Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Slice of Tuesday: Welcome 5782

September 7, 2021

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


Today was the Jewish New Year, a day to reflect and ground myself spiritually. It’s a day of traditions – some in the stricter cultural sense, others adopted as family rituals.

A new challah recipe and braiding technique. Yes, I usually make these breads round for the new year, but didn’t want to tinker too much on the first try…
Chicken and rice dish, perfect for our pre-services dinner
A moment captured on our annual apple-picking outing. We started when my oldest was an itty bitty, and it’s just been a fun thing to do ever since!
The place where I performed tashlich (literally “casting away”), a tradition of casting bread (and other figurative burdens) out upon the water.
Apples and honey. Folks were on to something when they thought up this pairing!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Another Sort of Slice

August 31, 2021

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

Today was a whole day of online workshops. I really wanted to spend time writing, but couldn’t bear the computer screen any more. So, my Slice for today goes as follows. Enjoy!

Slice of Life Tuesday: At the Edge

August 24, 2021

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


Next week I return to school, and I’ve been trying to articulate my feelings about it. I’m squished between a lot of emotions, and I thought this poem might reflect some of those thoughts…

At the Edge of School, 2021

It’s the
dread and excitement
that build with each step
up the high-dive ladder:
closer and closer to the top
the flutters grow
and it’s hard to tell
if my grip slips
from pool water
or sweaty palms

Standing at the top,
toes knurled around the edge
I take in the breeze,
the chlorine smell,
the faraway noises of grown-ups and kids
and splashes and squeals

I’ve been here before.

Sometimes
you don’t always
land so well –
you hit the water funky, or
water goes up your nose, or
your swimsuit goes rogue
and you question
why you ever came to the pool
in the first place

Looking down,
I wonder why I continue to
make this leap
year after
year after
year

But the pool is one of my
favorite places to be –
I’m comfortable here,
at home,
happy
within myself

So I guess
despite the funk
and the water noise
there’s really nothing to do
but brace myself
take a breath

And jump.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Life, in Metaphor

July 20, 2021

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


Yesterday I had a GREAT idea for a blog post. I was starting to craft it in my head as I always do, until I got sidetracked.

Fast forward to this morning, when I got up and could not remember for the life of me what I wanted to write about. I racked my brain, trying to go back through my day yesterday to jog my memory.

Nothing.

So I started to think on what ELSE I could possibly blog about today, what subjects I could take on. They all seemed pale in comparison to the idea I had yesterday. None of them brought the same excitement.

To kill some time, I sat down with a crossword puzzle. I usually don’t enter a word unless I’m 100% sure it’s the answer. I’m the kind of gal who would rather leave things blank than track how far a mess-up went. Of course, I still make mistakes and need to erase them.

That’s when it hit me.

You see, just yesterday I was working on this same puzzle. Just yesterday I worked those squares, hoping for no major mess-ups. Just yesterday, I had one of those mess-ups, and had to rely on my trusty eraser to clean things up.

Only, I couldn’t.

You see, the pencil was old enough, and the eraser was unused enough, that it had hardened on the outside. Rather than deftly sweeping my shortcomings away in a pile of of rubber shavings, I just got a black blurry mess.

That got me thinking.

Erasers. We need them. They clean our messes, big and small. They give us a fresh start on things. Erasers let us take comfort in knowing we can take chances; there’s always a way out with an eraser.

But we can only begin erasing once we look at our paper, see something wrong and recognize it’s worth the time to fix it. Otherwise, we can plow ahead without worrying.1 And if we don’t use our erasers, if we’re not in the habit of recognizing and correcting errors, those erasers harden. They fall into disuse, and when we try to use them again they just leave a bigger mess behind.

And isn’t that the way of us humans? (C’mon, you saw where this was going, right?)2

We, too, have to be in regular practice of noticing our mistakes. We’ve got to be aware of times we leave messes that bear fixing. We’ve also got to take enough chances knowing we’ll mess up sometimes, knowing we may have to fix things. And if we don’t use those figurative erasers, if we fall out of the habit of recognizing where we’ve gone wrong and working to correct it, they3 will harden. And once we’ve fallen out of practice, it’s so much harder to admit mistakes – and SO much harder to find ways of making things better. 4 5 6

So yes, my friends, we need to keep our pencils sharp. But let’s also remember that pencils have another, worthy end.

“The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead.” – Robert Brault


1 and sometimes you do skip errors because who has the time to make sure we’re always 100% error free?
2 yes, this is definitely proof that I live in metaphor and can’t ever shut it off
3 like our hearts
4 yes, i know that every metaphor breaks down at some point, including this one
5 and even the best eraser job leaves traces of the mistake that wasn’t there
6 I mean, we can’t just erase our mistakes with people – there are always echoes, right?

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: 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.

Tuesday Slice of Life: Two Sides of the Same SweeTART

June 8, 2021

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

It’s summer break now (let us pause for a moment of celebration).

I’m supposed to be taking it easy.
I’m also supposed to be getting my house back in order.
To get back into shape.
To carve out time for writing.
To meditate.
To enjoy life.
To check out and read scads and scads of books.

“So, Lainie, what delightful writing projects have you taken on now that summer unfurls before you, vast and wide?”

….ummm….well….you know how sometimes energy needs to be stored as potential energy before it can be released as kinetic energy? Kind of like how you’ve got to draw back and hold tension before you release the rubber band or the arrow? Consider me in that…potential energy phase.

I do have one thing that caught me as a writer. A student gave me a box of SweeTARTS.

Did you know that they’ve started to put words on SweeTARTS? And that the words are connected to one another?

That piqued my curiosity. I’ve long been a fan of words that are two sides of the same coin. As in, you can look at a penny and see Lincoln, or you can look at a penny and see the Lincoln Memorial. They look different, but they’re the same thing. A fellow storyteller, Yvonne Healy, taught me to advise student tellers that fear and excitement are just that – two sides of the same coin.

So naturally I wanted to explore this idea through the candy box. What “two sides of the same coin” ideas would pop up for me in artificially-flavored sugary goodness? What to do the corporate minds at the SweeTARTs factory have in store? Could they impress me?

I’d have to dig in to the candy and find out. But here’s the thing. I couldn’t just open a box of candy and waste it. And to tell the truth, I can maybe tolerate a few SweeTARTS before my teeth begin to hurt. Thankfully, my 20-year-old was on the task. He helped me sort through and find all the different word pairs on the SweeTARTS as I listed them. He also helped me eat said SweeTARTS. Talk about taking one for the team!

Some of the word pairings were pretty expected, nothing surprising:

humble-proud
strong-gentle
rock-pop
global-local
witty-silly
grit-strong
head-heart

But there were also several that, happily, surprised me. These are the ones that struck me as “two sides of the same coin.” It’s proof that there, somewhere buried in an office cubicle or around a meeting table or in some departmental Zoom meeting, there are sparks of creativity and wit at the corporate level:

funny-fierce
math-art
sassy-savvy
wild-wise

Now.

If you need me, you might find me writing. Or maybe not.
I might be walking the dog.
Or reading a book.
Or rearranging the kitchen drawers.
Or spending quality time behind a barbell.
Or trying a new cookie recipe.
Or
or
or…

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



Slice of Life: Love Those Writers

May 25, 2021

Yesterday.

Yesterday was a pretty good day.

It was the day my first article as a contributing author got published on my very favorite teacher site, Two Writing Teachers.

And it was also the day that I asked my students to reflect on their experiences in writing workshop this year. I told them of my respect and admiration for them as humans, as writers. I told them how amazing it was to enjoy the process of writing alongside them this year. I told them that we’re going to have the chance to continue this work together next year, and I want their experience next year to honor their strengths and needs.

Here are the questions I asked:

How did you grow as a writer this year?
What did you learn from reading one another’s writing?
Describe your ideal writing workshop.
Looking ahead to next year, how would YOU like to grow as a writer?

I first used breakout rooms on Zoom (sigh. Always ZOOM) to let the kids discuss answers to these questions, to gather ideas and perspectives. I then gave kids a solid 20 minutes to complete the questions on Google Forms. And by 20 minutes, I MEANT 20 minutes. I told students they were not allowed to submit their survey before I gave the OK. If they reached a stopping point, they could stop, or think, or daydream, but I wanted the survey open for other thoughts that “trickled in” over the course of that 20 minutes.

I’m glad I did.*

My students brought it. And why shouldn’t they have? They’ve been bringing it every day we’ve been together.

As I read through their responses, I saw so many common threads, so many take-aways. I’m sharing a couple of highlights because they make me so happy.

On what we want writing workshop to look like, kids envisioned:
-Calm. Quiet. Peace.
-Solitude when needed.
-Collaboration when needed.
-Pens and paper and clipboards and fuzzy pillows and seating options.
-Freedom.

Word cloud showing how we envision writing workshop. Thanks, edwordle, for the resource!

On what we learned from sharing our work:
-We never gave enough credit to the skills of other writers.
-Other people have very different writing styles.
-Reading other people’s work made us want to write better.
-We’re better at giving and receiving feedback

Word cloud showing what we’ve gotten out of the experience.

On how I can help them learn and grow, students envision that I’ll be:
-Teaching specific writing skills
-Offering feedback
-Giving them the “push” they want and need in zones of discomfort
-Showing them text that mirrors the aspects they want to use in writing

This is just the tip of the iceberg, friends. I asked my kids to stop, to imagine, to dream about what writing workshop could be. They’ve given me so much to think about over the summer. And while summer canNOT come fast enough, I’m already looking forward to next year.

*(If we’re being 100% real, YES. There were plenty of kids who probably filled out the survey in four minutes and pretended to work longer. This is a COVID year. And it’s June. And Zoom. I’ll take what I can get.)


Today’s post is part of the weekly Slice of Life Challenge. Check them out!

“I Feel Like a Real Writer” – Guest Post

May 24, 2021

Friends, I’m so excited to tell you that I am now a contributing author on the Two Writing Teachers website. This community has helped me grow so much as a writer, a teacher and as a person. Honestly, I could gush for quite a while about how transformative the experience has been. Suffice it to say, I’m humbled and honored to be a part of it.

So, here’s a teaser for my first article:

Teaching writing to gifted students isn’t the smooth, easy path some might suppose. Gifted kids often present a range of academic and affective needs. How can we encourage joyful and confident writing in this special population?

Want to read the rest? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers. Enjoy, and keep on visiting that site. There’s a lot to learn, and amazing folks to learn from!