Making Teacher-to-Student Connections

I’ve never been one with pop culture, but for most of my teaching career, I was young enough to fake it. Not anymore.  Have you seen that some ecard that says “I’m 40, but still feel like I’m 20 until I hang out with some 20 year olds then I’m like, no, never mind, I’m 40”?  That’s me…except the divide at school is stretching even farther as I slide toward 50 and my students are still in their teens. As Matthew McConaughey’s character said in Dazed and Confused, “I get older; they stay the same age.” (How’s that for some dated pop-culture?)

So, I was pretty stumped when this week’s #EduBlogsClub prompt arrived in my email: “Write a post about using popular culture in the classroom.”  I don’t. I can’t.

Then, I got an email notification that one of my wait-listed books from the public library was available. That night, I started reading Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart. A YouTuber. When I got to the chapter in which she described the eight different types of content (Tags, Challenges, Vlogs, etc.) on YouTube, I realized I was learning some pop culture. The lightbulb came on:

Young Adult Literature = Pop Culture

For eleven years as a reading teacher, I read YA books every day. I learned early on that kids in my reading class wanted edgy books, book without boring parts, and books with teen characters facing issues similar to those they face: finding-out-who-they-are-and-who-loves-them. I read books I never would have chosen on my own–vampire stories, dystopian science-fiction, fantasy–and fully enjoyed them: both for the stories themselves and the connections they provided with my students.

As a literacy coach, though, my reading is more varied. My one pop-culture connection with students has taken the backseat to professional books and my own personal reading interests–like the nonfiction, psychology/business books that I was binging on last year. My office is in the school media center; I walk through displays of YA books every day, usually passing right by them because I’ve got “more important” books to read.


Thankfully, I follow some school librarians on Twitter who have renewed my interest in YA lit.  Last month, Jane Lofton tweeted about The Hub 2017 Reading Challenge.  The challenge seeks to inspire librarians and YA enthusiasts to read current award winning YA lit. Participants who read (or listen to) at least 25 books before June 22 of this year will be entered into a drawing to win a collection of award-winning YA books.

I started with an easy one–rereading Persepolis, a graphic autobiography by Marjane Satrapi because I had the “popular paperback” in my own library. It’s been years since I read it, and, as I’m preparing to teach I am Malala with a 10th grade teacher, I can see that I may be able to recommend it to students who want to know more about fundamentalism in the Middle East.

I’m halfway through Buffering (an Alex award winner) now and this is one of those that I never would have chosen on my own–but I am thoroughly enjoying. I enjoy Hart’s sense of humor and honesty. The stories of her childhood remind me a little of The Glass Castle and her resilience will be inspiring for students. (The Alex Awards are one of my favorite categories–adult books that appeal to teen readers. I work with a lot of 11th and 12th grade students who think they are too old for YA lit, so these books that deal with more mature topics are intriguing to the older students.)

Yesterday afternoon, I picked up The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge–an Amelia Bloomer Top Ten book. My first in this category of YA feminist literature. I’ll be starting it after I finish Buffering tonight.

I may be a few decades removed from the drama of young adulthood, but that’s part of the appeal of YA lit–it reminds us of what it feels like to fall in or out of love for the first time, of trying to figure out who we are or where we belong. Reconnecting with those timeless themes in these compelling stories can help us connect with our students–even if we don’t know any of this year’s Best New Artist nominees.

Join me in completing The 2017 Hub Reading Challenge!  Check out the booklist and sign up here.

There was another time in my coaching career where I started to lose touch with YA lit; The Book Whisperer was my salvation that time. If you don’t know Donalyn Miller and you’re looking to further your connection with students through YA lit, check her out!

4 thoughts on “Making Teacher-to-Student Connections

  1. I’ve really been enjoying this blog! I’ve gone to many of the links and have read about a lot of the books! Thanks! Very well done too! Love, Mom

  2. Really loved the post. Put Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow on your list if you like science fiction.

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