Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Writing with Mentor Texts #3: The To Un-do List

Mentor text (from

My list using the above mentor text as inspiration:

Writing with Mentor Texts #2: Where they Happen to Be

Quote from mentor text used as inspiration: “Public mass shootings account for a tiny fraction of the country’s gun deaths, but they are uniquely terrifying because they occur without warning in the most mundane places. Most of the victims are chosen not for what they have done but simply for where they happen to be.

“Where they Happen to Be” by Amber Counts

Statistically, the chance of a school shooting
occurring at any one given school is small.
Yet it constantly weighs on my mind.
Lest I forget, even for a second, that this
hypothetical horror could become a reality,
we have the annual compliance training
to remind me.

Avoid. Deny. Defend.
Lockdown: Locks! Lights! Out of Sight!

I just read that “victims are chosen not what they have done
but for simply where they happen to be.”
But what if they happen to be in school?

They happen to be in a place where they are supposed to feel safe.
They happen to be in a space designed for learning and discovery.
They happen to be in a place that offers support systems for people who feel depressed or angry.
They happen to be in a place full of America’s hope for the future.
They happen to be with a teacher who will give her life for theirs,
but hopes she never has to.

Writing with Mentor Texts #1: What they Did Yesterday Evening

As part of training on Writing with Mentor Texts, we've been asked to access the site and find mentor texts to use as inspiration. It's a great resource for finding mentor texts to use for personal writing and/or with students. Check it out!

Mentor text used (from

My poem inspired by this piece:

“What they Did Yesterday Evening” by Amber Counts June, 2020

They staged a protest in front of my school;
I selfishly worried that they might loot my classroom,
as my window faces the front of the building.

I thought about all the treasures I might lose –
drawings made by students, little scraps of origami
with notes to the teacher, framed photos of students
who graduated years ago,
stuffed animals
representing inside class jokes –
representing the class culture I always work to build –
the inclusive culture I always hope to build –
and I think about the students who left these treasures behind:
many of them students of color.

And I think about the ways I fell short.
I think about the ways I continue to learn and to do better.
I think about how when I started to draw sketches of my favorite authors,
I began with white ones. Three, in all, before adding my favorite black authors.
Though this was unintentional,
the fact remains that I see what I did.
I see the inadvertent message I sent
when only those 3 white authors hung on my wall.
I will never again be so unintentionally biased.

I will not worry about my things being looted
more than I worry about the people who feel moved to loot them.

I see the diversity of the protestors who met
yesterday evening outside of my school
as a strength.
But I also see that we have a long way to go.
And I see that we cannot change the world
unless we do the difficult work
of truly seeing ourselves.
Seeing ourselves.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Epistolary Poem

I asked my students to craft an epistolary poem using Dwight Okita's "In Response to Executive Order 9066" as inspiration. I joined them in the activity, and this is the result. I think this is a great writing activity for students, of course, but also an opportunity for teachers to share something of themselves with their students. I also asked them to mark at least 3 literary devices they incorporated into their pieces. A few of the devices I labeled for them in this poem include: anaphora, parentheticals, intentional fragments, and shifts.

Link to Okita's poem:

“Dear Students” 
by Amber Counts, August 30, 2019

Dear students,

Of course I care about you.
I am sorry that not every adult you’ve encountered has made their support abundantly clear.
You should be able to expect this from anyone charged with your care.
Some of you look at me with distrust in your eyes, and I understand, but I hope that soon you will see that I am really here for you.
When I look at you intensely, it’s because I’m really listening to you and thinking about what you say.

If it helps any, I remember being where you are now.
When I was in high school, I had a lot going on at home that made it difficult to feel motivated to go to school.
On some days, my only motivations for getting up and going included marching band and my boyfriend.
On any given day, I could be the quiet, sullen introvert in the back of the room – hoping the teacher didn’t call on me, or I could be the first to thrust my hand in the air because I knew all the answers – wanting attention for my intellectual prowess.

I loved science and history (with the exception of world history that was taught by a coach who put his feet on his desk each day and sat, listening to sports radio, while we colored maps), band and theatre (with the exception of the hardcore “thespians” in class who took themselves way too seriously), and math (until Pre-Cal; need I say more?).
I took photojournalism so I could hang out with friends and wander all over campus with my camera.

I took Spanish because we live in Texas, and I felt it was irresponsible not to take it.
I didn’t take art classes because I didn’t think I was talented enough.
I didn’t take drafting and architecture classes because girls weren’t supposed to take them.
I loved learning but disrespected teachers who seemed to have nothing to offer.
I had tons of friends but always felt sort of alone.
I wanted desperately to go to college but didn’t understand how to get there.

Now, I look forward to working with you each day. Going to school isn’t just a duty; it’s a purpose.
I get up each day because even at my worst, I will be there for you in a way a sub won’t.

On any given day, I might be sleep-deprived, or worried about my family, or spread too thin, but you will always be my priority.
I love teaching English because language is power.
Your power.
And I know that if you don’t learn to wield it as a tool, others will use it to control you.
I want you to know the ability you have to shape your life and change the world.
I believe in your potential.
I want desperately for you to accomplish your goals, and I will do my best to prepare you for college and for life.

I see some of you refusing to take your own education seriously.
I see the earbuds in your ears today – closing you off from learning and from each other.
I see you checking your phone.
I wonder if you know how much time you waste doing this.
How many real experiences you’ve stolen from yourself.

How disrespectful you are being to a teacher who really cares.
But I will keep trying to reach you.
I will stand up here in front of you, trying to pull you into conversations designed to help you think and communicate.
I will greet you each day with a clean slate,
and I won’t hold anything you did or didn’t do yesterday against you today.
Because I believe in you today.

Mrs. Counts