Friday, April 1, 2011

Clasroom List of My Learning

Write everyday, even if your don't appreciate what you are able to accomplish at that moment. It may make a better story later or may just sit there as a testament to your efforts.

Writing is sometimes "drudgery". But writers recognize this and deal with it rather than giving up.

Writers need ways to always be growing their vocabulary. They have their ears and eyes open when reading or listening to others. They use tools to search out more precise and interesting ways to express themselves.

Deadlines help. Having a minimal amount required helps. Otherwise, some days we would use creative excuses instead of our creative writing.

Writers look at their world and experiences differently. They open their eyes to all moments before them. They recognize writing doesn't have to be about grand events, but is about their lives.

Writers need comments. While we grow from constructive comments, we flourish with appreciative comments. We require applauding.

Writers have a duty to applaud others. We recognize that along with receiving others attention, we need to encourage those doing the same hard, risky work.

This list should grow. As your teacher learns more about the process of writing, she will share the insight with you, her precious community of writers. We will continually add to our writing knowledge.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Welcoming Housemate

I didn't really welcome the idea when my son first asked if the cat could come live with us. It was almost ten years ago that W. wanted to bring home the gray striped and white kitten. He had many reasons why our house needed and would benefit from a new pet.

Reluctantly, I agreed. The cat settled in quickly with our current dog, a friendly beagle mix. The cat preferred being outdoors, especially at night, then slept during the day. He really wasn't much trouble, just as my son had predicted.

Now the kids have all moved away from our home. But the cat stayed behind with me. Now I am the caretaker of Kitty or Thor (somehow he ended up with two diametrically different names).

Now Thor is an old cat. He stays inside and moves slowly. Last summer he pulled through a particularly tough illness which which I was not sure he'd recover from.

But Thor/Kitty has become a companion of sorts. Each time I come home or rise in the morning, he is there, although brief, to greet me. Not the type to require a lap to sit upon or need petting, Thor will travel to find me in the house and lay in the same room. He is the welcoming housemate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Saying Goodby

"I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too."

"It went way too quick" we say in unison.
And so goes another good-by between my sister and I.

We were born fourteen months apart and when we were younger people sometimes thought we were twins. We were pals through childhood and those awkward teen years. We had good times, we fought, we experienced life together.

For decades now, we have lived far from each other. Many states between us. But the bond remained and grows stronger as we experience the joys and trials of adult life.

Today we give a final hug goodby. I'll miss her so.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Family Hike

We got out of the van and decided just how many layers to wear, grabbed cameras, and headed to the map posted at the trail head. After some discussion we were off. Down the path for exercise, great views and time together doing one of the things we love best--hiking.

My nephew, L., tended to be the first along the path. He often set the pace for my sister, my niece and myself. But we were in no hurry. So many times we stopped and just gazed down valleys and up mountain sides to the snowy peaks beyond.

We never seemed to stop talking. We have shared so much through the years that we love to retell favorite stories. We discuss plans for the future and everything in between.

Moss, lichen, cacti, trees and rocks grab our attention and we stop to inspect. They patiently wait for me, their lungs used to this high altitude.

We circled back and look at the map. We've done a two mile hike. We make plans for returning and bringing other members on the next family hike.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Loving My Spring Break

I'm here in Colorado for my spring break and thoroughly enjoying this secluded spot on the side of a mountain. This is quite a contrast to the rolling hills of Missouri that I call home.

I look out the window and see the dark bark of thousands of lodgepole pines standing sharp against the white covered slope. These conifers stretch fifteen feet or so before laying branches out to the side, which are covered with a dusting of snow.

Snow is always present. Drifts are piled up and look like they will stay until spring. Snow melts in some spots only to be covered again the next day. Roads are generally clear. This affords me the opportunity to visit places I love to observe in each season.

Being in this enchanting setting rejuvenates me. I visually drink in the sights and feel a peace come over me. I'm aware of how blessed I am to take in this beauty.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Snowy Walk

Snow crunches under our boots and occasionally we slip into deep pockets of it
Soft beds of brown pine needles help us get our footing
Packed crushed granite is the easiest part of the trail

Flakes fall from time to time
Last night's blanket is fading where the sun is able to shine through
Smooth sureal drifts edge our way

The small pond is iced over
The surrounding tall pines and spruce sway in the wind
Amidst the winter a pussy willow is in bloom
A sign spring in the snow

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Journey

Over the past twenty-five years I've made many trips from my home back to the large city I grew up in. It's a two hour drive alongside rolling pastures and fields dotted with farms. I can travel interstate highway the whole time, even around the big city and almost to my mother's front door.

When my children were little they so enjoyed coming to Grandma and Grandpa's house. Picking and munching on vegetables in the huge garden, trips to stores we didn't have, game night at the kitchen table, receiving gifts and love. As they grew, it was harder for them to leave their social lives but they appreciated family gatherings and still very much enjoyed those drives up.

Then came the years I made the drive alone. So pleasurable to go out to dinner with Mom and Dad. Work on projects around the house, watch favorite tv shows together.

But as Dad's strokes left him less able to care for himself, the drive up and back became a worrisome one. Once there time was spent caring for him and progressed to Mom and I sitting by his bedside. With each health issue the trips became ones of tears and prayer.

Now I drive up to visit with just Mom. I'm so grateful for our time together. She gets out less and less and I feel she looks forward to my company. There are boxes for me to carry, a little yard work to do, along with reminiscing and sharing family news.

Tonight as I traveled I reflected on the previous trips up. Trips with a packed car through trips asking for God's comfort and strength to now. It has been a great journey.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday Club

It is the end of the day and almost the end of the week when we gather in the computer lab. I describe it that way because I'm usually feeling the effects of a Thursday when the fourth and fifth graders come together. I'm a little tired. The kids don't seem to be.

Our school had a great opportunity again this year. The engineering department of the university in our town would sponsor a Lego Robotics program. They provide the kits and an engineering student to guide us through building and programing.

Today the challenge was programing your gobot to travel through a maze. Students planned turns and rotations then tested repeatedly. Some became a little frustrated, but never gave up.

At 5:15 we pack up and students seem to bounce out to meet parents. "It's a great experience," I tell myself as I drag myself back to my classroom. And it really was.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Water the plants
A last load of laundry
Unload the dishwasher
Call my son to check on the cat

Fill the car with gas
Pack up essentials
Reading material in the bag
Go over the list, crossing off items

Friday I may beat the students out the door
Ticket in hand, I'm off
Spring Break trip will begin

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Measuring Engagement.

I so enjoy this time of year when I can take the class outside for a math lesson and for the most part, it runs smoothly. We have practiced the routines and they know the expectations. It is a lesson, yet being hands-on and outside it keeps the engagement level high.

Today we needed to practice measurement and area so what better way than creating a map of the garden area. A finished result will be placed in the teacher's lounge for garden sign up.

The raised beds were measured as well as their distance apart. Measuring the overall garden area and large hoop house needed lots of student cooperation.

Sprinkles of rain made us focus and hurry through our work. Once inside a master map was made on the screen. Tomorrow more graph paper comes out to complete individual maps.

Then later, choosing which one and what vegetables to plant.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Recess

Funny how they remember some of the things you say will occur in the classroom.

I had told them last week that we would have an extra recess as a reward for great behavior during our last couple tornado and fire drills. It is a responsible class who can be quiet when among the other grades and classes.

Remember my words, they did. Asking or reminding me a couple times a day. Even the usually quiet ones would raise their hand to politely ask if today was the day. Such anticipation.

Rain and a busy schedule pushed that coveted recess back a few days. Torture, pure torture waiting for me to reveal the day of the extra recess.

Today was the perfect day. We had focused work on the lessons, much effort on the math test and a beautiful spring day. The recess reward.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

We Have More Than An Achievement Gap

Friday was a difficult day in my classroom. Some students were making behavior choices that interrupted their and our community's learning. I felt like we were back in the first month of school establishing expectations. I counseled, then sent so many to Buddy Rooms, the intervention room and the office.

Some days this is what teachers have to do. But as I worked through the day, the talk of school board candidates from the prior evening mixed with the morning talk of my students relating events in their lives. It rumbled around in my head. Actually, they crashed into each other as I tried to control my anger and confusion over family situations and candidates' platforms.

My school went through a "reorganization" to close the achievement gap and we are having tremendous results. We were to become a model school for other school in the district facing similar challenges. So why don't candidates reference our work and results? Why did one candidate I spoke to not even know what occurred and our continued hard work?

Do candidates understand how life is in B.'s home when he tells me about the fighting of the evening before which made it hard to do homework. Again this time I believe him as the descriptions of a baseball bat breaking furniture and glass had a lot of detail. What about the tears of O. as she comes in late asking to eat some breakfast in her backpack. Mom didn't get up early enough to get them all ready and life in the shelter is difficult. Or the two phone calls from S.'s family. Limited ability to process life makes it a struggle for them all. These are just the ones who spoke to me today. As I think of my students, several more have similar "achievement gap factor" stories-like parents recently incarcerated and now they live with relatives.

I stand in the middle. I experience all the factors that cause achievement gaps because I observe it daily. I teach in a school designed to address these factors and we have results.

But we have a gap in our school district. It is an information gap. Perhaps it is also a gap between middle and upper-class white candidates, who truly want to affect change in our schools, and the student learners living vastly different lives.

How to close all these gaps?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Being the Student

Today I was the student.
The wood chair got awfully hard as the day went on.
I caught myself going to the bathroom just to get up and walk around during break.
I watched the clock and wondered if the session leaders would let us out on time or early.

In the afternoon activities I found myself looking at the artwork on the wall and then not knowing what the directions were for an activity.
I had to ask my neighbors what we were suppose to do.
When we were to turn to a certain page in the manual, I was distracted at the pages that caught my attention.

Overall, it was a very informative session with three movement activities outside.
But I displayed all the behaviors which I sometimes find annoying when my students do them.

School Board Candidates

Attending the school board candidate forum was frustrating, so frustrating.

I've lived and taught in small rural districts where I had the sense school board members and teachers worked together to create the best learning environment for the children of their community. The town was small enough teachers could communicate needs and wishes and board members respected our expertise.

In this city, with this current school board it is not so. During last night's question and answer session the left-liberal managed to rant two anti-Regan spews as he talked about his position while the right-conservative, whose children are not in public schools, gave canned comments on vouchers and collective bargaining. Oh my!

Do they really want what is best for children? Would they listen to what my classroom needs? Would they seek input or continue on with their agendas? Just why are they running?

Frustrating, truly frustrating.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


The media center had a great crowd tonight. Around 22 parents gathered for the second PTO meeting. The new president spoke of what has happened at our school since their last, initial meeting. A way to contribute to a school wide teacher appreciation that only costs $1.00, great for families with tight budgets. 500 box tops collected on one Wednesday "store". A parent volunteer in three mornings to copy and laminate. The beginning of a room parent program.

It truly brought tears to my eyes. This is a revitalization. A phoenix rising.

Six years ago our school went through a close-the-achievement gap process. The amount of teacher effort that has gone in to this school is unmeasurable. A massive transformation. The achievement gap is closing.

Tonight symbolized another process.

Six years ago only two couples and one other parent attended our first parent meeting. I remember the empty chairs we had set up in anticipation. We learned a lot that night about welcoming parents into the school. Through the years we built connections with our weekly home visits, teacher planned and led activity nights, and so much more.

But is is not really a night for tears, even tears of joy. It is cause for a celebration. Celebrating how much our school family has grown.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Halfway Hurrahs

There is so much a teacher of writing will learn when participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge. Tonight it is..I really don't want to write.

As teachers of writing, we have all heard this many times. My approach to a student stating he doesn't want to write has changed through the years. I've tried different understandings (or lack of understanding), along with different techniques, suggestions, and so on.

Tonight I'm thinking I'll continue with my usual statements that they have to get something down on paper because writer's push themselves even when they don't really want to write. I'll also temper that with some spots around the room that may spark a creative writing thought. A mini writer's retreat to get the juices flowing.

Because sometimes one just doesn't want to write.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Was I Thinking?

The last science unit I taught was on weathering. We did a number of experiments like placing small pieces of chalk in empty plastic film containers along with some salt. After much shaking (no limit to the needed energy for that in a fourth-grade classroom) we had a smaller, smoother piece of chalk. Weathering.

Today, as we made our way back into the building from the music trailer, I thought we could observe first hand our next science unit--erosion. The recent snow melt and rain was creating many small streams. We could just walk along the blacktop path and look how the water runoff was cutting small gullies across the garden area.

"Just step over this water and look across here toward the strawberry patch," I directed. "We are seeing erosion."

But really, what was I thinking? Yes, they did observe what the flow of water was doing, but could ten-year-old students just step over water? Science was put aside for the pleasure of puddle walking.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Things Important to Teachers

Here in the midwest we describe the size of hail with sport ball ball size hail, softball size hail. Well, today we have had golf ball size snow flakes. Or close to it. What was predicted to be one inch of snow is now up to four. All day the fat flakes have been coming down.

I was not in my classroom today because I attended a science professional development day. It was a good session made even better by the chance to catch up with some teacher friends. Others I have taught along side, some who taught my children, those I have got to know from meetings.

I've noticed that when teachers get together, watch out. Those who speak all day just seem to have it in their system to communicate and we don't always turn it off. Could it be the fact we are somewhat isolated during most days? I am usually holding a conversation with nine and ten-year-olds, so a chance at adult discourse is valuable.

At lunch today the snow was coming down, but did that keep us in? Did we dash to a near by fast food spot? Heavens no! When teachers get the chance for grown-up food served on real plates we will drive through any awful weather. Give us a chance for adult conversation alongside other adult diners and we are there.

Like the old post office saying, "Neither rain, nor snow, nor any inclement weather will keep us from the chance to dine in a restaurant with grown ups. Tomorrow it will be a different story.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


It is coming closer and we are anticipating it so.
In one week it will be the official first day of spring.
Grass is slightly greener, buds swell on bare branches.
New plants push up from the ground.

But what is this I ask, as the frozen bits hit the windshield?
Why is the weather forecast saying expect an inch of snow?
Why am I setting out boots to slip on tomorrow morning?

Spring please come and push this cold aside.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


My adult children were over tonight. We talk frequently, thanks to the communication abilities of cell phones and emails. But we sometimes find it difficult to carve out time to get together. We seem to get so busy.

I cherish these times that we gather. When you share a common history your conversations often invoke memories, remind us of what we have been through.

We planned a June trip together. Looked forward to a graduation celebration in the back yard this spring. Planned the future, together.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Coming Together

There we were smiling for the camera on the front lawn of the school. Laughing and enjoying the warm afternoon. Happy despite our Friday exhaustion following a week of the hard work we do. Feeling our camaraderie.

Those of us joined for the camera were all members of National Educational Association. We have been working towards collective bargaining in our district for some time. The local leaders of this group thoughtfully planning the steps.

So despite the media's negative spin toward teachers and challenges hurled at Wisconsin teachers, we will press forward to gain teacher rights here. None to soon as our state representatives are working on several bills aimed at dismantling tenure and schools.

We are smiling at times, but so very worried.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Welcomed Visitors

They could hardly contain their excitement. The anticipation seemed to make their bodies shiver. "The classroom must be quiet," I had told them earlier and they were. They knew the importance of respecting our visitors needs.

The large wooded boxes were rolled into the room. A young biology major wearing a falconers glove reached in and pulled out the beautiful red wing hawk. They tried to stifle how much in awe they were but I heard gasps around the room. The majestic bird stared, stretched it's wings, then settled her eyes on the room.

They listened intently to a short description of the species and how this bird's injury brought it to the Raptor Center. Carefully she went through the steps of placing the hawk back into it's carrier. We welcomed two more from their boxed perches, an owl and a turkey vulture. Welcomed visitors today. Winged wonderment.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Another day of brisk winds, light rain and cold temperatures. A day you wish your car heater would warm up quicker than it does. This wet coldness chills you so.

People rush in parking lots or as they enter and leave buildings. Umbrellas are up, yet the strong winds jerk them about, sometimes turning them inside out.

The ground saturated with rain holds small puddles in all low spots. Drops congregate on windows, then trickle down.

Grayness all around. Midwest March.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I Don't Think I Am

"OK boys and girls, get your reading spirals out."

They looked at me with astonishment, eyes wide. When you disrupt the practiced routine of a classroom, it gets noticed. "'s time for math Ms. E. Did you mean to say math spirals?" one student asked.

Now it was my moment of astonishment. I had stumbled over my words several times. For some reason I could not get in the grove this afternoon. Couldn't get it right.

"Well boys and girls" I began, thinking I'd turn this into one of my attempts at a joke. "It must be something I ate at lunch. I'm forgetful this afternoon."

A nearby student, with a sweet and earnest look on her face, raised her hand to offer help.

"Yes Rita."

"Ms. E I think I know what is wrong."

I wondered what she would say. One of those moments where you question the insight a ten-year old will give. I listened.

"Do you think you are having a nervous breakdown?"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Our History

We lingered over our coffees having finished our specialty sandwiches. The sun was streaming in the shop's large windows framed in plants. It created a special warmness to our still chilly weather. Created patterns on the rusty brick walls. Patrons frequently hauled open the decades-old heavy door.

Some of the buildings in our downtown area are getting close to two hundred years old. As I sit here today I think about the past. What businesses and people were here, what is the history of this quaint shop?

I listen to my daughter talk and think of our history. She is a grown woman now, not my little girl. Our conversations have evolved to adult subjects. We trade comments wrapped in respect for each others thoughts and feelings.

Parents go through a somewhat difficult process of letting go. We gradually are needed less. Our children at one point could not take care of any daily needs without our doing it for them. Eventually we find ourselves as I am today. Proudly conversing and sipping coffee with an adult friend.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rhythm of the Weekend

I awake near the same time as a weekday morning. But unlike weekdays-my workdays-today I am in total control of the tempo of the day. I control this song's rhythm.

It stretches before me, luscious. Why did a word that describes food pop in my head? Today I can eat a meal at any time I choose. I will linger over it and not glance at the clock every few minutes as I plan a stop at the copier, the book room, and five other tasks that need to be squeezed in. This weekend I'll walk to get a drink of water at any time because a room full of fourth graders are not under what feels like my constant supervision. I control the tempo of such simple aspects of life.

A neighbor will join me for church and we will fill every moment of our drive to and from with constant adult conversations. Our cadence. When we arrive, talented adults will lead us in song, then a man I admire will teach me as he stands at the front of the auditorium. I have the day off, I'll be the student.

I so enjoy, so deserve this movement and pattern of a day apart from teaching. My rhythm of my weekend.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Weak Individuals Need Not Apply

We teachers have to juggle so much. This is a profession that only those strong and quick on their feet can handle.

I had three sick kiddos today. All had one or two trips to the health room where temperatures were taken, but not high enough to be sent home. One did make it home, after vomiting the length of the main hall as we walked to art.

At the end of the day the stormy dark sky was making the kids uneasy and a little scared. And what comes next? Sirens and an announcement to head to the lower level due to a tornado warning. Throw in some parents wandering through the school looking for their kids and you have what feels like near chaos.

What helps me make it through? Well, it is Friday so I'll have two days off. Plus a fellow teacher and I were heading to Happy Hour where I'll have adult conversation and that tall beer. What a job.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Signs of Growth

I really enjoy this time of year in the classroom. Our routines are down pat. Of course, there still need to be a few reminders each day, but for the most part we all know the rhythm of the day.

Some students need office, counselor, intervention room assistance, but the rest are to be able to take such interruptions in stride. We quickly get back to the business of learning. They seem to realize joining in or laughing at inappropriate behavior will disrupt their valuable learning time.

But also what is so important and so rewarding is the academic growth I notice many times a day. Today I was conferencing as we finish up writing our biographies on Famous Missourians. They are truly taking ownership of their words and what they want to communicate to a reader. They come in partnerships and share how they assisted each other in revising and editing. They talk about their writing with a writer's vocabulary.

In the afternoon, I introduced multiplying two digit numbers with regrouping. While there was a need to redirect some back to the task of watching me, they all jumped on board with this new type of problem. There were no groans or sighs. A busyness filled the space as they tackled six problems on the screen. When finished they got together in small groups to compare answers and search for errors, if needed.

Signs of spring are all around us. Signs of growth are also everywhere in our classroom. This community of learners that came together last fall is growing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Speaking Up

Our local NEA has had two days of information meetings as our school district heads down the path of possible collective bargaining. I chose to attend tonight after school. It was a short, information packed session done in a very professional manner.

I had considered joining NEA for many years. The dues were high for a single teacher salary so that kept me from signing up. Lately, they are more reasonable. And lately, I have realized that teachers around here often just put up with decisions made by those in charge.

Why is it that teachers-myself very much included-feel an almost subordinate position to those in administration or on school boards? We are the experts dealing with groups of children each day, yet we allow decisions about our jobs to be made, often without much teacher input.

Well, it is time in this mid-sized city for teachers to be stakeholders in decision making. To have their opinions sought and to be able to bring their concerns to the forefront. I can't wait to see how this plays out. Hopefully, our voices are heard.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Are You Guys Paying Attention?

My class participates in the Feeder Watch program. Across the country schools, individuals, actually anyone who wants to can observe their bird feeder, record bird types and numbers and then send the information to Cornell University where it is compiled. It makes a great math moment in the classroom and is such fun looking out our windows to watch the birds feasting on the seeds we have left for them. Students use guide books, binoculars and posters to decide upon which birds they are spying.

You have to be standing at the window to look down on the feeders. But during my times of gathering the class for mini lessons, they are sitting in front of those same windows. I like the natural sunlight streaming in. While on the carpet if the children happen to look up, just behind me and my easel, they can see the sky and a huge oak tree.

Generally I feel they are engaged in my lessons. They are a pretty focused group intent on learning. I try to keep the lessons truly "mini" and succinct so they can go off and apply these skills to their own work of the day. I'm hoping they realize the importance of my words and actions.

Apparently not so much on one day last week. Well, maybe just a few minutes of disengagement. As I was wrapping up a lesson I had thought provided direction on writing biographies, quiet, shy Eduardo raised his hand to comment. Not one who does so often, I was pleased to see him initiate this comment rather than raising his hand to answer a question. What part of my lesson he is going to talk about I wondered to myself.

"Ms. E, I just saw a mourning dove fly by."

What? Wait! I'm talking biographies here. Is his mind wandering?

Well, others approved of Eduardo's change of subject as I heard, "Yeah, earlier I think I saw a hawk" and "I saw three starlings sitting on a tree branch".

I sulked briefly as it became apparent Eduardo was not the only one glancing up and out the window. Quickly I gathered my bruised teacher ego. Truth is, I love glancing out those same windows. When I stand at the front of our room teaching that class of desks, I'm often laughing inwardly at the antics of several lively squirrels which only I can see.

And they were applying information they had learned. They could identify bird types. Mixed in with biographies.