Archive for March, 2021

Slice of Life Challenge 2021 Day 31: Begin, End

March 31, 2021

Today marks the final day of the Slice of Life challenge. I’ve deeply enjoyed the challenge of writing every day this month. I’ve grown as a writer and as a human in ways I’ll still be thinking about for weeks to come.

I tried to capture how I’m feeling on the last day of this challenge. I know it’s the end, but I don’t want to treat it as an end. I’d like to see it as the universe’s nudge to get me to start writing more often. So I thought I’d put this reverso poem out there. It’s meant to be read aloud from top to bottom, and then again from bottom to top.

I’ll also say this. This poem is a living reminder that I don’t always have to love my work. I will confess that I don’t 100% love this poem, and I’m not fully satisfied. But if I’ve learned anything about writing or myself in this past month, it’s that sometimes that happens. Sometimes I just don’t have adequate words to articulate my thoughts.

It’s still important to write them anyway.

A beginning
Ripe for
Energy, optimism
New and delightful things
To see
Wait around the corner
I can always hope
Gathering close
To hold
Head-full, heart-full learnings
Reflection, wisdom
Brings me to
An end

Slice of Life 2021, Day 30: Here I Am

March 30, 2021

Today marks Day 30 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

For T. You inspire me.

In the middle of a highly scheduled day

In the middle of a hard-fought moment of plan time

In the middle of a to-do list that has grown up to my eyeballs

In the middle of my anxiety about how I’m going to get it all done

In the middle of a technology outage

In the middle of wondering how on earth I will move forward NOW –

There is a note,

An email from a student,

A deeply felt, heart-heavy piece.

It stops me.

It takes me by the shoulders and says look,
At this
Look at what I have given this world
Listen to me
For I give voice to
Those things
Which clamor for surface,
For air
For breath
Despite our efforts to push down,
Turn away,

It says
I will not be ignored
Or turned away
Or pushed down
I am your inner voice

And will I speak of light
And dark
And love
And conflict
And rising to the surface
And plunging down again

So speak to me
I am always there
Whether you hear me
Or not

Call me from the shadows
Beckon me from darkness
I will learn to spread light.

Slice of Life 2021 Day 29: WHOOSH

March 29, 2021

Today marks Day 29 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

Today. *

Today I blogged.

And before that I cobbled together my bananapants schedule for tomorrow: lesson to lesson, meeting to meeting.

And before that I thought through my lesson I’ll be sharing with kids on mentally preparing for standardized testing. While we’re on the subject, I’m not a fan at ALL of teaching kids to a test. If kids have skills, they have skills. But. Anything we can do to give our loveys a sense of control over their testing environment? Anything that will allow the kids to see how they can keep their wits about them in an anxiety-rich situation? I’m all in favor of THAT. This lesson is a follow-up to one I taught earlier about strategies for keeping cool in stressful times.

One more tool we have for keeping our wits about us!

And before that I checked in with a former student of mine, who’s brimming with rich fantasy worlds she wants to create through graphic novels.

And before that I got to work car line again for the first time in almost a month. I missed those faces!

And before that I shared Leo Lionn’s Frederick with my third graders. I opened up the Zoom chat to everyone in the group. Sometimes that goes haywire. Today it didn’t. They shared such insightful comments and ideas, like – “Frederick was misunderstood.” Yes, yes he WAS misunderstood. And now let’s talk about what it means to be UNDERESTIMATED. (We’ll be going places with that one, friends.)

And before that I assembled as many materials and activities for the self-guided learning my groups will do over the coming weeks. I. Am. Far. From. Done.

And before that I choked down my lunch standing at my kitchen counter with my puppy at my heels because SOMEONE had to let her out mid-day, and that somebody turned out to be me.

I think she likes me…

And before that I cranked my way through morning classes, eager to see students after a week, and trying my best to play whack-a-mole with student attendance, through patchy internet, through sound problems, and all those wonderful things we got to avoid in our week off.

And before that I recorded my weekly pep talk for my kids. I’ve been taking the kids through brief (2-minute) lessons about what it means to be smart, about what that means for the way we see ourselves and others. Today’s pep talk was about explanatory style, and how that feeds into our feelings.

Because we deserve to understand the way we think and feel and move about this world.

And before that I executed my morning routine with the customary military logistics a school day requires: waking, showering, letting dogs out, feeding dogs, making chai, smooching the spouse goodbye, praying the 17-year-old is up, grabbing my stuff and heading out to school.

And before that I felt my alarm buzzing on my wrist mid-dream, wondering why I was being woken at 5:45 when, in fact, it was 6:30…

*Special thanks to Vivian Chen and Fran McVeigh, who first gave me the inspiration to use this form. Visit them. Theirs, I assure you, are some amazing pieces of writing. =))

Sunday Sit-Down #11: On My Way

March 28, 2021

Each Sunday, I’m working my way through my experiences with race. I’ll share stories and memories from throughout my life. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake. Come join me each week. It’s also day 28 of the Slice of Life challenge.

High school.

If you’ve ever worked with high school kids, you’d know that it’s a time of profound drama, often bordering on melodrama. The years are steeped in a quest for self and identity. To a high schooler, it feels isolating and alone – like no other could possibly understand what they are going through.

Adults in the lives of high schoolers know it’s something that EVERYONE goes through.

This is the quirk of high school. It’s also the charm, if you happen to like kids that age.

I was no different. My big quest for individuality had all the major pieces to it: tension with friends, a longing for any semblance of a dating life, pressure to succeed. I was discovering myself, mostly through writing, musical expression, and just plain being a floppy old goof.

And, like absolutely nobody and everybody, I saw college as a fresh start.

It was my time to consider and craft who I wanted to be in this world, and what I wanted to be for myself and for others.

That included my attitude and actions with regard to race. I was hot on the heels of discovering that injustice and inequality was still a problem despite my early learning to the contrary. My high school’s newspaper article on Black English seemed like such a small thing, but it sparked such intense controversy that I knew there had to be more. I just didn’t know what.

So, when I packed my bags for my time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I set my resolve to “unpack” my current belief system where it came to race and identity. I set out for school with the mission to better understand our world and the people in it.

I’m still not there. I think the “there” of understanding is a moving target, just like any ideal should be. But setting off to college with this intention held a key part in shaping who I am now.

I’ll dig in a little deeper next week. See you then.

Slice of Life 2021 Day 27: Pandemic Passover

March 27, 2021

Today marks Day 27 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

There’s something to be said, she thought,
as she leaned back in her chair,
looked around at the too-small gathering
and gulped that last bit of wine,

for the metaphor of Passover:
a release from plague,
a liberation,
a freedom from bondage
a rebirth,
a journey that lasts
far beyond anyone’s expectations:

the crossing through desert
anxious, impatient, antsy
the wandering, wondering
without end insight
the occasional mirage

Yes, she assured herself,
as she signed off her Zoom connection,
there has to be some parallel,
if only I could think of what it was…

Slice of Life 2021, Day 26: Out of Commission

March 26, 2021

Today would have been one of those great days to have a slice already typed and ready to go.

Because today, everything I’ve got – my attention, my creative juices, and basically any and all focus I have are going straight to my lower back, which is in the throes of some SUPER muscle spasms. And, as much as I hate the idea of writing about physical ailments for a whole host of reasons, it’s also the only thing my mind gives me the ability to express today.

I’ve tweaked my back before, and I’ve managed to stretch and nurse my way out of it. This time, it’s a humDINGER. Like, a suck-all-the-air-out-of-the-room kind of deal. And really, it’s been happening for a few weeks, but I’m generally too stubborn to admit that it’s an actual thing until I can’t get around it.

A trip to the physical therapist, the urgent care clinic and the chiropractor later, I’m loaded up on breathing and stretching exercises.

Oh. And a whole mess of steroids and muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories.

So, if you happen to notice that I’m not as lively in my participation or responses, that *may* be the reason why.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to start ruminating on tomorrow’s slice…

Slice of Life 2021 Day 25: Touring the Back of the Closet

March 25, 2021

Today marks Day 25 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

The other day, I dusted off one of the drafts I had sitting around in my draft box. It had been there long enough, the subject finally came up, and I finally figured out how I could finish writing it.

There are still plenty of others waiting in the wings.

For today’s slice, I thought I’d pull back the curtain and share what’s still in my draft queue – and why.

Sunday Sit-Down 10 (2021) I started this draft last week but got diverted. I felt compelled to respond to the shooting in Atlanta. And I don’t regret it one bit. You’ll see this post get published this coming Sunday as Sit-Down #11.

Untitled (2021) I was uploading some screenshots of podcast logos on my WordPress app, and it offered to let me post images as a story. Thought I’d give it a whirl to see what it looked like. I didn’t like it. This one’s going in the dustbin.

On Winning. (2020) I started this blog post earlier this fall, after I kept hearing people use the words “win” and “winning” all the time: win-win situations, we just can’t win…it got me thinking about the whole “winning” metaphor anyway. If we’re winning, does that require someone else to be losing? And what happens when we bake the concept of winning into our thinking? I know there’s a lot to this blog post, but I haven’t been able to pull it together.

On Letting things Marinate (2019) I wrote this blog post one day as I was musing about my inability to get to all of the kids for writing conferences, and how to handle the guilt that goes along with it. I started thinking about the idea that sometimes it might be good for us – and for students! – to read their writing but not respond right away to it. I’m still cookin’ this one.

Untitled (2012) Yeah, you read that right. Two. Thousand. TWELVE. This was an exploration of what I was learning as a novice player of ice hockey. I haven’t published this one because I’ve long since quit playing the sport. The gap between how I WANTED to play and how well I COULD play was just too great. I don’t think this exact post will ever see the light of day, but it’s fun to visit every so often, kind of like that junior high yearbook.

Something I’m Proud of (2012) I started this post back when I was mostly a math teacher and coach. I created a system for my students that charted their progress in learning targets over time. Every assignment, every task had those learning targets printed out for the students to self-assess so that they could track and observe their practice. I think I abandoned this one because it was just too complicated to explain in a blog post. But like the hockey post, it’s kinda fun to visit and remember I was there once.

Math is “Fun” (2011) I was just mad at a particular website: Their math was decidedly NOT fun. And this post was just a rant expressing how I felt. Who knows? Maybe if the website is still up I’ll let this one rip.

Untitled (2010) This was a deep dive into the role that memorization has in student learning. It was pretty interesting stuff, but…I don’t know. It tries too hard to explain too many things. Maybe I’ll come back to it? Maybe I won’t.

So…after digging in the back of my closet for these gems and not-so-gems, what have I noticed?
-I’ve been blogging for longer than I thought.
-I’ve seen an overwhelming amount of change and growth as a teacher.
-At the same time, my core ideas remain steadfast.

If any of you happen to dig through your drafts, my nosy little self would LOVE to know what’s in there!

Slice of Life 2021 Day 24: On Hitting the Wall

March 24, 2021

Today marks Day 24 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

This is only my second year participating in the Slice of Life challenge, but I’ve still noticed patterns. Perhaps that’s the systematic, mathematical part of my brain that always wants to go for a spin. However you break it down, though, I’ve noticed threads.

The biggest thing I observed is that just about everyone, at some point, struggles for something to write about. Those posts come in various forms: the “I-didn’t-know-what-to-slice-about-so-I-wrote-this-poem” poems, the “I-had-writers’-block-so-this-was-what-I-came-up-with” posts, the “I-didn’t-think-I-had-anything-to-say-until-this-happened” entries, and so on.

And within these entries lies the true genius of this challenge:

We DON’T have to have great ideas every day.
We DON’T always have be be refined and articulate.
We DON’T have to love everything we write.

But we DO need to write every day.
We DO need to be in the practice of putting work into the world.
We DO need to maintain that muscle memory of going from thought to written word.

For me, that (re-)discovery is critical. It’s the practice of writing, of allowing enough mental quiet to listen for words to come, even when I think I have nothing to say. It forces my growth as a writer.

This challenge, this struggle, is what so many of my kids come up against every time they face a blank page, a blank screen. And the fact that we writers go through this difficulty ourselves, it makes us all the more earnest in our own teaching of writing.

We’ve been there. We know what it’s like. We’ve felt the anxiety, the dread, the disappointment.

Our kids need to know that.

We’ve also come through the other side.

Our kids need to know that.

Slice of Life 2021 Day 23: Chores

March 23, 2021

Today marks Day 23 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

I actually started this blog post a couple of years ago. My flurry of housecleaning over the last day or two has inspired me to pick it back up again and put it out into the world.

There’s a lot to keeping my house in order.

My school house, that is. To me, my job is much like running a home. There’s planning, scheduling, coordination of supplies, keeping people happy, you name it. At home, I don’t take care of things for only myself. The same is true for school. There are the kids to advocate for and teach. There are colleagues who need support, guidance, and resources. There are administrators who like to have meetings. And more meetings.

And more meetings.

Of course, that whole big picture can be broken down into a series of small and not-so-small tasks.


The backbone of domestic life. The bane of domestic existence.

At home, there are chores I actually like doing. They’re the ones I do as my preferred form of procrastination. Sweeping, for instance. There’s something about the feel and sound of the broom, about getting into the corners and cracks and seeing all of that dust and junk come out of hiding.

At school, I’d most closely relate that to my #1 favorite school task, hands-down: ORGANIZING.There is something inexpressibly wonderful about a clear desk, about a room where paper and clutter have no place. Morning Me loves it when Afternoon Me has taken five minutes to make things pretty for the next day. I know there are those of you out there who get it.

Then again, there are certain chores I avoid like the plague. Like the dishes. I’ll clean off the counters, organize the junk mail, rearrange the fridge, all to put off standing over the sink with a sponge. And the fact that I’m going to have to do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day – just makes it even less inviting.

At least if I’m home, I can delegate the chores I hate to someone else. (Ask my children when I folded their laundry last.) I can’t get away with that type of delegation at school, where the burden falls upon me.

At school, it comes down to GRADING. Oh, I’ll do it. I’ll spend my time reading through the papers, writing in comments (not in red, of course), and entering grades in the grade book. But wouldn’t it be more fun to file my papers? To check my e-mails? To visit classrooms and check in with teachers? Wouldn’t I much rather confer with my students and give them all in-person feedback? Of course it would. And of course I would.

But the fact remains that there’s work to be done. Like doing the dishes, I’ll take care of it, hopefully before the stacks become too big and and menacing to handle.

Will I ever learn to love this task? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. In the meantime, I’ll count on my music playlists and Flair pens to soften the blow.


Slice of Life 2021 Day 22: Rolling With It

March 22, 2021

Today marks Day 22 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

A gift from my dad. That man knew me.

It’s Monday of spring break. You’d think that I would get my satisfaction today out of going out to the deck, propping up my feeties, listening to the birds chirp and drinking some form of tasty beverage.

Today’s plan? I’ll be strapping on the rubber gloves, wearing old workout gear, grabbing some spray bottles and setting to work on my house.

I’m living the dream, right?

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. It doesn’t sound so very relaxing. I can feel the figurative finger-wags coming from cyberspace now.

To tell you the truth, I’m not a terribly good housecleaner. I’m slow and inefficient. I miss spots. It’s why I’m better at being a picker-upper. Clearing clutter is one of my favorite forms of procrastination.

But hear me out. Even though I don’t like housecleaning, I like being in a clean house. And suffice it to say that over the last weeks, I’ve…let things go. Enough so that I’m feeling the physical compulsion to clean. So after breakfast, it’s time to make like dice and get rolling.

And THEN, if you’ll be looking for me, I’ll be out back in the sunshine.