Posts Tagged ‘slice of life challenge’

Slice of Life Tuesday: Letters to Mrs. Levin

July 13, 2021

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next step: mailbox!

Slice of Life Tuesday: 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



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: 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?

May Writing Challenge

May 4, 2021

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

My students are brave and inspiring and amazing – in writing AND in life.

So I’m dedicating May to them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much it takes for them to write, without complaint, WHATEVER it is we throw their way. Every genre, every challenge, every topic.

Yes, I do realize that we have things to teach them, and many of those things are important skills as a writer. Still. How does it feel when most of the writing we do isn’t actually of our choice?

That led me to think.

How would I do with assigned topics?

I’ve solicited my students for writing topics. I’ve asked them about the topics and assignments that were the most difficult, the most trying, the most frustrating.

And I’m going to write them, too.

Understand, this isn’t a knock on any of my colleagues. We have a job to do when it comes to writing instruction. Besides, several of the suggestions were assignments I had given them. I suppose I’m not always sparking joy, if I’m being honest with myself.

What it would be like if I truly walked the walk? If I made myself write whatever topic they threw my way, without complaint? How would I evolve as a writer? As a teacher of writing? As a human?

So, for the month of May, I’ll be picking up writing topics at the suggestion (direction!) of my students. It might be fun, it might be educational, it might be gray hair-inducing.

This month is for the loveys. Let’s go!

This post is for the Slice of Life Challenge on Two Writing Teachers. Check ’em out!

Poetry Month Day 13: A Win for Standardized Testing

April 13, 2021

*Special thanks to S.T., whose gratitude for her time together with classmates together inspired today’s poem

Dear Standardized Testing,

Thank you.

Thank you
for bringing me these loveys –

Thank you
for bringing me these loveys –
these loveys who miss one another

Thank you
for bringing me these loveys –
these loveys who miss one another,
who have not been together

Thank you
for bringing me these loveys –
these loveys who miss one another,
who have not been together
in this space, in actual human form,

Thank you
for bringing me these loveys –
these loveys who miss one another,
who have not been together
in this space, in actual human form,
in thirteen months

Thank you
for bringing me these loveys –
these loveys who miss one another,
who have not been together
in this space, in actual human form,
in thirteen months
so that once again they could play

Thank you
for bringing me these loveys –
these loveys who miss one another,
who have not been together
in this space, in actual human form,
in thirteen months
so that once again they could play
and challenge one another to relay races

Thank you
for bringing me these loveys –
these loveys who miss one another,
who have not been together
in this space, in actual human form,
in thirteen months
so that once again they could play
and challenge one another to relay races
and remember how easy it is to remember

Thank you
for bringing me these loveys –
these loveys who miss one another,
who have not been together
in this space, in actual human form,
in thirteen months
so that once again they could play
and challenge one another to relay races
and remember how easy it is to remember
how good it is, sometimes, to be a kid.

Relay races, stretch breaks, hang-out circles and general tomfoolery

This is also my post for the Tuesday Slice of Life challenge. Check them out!

Poetry Month Day 6: On the Natural (Dis)Order

April 6, 2021

You could say this poem is a continuation of my reflections for the Slice of Life challenge about the need for a strong, steady chocolate stash in a school. I stand by what I wrote, even if my observations this week speak to the contrary.

Clearly
there is a problem
in our world:
there is some kind of
imbalance
within our universe
that is causing it to
behave badly
(like a puppy in a roomful
of long-laced shoes
or a nub stuck
all the way in a pencil sharpener
so that things get to a point
but not really)

because

how
on
earth
is it
that the natural order of things
has gotten so upside-down

that one can go
into the copy room
look at the dregs of the
chocolate stash,
at the poor unfortunate souls
left behind from
The Great Choosing
and
find…
THIS!?

Since when are SNICKERS considered the most inferior
of the chocolate world? I may have to rethink my life.

Slice of Life Challenge 2021 Day 31: Begin, End

March 31, 2021

Today marks the final day of the Slice of Life challenge. I’ve deeply enjoyed the challenge of writing every day this month. I’ve grown as a writer and as a human in ways I’ll still be thinking about for weeks to come.

I tried to capture how I’m feeling on the last day of this challenge. I know it’s the end, but I don’t want to treat it as an end. I’d like to see it as the universe’s nudge to get me to start writing more often. So I thought I’d put this reverso poem out there. It’s meant to be read aloud from top to bottom, and then again from bottom to top.

I’ll also say this. This poem is a living reminder that I don’t always have to love my work. I will confess that I don’t 100% love this poem, and I’m not fully satisfied. But if I’ve learned anything about writing or myself in this past month, it’s that sometimes that happens. Sometimes I just don’t have adequate words to articulate my thoughts.

It’s still important to write them anyway.

A beginning
Ripe for
Energy, optimism
New and delightful things
To see
Wait around the corner
I can always hope
Gathering close
To hold
Head-full, heart-full learnings
Reflection, wisdom
Brings me to
An end

Slice of Life 2021, Day 30: Here I Am

March 30, 2021

Today marks Day 30 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

For T. You inspire me.

In the middle of a highly scheduled day

In the middle of a hard-fought moment of plan time

In the middle of a to-do list that has grown up to my eyeballs

In the middle of my anxiety about how I’m going to get it all done

In the middle of a technology outage

In the middle of wondering how on earth I will move forward NOW –

There is a note,

An email from a student,

A deeply felt, heart-heavy piece.

It stops me.

It takes me by the shoulders and says look,
Look
At this
Look at what I have given this world
Listen to me
For I give voice to
Those things
Which clamor for surface,
For air
For breath
Despite our efforts to push down,
Turn away,
Ignore

It says
I will not be ignored
Or turned away
Or pushed down
I am your inner voice

And will I speak of light
And dark
And love
And conflict
And rising to the surface
And plunging down again

So speak to me
I am always there
Whether you hear me
Or not

Call me from the shadows
Beckon me from darkness
And
I will learn to spread light.

Slice of Life 2021 Day 29: WHOOSH

March 29, 2021

Today marks Day 29 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and beyond!

Today. *

Today I blogged.

And before that I cobbled together my bananapants schedule for tomorrow: lesson to lesson, meeting to meeting.

And before that I thought through my lesson I’ll be sharing with kids on mentally preparing for standardized testing. While we’re on the subject, I’m not a fan at ALL of teaching kids to a test. If kids have skills, they have skills. But. Anything we can do to give our loveys a sense of control over their testing environment? Anything that will allow the kids to see how they can keep their wits about them in an anxiety-rich situation? I’m all in favor of THAT. This lesson is a follow-up to one I taught earlier about strategies for keeping cool in stressful times.

One more tool we have for keeping our wits about us!

And before that I checked in with a former student of mine, who’s brimming with rich fantasy worlds she wants to create through graphic novels.

And before that I got to work car line again for the first time in almost a month. I missed those faces!

And before that I shared Leo Lionn’s Frederick with my third graders. I opened up the Zoom chat to everyone in the group. Sometimes that goes haywire. Today it didn’t. They shared such insightful comments and ideas, like – “Frederick was misunderstood.” Yes, yes he WAS misunderstood. And now let’s talk about what it means to be UNDERESTIMATED. (We’ll be going places with that one, friends.)

And before that I assembled as many materials and activities for the self-guided learning my groups will do over the coming weeks. I. Am. Far. From. Done.

And before that I choked down my lunch standing at my kitchen counter with my puppy at my heels because SOMEONE had to let her out mid-day, and that somebody turned out to be me.

I think she likes me…

And before that I cranked my way through morning classes, eager to see students after a week, and trying my best to play whack-a-mole with student attendance, through patchy internet, through sound problems, and all those wonderful things we got to avoid in our week off.

And before that I recorded my weekly pep talk for my kids. I’ve been taking the kids through brief (2-minute) lessons about what it means to be smart, about what that means for the way we see ourselves and others. Today’s pep talk was about explanatory style, and how that feeds into our feelings.

Because we deserve to understand the way we think and feel and move about this world.

And before that I executed my morning routine with the customary military logistics a school day requires: waking, showering, letting dogs out, feeding dogs, making chai, smooching the spouse goodbye, praying the 17-year-old is up, grabbing my stuff and heading out to school.

And before that I felt my alarm buzzing on my wrist mid-dream, wondering why I was being woken at 5:45 when, in fact, it was 6:30…

*Special thanks to Vivian Chen and Fran McVeigh, who first gave me the inspiration to use this form. Visit them. Theirs, I assure you, are some amazing pieces of writing. =))