Posts Tagged ‘elementary’

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!

On College Education

October 6, 2020

Well. Looks like I’m stepping back up on to my soapbox. What’s got me so fired up this time?

My college son called me to chat about one of his professors. Things have gotten so bad that students banded together and complained to university higher-ups, so much so that the department issued its course evaluation survey halfway through the semester.

After hearing my son read his responses listing the numerous ways in which this class and its instructors have fallen short, I found myself really,

really,

REALLY wanting to call up this department and give them a piece of my mind.

But I’m not that kind of gal. Besides, it sounds like the students are already advocating quite well for themselves.

Still, as someone who dedicates her entire life and livelihood to the pursuit of excellence in teaching, I can’t just let this go.

So here’s what I WOULD say, if I were one who would say it.

Dear Professor,

Let me start by saying this. Your job is HARD. You’ve been asked to step in for the very first time to teach this undergraduate course. What’s more, you’re being asked to do it in the middle of a pandemic, and while the university is doing everything it can to protect your life and the life of the students, we are in a scary time. And you are being asked to teach in ways that your predecessors never had to consider.

What I’m imagining you think and believe right now? First of all, that you really know your stuff. You know that the class you’re teaching is HARD, and it requires you to teach an encyclopedic amount of information. I’d also like to believe that you truly want what’s best for your students. And I’m also wondering if you’re starting to realize that KNOWING material, and being able to teach it MEANINGFULLY are two separate animals.

I’m also going to guess that you were thrown into teaching this course without any training or support in pedagogy, or the foundations of teaching. I’m going to guess that the preparation and mentorship you were given as an instructor may have been limited to a copy of the syllabus as it had been previously, as well as your own experiences when you were a student.

I can’t fault you for that. You are a part of a bigger system that values the quantity of content over its instructional delivery. You are a part of a bigger system that values publishing credentials over the craft of teaching.

I also imagine you think I may be speaking out of turn, that as an elementary teacher I don’t have enough understanding of college students to know what good instruction looks like at the collegiate level.

I’m going to be straight with you. Good teaching is good teaching is good teaching. Let me repeat that. Good teaching. Is good teaching. Is good teaching.

The same foundational principles that apply to teaching first grade will resonate with fifth grade. With eighth grade. With high schoolers. With college students. With anyone. Why? Because at the heart of things, we are all human beings. We are curious. We learn when we are motivated. We crave connection, feedback and growth.

I’m guessing the complaints you’re getting right now feel pretty terrible. Critical feedback, especially in this volume, can really sting. But it’s also a wake-up call. You can be better. You can improve the experience for all. How? Here are a few places to start:

1. Respond to your students’ communications promptly and sincerely.
2. Give your students meaningful, prompt feedback on their work.
3. If you can’t give meaningful and prompt feedback, it’s a sign. You are assigning too many things. Pull back.
4. During classes, use presentations as a starting point rather than a script. Your students will engage more, and retain more, if there is context and explanation of the material.
5. Be a person to your students. If they connect with you, they’ll connect with the material.

Maybe this way of teaching is different from how you learned this content. Maybe this way of teaching isn’t valued in a system like the one you are in. Maybe you haven’t gotten the guidance and mentorship you needed as an instructor. But from one educator to another, we both know this is how we best learn, and we know it is what our learners deserve – no matter the level.

You can do it. I have perfect faith in you.

Teacher Life, Exhibit P

October 3, 2020

Scene: Indiana Dunes State Park. I’m hiking with my husband. It’s a cool, crisp early autumn day, the wind is at our backs, and we have the place to ourselves. The only sounds in my ears are the crashing of waves, the crush of hiking boots on sand, and the echo of my thoughts. It’s the perfect space for spiritual reflection, for connecting to the universe.

Me, lost in thought: Hey!

Husband: What?

Me: I just thought of a really cool lesson idea using just the first chapters of a bunch of novels.

Husband: Do you ever stop working?

Me: …

So…no. The answer is no. There will always be something that gets me started. I might be thinking about that one kid. Or a book line that makes me think about a lesson I’ve taught. Or a blog post that I need to share with some loveys.

Or. or. or.

Thought Bubble, Speech Bubble

August 25, 2020

Guess what brave things I did today?
a) I got out of my bed
b) I committed to working out – and did
c) I announced that I wasn’t cooking dinner tonight
d) All of the above

Of course, there was something I didn’t do today, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m wise, or because I was just plain chicken.

There I was, waiting for an ice cream order at our local spot. The place usually gets quite a crowd, and from what I’ve seen, most folks try and manage pretty well to give others space and follow social distancing rules.

But then I saw them. A group of about 8 or 10 upper elementary-aged kids crowded around a picnic table, no space, no masks, sharing fries and food here and there. There were about 4-5 dads nearby, from what I could tell.

Those random guys could have been MY students. Or of any of my other local colleagues who have to go in to school to teach them in person tomorrow.

A photo NOT of the folks I saw, because that’s how I roll. #WeGoHigh

It was really hard for me to see that.

It was REALLY hard – physically hard – for me to see that, and not say something to that group.

Because I didn’t want to be THAT person.

Still, I did have the time to imagine a speech in my head:

“Hi there. Listen, I’m not trying to raise a scene. I don’t want to start an argument with you or anyone. It’s actually really hard right now for me to speak. But there’s something I need you to know.

“I’m a teacher. My school leaders, colleagues and I spent our summer preparing for the logistics of an in-person return to school this fall. We have spent even more time lying awake at night anxious about our safety, about the safety of our families, and about the safety of our school community.

“I don’t expect anything from you, but I just need you to know that it’s really hard for me to see your group together, knowing how much we we do to keep kids safe while they’re in our care, and knowing how hard we work to keep our end of the bargain.

“And I just need you to hear that if I knew my own students were out doing this same thing, and perhaps putting classmates or other teachers at risk, I’d be heartbroken.

“Again, I don’t expect anything from you. I just…needed you to hear me.”

Then my ice cream came. I decided that I didn’t wind up saying anything to the group because:
a) I didn’t want my ice cream to melt
b) I’m not super into guilt trips
c) I’m not sure I’d actually have been heard
d) I didn’t trust myself to speak sincerely and without judgement or anger
e) All of the above

Instead, I took this evening as an opportunity to remember:
a) I can only control me
b) Emotions, even negative ones, are perfectly okay to feel
c) There is power in letting go
d) Sometimes ice cream really can fix things
e) All of the above

This is Not a Paper Clip

August 24, 2020

this post is dedicated to A.H., whose cleverness and sincerity make me deeply proud to know such wonderful people

I’m easy to please.

Which is good, because as a teacher and as a mom, I can’t wait for big grand gestures to bring me a sense of satisfaction or well-being. I’d be here all day.

No, joy comes to me in small pockets:
-The sounds of cicadas humming
-A dog who insists on curling up at my feet because I’m her person
-A plate of scrambled eggs and toast on a hard day

And what filled my heart to bursting today?

Some of you who have read my posts before know that I’ve been pen pals with some of my loveys. It’s been a wonderful way to stay connected during a difficult time. I started with about a dozen or so, then it trickled down to correspondence with about five kids by the time school ended. Summer…not so much.

Lo and behold, one of my former students has continued to write to me. What a joy it was to receive her letter and read it today.

I was most excited that my pen pal letter today contained this:

“This [paper clip] is an ant catapult”

It’s an invitation to play the game “What is This?”

You see, way back when, about five years ago, on the very first day of our group, I introduced a game to this girl and her friends. The game has been around, but I don’t know its actual name. I call it “What is This?” Here’s how to play:
-Start with an ordinary object (toothpick, pencil, scissors, roll of tape).
-The “starter” holds the object.
-Someone asks the “starter” what it is. “What is this?”
-The starter says EXACTLY what it is – “This is a _______ ,” then hands it off.
-The next person says, “No, it’s not a ____. It’s (makes up some imaginative idea for what it could be).”
-The object gets passed and re-branded throughout the group.

One rule is that the object has to possibly be used for that purpose, even if it’s silly. I could pretend a pencil is anything – a rocket ship, a pizza, a computer. But that’s not what this game is about. This game forces me to look at form and function. At shape and material. That pencil really could be a baseball bat for a rabbit. A back scratcher. A dart. A nose picker.

Every day, we as teachers do activities for fun, for enjoyment, for learning, never quite knowing what kids carry with them. We don’t often get the privilege of finding out what our loveys remember from our time together. Yet here is one of my kids, thoughtful and creative enough to remember this game and figure out how to start up a round together even though we’re apart.

It’s quite possibly one of the cleverest ideas I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m still smiling about it.

In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. I took that paper clip, taped it on to my own letter, and I wrote my response.

Are you feeling creative? Do you have something else this paper clip could be? I’d love to see it below in the comments.

Different, Different, Same

August 20, 2020
This year’s workspace. No in-person kids, just…me, a desk, some books.

There is so very, very much about this year that is so different, so strange, so foreign.

And yet, all of that change has only served to highlight the things that remain steadfast and sure.

It is 8:00 pm on the first day of school with children in attendance.

I am exhausted.

So much about today was different, foreign, awkward:

  • Lining the kiddos up along 6-foot spaced dots
  • Seeing all my loveys from the face masks up
  • Slow traffic into the building as kids hand-san on the way in
  • Kids staying in their room for recess. For lunch. For art. For music.

Its strange and eerie how all of our back-to-school videos and pep talks are all about social distancing and mask wearing and hand-washing.

It’s sad that after years of pursuing a “less me, more you” approach to student-centered learning, we are now in the midst of a structure that requires so much more teacher-centric direction. It’s not best practice as we know it, and I’m not sure what to do with all of that. I mourn this loss.

Amid all of this strangeness that’s alternately saddening and discouraging, what is it that remains steadfast and true? Here’s a start:

  • My cheeks were still sore this morning from smiling at all of the kids and families as I greeted them on their way in to school.
  • My colleagues were right back on their game, starting right in with get-to-know-you activities and routines.
  • Kids still came in at all the many levels of excitement and nervousness, with all of the honeymoon-like behavior that accompanies the first days of school.

But here’s what’s at the heart of things. Here’s a tiny bit of what makes me confident that we’ll be okay this year, despite everything being turned upside down.

If anything, this situation has more firmly committed us to the belief that our work is 90% social and emotional. Only when we take care of the humans in front of us can we begin the work of academics. This year gives us the permission to live that philosophy in truth.

Even though the world conspires to rob us of community (social distancing, masks, decreased interaction, remote learning, lack of human contact), my colleagues and I will STILL manage to create caring, tight-knit bonds because that is our superpower. That is what we do.

It’s what we always do.

It’s why teaching is our calling.

It’s what’s going to get us through what promises to be the most difficult year of our careers.

Buckle up, my friends.

On First Days

August 19, 2020

This. This photo. It sums things up.

Every year since my older guy started kindergarten, I’ve brought my kids to the local breakfast place for a traditional first-day breakfast. Over the years, we’ve toggled it a bit. For a while, I worked in the same district they attended, and our annual ritual celebrated a beginning for all three of us.

In later years, when I took a different position, I was often into my school year before my kids were, but we still continued our custom.

Even when my older son started college last year, I was beyond pleased when he asked to do a breakfast together on his last full day in town. It marked the transition to doing two separate first-day breakfasts to commemorate the year for each guy.

And this year? I wouldn’t swap the tradition for the world. So maybe we still have to do two different breakfast dates. So maybe I’m still nervous about eating at restaurants. So maybe we have to bring home food in a paper bag because that’s our pick this time around. So maybe we eat side by side on the family room sofa instead of at our booth at the cafe.

So what.

There is so very, very much about this year that is so different, so strange, so foreign.

And yet, all of that change has only served to highlight the things that remain steadfast and sure.

Tomorrow’s post will be about exactly that – what emerges as right and true for me as a teacher, even in the midst of this difficult world.

Until then, I’ll smile to myself knowing I have another first day in the books, and knowing that I was able to coax one. More. Photo. Out of a reluctant teen who would rather roll his eyes than take a photo for Mom.

Some things remain steadfast and sure.

Putting a Pin In It

August 18, 2020

*this post is dedicated to J.O., who never ceases to inspire me, and who also reminds me how important it is to be the best version of myself*

Here I am, back after what is way too long a hiatus from writing.

What’s kept me?

Inertia, pure and simple. I wasn’t in a space or place to do the digging I needed to do as a writer. Maybe that means that I saw work, turned tail and ran away. Or maybe it means that I chose a model of self-preservation that allowed me some grace.

Potato, potahto.

So…what’s brought me back?

Let’s start with a letter a student wrote me. 

At the end of each year, I ask my fifth graders to write me a letter reflecting on their experiences in my class. What have they learned about language arts? What have they learned about life?

I gather up the letters and I place them in a safe spot, awaiting a time in the summer when I’m feeling particularly low, when I could use some encouragement to remind me why I do what I do.

This one letter, from a student I have had for five years, wrote an incredibly kind, heartfelt note that left me, quite simply, speechless. If I ever have any doubt about the impact I can make through earnest and sincere relationships with kids, I must promise myself to read her letter.

And then she mentioned one particular blog post that gave her inspiration. 

It hit me.

Writing is a path to self-expression for me, yes. But in my students’ eyes, we are cohorts, peers. Writing alongside my students reminds us all that we are learning together, that I have as much to gain from them as they might from me. 

Besides. Writing is hard. Crafting something in a genre we’re not comfortable with requires courage. Sharing that writing demands bravery. It’s only fair that I ask the same of myself.

Watching my successes and struggles with writing validates the challenges they face in trying to put something new out into this world. Our shared experiences bring me credibility and respect – neither of which I take lightly.

So for her, I write.

And for me, I write.

It’s good to be back.

Who’s Going to Win?

May 11, 2020

Sometimes I wrestle
With which side of me will win
My full attention

Is it the cynic,
Fatigued with unrequited
Effort, time and heart?

Or the optimist,
Ever on the lookout for
Simple signs of joy:

Letters from students:
The real live ones, right from the
Real live true mailbox;

A dog, so loyal
She insists on herding me
To my couch corner

So she can then claim
Her rightful spot as heir to
The spot by my feet;

My colleagues, daily
Reminding me just how much
Deep respect and full

Admiration go
When it comes to seeing what
Is possible in life;

Time to spend reading
That one favorite book from when
You were just a kid,

The one that you read
Hundreds upon hundreds of
Times while growing up;

And then I realize
That if I pay attention
There is no contest.