In part 2 of my interview with Jarred Amato, we discuss supporting teachers, the real struggles facing students, teaching the “classics”, and how we can all connect and get involved to support our schools.
“There’s nothing fancy or marketable about kids sitting down quietly reading a book, but it’s the most important thing they need to do.” -Jarred Amato
When I decided to start this podcast, something told me that Jarred Amato would be a great person to interview. Jarred is a an English teacher at Maplewood High School and the recently named Penguin/Random House Teacher of the Year. I held my breath while I sent him an email asking if he’d like to come on the show. He quickly replied and told me that he would be honored. We met and Jarred was the ideal first guest. He is so passionate about his work and he has a very inspiring vision for what he believes the future of education should look like. There was only one problem after our first interview. Once I got home and tried to play the recording back, I realized that THE MICROPHONE HAD BEEN ON MUTE THE ENTIRE TIME. I wanted to disappear.
After a few hours of agonizing, I decided to send Jarred an email and explain what happened. I figured he would be too busy to rerecord, and that all was lost. You can imagine my surprise when Jarred emailed me back and said that he would be happy to do the interview again. He was so gracious when he totally didn’t have to be. Basically, he is a true class act, and he deserves all of the recognition he is getting right now.
In this episode, you will hear Jarred describe Project LIT, a community he created in collaboration with his students. What started out as an effort to put books into his school’s community, has blossomed into a full-blown movement that now includes a student-led book club where community members come into schools to discuss books such as The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.
The impetus for the creation of Project LIT came when Jarred read an article in The Atlantic about “book deserts”. He and his students decided to build little “LIT Libraries” in their East Nashville neighborhood. This eventually evolved into the creation of the Project LIT book club. They decided to invite the community in to discuss a different book every month. Now, there are several Project LIT sites around the city, the state, and across the country.
Jarred has a passion for instilling a love of reading in his students. We talk about how students should have a consistent time every day to be able to curl up with book of their choice and read. One of my favorite things he said is, “There’s nothing fancy or marketable about kids sitting down quietly reading a book, but it’s the most important thing they need to do.” Jarred also makes it a priority to make sure students have access to books with characters t hey can relate to. As a fellow reading teacher, I couldn’t agree more.
“Text selection matters… If we say we care about all kids and that all stories are worthy of sharing and all voices are valued, then when you look at classroom libraries and you have book clubs, what characters are in those books?” -Jarred Amato
If you are in Nashville or anywhere else there are Project LIT sites, I highly recommend attending a book club. I have attended a few at one our local middle schools, and I have been really inspired by the discussions I’ve been a part of and the connections I’ve made with students. I also recommend following Jarred Amato and the Project LIT Community on Twitter.
The story of education in Nashville is long and complicated. Once ideas and stereotypes are perpetuated for a certain amount of time we begin to mistake them for facts. What is a good school? Who decides? Who benefits from this label? Who is hurt by it? What are our shared understandings and underlying assumptions?
Mentioned in this episode:
Jack Schneider, author of Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality
Nikole Hannah-Jones, investigative journalist, New York Times articles
Ansley Erickson, author of Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Segregation and Its Limits