Thursday, June 30, 2016

Worry vs. Fear

I opened a fortune cookie several years ago that read, "The opposite of fear is love."  I have pondered this fortune often over the years, applying it to several situations in an effort to better understand the actions and words of others.  Nine times out of ten, I agree with this statement.  I have accepted that people act and speak in ways that hurt others because they fear any multitude of things.  I used to think the opposite of love was hate but isn't hate really based on fear?

This fortune holds a different meaning for me this week.  This week I fear because I love.  My children are vacationing in England with their father and stepmother.  They fly home soon.  Given the international events of the past week, how can I not worry?  Hearing about a bombing at an airport in Istanbul doesn't make me too eager to have my children at a major international airport, even if it means they are coming home.  I know they are safe with their father.  I trust he will protect them and keep them safe at all costs.  But I also know that this kind of thing isn't something one can prevent, avoid or protect from.

So then I ask myself, "Is this a realistic fear?"  I wonder that often.  What is considered a reasonable, realistic fear when it comes to being a mother?  I remember when my son was in the early years of riding his bike around our small neighborhood.  The only traffic on our road is that of people who live here.  It is a dead-end street and everyone who lives here knows that children are out and about so they drive cautiously.  I appreciate this tremendously.  Still, in those first years when I walked or rode with him I would feel a pit of panic in my stomach as he rode closer to a corner.  Would an oncoming car see him in time?  Would he pull off the road and stop like he was taught?  I choked back a scream that held his name every time we approached a corner.  I didn't want to startle him or impose my worries on him.  But really, how does a mother not worry...All. The. Time?

Worry.  Fear.  I know they are very different, perhaps at different points on a spectrum.  I worry that the bus will forget to drop off my daughter at the end of the school day.  I worry that my children will be hurt or injured and I won't be there to comfort them.  I fear outliving my children.  So is this airport issue a worry or a fear?  All I know is that I cannot wait for my babies to be safe and sound at home.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer Writers...Summer Not...Yet

Writing is my least favorite thing to teach.  I am trying to change my belief that writing is not for everyone, that not everyone needs to know how to write a memoir or a powerful personal narrative.  I do believe that everyone needs to know how to express their thoughts, ideas and opinions.  But I am also stuck in the belief that writing is the best way for teachers to assess how well students are able to show their thinking.  So often I say, "we can't really measure how well a student comprehends what s/he reads because we are really assessing how well they can write about what s/he reads.

I do believe that there is an important connection between reading and writing and that learning how to do one well will increase interest, appreciation and skill in the other.  Strong writers are strong readers.  I have yet to see proof that strong readers are strong writers, but I'm not giving up yet.  Writing takes time, and patience, and stamina.  In a world where information is at our fingertips, thoughts are fleeting and words on the tip of our tongues, writing, real writing, just isn't something students want to take the time to do.  For students, writing is a subject in school, a product that is scored.  I don't want it to be this way anymore.

I am working on my own vision of writing in my classroom; where I am nurturing, coaching, and growing writers.  I know that to really be able to do this, I have to be a writer myself.  I have the summer ahead of me to work toward this goal.  I've outlined a few steps and write them here in hopes that posting them will make me hold myself accountable to them.  Writing them down makes them real.

  • I will keep a writer's notebook, just like I ask my students to do.
  • I will write every day.
  • I will collect memories, ideas, opinions, questions, mental images, quotes, anything that I can jot on the pages of my notebook. 
  • I will revisit my belief that writing is not for everyone and see how I feel about that in August.
This fall, when I return to my classroom with my new group of students I will have grown as a writer and will be better prepared to support them as writers.  I will.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Step By Step

When my children are at their father's house they are mothered by his wife.  I have always been grateful for this.  She is kind.  She is nurturing.

She loves my children differently than I do.  Hers is not the love that grew from their hearts beating beneath hers, from fluttery (and not so fluttery) kicks, from 2:00am feedings, or from first smiles and first steps.  But her love is just as strong.  Her love was not at first sight.  But her love is just as unconditional.  I know this to be true because I know this kind of love.

I officially became a stepmother two years ago tomorrow.  These two sweet girls quickly claimed a piece of my heart even before I married their father. On our wedding day, I vowed to them to always keep their hearts safe, to provide them the strength of family and the security of a happy, loving home.

What has been the most powerful and most special is that I have watched the love between my step-daughters and I grow over time.  My own children loved me at first because they needed me.  My step-daughters liked me first, then they trusted me, then they loved me.  They didn't have to.  They chose to.  And I did too.

Their developmental milestones are precious stories shared in reminiscent tones. I treasure them like I do memories of my own children.  Third person.  First person.  The perspective is the only difference. They are children of my heart, though not of my womb.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Forest and the Trees

There are times when the day-in-day-out routine, working in my classroom, teaching my students, causes me to narrow my vision of education. I become focused on the here and now, what am I teaching right now, are my students learning, what do I need to do to lift their learning and better meet their needs.  It's almost like tunnel vision and it causes me to feel very small in the difference I make and the role I play in the lives of my two handfuls of students.

And then I step out of my classroom and engage in conversations with other teachers, my colleagues, teachers in other schools, in other districts, and my view widens, my vision sharpens.  I can once again see the forest and the trees.  My bucket is topped off.  I am rejuvenated, refreshed, and so eager to move closer to that vision.

Never underestimate the power of conversation and collaboration, of stepping out of your classroom so that you are replenished when you step back in.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

One More Thing

The end of my day usually consists of reviewing student work, lesson planning, meetings, spending time with the kids, managing their activities, getting dinner in there somewhere...and now, for the past few weeks, typing up my daily blog entry for this challenge.

As the evening draws to a close, my husband always asks, "What do you have left to do?"  My answer is usually, "Gotta do my blog entry."  He has always called me "Miss One More Thing" because I'm the one that switches over the laundry, checks to make sure all the lights are off, and loads the dishwasher after I tell him I'm ready to go.  To him I'm sure this writing challenge is "one more thing." But he has been supportive and encouraging, not once commenting that I could just skip one night to spend this time with him instead.  He waits patiently for his turn, when the kids are settled in bed and all my other work is done, and I've typed up my blog entry for the day.  This kind of support is appreciated more than I could ever adequately express.

I know the profession I have chosen demands a lot of my time.  I miss my own children's open house or field days to attend those for the school at which I teach.  I miss the occasional cross-country meet to have parent-teacher conferences with my students' parents.  My school work bleeds into my home life all the time.  And he remains supportive. He encourages me to be my best self and knows that to do that, I have to give 110%.  He makes it so I have that extra 10% to give.

So, my blog entry for today is done.  My school work is done.  It's his turn now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Tapestry of Stories

The highlight today, the "slice" I will cherish, occurred this evening.  My parents stopped by to join us in celebrating my husband's birthday.  The conversation was a sweet as the cake from which my husband blew out his candles.  We shared stories, memories, from childhood.  The best part was hearing the same stories from different perspectives.  What it was like for my brother and I to surf down the stairs on a twin size mattress (so fun!), leaving blue streaks on the newly wallpapered walls (so frustrating!) The time I stepped out of a stream to find a leech on my ankle (terrifying!) and mom trying to get me to stop trying to shake it off so she could remove it (hilarious!) Mom and dad coming home to find my brother and I drying the furniture with hair dryers after the water fight that occurred in their absence (We're going to get in so much trouble!/What in the world are you two doing?) My step-daughters shared stories. My parents shared stories. My husband shared stories.  I shared stories.  The common threads of these memories wove together. Six ropes spliced together. United.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Thoughts on PD

A fellow blogger and participant in the Two Writing Teachers "Slice of Life" writing challenge posted questions on the topic of Professional Development.  I feel inclined to answer them to help her gather input for a blog she will be posting later and...they're just really good questions that made me really think about PD, especially the rights and responsibilities.  My responses to those two questions are brief but I am still rolling thoughts around in my head about them.
~What was your best experience with PD and why? A few summers ago my school district hosted a week long PD to get us started using the Lucy Calkins writing program.  The facilitators from the Teachers' College at Columbia University guided participants through the workshop model and helped us get our feet under us as we prepared to "go live" with this program when school started in a  handful of weeks.  Putting myself in my students' shoes, as a learner in the writing workshop and as a reluctant writer, allowed me to see the effectiveness of this teaching model.  I was engaged and stimulated consistently throughout the entire week.  The fact that my colleagues attended with me was an added bonus.  We were able to chat during breaks and lunch which enriched the experience.  The best PD includes opportunities to interact, engage, actively participate with other equally invested teachers.
~What was your worst PD experience and why? A large handful of years ago I sat at a table in my school cafeteria, listening to someone talk to us about best practices in classroom instruction.  One key point was that direct instruction should last no longer than 15 minutes in order to keep students engaged.  Basically, after 15 minutes students will start tuning out.  Ironically, we sat for 2 solid hours with no break and no opportunity to turn and talk or process in any way.  If the intention was to prove that direct instruction should not last more than 15 minutes at a time, then it was a very successful PD.
~What are the ingredients or components to an effective PD session? Interesting, relevant content.  Opportunities for teachers to actively participate.  Time for teachers to process content when a lot is presented.
~What are some rights of classroom teachers when it comes to PD? Teachers should get to choose the PD opportunities in which they participate.
~What are some responsibilities of classroom teachers when it comes to PD? Teachers should share what they gain from PD, especially if they are one of few teachers in their school who attended.  What is gained from the PD experience should be implemented when the teacher is ready.  There is little point in attending PD if you're not going to use what you learn.  A teacher is also responsible for selecting appropriate PD that will improve student learning.
~Should all teachers experience the same PD or should it be differentiated based on where teachers are in their understanding and practice? We differentiate for our students because they are at different places in their learning.  Why wouldn't we do the same for teachers?  I see no reason to have skilled teachers sit through PD that doesn't lift their learning and improve their practice.  Just like I see no reason to have new teachers try to implement new strategies without having foundational understanding of the content.  Differentiation is an effective way to engage learners and increase knowledge and skills.  It doesn't make sense to teach teachers using something other than the best practices we use to teach students.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

On Co-Parenting

A friend of mine was recently divorced.  They divided the things acquired over years of marriage between the two of them and went their separate ways.  They do not have children.  They could, quite possibly, never see each other again.

The father of my children and I are divorced.  We divided almost everything from 15 years of marriage between the two us. But because of our children, we cannot go our separate ways.  We see each other at least once a week and communicate via email regularly.  Early in the divorce I wished we could go our separate ways and never see each other again.  I had to remind myself often that I divorced my ex-husband.  My children did not divorce their father. And I hoped their father believed the same.  I have made every decision involving them with this in mind, determined to make the fracture in their lives as painless and small as possible.

I cannot say that anything about divorce, from a child's perspective, is small.  Their time is split between two parents, to homes, two families.  They have two of everything; two toothbrushes, two wardrobes, two bedrooms stocked with toys. This also results in two trips to Disney, two visits from Santa, two birthday cakes.  This sounds like a pretty good deal.  I am still aware of the possibility that these doubled items and events may or may not make up for not having the opportunity to hear both parents sing happy birthday at the same time.  I hope it is.

There have been several times when their father and I did not agree when it came to making decisions for the kids.  Those times have become less frequent as he and I have improved our ability to communicate with each other, both in expressing our thoughts and in really hearing what the other is trying to say.  "Assume best intentions" is one of the other things I repeat to myself often.  As my children's parents become more adept at co-parenting, they grow even happier and more confident.  I know that even though we aren't parenting the way we thought we would when we brought our children into this world, we are doing it right.

I've heard some parents say that since their divorce, they are now single parents.  I know this may truly be the case for some, but not most.  I remember parenting before divorce.  That was the time I felt like I was a single parent.  Now?  I raise my children with my husband and I co-parent with my children's father and his wife. My children now have four parents who love them beyond measure. When co-parenting is done right, when divorced parents prioritize their children and set aside their personal differences, leaving the past in the past, the kids benefit.  I see this every day with my kids.

My children are not surviving divorce, they are thriving.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Apple Trees

Gnarled, twisted fingers reaching out from a hunched trunk. Cold, withered, weathered despite the abundant sunshine. Missing a snowy blanket to keep them warm. They wait for spring leaves and blossoms. We wait with them.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spoiled By Modern Conveniences

I had some other ideas about today's slice of life but they were all set aside during the 20 minutes I spent trying to order my son's birthday present on-line.  I'm really excited about what I have created for him and I know it will mean a lot to him, this keepsake gift for his 13th birthday.  The website from which I was ordering obviously did not understand the importance of my purchase since it "could not find the page you're looking for" the four times I clicked "complete order."

Once again, I am slave to technology, to every question answered, every wish granted at the click of a button.  Last minute shopping?  Thank goodness for Amazon Prime 2-day shipping.  No more room for photo albums (and who wants to spend time peeling back cellophane from sticky pages or sliding photographs into plastic sleeves)? Thank you Shutterfly,, and Amazon Prime photo storage.  iCloud? I'm still working on trusting you with my precious memories.

Tonight's technological glitch was a gentle (okay, maybe not so gentle) reminder that it's okay if I don't get what I want as soon as I click the button.  My son's birthday will still take place.  We will still make him a birthday cake (which reminds me, I have to stop at the store tomorrow afternoon), and he will still be surrounded by his family to be showered with love, for we are all so grateful that he was born and that he grows, happy and healthy.

This evening I asked my soon-to-be-teenager what he'd like for his birthday (if you haven't noticed yet, I'm kind of a last-minute kind of girl).  His response further affirmed what I believe; that time with family and friends is more valuable than any material item.  He said, "Time with Bobby."  My heart melted.  Of all the things he could have requested as a gift for his birthday, he asked for time with his step-father, my husband, all to himself. This boy, my boy, at almost 13 years old, has got it figured out.   

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Past Tense is Too Hard, Present Tense Doesn't FIt

It's hard to write about my mother.  I noticed in yesterday's post, Singing, that I referred to my mother in the past tense, not just the memories of my childhood, but her.  It hurt my heart.  I struggled to choose the right wording because my mother is alive and still with us, but she is not the same.

My mother survived brain cancer.  She made a decision, shortly after her diagnosis, that she would live to meet her first grandson, with whom I was pregnant at the time of her diagnosis.  She has since met her grandson, two granddaughters, a step-grandson and two step-granddaughters.  This Sunday she will join us to celebrate my son's 13th birthday.  Every day we remember what we faced losing all those years ago.

But, my mom is different now.  Her cancer treatment has changed her. While I am grateful every day that I can stop by my parents' house and say hello, I miss the days when I could call her up to ask her advice about a struggling student, or the challenges of keeping up with the rapid-fire educational initiatives that fill a teachers' plate these days, or the trials of motherhood.  It's just not the same.  I'm okay with that because I am fortunate to still have my mother with me.  I just don't know how to write about her.

Monday, March 14, 2016


A song I couldn't resist singing at the top of my lungs played on the radio during my drive home this afternoon.  I felt the bubble of laughter in my throat as I belted the lyrics to "I Want You to Want Me."  Unexpectedly, a phone call silenced the music, leaving my voice as the only sound to fill my car.  The bubble escaped in my reply to my husbands, "whatcha doin'?"

Later in the evening, as I drove to the fire department to say good night to my husband, who is on shift tonight, another irresistible melody, "I Will Always Love You" inspired me to once again burst into song.  I smiled great big at the memory of another time I put my heart and soul into singing this song; to my husband during one of our drives to town.

I remember a time the first time I realized I had stopped singing.  I was almost a year beyond the end of my first marriage, driving up the road to my house with my pre-school-aged daughter buckled in the back seat.  I caught her dimpled smile in my rearview mirror and the words to "You Are My Sunshine" cleared the cobwebs from my vocal cords.  She sang along with me.  I wondered how long it had been since I had last sung a song.  Sure, I'd listened to music every day in the car on the way from here to there and back.  But singing?  That hadn't happened in...Months? Certainly not years?

For most of my children's lives I have sung to them.  I sing them awake in the morning, I sing my daughter to sleep at night, I have sung to both of them during bath time, we sing in the car.  For some unknown amount of time, I stopped singing.  Why?  The stress of daily life? The end of an unhappy marriage?  Yep.  So, when singing returned to me I was surprised at how foreign it felt but also how easily it came back.

My mother sang all the time when I was a child.  She had a song for everything; when I wanted a new toy--"We Can't Always Get What We Want", when I was pouting over being teased or tormented by my brother--"Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me, Guess I'll Go Eat Worms." I also remember sitting on her bed while she folded laundry-- "Oh Jolly Playmate" and "You Are My Sunshine" and all kinds of other songs from generations before me that she had sung with her mother.  The fact that my mother sang so often is reassuring and comforting to me.  I think it means she was happy, even when balancing the roles of mother, wife and teacher.  Contentment is a song and she knows many.

At the unhappiest time of my life, I did not sing.  Prior to, and since that time, I sing often.  Some of my favorite moments are when my husband and I are in the truck with our four children all singing Disney songs--"Zipadeedoodah," "Hakuna Matata," "Spoonful of Sugar" and the latest from my step-daughter, "It's a Jolly Holiday with Heather."  We also sing our family favorite--"Home." I wake my 7-year-old daughter with "It's Time to Rise and Shine" and she is smiling before her eyes open.  For my almost-13-year-old? "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning."

Singing = Happiness.  May there be a song in every day and may we always be able to hear it, enjoy it and let ourselves sing it.

Reflections on this Writing Challenge

I've shared my writing every day for 10 days now.  This is post #11 for the Slice of Life Writing Challenge.  I can't say that my writing has improved.  I can say that my writing life has evolved.  I look at things differently, see things differently, and find myself mentally rehearsing how I would write about something I observe or experience.  It has been unintentional growth. Instead, a product of writing every day.  I know that at some point in my day, I will jot my thoughts or relive a moment, a slice of my life.  I am now trying to figure out how to facilitate this growth for my students.  I can't make them want it.

I have learned that in order to really write, I have to put myself out there.  This is something I struggle with, mostly because of the platform on which I am sharing my writing.  I am very aware that my audience consists of people I do not know personally and the people who are part of my stories deserve the respect of my reservation in sharing.  This writing challenge has allowed me to reflect on what is appropriate to share on the internet and what is not.

I have also learned that the comments posted by my audience are surprisingly rewarding.  To know that someone has connected to something I've written is reassuring and replenishes my motivation to write.  Comments from readers make my audience known and makes the internet venue more intimate, and less intimidating.

I am grateful for this challenge, and that it feels less challenging as the days pass.  I can see myself continuing to write, but I can also see myself saying, "I just don't have time to write today." and then letting day after day pass until it has been weeks since my last entry and my writing motivation goes cold.  I wonder if, after another 10 days of writing everyday, the likelihood of that happening will become less. My hope is that this window of opportunity will open a door to a community of writers with whom I can share my writing life and be a part of theirs so that writing can continue to be more than a slice of my life.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Writing Takes Time...I Don't Always Have That.

So many thoughts in the form of wanted-to-be-written words crossed my mind today.  I lived like a writer, except for the writing part.  But now, it's 9:00pm and I'm choosing to spend the last waking hour of this day with my husband.  I'll put those words in print tomorrow.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Laughter is the Best Medicine

If you have read this week's blog entries, you already know that this has been a rough week.  I was more than ready for a slow-paced Saturday and had just that.  I enjoyed working on lesson plans, walking the trail behind my house with my step-daughter, and spending time with my husband.  The highlight of the day was definitely dinner.

My husband and I decided to treat his girls to dinner at a locally-owned restaurant. We were seated quickly and promptly engaged in lighthearted conversation.  I don't even really remember what we talked about, just that we laughed...a lot.  Great big belly-laughs that start with a loud burst and then dissolve in silent shoulder-shaking and teary-eyed pointing and mimicking whatever was funny, the big inhale followed by a steady rhythm of laughs that taper off into giggles.  I'm sure other patrons of the restaurant were entertained by the goings-on at our table.  After all, laughter is contagious, right?

Friday, March 11, 2016

When Jokes Aren't Funny

The scariest moment for me as mother was when I put my son on the school bus for the first time.  In a split second the "Can he really be this grown up?" was replaced with, "He's still just a baby.  I can't protect him on the school bus.  Who will take care of him?"  I was immediately aware, from my own experience as a teacher, of the new words he would be learning and the behaviors he would witness. Every single offense written on the bus slips for the principal flashed through my head and I was convinced a very different boy would get off the bus that afternoon. Almost 8 years later my boy is kind, respectful, and empathetic, despite riding the school bus for just as many years.  It has been a relief to know that his father and I raised him to resist the temptations of fitting in, being popular, and caving in to negative influences. As he quickly approaches his teen years, I am confident (although not blindly so) that he will continue to choose the right path for himself. 

This morning, during a snack break in my classroom, I overheard a small group of students cracking jokes and laughing it up.  The nature of the jokes quickly escalated to offensive, disrespectful and crass.  I was appalled. Where had the kids heard these things?  A television show on MTV.  
Looking back on this slice from my day, I am reminded that kids are raised in different homes with different values than my own.  I respect that.  But I also feel like it is my responsibility, as a teacher, to shield my class as a whole from the behaviors that may be unacceptable to some.  As a parent, I am well aware that once a child is exposed to something, it cannot be taken back or undone. They can't unsee the movie that was just above an appropriate rating or unhear the swear words on the bus or unsay the inappropriate things they mimic.  They will not forget the reaction they get from their peers when they share the first crude joke and it will feel good to get that attention and they'll keep doing it for that same response. We have to find a way to stop this vicious cycle. It starts at home and we can only hope, as teachers, we can make a positive difference despite the challenges our students face.

Here I was, worried about the school bus all those years ago, when the real concern now is in our own living rooms every night.  I read something once about how when you turn on the television you are inviting people into your home and these people are spending time with your children.  There are so many television shows on now in which people take unbelievable risks, treat people with sickening disrespect, and idolize people do cruel things. And don't even get me started on the Republican debates.  How can we teach children to grow up knowing right from wrong and how to treat others with respect when they are watching adults on television (and in real life) do exactly the opposite? 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Collaboration and Cooperation Instead of Competition

It has been a challenging week at school. Without going into detail, because I can't bring myself to air dirty laundry on the internet for all the world to see, nor will I speak poorly of the people and institutions that are a part of my life, I can only say...It was a week that challenged me as a teacher, as a professional and as an individual.

This afternoon I attended a meeting with other teachers in my district who have committed to strengthening our writing curriculum, instruction and assessment.  We were fortunate to have our writing consultant with us and had the opportunity to ask questions and share tangles in our writing instruction.  Sitting in that meeting, taking in the rich conversation and hearing that other teachers are struggling with the same things I am eased my frustration and discouragement.  My sense of purpose and determination was renewed.

On my ride home I was able to reflect on the challenges of the week through a different lens, one that was a bit rosier.  Until today I was flying solo in my efforts to figure things out, to untangle the mysteries of standards-based learning and teaching, to identify strategies for reaching my struggling learners and address the tenuous sense of community in my classroom.  Having the opportunity to converse with other teachers made all the difference in the world.  I may not have the answers and solutions I've been looking for, but I know I'm not alone.

So, I got to thinking about the bigger picture.  In an average week, I will spend 50 hours teaching and planning on my own.  I will spend 1 hour a week (3 if I have a district committee meeting) collaborating with other teachers.  Zooming out a bit more, our school staff will work together specifically on a focused iniative as a staff maybe 2 hours a week within our building and work collaboratively with other schools 4 or 5 times throughout the school year.  And our district as a whole will log 0 hours working collaboratively or in cooperation with other districts.  But we all face the same challenges and we are all working toward the same goal.  We all want the same thing but we are working toward this goal by ourselves.  I wonder why.  Because it seems to me that if we came out of isolation, stepped out of our silos and worked together more often, we would accomplish so much more.  Instead of racing to be the first in our area to reach the finish line (although we all know that we are never "done") or be the best, why aren't we working together, sharing ideas and resources to provide the very best for all students, not just our own students?

I have learned, over the past few years in my educational leadership courses that although I want to be the best I can be, I cannot be my best self by myself.  I'm not convinced anyone can.  Collaboration and cooperation are what it takes to get the job done well. Save the competition for the sports field.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Playing with Words

Summative Assessment
Formative Assessment
Foundation Standards
Progress Monitoring
Essential Standards
Focus Standards
Partially Meets

Words on a page. 
That I can
any way
I want.
they taper
from long
to short.
Because right now

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Just Going With It

Ever have one of those days where nothing really stands out as noteworthy?  This evening at the dinner table when we started our tradition of sharing highlights from the day it seemed that "nothing much happened" was the status quo.  I suppose there's nothing wrong with an average, ordinary day...except when you're trying to identify a slice to write about.
Right now I imagine I feel the way my students often do, "I can't think of anything to write about. Nothing has happened that I want to write about." Right now I totally get why they need to get a dozen drinks at the water fountain and have to go to the bathroom 3 times in 30 minutes.  I'd rather take a walk than write about my day right now...which reminds me...My husband, daughter, step-daughters and I went for a walk after school today.  The sun was shining.  The temperatures were mild.  We walked 4,200 steps according to my step-daughter's Fitbit.  Our walk was filled with pleasant conversations in which we reminisced about our last trip to Disney World and daydreamed about our next.  My step-daughters swung my daughter between them.  My husband and I walked hand-in-hand.  It was definitely the best part of the day.
Well, there it is...proof that just getting started with writing can spark an idea.  Sometimes you just have to get started and see where you end up.  No expectations includes no expectations of failure.

Monday, March 7, 2016

RIP Potential Lifelong Reader

The moment I had been waiting for all day finally arrived.  I pulled into the driveway, grabbed my lunch bag from the passenger seat, shouldered my school bag,  and skipped up the steps to my kitchen door. Four days had passed since my husband had been home with my kids and I. Going home to the three of them was what had gotten me through a long day at school.

Upon opening the door, I was met with the sullen face of my 13-year-old son.  "What's up bug?" I asked.  He then unloaded the stress of his day.  His teacher informed him that the book he is currently reading would not count toward the trimester reading requirement unless he finishes it by next Friday.  It's an 800+ page book.  He's almost halfway through it and is worried that he won't finish it in time.  Since the understanding is that books over 500 pages will count as two books, he asked if he could count his current book once he got to 500 pages.  She told him it wouldn't count unless he finished it.

So, I took my son, an avid reader who has always loved getting lost in a good story, to the book store to find a book to read before the end of next week.  My son, who loves Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, 39 Clues, Lord of the Rings, the Mossflower series, Where the Red Fern Grows, and The Yearling spent 20 minutes in the bookstore flipping to the end of book after book to see how many pages were in the each, quickly casting aside any book that he didn't think he'd be able to finish by next Friday "and still have a life." He has dropped the book he was halfway through and chosen to read The Lightening Thief for a second time because his teacher doesn't know he has already read it (in 4th grade) and he can "get through it quickly." He will also read The Giver because he saw the movie and figured he could "get that one done quickly too."  All this so he can meet a trimester reading expectation that promotes quantity over quality.

When I was pregnant with Benton, my firstborn, a colleague told me, "being a parent will make you a better teacher, but being a teacher won't make you a better parent."  This advice has proven to be true on so many occasions.  Today is no exception.  Seeing my own child struggle with the burden of homework and the weight of reading expectations causes me to reflect on my own homework expectations as a teacher.  I ask my students to read for 20 minutes each night and to complete a practice page for math.  Why do I do this? Because the philosophy on which our school homework policy is based says that assigning homework will prepare them for homework in middle school, which will prepare them for homework in high school.  It will teach them time management, organization skills and responsibility.  But, I have to ask...aren't there better, more effective, more meaningful ways to do this?  I can honestly say, my kids are more likely to pick up a book and enjoy reading on their own when it's not assigned as homework.  This might be because they see adults reading at home for a variety of reasons.  I know this might not be the case in the homes of many of my students.  There might be a small handful of students who read because I have asked them to, expecting that they will.  But there are many more that won't, whether I assign it or not.

Today I witnessed the deflation of a reading life.  I am confident my son will recover and will once again return to reading for pleasure.  Not because reading is assigned to him as homework and not because he is expected to read a certain number of books each trimester.  He will be a lifelong reader because reading is just something we do and because of the example we have set at home.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Slice of the Outdoors

It has only been three days since I started this writing challenge and I've already learned my first lesson...although it's not a writing lesson.  This challenge is titled "Slice of Life."  "Slice" suggests a small portion; 1/8 of a pizza or an orange, 1/24 of a loaf of bread.  My "slice of life" today encompassed 2 hours of my day, 1/12. But if I were to measure it in value instead of by size, it would be far greater than 1/12.  These slices, the moments that stand out in my day are what fill the largest part of my heart.  How clever, to title this challenge "Slice of Life," suggesting that we only need to collect a tiny little snippet to write about, it doesn't need to be "much."  So much less intimidating. But really, aren't the things that linger in our thoughts at the end of a full day much bigger than slices? 

We experienced a warm spell today, a whopping 38 degrees.  My kids and I set out to walk a community trail not far from home.  We spent 2 hours walking almost 2 miles, enjoying the "ordinary" sights through the eyes of my 7-year-old daughter.  She wanted to "test the ice" whenever we came up on a stream or puddle.  Overly cautious me suggested we keep moving, the ice looked wet and fragile. She would likely end up with wet, cold feet.  
7-year-olds sure can be persistent.   She sat down next to each icy patch and kicked her feet in an effort to break the ice.  "I'm being safe mama." It held firm.  She was delighted.  
We searched for sticks that would make good "Harry Potter wands." We looked for animal tracks and signs of fairies.  The best part?  My 13-year-old son played along.  It's not always easy to find activities appropriate for a 7-year-old sister and engaging for a 13-year-old brother.  That's part of the magic of nature.  It's rated E for Everyone.  

 We liked how the red autumn leaf showed through the ice, a season frozen in time. 

The green promise of spring.  

 With sights like this, how can one not believe in fairies?

My sweet girl skipping ahead.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

How this teacher/mom wakes up on a Saturday morning

I'm alert before I'm awake.  My eyes are closed but I can sense the light in the room.  I lay still, taking a mental inventory, "Yesterday was Friday. I talked to my husband on the phone before bed. He's at work. Today is Saturday.  I have to pick up mom at 10:30.  Is it 10:30 now?" I open one eye and look at the clock.  "6:45. How delicious! That counts as sleeping in." I close my eye and savor the warmth of my flannel sheets, down comforter and homemade quilt, nestling my head a little deeper into my pillow.  I move a fraction of an inch to relieve the pressure of my daughters sharp knees from the small of my back.  Her shallow breathing signals that she is still asleep.
In these moments between asleep and awake time stands still.  But not really.  I only feel suspended in the weightlessness of being aware that it is still early in the day I have planned.  I can go about my morning at the speed of syrup drizzling over the waffles my daughter will request for breakfast.  I live for these mornings; my reward for a busy week of school, meetings, homework, kids' activities, and stealing moments from my husband's 100-hour work week to say hello and kiss his face.
My daughter's arm landing on my forehead disrupts my drowsy state of morning meditation.  I'm awake.  Turning my head a little bit, my gaze falls on my sleeping child; her long lashes drawn closed, her lips slack in peaceful slumber.  I stretch toward her and kiss her little nose.  She sighs and smiles, "Good morning mama.  Thank you for our dream date."  Our day has begun.

Friday, March 4, 2016

These boots weren't made for walking.

My grandmother painted the picture that hangs over the mantle at my parents' house.  It is of my father's work boots.  It is simple.  Just his boots, unlaced, a tongue flopped over, in the exact position they rest when he has removed them from his feet. This happens to be the same position in which they rest when he is standing in them, left toe forward, right toe off to the right a bit.  You can tell, by looking at his boots, that he is standing on his left leg and resting his right, even when all you see are his boots. Pictures over mantles always seem to hold significance, representing something of value to the owner.  In this case, it's not the boots that matter, but the artist and the man who wore those boots.

I've never been big on shoes, or anything materialistic, really.  My material treasures are cherished because of the person who once owned them, my grandmother's paintings, cuckoo clock and piano, my grandfather's belt buckle.  I don't ooh and ahh over shoes, but the shoes that meet me at the door bring a smile to my face, always. Upon walking into my home the number of shoes in the entryway depends on the day of the week.  Some days all four kids are home.  Other days only two.  A couple days here and there; no kids, so, much fewer shoes.

Since becoming a blended family, parts of the house are less accommodating than others; the coat closet being one of them.  So, the kids boots and shoes create a small mountain by the door and we shift them from side to side depending on which bottom cupboard we need to get into.  Tripping over a pile of shoes means our kids are home and our family is together.  Once upon a time, it may have been frustrating to have the clutter just as one opens the door.  But knowing what it means to have all of those shoes in a pile by the door means that every member of my family is home.

All week long the contents of the shoe pile changes; one stepdaughter's black chucks, my other stepdaughter's turquoise and neon green running shoes, my son's muck boots (which are bigger than mine, I might add), my daughter's rainbow colored New Balance sneakers, all tangled together in a heap of laces and tongues and treads.  There are two pairs of shoes that are constant in this pile, mine and my husband's.  One or two days out of the week these are only two pairs of shoes by the door.  They sit, side by side, neatly by the door, not blocking any cupboards, not creating a tripping hazard. They signal a calm and quiet house.

Thinking about all these shoes, the pairs that come and go and the pairs that stay, I have come to realize the significance.  Like the painting over my parents' mantle, it's not the shoes that matter, it's the people who wear them.  Two pairs of shoes stay side by side, despite the chaos of schedules that come with blended families, school, work, life.  Someday all the other shoes will pile up a lot less frequently, maybe a few times during the holidays or summer vacations.  But there will always be two pairs by the door.  Mine and his.  Side by side.

Two Writing Teachers Writing Challenge

This should be my fourth entry for the writing challenge I took on at the beginning of this month.  Weeks ago, when I was made aware of the challenge, I thought, "Make time to write every day? How hard can that be?" And then, all of a sudden, it was March 4th and here I am at 7:30 on a Friday night typing up my first entry.  And, if I'm being honest, I might not have sat down to write if it hadn't been for my sweet colleague and friend who emailed me to ask for the link to my blog so she can comment on my writing.  How did she know?! 

Make time to write every day...I make time for my students to write every day.  Me? Well...I write lesson plans, and papers for my masters classes, and emails to parents, and comments on student work, and observations from working with students.  Does that count?  Probably not for this challenge, which is titled "Slice of Life."  The goal is to capture a moment of my day in writing.  All of this sounds so easy, but here I sit, feeling like my students probably feel when I tell them "keep your pencils moving. Try to write more today than you did yesterday. Push yourselves to write more."  Really?  Nothing like walking a few steps in their shoes to put things in perspective. Writing is hard.  Generating a topic, writing about it in a way that makes others want to read it, gathering the courage to share it...writing is not for the faint of heart.  So, here I go, listening to my teacher voice and pushing myself to write. 

My 7-year-old daughter has gymnastics on Friday afternoons.  One hour after I get home from the last day of the school week I have to convince her to get into her leotard and head back out for an hour of jumping, stretching, cartwheeling, and vaulting.  She doesn't love it until she gets there.  I get it.  On Friday afternoon, who doesn't want to just be home?  But once she gets there she is all smiles. Tonight I sat on the other side of the glass window where all parents sit and wait, and I watched her. If you were to walk into this room, you'd see parents reading books, chatting with other parents, tapping on their phones or tablets, some even with laptops; the weekly routine of supporting your child's dream of being an Olympic gymnast someday and knocking a few things off your own to-do list, even if that's "take some time for myself."  
Tonight, I figured out why she loves gymnastics.  Sure, the trampoline and foam pit are fun but I couldn't help but notice her smile get even brighter when she looked over to the window and saw that I was watching her.  For a solid hour my daughter gets my undivided attention and we aren't even in the same room.  Separated by a wall of glass, we smile, wave, wink, I remind her to pay attention to her coach, she gives me the "oops, I forgot!" smile and gets back to whatever floor sequence the class is practicing.  
I'm grateful for this hour, but it reminds me that we don't have to go to gymnastics to share these moments together.  I'm reminded of how important it is to leave the housework and school work and social media alone and give my attention to my children.  Of course I know this already, but these reminders still shout out to me like a shriek that cuts through the coldest winter night,  "Put your stuff away and share moments, make moments, with your children!"  I'm going to go do just that.