Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Last Slice

The students were gathered near the screen. I read, let the story wash over them, then scrolled down to reveal more text. They were so engaged. I led them through the usual questioning about what they noticed. Your predictions? The setting is? Vocabulary specific to the theme?

As we worked our way through the piece, I realized it was working in a unique way. They looked at my face frequently. They asked questions. They were connecting to the text in a special way.

Aha, I realized. this is the power of sharing a piece with students which you have crafted yourself for just this teaching moment. I have shared writing, but usually when I am modeling a "how to". This story was a narrative of spending time with my father. Their teacher was sharing a part of her life with them.

This I will do much more frequently. So THANKS to Ruth and Stacey for hosting us all at Two Writing Teachers. I have gained and grown as a teacher in ways I will continue to discover. And THANKS to all who have visited and read through my writings. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I have enjoyed the posts of others. It was wonderful!

Monday, March 30, 2009

I think this time of year is one of my favorites in the classroom. Spring is bringing a change, a newness. We are excitedly anticipating getting back to the Outdoor Classroom. We have projects ahead and want to observe and record what we notice.

As a teacher, this is the time of year they "get it". I met them in the fall as just-graduated third graders and they have matured into true fourth graders. We quickly move through steps of the day that initially took months of practice. Academic skills have grown and become solid. We have come together as a community.

A couple more months and they are off to fifth grade and ready for it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring Break Ended Saturday Evening

Today, Sunday, was back to the routine of working life. Hours spent forming the upcoming week's lessons and repeatedly reviewing our changed schedule due to state testing.

A quick run to the grocery store to gather items--fresh coffee, fruit, croissants. Packing lunch. Deciding what quick meals for the evenings ahead.

Laundry for the outfits of the week. Some cleaning and baking bread for a gift. The routine of working life.

I'm prepared to return to the routing because of such a wonderful spring break. An enormous amount of casual time with family. Laughing, sharing, enjoying great meals.

Time to myself for reading, learning, creating. Back to the routine of working life is okay.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Stroke

The stroke has robbed him of balance and strength.
It has stolen fluid muscle movement.
He is deprived unjustly of independence, needing others to watch over and care for him.

The stroke has pilfered sections of his mind.
It has stolen his ability to communicate all but the most basic of needs.
Plundered conversations with others in the room.

The stroke tries to cheat of us our father.
It will not steal him from us.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Parking Lot Dilemma

It happened twice today. I left the store and as I stood on the sidewalk, just outside the door, I had no idea where my car was. Do I go left? Go to the right?

I'm not that old so this shouldn't be happening due to slowing mental processes. I'm on Spring Break so my mind is relaxed. What's up here?

Of course, the whole time of wondering where the car was lasted about 4 seconds. It was really not that long.

But twice in one day caught my attention.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Finding a treasure in a least likely place.

I had rehearsed a story in my head yesterday. (Thanks to Alan over at The Writing Project, I became more aware of that rehearsal we tend to do). It was about the joy of getting together with family.

However, I was not able to make the post yesterday, due to sitting in a bar for four-and-a-half hours. One of those old wood floor, don't leave your hand on the table too long for fear of what lingers there, type of bars. But don't create the image of a broken teacher, whom the stress of the job has driven her to nurse one drink after the other, while pouring out her woes to the barkeep. I, we, were there to support my oldest step-grandson on open mic night. What an experience.

Earlier in the day, with the luxury of Spring Break, I had invited my three grown children and one's girlfriend to join me for lunch. We ate, caught up, joked, teased, waxed nostalgically and savored the time away from our usual busy schedules. As we left, a plan was made to see if we could get away, yet again today, to attend the open mic and be a part of the audience for said grandson.

Some important information is that my grandson is sixteen years old and the "band" has existed, in one form or another, for a short period of time. What was ahead for us...we did not know. But being the troopers we are and looking for a way to encourage this budding interest in music, we forged on.

With respect to my grandson, he is in that teen-age era where they frequently morph into different personae. And once again, this latest genre caught me off guard. The hair, clothing, jewelry. Underneath it all, is the same boy we've enjoyed for years. Tonight he was extremely nervous. Their first performance.

For some reason, unknown to us, they were slated for the last gig, despite his mother getting him and their equipment there by the six o'clock sign up. We had naively anticipated a seven o'clock performance and were not too upset at hearing it would be eight o'clock. Still time for those who had to work tomorrow to get home for sleep.

But then the word came that their time would be midnight. Really? Midnight for a group of kids? It is Spring Break, but come on. And on a more personal level we were thinking...What am I going to do while I wait for hours? Run an errand and return? Most were too tired to multitask. So we settled in.

Every fifteen minutes a new act performed. We watched a smorgasbord of rock, hip hop, acoustic and on and on and on. We'd look at our watches and announce just how much longer we had to wait, some anticipating a very early wake up and a long day of work. I slowly sipped a dark ale.

At the heart of it we were there to support the band, but we all experience a treasure in our coming together like this. Once again today, we took the time to talk, joke, look back, look forward, and enjoyed each others company. Maybe not the time or place of our choice, but a treasure is a treasure.

The boys performed in outfits that later in life they will look back and exclaim, "What was I thinking?" The music was surprisingly good. Very good, if you like loud guitar screeches and boys yelling. Some family and friends stood right up at the stage, seeming to be supporting them physically. I observed from the back, so proud of everyone. So very proud.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Today I feel the luxury of time.

I woke slowly and looked at the unset alarm. I knew I had time before the late service, so I snuggled under the covers for a little while longer.

Glanced at that pile of unfinished laundry, which would usually have to be done before a week of teaching, then realized I'd be dressing quite informally in the upcoming days. It can sit in the basket until Tuesday, if I choose.

I strolled across the kitchen, coffee cup filled to the brim, on my way to the computer. I had lots of time to savor each drop and could even reheat it at the slightest cooling.

Planned the day in my head and so looked forward to having my own time for what ever I choose to do around here. No pressure to make sure lesson plans and corresponding materials were gathered and ready to go. Reading? Scrap booking? Baking?

Then the very practical side of my personality took over and reminded me that I do have a tendency in such situations to procrastinate and enjoy this luxury of time just a little too much. Yes, I'll have to check in on the Spring Break To Do list I put on my desktop. It's right in the middle of the screen.

But for now, I am grateful for this dilemma. It stretches before me in eight glorious days.

Friday, March 20, 2009

This Will Make a Good Story

When my own children were little and a memorable event happened, I would tell them, "That will make a good story. You can write about this." As a teacher I now repeat the line often to my students, which they get a kick out of and do record some events in their writer's topic list. Well, today they turned the table on me, in the midst of a calamity and a great laugh.

I had bribed, no-encouraged, them to bring back a survey for my Career Ladder paperwork. When it means increasing my salary, I am not above using whatever means necessary. Well, I forgot to pick up the candy (maybe something to do with this week's late night meetings after school). But being the last day before Spring Break, I needed to run to the store for the reward. Since this cut into my lunch period, I tossed items from the salad bar into an oversize plastic container and rushed back just in time to pick up the boys from recess. The day continued with a reasonably great mini lesson on leads. The resource teacher came in and taught more #*!* math state test preparation. Then we started getting the room and ourselves ready for nine days away.

This relaxed atmosphere seemed like a good time to squeeze in bites of that salad. But picture this. One student standing near my desk, writing on the Smart Board. All eyes at that time are on him, as they helped him spell a word. I'm not sure how I did it, but a piece of my arm tapped that plastic container of salad and the contents went flying in many surprising directions. Purple lettuce, garbanzo beans, shredded carrots and what seemed like hundreds of tiny tortilla strips.

Simultaneously, the kids got that shocked, oh-no, what will happen now look, as I let out a large whooping laugh that carried across the room. I mean, really, what else was there to do? Spring Break is 30 minutes away and why spoil the mood?

As you can guess, being the kids that they are, this whole scene provoked rounds of laughter from them. The salad lay scrambled behind my desk where the Smart Board writer stated he'd get the small broom and clean it up. "Never mind, I'll do it later" I reassured him with a chuckle. The room began to calm down when someone from the middle of the room sized up the situation and hollered out, "You should remember this Ms. E., it will make a great story".

I think it will.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Talkin to the Birds

I walked out, no, make that rushed-dashed-sprinted, out the front door hoping to make it to school on time. Wondering why I dabble in tasks around the house each morning, instead of sticking to a more linear schedule of dressing, eating, and heading out the door.

As I turned the key in the lock, the brightness of the spring day grabbed my attention. It was a blue sky trimmed with sunshine, standing over the new green grass. The gray maple tree limbs were sporting tiny wine-colored buds.

A movement in the tree caught my eye. A pair of small birds, an obvious male and female pair, danced from limb to limb, seeming to come closer to me. One usually doesn't describe birds as cute, but this pair really was.

So instead of the usual charge to the car, I stopped and watched. I slowed down even more and began to talk them. I really did know that they would not talk back, but it just seemed the thing to do. The male started jumping limbs, coming closer still. How curious. I noted their coloring to look them up later in the field guides in my classroom. I stood and delighted in their antics.

Then realizing the time, I jumped into the car and made my way to school, grateful to that avian pair for helping me stop and notice spring around me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Becoming Writers

We settled on the rug just as we have many so times this year. Writing folders, pencils, and "reporter's" spirals ready to be used. Our short Brain Break outside on this brisk spring day had revived spirits and we were ready to dive into our work.

Today I am reviewing the rubric for this newspaper article unit. Almost all are really enjoying this style of writing and looking at their world as containing many newsworthy stories. It has brought new awareness to that sometimes vague term---audience.

They shared the entries for possible stories they have been collecting in their reporter's spirals. Conversations and comments were offered to help fellow writers begin to plan their pieces. I'm pleased at their grasp of the craft and especially pleased that some reluctant writers are seeing themselves as having a story and capable of writing it.

I check the clock to be aware of how long I am talking. I watch their body language...eager to get to writing spots and begin. I feel like I should be shouting, and indeed in my head I am. "Ready, set, write!!"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Memories

A productive Monday with engaged children showing growth in academic areas. Then a baby shower for a fellow teacher, followed by a two hour First Aid class. It was a busy day.

I had moments here and there where I reflected on the weekend. My home was full of loved ones conversing, cooking, playing games, sharing meals. All laid aside the business of their lives to come together as family. I'm grateful.

But as I returned home today, weary from it's length, I pushed open the front door and heard the emptiness of the front room. Not a loneliness, but a quietness. And the memories of family hang everywhere.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Beautiful Weekend

Blue skies with
leafless limbs and trunks
held up against it.

Our group strolling
along dirt paths
a creek flowing on one side
a dry meadow, the other.

Hike the hill
meander through woods
move through subjects.

What I love dearly.
Family visiting, all
immersed in nature.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dinner Anyone?

Sushi. What an interesting food.

Some girlfriends and I were meeting for dinner tonight. One gal sent an email raving about a sushi place we all just had to try. You could tell some of our return emails hesitated to commit to eating something raw and unfamiliar, but being the good sports we are, everyone said "Sure".

But really. We live in the middle of a farm state surrounded by cattle and various livestock. Corn and bean fields everywhere, no rice fields. This is very unfamiliar food. Not to mention the smells one is greeted by as you enter the restaurant.

The waitress never showed any signs of being frustrated by my menu questions. And fifteen minutes later sat a luscious looking cabbage and chicken salad in front of me. Watching others at the table eat their rice wrapped seafood slices was the closest experience of sushi for me tonight.

And the real reason for joining friends for dinner became apparent. It is mostly about talking, sharing, supporting each other and not so much about what one eats. I can join them anywhere and order from a menu that carries any type of food. We were feeding our souls tonight.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Catching Up

Tonight I attended a jewelry party. This is a stretch for someone who typically shops for jewelry under a sign announcing at least 40 percent off regular prices. But the mother of my daughter's friend was just getting started in the business, thus the invite. Another friend and her mother, whom I haven't seen in years, was also going, so why not? It would be fun to catch up and share changes.

We really had a pleasant evening of oohing and aahing at the table full of sparkly pieces, sipping coffee and munching finger foods. Tara and I picked up the conversation like we had just talked yesterday. It was as if we were back in time when the girls were first graders and not the young women of today. But one topic was markedly changed. While we used to laugh and share the trials of parenthood, today it is caring and concern for our aging parents. Our talk is sprinkled with gratitude for how things are at the moment, but fear of the path ahead. How great to have old friends to share the walk.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wish We Were Dancing Among the Stars

I keep remembering those large brown eyes looking at me with a type of pleading, but also a look I just could not identify. We were in the hall, yet again today, following his poor behavior choices. I was trying to make this a conversation. To give enough pause between my comments, so he would feel comfortable enough to speak.
Maybe then I could figure out the next move in this dance we do all too frequently. His action, my reaction, his reaction, my action. But we are dancing in circles and not finding solutions to these problems.
There was a moment, when I wondered in my head, "Just how many times have I had this conversation through the years? Must be close to a thousand, no, maybe two thousand". Actually the number is not quite that large. I'm just feeling worn down at the moment. Several students are struggling today and I in turn am struggling to maintain a teaching focus with the ones able to stay in the classroom.
But what is hiding behind those distant and forlorn eyes? He's had so many changes in his life recently, but this feels bigger that those new house, new school, new teacher looks.
OK, put the thoughts aside for tonight, or try to.
Tomorrow we begin a new dance.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I can still hear, see and feel the bubbly excitement around me. We were holding the newly rooted potato plants that had just been dropped off for our school. Some gingerly took the plants and examined them. Others crowded in and my usual sense of classroom order started fading. But I let it slip, because I too was just as excited about their excitement.
The newly constructed vegetable beds are where these plants will go and my students were aware of this. They also knew they would not be the ones to plant. Younger grades would be digging in the soil, planting and watering these beauties.
No, my students just seemed to be excited about what was in front of them. "Look at this," I said, pointing in the dirt to the mound of a potato from which green and purple stems emerged. "What type of plant is this?" "Potatoes??" came the chorus.
We spent a few minutes in a simple lesson of potato production. "Potatoes grow underground?" a child said in disbelief. "I thought they came on bushes." This is going to be fun I thought to myself. New experiences.
We set the plants on the window sill and got to reading. It was just the moment we needed. A little time away from our routine. A slice of wonderment and excitement in a fourth grade Monday.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

All Kinds of Challenges

I knew this Slice of Life challenge would push me as a writer and a teacher of writing, but today I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself. It pushed me to create a blog and join in this cyber world of communicating.
Those of you who are light years ahead of me in this regard may not recognize this pivotal moment. See, I'm one who still has an electric typewriter in the front of the office closet. Just in case I need to pull it out and use it.
So thanks to Ruth and Stacey for the challenge and to all whose blogs I've visited over time. I'm catching up.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

What is Closing the Achievement Gap?

Today I engaged in an email exchange with a reporter from our local newspaper. Her stance was our mandated statewide testing, imposed from No Child Left Behind, was our only way of measuring how schools are meeting the challenge of closing the achievement gap. I stared at her response in shock.
My surprise subsided, other emotions washed over me, then I was left with the feeling that as an educator, I had an obligation to address her lack of knowledge. Just how would I do that? As I went about the day, this was not far from my thoughts.
I finished the rubrics and the final mini lessons for my fourth grader's newspaper article writing unit (some irony there). I worked on my schedule for the next two weeks. It contains much time devoted to test taking skills, so we will be prepared for the impending achievement test. More irony.
I planned my email response to her. But the thought lingers that as an educator, I need to start taking steps to educate the public, especially those with power, such as newspaper reporters. I have been a part of a staff that has made significant steps in closing the achievement gap and the word needs to be spread.