to see me holding hands with her daddy so knows how friends should treat others and how men are supposed to treat their wives.

I want her to see goodness, kindness, happiness.
I want her to also know how to handle sad and dreary days.
I want her to want to be like Mommy because Mommy is a good person and set a good example.
I want her to be able to follow in footsteps that guide her straight to Christ. So, here’s to lacing up those glitter shoes and taking the right steps for all of those that are watching us.

That time Jesus didn't forgive

I once read a story about Jesus.
As Jesus was walking through a town in Galilee he came across a jail. Even though the Lord knew what the prisoners were guilty of, He asked the apostles why these men were jailed.
“They have committed the greatest of sins, my Lord,” answered one of them.
“What have these men done? Have they stolen? Have they over taxed or beaten you? Have they torn down the walls of a temple? All of these are sins to be forgiven. Who are you to judge these men?”
One of the apostles, Simon-Peter said, “Lord, these are sinners against children. For these men were jailed for torturing children and infants. They await death while in these walls.”
Jesus said, “It has been written and so shall be fulfilled, those who harm the Lord’s children harm the Lord. These men are no longer loved by the Lord and cannot be saved. They will long wander the lonely hills of darkness. Only will they know my name in death.”

Did I fool you?  I bet I fooled some of you.
If I didn’t, and you’re scratching your head at the reaction Jesus had to this situation, you have every right to be doing so.
This isn’t a Bible story. It actually never happened and I made it up for a group of my students as we study Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

If you haven’t read the book, the protagonist Montag is a “firemen” only in this future American society, books are outlawed and these firemen burn any that are found.  
The society is dumbed down and only finds entertainment in watching wall sized, interactive televisions, and one of the characters says this includes Jesus as “one of the 'family' now. I often wonder if God recognizes his own son the way we've dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He's regular peppermint stick now, all sugar crystal and saccharine - when he isn't making veiled references to certain commercial products that ever worshiper absolutely needs.”
My students were shocked. How could these people be so stupid! We talked about this society that believes everything that is presented to them via the Internet to be true.
It was then the idea struck me. Would my sophomores do the same? Earlier in the year we played a game that I loved playing with my FUMC Sunday Schoolers in which I play a song describing a person in the Bible and they have to guess which person matches the song lyrics.
After doing this same activity with high school students I soon realized that not only did they not know the people of the Bible, they didn’t know the Old Testament from the New Testament.
Armed with this knowledge, I created my fake “Bible story” about Jesus.
I tried to stay true to the Biblical lingo as borrowed from other stories to make mine more realistic.
I worked hard to hide my grin when I handed out the “quiz” in which students were the analyze the story. No one asked a single question.
After revealing myself, we had great discussions about the importance of asking questions.
We’ve got to ask. We can’t just trust what we see on the internet. We even have to question those in the pulpit.

So, here's to the sophomores. Here’s to asking more questions. Here’s to reading your Bible. And here’s to that Bible story being fake, because how great a God do we have the offers forgiveness for all sins.

It's okay not to be a duck

As I continue to grow up I think I’ve really come to understand the importance of protecting my mental health, especially after Berit was born.
I don’t keep it secret that I struggled with postpartum anxiety and struggled with it alone for the most part. I had to learn how to speak up and speak out.
Luckily, I had a certain managing editor friend that lovingly told me I needed to speak to my doctor.
Since then, I’ve focused on not allowing toxic relationships ruin me.
But man is it hard.
Why is it so easy to tell a rude stranger right where they can go but when it’s our own friends or family member, someone we should be comfortable with, we agonize over what to say?
When is it okay to step away from a toxic family member? A sister, a cousin, even a parent?
Living in the south we are taught as very young children to mind our manners even at the expense of our hearts.
Mind you manners, cross your legs, dry up your tears, and be on your best behavior.

However, and please don’t hate me for saying this, sometimes it’s OK to not speak to people — even if they’re our elders.
It’s never OK, of course, to be hateful. That’s not what Jesus has taught us and what we should spread to others.
But I truly believe it’s OK to walk away from people that keep you from having that relationship you need with Jesus because your heart is constantly filled with anger.
I don’t want Berit to be conditioned to thinking that being in an emotionally abusive relationship is OK, if they are related to you.

Be respectful, be kind, but you absolutely do not have to be tolerant.
It’s so easy to teach her these things but so much harder to teach them to myself.
I recently experienced a situation in which I knew I needed to speak up. I was being taken advantage of, and while I don’t think this person meant to do so, it was still happening and still hurting.
I was honestly so afraid to address my concerns that I was willing to continue to allow myself to hurt just so I didn’t lose this person.

With some encouragement from that same pushy editor, I spoke my truth about what was bothering me.
Thankfully, it was an amazing conversation and we are now closer than ever.
I was able to address a situation and stand my ground. It’s amazing the impact saying, “this truly hurts my feelings” can do.

As children we’re taught to speak up and let someone know when they’re hurt our feelings but when do we unlearn this? When do we reach that level as adults when we’re supposed to let it roll like water off a duck’s back?
Sometimes I don’t want to be that duck!
What if I want to be the duck that bites you on the rear and chases you back to the car?

Unfortunately I’m also facing a situation with someone that I know won’t end well. They’ll forever be in my life but I’m learning I must limit interaction with them to preserve my own mental health and relationship with Christ.

I’m learning to let that be OK; to be a different kind of duck.
So, here’s to trying to not be the duck that lets it slide, but also not be the duck that attacks people.
Maybe I can be the duck that walks in the other direction, away from the toxic waters that can harm me.
Here’s to not letting others make you go “quackers.”


This column first appeared in The Bolivar Commercial.