Posts Tagged ‘teacher’

Slice of Life Tuesday: A New Little Word

June 29, 2021

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


I’ve been waiting for this.

It’s the realization that my One Little Word, first set at gather and then at dissonance, has finally shifted.

Dissonance is fine and healthy for a while. It helps me grow and push myself in new directions. It’s good to be dissatisfied, to want better.

But living in dissonance is all-consuming. It leaves me fatigued, wondering how long I can manage the push-pull I feel morally, physically, philisophically, wondering what sort of mom I am, what sort of teacher I am, what sort of human I am.

It’s why I’m glad and grateful to feel that tension begin to ease. Those reins, coiled around my wrists and held in a white-knuckled grip, are finally beginning to slacken. As they do, I can slowly unwind, unbind, feel the circulation and color coming back to my hands, shake out my fingers, roll my shoulders, exhale, feel myself stretch, lengthen…

unfurl.

Yes. My new One Little Word. Unfurl.

The act of spreading out from a rolled-up or cramped-up position or state. The act of stretching out to occupy new spaces, or opening up to the wind or the elements. Figuratively. Literally.

For a few months, I’ve harbored the hope that summer would bring unfurl as my next One Little Word.

I’ve needed this.

Even without COVID, it was a tough year – the kind that cracks my foundation, that drives me to check out just how many years there are until retirement (don’t worry, friends, it’s still a long while). The kind of year that teachers can handle once in a career. Once. Maybe twice, but never in a row.

So the possibility that I wouldn’t experience this release, the prospect of going back to school as pulled as I was, well…that was scary.

What’s turned it around for me? The moments in sunshine? The long walks with friends? The dozens of library books checked out, read, checked out, read? A vision of the next hours, days, weeks, of relative freedom?

I can’t really say. What I can say is that I feel the turning of a corner. I feel a greater distance between myself and this past year. Soon, I’ll start to miss my sticky notes, my Flair pens, my colleagues, my students, my work. It gives me hope that I can re-emerge next year content, energized, aligned with purpose. Stretched. Grown. Unfurled.

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.

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.

Long Day

September 29, 2020

Today was hard.

It was long, and it felt heavy in my hand and in my heart.

It was full of colleagues, and students, and friends, and family members, who are struggling in one direction or another, and who needed time and love and attention and compassion.

And I gave it, in one direction or another, as many times and in as many places and to as many people as I possibly could.

And I hope that this day, as heavy as it was, might have been made just a touch lighter in one direction or another. Because I know that there will be a day when I am struggling in one direction or another, and I will need time and love and attention and compassion.

Until then, there is cake.

Stepping Back Up to the Soapbox

September 15, 2020

I have a lot of soapboxes to stand on when it comes to education.

I mean…c’mon. Just look at the name of my site.

from Etsy.com

It’s easy to get riled up about things when you feel as passionately I do about teaching, when you have as much faith in public schooling as I do.

One of my soapboxes is storytelling. It’s an incredible medium for sharing text that we don’t give enough credit to. People, the number of things that happen in our brains, big or small, when we hear a story being told? You could track the research here, or here, or here, or…

Aaaugh, I’m doing it again! All right, Lainie. Inhale. Exhale.

Now.

One of my storytelling soapboxes? Using storytelling as a way of crafting narrative. The way I put it is this. Our brains our lightning fast, like cheetahs. Our hands are super slow, like turtles.

When we ask children to write, we tell the cheetah and the turtle to keep the same pace.

No wonder so many kids struggle.

Oral language is that bridge, and it links our thoughts and words together in a manageable way. Think of it this way – how often do you have to talk through a problem to find a solution for it?

Through storytelling, writers at all stages of readiness understand that they hold the power of composition, even if their handwriting or typing skills don’t yet demonstrate it.

And yet oral language largely goes ignored at school, despite the fact that it’s one of the most powerful tools we have.

It’s why I had such a WIN when, a few years ago, I was able to bring a storytelling unit to one of the grades I work with. I crossed my fingers and hoped it would be in good hands with my colleagues.

Boy was it ever. I got the most amazing affirmation of my efforts in a planning meeting today, as teachers discussed their upcoming unit on personal narrative. Here are a few highlights…

Me: This might be a place where storyboarding would be great. It would help your writers use oral language to draft and organize your thoughts.

Them: Oh, we already do that!

Me: I find it helpful to sketch the first and last squares of the storyboard, then fill the action in between to build the story.

Them: Oh, we already do that! You taught us that.

Me: One trick for kids working on dialogue is to make quick puppets out of pencils and let them play with the characters.

Them: Oh, we already do that! That’s what you taught us.

Me: … (smiles inwardly, shuffles feet) …

What do I love best about these exchanges?
1. I love to learn and grow. I feel lucky to see colleagues do the same.
2. It’s affirming to know that things I see as good teaching…ARE.
3. I love making myself obsolete because others have pushed forward.

…I’d probably better stop before I get on another soapbox. Like I said, it’s easy to get riled up about things when you feel as passionately as I do…

Steering My Craft: Short Sentences, Revisited

August 15, 2019

This blog post is part of an effort to refine my own work as a writer, and to strengthen my practice as a writing teacher. For each exercise, I’ll provide the directions, my effort, and a short reflection.

The Assignment: I’ll get real here. I wasn’t a huge fan of how things turned out for my short sentence experiment. I went back to the Ursula Le Guin text, and she suggested trying to change voice for a new attempt. So, if the writing was originally narrative, change it up to something more directive. So I gathered my notebook, my water bottle and sunglasses, and sat out on the porch to give this exercise another go.

HOW TO START A DAY: PRIMER FOR A WORKING MAMA

Your alarm buzzes you awake. It’s too late. Your bladder already signals. Take a moment. Inhale your day. Try not to feel its weight. Exhale. Stretch your muscles. Feel your joints. Decide which one is sorest.
Shuffle to the bathroom. Try not to look in the mirror. There are better times. Glare askance at the scale. It is not your friend.
Start the shower. Step in. Let a moment wash over you. Wander into loose thought. Realize you’ve stood still four minutes. It might be a record. Snap back. There is soaping to do.
The bar slips. You quickly calculate. Better to let it fall. No need for heroics. There is dignity in that move.
You pick up again. You begin once more. Your mind tallies up obligations. Better stop now. You don’t want to take all day. You’d run out of water.
Decide it is time to move on. Heave a sigh. Grab a towel. Make it two. You need any coverage you can get.
Pick up your clothes. You laid them out last night. Commend yourself for your foresight. Now open the closet. Put on something different. It’s not much better.
It will do. It will have to do. It will all have to do.

Reflection: This was a fun one! I’m glad I took some time to go back and attempt this exercise with a different tone. Granted, it doesn’t paint a terribly rosy picture of life as a working parent, but I find it pretty accurate.

I also had fun layering on meanings through word play – like “stood still four (for) minutes” – or “the bar slides downward.” Ohh, yes. The bar is ALWAYS sliding downward in life, isn’t it? It’s the only way to stay sane sometimes. The soap passage also reminds me of a poem I wrote a few years ago with the same theme. Guessing the overworked, overwhelmed parent trope still holds a lot of mileage for me. Figuring it will for the foreseeable future.

Steering My Craft: Long Sentences

August 6, 2019

This blog post is part of an effort to refine my own work as a writer, and to strengthen my practice as a writing teacher. For each exercise, I’ll provide the directions, my effort, and a short reflection.

The Assignment: Craft a passage (up to 350 words) within a single sentence. Punctuation and complex clauses are welcome!

She thought of July as the time that unfurled its way ahead of her with the summer that lay spread out like an overstretched weekend – these many weeks being a delightful lazy Saturday, on which day a teacher can slough off the Friday weight of the fall, the winter, the spring; on which day she may sleep in, take untimed bathroom breaks, enjoy meals unpunctuated by bells and whistles; on which day a teacher can fully inhale; on which day she may take walks – long rambles with no clear plan, objective, goal, agenda, benchmark, or attempt at measuring mastery; on which day endless streams of questions and requests and situations give way to chirping birds, rustling leaves and the drone of cicadas; on which day the endless grind of preparing and implementing the precise logistics of obligations comes to a virtual standstill; she knows Sunday is coming, and she knows that although Sunday, with its accompanying rise in pressure, anxiety, and (from time to time) dread my crouch around the corner, today is a different day.

Reflection: Well, this passage is definite proof that I often write from my own experience! I often notice a theme of protagonists overwhelmed or weighted down by obligation. Can’t imagine how that would come to be.

I did have fun, though, with extending this outsized sentence with a full tool belt of punctuation at the ready. I felt much better about this exercise than the one that required me to forgo ALL punctuation other than the ending mark. I might find a way to try and share this one with my colleagues somehow…

Steering My Craft: Short Sentences

August 2, 2019

This blog post is part of an effort to refine my own work as a writer, and to strengthen my practice as a writing teacher. For each exercise, I’ll provide the directions, my effort, and a short reflection.

The Assignment: Craft a paragraph using short sentences (maximum 7 words each). No sentence fragments are allowed!

FIRST ATTEMPT
Among it all, I sit. Sunlight lulls my eyes closed. I offer a moment of meditation. Sweat descends down my neck. The breeze lifts it away. A fly lands on my arm. It breaks my trance. Steady hums of cicadas pull me back. I store these days for February.

Mini-Reflection: This is a nice slice of life, but it’s also much shorter than the 100 or so words Ursula Le Guin called for. This writing feels more like a cop-out. I pushed myself towards another attempt.

NEXT ATTEMPT
Time to get up. She sniffs, scratches, stretches. Ambles over to the bed. An arm hangs over the side. She huffs, then nudges. The arm stays limp. She huffs, nudges, then growls. Fingers wiggle. She nudges, then grumbles again. A hand scrunches fur, then absently strokes. She wags, then she licks. She licks some more. She keeps licking until her human wakes. He sniffs, scratches, stretches. Time to get up.

Reflection: I can’t say I’m overwhelmed by the writing I did for either of these passages. I’m glad I was able to create a couple of vivid moments. For me, the biggest challenge was avoiding sentence fragments. As a poet, I like being able to play with language in that way, and it’s kind of a bummer that I had my hands tied with that one.

Steering My Craft: Am I Saramago

August 1, 2019

This blog post is part of an effort to refine my own work as a writer, and to strengthen my practice as a writing teacher. For each exercise, I’ll provide the directions, my effort, and a short reflection.

The Assignment: Craft a passage using NO punctuation. Gulp. Here was my go:

He tied his shoes yes all by himself found his way to the garage and his bike and pedal pedal pedaled himself all the way down the block and around the corner past the mean old people house and across the street to the far park with the tall slide and the not creaky swings and the circling circling sickening circling merry go round but what he was looking for and what he really came for was just ahead of him in the sandbox and all he had to do was cross to the scratchy diggy crane but as he almost sat a hand grabbed his shoulder and a voice said WHERE IS YOUR MOTHER YOUNG MAN and he tried to speak or squeak but he must have dropped his voice in the sand so he got back on his bike and pedal pedal pedaled across the street past the mean old people house around the corner and up the block before leaving his bike his shoes his courage at the doorstep.

Reflection: No punctuation at ALL? That was tricky, having to toss aside not just commas and periods, but hyphens, ellipses, parentheses. Maybe I’m whining, but it’s hard to set a piece of writing out into the world with no help for my readers on how to hear those words in their heads.

I do think that my protagonist and his stream-of-consciousness thought made for a good match for this type of writing. Still, at some point, as the book advises, I may go back and toy with this one to see how adding punctuation changes the power of the piece.