Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

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: At the Edge

August 24, 2021

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


Next week I return to school, and I’ve been trying to articulate my feelings about it. I’m squished between a lot of emotions, and I thought this poem might reflect some of those thoughts…

At the Edge of School, 2021

It’s the
dread and excitement
that build with each step
up the high-dive ladder:
closer and closer to the top
the flutters grow
and it’s hard to tell
if my grip slips
from pool water
or sweaty palms

Standing at the top,
toes knurled around the edge
I take in the breeze,
the chlorine smell,
the faraway noises of grown-ups and kids
and splashes and squeals

I’ve been here before.

Sometimes
you don’t always
land so well –
you hit the water funky, or
water goes up your nose, or
your swimsuit goes rogue
and you question
why you ever came to the pool
in the first place

Looking down,
I wonder why I continue to
make this leap
year after
year after
year

But the pool is one of my
favorite places to be –
I’m comfortable here,
at home,
happy
within myself

So I guess
despite the funk
and the water noise
there’s really nothing to do
but brace myself
take a breath

And jump.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Life, in Metaphor

July 20, 2021

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


Yesterday I had a GREAT idea for a blog post. I was starting to craft it in my head as I always do, until I got sidetracked.

Fast forward to this morning, when I got up and could not remember for the life of me what I wanted to write about. I racked my brain, trying to go back through my day yesterday to jog my memory.

Nothing.

So I started to think on what ELSE I could possibly blog about today, what subjects I could take on. They all seemed pale in comparison to the idea I had yesterday. None of them brought the same excitement.

To kill some time, I sat down with a crossword puzzle. I usually don’t enter a word unless I’m 100% sure it’s the answer. I’m the kind of gal who would rather leave things blank than track how far a mess-up went. Of course, I still make mistakes and need to erase them.

That’s when it hit me.

You see, just yesterday I was working on this same puzzle. Just yesterday I worked those squares, hoping for no major mess-ups. Just yesterday, I had one of those mess-ups, and had to rely on my trusty eraser to clean things up.

Only, I couldn’t.

You see, the pencil was old enough, and the eraser was unused enough, that it had hardened on the outside. Rather than deftly sweeping my shortcomings away in a pile of of rubber shavings, I just got a black blurry mess.

That got me thinking.

Erasers. We need them. They clean our messes, big and small. They give us a fresh start on things. Erasers let us take comfort in knowing we can take chances; there’s always a way out with an eraser.

But we can only begin erasing once we look at our paper, see something wrong and recognize it’s worth the time to fix it. Otherwise, we can plow ahead without worrying.1 And if we don’t use our erasers, if we’re not in the habit of recognizing and correcting errors, those erasers harden. They fall into disuse, and when we try to use them again they just leave a bigger mess behind.

And isn’t that the way of us humans? (C’mon, you saw where this was going, right?)2

We, too, have to be in regular practice of noticing our mistakes. We’ve got to be aware of times we leave messes that bear fixing. We’ve also got to take enough chances knowing we’ll mess up sometimes, knowing we may have to fix things. And if we don’t use those figurative erasers, if we fall out of the habit of recognizing where we’ve gone wrong and working to correct it, they3 will harden. And once we’ve fallen out of practice, it’s so much harder to admit mistakes – and SO much harder to find ways of making things better. 4 5 6

So yes, my friends, we need to keep our pencils sharp. But let’s also remember that pencils have another, worthy end.

“The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead.” – Robert Brault


1 and sometimes you do skip errors because who has the time to make sure we’re always 100% error free?
2 yes, this is definitely proof that I live in metaphor and can’t ever shut it off
3 like our hearts
4 yes, i know that every metaphor breaks down at some point, including this one
5 and even the best eraser job leaves traces of the mistake that wasn’t there
6 I mean, we can’t just erase our mistakes with people – there are always echoes, right?

Slice of Life Tuesday: Letters to Mrs. Levin

July 13, 2021

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


Each June, I ask my fifth graders to write me a letter reflecting on what they’ve learned in our years together – what they’ve learned about language arts, and what they’ve learned about life. I ask them to make it heartfelt, sincere, and handwritten. This letter is what I will remember them by.

My tradition is to wait to read them until a summer day when I’m just turning that corner between relief that school is over and sadness over missing my loveys. Then I sit down with my folder full of letters and read them, one at a time.

It’s a veritable treasure trove! So many hearts, gathered together in one place.

I’ve been doing this assignment for several years now. Each year, I can predict how the crop will go. There will be some sweet, thoughtful notes. There will be perfunctory letters designed to fulfill the nature of the assignment. Some will astonish me. Without fail, each letter, regardless of length or depth, brings me every child’s essence distilled on paper.

“Do you like the cat?” and “Can you please write back?” Yes, and absolutely yes! All of this, down to the cartoons and doodles and parentheticals, sums up a child I’ve taught for five full years.

I’ll be honest. Sometimes I struggle with this assignment. I don’t take praise well. Compliments make me uncomfortable, and I don’t like the feeling that I’m asking for them or expecting them. So, I feel strange (arrogant, even) asking children to write letters that may wind up with them telling me I’ve done a good job. It feels self-serving. I can’t shake that.

But life is short. It’s important to reflect, to consider our evolution and growth. It’s important to see who helps us along our way, to articulate our gratitude, and to recognize the power that words carry in our relationships. And now that I’ve begun writing the children back, it’s much easier accepting their gifts of love and sincerity knowing I’ll be able to do the same for them in return. It feels good.

A handmade bracelet in my student’s favorite colors: crafted with love, looked over by a jealous doggo

This morning, I sat down with my folder of letters, and WOW. The whole experience was…unexpected.

My students expressed themselves with a level of trust, honesty, reflection and vulnerability I had never before experienced. I asked them to write from their hearts, and they responded with such openness that several times throughout the reading I just had to stop. Absorb. Feel. It was ovewhelming.

It shouldn’t have struck me so hard. I mean, c’mon. I’m a teacher. Teachers know it’s our job to reach our kids. It’s our job to make them feel seen and heard, valued and understood.

But I had grown so close to my students. I’m more attached to my students this year than I have in quite a while. They have my heart.

All of this astounds me. How is it possible to spend the last year and a half seeing one another only through a bunch of pixellated boxes, yet still come out of the experience so tight-knit? How is it possible despite not having our hugs and handshakes, not having moments to lay eyes on one another, not being able to build on that in-person energy together?

What is it that allowed us to strengthen our relationships in the face of our limitations? What was so different about what we created this year? Was it because we had to be so purposeful with our time and attention? Was it because adversity brought us closer?

I can’t completely say. But I’m determined to figure that out. And once I do, how much more will be possible once we’re back in person? The very thought is exhilarating.

Now. If you need me, I’ll be with my stationary, my Flair pens, and a folder full of letters. I’ll be spending the next several days telling a group of eleven year-olds how much I love, admire, and appreciate them.

Next step: mailbox!

Slice of Life Tuesday: A New Little Word

June 29, 2021

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


I’ve been waiting for this.

It’s the realization that my One Little Word, first set at gather and then at dissonance, has finally shifted.

Dissonance is fine and healthy for a while. It helps me grow and push myself in new directions. It’s good to be dissatisfied, to want better.

But living in dissonance is all-consuming. It leaves me fatigued, wondering how long I can manage the push-pull I feel morally, physically, philisophically, wondering what sort of mom I am, what sort of teacher I am, what sort of human I am.

It’s why I’m glad and grateful to feel that tension begin to ease. Those reins, coiled around my wrists and held in a white-knuckled grip, are finally beginning to slacken. As they do, I can slowly unwind, unbind, feel the circulation and color coming back to my hands, shake out my fingers, roll my shoulders, exhale, feel myself stretch, lengthen…

unfurl.

Yes. My new One Little Word. Unfurl.

The act of spreading out from a rolled-up or cramped-up position or state. The act of stretching out to occupy new spaces, or opening up to the wind or the elements. Figuratively. Literally.

For a few months, I’ve harbored the hope that summer would bring unfurl as my next One Little Word.

I’ve needed this.

Even without COVID, it was a tough year – the kind that cracks my foundation, that drives me to check out just how many years there are until retirement (don’t worry, friends, it’s still a long while). The kind of year that teachers can handle once in a career. Once. Maybe twice, but never in a row.

So the possibility that I wouldn’t experience this release, the prospect of going back to school as pulled as I was, well…that was scary.

What’s turned it around for me? The moments in sunshine? The long walks with friends? The dozens of library books checked out, read, checked out, read? A vision of the next hours, days, weeks, of relative freedom?

I can’t really say. What I can say is that I feel the turning of a corner. I feel a greater distance between myself and this past year. Soon, I’ll start to miss my sticky notes, my Flair pens, my colleagues, my students, my work. It gives me hope that I can re-emerge next year content, energized, aligned with purpose. Stretched. Grown. Unfurled.