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  • Writer's picturekmbrownfiel5

Mid-year Reflection

Is it just me, or has everyone else forgotten what day of the week it is? The days are slow, but the weeks are fast. It’s hard to believe that last month I graduated from college and that a few weeks ago I accepted an offer to teach eighth grade English. I’m taking a moment to reflect on the highs and lows of the year, the books I’ve read, and all of the excitement that is to come.

In January I…began full-time student teaching! I was blessed with four classes of tenth and eleventh grade honors students. I was preparing to teach units on poetry, Julius Caesar, the Harlem Renaissance, Of Mice and Men, and The Great Gatsby as my students finished their Antigone unit.

During winter break I had the opportunity to explore New York City with my best friend. We wandered through Central Park and I finally got to step inside Belvedere Castle. For the past few years, I’ve been dying to see the castle. I’m an English major and anglophile with a particular fondness for historical fiction and fantasy, so really you can’t blame me. Every time I went to the Park, I bounded with sheer delight in the direction of the castle…and it was closed for construction. This time, however, the stars aligned, and I can finally say that I’ve been in a castle (okay, an American version that’s also a weather observatory, but my Downton Abbey loving heart was still full). It was drizzling, windy, and grey, but my goodness you should have seen how wide my smile was to look out on the water and lawns and skyline in the distance. Actually, you can because I've included it below. As a seasoned tourist, I have to say that your next Manhattan trip is incomplete if you don’t indulge in Momofuku’s Milk Bar Pie, wander through an Egyptian pyramid in the Met, or get completely lost in the Ramble in Central Park. On my next trip, I want to visit The Cloisters, The Strand, Books Are Magic, the Highline, and the New York Public Library. Okay, maybe on my next three trips if we’re being realistic.

In February…I got a job! I took a chance and applied for a district that was only a half hour drive from my university. I received a call in the middle of my Curriculum Planning and Assessment class that I had a scheduled interview during the hiring fair the following week. I was so nervous, but I could not have asked for a better interview. The administrators stressed the plethora of supports that are available to new teachers and responded enthusiastically to my lesson plans and teaching strategies and philosophies. After an agonizing wait that felt like an eternity (okay, it was only half an hour), I was given an offer on the spot. However, I only knew that I had a place in the district, not where I would be teaching.

I also began to teach my first ever unit: poetry! My first and last English courses in college were with the same poetry professor, I worked for a year as the assistant to the Poet Laureate of Virginia, and my mom’s college poetry anthology cemented for me in high school that I wanted to be an English major. To make February even more exciting, I went on a wonderful first date with my boyfriend. What was supposed to be just an ice cream date turned into an eight-hour long conversation with plans to meet again the next day.

In March…my world got turned upside down. In quick succession my student teaching ended, my classes were moved online, and I moved into a sublet off campus. I was frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed, and sad, but I was blessed with so much support from my friends and family. My final two college classes were moved online, my student teaching became virtual, and video chats with friends and family became my favorite part of the day.

In April…I felt a lot like Rapunzel. If you know me, you know that I’m a huge Disney fan, and that Tangled is my favorite Disney movie of all time. In the opening song of the movie, Rapunzel lists all of the activities she completes in the course of the day to keep herself occupied until her life can truly begin. Girl, I feel that. I baked, baked, and baked some more. I did yoga and went on walks in town, in the woods, and around campus. I made lesson plans, I graded assignments, and attended virtual department meetings. I listened to audiobooks while I walked and cooked, I read ebooks from Libby to keep my mind busy.

In May…I said goodbye. My boyfriend left for his first deployment. I graduated in a virtual ceremony without a cap and gown, pomp and circumstance. I left the sublet to return home to New York until my lease begins at the end of next month. I cried. More than once. This was not the summer that I had envisioned for myself. However, there were lots of reasons for joy. I interviewed for teaching positions in middle schools and a high school. I have been able to spend so much time with my family. I spent more time in nature.

In June…I buried my nose in a book. I am reading joyfully and voraciously this month. I joined Living a Life Through Book’s book club, participated in a discussion of The Vanishing Half, and appeared on the mid-year check in. Shahnaz and I are excited to continue our partnership through monthly book discussions. I’ve been wanting a space where I could speak in longer forms than Instagram captions, and I finally took the leap to create this website. I was overwhelmed with gratitude as I’ve received so many donations for my classroom library. I’ve walked along the shore in the evenings looking for shells and beach glass. I’ve spoiled my dogs with all of the cuddles. I read two teaching textbooks. I waited and continue to wait and see what my teaching will look like in the fall. I ate ice cream. I slept with my phone beside me and checked its screen a million times a day waiting for a text from my boyfriend. I am about to turn 22. I may make breakfast at midnight because Taylor Swift is my queen.

Now the question you’ve been waiting for: what have I been reading this year? I have read 41 books so far this year, and I am 12 books ahead of schedule for my 60-book goal. I have read a lot of 5-star books this year, and I am hesitant to declare a favorite. Below are my top ten favorite books that I’ve read so far this year in no particular order.

1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

2. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

4. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

5. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

6. Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran

7. Continents: A Love Story by Anja Snellman

8. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

9. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

10. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

If I had to narrow this list to a top 5, I would have to say, again in no particular order, that the following books would make the list:

1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

2. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

3. Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran

4. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

5. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Perhaps one day I could narrow this list to a top 3, 2, and 1, but today is not that day.

So, what am I excited to read this summer?

I will, in general, be reading more YA than I have in the past two years so I can recommend a wide variety of books for my students. I am particularly excited to read With the Fire on High because of how much I loved The Poet X and Brown Girl Dreaming because of how much I loved Red at the Bone. On the topic of YA, I will be discussing The Raven Boys with Dr. Shahnaz Ahmed on the Living a Life Through Books podcast next month. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater is my favorite series of all time, and if you know me, you probably have already heard me gush for at least an hour on this topic. It’s poetically written, the characters are dynamic and deeply compelling, and the friendships and relationships are the strongest that I’ve seen in any YA book. If you want to hear my full excited ramblings on the topic, keep an eye out for the episode next month.

As far as summer releases, I will be receiving an ARC of All the Acorns on the Forest Floor (September 15) and interviewing Kim Hooper. Nothing captures my interest more quickly than the promise of a beautifully written novel with a dynamic set of interconnected characters focusing upon parenthood and relationships. I’m currently listening to an ALC of Migrations (August 4) by Charlotte McConaghy and am looking forward to interviewing her soon. A dystopia unlike anything that I’ve read before, Migrations is a story about the natural world and a woman’s dark secrets that will completely absorb you from the first page. After falling in love with Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, I’ve been looking for another great chef’s memoir. Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters (June 9) by Dominique Crenn will perfectly suit that particular craving. Unfortunately, I have a 12 week hold on Libby to wait on first. As a fun summer read, I’m looking forward to Sex and Vanity (June 30) by Kevin Kwan of Crazy Rich Asians fame.

As far as back-list titles, I have been telling myself for months that I’ll read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I have heard nothing but good things about this fantasy book, and I need a little more magic in my life. I am so excited to read Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon. I Was Anastasia is my favorite historical fiction book of all time, and I have no doubt that this novel will be in my top ten list of the year. Lastly, I was absolutely captivated by Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, so I know I have to read her earlier novel, Everything I Never Told You.

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