Posts Tagged ‘elementary school’

Slice of Life Tuesday: Another Little Word

February 23, 2021

When writing my “One Little Word” post for the new year, I knew the word I chose, gather, would not last me through the year. In fact, it was my hope that this one little word would soon slough its skin to reveal the word underneath.

The other day, I was at school. It was late. Way too late for me to reasonably still be at school. Especially on a mentally-challenging day like that day. I texted a colleague who I knew was still at school, asking for five minutes just to blow off some steam.

We wound up talking for an hour.

Turns out, there is a LOT that I’m dissatisfied with:
The gulf between what I want for my students and what I’m giving them.
The gulf between what I want for my colleagues and what I can provide.
I want to do everything for everybody and I have to figure out where the boundaries belong.
I want everyone to feel supported in what they do and I have to figure out where to place my energy.
While I’m at it, I kinda want to take care of my physical, emotional and spiritual self.

All of these desires place conflicting demands on my attention.

And then my colleague, whom I admire more that she will ever give herself credit for, reminded me about DISSONANCE.

Dissonance.
That strong feeling when holding conflicting ideas.
It’s also when two sounds are inharmonious, when they strike the ear harshly.
Dissonance.

Dissonance sounds terrible when it’s performed accidentally or tentatively. Dissonance works because musicians lean INTO it, striking those discordant notes with full intention. It’s that leaning into conflicting sounds that allows us to appreciate the resolution to come – or not. After all, there are musical pieces that never quite resolve, just as there are conflicts in life that never quite resolve.

My friend also suggested that the times when we feel most dissonant in our lives, when we feel the deepest chasm between the reality of our lives and our moral center, THOSE are the times when our selves are preparing for a leap forward.

I know she’s right.
I know this is an uncomfortable phase I’m going through.
I know that pieces of myself are in conflict.
I know I don’t have to like it.
And I know that there is growth and change happening. I just have to see it through.

So…my next One Little Word?

Dissonance.
I shall lean in.
I shall tune in to the discord.
I will bring out of it what I can, whether or not I gain resolution.

That is, until the next One Little Word scoops me up, sets me in a new direction, and gives me another nudge.

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge. Give them a visit!

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.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Lessons from the Chocolate Stash

February 2, 2021
The stash, after a single day. Learn what you will.

Upstairs, at one of my two schools, in the copy room, there sits a green plastic basket under a sticker on the wall that reads, “Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions. Chocolate UNDERSTANDS.”

Can you feel the love?

There are a few of us who tend to be the chocolate fairies of this particular basket. For my part, I like to purchase a big fat ol’ bag of candy favorites from Costco each time I go. I find that I can fill the basket about three times from each bag. Here’s what I’ve learned from years of filling the chocolate basket:

Non-chocolate in the chocolate basket is an abomination. You *might* be able to squeak by with snack packs of Skittles, but seriously, folks. Don’t be putting your SweeTarts and hard candies in here. No one has the time for that kind of negativity in their lives.

The pacing of chocolate consumption is a barometer for staff morale. Sometimes, the goodies I dump in will last a full week. During report card, conference or standardized test seasons, I can fill the basket in the morning and it’s slim pickin’s by lunchtime.

There is a definite pecking order. I have found, when observing the progress of the chocolate basket, that certain treats get snapped up faster than Springsteen tickets. In order of popularity, we have:
Peanut M&M’s
100 Grand Bars
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Just about everything else
Milky Way

Milky Way is the scourge of the chocolate world. It never fails. No matter how quickly the chocolate stash gets depleted, there are always five or six Milky Way bars that refuse to find a home. I mean, eventually the chocolate ecosystem balances out. SOMEbody likes Milky Ways, and people end up grabbing them. Some day I’d love to buy a big value pack of Milky Way bars, dump it in and see what happens. But I don’t, because I love my colleagues too much.

Chocolate is bad for us. And that doesn’t matter. Even if we don’t partake of the goodies in the copy room, sometimes it’s enough to look in that basket and remember that there’s someone who wants to take care of us. Someone who knows the contents of that wrapper won’t bring contentment, relief from the unrelenting obligations and pressure of teaching, or a sense of agency when we feel powerless – but knows it will brighten our day nonetheless. And that knowledge brings with it a satisfaction similar to the crunch of that candy shell.

Sunday Sitdown #1: Here I Go

January 17, 2021

I’m a member of my school district’s newfound committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.*

For our last meeting, we were asked to compose a racial autobiography, to craft a reckoning of our experiences with race and identity. (Check out the Pacific Educational Group to learn about their work!)

There were a LOT of questions. And as someone who’s been thinking about and reflecting on race for a really, REALLY long time, I didn’t know how I could put it all together. I’m a person of words, but I couldn’t imagine the number of words I’d have to summon to do the assignment justice.

So I did whatever I do in situations where I need a direct connection with my thoughts: DOODLE. I grabbed my flair pens and started drawing. Instead of a written document, I came up with this:

As I drew, it occurred to me how very MUCH there is here for me to unpack. There’s a lot more here than pictures can convey. I’m going to HAVE to put words to these ideas. And I’ll have to do it one step at a time.

That’s where you come in. I’d love for you to join me on this exploration.

Each Sunday, I’m going to work my way through this autobiography, one image at a time. I’ll share the stories and memories that connect with each part. 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.

Here’s hoping I see you right back here next week!

*Yes, I have some general thoughts about committees for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. And also thoughts about those words needing to be capitalized. We won’t get into that right now. The good news is, I’m hopeful about what our group can accomplish. So there’s that. It’s also led by Regina Armour. So there’s also THAT.

#SOL20 Day 1: On Carrying Stories

March 1, 2020

Today begins a commitment to thirty-one days of writing. Thirty-one days of stories from my life, from school, that I am putting out into the world.

It makes me think about stories, and how very much I talk and think about them. I carry them with me, and I encourage my students to do the same. Stories are wonderfully portable. We can roll them up into a ball and stick them behind our ears, shove them in our pockets, slide them into our shoes and carry them home so we can pull them out later, stretch them out and give them some air. This is especially helpful when we hear a great story and want to keep it for ourselves, or when the idea strikes us for a story at a random time.

But sometimes, stories hide from us. We sit expectantly, pencil in hand, or fingers on the keyboard, and nothing pours out. The wait becomes discouraging. Frustrating. Maddening.

What’s hard, then, is knowing that a story doesn’t hide from us because we’re poor writers, or because we have nothing to say.

What’s hard is knowing that sometimes a story isn’t working out because it’s just simply not ready to be told. That it needs to wait until the time is right. That it’s not about us. Sometimes, just sometimes, a story isn’t ready for us. But don’t worry. It’s there, hanging out, just waiting for the right time to make an appearance. And then, if we are meant to tell that story, that story will offer its words.

What’s hardest is teaching this lesson to my young writers. To teach them that perhaps the reason why words and ideas sometimes escape us, and perhaps the reason stories refuse to come together is that THEY are not ready for US, and not the reverse.

It is not our failure as writers that we get stuck. It is not a shortcoming to feel an absence of words. Rather, we can take it as a sign nudging us in a different direction.

Today, I think I got lucky. Words came to me for this post, and for that I’m grateful. I’ve got a lot of other writing I need to accomplish today, and I can only hope the words continue to be as kind.

This month, I’m not sure which stories will come tap me on my shoulder, will come pull my sleeve, demanding for me to tell them. I’m not sure which ones will peek around the corner and beckon me with a wave before scuttling off, giggling, into the distance.

I guess we’ll find out. Thanks for taking this journey with me.

Poetry, Found

February 25, 2020

If you had asked me today whether or not writing poetry should be on my to-do list, I might have laughed at you. But knowing that the universe has a way of conspiring, and knowing that grocery list poetry is a thing in this world, I felt compelled. What I loved were the ways this poem unfolded and surprised me in ways I didn’t quite expect. Enjoy.

Poetry, Found

In the way-too-early morning,
In my hurry out the door
Obligations (too many for my own good)
Slung from my shoulders, my back –
I catch, among the rocks,
Someone’s grocery list
Delivered to my doorstep,
And I wonder:
-Whose list is this?
-Did they ever get their pancetta?
-Do they always cook like that?
-Or is it for company?
-And can I be invited?
-Is it true what they say, that there is poetry in lists?
-And why did this one find me?
-Did it blow out an open car window,
            On a warm February day,
            Unexpected?
-Did it slip from the wallet of a grown-up,
            Anxious to get going?
-Is anyone missing it?
-How do they know what they’ve got?
-How do they know what they need?
-And how many things
            Flutter away
            With no one to feel their loss?

-(c) Lainie Levin, Feb. 25, 2020

Exhibit Q, R, S

January 10, 2020

“So, Lainie. How do you know you’re working with gifted kids?”

I present to you an obituary for…wait for it…

an EXPO marker.

Note the many fine text features, accurately applied

People, I can’t make this stuff up.

Earlier this week, we read Leo Lionni’s obituary to learn more about him as an artist and as a person. To understand that text, we had to discuss what exactly an obituary is. It just so happened that day we had to deep-six an EXPO marker that had gone south.

Today, my kiddos surprised me with the above gem. What do I love so very much about this? How do I know my fourth graders have already won 2020?

For starters, they’re completely true to form. I mean, c’mon. After a single day of exposure, they included the ACTUAL TEXT FEATURES of an obit:

  • “Photos” of the deceased
  • *”Send flowers/Send a letter”
  • *Information about his life
  • *”He was survived by”

And did you catch the “skinny purple” adopted child?

Or maybe you’d like to see how the “funeral” went down:

Please note the crocodile tear sketched in to the photo

Or, if you are in our classroom, you’d like to visit poor Purple Expo’s grave:

Alas, Poor Expo! We knew him…

Days like these, I am immeasurably grateful for my students.

Know who else I’m grateful for?

Their homeroom teacher.

Their classroom teacher actually allowed all of these hijinks to take place, trusting her instincts that they were up to something interesting. She is the one who knew that even though the kids were a little noisy, even though the kids were a little giggly, even though the kids were a little silly, that they were up to something good.

We know they were.

And stuff like this is 100% worth the price of admission.

So Much for a Soft Landing

January 6, 2020

I meant to take it easy on my kiddos today. I really did. They’re just coming back from break, and I was fully prepared for a slow start to ease them back into big ideas, big thinking.

Photo Credit: Paul Cooper

It all started when I realized we needed to finish up our conversation about Dr. Seuss’s allegory Yertle the Turtle.* I asked the kids to discuss what Seuss was trying to say about the world through the story. You know…we need fewer Yertles and more Macks in this world. I thought it would be a five-minute wrap-up.

I thought wrong.

We started as a whole group but I quickly saw most kids had more to say than they were getting the chance to share. We used a partnering activity to encourage conversation.

What followed was astounding.

At the end of our time, I asked kids to reflect on a thought they’re feeling most strongly. Here’s a sampling:
*Do dictators realize it when they become a dictator? If they do, then why do they want to be one?
*If becoming a dictator is a transformation, how do these people not realize that they will be more accepted as a leader if they change their ways?
*Why do people get greedy in power and turn allies into enemies?
*Power is often built off of emotion.
*There needs to be someone who will say, “enough is enough.”
*Why does America not let as many refugees in, though they deserve it because it is dictators that force or drive them away?
*Are we (the United States) better than our others?
*Who is our friend? What don’t we know about our enemies?
*So far the world has never come up with a solution that gives us complete world peace. Human greed has made it so that many of the problems will be extremely hard to solve.
*Sometimes it feels like the people have no voice. They have to listen. And to me, it feels meaningful. I wonder why such terrible things must happen, and they keep going on. We can’t just live in peace. Why?

How on earth did a brief task develop into a discussion of dictators past and present, of power dynamics, of why those in power abuse it, of why citizens elect dictators in the first place, and of what we can do to notice and fight abuse of power?

It’s easier than you think.

Simply put, I noticed my children NEEDED to talk about these big ideas. They watch this world. They think about this world, and they have more to say about it than they (or the people around them) give them credit for. They just need someone to hear them out.

I don’t know quite exactly how we got to these places, but BOY am I grateful we took the detour.

So much perspective and wisdom wrapped up in the minds of ten- and eleven-year-olds. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

*YES, I do know how very problematic Dr. Seuss is, especially when juxtaposed with conversation around social issues. I promise we’ll get there =)

Sometimes Things Go Well

November 8, 2019

Sometimes I just need to take a moment.

There are sometimes days when lesson after lesson goes haywire, when I don’t have the materials I need at the school I need them. Or when technology throws a wrench in my best-laid plans. Or when all of these things work, but the kids just. Aren’t. Feeling it.

Today was different.

Today went better than I had expected or imagined, and I owe it to myself to enjoy it.

It started with last year’s third grade mythology unit. I wasn’t happy with it. The kids read stories, and they liked them, but missed the overarching idea that myths help us examine and answer the really big questions in life. I needed a different approach.

So this year, I waited to start reading the myths, and started right out of the gate with big questions. Where did we come from? Why do bad things happen? Why are humans so different from other animal forms around us? Kids wrote their own stories to explain these phenomena.

That’s when I knew that I could push them in a new direction. We could talk about how across time, and across cultures, people have ALWAYS wondered about big, important questions. And how across time, and across cultures, people have ALWAYS come up with answers.

Myth.

I then read aloud from (my very favorite!) D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, starting from page one.

Oh, I wish you could have been there.
I wish you could have heard the kids as they realized how very many big questions these stories answered.
I wish you could have felt the excitement as they leapt from idea to idea. From question to question.

Next week, I’ll get to teach this same lesson to my loveys at another school. It’s possible that they will greet these ideas with the same love and enthusiasm. It’s also possible that this lesson will crash and burn. (It’s been known to happen.)

For now, though, I’ll take a moment to appreciate how things can sometimes go well, and call it a win.

On Gathering Moss

August 20, 2019

Elementary teachers have a solid reputation as pack rats. And for good reason. The sheer amount of STUFF it takes to teach elementary school is mind-boggling. Here’s the tip of the iceberg:
-books for reading
-curricular materials
-office supplies
-student supplies
-teacher files
-games, puzzles, activities, art supplies, writing supplies, room decor…

…and that’s only for one grade level. Those of us who have bounced around from grade to grade are well aware that the unit on earthquakes isn’t what our kids need NOW, but may be next year when we have to take on a completely different assignment.

This year, I begin my twenty-fifth year of teaching. It surprises me to say it, and it REALLY surprised my mom to hear it (no, she hasn’t gotten any older since I left college – why do you ask?).

Just imagine the incredible amount of teacher stuff I’ve amassed in the last two and a half decades. Just take a peek:

…not quite what you expected? I figured. To be fair, this is exactly half of my stuff. I have a duplicate set of these materials at my second school. But no. I don’t have much stuff.

Perhaps it would help you to know that this year, in my twenty-fifth year of education, I will have tallied more instructional spaces than I have years of teaching.

Which means that I’ve moved. A lot. So now I’m trained. Each August and June signals my twice-yearly ritual to de-clutter, to lighten my load so that my footprint remains small.

Some of my spaces have been generous, open, well-lit, welcoming. Others have been glorified closets, or hallways, or hastily-devised spaces, or meeting spaces, or repurposed storage areas that were never meant to be places for instruction.

I generally don’t mind moving, sharing space, or being asked to foster learning and development in the strangest of places. Ten years ago? I took it personally. Now? I don’t mind as much. And I think it’s because getting lean with my belongings has taught me:

-It’s not me. It’s easy to equate space with power, or priority.* It’s easy to think that I’m pushed out of one spot or another because I – or even worse, my students! – am not valued. But that’s generally not the case.
-Community is community. It doesn’t matter what’s on the walls. Or where I keep my books. As long as my loveys have the space and the materials they truly need, we can create a place where they can explore and thrive. And that’s what matters.

Granted, if you came to me with a space that’s generous, open, well-lit or welcoming, I would take it in a heartbeat. But now I also know that that’s not everything. I’m happy to be where I am. I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Now if you need me, I’ll be packing. Or unpacking. Or maybe packing again…

*Ahhh….the power dynamic within elementary schools. This is a BIG idea. One I should explore in a future blog post. Stay tuned.

©Lainie Levin, 2019