Middle School Teacher in Rural Alaska

Thank you twitter for the titles!

on November 27, 2011

My journey that led me to sit at my computer frantically making lists of titles began with two books:In the Middle and the English Teacher’s Companion. Oddly enough, neither of these were books that I purchased, they were books I found, laying around unused in the school where I teach.  In the spring of 2010 I read the English Teacher’s Companion and joined the ning. I loved the ideas I got from other teachers and I grew as a profesional from my use of it, but reading and writing on the ning never really became a daily habit.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2010 when I picked up In the Middle.  I was inspired by Nancie Atwell. “Wow,” I said to myself, “a love of reading is really important and I am not helping my students with that at all!” You see, my district asks me to use a specific reading curriculum. Luckily, that was also the year that I transitioned from being a high school teacher to a middle school teacher. As a middle school teacher I got an hour with my students after lunch for homeroom. This was the time for me to teach them health, art, career skills, etc. “Well then…I bet I could finagle that time a bit and build in some time for a Reader’s Workshop…” When I proposed the idea to the higher ups at my school it was a go.

I started off with approximately 200 books in my classroom library last fall. I quickly learned that this was not nearly enough. Afterall, my classroom library is the only truly accessible source for my students to get books.  Our school librarian is also a Special Ed Aide and does not get time to be in the library with students. Meanwhile, the town library was unstaffed (meaning not open at all) for a good chunk of last year. Finally, since we live in a 300-person Inupiaq Eskimo village that is only accessible by plane we obviously do not have a bookstore. So, I needed more books in my classroom library.  The question then became, what books will my readers enjoy? What books will help my readers grow? Honestly, I didn’t really know. Although I’ve always been a reader myself, my familiarity with young adult books was limited to the books I had read when I was a kid. I also didn’t really have anyone to ask on my staff, because there are only ten teachers in our school.

I started reading some book blogs, paying attention to book reviews in the New York Times, etc. but it wasn’t until I started actively using twitter that I really found my place. I started following other reading teachers. I lurked around a few #titletalks. My list of books for my kids just kept growing and growing and growing!

Now, approximately once a month I open up goodreads to find the books that I ‘ve heard mentioned on twitter. Then I go to and set up a project where people can donate money to buy these books. One to two months later the books arrive in our classroom and students love them!

I’ll admit that I’m still a bit of a lurker on twitter. It’s hard to participate in conversations sometimes since Alaska is four hours behind the East Coast. Even though I don’t always participate in conversations, the ideas and books that you all share on twitter have really had a big effect on my classroom. So really, this post is a long-winded way of saying thank you to all those who share book recommendations on twitter.  Teaching and learning in Alaska is incredibly difficult, we don’t have access to libraries, bookstores, and other resources that make life easier. Your recommendations and insights not only help me feel less isolated, they also provide my students with a steady stream of top-notch books. So thank you! 


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