My Suburban Village

Thursday was one of those days that lasted eighty-seven hours. I had a Common Core meeting before school, a gifted meeting after school, and then I trudged my way to graduate school. I can’t remember Tuesday. I don’t know what I ate for breakfast, or if I even ate breakfast. My contacts began to blur, because they had been in for more than twelve hours. I thought of the Fred Flintstone episode where he used toothpicks to keep his eyes open.

This is my LAST SEMESTER in graduate school. Thursday, was my first night of my research capstone class. The professor asked us to introduce ourselves. This is the first-day-of-school custom that makes me twitchy.

My professor said, “I admire each one of you for coming here to school, after working at a job that drains the energy out of you. But, if the job didn’t enchant you, you wouldn’t do it. Right? So, why are you here?”

I perked up a bit. He was saying profound things. Did he use the word enchanted to describe teaching? I had never heard that word used in that context. Enchanted was one of my vocabulary words for my gifted first graders when we did our mythology/fairy tale unit last year. It denotes a magic element.

I wondered why I was there. I was so exhausted, I think I dozed off sitting upright. My fancy pens didn’t even lift my mood.

My professor told us that he drives from St. Simons Island to teach our class. He visits his mom and brother, then goes back home for the week. He told us he knows what struggles we face as educators, and he is honored to teach us. Although I was emotionally drained, my eyes teared up, because someone validated the ten bedraggled souls sitting in that classroom.

I wondered what this degree will do for me? Will it really make me a better teacher? Am I just a tiny spec attempting to push a boulder?

I had that moment where I thought that nothing I could do would change anything in the world of education. It has been a while since I felt that my efforts were futile. I keep planning , learning, and trying, but some days my brain is filled to capacity.

I thought about my day. I thought about the writing workshop in the two first grade classes that left me and the other teachers in a sweat, but we were all so enchanted afterward. The kids wrote words! They stretched the sounds of words they didn’t know how to spell! Yah, that was kind of magical. In another class, students were vying to get into the guided reading group. Okay, that plastered a smile on my face for a while. Maybe a sprinkle of magic worked its way in.

After my research class, the torrential rain prevented everyone from leaving. I sat on the bench near the doors of the education building. Disgruntled students filtered in from every direction of dismissal. They contemplated how they were to get to their cars. They stared at the rain as if they could make it stop with their magic powers. A few exhausted ones just walked out of the door, letting the rain soak them to the core. I watched them. They didn’t run. They walked through the torrents, and conceded to the weather . Apparently, getting home was more important than driving and shivering in wet clothes.

My odd professor emerged from our classroom. He put a trash bag over his head, poked eye and mouth holes in it, and proceeded to leave.

Before he left, he turned to us and said,  “You will learn something from this old guy.”

Those few words stayed with me. Did he mean that I’ll routinely keep trash bags in my purse, or that I’ll figure something out in this stage of my teaching career? It didn’t matter. I believed him.

One of my classmates sat across from me, and gave me a huge smile.

She said, “I’ve been in class with you for a year now. Every time I hear you talk about teaching, I always think how much you could do for our school.”

“Really?”

I couldn’t believe that anything I rambled about in school would have any impact on anyone. I’m not having a pity party, really, I’m not. It is just that some days, we are all pushing against the current. This week, the current took me with it.

Isn’t it true that circumstances put us in places to re-evaluate our skewed perspectives? The rain Thursday night made it so that we had to acknowledge one another. We had to slow down. We had to stop the incessant treadmill of the day. We weren’t teachers. We weren’t students. We weren’t parents. We were exactly the same in that moment. We were waiting for the rain to let up, to get closer to home, to our cozy beds-to sleep.

When the rain did dissipate, during the drive home, I realized that I wouldn’t be in school if it weren’t for my village. Four of my friends helped me work through a complicated schedule to make sure that my ten-year old was taken care of. I was so grateful for my suburban village, that no more appreciation could be compacted into that tiny moment. Thank you Katey, Jennifer, Kate, and Jay.

Friday rustled me awake with its steely gaze and 5:30 alarm screech.

Car duty. Get up. You get to wear jeans. Get up. Coffee. Car duty.

When I got to school, I saw a mass of tired teachers. They smiled. They hugged small people. They read books to their classes. They planned for the next week.

There is nothing more inspiring than to see the school village at work, after your personal village has saved you.

Here is to a little awareness to awaken a tired spirit.

K

Invasion of the Recycling Bins

My environmental science class is slowly altering me, like the pods-I’m slowly being taken over, and there will be another, just like me-reducing, reusing, and recycling. I’ve been aware, and haphazardly tossing my La Croix, snob water, cans into the recycling bins. But, after a few weeks of environmental science, the guilt began to eat at me. Isn’t it always true that our intentions are to save the planet…..later?  I did some research, because that is how I roll before I take on another obsessive habit. Only about 30% of people in the south-east recycle from their homes. More people recycle in the north than they do in the south.

I sit in class with eleven environmentally savvy people. Yes, they are a bit weird, and the idea of watering your lawn with the water from your shower caused an electric stir throughout the room. (My professor suggested that we put a bucket under us as we shower.) Apparently, going green isn’t always convenient, comfortable, or attractive.

He asked us this-“How many of you get rid of your clothes because they are worn out?”

Silence.

Student: “Do you mean if there is a stain on it?”

Professor: “Can you still wear clothing if there is a stain on it”

Student: “Yes, but why would we?”

Professor: “Because it serves the purpose of clothing you.”

I glanced at my new DSW, sparkly wedges. The thrill of the sparkle was cloaked in blackness.

Professor: “What would happen if (those of you who love shoes) were to give up all of your shoes except for one pair that would get you through the season?”

I broke into a cold sweat. My left leg involuntarily shook. Visions of my color-coded closet being emptied made me dizzy. I believe I had the vapors for a moment.

It would have to be like a 12-step program. You can’t go all cold turkey on a shoe obsession for goodness sake!  This idea is not possible, at the moment.

Professor: “How many of you could change your habit of buying new clothes, and only wear clothes from consignment or hand-me-downs.?”

Student: “Sorry, I have to draw the line there. I don’t know what those people did in those clothes.”

Our professor poses these questions to make us think. I began to wonder why I have so many things that I don’t need.

The turning point was our discussion about the book Ishmael. Well, maybe it was this quote that made me perk up one Saturday morning,

“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Daniel Quinn-Ishmael.

Every summer, I seek out what will put that first-year-teacher mojo back into my spirit. This just may do it.

The teacher in this story is a gorilla. He is telepathic, and he is able to teach the ‘narrator’ how things came to be. The premise of the book is that there is more than one species on the planet. Sustainability is a collective effort. Get off your butt. Do something. Of course, as I was listening to the discussion, I was sipping from my Dunkin Donuts to-go cup.

Environmentalism is like a flu virus. You get exposed, then 3-5 days later, the effects begin to take over. I have this nightmare, that I’ll be that lady who dries her paper towels, breaks appointments with friends to rinse the plastics,  and keeps the same paper bag for her lunch for three years. I will be shunned, and people will tease me by throwing recyclables into the trash.

It is just that I’ve never met an environmentalist who wasn’t, well….a bit fanatical. I have witnessed, the go greeneries, filtering out the non-recyclables from the recyclables. They are in a frenzy, and we all know never to make eye contact. Because, inevitably, we are the ones who tossed the styrofoam cup into the bin, on our way to some very important place. Now, I appreciate their efforts. There are a few people who try to keep us all on track. No wonder they are manic and angry. They are doing their part, which is way more than many of us are doing.

I had to conduct a data-driven experiment for my final project in environmental science. I wanted to see what would motivate my daughters to recycle more. Yes, there were variables like one stealing from the other’s bins. They both took from my bins, and suckered people to save their recycling. My smaller one, collected beer cans from my neighbor. But, by the end of the month, during the last week-my recycling bins were filled to capacity, and my trash output had decreased. During this time, I became that frenzied recyclist who began following my children when they get up to toss something.

Me: “Where are you going to put that?”

Child caught in the scary mom vortex: “Um…in the…well…um the recycle bin-yes…it is going there.”

Me: “Right answer.” (Insert cackle).

Hopefully, my kids will think about their carbon footprints a little more. I know I will.

This week is the 4th of July. I won’t begin to discuss the firework/atmosphere controversy.

Happy Fourth!

K

Giant Peaches and Toilet Plunger Daggers

My opening thought is about PINTEREST. I didn’t want to be on Pinterest until the Pinterest people put me on a waiting list. Then I HAD to be accepted. So, I asked my friend to invite me. I soon realized that it was the same as cutting out pictures of magazines and taping them to my walls in the 80’s. I had the perfect house and John Taylor (from Duran Duran) was smiling from our sunroom. I had collages of my favorite clothes and shoes. I even wrote poetry to accompany my re-assembled life created from magazine pictures. Now, within a matter of seconds, my collage life can be validated with re-pins and likes.

In my Advanced Curriculum and Instruction class, we are studying research-based instructional practices. One of my favorite activities is  making analogies out of math terms. For example circumference is to perimeter as __________ is to__________.

Pinterest is to Drama Club as creating imagery is to imagining creativity. See? I’m still in my existential mode.

I haven’t blogged about drama club lately. Partially, because the year has escaped me. But mostly, because when I think of what needs to be done by May, I shudder in fear.

We are performing Sleeping Beauty, the musical, James and the Giant Peach, and a kids version of Macbeth. I am directing James and Macbeth. One thing we did better this year is to have each play rehearsal on a different day of the week. This way, we can use the pretend stage for blocking. It is hilarious what happens when small people step on stage. They suddenly become animated, their voices change, and the see an imaginary audience sitting in government-issued blue school chairs.

I have blogged before about why teachers continue to show up at work. Today, as I was watching my James and the Giant Peach cast rehearse, I felt incredibly thankful. First of all, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker make me laugh. I don’t mean giggle. They are hysterical and one hundred percent invested. We were in the gym today because the fake stage is prepared for a chorus concert. So, the cast and I were sitting on the floor, leaning against the walls. The girl next to me, put her head on my should for a moment while she read over her script. I looked at the rest of the cast, and they were reading along as the actors were performing. It was just one of those moments that brands itself somewhere in the spirit.

Many children rehearsed without scripts today. If you don’t know this play, it is verbose and lengthy. So, the thought of being of book by the fourth rehearsal is unheard of. But, a couple of the cast were memorized. Unbelievable. These kids are in fourth and fifth grade.

The earthworm will be wearing a crash helmet and clutching a first aid kit. The spider randomly tap-dances. Silk worm is a bit of a narcaleptic and wears a snuggie and a sleeping eye mask. The little old man who brings the magic is played by a remarkable boy. When he rehearsed today, we were silent and amazed. When he finished, the cast clapped.

Now, a giant peach needs to be constructed. The top of it. The outside of it. The inside of it. Maybe, I’ll have a flash of lucid brilliance in the middle of the night.

Macbeth. This cast is equally entertaining.  I told ten-year old Lady Macbeth to act as if she is ‘losing it’ when she hears owls and crickets. I soon realized that ten-year olds don’t have background knowledge of ‘crazy’. And it would be inappropriate for me to feign ‘crazy’,  since it might be too realistic.

The kids are convinced that when King Duncan is ‘taken out’ that we need to use ketchup for blood. I will be using red cloth for a stylized elementary school version of his demise. But, they are obsessed with the ketchup. We cannot have swords in the school-even ones for the play. So, Macbeth will kill Duncan with a toilet bowl plunger. Ghost Banquo is going to be a puppet. It just has to happen.

The witches don’t cackle, but I’m extracting maniacal moments, so I’m good.

This year has been very difficult, for many reasons. Being around children who are excited about everything, can only make a bad day (or year) vaporize.

Here’s to amazing children and playing virtual dress-up.

K

Existentalism in Education

Last week, I presented a chapter from our weekly homework dealing with the philosophy of education. I was flatlining just thinking about dealing with this subject AGAIN. I realized that this subject in every conceivable curriculum for teacher education, because we need to think about how we approach our instruction. We are all influenced by our personal philosophies, whether we acknowledge them or not. I was that kid who wanted to know why were learning what we were learning. I was never the one with  correct answers, a flailing hand in the air, and the gleaming look of love and approval from the teacher.

“Yes, Kim. What is it?”

“How will algebra help me in life? I mean, when do people use algebra?”

“You may get a job that requires you to do algebra.”

“But, I want to be a writer.” ( I was obsessed with the V.C. Andrews series. I was sure she never had to do algebra.)

This is where I would get the silent brush off that made me feel like an outcast, or maybe a burgeoning existentialist.

As  I was presenting, I realized that I was a bit more excited about educational philosophy than the rest of the class. I was having an existential epiphany, and everyone else just wanted me to wrap it up, so they could go home. Again, I was THAT student who wanted to drag everyone through a mental maze of enlightenment. The Scream is usually one of the standard artworks that depicts the idea of existentialism. Although, it was about mental illness, volcanic eruptions, and  mummies, the solitary person with ‘volcanic’ thoughts is alone. I’m going into all of this because we have those children, in our classes, who seem way off track.  But, I believe that they may be so far down the track we started, that we can’t recognize it. BECAUSE WHAT THEY  ARE ASKING WON”T BE ON THE TEST. Just putting that out there.

They have already passed us, and are on to the next big idea. I know this because when I stop and ask the Woody Allens in the class to explain their thinking, I am usually surprised with the depth of their connections.  Then I feel like a big dummy for wanting to do the curriculum race to reach the end of the unit.

There are many philosophies that have influenced how we approach instruction. I learned, very early in my teaching career, that teaching requires metacognition. We need to think about how we think in regard to instruction. You know, the mental dialogue that occurs when we are teaching:

“Did that make sense?”

“Wow, they look like they understand, but the glaze in their eyes says something different.”

“Is this curriculum even developmentally appropriate?”

“I am I all alone?”

Yah, I’ve spent a bit of time, alone, researching. Thus, my existential self is becoming annoyingly vocal. Basically, the existentialist student asks about how what they are learning affects the world around them. These students rarely ask these overreaching questions at appropriate times.

This year, I have had the great opportunity to teach kindergarten through 5th grade. The innate questioning nature wanes as the students get older. I’m not saying, stop everything and address every anecdote that pops into each child’s mind. Remember the Eddie Murphy bit about having a child tell al story? We don’t want to go there. But, sometimes, their existentialism may inspire us to take the content into related, but unique directions.

Sometimes, I ask my class, “Why are we learning this?” If you teach, try this. You will need to sift through the “because it’s on the test” responses.

I completed my presentation with the fact that no educational philosophy is directly rooted in existentialism. I made the joke that there would only be one person teaching to one student who would be wondering why there are so many people in the room. I laughed. But, again I was alone.

If you are in a mood to question your life, here is a link to some though provoking films.

Existential Movies

I have an existential map. It has ‘You are here’ written all over it.
Steven Wright

Happy Thinking..

K

K

All in the Theater

For my tenth birthday, my dad took me to see Annie. I remember loving the play, somewhat for the catchy songs, but mostly because my dad took me. So, when my friend asked me to go to see Annie, I immediately said, yes. We took our girls, made it down town, and waited for the play to begin.

Theater etiquette is important.

Theater Etiquette

I didn’t think about this so vehemently, until tonight. The lights were down, and the play was about to begin. The people in front of us were standing and having a complicated conversation about where to sit. The logistics of the theater seats befuddled them. The teacher in me wanted to help them make a connection between the similarities between movie theater seating and theater seating. They needed context. I could have drawn a nice Venn diagram for a pictorial representation. I guess they were unable to match the numbers on their tickets with the numbers on the seats.

I figured they were a theater troupe planning to perform Annie in their small part of the universe. I won’t elaborate on how ill-advised it is to attempt replicate such a well-known play, because you like the song, The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow. Just sing it in your car or shower like the rest of the world, and save the twelve people in the audience (who are probably family of the actors) huge amounts of pain.

Sally Struthers plays Ms. Hannigan. For those who may not know who she is, she played in Gloria in All in the Family. She was also the spokesperson for “Feed the Children”. Google her if these references don’t ring bells. For whatever crazy reason, I like her. She is one of the 70’s sit com mavens still around. After the signature songs, and a few chuckles in the first act-the audience checked out.

People don’t understand intermission. It doesn’t mean go to Burger King, eat, and leisurely make your way back to the theater. Because that is what I believe happened to roughly twenty percent of the audience. WHILE THE ACTORS WERE PERFORMING the following events took place:

  • 5 people shuffled in front of us (backsides facing us).
  • Someone near us took flash photos. My nine-year old overheard the conversation about the flash not being on, so the person turned on the flash.
  • Cell phones illuminated the theater. People were texting. They spent $70+ to go to the theater, and they text.
  • Another cadre of late-comers bungled their way through the row in front of us. They fell on each other, into the seats, and laughed.
  • The woman behind me (who wasn’t there for the first act) was reprimanding whomever was behind her. She was saying how RUDE he was being. She was acting as if she were at home, in her barcalounger.
You would think people would show some respect. If not for the people around them, or performing arts- at least for Sally Struthers! Or maybe, the thought of the hundreds of hours it took to put the production together would have been enough to refrain from bad audience behavior.

I spend a lot of time in our community theater. When I work box office, I don’t even let audience members bring water into the theater. My friend told me that was militant. I want people to respect our theater. In my mind, banning water is a start. Our smaller audiences are infinitely more respectful than the hoards of people in the Annie audience.  I know, our audiences are comprised of actors, playwrights, board members, or family of the actors. But audiences have to start somewhere? Right?

We work with elementary-aged children. One of the first things we teach in camps is how to be a good audience member. When my friend and I teach our drama club at school, we don’t tolerate students talking while others perform. It isn’t a matter of being trained to be respectful during a performance (or any other like circumstance). It is the simple idea of respect. As a result, our drama club students are supporting one another by listening, and not talking during rehearsals.

I felt, for a passing moment, that my efforts to promote performing arts were futile. If adults can’t sit through Annie, then how am I to get them to come to a play written by a local playwright? I know, Annie isn’t everyone’s favorite play. But it is nostalgic, and that means something. And if you pay to go, it signifies you want to see the play.

Sitting through a play can be difficult. There is no touch screen to fast-forward to the next act. There is no playlist that lets you pick the songs you want to hear. There is no device to record the play for a later time. There is no app for any of that.

I think my friend was waiting for me to go all teacher on everyone. I wanted to, but then I would be adding to the demise of the theater. Plus, when Annie came out in the red wig and dress; I was transported to my tenth birthday. So, not much really mattered at that point. One note-they could update the wig.

K

Forty Three and A White Christmas Tree

Sometimes, this blog veers from the education theme. This shows that I have a life and that I am not fully velcroed to my job. It has been a year since I began this endeavor. This year has been challenging, to say the least. I am dealing with many changes, some of which I have met with success, others became horrible failures. I will say that throughout this turbulent year, I am reminded of my blessings.

I have two beautiful daughters. They keep me on top of things because they are smart, and they question the world. We want our children to be independent, and detached from the storm clouds. I am honored to know them.

I have friends whom I consider family. They listen, console, make me laugh, travel with me, make me holiday meals, and trust me.

I love my job. Working with children humbles me. I say this often. But, I truly mean it. There is no room for pride or ego in front of children. Teaching is about relationships. It is also about the curriculum (and testing) and that will never go away. I spoke to many parents of former students today as I shuffled in and out of holiday parties. I had a few tell me that their children were doing well, but they miss me. Of course, I immediately discarded that notion. But, I thought that the reason they miss me, or the school, or 5th grade in general is because of the safety and trust they felt. It isn’t about the single teacher; it is about the way they felt when they made a mistake, or when they did something really cool. My epiphany today brought me to the big idea of education. Kids don’t leave elementary school with algorithms and impressive lists of literary devices. They leave with either a love of learning or a fear of it.  But that idea can be transferred to any other life experience and at any age.

Last Friday, I was teaching my first grade gifted class about complete circuits. The activity was supposed to be about light and spectrums, but like most Friday science explorations-it went to a very different place.  I was happy to see a tiny motor in the kit I purchased from Hobby Lobby. I attached the battery, the conductors, and a cardboard circle colored with the spectrum of the rainbow. I connected everything, and the motor spun the circle so that the colors blurred to white. There were fifteen children hovering over this tiny motor (and yes, they were in my bubble) squealing WHOAS and AHHS, because the motor worked. So, they requested that we make toy cars. I don’t know how to do this, but I said, “Yes, of course we can make toy cars!” I’ll figure it out. But, they inspired me to learn something new. I couldn’t get that in a cubicle.

The theater has given me a place to find refuge from this year’s remnants. I’m writing again. I performed for the first time in YEARS. Of course, I doubted every ability I ever had the days of the plays. I’ve never felt so sick or nervous. But in a twisted way, I enjoyed every minute.  Drama club is up and running, and we are performing: James and the Giant Peach, Sleeping Beauty (musical), and Macbeth Junior. We are in over our drama-club heads again. How will I create a giant peach? I will save that experience for its own blog post.

I’ll be forty-three in a day. I still round down to forty, so I’m good-for now. But, I see this as the page-turning year. We’ll see.

Last year, I talked about the white Christmas tree with which I was obsessed. It is up and glowing again. For some reason, it looks different.

Maybe, if our lives change, so should the artifacts in our lives? I usually dislike the word ‘artifact’ because it is overused in education discourse. We have to post artifacts to the incredibly horrible on-line portfolio system that rhymes with JIVE TEXT. Shouldn’t an artifact be old?  Or should it be an object that reflects a time and a purpose? Yoda will be here any moment to explain my artifacts to me. They are piled up everywhere. Do they disappear with the dropping of the Peach? We should be so lucky.

Happy Holidays.

K

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?”

“11/7”

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.

K