Posts Tagged ‘elementary education’

Slice of Life 2021 Day 4: Kid Wisdom

March 4, 2021

Today marks Day 4 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and maybe beyond!

As I alluded to in yesterday’s post, I used my own writing as a mentor text for my fourth graders. The goal is to use student writing as the literature from which we conduct reading discussions. The REAL goal is to farm out the strategy, if it works. Who knows? Maybe we can have whole classes – whole SCHOOLS worth of children who see themselves as writers, who delight in creating literature that’s just as worthy of analysis as something they’d pick up off the bookshelf.

But I get ahead of myself.

Today, I read my students’ written responses to my work. I set them up with a 4-quadrant response chart before our class discussion. Reading their work, and then hearing them TALK about my writing? Friends, if you haven’t listened to other people talking about your writing, YOU. ARE. MISSING. OUT. I’m highlighting a few questions and ideas from my perceptive kiddos:

Something I don’t understand…
“Why is Lainie’s friend so mean? Why can’t Story be nicer?”
“Why should Story give Lainie a smirk if she already said ‘suit yourself?’ “

A question I have…
“Why does Lainie hate writing narrative fiction?”
“Maybe she is talking to her writing and doesn’t like it but STORY wants her to try again?”

Oh! This seems important…
“Story is telling Lainie she can’t tell her students to do one thing and do something else herself.”
“The friend is encouraging her.”
“Story is named…STORY.”

It’s interesting that…
“A lot of people don’t like writing things they can’t get wrapped up in.”
“Lainie always tries to encourage others but doesn’t try to encourage herself.”
“Lainie tells her students to do things she doesn’t want to do herself.”
“She is standing up for what she likes and doesn’t like.”

I want to let this wisdom stand, so I won’t belabor the point with a lot of extra chatter. But I will share TWO things:

  1. My favorite moment came when the students realized that Story smirked because she had tricked me into writing fiction. That’s when the kids were REALLY able to infer the “tough love” relationship I have with her.
  2. I mean, LOOK at what these kids observed and wrote. They have my NUMBER.

Now. If you need me. I’ll be sitting here, heart aflutter, waiting for what’s next around the bend. I can’t wait – and neither can my loveys!

Slice of Life 2021 Day 3: Story Has Her Say

March 3, 2021

Today marks the third day of March, the third day of the Slice of Life blogging challenge. I’ve committed to write each and every day during the month of March and – who knows? – maybe even longer. Join me! This entry was inspired by the conversation I had with my students this week after sharing a snippet of fiction I wrote. That writing is linked at the bottom as Part 1 of this series.

“You know they called you mean, right?”

Story stopped scrolling through her Instagram long enough to look up. “What?”

“My students. They read about you and me in the coffee shop, and they thought you were being mean to me.” Lainie shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t help what they say about you.”

Story rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. You can’t help what they think of me? You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“It’s true,” an indignant Lainie huffed. “I say it all the time. ‘You can always write what you want, but you can’t control what happens with your work once you release it out into the world.’ “

“Yeah, yeah,” her companion snapped. “All of that trusting in art and all that blah blah.” She paused a beat. “But aren’t you ALSO the one who says that ‘as authors, we have the power to do anything we want as long as we make it readable and believable?’

“So what’s your point, Story?”

You know the point.”

“Of course I do. I’m the author. I know EVERYTHING about my story.” Lainie added triumphantly, “I say THAT to my kids, too.”

“Then give the whole story. I bet you didn’t even let them read the second and third installments of our conversations, did you? I look much better in those. Instead I just end up looking like the bad guy.”

“I’m perfectly fine with that,” Lainie replied.

“Well, I’m not. And you can tell those kids I’m not mean. I’m honest. I’m the friend who tells you what you need to hear. If I’m rough around the edges, well, that’s just how you see me. So if you don’t start taking all the advice you keep doling out about this ‘power of a writer’ nonsense, I’m going straight to your students and telling on you.”

A silence settled between them. The barks of a neighborhood dog and the rumble of a passing truck outside filled the space. Lainie couldn’t speak. She had too much stuck in her craw. She’s got me again, Lainie thought. How does she always know how to get me?

“I suppose,” Lainie begrudged, “that I could tell the kids that sometimes I get stuck.”

“And?” Story asked expectantly.

“And that sometimes I know I just need a good talking-to to get me going.”

“And?”

“And maybe I should let kids read the rest of the story.”

And?

Heavens, Lainie sighed. She’s going to make me say it, isn’t she? “And I’m grateful for the way you come to remind me that I need to be less of a scaredy-pants about pushing myself in writing.” Lainie waited for Story’s response. “Happy now?”

Story held her gaze for an extra moment before returning to her newsfeed. “Guess the kids will be the judge of that.”

Now, if YOU want the rest of the story, you’re welcome to dig in to our “conversations:”
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Slice of Life 2021 Day 1: Looking

March 1, 2021

Today marks the first day of March, the first day of the Slice of Life blogging challenge. I’ve committed to write each and every day during the month of March and – who knows? – maybe even longer. Join me!

A commitment to writing each and every day. Am I looking forward to it? Down into the abyss of overcommitment? Up into my imagination, into my own world of wonder? In at my sense of resolve and discipline?

There’s no doubt about it. The comfortable side of my brain is dragging her feet, crossing her arms and shaking her head in disbelief that I have committed myself to one. More. Darn. Thing. Still, I know full well from my participation last year how incredibly valuable this challenge is for me as a writer, a teacher, and as a human.

I’ve become braver as a writer. I’m almost as brave as my students, and I still hope to write with the same fearlessness that they do. The more I write with and alongside my students, the more respect and admiration I have for what they do.

I’ve also realized that I have the power to take the writing community I’ve come to enjoy, and bring that to my students. Why shouldn’t they have the benefit of seeing and hearing others discuss their work? Why shouldn’t they see themselves as real writers, with real audiences, writing with genuine purpose?

That’s the work I’m taking on, both this month and in months to come. We’re setting up trusted reader circles: groups of students who read one another’s work, cheer each other on, and offer honest feedback and support.

Today we dipped our toes into the waters. We used a piece of writing I did last year during the Slice of Life challenge as a mentor text for how we might talk about one another’s work. Then, they’ll do the same thing for one another.

Where will it go? Well, I’m hoping this catches on, that students will feel their writing is good enough and strong enough to serve as mentor text any day of the week. I’m hoping kids will see themselves as true peers and collaborators. I’m also hoping I can take this model and farm it out to other teachers.

Look out. Here we come!

Sunday Sit-Down #6: Duped

February 21, 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.

I’ve been thinking a lot about today’s post, and I haven’t been looking forward to it. There are several stops on my journey that I know are difficult for one reason or another. Perhaps I carry guilt, embarrassment or shame.

Today, it’s anger.

You see, I – and way too many in my generation – were sold a bill of goods. We were duped. Fooled. Scammed.

We were led to believe that civil rights was “done,” that MLK and Rosa Parks had swept in and now we were done with racism. Everything is equal! Everyone is equal! Everyone now has equal opportunities and now everyone can be happy!

Yet I grew up at a time where sundown towns were still a thing. Where there was still a need to bus city students to the suburbs rather than focus on improving the educational system as a whole. Where black lives and black bodies were being criminalized at an alarming rate. Where kids around me were either victims or perpetrators of racist behaviors and comments. (And, being real, these things are STIL a thing.)

I would learn these things in high school. Coming to this awareness left me furious with a grown-up world that would shield me from this knowledge in the name of protection or false unity. I remember feeling – and still feel – a visceral sense of injustice, of betrayal, of anger that the world as it stood was hidden from me.

It wasn’t right.

Sad thing is, I’m one of the lucky ones. When racial issues at my high school shattered this illusion, I was fortunate enough to learn from others with different perspectives. And, luckily, I was able to gain this understanding while I was still in my formative years.

But there are other white folks who never came to that realization, who never had the opportunity to see and recognize that our work is far from done. I think of the folks who saw the light after George Floyd’s death. Their coming of age happened ages after they needed it. I saw their confusion and shock unfold around me. They had bought into the lie, just like I had, and they realized how very long they had been living that lie. After this summer, there was no turning away.

At least for grown-ups.

For children – for white children – there is still space to draw the blinds, to lower the volume, to shield from difficult truths.

But to allow another generation to be deceived?

No. I can’t, and I won’t.

I still hold my anger, still nurse it when the time is right. Because as a teacher, I have the ability to help raise humans who can be optimistic and idealistic, AND still be aware that we have work to do in our communities and society and world.

It’s not political to want this for our future generation. Rather, equipping our kids with the tools and knowledge to follow their moral compass is compassionate. It’s what’s right and fair.

There’s more – so much more! – I could express. But that’s for another day

Thanks for joining me. I’ll be right here, same time next week.

Sunday Sitdown #5: First Lesson

February 14, 2021

Mrs. Williams was a great first-grade teacher.

She was kind, cheerful and honest.
She always encouraged us with phrases like, “You’re cookin’ with gas!”
She regaled us with stories of her little girl.
She used Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies as prizes when she REALLY wanted to motivate us.
Heck, she put up with ME as a first grader. That’s no easy task.

She was also the first Black teacher I had ever had.* And she was willing to talk about race.

One day, Mrs. Williams decided that she was going to teach us about skin color. Looking back as a teacher, I might guess that wasn’t just a random choice. I might guess that Mrs. Williams was responding to a comment or situation that came up in class. Or maybe there was something going on in the world that my first-grade brain wasn’t quite aware of. Whatever it boiled down to, Mrs. Williams decided that it was time for us to talk.

I’m going to guess that the lesson was longer than I remember, but what captures my memory most is when she held up two crayons: one white, one black.

Mrs. Williams held up the white crayon and said, “When people say they’re white, does their skin look like this color?”
A crowd of giggling first-graders yelled back, “Nooooooo!”
She held up the black crayon and said, “When people say they’re Black, does their skin look like this color?”
We again yelled, “Noooooo!”

And that was at the heart of it. It was the first time I had ever engaged, on-purpose, in a conversation about what being Black or being white really means. About what race means, and what it DOESN’T mean. It was a way to tell a group of six- and seven-year olds that race is complicated. It’s not just what we see. It’s more complex than a label we might wrap around someone.

Thank you, Mrs. Williams. You were cookin’ with gas.

*I’m also beyond grateful to be able to say that Mrs. Williams was just my first Black teacher, and not my only. For all of the shortcomings that may have accompanied my schooling, I am glad that my school district made an effort to hire a diverse range of teaching and instructional staff. It was important for children of color in my community, but I’d say it was also important for me.

Swinging For The Fences

February 9, 2021

I’m not going to lie.

This year, I have had some SPECTACULAR fails in the classroom.

And I mean, not just the oh-man-this-is-tricky-how-am-I-going-to-figure-a-different-way-of-teaching-this-to-the-kids fail. That’s just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, cost-of-doing-business, everyday type of fail.

No.

I’m talking about the holy-cow-this-lesson-is-crashing-and-burning-and-I-have-absolutely-no-way-of-backing-out-of-this-and-no-way-to-figure-out-in-the-moment-how-to-make-it-better-and-why-did-I-even-bother-getting-out-of-bed-today fail.

I’ve thought a lot about these fails.

They haunt me.

In the moment, failures as I’m teaching feel like I’m failing as a teacher.

The good news is that time offers perspective. And through the perspective of time, I get offered moments of clarity and growth.

You see, all my fails, at least the most spectacular ones, have had one thing in common: they all occurred when I was asking more of my students than they were ready for.

That got me thinking about what I do and why I do it. I was talking with my kids this morning about yet ANOTHER ambitious lesson we were going to try and take on. Here’s what I told them:

“Friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ve been doing, and I realize sometimes I mess up as a teacher. And when I think about the mistakes I make as a teacher, I kind of have to decide. Do I want to make the mistake of overestimating what you can do, and sometimes ask too much of you? Or do I want to make the mistake of underestimating what you can do, and asking less of you than you might be capable of?”

Down to a person, we all knew the answer to that question.

So yes. I will continue to shoot big, and yes. I will continue to sometimes miss big. But If I didn’t shoot big, Would I ever get reasoning like this?

Done as a group together (you may have to expand, but there’s good stuff here).

Would I ever get writing like this?

Fourth-grade spelling. Gotta love it.

Would I ever get peer feedback like this?

This is what happens when you model feedback based on grown-up writing communities like the Slice of Life challenge.

Fact is, I wouldn’t trade all those difficult moments for the world, if it means growth for me and my kids. And maybe next time, these mistakes will pave the way to a smoother path next time, one that takes them – and my teaching – even further.

Slice of Life: Pre-Emptive Gratitude

January 26, 2021

We don’t have a snow day today, and I’m about as happy as a wet cat.

Something deep within me ached for a day back at home, even if it still involved a full day of classes and meetings. The thought of getting up early, bundling up, clearing off the car, of navigating barely passable roads, and repeating the process at day’s end just seemed…disheartening.

But here I am, standing at my desk and ready for my first meeting of the day. And on days like this, it’s easy for me to give in to discouragement and crabbiness. Grouchiness fits like an old pair of jeans.

Unfortunately, that makes for a REALLY long day.

Instead, I’m setting my sights on the moments of gratitude and joy that I know await me today, in no particular order:

warm chai
colleagues who check in…and mean it
a women’s night with folks who ground and inspire me
fresh grapefruit
soft socks
the wisdom of eleven year-olds
the Slice of Life writing community
a dog who’s happy to see me
deadlifts in the garage
the perfect hard-boiled egg, dipped in salt
podcasts
helping folks do what they do, only better
long, deep breaths

…and all of the surprises this day has awaiting me…

A Teacher’s Guide to Inauguration in 36 Easy Steps

January 19, 2021

or, Reflections from the Evening of January 19, 2021: How to Manage to Stay Afloat for the Next Eighteen Hours and Hold up the Walls of the World While it Watches, Waits, Breathless

  1. Pull yourself away from noise.
  2. Pet your dog.
  3. If you don’t have a dog, pretend to have a dog.
  4. Drink something warm.
  5. Listen, just for a moment, to tomorrow’s poet, Amanda Gorman.
  6. No. I mean really. Go listen. It’ll take you two minutes.
  7. Pass the tissues.
  8. Get a good bedtime.
  9. Wake up. Look at yourself in the mirror.
  10. Don’t just find the visage in the glass. Find the PERSON behind it.
  11. Don’t tell yourself “You’ve got this.” You’re tired of hearing that.
  12. Don’t tell yourself to breathe. You’re tired of hearing that, too.
  13. Tell yourself that you will get through today.
  14. Just like you do every day.
  15. Even the most difficult ones.
  16. Because that’s what we do.
  17. Get yourself to school, or to your Zoom, on time.
  18. Or not. Folks aren’t taking tardies today.
  19. Remember that our children are the reason we get up each day.
  20. Put your suffocating dread in its own breakout room.
  21. Tell your students you have faith in them.
  22. Tell your students you have faith in this world.
  23. Tell them again. Most of them won’t believe you the first time.
  24. Tell them they are part of history, that future children will hold their lives between the pages of a textbook.
  25. You will get through the day.
  26. Just like you do every day.
  27. Even the most difficult ones.
  28. Because that’s what we do.
  29. Close your computer and walk away.
  30. Do what you need to do to unclinch your white-knuckled grasp from your fear and anxiety.
  31. Because tomorrow your children will be waiting for you.
  32. They will need to hear, again, of your faith in the world.
  33. They will need to hear, again, of your faith in them.
  34. And again.
  35. And again.
  36. And again.

One Little Word…For Now

January 12, 2021

I’ve been a member of the Slice of Life writing community for nine months now. It’s been a source of inspiration, support and validation as I work to become braver in my writing.

As time goes on, I learn more about the rituals and traditions that “slicers” have. Most recently, I learned that each New Year’s brings with it the challenge to come up with One Little Word to frame ourselves for the new year.

I didn’t know that was a thing the week most folks posted, but I promised myself to write a post with my own One Little Word. Which is…

gather.

For me, for right now, I have come to rely on the power of gathering.

Which, now that I think about it, is strange, given that the literal meaning is so very impossible right now.

But in the metaphorical sense, I have come to rely on gathering…

Thoughts. Some days, it takes everything I have to bring my attention and focus to heel. My brain slides in one direction and the other. Like right now, for instance. I feel in my bones…how I feel, which means I feel…how? I can’t name it. My thoughts slip past and that’s strange to me. I’m used to being able to spend time with my thoughts. I’m used to being able to stop and articulate what’s going on in my inner self. And lately, that’s been tricky.

Life. These past months in particular, I’ve experienced shattering and loss. For several weeks, I sat, cross-legged and dumbstruck, among the wreckage. I’m finally standing now. Tentatively. And as I look around the room, I’m witnessing all of the routines and habits and structure I’ve let fall to pieces. And seeing them reminds me of ways I’ve failed myself, or those I love most. One by one, I’m gathering those pieces. It’s still an armful, so this one is going to take a while.

Joy. Thankfully, I haven’t lost my ability to notice and name those things, big and small, that provide me with delight, that offer reasons to get out of bed each day, that fill my heart to bursting. I can’t forget to bring these things in and together.

Strength. Remember what I said about how all those pieces of my life were an armful? It’s a LOT to carry. I am indescribably grateful for the amazing humans who situate themselves near me in one way or another. It is through the care and compassion of others who help me with the heavy lifting.

Gather. I’ll always need this word, for sure, but I’m hoping that I’ll be ready for a new one before I know it.

Offerings: Slice of Life Tuesday

January 5, 2021

Today, I bring you a bouquet of wonderfulness, plucked by my own hands from the bounty around me, gathered with care and bound with a length of twine I found in my kitchen drawer:

A video a student sent me, just because she knows I love animated shorts, and this one was beautiful and sweet and wonderful.

A student, who loves to play with language, becoming excited when I explain appositives, shouting, “I call those COMMA TWINS!” [see what I did there?] Which, for the record, is absolutely BRILLIANT.

That same student, who gets super excited to be noticed, basking in the spotlight because we then introduced “comma twins” as a literary term.

A group of fourth-graders who somehow stumble both onto the idea of “oxymorons” and “fatal flaws” within the space of a single hour lesson.

A fifth-grader who thinks it’s cool that I don’t care if people know how old I am, after I explain that today is my half birthday and that officially makes me forty-eight-and-a-half.

Turkey barley soup, served up for lunch out of a favorite mug.

Second-graders coming to realize that not every kid has everything they need to be healthy and happy.

A kid who notices an appositive in her book and thinks to email me a picture of it.

The musical videos a student sent me of him playing the ukulele with his sometimes-willing brother at his side. Oh, the beauty and the joy that he radiates.

There were so many other flowers by the side of the road it was tough to choose just a few.

A good problem to have.