Wednesday Thoughts: On Teacher Guilt

December 1, 2021

I can’t help myself. I feel terrible, conflicted. Guilty. Perhaps not for the reasons you might think, though.

Oh, there are ALL the reasons why teachers like me feel pushed and pulled across the emotional spectrum. Just look at the world around us. We’re crouched right at the center of societal conflict: COVID. Race. Gender. Safety. Freedom. Obligation. Add to that the twin pressures of bringing healing to our students and moving ahead in a business-as-usual fashion. Test scores, as you may know, never sleep.

Find me a teacher who is doing the job they signed up for.

Heck. Find me ANYONE who is doing the job they signed up for.

I’ll wait.

I look at my colleagues, both in my district and beyond. So much struggle and difficulty.

Which is where the guilt comes in.

Right now, I love my students.
I love my job.
I’m excited to teach.
My kids bring me energy in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.
We’re doing some cool stuff.
Sometimes, I just look at them working and interacting.
And I beam.
My heart swells, crackles. Cracks open.
These kids bring me wonder, astonishment.
Joy.

I’m eager for the day when we’re all breathing in this air once more, when all of us sigh at the end of the day – not with exhaustion and disappointment, but satisfaction, contentment. Joy.

We. All. Deserve. More. JOY.

Until then, I will use these days, these bright moments to fuel me for the times when discouragement and stress threaten to overtake me. I will hope beyond hope that my colleagues will collect moments of light, like sticky notes, to take and fashion into something beautiful, hopeful.

Joyous.

Post-script: realizing that both of my posts this week have been tied to the theme of light. Sometimes metaphor pulls our strings without us even noticing. Touche, Chanukah. Touche.

Slice of Life Tuesday: On Sunsets

November 30, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Yesterday was a bingbangboom kind of a day. One of those days where I rely on to-do lists and razor-sharp logistics. Drop the dog off, take care of Chanukah packages, make it to my meeting, squeeze my plans in, teach, meet, shovel down food, teach, meet, run the errands, skip the workout, go to get the dog and…

Empty parking lot be darned. Just look at those COLORS!

WOW. The sky. The sky, as I was driving. I kept hoping I would make it to my destination in time to snap a picture or two or three or four. The above and below pics. They’re testaments to the power of dusk. Really, the right dose of sunlight is like a dandelion. It has the power to bloom and brighten and beautify whatever surroundings you might discover it in.

That LIGHT. The reflection. The beauty amidst concrete and steel. Perhaps there’s a metaphor for resilience to be had somewhere here.

Skies like this…I can’t NOT look at them.

More sky pictures from today. I also have to confess that my camera roll is chockablock with sky pictures. Pretty please tell me I’m not alone in this.

And clearly, there is something to be said for a late November sky, because this was a Facebook post of mine from ten years ago yesterday.

Talk about serendipity.

I’ll close out with one of my very favorite book excerpts of all time:

“The sky was a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, and its double trembled on the    surface of the pond like color spilled from a paintbox. The sun was dropping fast now, a  soft red sliding egg yolk, and already to the east there was a darkening to purple. “

-Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Slice of Life Tuesday: On Do-Overs

November 16, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


My fourth-grade class today started out with a confession and an apology.

Let me explain.

Last week, I had an AMAZING lesson plan all ready for my kids. We had been examining art, pinpointing interesting details, and articulating the emotions art brought us. The next step was to introduce a simplified guide to art concepts. The vision was clear and simple: bring things together in a way that kids see for themselves that:
1) art makes us feel things
2) that’s not by accident
3) artists make craft moves on purpose
4) knowing those craft moves helps us talk about art
5) and create it
6) and we can transfer that idea to our WRITING

These are big ideas, and they are thought-provoking and exciting.

Unless I ruin things.

Which I did.

Because all of the above things do NOT fit into a single lesson. And somehow, I had it in my brain that my lesson was so well-designed and efficient that I could.

Nope.

Those poor kids. They were bored to tears and I felt so sorry for them, having to sit through that grind. They really did try so very hard, but it was just way too much to try and put together in one go. Really, they were such good sports.

I went home that day feeling small, swearing that I’d redesign the lesson in a way that brought both the fun and enthusiasm back.

So today, I started class with a confession. I fully admitted that last week’s lesson didn’t go the way I saw it, that I felt terrible for them, having to sit through such an experience, and that I was hoping to try again if they were up for the challenge.

You know, I think my kids appreciated the apology. I think they appreciated my acknowledgement of their experience, and the fact that I wanted to do better by them. So they gave it another go.

We examined Morgan Russell’s “Synchromy,” art concept guides in hand.

Courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

I decided to just let the kids talk to each other about what they were seeing. And they dug it!

At one point in the lesson, the kids accidentally zoomed in too closely on the painting. True to Bob Ross’s “happy accident” wisdom, we discovered how much skill went into these seemingly simple shapes:

Are you catching those brush strokes? What order do you think Russell painted these shapes in?

Friends, they did BEAUTIFULLY. Would you believe this one piece held their attention for over a half an hour? They couldn’t believe it, and neither could I. It was just what my teacher soul needed.

And in the coming weeks, there will be more to learn and more big concepts to connect. We’ll just…try to enjoy the journey just a little bit more thoughtfully…

Slice of Life Tuesday: Learning to Unlearn

November 9, 2021

his post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Today was another good day.

I had lots of favorite parts, but my favorite favorite might be from first grade.

We had an inquiry lesson about fiction and nonfiction. My challenge to them: sort a group of picture books into categories fiction and nonfiction. My job was to stay out of their way while they worked. And then, they’d call me over to investigate the piles. I didn’t tell them which of their books were correct or incorrect, I just told them the number of incorrect books in the pile and let them try again.

Calder’s Circus: now THAT’s a tricky one!

I. LOVED. This activity. How cool it was to watch the conversation, taking notes of the knowledge and misconceptions as the evidence surfaced.

I also loved introducing the kids to a new concept: UNLEARNING. Yes, unlearning. Friends, I will tell you that it blew my six-year-old students’ MINDS to know that there are times where we have to take a fact or an idea and UNLEARN it. “Wait, Mrs. Levin. I thought we came to school to LEARN things, not UNLEARN them!” Yes, buddy. You’re right. But sometimes what we learn is not correct, and we need to replace it. That’s where the magic happens!

Among the ideas we had to unlearn:

Drawings go in fiction, photos go in nonfiction
Fiction reads like a story and nonfiction doesn’t
Nonfiction could happen, fiction couldn’t

At the heart of our discoveries today?

Sometimes the difference between fiction and nonfiction is messy. And the only way we can REALLY tell is to look at the text itself: titles, pages, back matter, dust jackets. 

We’re on to something, people. I’m excited to see where they go. And what’s even better? I get to do this same activity with my first-grade loveys at another school on Friday. 

Shhhh. Don’t give it away!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Gamifying Reading

November 2, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


It’s been two weeks since I first got my students. Yes, it’s a late start. I’m a gifted-talented enrichment teacher, so I have to wait on instruction until after our identification process.

Yes, there’s probably another soapbox waiting to happen about identification. But even with the struggles and challenges, I can tell you two things without a doubt:
1. Gifted kids NEED one another.
2. The fact that my job even exists is a miracle in and of itself.

One thing I’m excited about is a reading activity that I introduced a long while ago, but put away because…well, I don’t really know. As a teacher, I think we all have great activities that we shove under the proverbial bed and forget about sometimes, then take out and dust off, only to wonder why we ever put it away to begin with.

Let’s start at the beginning. Some time ago, I noticed that kids, especially when reading in a group, almost NEVER stop reading to ask about an unfamiliar word or pose a question they don’t understand, let alone marvel at fabulous language. Yet that’s exactly what I NEED them to do when they’re together.

I know I’m not alone in this.

So, I developed a reading activity that I’ve used with kids to “gamify” the group reading experience. I call it the “Speed Bump Game.”

Basically, when we’re driving, we know that speed bumps are there to slow us down. If we don’t, we’ll do damage, both to our car and perhaps ourselves! Well, if we don’t slow down for a challenge in our reading, we do damage – to our learning.

Right??

The Speed Bump Game treats us readers like we’re all just passengers in a car. The person reading aloud is our “driver.” Anyone can stop and say “Speed Bump!” any time they have a question that needs answering. The group then talks through or researches the question. If they can answer it, they’ve safely navigated the speed bump. If not, they report it as a “road hazard,” and I’ll help them out later on.

I’ve also started asking the groups to reread sentences or paragraphs after a stoppage so they can hear the word and understand it in context.

Here was a class example from today.

We didn’t have any “road hazards” here, but that’s because I was part of the discussion. These are, however, all their own answers after discussion. It’s all about the gradual release, friends…

I’m hoping this game accomplishes a lot of things:
1. Convinces kids what a relief and joy it is to admit when they don’t know something
2. Gives kids the confidence to work through difficult text together
3. Builds to text-based conversations about wonderings, reactions, thoughts
4. Transfers to independent reading
5. Transfers to instruction in the regular classroom

A girl can dream!

Interested in giving this a try in your classroom? I’d love to hear how it goes. You can make a copy and personalize the rules by clicking this link.

Slice of Life Tuesday: All of the Things

October 26, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Today is a day
where I consider
all of the things I might blog about,
the many marbles rolling, clicking, bumping
around the ring of my brain:

1.
The to-do lists
and to-do lists
and to-do lists
that rack up in notebooks
and sticky notes
and phone reminders

2.
Children who discover,
quite accidentally,
that the right question opens us up
to big ideas, philosophy
our premise for life
THE premise for life

3.
The need to tell certain children
that there is such a thing
as a hypothetical question –
one that neither requires
nor desires
an answer

4.
The kids who complain
through smiles
that interaction with big ideas
breaks their brains
as I smile and offer up
another idea
to deepen the fracture

5.
The assurance that
getting stuck in our writing
is just more proof that we’re
real writers,
and the people who insist that
we should always have fluent ideas
might do well to
put a sock in it

6.
The power of persimmons
to reinstill gratitude
for simple delights and kindnesses,
for a calling that
twines my life with others

Perhaps each of these ideas
will find its own way,
asserting itself as a longer entry:
a poem, perhaps, a journal
or photo essay

Until then,
I’ll listen to the rolls,
the clicks,
the clacks
and wait
for my brain
to just
settle

down.

Slice of Life Tuesday: An Ode to the Sticky Note

October 19, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. I’m so grateful for the community and support I find in this group. Check them out!


Oh, sticky notes.

You’re quite possibly one of my very favorite school supplies, and I’ve always reveled in the many ways you support instruction and keep me organized. Granted, I have a tendency to sometimes write student names on a sticky assuming I’ll remember why, and then promptly forget what the list is for, but let’s not think about that now.

Instead, I’d like to thank you for all the things you’ve helped me do this week, all of the bright moments you’ve brought me.

Let’s start with the exit slip board I’ve put up at the entrances to each of my classrooms. Every day, I’ll be offering a prompt for an exit slip. Kids will slap a sticky up on the board in reflection at the end of class. For what it’s worth, I’ve already learned to post the exit slip prompt by the start of class so my more deliberate thinkers have time to consider it.

And boy, is there gold in these here responses! I can see myself learning a LOT about my students and how they perceive the world. My guess is I’ll also be in better touch with what they’re learning and what parts of my message get through to them.

I’ve also given the option for students to write me a private note on the back of a sticky note, if they feel the desire. One student wrote, “I was thinking about for a long time how many friends will I make?” Hopefully many in here, buddy. Hopefully many.

Then there was the kid who is clearly getting a check in the mail:

That’s opposed to the kid who posted a sticky note with a question for me: “How many children or grandchildren do you have?”
Umm.
I don’t mind kids asking or knowing my age.
But this one maybe stung a little.
Maybe because it means I’m turning a corner, like how the day I brought a student teacher into my classroom was the same day I realized that no, I was NOT “just out of college” anymore…

Yes, I could do this all online. But there’s also something wonderful about holding these slips of paper in my hands, these pieces of themselves the kids have plunked up on my wall.

I’m also looking forward to the learning I get to do with these. Maybe I’ll find ways to organize them, to use them as assessment pieces somehow. Maybe I can use them as artifacts to show them their growth. Maybe I’ll be better connected to my kids because they’re simply going to be telling me more. Who knows?

I’m excited to see!

Do you have clever ways you’ve used sticky notes in your instruction? I’m all ears!

Slice of Life Tuesday: How Are You, REALLY?

October 5, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Find a teacher. Maybe in the hallway at school. Or waiting for the copier. Or in the checkout line at the grocery store. Or somewhere online.Ask that teacher right now how they’re doing. My guess is you’ll get any of the following:

“I’m here.”
“I’m pluggin’.”
“Yyyyeahhh….”
“Another day closer to Friday.”
“I’m vertical, so that’s a thing.”

I know, because I’ve probably said all of those things. Truth is, it’s only a month into school and many of us are tired.

Bone tired. Worn out. Worn down. Plain old used UP.

So I thought for my post today I’d have some fun with different and creative ways that we can say how we’re really doing.

Teacher friends, the next time someone asks how you’re feeling, go ahead and give one of these a spin!

I’m feeling like…

-What the cat dragged in…dragged in
-A hot water heater held together with scraps of duct tape
-The toothbrush whose colored bristles faded two weeks ago
-The nerdles of cheese stuck to the plate from the microwave
-A pencil nub
-A dry-erase marker that’s been left open
-The crumbs at the bottom of the Chips Ahoy bag
-An iPhone running Waze with 2% battery
-The pebble that’s neither coming out of your shoe NOR your sock
-A pair of scratched-up Wayfarers with one lens popped out
-The business end of a cat toy
-A wad of Hubba Bubba fossilized on the underside of a table at Denny’s
-A scoop of rocky road dropped on a hot sidewalk
-A Cheerio dug out of a car seat
-A fork that got stuck in the disposal
-A twice-steeped English Breakfast tea bag
-That shopping cart with three sticky wheels and a handi-wipe stuck in the grate
-A newspaper (remember those?) left out in the rain and backed over three times
-Expired mayonnaise
-One of those peanut-butter taffies stuck to the bottom of the Halloween trick-or-treat pumpkin
-Those last four shreds of toilet paper stuck to the end of the roll
-A pack of M&M’s with the green ones picked out

DISCLAIMER: Yes, I am super tired and exhausted. So are my colleagues. But I’m also energized and enthused by my students, who bring me joy and wonder without bounds. Just like my colleagues.

But making this list was fun. A LOT of fun. So, like whatever tasty beverage you prefer, please take this list with a grain of salt. =))

And you? What would you add to this list? Have a little fun. Entertain us!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Story’s Sneak Attack

September 14, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you know that Story has been a recurring character in my not-so fiction. If you want the rest of the story, you’re welcome to dig in to our past “conversations:”

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


It was a long day. A bone-tired day. The kind of day where she comes home from school and wants to get right into pajamas. But she doesn’t, because there are dishes and laundry and housework and cooking and homework. It was the kind of day where going to bed feels terrible because she knows she’s going to just have to get up and repeat the whole process the next day.

THAT kind of day.

She kicked away her sandals at the front door, narrowly missing the dogs. She gave each one a head pat and a butt scratch before shooing them into the yard for a long-awaited doing of business. School bags got dropped, one after the other, on the floor or the kitchen table or the counter – it didn’t matter, so long as she didn’t have to shoulder them any more.

What to tackle first, she thought. Empty the dishwasher? Walk the dog? Call her mom? Answer emails? Vacuum up the dog hair dust bunnies from the family room rug? Sometimes, she thought, the best solution to too much is nothing.

A few moments, she thought. Just a few moments to sit outside on the deck, to absorb some sunshine, to listen to the cicadas, to let myself just…sit…still. She made her way to the deck, found the chair in her favorite, sunniest spot, pulled another one up for her feet, and sank down to spend some quality time with the inside of her eyelids.

“It’s been a minute.”

She didn’t need to open her eyes to know who had just pulled up beside her.

Story.

Maybe if she just sat there without responding, Story would go away, kind of like when the dog wakes her up at three a.m. Five seconds went by. Ten. Fifteen.

Story cleared her throat. “You know I’m still here, right?”

“About that. You’re HERE. Usually you wait until I’m at a Starbucks to catch me off guard. Somewhere in public, where I know you’ll behave yourself. Can’t you give me just a little bit of peace in my own back yard?”

“Now that’s a good one,” Story chuckled. “When have you ever known me to give you a bit of peace?”

“I don’t know,” she responded. “You haven’t visited me for a while. I thought maybe you had moved on.”

“Moved on? HA! Oh, my friend, you may not have seen me in a while, but I am always, always here. Whether or not you acknowledge me, I’m wherever you go.”

“I’m not sure if I should be comforted or creeped out.”

Story shrugged. “It’s your imagination. You decide.”

“That makes the question even harder.”

“Well,” Story said, “all I know is you’ve been scarce. I miss you. Listen, not to guilt trip you or anything –“

“Too late.”

“–but it’s not just me. I’ve been talking to Poetry, to Memoir, to Essay, the whole gang. Nobody’s seen you around. What gives?”

She felt her shoulders go heavy, her stomach clinch. Why had she been staying away? Was it lack of discipline? Dried-up creative juices? Plain old apathy? Perhaps, she figured, it was a mixture of the three. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess…I haven’t felt like writing lately.”

“Haven’t felt like it? Haven’t FELT like it? C’mon. How many writers sit down and write every day because they FEEL like it? Honey, both you and I know you’ve let yourself go. It’s time to slide on back and hang out a little more often. No pressure, no guilt or shame.” Story thought a moment, reconsidered. “Well, maybe a LITTLE guilt or shame. You’ve hung me out to dry, you know.”

“Mmm, I like the no guilt or shame route. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been a rough go these last months.”

“All the more reason you should be writing. You’ve got things to say, my friend. It’s time to get saying them.”

She sighed.

Here we go again, she thought, as she opened her computer, squared her shoulders, and placed her fingers at the keyboard.

Slice of Tuesday: Welcome 5782

September 7, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Today was the Jewish New Year, a day to reflect and ground myself spiritually. It’s a day of traditions – some in the stricter cultural sense, others adopted as family rituals.

A new challah recipe and braiding technique. Yes, I usually make these breads round for the new year, but didn’t want to tinker too much on the first try…
Chicken and rice dish, perfect for our pre-services dinner
A moment captured on our annual apple-picking outing. We started when my oldest was an itty bitty, and it’s just been a fun thing to do ever since!
The place where I performed tashlich (literally “casting away”), a tradition of casting bread (and other figurative burdens) out upon the water.
Apples and honey. Folks were on to something when they thought up this pairing!