Jason Reynolds: Grab the Mic October Newsletter

This is a monthly guest post by Jason Reynolds,  the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His last column was about the National Book Festival.

And just like that, summer is over. The weather is beginning to break. The morning air is crisp, and suddenly there are pumpkins everywhere. And though the seasons are transitioning, which means we’re about to experience the strange time warp that comes from consecutive holidays, all I can seem to think about is you. Because you are in school. At least, a form of school. Most of you are at home sitting in front of your computers learning from a distance. Your kitchen tables now classroom desks, your refrigerator now the cafeteria. And because I know all this is going on, it’s hard to discuss my plans to carve my face into a pumpkin and leave it on my older brother’s doorstep as a joke. Or how I’m so curious about what it’ll be like to attend a Halloween party over Zoom. Maybe I should figure out how to be Zoom for Halloween! I don’t know. The point is, I haven’t had the energy to really think about any of that, because I can’t stop thinking about … you.

So, here are five things I want you to know as you continue on this strange journey of distance learning:

  1. This isn’t awesome for anyone, so be easy on yourself. I talked to some young people recently about this, and they were expressing how sometimes it’s harder to grasp the concepts being taught, because the teacher may be moving too fast (we all learn differently) or the Wi-Fi at home isn’t strong enough (all signals aren’t created equal) or there are distractions in the home that are sometimes hard to avoid (Grandma, please turn “Let’s Make A Deal” down!). Listen, as someone who also uses Zoom all day every day, I feel you. It’s brutal. And it’s not just you. We’re all having a hard time. So be gentle with yourself and do the best you can.
  2. And speaking of us all having a hard time, your teachers are also struggling. Have you ever tried to talk to someone through a window? Like, with the window down? I mean, down when you’re in the house, up when you’re in the car. You get what I’m trying to. … You ever tried to explain something to someone through a thin piece of glass? You would think it wouldn’t be so hard, but the fact is, as humans, we communicate best without filters between us. Oh, there’s a great joke about social media that I should put right here, but I’m trying to stay focused, even though it’s just so hard to stay focused during these times. Ugh. But anyway, your teachers are trying to communicate with you through a filter. And the trippy part is, it doesn’t sound muffled, but it is. It’s the difference between a song on the radio and a live show. At the live show, even if you know all the words to a song you’ve been singing for years, it feels different when you’re right there in front of the singer. Also, more importantly, your teachers are teaching for six hours a day and most of that time is spent just talking to a black screen. Which is wild. And hard. And exhausting. So, yeah … we’re all doing our best.
  3. If you have friends who live around you, and you feel like it would be better to work with them than to do all this by yourself (and you’re sure everyone is safe and healthy), distance learn with them. I think we’re calling these “pods.” Basically, a study group. It creates a silo of human energy and provides multiple sets of eyes and ears to weigh in on the same things so that if one person misses something, someone else may have it. I’ve been preaching this idea that collaboration is key. Right now, it’s never been more necessary. Plus, there’s more space for jokes. A little laughter changes the temperature of things. Seriously, it’s important. Find a pod, so you can laugh … and learn.
  4. This one is tricky. If — and I want to stress this — IF you are comfortable having your camera on, which means you don’t mind the weirdness of people looking into your home (which, by the way, I totally get if you do), then turn it on. You know why? Because there’s something about a teacher seeing you that helps you pay attention. Accountability works in strange ways, and this is one of them. As a matter of fact, maybe just turn it on during the classes you’re having a hard time in. It’s the equivalent of choosing to sit in the front of the class because you need to concentrate. Again, I know we all live in different environments with all sorts of things going on around us. So, if you can’t, don’t. But if you can, do. I think it’ll help. It’ll help the teacher tighten up too.
  5. And this is the one I want you to take seriously. Well, I want you to take them all seriously, but this one I want you to really take seriously. If you think there’s a way to make this better, if you think there are cool and interesting ways to engage through the screen, PLEASE suggest it to your teacher. Or have your parent suggest it. The truth is, we’re in unprecedented times, which means there have been, and will be, growing pains. But what it also means is that there’s room for creativity. Which means there’s space for your voices. Say something. If you heard of a cool game that could help with the learning process, suggest it. This goes for the teachers, also. Why not ask your students if there’s a way to add some energy to this experience? A way to ensure that we’re all still connected around education and still excited about the opportunity to learn. We have to push ourselves a bit, but that’s OK. We’ll be OK. We are OK.

There’s no number six, but if there were one, it would simply be to remind yourself that you are more than grades. You’re a person, whole and complex. A vessel of imagination and fear and possibility and potential. There’s pain there. But there’s purpose there too. You are big. Way too big to be whittled into a single alphabet meant to qualify your brilliance. So, try as hard as you can. I repeat, TRY AS HARD AS YOU CAN. And after that, smile.

OK?

Seriously, OK?

Cool.

24 Comments

  1. Kathi Hoyt
    October 6, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    As a librarian/teacher I wanted to thank you for reaching out to the students during this time. Your words, thoughtfulness and guidance are what they need to hear right now…. and so do the teachers. Thank you for recognizing how difficult this is for all of us and for speaking up.

  2. Hailey
    October 6, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    Thank you for that

  3. Amy Watkins
    October 6, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you for this. We’re reading it tomorrow in class. I’m so tired and broken over trying to teach and teach 240 Freshmen. I am getting rude emails about grades and bullies in my chat and … we all need to just reset and this, your perspective, is powerful. Thank you.

  4. Sarai Mulraine
    October 6, 2020 at 6:42 pm

    Thank you for reaching out to us students with a thoughtful message

  5. Sharon M.
    October 6, 2020 at 7:22 pm

    Forget the kids! This is really for everybody!!! Thanks so much for your posts, they’re really inspiring.

  6. Ms. Kirchmer
    October 7, 2020 at 4:18 am

    Dear Jason – thank you for being my co-teacher during this difficult distance learning season. My students listen to you in every class as you tee up their WRR writing prompt. You, who looks a lot more like my students than I do, are a perfect counterpart to me, a white woman of a certain age. They are motivated to tap into side of their creativity they may not otherwise explore because of your influence. I look forward to sharing your letter with them tomorrow. Thank you for doing what you do. With gratitude, Ms. K.

  7. Fairh
    October 7, 2020 at 5:07 am

    Thank you so much for reaching out to students during this period.
    Both as a parent and educator, I truly appreciate this!
    This piece could actually save a life.
    Your encouragement is timely!
    Especially for those struggling, it is important for them to know that their grades do not define them.
    And your writing style is awesome! Makes you want to keep reading.
    Thank you once again.

  8. agnes st denis
    October 7, 2020 at 10:52 am

    this letter has great advice and suggestions – in a friendly / inviting tone that will pull ‘ even reluctant ‘ students in … The last paragraph is beautiful and true – and a good reminder for everyone . Thanks, Jason Reynolds – for the positive, insightful piece.

  9. Courtney
    October 7, 2020 at 11:26 am

    This is definitely something I think we all needed to keep us going, thank you for sharing!

  10. Izabella
    October 7, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    This letter have great advise

  11. Jessica Rios
    October 8, 2020 at 6:08 pm

    Thank you for the uplifting words. You very eloquently expressed the struggle of what most kids/teachers are facing this school year. What stood out for me was the fact that the students are much more than a grade, they’re “A vessel of imagination and fear and possibility and potential.”

    Thank you

  12. Emily
    October 9, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    I want to thank you for this. I can tell that u put effort in this and I want to thank you for that. You helped me taking a step back and looking through my stress into a different perspective. I have been stressing a lot about work and grades. Thanks to you I took more into notice that this is weird and difficult. Not everyone can do this full remote thing and not being able to see your friends like you used too. It just piles up remote learning and then knowing there’s a pandemic. It isn’t easy and helps to recognize that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Being told your more than grades also helps. Thank you so much.

  13. Margery Bloom
    October 12, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    This just became today’s lesson, as we are reading Long Way Down, and reflecting on the prologue today. Thank you so much for your beautiful language about things that are not so beautiful. Thank you for loving kids. They love you right back.

  14. Mariah Morales
    October 12, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    Thank you for sharing your videos with us. they are so good.

  15. Mariam shaif
    October 12, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    dear Jason i just want to say thank you you helped me to get batter at describing things and summarizing
    and all your topics are always fun to do .so thank you

  16. Uriel
    October 12, 2020 at 5:45 pm

    Dear Jason thank you for making video about the write write and it does help me what to think about what to write and thank you for inspiring kids.

  17. Blanca Gutierrez
    October 13, 2020 at 1:27 am

    thank you for all of your videos they are helpfull

  18. alissa
    October 13, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    is truth thanks

  19. Abril olascoaga
    October 14, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    Dear Jason thank you for making your videos, fun and interested to watch my write more then i do about different topics and making it fun to write and thank you for inspiring kids in the world.

  20. Abril olascoaga
    October 14, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you for making your videos fun to write after your videos i have been writing more from watching your videos.

  21. taylor
    October 15, 2020 at 10:56 am

    wow things do change fast i hope for the best of luck

  22. Wendy B.
    October 19, 2020 at 11:21 am

    This is so lovely and perfect to share with my students, now that we just found out we are staying virtual until January. 🙁 It made me feel calmer as a grown person, so I am sure it will have a similar effect on my 8th graders. Seriously, thank you, Jason, for all you do for our kids, getting them reading, writing AND thinking.

  23. Lidia Lopez
    October 20, 2020 at 10:05 pm

    I enjoy your videos so much I think they’re so amazing and I hope you do more in the future because I really do enjoy them

  24. angel
    October 27, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    so inspiring.

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