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Slice of Life Tuesday: Beach Thoughts

June 22, 2021

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


Last week was the first in a long time that I didn’t post a Tuesday Slice of Life post. I meant to, honest. But I was surrounded by THIS:

Gratuitous “beach feet” pic

And by THIS:

Door County, WI sunset

So really. Who could blame me? I spent whole days sitting right there on the beach doing nothing. And I wanted to think about nothing, but let’s be honest. I can let my poetbrain shift into idle, but I can’t park it completely. Here were some musings from lakeside (really, bayside, but I digress).

Sometimes going to the beach
is a matter of collection:
heart-shaped rocks
sun for February days
sounds and sounds and sounds

and on this day
I collect thoughts

watching the older sister,
waist-deep in the water
clenched hands outstretched
beckoning her brother to play
rock or no rock? just guess!
(I don’t really care)
no! really. rock or no rock? you pick
(shrugs, turns his back, walks away)

and out of sheer commitment to the bit
she opens a fist to no one
and shouts
the left hand? okay!…look at that! you were right!

then that same sister
in full view
of brother
and parent
kicks over the brother’s rock pile
with an oops
and a laugh
and a smile
and in the same motion
bends to pick up his flip-flops
and bring them over
for him
in what I can only describe
as the world’s most
most perfect demonstration
of what it’s like
to have a sibling


Just for you: 30 seconds of sounds and sounds and sounds

Tuesday Slice of Life: Two Sides of the Same SweeTART

June 8, 2021

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

It’s summer break now (let us pause for a moment of celebration).

I’m supposed to be taking it easy.
I’m also supposed to be getting my house back in order.
To get back into shape.
To carve out time for writing.
To meditate.
To enjoy life.
To check out and read scads and scads of books.

“So, Lainie, what delightful writing projects have you taken on now that summer unfurls before you, vast and wide?”

….ummm….well….you know how sometimes energy needs to be stored as potential energy before it can be released as kinetic energy? Kind of like how you’ve got to draw back and hold tension before you release the rubber band or the arrow? Consider me in that…potential energy phase.

I do have one thing that caught me as a writer. A student gave me a box of SweeTARTS.

Did you know that they’ve started to put words on SweeTARTS? And that the words are connected to one another?

That piqued my curiosity. I’ve long been a fan of words that are two sides of the same coin. As in, you can look at a penny and see Lincoln, or you can look at a penny and see the Lincoln Memorial. They look different, but they’re the same thing. A fellow storyteller, Yvonne Healy, taught me to advise student tellers that fear and excitement are just that – two sides of the same coin.

So naturally I wanted to explore this idea through the candy box. What “two sides of the same coin” ideas would pop up for me in artificially-flavored sugary goodness? What to do the corporate minds at the SweeTARTs factory have in store? Could they impress me?

I’d have to dig in to the candy and find out. But here’s the thing. I couldn’t just open a box of candy and waste it. And to tell the truth, I can maybe tolerate a few SweeTARTS before my teeth begin to hurt. Thankfully, my 20-year-old was on the task. He helped me sort through and find all the different word pairs on the SweeTARTS as I listed them. He also helped me eat said SweeTARTS. Talk about taking one for the team!

Some of the word pairings were pretty expected, nothing surprising:

humble-proud
strong-gentle
rock-pop
global-local
witty-silly
grit-strong
head-heart

But there were also several that, happily, surprised me. These are the ones that struck me as “two sides of the same coin.” It’s proof that there, somewhere buried in an office cubicle or around a meeting table or in some departmental Zoom meeting, there are sparks of creativity and wit at the corporate level:

funny-fierce
math-art
sassy-savvy
wild-wise

Now.

If you need me, you might find me writing. Or maybe not.
I might be walking the dog.
Or reading a book.
Or rearranging the kitchen drawers.
Or spending quality time behind a barbell.
Or trying a new cookie recipe.
Or
or
or…

Slice of Life Tuesday: Told You So

June 1, 2021

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

Last week, I had the joy of seeing my third-grade colleagues put on storytelling festivals with their students. As a culmination of their fairy tale unit, children told their stories to one another. I love to listen to kids, love to hear students I know – just KNOW! – will shine through this medium. Even better, I love to watch their teachers, seeing children’s talents and strengths from a different direction.

An in-person festival, COVID-style
A Zoom festival, because sometimes that’s how you get it done

I’m so grateful to my colleagues for getting brave about tracing a new path with this unit. I’m so grateful to the students for getting brave in their telling. And I’m grateful that storytelling, true to form, has revealed surprises that (to me, at least) have always hidden in plain sight.

Today’s poem is for them.


I told you so,
told you the telling
would tell
all I hoped it would,

I told you so,
that all you have to do
is
tell a story
and your wiggly ones
and your prickly ones
and your hard-to-reach ones
would sit,
rapt,
engaged in jargonspeak

I told you so,
that all you have to do
is
let them tell a story
and your mouthy ones
and your sticky readers
and your tricky writers
would find themselves,
would find voice
and voices
and reveal stories
and story structure
and plots and subplots
and complex sentences

I told you so,
that all of those things
we hope come out of pens
or keyboards
pour forth
from mouths,
through bodies
into ears and hearts

I told you so,
that storytelling
would bring you surprises:
children gathered
from the fringes
and held
to new light,
sparkling



Slice of Life: Love Those Writers

May 25, 2021

Yesterday.

Yesterday was a pretty good day.

It was the day my first article as a contributing author got published on my very favorite teacher site, Two Writing Teachers.

And it was also the day that I asked my students to reflect on their experiences in writing workshop this year. I told them of my respect and admiration for them as humans, as writers. I told them how amazing it was to enjoy the process of writing alongside them this year. I told them that we’re going to have the chance to continue this work together next year, and I want their experience next year to honor their strengths and needs.

Here are the questions I asked:

How did you grow as a writer this year?
What did you learn from reading one another’s writing?
Describe your ideal writing workshop.
Looking ahead to next year, how would YOU like to grow as a writer?

I first used breakout rooms on Zoom (sigh. Always ZOOM) to let the kids discuss answers to these questions, to gather ideas and perspectives. I then gave kids a solid 20 minutes to complete the questions on Google Forms. And by 20 minutes, I MEANT 20 minutes. I told students they were not allowed to submit their survey before I gave the OK. If they reached a stopping point, they could stop, or think, or daydream, but I wanted the survey open for other thoughts that “trickled in” over the course of that 20 minutes.

I’m glad I did.*

My students brought it. And why shouldn’t they have? They’ve been bringing it every day we’ve been together.

As I read through their responses, I saw so many common threads, so many take-aways. I’m sharing a couple of highlights because they make me so happy.

On what we want writing workshop to look like, kids envisioned:
-Calm. Quiet. Peace.
-Solitude when needed.
-Collaboration when needed.
-Pens and paper and clipboards and fuzzy pillows and seating options.
-Freedom.

Word cloud showing how we envision writing workshop. Thanks, edwordle, for the resource!

On what we learned from sharing our work:
-We never gave enough credit to the skills of other writers.
-Other people have very different writing styles.
-Reading other people’s work made us want to write better.
-We’re better at giving and receiving feedback

Word cloud showing what we’ve gotten out of the experience.

On how I can help them learn and grow, students envision that I’ll be:
-Teaching specific writing skills
-Offering feedback
-Giving them the “push” they want and need in zones of discomfort
-Showing them text that mirrors the aspects they want to use in writing

This is just the tip of the iceberg, friends. I asked my kids to stop, to imagine, to dream about what writing workshop could be. They’ve given me so much to think about over the summer. And while summer canNOT come fast enough, I’m already looking forward to next year.

*(If we’re being 100% real, YES. There were plenty of kids who probably filled out the survey in four minutes and pretended to work longer. This is a COVID year. And it’s June. And Zoom. I’ll take what I can get.)


Today’s post is part of the weekly Slice of Life Challenge. Check them out!

“I Feel Like a Real Writer” – Guest Post

May 24, 2021

Friends, I’m so excited to tell you that I am now a contributing author on the Two Writing Teachers website. This community has helped me grow so much as a writer, a teacher and as a person. Honestly, I could gush for quite a while about how transformative the experience has been. Suffice it to say, I’m humbled and honored to be a part of it.

So, here’s a teaser for my first article:

Teaching writing to gifted students isn’t the smooth, easy path some might suppose. Gifted kids often present a range of academic and affective needs. How can we encourage joyful and confident writing in this special population?

Want to read the rest? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers. Enjoy, and keep on visiting that site. There’s a lot to learn, and amazing folks to learn from!

Sunday Sitdown #15: Sugarland, and Regrets

May 23, 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.


My first teaching job. Sugarland Elementary, Sterling Virginia.

I got the job maybe a couple of weeks before the start of the school year, when the district opened up a new classroom. There was nothing in my classroom. No paper. No paper clips. No chalk. No erasers. No nothing. Luckily my newfound colleagues helped me scrabble together enough to start the school year with my loveys.

Sugarland School served a working-class neighborhood which, in turn, was home to a large population of students of color.

There’s a lot that my liberal education, my lived experiences with folks who were different from me, and my coursework in multicultural studies prepared me for. I knew to value and celebrate our differences, to provide books, resources and activities that reflect a multitude of faces and life stories. I knew that I needed to expect big things out of ALL my students no matter what.

But there are things that I didn’t know, things that I wish I recognized. Maybe it was the oblivion of youth that clouded my vision. Maybe I wasn’t as evolved in my understandings as I am now. Had I had today’s wisdom, I would have done better with the kid who made himself dinner each night because his dad worked four jobs to support him. I would have found better ways to support the child who missed kindergarten in his native El Salvador. I would have made the classroom safer for the kid who drew pictures of himself dying so that he could come back as an American. And somehow, all of these kids managed to turn out OK despite the mistakes I made.

But when I think of the damage that schools do to children of color, particularly Black girls, I cannot help but think of Essence.

Essence, whose mom struggled with addiction.
Essence, whose grandma raised her.
Essence, who came each day brimming with the turbulence of life.
Essence, with whom I engaged in regular power struggles.
Essence, who ended her academic year with me labeled.
Essence, who lost her own difficult struggle in 2016.

And in my young teacher’s mind, I was holding her to high expectations. I was treating her with love and compassion. I was doing for her what I hoped to do for all my students: inspire them to be the best versions of themselves.

But oh. In my moments of clarity and honesty, I know that I did damage. I did not provide this child with the room and space to feel truly safe. I did not support her and her family in a way that was culturally responsive, and I didn’t take into account her immense lived trauma.

I’m not looking to have folks respond with, “but you’re a great teacher! you HAVE made a difference.”

I would say an awkward “thank you” in response. Yes, I will acknowledge my deep connection with many kids. But the purpose of this post – the purpose of this series – is to recount my experiences with race, and to claim those moments and choices I wish I could take back. My time with Essence is one of them.

And Essence, had I been your teacher now, I can only hope that I’ve developed enough wisdom and perspective to give you the support, the validation and the true compassion you so deeply deserved.

Assigned Writing: A Poem

May 21, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing.

Today’s assignment: Write a poem.
(I’m not going to lie. I may have juggled things today so I could use it as an excuse for poetry writing.)


You know,

On days when you are adrift
in the sea
with nothing
but that horizon-perfect circle

you might catch
out of the corner of your eye
bobbing out there in the waves
a leaf,
a stem
with a timid bloom on top

and you wonder
what on earth
is a flower doing
way out here in the ocean
but you pick it anyway
and it gives you something to hold on to
in the middle of all this nothing

and then the current turns you around
and look there,
another leaf
another stem
another flower
was it there before?
and how did i ever miss it?

and the more flowers you pick
the more flowers you find
and the more stems you gather

until you realize

you are not in the ocean at all
but standing, planted
in a garden
of your own creation.


This week was a doozie. I felt adrift in many directions.

And then a colleague brought me some cake. And friends, I know that food doesn’t solve problems. I know that cake doesn’t make everything better.

But it does make SOME things better, sometimes. And on that rough morning, those bites of sweetness were a simple reminder that the love we put into the world sometimes does, indeed, come back in our direction.

And then a former parent reached out to me to tell me what her grown-up kid was up to (once a lovey, always a lovey).

And then my irises, sent to me by my dad, emerged to bring me a yearly reminder of him.

And then I sat with some friends for bubble tea and validation.

And then someone thought of me at the grocery store.

And then I got to see reluctant third graders roll their pride into a ball and play puppets like no one was watching.

And all of a sudden, I had a whole bouquet of wonderful, right there in my hands. More than I can even count.

Strange, isn’t it, how life works.

Assigned Work: Impressions

May 18, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing. (It’s also Tuesday, which means I’m posting as part of the Slice of Life challenge!)

Today’s assignment: How is your vision of yourself different from others’ vision of you?


Wow.

Another bear.

Life: One big fractured fairy tale

I’ve circled around and around on this one. My gut keeps pulling me back to my latest “one little word:” dissonance. That’s where I’ve been living lately. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still scanning the Classifieds for more comfortable digs. I’m hoping to pack my bags and move on, but Life has signed an extended lease on the property.

Dissonance best describes how my self-concept differs from the way others see me. I don’t think I can ever be accurate in my knowledge of how I appear to others. There will always be separate, and sometimes conflicting, points of view.

We all try to find our balance between self-acceptance and self-improvement. And in that effort at being a better person, well…it’s hard to say what others perceive.

I’m a perfectionist. I set high standards for myself, and I’m a tough judge. When things take a wrong turn, my first inclination is to look within myself for my part in things. So when I consider how others see me, I’m more likely to bias toward the negative, imagining that others grow tired of or impatient with my shortcomings. In some ways, it’s self-protective. If I see and label my faults before others do, I can beat them to the punch and shield myself from that discouragement. That way, when other people express concerns or complaints with me, I’m also prepared to own it. Yeah, I know I’m not great at that. It’s something I’m working on…

Luckily, I have a small group of people around me who insist on seeing the best within me. They’re the folks who remind me of my idealism and potential and love and compassion. They’re the ones who recognize when that dissonance is at play in unhealthy ways. They’re the ones I call my “mental chiropractors,” as they give me much-needed attitude adjustments when the situation demands it.

Have you ever seen yourself on video or heard your voice recorded, and thought, “Is THAT how I look?” “Is THAT how I sound? Yikes!”

Of course you have. We all have.

But here’s the thing. I never think that about anyone I see on video or audio. They all sound normal to me. And yet, every. Single. One of us. Looks at ourselves on that same clip and shudders.

That’s dissonance, friends. It blurs our vision. Most of the time we live deeply within our own narrative structures, our own egos. We spend most of our time on ourselves as the protagonist of our own stories, seldom stopping to consider that we’re supporting characters to others and, in some cases, background extras. We are all forging ahead on our own paths, making our way through forests and deserts and across oceans. We are all figuring out this world and our place in it.

So. What’s the difference between my vision of myself, and others’ vision of me?

At the heart of it, I suppose, is the question of how much others’ vision of us matters. And how much of that we will allow to define our self-worth.

Let me know when you figure that out, folks. You can sell it for a billion bucks.

Assigned Work: Literary Essay

May 12, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing.

Today’s assignment: Write a literary essay about the story The Disobedient Son.

I’ll say this. This was a BEAR. Mostly because there was a lot I didn’t understand about this story. What I came to is the idea that I have some learning to do about other cultures. There are differences in how we tell and appreciate stories, and it’s quite possible that my original resistance to this story is because I don’t have enough cultural understanding.


Throughout the world, folk tales teach values and morals. Stories across time and place show the benefits of being good and the consequences of being bad. The South American folk tale “The Disobedient Son” features a child learning the importance of listening to adults. This folk tale has many elements and themes as other familiar stories, but the ending is surprising and different.

The structure of “The Disobedient Son” follows many of the plot elements as stories in other cultures. The story begins with a familiar problem: “There was once a boy who was rude and wouldn’t obey his mother.” In tales like these, one can predict the boy either learns obedience or suffers consequences for his behavior. Once the problem has been established, there is a predictable response. Here, the boy’s mother sends him to work with his godfather, the priest of the town. “You’re a priest, and you can counsel and discipline this godson of yours; I can’t do anything with him…Let him come to stay here with you to see if he will learn to behave.” The mother thinks the boy would behave better with the priest.

“The Disobedient Son” also follows the pattern of a turning point and a test for the protagonist. In this story, the boy immediately changes his actions when he comes to live with his godfather. “All right, godfather, I’m going to work. I’m going to do whatever you tell me to do; everything you tell me, I will do, godfather.” The boy pledges to complete his tasks, and he holds true throughout the story. The priest also tests the boy, putting a skeleton in the bell tower to scare him away from the task of ringing the bell. The boy still obeys orders, telling the skeleton: “I’m coming to ring the bell…Get out of my way, for my godfather sent me to ring the bell.” In this humorous scene, the boy smashes the skeleton thinking it is a real person, rings the bell, and goes to his godfather.

It is at this point that “The Disobedient Son” departs from other folk tales. Usually, a scene like the one with the skeleton is used for humor, to show the reader how foolish a character is. They fall for a trick, and it is clear that another character has gotten the better of them. In this story, however, the priest uses the skeleton as a test of obedience rather than intelligence. Furthermore, most folk tales end with a statement about the lesson learned or consequence suffered. This story leaves the reader with the boy’s mistaken idea: “I pushed him and he fell and broke into pieces on the floor.” The end brings us proof that the boy has been obedient. However, the reader does not know if the boy has been punished or rewarded.

At first glance, a reader could dismiss this story as dissatisfying. It does not come to a customary and familiar end. Knowing that it is a tale from another culture, however, raises questions. Is it possible that the story was not translated well to English? Is this a culture that tells stories in different ways? What other, more important, values have I not considered? An American reader might expect a lesson learned, but perhaps this story simply exists to let people to laugh at the foolishness of a boy taken up entirely with his desire to show obedience. Or perhaps American readers do not have enough knowledge of the source culture to fully understand the interactions between characters.

“The Disobedient Son” follows many of the same structures and themes that other folk tales have. There is a a problem, action taken to solve the problem, a turning point, and a test. Beyond those similarities, the story differs from other folk tales. Whether this story is meant to be humorous, or whether key ideas have been lost in translation, it is clear that stories defy expectations from time to time. It is important to keep an open mind and to take surprises as an invitation to learn more.

Assigned Work: One (Big) Word

May 11, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing. Today is also the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life challenge. Check ’em out!

Today’s assignment: What is the most important word?


So wait. I’m a lover of words, a depender-onner of words, a clinger-with-a-white-knuckled-grasper of words, and I’m supposed to choose…ONE?

This strikes me as an assignment similar to choosing “One Little Word” for the Slice of Life challenge. I chose one word in January, and yet another in February. (I’m still living that second one, waiting patiently for a transition.)

But the most important word?

I guess I’d have to think about what’s important to me, and the first word that comes to mind is love. It’s my north star, my moral compass. I try and lead with love in everything I do. I fall short, and often. Still, I try.

And yet, I feel like “love” doesn’t always sum up what I’m getting at. It’s not just that feeling of love, it’s a desire to understand. So perhaps…compassion? That gets a little bit closer. Love is a start. Compassion requires us to meet people where they are, to show empathy, to say over and over to the people around us in ways big and small that they – that none of us – are alone.

So compassion brings me closer to that guiding principle of that most important word. Still, though, I can’t help but think it falls short. Because a “most important word” to me needs to be universal. Sure, compassion is at the heart of my relationships with other people.

But what about nature?
What about this earth?
What about our universe, and our place within it?

I need something bigger.

And where I think I’m landing is connection to the beauty and wonder and awe everywhere around me.

Compassion, I think, is built on connection. It’s an acknowledgement of beauty and awe within people. Connection is even bigger, even deeper. It extends beyond human relationships and roots me, grounds me.

Connection is spring grass on my bare feet.
It’s stroking the fur of a dog that’s finally plopped down to rest.
It’s a recipe passed down through generations.
It’s the wonder of looking into a starry sky.
It’s the feel of your father’s watch on your wrist.
It’s a text message that says nothing but a heart emoji.
It’s the power of a strong, solid hug.
It’s the smell of earth after a rain.

Will I think on this some more? Probably.

Might I further whittle this idea down to a sharper point? Stranger things have happened.

But for now, it’s where I’ve landed.

And you? What do YOU suppose is the most important word?