We were barely past MacArthur when I felt it beginning to take hold. It was a big Friday for me, taking 40 students on a walking field trip to our local bookstore, then a tour of the Community Center and, if there was enough time, a little sit-under-a-tree-and-read time for the students in the Plaza.
I was in my 10th year of teaching in the only alternative high school in the town of Sonoma. Fall semester I was teaching English, algebra, science and art to students who usually hate each of those subjects. My primary task was engagement: get the kids understanding why knowledge is power and why they should give a shit, and then fill in the blanks as they appear.
It was the beginning of the year, and my office manager had informed the staff two weeks ago that we suddenly had $4,000 to spend. “But spend it fast,” she warned, “because you never know.” Budget distribution in the district frequently means no money for long periods of time, then a big wad to be spent within two weeks before it disappears into another pot. I quickly scheduled a Friday walking field trip to Readers’ Books, telling each student they had $15 to spend on a book of their choice. The only catch was that they would have to complete a book report. It’s an excellent way to spend $600, as most of my students have never been in a bookstore, much less bought or read a book of their own.