Love That Writing. Hate That Writing

Two of my favorite books to use for mentor texts in teaching writing are: Love that Dog and Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech. Who, by the way, has written some beautiful children’s novels.

I love these books because they depict a boy’s experiences in writing. He says his teacher, “knows his brain”. This, by far is my favorite quote in any book that I have read to my students. Teaching can be boiled down to an A and B multiple choice answer:

(A)You understand your students’ brains.

(B) You do not understand your students’ brains.

This week, I had a few moments where I knew that my efforts, as a teacher, were not meaningless.

I am working with a precious student who has writer’s block. The debilitating experience that renders the mind void of words. This phenomenon only happens when there is some writing assignment due immediately. She talked to me about her thoughts and feelings about writing. I was floored with her candor. I was also kicking myself for assuming that writing is easy. It isn’t always easy for me, so why would I think it would be for a ten-year old? Again, the humbling smack in the face of teaching knocked me into an educational wasteland.

I had lent her the book, Love That Dog. I asked her what she thought of the book. I received a shoulder shrug. Of course, I asked again. She turned the book over and said, “This says it all”.

The quote on the back of the book read:

” I tried. I can’t do it. My brain is empty.”

So, of course, my eyes welled up-without my permission. Her eyes filled with tears. We stared at each other for a few seconds. I had nothing. Her brain was empty. How did it get that way?

I love writing. I never thought I was particularly good at the craft. But, there are times the words on the page express my inner workings more than my incessant ramblings. I have retreated to writing when all other forms of communication failed me.

In second grade, I was supposed to write a story about my summer. My summer sucked, so I made up a story. I put my brother on a raft, in women’s clothes, on the Chattahoochee River-never to be found. I remember standing in front of the class, making up the entire scenario. The ideas flooded my mind, and I couldn’t stop the madness. When my teacher realized that it was a fictional story, she reprimanded me and sent me to my seat. After that, I rarely spoke. Instead, I wrote.

I have had dark times where writing was my enemy. The words were absent. My thoughts were cliché  and I had nothing worth putting on paper. That is when I hate writing. Where do the words come from? How can my combination of words make any more meaning than someone else’s? I am writing this blog after spending uncountable hours writing essays for my reading class. There are nine. I have completed eight. Even Bon Iver and Cold Play couldn’t pull me from the depths literary Hades.

I contribute the mafia-type diatribe to my math class to my exhaustive writing experience. It went something like this:

“Remember, don’t leave your simplified fractions in the form of an improper fraction.”

“To nameless student: What did you get for number so and so?”


I felt my eye twitch. I closed the door to my room. (Swift yet powerful move). I heard myself discussing fractions as if they were small children whom we were neglecting.

Later that morning, during math:

STUDENT: “I’m confused.”

ME: “What part do we need to review?”

STUDENT: “All of it.”

So, I reviewed it all. I also gave out guilt candy.

Writing is the ambiguous, murky skill that comes from a part of us that is intangible and unquantifiable.  Ask a five-year old to describe a pumpkin and you might get:

“pmkn rng hlwn”

Ask a ten-year old to describe a pumpkin and you might get:

“The blistering orange pumpkin glowed from the front step of my house. It eyes blinked from the flickering candle inside.”

Ask me to describe a pumpkin right now:

“It’s orange and rotting on my doorstep. What more do you want?”

This blog is an attempt for me to come back to reality with my teaching. I have bad days with writing, but I value the craft. I am lucky to know some brilliant writers. I aspire to write something meaningful. But, I really just want the kids to enjoy extracting the words and images from their minds, and carefully placing them on the paper.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my gifted first grade class. I was talking about my professor and my reading class. They asked me:

“Do you live there?”

“Do you go home?”

“Who is your teacher?”

“Does she live there too?”

Again, the lesson went in a direction that was not anticipated. I encouraged them to write my professor (profecr) letters.

They did.

She wrote back. On college letterhead. With sketches of herself and pictures of her dog.

I brought the typed letters back to the class. We spent time reading them, and talking about what she said. Then the class began writing her letters, independently. Apparently, she hadn’t answered all of their inquires. But, I was happy to see how writing had made its way to my first graders-without them knowing it. My professor is passionate about what she does. She wants us to respect literacy instruction. Really, she wants us to do it right, and not mess up another generation of kids. And, I have fourteen first-graders who think she is Athena. (They relate everything to the gods and goddesses, after our mythology unit.)

I chose this portion of a child’s letter, because it is the same question I have been asking myself since the summer. Also, anyone I know who is in graduate school, for education, has verbalized these same questions. I particularly enjoy how my professor changed her “discourse” to match the level of the student. Oh…I just used a term from class. (I won the fight with the white-out bottle as I covered the names of my student and professor.)

I liken my reading class to running. There is a moment during a long run that you realize that you have over-extended yourself.  This usually occurs when you are half way to your destination. The thought of running further paralyzes the body, while the notions of making it back in one piece-is unfathomable. I’m at the unfathomable stage. I sat down to write my essays for class, the other night. I thought of my student and I typed:

“I can’t do it. My brain is empty. I hate writing.”

My friend who helped me teach playwriting, to my 5th grade class last year, told the kids to write, I don’t know what to write about on their papers when they didn’t know what to write.” The freedom this gave them was amazing. It worked. I am continually reminded of the temperamental nature of writing. This strategy makes it o.k. to having nothing to write about.

My reading class is over in a few weeks. My essays will be done. My odd poster project will be completed. Then I’ll sign up for more classes that will prepare me to be a better teacher. For now, no more peer-reviewed articles. No more essays.

When my brain isn’t empty, I’m going to try to complete two personal writing projects. Or read a book. Or sit and stare at leaves. Maybe, I’ll just be thankful to know that, eventually -I will LOVE THAT WRITING again.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Reed This.

I saw the cows who cannot spell as I was driving home from class. You know, the illiterate cows we see daily and just accept into our cultural norm? But somehow, it bothered me more than usual. I think my new label, Literacy Coach, makes me tuned into a multitude of literacy topics and issues.

Now, when I see the cows, I just want to pull over to the side of the road and teach them a few phonics lessons. I would suggest that they write in pencil before marker, and definitely before paint. I would ask: Is standing upright uncomfortable for a cow? Then I wonder if my personification lessons have gone too far.

I also noticed that they spelled EAT correctly. Why? Why not misspell all of the words? Why go half way? Or, two-thirds of the way?

I imagine the advertising team sitting at one of those long shiny tables talking about this great idea:

“Let’s make the cows tell people to eat more chicken.”

“YES! But, cows can’t read or spell. So…I know! We will misspell half of their words, because everyone knows that cows cannot read.”

“Great idea. But, we make them savvy enough to create this entire advertising campaign.”

I looked up the cow controversy. This happened because I was supposed to be doing my homework for grad school.

I didn’t realize the issues reached so many groups. Apparently, the cows do not like gay people. I found that the company supports literacy through giving free books away with the kids’ meals. ?????

Those same kids write in their daily journals about ‘reeding’, eating chikin, and wanting mor fries. No, it is true, I have had students spell like the cows.

Sadly, I didn’t find many articles from disgruntled educators and parents. I’m sure they are out there, but I stopped clicking at the third page. And if the article I’m looking for is to be found on any page other than the first one, it isn’t too important.

I am learning in my reading theory class that literacy has various definitions and criteria, depending on the community and on the culture. But, as I type these words, I have an advantage over many thousands of people, all over the world. I understand words. I speak words. I write words. I recognize words. I love words.

Illiteracy statistics vary. I believe this depends on the researcher’s definition of literacy. According to this map, the U.S. is less than 10% illiterate. For the resources we have in this country, that number is horrendous. I have worked with illiterate parents. They are savvy. They make their way through life, dodging words; but compensating with a myriad of techniques they have learned in order to hide their disability. Yes, I’m saying illiteracy is a disability. It is. I cannot imagine, living my life without understanding the words that saturate each and every experience I have.

This same theme has found me in various scenarios. Yesterday, in class, our professor had piles of children’s picture books for us to look through. We were to find passages that would lead to engaging writing activities.

I am fascinated with Eve Bunting, and I was glad when our group chose that pile of books. She is a topical author who writes picture books that deal with serious issues like: riots, homelessness, the Vietnam war, individualism, divorce, illiteracy, and many other relevant topics. Of course, my obsession with such heavy literature made me overlook a child copying the plot line to Corduroy during a writing conference, in one of my friend’s classrooms. Another humbling experience. Another story. Who has time for bears and kleptomaniac children when there are world issues to tackle?

The Wednesday Surprise, by Eve Bunting is a book about a child meeting with her grandmother each Wednesday. The nature of the meetings are kept secret until there is a birthday celebration for the girl’s father. He is floored when he hears his mother read, and learns that his daughter has been teaching her to read every Wednesday. I imagine in this fictional family, Grandma’s illiteracy was understood. Apparently, it took a small child to help fix this problem, while the parents looked the other way.

Lately, every spare moment of my time is consumed with labeling my “mentor texts”. These are the books I use to introduce writing lessons. It started slowly, then somehow, it has snowballed into stacks of picture and chapter books, piling up and surrounding me. I made bright pink labels for each book.

Some of the categories are:

  • word choice
  • sentence fluency
  • onomatopoeia
  • repetition
  • narrowing the focus
  • rhyme scheme
  • voice
  • conventions
  • figurative language (which can be further categorized, but I had to save myself)
  • developing ideas
  • coined words
By the way, not one of these books uses misspelled words as literary devices.
Another book that deals with illiteracy due to a disability, is written by another wonderful author: Patricia Polacco.

The girl in the story is brought up in a literacy-rich environment. But as she enters school, she finds that she is unable to read as easily as the other kids. She has dyslexia. She begins to hate school because of her reading difficulties, and the kids teasing her. She finally gets a teacher who cares, pays attention, and works with her. We find out that this is Patricia Polacco’s autobiography.

Every time I have read this story to a class, there is always at least one student who relates to the girl’s struggle. It is a powerful book. It reminds me that there is always the probability that there is a child, in my class, memorizing what they need to in order to “seem” literate.

So, what does this have to do with the cows?

I see the cow company using illiteracy as an advertising campaign. We don’t see other disabilities advertised in order to sell a product. What a horrible thought. Illiteracy is covert, the cows are cute, and there is no intended harm. I get that. But, when you have seen people struggle with those same words, it hits home more than it probably should.

Also, as a side note, the cows are everywhere. Ubiquity with the cows is overkill. Maybe, the next campaign could be the cows in school, overcoming their spelling issues. They can even put a smart cow teacher in there for good measure.

I’m not sure if I’m one of those, “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON PEOPLE”, but I’m beginning to think that my hyper-awareness of people’s words can be a good thing. Maybe, the cow comparison is a stretch to some; but they still bother me.

Do you remember learning to read? Probably not, if you don’t have a reading disability.


Why Megamind Should Replace No Child Left Behind

[Metro Man’s ship lands in a mansion, while Megamind’s ship lands in a prison

I just read a rather lengthy article describing the faults of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB

Of course, my response, “no duh” isn’t appropriate for graduate school. But, “no duh” nonetheless.

Basically, it outlines the reasons that one academic program for every student in the country isn’t feasible. The notion that all children can learn has morphed into all children can learn the same skills, in the same way. This, of course, is regardless of academic proclivities, social experiences, and cultural norms. I remember when the NCLB posters wallpapered the cinderblock walls  (back in the day). I was a paraprofessional at the time. I hadn’t even started school to become a highly qualified educator. I felt the pressure then, about all children reading-at the same exact moment in time.

I know I reflect quite a bit on movies and their unintended associations with education. But, this is how I make complicated issues reasonably applicable to our schema.

However, Megamind is clearly a movie about education. Even if no one knows it.

At the beginning of the movie, there are two babies randomly rocketed into the atmosphere. They are different ethnicities. Their final destinations are contingent on pure luck and destiny. Metro Baby lands in suburbia, and Megamind Baby lands in a prison. Megamind Baby is raised by the inmates, whereas Metrobaby has all he needs to be successful in life.   Yes, they are the extremes, but this is a kids’ movie. Right?

Flash forward to elementary school. We see both Metroman and Megamind in the same school. NCLB-all children can learn.

 Metroman boy dazzles everyone with his honed skills and super powers. Then we see Megamind boy trying to do the right thing until he is bullied and shunned. Eventually, he resumes his life of  crime, because that is what he “knows”. He pronounces school as shool.  I take this as a literacy issue since he didn’t have the same academic opportunities as Metroman. The inmates shooled him the best way they knew.

These two children landed haphazardly into their lives. They had nothing to do with it. We cannot say that we don’t “see” their differences. Megamind is inherently good. Metroman just can’t keep up the persona that he has developed. But, these revelations aren’t discovered until they are adults.

What if all students walked into the classroom baskets of life experiences on their heads? Each basket is filled with different items that represent the things they know and the things they understand. None of the baskets look alike, or contain the exact same contents. We ask them to place their “baskets” to the side. As the year progresses, some of their items become dusty or lost. Other items are overused and worn out. Then the missing items are seldom replenished. The metaphor is obvious. But by testing time, all baskets are emptied and filled with identical items. Do we perpetuate individualism, or do we encourage Stepford-like education?

I think one of the most valuable lessons I have learned as an educator is that the life experiences of a child affect the delivery of my instruction. The curriculum is not a snow covering of equity in all US schools. Picture a random classroom anywhere in the United States. That classroom will have some who speak another language at home. Others have struggled to read since they started attending school. Then there are the gifted and high achieving children. Don’t forget about the kids who have learning disabilities. But, at the end of the day, thanks to NCLB, all of these children are assessed with the same test. That test score is branded on their records for the rest of their academic careers.  A child is deemed successful (or not) based on a set of scores.

I believe data is essential for educators. We need to comprehend academic strengths and weaknesses in order to improve instruction. However, how can we know what they know, without giving assessments that meet learning styles? WHOA! What? Differentiated assessments?

Yah, I know, this would mean that each child would have a different test. It would mean that they wouldn’t be standardized. It would mean that we were giving kids a chance to succeed. Maybe, those who “fail” portions of a test could be re-tested within their learning style?  None of these ideas are viable in the hermetically sealed testing environment. I wonder how many students failed a portion of a written test, but could answer the questions in a different way?

What did we do before this type of standardized testing? Do you remember? I don’t.

I do remember getting kicked out of the gifted program because I talked too much. I remember the strawberry crunch ice cream bars. Track. Cross Country. Learning to type. Marine Biology. I remember walking around the halls before school started with my Flashdance sweatshirt, Nikes, Levis, comb in pocket, and perfectly coiffed ‘wings’.   Standardized testing?  I’m sure I took some type of test that required the infamous bubbling. But, it wasn’t on my radar.

Would Megamind had changed his ways with some acknowledgement of his experiences? And with guidance and re-direction, would he use his powers for good and not evil when he was younger?

I spent my last reading class discussing the issues of the National Reading Panel Report and NCLB. I had to discuss the positive aspects of the NCLB. Of course, I was reminded that there were some sound philosophies in the planning and intentions of the program. Just like in a character analysis, it is very rare for a villain to be pure evil, without a hint here and there of normalcy, or a history of a bad childhood.

Drop the phrase, “standardized testing” in a room of teachers, and you will find that the kind, politically correct, docile natures slough off, and dragon wings sprout violently from their backs. This isn’t just one or two people. This is everyone. So that might mean something.

I truly believe that in every school, or even classroom, there is a Megamind and Metroman story.

I can honestly say that the few children I felt unable to reach had a history that devastated me, and I was ashamed for not delving more. They are the children with the cumbersome files that take two hands to carry. They have had such horrible experiences that they couldn’t begin to trust a new person. They can be the ones who disrupt the class, making our days challenging. But it really just take a few minutes to attempt to see what they see, and to spend time acknowledging their importance in the world. This means we have to shut off the ‘auto-pilot’ of the day, and work with the humanity in our classrooms. I didn’t see that part in NCLB.

Perspectives change when we understand people. I worry that the children left behind may not have had a chance at all, depending on how they landed in the world.

Life On The Other Side

I love the first day of school. I love it as a teacher, anyway. As a kid, I dreaded it because I wasn’t the best student. Especially the year I had to take home economics. I always questioned the name of the class-Home Economics. What does that mean?  We never discussed budgets and money. Sewing and cake decorating for a spatially inept person is torturous. Anyway, the first day of this school year made me feel as if someone forgot to send me my home room students. Are they wandering the halls? Why am I alone in my room? Where is everyone? Am I on isolation island?

I’m a specialist now. I have car duty. I have to be at work early. I smile at people before eight every morning. I touch car handles riddled with unknown microorganisms.

People ask me, “What do you do now?”

“I teach advanced 5th grade math. I teach 1st grade gifted students. I am the half-time literacy coach.”

There are too many sports references in my new job. Literacy Coach-do I wear a helmet shaped like a letter? Do I run by classrooms cheering for people and saying things like:

“You can do it! Keep teaching phonics!”

“NO!!!! What are you thinking? Get back to the kidney table and move the letter tiles to the left!”

“Ok teams, let’s huddle. Each group go READ!!!!! HIYAH!!!”

Before school started, I collaborated with my friend who was also sent to her isolation island from 5th grade. She teaches 4th and 5th grade gifted students. She told me I was panicking. She said she wasn’t used to me being unsure of myself. She left me wondering if I’m having breakdowns noticeable to everyone but me.  I do admit, I questioned if I could even teach anymore. For the first time in ten years, I had absolutely no starting point. I have many weak areas. My dear friends remind me of them all of the time. But, the thing I rely on, the thing I can do in my sleep, or to get to the million dollar level on a game show-is plan lessons and differentiated projects. If stranded on an island, I could create a rubric for survival out of sticks, shells, and fish bones. I had nothing. I was in an emotional frenzy and residing in the desert of instruction. I didn’t know where to start. Literacy schedule? Gifted unit? Math activities?  I decided to organize files and color code things. Even the label maker and laminator didn’t lift my spirits. I was in the middle some odd self-reflective moment, while the moose stared from afar.

I decided to work on my literacy schedule.  I have read numerous books and researched how this job should look. I’m taking teacher leadership classes and extra reading classes. I have done this type of thing in another district, but I discount that experience. I even sent my administration a tentative calendar of what I would be doing. I pulled up Excel to begin the schedule. I began with each teacher’s name, grade level, lunch times, and specials times. The cursor on the spreadsheet blinked and blinked. It was waiting impatiently-oh the pressure. I clicked out of Excel to think “gifted”.

Gifted 1st graders. Gifted 1st graders. I’m teaching gifted 1st graders.

I finally got some perspective. I watched The Illusionist with my nine-year old. I was humbled when she explained the “message” of the movie.

“You see mommy, the magician isn’t doing well. But, the girl thinks he is magic. Isn’t it sad when he said that magicians weren’t real at the end? I feel badly for the girl.”

I felt like the Illusionist.  I lost my footing, and  I thought that  what I was doing wasn’t important anymore. My audience was gone. My students disappeared.

I had to realize that the issue wasn’t the job, but my perception of what my new job is. For me, teaching fifth grade was like being in the midst of the stock exchange. The ringing of the bell, and the madness of the events fueled my work obsession. Of course, falling in love with my students was a huge part of what kept me so determined to make their experiences memorable.

Then I thought again about the movie. Don’t educators feel that when the next best strategy comes our way, we are left alone, on a stage with no one in the audience? I have spoken to teachers who have taught for thirty years, or more. The one thing they all say is, “Everything is comes back around, so I just wait.”  Then my mind flashes to the Illusionist, where there are two people in the audience, politely clapping as the magician does the same old routine. Of course, this scene could be viewed as a teacher only reaching a small population of the classroom. I can see it both ways. I guess, life on the other side has given me some perspective.

I began the gifted unit after my indecision and flurry of color coding projects. I pulled up my backward design template. I was sinking. There need to be fairy tales. I have boys in the class, so I added monsters and mythical creatures. Oh, and we have to have Greek gods and goddesses. We will create a puppet show as a culminating activity. I know! They will pick a fairy tale character, give it a power from one of the gods, then some kid-created villain will turn all the characters into monsters. Somehow, they have to use their powers to escape!  We will have plenty of time for this unit.  After all, I have them for an entire school day. Or do I?  After lunch, recess, specials, and other odd testing, assessments, and school-related activities, they are only with me for less than three full hours.

The day that changed it all for me, was last Friday when I taught my first gifted class. I decided to pick them up in a fairy costume to launch our unit on fairy tales, gods, and monsters. Not one small person questioned the outfit. First grade is a new world. They are small-I mean tiny. Their voices made me think of the little people scene in The Wizard of Oz. They don’t sit still-not even for three seconds. Plus, they fidget, stare, and tell odd and random stories. Eddie Murphy used to do a bit about a kid telling a story. I had fourteen trying to tell me, about the time that….

They were all obsessed with their bags of supplies. I knew I couldn’t get anywhere without organizing their stuff. So, I asked them to unpack the supplies, and put this and that in the caddies.

They were lost on my caddy reference. You know, the plastic things on the tables where we put supplies?

“Ok, let’s put our supplies in the caddies.”

Nothing. Crickets.

“Ok, go ahead and put your supplies in the caddies.”

Brave small person, “I will do that, but first, what are caddies, and where are they?

Note to self-explain all new vocabulary.

The unpacking of their supplies took an inordinate time. Then, they were asking that they label the caddies, since they now had their stuff in them. Ok. Twenty minutes later.

Oh, the pencils weren’t sharp enough. Ten minutes more.

After all of that, I fell into some odd teaching vortex. There were improvisation games, deductive reasoning activities, and collaborative book votes. Huh? The day is over?

All I can say is that I was first-year-teacher annoying. No one wanted me around.

Yesterday, we made magic goo potion, and we created transportation for Cinderella out of random craft materials.  Next week, we will build an anemometer to show the least windy path the coach should take in order to get Cinderella back in time.

Flashes of the goo experience keep popping into my mind. Think glue, Borax, food coloring, water, stirring, and small children. At one point, all thirteen kids were asking me if their goo “was done”. They huddled around me-all of them. Small elf-like hands, waving magic goo, precariously close to my face; obscured my vision for a good twenty minutes. But, the gasps of amazement and delight as the liquid turned to a solid, made the goo storm worth it.

I was even inspired to play “High Hopes” as they worked. Before long, they were all singing about moving the rubber tree plant.

Back to literacy coaching. This has been the part of the job that has made me  flop and flail, like the fish out of water. Someone, please-throw me back in the lake!

But, as I have spent time in many classrooms; I have grown to appreciate this profession in a way that I never had before. I understand the my-classroom microcosm angle. But now, I see teachers planning, teaching, asking questions, improving their craft, being open and inviting to me and my new position. It made me think of Christmas decorations. I have always had this theory that the Christmas lights just magically appear on everyone’s houses. I never see anyone actually putting them up. (Unless they keep them up all year-and I won’t go there). This is not unlike the first day of school, where all the classrooms are magically set up, with everything in place. The teacher, is seemingly rested, waiting for the new year. Her hair is in place, and she is reading inspirational teacher books.

This year, I saw the Christmas lights being put up. All over the school, I saw teachers in the halls, butcher paper being cut, glue guns heating up, copy machines working overtime-and suddenly as if in a blink; everyone was ready.

I realized that part of my problem was that I was fearful that teachers would see me coming, turn out the lights, and tell the kids to be quiet and get into tornado position. But instead, they have welcomed me and my new coach position. GO TEAM! I have seen powerful teaching and dedicated teachers. I have had collegiate discussions about instruction with brilliant people.

But, when the kids believe we are magic, it just boils down to the relationships we foster with them. Like the Illusionist, when we lose faith in our ability to teach, the entire system fails. It isn’t the curriculum, the activities, the bells and whistles of instruction-it is the educator truly believing in him or herself. It also helps when others believe in us as well.


The Endangered Curriculum

I was inspired to write this blog because of a moose mural in my classroom, the Italian Renaissance, and a literacy training I attended. It may all come together at the end. Or it may not.

I have this book called, Endangered Words. It is full of antiquated words that, at one point, were valuable in some vernacular, somewhere. I thought of this book the other day while I was sitting in an eight-hour literacy training.  We began discussing how to teach reading to very little people. The idea that we have the knowledge and ability to teach such a powerful tool, can be overwhelming. Words are broken down into sounds, and then sound-letter correlation is developed. Soon words are recognized and sorted into various structures called sentences. Then, like magic, or some amazing miracle, reading happens. If you have ever had the opportunity to watch a child read his/her first sentence or story (after you have taught the skills) you will experience a lucid moment where you know that you have chosen the right profession. If it does happen to you, keep the memory, because you will need to tap into it for the rest of your teaching career. You may even want to take a picture of the child to post it somewhere in your classroom. So when your project dealing with glitter and liquid glue goes awry, look at the picture and get some perspective.

When I came home from literacy training, I looked through my endangered word book. Some of my favorites are ataraxia “freedom from disturbance of mind or passion; stoical indifference”; bleezed: affected in the eyes as by alcoholic excitement; and logodaedalist: “inventor of words”. I thought of my linguistics classes where I learned about the origin of language and the varied sophistication in vocabulary from language to language. English-speaking people know about 20,000 words, but only use about 2,000. But, who wants to talk to someone who uses words like despiance and kumatage at a dinner party? These are the people from whom you scurry, then run to the corner and secretly Google the words on your Android. Or maybe that’s just me.

So, if words can appear and disappear from our dictionaries and daily usage, so can various components of the curriculum. I knew the world was in a bad place when fishes became an accepted plural form of fish. Just like the word moose-some people actually say meese or mooses. Luckily, I haven’t met a person who has used these irksome, fabricated plurals. But I’ll get back to the moose mural, because it is haunting me. If enough people continuously use a word incorrectly, it becomes part of the lexicon.  Ain’t that something?

During our training, we had a “guess the right answer with a partner” activity. We had moved on to teaching comprehension skills.

The question was:

During a readers’ theater, it is advised to encourage students to bring in props and costumes to enhance their engagement and participation.

Emphatically, YES!  That is a dead give away!  The acceptable response was no. It is not encouraged. Huh? What about our Midsummer Night’s Dream readers’ theater? What about the Macbeth unit we did I just got up, went to the snack table, and got an Almond Joy. The upside of this is that my name was picked twice for the $50 resource books that I REALLY wanted. I didn’t give a shout out to the arts in education, because apparently, it has little to do with reading instruction. And the arts have had no place in the curriculum through time. So why start now? I kept my snarky thoughts to myself, as I am learning they rarely received well in those of situations.  Again, where did the classics go? Did they get buried under the mountain of basal readers? If all it takes is plastic crowns and cardboard castles to encourage kids to show up and read classic works, then why would this be discouraged?

I have discussed how baffled I am that foreign language was taken out of the elementary and schools in our district. There is enough research that supports the efficacy of learning foreign languages for academic purposes. Also, this is crazy, and maybe pushing the envelope a bit, but there are people in the world who speak other languages. Global awareness anyone? I recently read an article, What we Can Learn From Foreign Language Teaching in Other Countries.   Basically, there is an emphasis on language education in other countries. There is also support from the school systems and governments to foster a respect and for language education. The governments also mandate a foreign language curriculum that begins in elementary school; not high school. Of course, this can work its way into how we aren’t globally competitive, since we are a mono-linguistic society. That rant can wait.

The important subjects are those that yield a higher income. Let me paint a fictitious world where the arts are prominent in our curriculum. Let’s just pretend that if someone earns a degree in sculpting or painting, that he or she would earn what is equivalent to um, maybe that of an athlete?  Parents would be signing their kids up for sculpting and painting classes. Instead of, “My child cannot do homework because there is a game”, we would hear, “My child cannot do homework because he/she is completing his sculpture and oil painting to be commissioned for the church down the street.” I’m not saying that sports are not important. I was an active athlete in high school, and I value the talents and determination of gifted athletes. But this is fictitious, like the idea that standardized testing will go away.

How is it that there were so may talented artists back in the time of the Renaissance? I know, only the wealthy families sent their kids to school, and girls got the short end of the education stick  But, artists were vying to be the commissioned artist for whomever, on a whim, needed a sculpture knocked out. My point is that the emphasis was put on ethics, poetry, literature, and art. Therefore, the focus was on refining those skills that were deemed essential and proper. To be a true erudite, one had to be well-versed in all aspects of the arts. I can just imagine the discussions of the mothers of Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti (who competed for the creation Baptistery doors).

“Where do you get your bronze?”

“At the market, it was on sale. You need my coupon?”

“No, we only buy the good stuff.. Maybe that is why Lorenzo, won.”


Soccer moms, sculpture moms-tomato, tomato…

This actually brings me to the moose mural. I changed classrooms, and I really like my new room. It has a courtyard (where I plan on planting a garden with my Kindergarten and 1st grade students). There is a large bathroom/closet where I can store drama club paraphernalia. And there is a nook where I can have kids read, work in small groups, and  I can develop my library. I spent a week unpacking boxes and setting up my room. Check-something accomplished.

The nook has a mural. The mural is of a large moose. I decided that I would paint over it. I bought the paint. The day after I bought the paint, my principal called me:

P: “Don’t paint anything yet. We may need to move you to another room.”

Me: “What? I just unpacked. What? I just bought paint.? What? Are you sure? ”

Panic consumed me. Then I realized that I was having an audible break down, over the phone, with my principal. He says I hung up on him. I don’t remember. Maybe I did. He won’t let it go. I went down to the school and he came to my room. He walked into the nook:

P: “That is a cool moose. You really want to paint over it? I can’t believe you want to paint over it. Kids love that moose.”

I realized that I was having a BGI (Blinding Glimpse of Insight). You see, we are reading the book, Sticks & Stones exposed: The Power of our Words, for our leadership book talk at school. The BGI is a stark realization through various modalities that you are, well…wrong about stuff. The book politely says it is a small bit of understanding about ourselves that we don’t like to face. Yah, it’s a moose mural. But it is really the fact that I was the only one who didn’t like the blasted thing. The eyes..  I didn’t think about the fact that it is appealing to some, and to small children, it will be downright adorable. I keep having to remind myself that I am now in the world of kindergarteners and 1st graders. The connection here is that just because something isn’t valuable or doesn’t serve a purpose to some, it is often thrown out, done away with, or replaced. The moose won.

I have these small tent cards that my students use to let me know how they are progressing in the learning process:

After my breakdown, I put the tent card on my desk-on RED. This says it all. Doesn’t it?

The end result is that my principal decided to let me stay in my room, as long as I kept the moose mural.

My tent card changed:

What exactly has been deleted from our curriculum? Why are we doing it? Have we digressed from honoring and encouraging refined artists to teaching brilliant students who fumble over glue sticks? Moderation is a sound concept. Since society doesn’t honor the arts in education, there is little focus on them. Whenever I show artwork to my students, they are fascinated. Two years ago, a colleague and I created an art exhibit project. Students did research reports on famous artists. Then they used any medium of their choice to re-create the art work. Students used leggos, water colors, sculptures, and multi-media representations. We created a museum of the artwork, with student interpretations of the works. Yes, we are weak in science and math, and I am in no way discounting this fact. But, why can’t kids have it all? What about a thematic unit on art and science? Poetry in math? Dramatic reenactments in social studies? Just some thoughts.

By the way, I filled in the blanks to my analogy from the last post:

Politics is to Education as Aliens are to Cowboys. 

I’ll see the movie, alone, since no one will go with me. I’m sure I’ll find some more unintended education references imbedded within the movie.

In the mean time, I’m hoping to change my tent card one more time:

Politics is to Education as _____ is to _____

The MAT is a graduate school entrance test composed of nothing but analogies. The key to this test is finding relationships among words, historical events, science, math, humanities, and social sciences.  Finding relationships among terms that otherwise have nothing in common. So, it seemed fitting to put the words politics and education in the form of an analogy. I cannot complete this analogy.  My thoughts were too metaphorical-like politics being a storm and education being the land about to be torn apart. So, I left it blank.

It took my educational politics discussions in class to get my learning mojo back.

Remember the John Travolta movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble?

Travolta plays the part of a young man whose immune system cannot be exposed to unfiltered air. He wants to live a normal life. So he wears all types of protective coverings to see the world. One day, his doctor tells him that he has built up his immunity. He steps outside, sans the bubble-and rides away on a horse. We assume he survived.

Admittedly, my plastic bubble has been my classroom. I won’t speak for other teachers, but I can safely bet that there are bubbles encapsulating classes and teachers all over the country. I keep hearing that we need to raise test scores, and that our school systems are not globally competitive. This is a direct result of the failing schools. So, like most teachers, I scramble to strengthen my craft until I’m a blubbering mess by the end of the year. Well, the blubbering usually begins in October when the first set of benchmark scores come back. This is when a colleague has to talk me out of resuming my job as a personal trainer. I believe in my bubble scenario, the politics serve as the unfiltered air. I have been impervious.

So, I’m reading my assigned chapters, like a good little graduate student.  No Child Left Behind was renamed from a section of an educational program in the 60’s-War on Poverty Program. Eisenhower thought the American school system didn’t prepare students as well as the Soviet schools. You see, they launched Sputnik first, and that was a travesty (to the U.S.) during the Cold War. Because there was a need to build better missiles and strengthen our military, our schools were failing, and the Soviets were better than us. Therefore, the onus was on the educational system in America. So if NCLB is the grandchild of a program that was created to combat the Soviet challenge (space race and arms race)  and the Cold War is over….?????  Have you filled in the blanks to my analogy yet?

The interesting issue is that there was no hard evidence that supported the claim that American schools were failing. You see, it wasn’t the students of the 50’s who were behind, it had to have been the students of the previous three decades who were to “blame”-because they were the ones in the work force at the time. Plus, the American education system was culpable for poverty during that era. But it has never been proven that a stronger educational system, will  improve the economy resulting in the alleviation of poverty. In fact, the work force doesn’t have enough jobs to support the number of college graduates as it is.

One theory is that the education crisis has been “manufactured”.  I’m still looking into this, but it is quite intriguing.  The book, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools, by David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, claims that U.S. students are taking commensurate courses to that Japan and Germany. Additionally, U.S. students are faring as well if not better than the other countries.

Outrage over perceived scapegoating of educators by legislators and other voluble critics of American public schools fuels the authors’ efforts to expose what they consider the real problems. While deploring the campaign of criticism they view as “manufactured,” based on misleading data and leading to questionable reforms, they marshal impressive evidence to counter such assertions as that SAT scores have declined and other, similar charges. The real problems of our schools, they suggest, are societal and economic; they point out, for example, that “family incomes and financial support for schools are much more poorly distributed in our country than in other industrialized nations. This means that… large numbers of students who are truly disadvantaged attend public schools whose support is far below that permitted in other Western democracies.” ( The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools, by David Berliner and Bruce Biddle & Publishers Weekly)

The other influence on how we perceive American education is the media. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to be a journalist. When I began the journalism courses, I decided that I would focus on political journalism.  My first political science teacher loved Jimmy Carter, and this was the inspiration for the next ten years of my democratic political convictions. I remember an economic study that I did about why the prices at grocery stores were higher in lower socio-economic districts than in more affluent ones. I actually did the field work and visited the same chain of stores in various areas. It was true. The prices were much higher in the poorer sections of town. Why? The assumption was that there was more government assistance, so the prices could be inflated. I remember writing, “The government is charging itself more at these stores. Who is running the country and where is the logic in this?”  Then we learned about putting a “spin” on a story. Who is paying us to cover a story, and how do they want it portrayed?

Apparently, only 1.4 percent of the national news is devoted to covering education topics. Really? I know I’m in a bubble, but everyone has a connection to education. Either you have, at one point been in school, have a child or sibling in school, or you are an educator. So, only 1.4 percent? Plus, the coverage that we do get is usually negative. Which brings me to the movie, Bad Teacher.

Yes, I openly admit that I saw the movie. My 81-year-old father was even surprised. Plus, I would guess that at least half of the movie goers were teachers. We asked the people next to us and they were teachers. It is our sick sense of curiosity. What? A movie about teaching? So, here we are, in a middle school where Cameron Diaz plays a teacher who commits every possible immoral act as an educator. There is a “good teacher” across the hall who is basically the most annoying cheery teacher archetype. We see her with a captain’s hat and microphone the first day of school acting like a tour guide through the curriculum. Yikes. She eventually loses all control while Diaz comes out ahead in the end. The sick part, is that I saw a part of myself in the cheery teacher with the cute room and engaging activities. Her focus in life was to take down the “bad teacher”.  Diaz only showed movies for instruction, drank during the school day, did drugs, and stole testing materials. Seriously? No wonder the cheery teacher loses it in the end.

The public is influenced by the media. So, this influence has affected the platforms of political candidates, which in effect, begins the cyclical process of reform.  I won’t discuss Bill Gates’ influence on our school reform at this point. I will say that the ones making the reform mandates and changes are not educators, but the financially sound institutions and foundations. When the reform initiatives don’t work, then the teachers are accountable for  the failed programs for which they had no voice.

As I look at these issues from a grain of sand at the beach perspective, I feel powerless. However, the collective awareness of these issues is a start. Like Travolta, I’m stepping out of my bubble-don’t know about riding off on a horse just yet.

If you can create an analogy to complete the title to this post, send it in.


Ants, Rubber Tree Plants, and a Shrew

I have seven literacy coaching books, an APA manual, and a grant writing book watching me-and at any moment, they may just flap their pages to tell me to get to work.  It must be time to write a new blog.

I’m distracted by my environment. The other night was my friend’s going away party.  I had made him a playlist of songs, because we are a bit socially awkward around each other, and  the songs represented my thoughts about saying good-bye. He, in return, made me a playlist-as this seems to be a great way for us to communicate.  The last song, #20, is High Hopes by Frank Sinatra.

But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes

I know that he added this song because a while back, he sarcastically quoted back to me, from one of my blog posts, about my “pie-in-the-sky idealism”. When I heard this song I laughed because it is such the teachers’ anthem. Then I realized, that it has ultimately been the driving theme of my personal life.

Just what makes that little ole ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant?
Anyone knows an ant can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

So, if you have ever taken a class where the text is analyzed, battered, manipulated, and squeezed into meaning that may or may not be accurate; you will understand the following. Teachers are the ants, the rubber trees are the kids, the system, and the bureaucracy of educational politics. There is a spark of cynicism to say things can’t be accomplished. But, with Rocky-like drive, we move one rubber tree plant, turn around to high-five anyone who cares, then look back  to find an infinite number of plants challenging us to move them as well. Our little ant hands can only handle so much.

I forgot how much I used to listen to this song. I was so glad that Daniel was inspired to add this to the wonderful mix he created. I know that the theme of the song will be an integral part of my classroom culture-maybe we will make a huge rubber tree, and I’ll have the kids move it around when they need a mental boost. I don’t know, it is June and my ideas are still liquid.

Yesterday morning, when I walked into the kitchen, the remnants of his Star Wars cake made me sad. It was as if its purpose was over, and its presence on my counter made me wish for a few more hours with my friend.  So, I texted my dear neighbor and friend, Kate, and I asked her if she wanted chocolate cake for breakfast. She came over, and brightened my day by giving a new purpose to the cake. See, my high hopes worked because my heavy heart was elated to see her enjoying the cake, while listening to me ramble.

The Dancing Goat Theater has been running, The Taming of the Shrew. I know this is like literary whiplash, since I abruptly changed topics. But, there will be a connection-even if it is only in my mind.

The last scene has been bothering me. This is where you may want to look up the Spark Notes online, or try to remember your junior year lit class.

And place your hands below your husband’s foot, In token of which duty, if he please, My hand is ready, may it do him ease. (Taming of the Shrew-William Shakespeare)

AHHHH!  I have seen this play many times now. I have read the monologue. My insides recoil as she speaks these words. I keep wondering:

Did Kate lose her voice?

Did she give up the fight for independence?

Was she beat down by the patriarchal system? 

Was she just playing along so that she could eat?

Was she saying what Petruchio wanted to hear so that she could get through the day?

Was she truly tamed?

Can a person’s spirit be tamed?

Maybe, this was the only way Kate (from Shrew, not my neighbor) could move her Rubber Tree Plant.

I know, the degree in Italian has made it difficult to take text for face value. I belabor most decisions which is socially debilitating, and most annoying to those around me. I’ll blame it on the years of the agonizing search for hidden meanings in Dante and Petrarch. I remember getting in trouble for saying, “Maybe it just means what it says.”

So, while I was watching Kate’s final speech, I had to create a more palatable meaning connected to education. Have we lost our way and are we putting our core values under the feet of the national and state mandates? Are we succumbing to the system, while valuing differing philosophies? Kate went against her intrinsic understanding of who she was. Was it a conscious choice, or did her fortitude erode with a lack of support? Of course, this comparison puts teachers in the role of the Shrew, which poses a semantic challenge. A strong-willed teacher is a shrew to some, and a super hero wearing a jetpack to others.

One of my class assignments is to write an article about educational change. I’m sure any references to High Hopes or Taming of the Shrew might be lost, but it might be worth a try. Since change is such a bitter-sweet circumstance in life, yet the foundation of all we do in education; I cannot help but make personal connections.  The word change is often disguised as “reform” in the world of education. Who are they kidding? Kate wasn’t “reformed”-she was completely changed, or as they say, tamed. The bottom line is that Kate didn’t need to be changed, reformed, or tamed. Teachers unite! Fight the taming!

I am coming to the understanding that dealing with change gracefully is art. Art defined is: Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. So when life swoops down and hurls us into the eye of the storm, all we can do is learn from it, lament, or make some big changes in our understanding of ourselves. We exert more energy when we change then we do in standing still.

We will always be expected to change, but hopefully without losing the drive of the tiny ant, or relinquishing our grasp on what is true.

It is time to get rid of the last of the cake. In its place, is the memory of  sharing a change with one friend, and another friend patiently watching me move the rubber trees, so I can see what is ahead of me.


Oh, the Places I Found Goetze’s Caramel Candies

At the beginning of the school year, I filled out a form of “my favorite things” for my room mom. I love Twizzlers and those soft caramel candies with the white, sugary goo in the middle. This list was sent  out to my home room students, and throughout the year, the kids brought me loads of Twizzlers. Wednesday was the last day of school. One of my drama club students brought me a decorative cup filled with the caramels, and a bag of Twizzlers. Her mom had contacted a parent from my home room to find out what my favorite candy is. This might seem like a small, almost insignificant event, but the care and thoughtfulness of that gift has stayed with me. That cup of candy beamed from the school year remnants like Bilbo’s golden ring.

This week, we had a huge 5th grade celebration, a FUN DAY outside with jumpy houses, packed our rooms, completed check lists, and dragged our bedraggled selves out of the school building. Ten years of my teaching career is boxed up, and has been sent down the hallway to commence the summer hibernation. My former classroom is stripped clean of the learning whirlwind that encompassed our days.

All week, I kept thinking of the book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss.  We gave each 5th grader this book as a “graduation” gift. I have always admired its profound message. There are few books that can relate to all age groups.

…you have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
(Dr. Seuss)

Dr. Seuss, or Theodore Seuss Geisel, was an interesting character. I think my favorite story about him is when he threw a drinking party (during prohibition) at Dartmouth. He was soon released from his job as the editor-in-chief of the humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern. This is where he began using the pseudonym, Seuss, so that he could continue to contribute to the magazine. During World War 2, he created political cartoons for the liberal magazine, PM. I guess I was relieved to see that his rhyming madness was a result of his contract with a publishing company that asked him to use 225 of the early learning vocabulary words. I had not thought about the man behind, The Cat in the Hat, until now.

Think of the story, Horton Hears a Who. Was Dr. Seuss implying that there are other worlds out there? Or was he simply trying to raise our awareness of the how important all people are, regardless of size, color, faith, or political views? It is interesting that he had Horton, the elephant, protect the tiny spec of a city, on a clover. The kangaroo doesn’t believe in Horton’s story about the city. She causes the town to turn against him, because she decided he is a threat to the children. If we review history, how many global events could easily be plugged into this story?

My point is (yes, there is one) that there is a back story to people and events that we may have erroneously judged. We all do it. We see a situation and make inferences. Who has the time to figure out the reasons for everything? Gregory Maguire has done well with focusing on why the antagonists in world-famous stories are misunderstood. Of course, he is best known for Wicked, where he weaves some guilt pangs through the pages, as we find out that the witch (Elphaba) has a skin condition. In Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, the Cinderella story is seen through the eyes of one of the step sisters.

A couple of years ago, I had my class take famous fairy-tale characters to court. It was a fun way to learn about the court system and how trials work. I remember the one child who was the defense attorney for Cinderella’s stepsisters. He discussed how Cinderella got all of the attention and made the stepsisters feel badly about themselves. He kept saying, “Has anyone thought about how they feel?” He used a few picture books to illustrate that Cinderella was actually smiling in many of the pictures where she was working and singing in the house. He also said that Cinderella could have just said, “no” to all of the work. The stepsisters won that case.

Yesterday, I sat through a retirement celebration for three teachers. They are educational icons who had set the instructional culture of the school. I have worked along side them for three years. But, when I heard their back stories, of what motivated them to keep going; I wished I had taken the time to get to know them more.  They calculated that one of the teachers (in her forty-two year career) had taught over 4,000 children. What more can be said about that? I imagine that each teacher in that room thought: What will I say at my retirement? What will I have contributed to the educational universe by the end of my career?

When I was packing my room, I thought:

“Ten years down, twenty more to go.”

“How can I possibly do all of this again, willingly?”

“Just a few more weeks, and I’ll have to unpack everything.”

Then a parent dropped of my end-of-the-year gift; a memory book from my class. I realized that the letters written by my students revealed their back stories. The silent thoughts, they held throughout the year were now in the form of loving prose. One student thanked me for sitting next to him and for giving him extra help. Other students thanked me for the projects and for the writing activities. They were all appreciative of the play that we wrote and performed. I knew, without a doubt, that the endless hours devoted to this year, were worth it. I am also grateful to the person who took the time to find my backstory-even if it is just about the types of candy I like.

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away! (Dr. Seuss)


Graduate School…Again

Last week, I returned to graduate school. I remembered the day I received my Masters degree, when I thought, “I will NEVER go back to school.”

I suddenly became an amalgamation of all of my students as I pulled into the parking lot. First, I had to go to the book store and spend $200 on text books. I feverishly searched for the cheaper used books-I found two. Later, a lady in class told me that I should have either rented them, or bought them on Amazon. Rent text books? Really? Now, I know.

Next, I had to find my classroom. Of course, it is in the Education Building. My surroundings began to look vaguely recognizable. It was similar to a dream that weaves your familiar experiences in with a Twin Peaks episode. But..wait-my class isn’t posted. How will I get there? What if they count me absent? I’m three minutes late. I followed the masses to the wrong classroom, then I asked for help. I dropped my phone, when I went to pick it up, other stuff fell. High school flashback…

I made it to the classroom, and I was happy to see other people straggling in, calm and happy-with smelly snacks.

I found a seat in the back and settled in. Oh, we have to introduce ourselves AND diverge one unique quality or experience. Wow. “Don’t pick me..don’t call on me.” I suddenly thought of three of my current students (who I call on all of the time) who hate to be called on. I apologized to them in my mind. I was chosen FIRST. I quickly thought about feigning uniqueness:

I don’t like introducing myself. What does unique really mean, anyway? No, too anti-system. Not a good start.

I can dance very well, wearing socks, in the kitchen. No, that is stupid.

I can mix a mean Mojito. No, then they will think ill of me.

A colleague and I started drama club at my school. Yes, not boastful, yet something new and different. I went with that.

I listened to the other unique experiences. Some were happy they weren’t moved to other grade levels. Some lost weight. Man, I could have gone with something simple like that? I thought of a girl in my class who over-thinks everything. No wonder she has bulleted note-card lists all over her desk.

I moved around in my seat, trying to get comfortable. Only thirty minutes had passed, and I had to sit still for another three and a half hours. I doubted anyone was going to let me walk down the hallway, touch the last door, and come back. I looked out of the window, and stared at the trees. Oh crap! What did I miss? Ok, just a snack sign-up sheet. I rarely make my kids sit still in class, they can stand, sit on the floor, or take a break when needed. I was very glad that I had made this a regular practice in my classroom. Especially since I seemed to be the only one squirming and searching for a comfortable sitting position.

Now, let’s get on with class, and stop all of this silly getting-to-know you stuff.

The thick, weighty syllabus made its way around the room. What will be inside? How many hours of re-reading the same text will I endure? Apparently, I was one of the few in class, new to the program. The students in class were like old war buddies. They flipped through the syllabus saying things like, “Oh, this is like last semester.”

Meanwhile, I have my notebook out, along with my twelve pack of Paper Mate, bold colors, felt tip pens. I read the syllabus. I was clueless. I remembered my student who suddenly flares into a panic when a new assignment is handed out. I felt his agony and discomfort. I turned to the lady next to me,

“We have to read four chapters, write a paper on educational philosophy, and write two article critiques, for next week?” I hoped the panicked look on my face was mild. I had read syllabus wrong. I did find a better way to create the schedule, on the syllabus, so that it was easier to read. I kept those thoughts to myself.

Then everyone started talking about the Galileo website where we find all of our peer-reviewed articles. Of course, I know about Galileo. But what about the password? How will I get it? What if it doesn’t work and all the papers are due next week? The two kids in my class, who are the “what if” kids, blasted through my mind.

I had to go to the library to get the new password. I couldn’t get the new password because I didn’t have my new school I.D. I didn’t have the new school I.D. because that building closes at 6. So, thirty minutes later, the gentleman behind the desk gave me a temporary library card. It took so long because I didn’t have my school identification number with me. He had to look that up. He made me promise to get my school I.D. in order to get the permanent card. Then I thought of the students who always take an inordinate amount of time in the library. I always ask, “What have you been doing for so long?” Now, it is all clear to me. They lose time, or it wrinkles as they enter the library-like it did with me.

Although we are in the last weeks of school, this experience has made me very conscious of the thoughts and processes that occur with my students. How often we forget what it is like to sit on the other side of instruction. Nervous, confused, frustrated, and scared to ask for clarification. The further away from we are from being students, the less empathetic we are to the mindsets of our own students.

After the stress of the first week dissipated, I found the classes to interesting and valuable. My homework is done, and the discomfort of learning has set in; resulting in a forest fire of synapses.

My obsession with pens is another issue.


End of the Year Check Lists

Last week, (as I was frantically setting up for our Drama Club performances) a faculty meeting was in progress. This was the day that the admin handed out the dreaded end-of-the-year check lists. Each year, the checklist seems less daunting, even though the un-checked boxes stare at me, without blinking, from my tiny cork board.  I like check lists.  There is nothing more satisfying than crossing out  a task, and moving on. Since this is a year of huge change for me, I began formulating a more reflective checklist for the end of another school year:

  • Say what you think about the system, without being aggressive or insulting
  • Laugh at yourself, because stuff is funny
  • Don’t be defensive, not everything is your fault
  • If it is your fault, apologize-no one wants to hear excuses-we are fallible
  • Use classic literature for reading instruction-everything can be adapted to appropriate age ranges
  • Did the kids learn from you today? How do you know?
  • Reach each child, every day (pie-in-the-sky idealism-check)
  • Get pedicures before wearing sandals-the kids stare at our feet
  • Talk about why skills are important
  • Watch all UNITED STREAMING videos before showing them to the class
  • Know when a child is sad, upset, confused, or frustrated-and do something about it
  • Re-teach skills that are stupid, because you probably didn’t do a good job teaching them the first time
  • Don’t do the exact same activities as last year-you don’t have the same students that you did last year
  • Re-use the jeans passes-get good tape
  • Say please and thank you to all staff-especially the custodial and cafeteria staff
  • Don’t lose yourself in the job
  • Don’t lose yourself in the job
  • Don’t lose yourself in the job

Most of these items remain unchecked, or maybe they get half of a check, on certain days. Except for the United Streaming one, I learned my lesson  two years ago. Thomas Edison invented the first motor powered camera. The camera was used to film…well, ladies dancing-with big feathers.

At the end of the year, I can’t help but wonder if I missed something. Is it really over? Did we really spend eight months together? Did I freak out about some who weren’t where they were suppose to be, and fret over enriching those who were beyond the grade level? Did we learn all that the state says we needed to? Did the kids get the idea about random acts of kindness? Did I show them that I truly love them all? Is this really my last year teaching 5th grade?

All of this reflection is prompted by change.  Change is difficult, especially when circumstances and events end, and the unknown is looming.
Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862), Walden (1970)
Nothing endures but change.
Heraclitus (540 BC – 480 BC), from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers

This year, I have said good-bye to one dear friend, who is now in Omaha. She is my touchstone to my first years of teaching. I think about her every time something oddly funny occurs, and wish I had just another moment to teach with her.  I’m preparing to say good-bye to another friend, who is moving to New York. He began some powerful theater projects that made people “think” outside of their comfort zones.  Could there be a friend check list?

  • Don’t forget to show your friends how much you appreciate them
  • Do this before they move away
School starts for me next week. Here is my checklist so far:
  • Sit far away from people, and pray that there are no group projects
  • Buy too many pens and highlighters at Staples
  • Do not read the entire syllabus within the first five minutes of class
  • Do not audibly sigh when that ONE person has an anecdote for everything
  • Create a motivational playlist for the commute
We have eight days of school left. August will be here before we know it, and the worries of the new school year will commence. There will be a checklist for the beginning of the year. I’m sure I’ll philosophize it until it is beyond recognition.  Until then, my goal is to attempt to welcome some of this change.
Take one step forward, and breathe. Check.