In Defense of Doing Nothing This Summer

Disclaimer: Sorry for all you poor souls who teach year-round. You can disregard this post.

“I’d let someone punch me for nine straight months if it meant I got two months off,” a friend of mine has said to me. For many teachers, that is what it feels like: Nine months of getting punched in the face (metaphorically, but if you’ve really had a bad year, literally). I was one of the lucky ones. My cousin was taken aback when, a couple days after school ended, I answered “It’s been pretty great, actually” to her “How was the end of the school year?” She figured most teachers are pulling their hair out. For me, the end was joyous and not that stressful. One of my students in my “family” graduated, and I got to take a group of kids to Boulder to go hiking. There wasn’t much drama, and I got enough done during our work day to throw in the towel and not have to bring anything home for now.

I don’t have the post-end-of-the-year aftershocks like I have had at the end of school years before; maybe I’m just getting better at being resilient and knowing what to let go. My “it is what it is” attitude, for better or worse, is very refined at this point. I actually felt like “Ok, what next? What new learning for myself can I get my hands on?” But then I stopped that thought and deliberately decided that, for two months, I am going to do absolutely no work, trainings, or anything related to teaching. I have checked the SAT scores of my kids because I’m curious. And I looked at my email a couple times. But that’s it.

A few years ago, a very successful and seasoned teacher said to me: “In the summers, I live it up. I don’t do anything related to school.” Back then, I wondered how to become a great teacher and not use that valuable free time in summer. What’s better—read that new book about differentiation, or watch twelve hours of Orange is the New Black? (Answer: I have not only watch the whole OITNB season, but also the new House of Cards. Winning!) There really is so much free time (at least for me, because I have no kids ūüôā ) I felt very guilty if I didn’t devote it to getting better at teaching.

If you follow other teachers on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media, you probably see posts of the ISTE conference, the AVID trainings, twitter chats, etc. Being part of the blogging world, I see teachers (and people who aren’t) all wrapped up in sharing ideas rampantly on Twitter. I figure that’s a small percentage of the teaching workforce. But it doesn’t seem like it; it seems to like everyone else is more devoted or amped about education than those of us who choose to sit back and do nothing. It’s like FOMO, but for teaching. If that’s a thing. Am I alone in this feeling?

Being introverted, you’d think I’d love to connect with people about teaching through social media because I don’t have to actually talk to them. But that’s not the case. It actually stresses me out and makes me feel like if I’m on the internet, I can’t divide life and work. I don’t want work to pervade my screen time. It’s all or nothing for me, most of the time.

I don’t know how my situation compares to the majority of teachers across the country. I sympathize with the “teachers do work a lot in the summer” sentiment, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this Atlantic article for some perspective. It seems that a lot of schools vary in their expectations of what teachers do, basically, for free. I said no to attending two trainings this summer sponsored by my district (of which I could use for re-licensing hours), and two paid summer school teaching type positions for extra duty income. I am painfully aware that many teachers need the money, and they’ll do the extra work. Living in Denver, my colleagues need that extra money to pay for the ‘extras’—vacation, kid’s sports fees, etc. I could write a whole other post about this. I may have to change my ‘no-summer-work’ policy in the future, depending on my financial situation.

But for now, I do nothing. I am enjoying (save this blog post) taking a break from blogging, immersing myself in other things I like doing and learning about, and catching up with family. Take care of yourselves, teachers. Summer is sacred. Say no to the not required trainings. Go outside. Avoid the education book aisle. (Playfully) Scorn your work friends who bring up work (shout out to my work friends who playfully scorn me, ILY). I am also starting graduate school (Curriculum and Instruction: Reading and Writing–holla!) at the University of Colorado-Denver this fall, so I guess you could say I’m banking the R&R now in preparation. Winter is coming. You can bet between that, National Board, and teaching full time, I’ll be writing something related to keeping my head up through it all.

Also: Special shout-out to my husband, who just finished a three year-long medical residency and is now an independently practicing doctor. I have been relieved of the burden of relaxing enough for the both of us ūüėõ ‚̧

What do you think, teachers? What’s your philosophy during summer? Can you split your time effectively between new learning and rest, or are you more like me—all or nothing? Let me know your thoughts!

-SB

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How to Set Up a Blog With Blogger: Free Download!

Hey Everyone! I created a little handout guide for students to use when I have them set up their blogs via Blogger (Google). I use Blogger because it’s linked to Google and it makes the setup because my¬†school is a Google Apps school.

I have some pointers as a result of trial and error in my classroom for students using blogs. I had them start blogs because I wanted to try it out, so check out these tips so you don’t make the same mistakes I did!

Tips For Having Students Start Their Own Blogs

1. Be very specific with how you want the blogs to be titled. I made the mistake of letting them choose their own title, and you can bet I ended up with some winners. And by winners, I don’t mean winners.

2. Show students examples of some blogs you think will help them get the idea (duh). For some reason I didn’t do this and was faced with blank faces that were begging to be told what a blog even is…

3. Have students watch you do some of the steps (and go over the handout), THEN give them the computers. Don’t try to explain verbally, show them, and make them do it all at the same time. It is super frustrating for everyone (including you).

4. Encourage students to help each other while setting up their blogs. I found that there was a large range in knowledge about terminology and proficiency with using computers in my classroom. Some students don’t even know what a browser is.¬†You will definitely be tasked with helping one-on-one too, so if you have some more tech savvy students pitching in, you’ll be grateful for their help. What could take the whole class period could take about 20 minutes from start to finish. It really isn’t difficult if they know what’s expected of them.

Download the free¬†“How to Set Up a Blog on Blogger” handout on Teachers Pay Teachers!

Do any of you have experience using blogging in the classroom? I am just getting started and would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Blogging,

-S

 

5 Podcasts That Will Make You Smarter and Happier Right Now

“Why aren’t you listening to podcasts when you’re doing mundane things like driving or washing the dishes?” That’s what I tell myself whenever I’m bored and doing things I would rather not be doing (like running). Seriously—podcasts have made life more interesting and me more thoughtful, and they’re free and amazing and basically you should just go listen to some¬†right after you finish¬†reading this.

Maybe you don’t listen to them because you don’t know where to start. And if you do listen, maybe you’re looking for some new ones. I have re-energized my teaching by using podcasts in the classroom (my students are currently making podcasts to be played on local radio ANY DAY NOW :D), but I’ll save a post for that at a later date. Right now I’m just going to share some of my faves¬†because they’re awesome.¬†

Disclaimer: These podcasts made me smarter and happier. You may disagree. Listen for yourself and decide!

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The Road to National Board Certification: Taking a Detour

Hey y’all–It’s been awhile! Too long. Recently, I’ve had some questions about getting board-certified and how that’s going. Today I want to share my updates on National Board Certification and how it’s going (or not going).

During my last post, I shared my current results and concerns about how this year’s certification process may look for me. There are two more components I need to complete, and I did not feel confident that I could do them well this year. My main goal this year is to enjoy teaching¬†because lately I hadn’t been doing that.¬†In an effort to simplify, I decided to take a hiatus. Finishing National Board Certification, I found out, can be put off a year if I needed. I contacted National Board and asked them if I needed to start a new component this year, and I didn’t need to—as long as I wasn’t already registered for the cycle, which I wasn’t. I’m so glad that they have this option!!

I’m currently reading through Components 3 and 4 again to refresh on what I should plan for next ¬†year. I feel fortunate to get to attempt certification over the course of a few years instead of all in one. Shout out to the NBCT Facebook group created by Jennifer Gonzalez—y’all are inspiring me with all of your posts and questions! I can’t imagine trying to squeeze it all in one year.

Here’s ‘another update: I finally bit the bullet and applied to grad school. Literally hit the “send” button on my application today. More detailed update if, you know, they let me in.

As for school, here’s a couple snapshots of this week from some students (can you tell the end of the year is definitely getting to them??):

1.Me: “You know the best way the look creepy to people is if you wear black latex gloves around, right?” To a student wearing black latex gloves “for fun.”

2. Student trying to convince me to let him leave class early via freestyle and juuuuuust missing the mark, much like Jean Ralphio:

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 4.29.23 PMClick here because wordpress apparently doesn’t let you insert videos for free anymore…smh.

 

Only a few more weeks left—we’re all doing out best to keep it together.

-S

 

How to Structure Your Lessons For Introverts Without Compromising Collaboration

Stop! Before you do anything, refer to this post to read my background of learning my introverted tendencies and how they affect my outlook on teaching. It is the beginning of my journey into making introverted teachers like myself feel more at home in the education world.

Disclaimer: This is not a post about learning styles. I believe in best practices that utilize multiple modalities to balance needs of all learners. Everyone learns through a combination of discussion, writing, and reading. Dewey said to get to know your students to provide student-centered learning. So, let’s start thinking about who they are–inside their brains.

Let me start with saying that working in groups, for myself, can be amazing. I value the ideas of others and don’t think working in silos produces the best work. Working with my English department buds is some of the most rewarding PD I’ve ever had. It doesn’t hurt that they are all brilliant, wonderful people. With that, I also understand that it can be too much sometimes. My first boss taught me that the key to everything in education (and life, really) is¬†balance. We cannot satisfy everyone. Depending on the learning outcome, students will have to work individually and together. Students will have to bend to what we ask them at times. Students need to know how to collaborate. Understanding personalities of¬†introverts and extroverts and how to balance those with the task at hand has improved my relationships with my students. They tend to bend when I ask them because they know that I have their best interests at the forefront of it all.

 

How to Structure Your Lessons For Introverts Without Compromising Collaboration

1: Know your introverts!¬†Do a class survey to figure out who is an introvert and who isn’t. This will help you when thinking about what’s best for which lesson. It’s also just good practice in general to know more about your students. I have used Truity¬†Typefinder, which has a free test and a job-like focus where it tells students what careers may interest them based on their Meyer’s Briggs type. Please handle this with a grain of salt. Many times students haven’t even reflected on these ideas and may choose a ‘middle of the road’ answer when going through the survey, but I have found the Extroverted/Introverted typing is fairly accurate. Mainly, I just have them focus on that part. You may have them do a little reflective writing about how accurate they think the MBTI is for themselves. You may also want to do a more overarching survey, and this resource looks amazing! So many Google Surveys. I love the internet. Here is one I found that I think would be a good template for a personality type survey. For some reason it won’t let me actually import the file, but¬†it could be used as a guide if you want to create your own Google Forms survey.

2: Arrange your desks into groups.¬†You may be thinking this isn’t a good idea because introverts hate groups. However, the point is not to avoid other people—although sometimes we want to—but to foster collaboration effectively. I had my desks in a big circle for a long time and it put me in a rut of silo-work for my kids. It was ok for whole-class discussion, because students were all facing each other. Grouped desks can be easily used for collaborative learning and individual learning. When students are squirrelly and need to be silently reading, then I’ll have them go sit somewhere else—the floor, on an exercise ball, etc. Be as flexible as you can for seating, and you can¬†keep your desks in groups for home base.

3: Figure out what your group structure will be.¬†Whether you let them choose their groups or not is up to you. I tend to mix up groups once they have been established, and introverts usually pick to sit next to those they’re comfortable with. Depending on your class’s maturity level and ability levels, it’s up to you. I have used Fisher and Frey’s Productive Group Work as a guide to understand how to create groups and keep every student accountable. If you¬†want to learn how to teach with groups, then read this book. It is a quick but effective read and it demystified grouping for me.

4: Play a game or two to get students working together for something.¬†Don’t throw introverts into a high-stakes academic situation right away, especially if they don’t know anyone in their group. Games that aren’t the painful ‘icebreaker’ types usually help them get more comfortable. I offer an extra point or a snack to the group that wins so they have incentive to play. These games are low-key and require little large-class interaction right off the bat, which is great for introverts.

My favorite game: Blanket the table

Why do students love this game? They get to write on their desks. Well, maybe not if you don’t have a bunch of dry erase markers lying around. For some reason writing on tables is so exciting, so I let them write on their desks (which were made for writing on anyway) but you may have them write on anything. Scraps of paper, portable whiteboards, etc. The premise of the game is simple: I give them a words, then they, as a group, come up with as many synonyms as possible in one minute. The group who has the most gets a point, then we do as many rounds as time allows and I give them some little reward for winning. Why is it great for introverts? They have to contribute in writing and not speaking. I let the extroverts share out the words as we go around the room ūüôā¬†

5: Think about your unit plan–does it offer some individual and reflective activities?¬†It is tempting to throw students into groups and make them present all the time. Especially in STEM. After all, that’s what the working world is, right? Not so much. Plenty of jobs require people¬†to independently think and write. Why wouldn’t we require them to do that during a unit of instruction? Individual activities like writing reflections, writing blog posts, etc. will allow introverts time away from the group to recharge in a productive way.

6: Begin almost everything with a quick write or quick draw.¬†Do not underestimate the power of “write before you speak.” It will help introverts get their ideas on paper before scary talk time comes. I also love Google Classroom’s Question option. Students can respond to each other and it fosters digital citizenship because they have to interact with each other face-to-face and online. This post has a lot of good ways to use class comments on Google Classroom.

7: During a lesson, know when to collaborate¬†and when to not. This is less based on personality type and more on the side of good instruction. ¬†The type of work being done–like writing big pieces or nose-to-the grindstone work¬†like research or reflecting on very personal topics doesn’t always lend itself to collaborative groups. What does lend itself to collaboration? Problem-solving and creating.

8: Ease them into whole-classroom sharing.¬†Introverts can talk in front of big groups. In fact, they should be expected to because it can increase their confidence and get them world-ready. But know that they will probably not want to yell out ideas or possible answers in a whole-class note-taking environment, and may shrivel if you call on them at first (for the record, Extroverts can shrivel too. Especially if the environment isn’t emotionally safe). Your students do not always need to be sharing out in groups or as a whole class. (Also, that gets really old and irks me when we have to do it after every activity in PD as it eats up time and we’re all tired and have talked our heads off).¬†I’ve seen my introverted kids start to volunteer their answers. Build on that willingness because you’re creating a welcoming, risk-taking environment. How to do this? Sentence starters are my favorite. I throw them up on the board all the time. A frame for their thinking will get them confident and will take the anxiety out of “what do I say?” Check out this page for some good academic sentence starters¬†for high school.

9: Let them give you feedback.¬†Introverts are skilled at noticing social situations and can be very intuitive. Use that to your advantage with asking for their feedback on what’s working and what’s not in class. Obviously this should be with all students, but don’t forget about getting feedback! I do sometimes because everything is rushed and I forget. I also probably don’t want to hear the hard truth from them sometimes (although they rarely hold back the hard truths—gotta love ’em ;))

Here are three questions you can ask students for feedback, focusing on how it’s going:

Explain what does/does not make you feel like you can take academic risks in a group. 

Explain whether or not your teacher is being fair when she/he calls on students to speak. 

¬†Explain whether you feel the ‘talking load’ in class is balanced (this means you have a good balance of discussion and writing, and you are not holding back in discussion).¬†

Check out the first tip to find links of surveys and how to create your own Google Form survey, which can give you a spreadsheet of all of your responses and visual data (charts and graphs, y’all).

 

Teachersphere, give me your ideas! Do you do anything that works that I didn’t mention above? Comment below!

Curling up now and reading a book true to introvert form,

-SB

 

 

Finding Motivation Before Winter Break

It is 11:30 (p.m.) on a Saturday night, and I’m thinking about teaching. I’m thinking about how last week was more downs than ups, but the ups helped me rationalize¬†that maybe I can survive (the next two days). I’m thinking about how Monday and Tuesday are going to be long and probably reincarnations of last week (I’m not sure what our district was thinking when they decided to end the semester on a Tuesday). I’m thinking about how achieving National Board certification could be less than a year away from me, and then what? I’m thinking about a conversation I had with my friend today who is in law school and is working for a clinic as a public defender intern. She inspired me that people are still fighting the good fight and that it’s possible to change things, if only one case at a time. I’m thinking about what teaching strategies I’m starting to get better at, and just wrapping my head around what works. I’m thinking about the goals I have for myself and my students and reflecting on how I lose sight of them under the weight of the usual suspects: exhaustion, pressure, annoyance, and time.

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The Road to National Board Certification: Scores Are In

I received an email a couple months ago from the National Board that I swear said “Your results will be available on Saturday, November 5th.” I swear. And then when I kept refreshing my email as I was on a little vacay with my husband, I never saw any scores. I searched for the email, and it was gone. I wish I was making this up, but I’m not¬†that crazy. Nor did I really care, as I was on the fence about continuing certifying anyway.

Then, a couple days ago, I got another email that said I would be receiving my scores on December 10th. I was expecting this email to disappear too, because at this point with National Board, they have no deadlines for themselves. I opened my email up this morning to see an email from them that redirected me to my account, and saw that I received a 3.4 for Component 1 and a 2.0 for Component 2. To retake, I would need anything 1.75 and under. So, I guess I passed those two components. I was relieved to see a little validation that I didn’t bomb anything, and now I’m thinking “damn. Maybe I should try to finish the other two this year since I actually have a chance to pass.”

Let me air my frustration with this process, and with my current situation. Component 4 was¬†just released in November, so I’m not behind so much with that because they just released it (and released it later than they said they would–see above about deadlines). Also they require me to pay yet another 75.00 “registration fee” when there is no way I could even do the registration in one year because 2/4 parts weren’t available yet. Since I’m getting no financial support from my school district or the almighty State of Colorado for this, I’m not exactly jumping at the opportunity for paid masochism. Frustration 3¬†is the phantom Component 5, which is: “we make it as hard as possible with our website and online platforms, and zip files of zip files with directions all over the place, and you have to show that you can even¬†find the directions—if we even give them to you.” It is ¬†disorganized and there has just got to be a way to make everything¬†more user-friendly. They are transitioning to a new certification process, but boy are they making everything harder than it needs to be for everyone else.

So you can see why I’m feeling ‘meh’ about the whole thing. I question each day whether I’ll keep teaching, my husband just got a job as an attending doctor which would allow for me to pursue other things in a financially safe way, and I have to say that not worrying about boards has given me time to just enjoy teaching and try to salvage what I started teaching for.

However.

To have the title of NBCT would be propelling my career in a way that nothing else could right now (well, maybe a Master’s program but do you have 15000 lying around that I can have? No? ¬†ūüė¶ ) I’ve been validated by the first two components, so there’s a pretty good chance I’d certify this year if I buckle down. And I wouldn’t have basically thrown away 900.00. Also, if I don’t submit the rest of the components, I would have to do the whole thing over again and I do not want to go take that test or write those analyses all over again.

So, I’m eliciting the advice of the internet: NBCTs out there–what would you do?

In other ¬†news, Winter Break is about a week a way and ol’ Michael Scott says it best:

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It’ll Make Sense When You’re Older

This school year has been so great so far (can’t believe I’m on year #5!). I have left behind blogging ¬†for now to save time to do non-work related things, but I would like to share this moment from my classroom with you all. I am teaching a “Reading Podcasts” class, which is a hit with my students. We have listened to Radiolab and This American Life, and the kids get time to explore podcasts they want to listen to. We are learning a lot and having a great time together. This week they’ll be writing letters to their former selves about what in their lives they’ve learned so far. Here is mine:

Hello former self!

I‚Äôm writing this letter because you just listened to ‚ÄúIt‚Äôll Make Sense When You‚Äôre Older‚ÄĚ by This American Life. I‚Äôm writing this letter to inform you that it‚Äôs okay to ask questions about life, and it‚Äôs okay to not know the answers all the time (or get angry when other people don‚Äôt give you answers). I know that you like to know things, so I‚Äôm going to let you in on some things that you don‚Äôt know at the age of 16—ten years from now.

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The Road to National Board Certification Part 9: Moving On

Hey there, blogging world. For the tense and placement of time to make sense, I started writing this a month ago.

I just said goodbye to the kids today, and boyyyyy did it feel sweet. Don’t get me wrong—I’ll probably be glad to see them in the fall, but we definitely need some time apart.

This is pretty much how I feel:

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This final stretch was so, so rough. Like “I don’t know if I can do this one more day, let alone a year” rough. As you can see, I haven’t blogged. I pretty much did everything in my power to not think about teaching, education, etc. when I wasn’t at work. Each week I had a new plan for my life. I resigned each negative thought to “oh well. I won’t be back next year.” And National Board Certification? Meh. 1000 bucks down the drain, but to hell if I’m spending any more time on it.

It was excruciating—even if I was trying to dull the pain of whatever it was pulling me away from teaching (I’m guessing it’s all the factors that make up burn-out), it still made me feel guilty/bad teacher/deviant. I know you all can relate. Anyone who does something for an extended amount of time can relate.

Unlike most schools where graduation is pretty much confirmed by the beginning of the last quarter as long as seniors sit there catatonically absorbing those classes they put off until¬†the end, our program requires seniors to be wrapping up everything they need to, whether it’s the research paper they have to work on, or extra work they have to do to finish their points, or passing our math proficiency test. As a family teacher (which is like a home-base teacher that advocates for a group of students), it is stressful. Part of getting a student graduated is on me and my colleagues, and it requires time and energy in addition to teaching our classes and going to meetings. I stayed with one of my students until 10 pm one night to try to get her to pass a math test, and while she didn’t get to walk at graduation, she finished her requirements the next week and got her diploma. The hard work paid off, but I was in such a funk that I didn’t even think about what primary role I had in this student’s success (attending a ‘no-nonsense’ charter school before coming to ours, she most likely would have not graduated this year). Another student of mine almost didn’t graduate, then did, primarily because of me. I think this is just sinking in, a month and a half later.

Amidst all of this, the NB puts their portfolio submissions due May 18th, right in the middle of the end of the school year craziness. I could have avoided this by not procrastinating, of course. But I didn’t. I turned my submission in three hours before the cutoff. I used my own personal time to take¬†the school day off to finish it. I waffled between not submitting it, but in the end I didn’t have it in me to quit. Many thanks to my husband for giving me the straight talk via Shia Labeouf:

If you’ve never seen that, you’re welcome.

A few weeks later, I took Component 1. Besides being shuffled around like livestock at the testing center by the Pearson Overlords, it was pretty uneventful. I “studied.” I woke up early and made sure to eat breakfast. I sat in a chair for three hours and clicked what I thought were the best answers. I wrote essays to what I figured the National Board wanted to hear. Then I went home and watched Damages.

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(and Broad City)

I’ll know in December if I did well enough to keep my score, and I really hope I don’t have to take it again.

I’m finishing up writing this ¬†mid-summer, unsure of how I feel about taking another year on again. Celebrations: I am done with the TEACH grant, and am hoping for some loan forgiveness after this year for teaching for five years.¬†

In about a month, I’ll start up again with the blogging thing, unless I hit some inspiration. Until then, I’m relishing every restorative day of summer spent with good friends and family, good food, outdoor things, and of course—my dog. If there’s one gift of teaching, it is summer break and all of the opportunities for rekindling relationships that get doused in the gasoline of the school year (did that sound too melodramatic?) Here’s an artsy dramatic picture of my dog to illustrate:
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-S

YA Lit: Book Review of Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Last Saturday, I wandered into the book aisle in the grocery store, searching for something to keep me preoccupied for the evening as my husband was working overnight—all in an effort to avoid devolving into a Netflix binge. The pickins were slim, (so many Harlequin romance books. Not my thing.) but my eyes fell on¬†Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver. I read the back and right away knew it was something I’d like— with the words ‘death’ and an endorsement from Jay Asher, author of¬†Thirteen Reasons Why,¬†I was sold!

I gave it three stars on Goodreads because it did take me awhile to get into. There are a lot of high school cliches (popular girl in a relationship with insensitive¬†boy, division between the haves and have-nots, annoying but well-meaning parents), but those start to melt into the background once the conflict begins to unfold. True to YA lit form, your heart feels for the loss the characters experience, but seeing the growth in Sam, the protagonist, is well worth it. I think that many of my students would enjoy reading this book, as it explores the question—“if you know you’re going to die, how do you spend your last day? And what happens when it keeps repeating?”

It’s a quick read and definitely worthwhile to highlight effects of bullying, as this is a major theme throughout. And guess what? It’s being made into a movie this year, so read it before you see it!

-S