And So It Goes

“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

As a girl, I would watch soap operas with my grandmother. We would watch game shows too. And make fudge. And bake cakes and cookies. Yeah, she was THAT grandma! We called her Gram.

The quote above popped into my head as I pondered my March 31, 2019 post. The final day of the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. The quote was the familiar beginning to the soap opera, Days of Our Lives. It was one of Gram’s favorites. It must have been in the summertime that I have these memories or else it was before I started school. Or maybe it was a late afternoon show and I watched it with her after school. I honestly don’t remember the exact details. And I’m kind of surprised I was allowed to watch, soap operas were a little racy, no?

“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

Thinking about how fuzzy my memory is when I actually try to nail it down makes me realize how relevant this quote is. We forget our own story! I mean I knew that because there are countless times when a friend or family member will bring up a memory. My memory will either be blank or completely different! But thinking about all of those sands of time slipping through the hourglass with no accounting of them makes me a little nostalgic. Because I didn’t record them and many of them are lost.

I had this conversation with my class the other day. We were creating a timeline of events in our Social Studies text book. There was this huge jump forward in time with no events recorded. We discussed the fact that things had been happening, they just were not recorded for the purpose of the lesson we were studying. We got talking about how history isn’t always completely accurate. And I gave them the simple example of how we often don’t remember our own history, so it can’t be easy to write about history. One of my students said her mother said the pilgrims killed the Wampanoag Indians. I told her I had never read that version of history but wondered it there weren’t some truth to it or if it were something like that. Then I begin reading, “There There” by Tommy Orange. And by golly, right in the Prologue there is a story about the Pilgrims at Plymouth killing the Wampanoag Indians! I will be looking into this more deeply but I was so surprised at the timing!

“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

In closing I would like to say that I am so grateful for this writing challenge. Time slows a little bit when you are writing. The sands of time are stilled, just long enough to be recorded. And that is a good thing.

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It Truly Is Those Little Things

I poured my second cup of coffee and flipped open my laptop. Seated in my kitchen at my usual spot I began to ponder. I felt a lovely calm settle all about me. I had gotten some exercise in, my husband cooked us delicious banana pancakes before leaving to do some chore, the dogs were settled on their beds, the house was quiet.

It truly is those little things.

Yesterday, a Friday, had come to a close. The wild ones had left for the day. The constant flurry of activity that defines Room 209 had subsided. For now. Evidence remained however. Broken pencils, folded Post-its, an abandoned book, a chair not pushed in. As I wandered and pondered our week I saw the place where Rodger had been. He had been knocked over in record time, our egg. Just 6 days old and a backpack strap came to close, tapping our friend and tipping him over. Like I said, the wild ones live here, so it was not a surprise. As I got close to where he had stood I was met with these tokens of how much they cared.

All week they had been making Rodger things. The little Rodger Book is a diary written from Rodger’s perspective each day. They made him friends and gave him awards.

And this continued even after he was gone. Throughout the day they had been making Rodger little remembrances. All on their own.

I laughed out loud when I read the “Edgar Allen Poe-esque” poem. I had just finished reading the first Lemony Snicket book, “The Bad Beginning” from the Series of Unfortunate Events. This clever book begins with a dedication: “To Beatrice- dearest, darling, dead.” The story goes on to introduce a couple of extremely rude little boys named Edgar and Albert and their last name is Poe. I briefly explained about Edgar Allen Poe and his poetry. Many seemed to recognize, “Quoth the raven, “Nevermore”. Thanks to Netflix, the children are now watching the series but many of them have begun reading the books as well. I don’t know the author of this poem but I can’t help but believe that they weren’t influenced by Daniel Handler and Edgar Allen Poe! Not a bad beginning to a writerly life! Here is the poem again:

It truly is those little things! We don’t need to go very far to find those reasons to smile and be thankful. Sometimes we just need a little quiet time in our lives to realize how good it is!

Happy Saturday!


DEAR, It Gets Better!

Monday morning I greeted my class with a smile and a wave. They filed in with a cheery, “Good morning,” to which I would continue to smile and wave. Then something occurred to one of them.

“Mrs. Scannell, did you lose your voice?” I waggled my hand in that little ‘sort of’ signal. “Oh!” was the reply.They all seemed to get a little quieter. I had struggled with my voice all weekend and although better, it was not even close to 100 percent. And I knew today was going to be rough.

I had made the decision to come in and not get a sub. My kids this year kind of devour subs (and I don’t mean the foot long ones!). They don’t intend to be that way. They don’t even realize it when they are going overboard. They think it’s everyone else, not them. It’s something we have been working really hard on all year. And lately I do believe we are getting somewhere. But a day with a sub would undo a lot of the progress we have been making. The class would do something they would later regret. It would not be good.

So there I was, minimal voice but armed with a plan. My plan? Teach my lessons on the rug so the class is up close when I am talking. Spend more time on independent work so I can conference with small groups. The timing was perfect because they are wrapping up their nonfiction pieces and need time to revise and edit. And I would use the white board and Classroom to deliver more of what I need them to know.

And my secret weapon: DEAR time!

When I told the class I would reward them (clever, right?) for their good behavior with DEAR time, they cheered. “Can we have DEAR time every day?” one asked. “Yeah, every day!” others joined in.

“Well, let’s take it one day at a time,” I replied. I was really hoping for a quick recovery back to 100%!

At the end of DEAR time on Monday they all moaned and wanted more time. It was time to go home so I told them not today but I asked them, “What is it that you like about DEAR time?” Inside my head I was thinking that some of them get pretty distracted during independent reading time so I was wondering what made the difference.

“It’s really quiet so nothing disturbs you.” (Yup, it was really quiet, reading with them today was a pleasure!)

“It’s better than when you are, like, talking to some of the kids, like working with them. Because that gets distracting.” (I never thought of it that way but any talking encourages more talking.)

“We get to stretch out wherever we want.” (This observation must go hand in hand with the previous one because during Independent Reading I invariably have to ask them to return to their desks to read to keep them focused, but not today during DEAR time.)

“We get to read what ever we want!” This was met with a lot of agreement. During DEAR time I notice that most of the children are reading the books they are reading for class but I have noticed that some readers bring in books from home. Books that are not on their reading level. I especially notice some of my more distracted readers doing this. I made a really important mental note to self about that!

Over the course of the week my voice followed a pattern of being stronger in the morning but weakening by lunchtime. My class has been very very good. I’m glad I made the decision to come in and get their help making it through each day. Oh, and we fit DEAR time in on Wednesday and on Thursday. Each time it gets a little better. Today is Friday and what better way to end a week of learning and helping each other than with a good book and DEAR time!

Pandemonium or Energy?

I stood before my class. They were assembling on the rug as instructed. They were squirming and worming around, getting ready for our lesson. It was first thing in the morning and it was supposed to be Writing Workshop.

“Are we going to do our timeline again?” one questioned. “I thought we were supposed to have writing,” another said. “No, remember?” explained a third, pointing to the big timeline on the board. “Our timeline, our timeline,” could be heard repeated by many.

This soft chatter is my class settling in on the rug. They take a while. I knew I hadn’t caught everyone’s attention yet. Yesterday afternoon we had begun a lesson on timelines. The children had worked with a partner to read an assigned page in their text book. Then they jotted the main idea of what they had learned on a big post-it. They put their post-its on the giant timeline on the board. The next step was to present and discuss, but it was time to go home. So we left all the work on the board.

I began to lace my fingers together and apart. Together and apart. The children were all beginning to turn to me and pay attention. Thinking was happening. I could tell by the looks on their faces.

“No, wait! I know, I know! We are going to talk about that word, that ‘sss’, that ‘siii’, ‘sinn’…” Many of them began trying to remember the word.

“Synthesizing?” I asked.

“That’s it!” excited bobbing heads replied. We have been working on synthesis in Reading Workshop. They have been learning to think about combining new information they are learning with old information they have in their heads. We also point out moments when we are synthesizing new information across our day. Which is where I was heading today.

“Well, yes, definitely synthesis. And something else along with it,” I began.

“Ooooh, I know, I know,” a hand was flying around and its mouth didn’t wait for the hand to be called on. “We were doing Social Studies but we were also doing math!”

“And writing, we had to write all that stuff.”

“And we were reading too, and trying to spell things.”

Pandemonium was near so I intervened. “You are right! We were using so many skills. And the reason we knew these skills…”

“Because we learn them!”

“You do learn them. And then you use them,” I agreed.

“Math isn’t just for math class!”

“It isn’t,” I was grinning from ear to ear. And they were kind of jumping all around. Pandemonium is one of this class’ dearest friends. They run to him (her?) at the drop of a hat. But you know what? Somehow, someway, they are listening too. They are processing. They are learning. They are synthesizing. Maybe their energy is their unique form of expressing themselves. Or maybe it’s their warm-up. But I did know that a little focus (rather than pandemonium) was begging to be called upon here so…

“Boys and girls,” I tinkled my little bell. “Let’s present what we learned yesterday when you and your partner read about these cool events in history. Let’s teach each other what we know. And let’s figure out why a timeline is a great way to understand history.

And that is exactly what we did! Energetically!

Nope, Don’t Like That

I dislike housework. I’m guessing that there are a bunch of you who are reading this who are saying, “Me too!” Because really, what is there to like? It takes you away from doing the things you really want to do and you are never done. Once you finish one task it’s time to start another.

I remember a teacher in our school years ago. She came up with such a good idea. She wrote all the tasks she wanted to accomplish over the summer on Post-its and stuck them to the back of her bedroom door. “That way, I’ll just take one down each day and do it. By the end of the summer I’ll be all caught up!” Great idea, right? We all thought so. No one else tried it. But we waited for Lynne to come back in September and update us on how it went. “Didn’t do a single one of them,” she told us. “Well, that’s not true, I did one, but I never finished.”

Well, Lynne’s idea has always stayed at the back of my mind. Because I really still thought it was a good idea. Even if it failed. Maybe she just tried projects that were too big. Or maybe she just never got in the routine, never got started. So I decided to create my own version of her Post-it project. It was the “one room a month” method of cleaning the house.

I figured there were twelve months in the year. And I counted the rooms in my house. Living room, dining area and kitchen (one big room, count it as two), ‘dog’s room’ (really the laundry room), family room, four bedrooms, three baths (most aren’t used much but there is still work to be done), that’s twelve rooms. Awesome! Twelve months and twelve rooms. One room a month.

So, first “free” weekend in January I tackled room #1. Master bathroom. It’s a pretty big room so it took a little elbow grease. And it felt good, I was proud of my accomplishment. There were a few more spots I wanted to take care of but I figured I had the whole month, right?

Wrong! I never went back and finished. What’s more, February came and went and I never tackled room #2. But then again, February is a short month, so it’s not surprising I didn’t get in there and take on room #2. Maybe I’ll move room #2 to March, it’s a long month… Wait a minute, March is almost over. Ok, Well, there’s always Spring Break during April. Surely I can fit an extra room in!

I’m thinking it’s not going to happen. Why? Because I dislike housework. Think of all the work I could have accomplished while I was writing this post but I didn’t. Because I like writing, I do not like housework. So sorry house, I’ll get to you when I get to you. You still look pretty good to me. Besides, I’ve got writing to do and books to read and lessons to plan and and and…

I should have listened to the lesson in Lynne’s story!

I’m Thinking About Thinking

Is thinking a lost art? I ponder (ponder in this sense means to think) this question when my students hesitate to solve a problem on their own. I have to push them to think. I have to give them permission to think. It seems they don’t get much practice doing it. Well, some of them do. There are some truly stand out children in my class. The reason they stand out is because they think. That is in contrast to the many bright ones who ‘forget’ to think.

After school yesterday our faculty was looking at our grading procedures, trying to come to some consensus about what we grade and how we grade it. We were considering three categories; process, progress, and product. On my grade level we were trying to find more ways to include progress since process and product were well represented. There was concern that progress would not be concrete enough to grade and that because children work at different skills and levels the attempt to grade what they are doing might not be fair.

I can see that product is a good concrete grade because it is what it is. You get a grade on a test, done, product. And process is the steps, you are reading at home and recording it in your reading log, done, process. But I think that progress is the most important. I believe it is in the progress our students make day by day, week by week, month by month that we can best measure growth. Progress is more elusive and it fluctuates. But if we make it goal oriented and help our students recognize personal growth as the best indicator of learning (rather than a just the grade they get on a test) then we are encouraging them to think!

The idea for this post came to me over time as I read more and more of the posts during this month of writing. I would find myself thinking over and over again, “Wow, that is a really good idea,” or “That is such an interesting perspective,” or “I’m going to learn more about this.” I realized that thinking isn’t a lost art. It’s here in front of me. But it needs to be practiced. Just like we are all practicing it each and every day. Good job people!

Grown Children

I joke around with my colleagues who have or fondly remember having little children. They have so many cute stories about what their kids say and do. Then they have discussions about when kids are at the “perfect” age.

“Oh, I just loved my babies,” a colleague of mine, who is now retired, used to say. “I just loved holding them and cuddling them.” I can still see her mimicking holding an infant and that expression of sheer joy on her face.

“I loved it once they could walk,” another replies. “Once they can move around with you and play in the grass. Crawling was such a difficult stage.”

“We like it now that our kids are in Little League,” a third chimes in. “Sitting around and talking to our friends while all the kids are either on the field or playing with each other is the best.”

That’s when I hold up my hand and announce, “I LOVE my 30 something age kids.”

And I do. They are past so many minefields. If you are lucky they have managed to make it through safely. More often than not mostly safely and that’s pretty lucky too! There are a lot of rocks on the path to adulthood and you just hold your breath until your kids get there. When they get near their thirties they are probably settled into a few things; marriage, careers, homes, lives! Marriage means someone else shares in the worry about them with you. Careers means they have figured out how to be self-sufficient. Homes signify a sense of responsibility, of building that life. Thirty something age children, in short, have lives that are their own.

But there is one more thing I love about having thirty something age children. It’s the reason I’m writing this post today. And it occurred to me this morning. My husband and I met our younger son, Shaun, for breakfast. We were talking about work. Our son is a floor layer.

“I can’t stand it when guys don’t want to work,” Shaun was saying. “They get in the way and try to slow a job down. They think if the job ends they’ll be out of work. I tell them, ‘Let’s get this job done so we can move on to the next job.’ But then I think to myself, ‘Yeah, but you’re not coming with me if I can help it. I’m not working with you anymore.'” He laughed his big laugh at that one and we laughed with him.

But all laughter aside, Shaun was right. He had heard us talk about the importance of giving it your all at work for years. It was so gratifying to discover our family values embedded in our grown son. Because it’s really all you can do for your kids. Demonstrate and talk about the things that are important to you and hope they listen. Hope they understand. Hope they take it to heart. Our son’s next story was even better.

“I was working with this new guy and we were waiting for some materials to be delivered. He started to walk across some freshly laid patch (a sort of cement/glue mixture) and I said, “Don’t do that!” “Why not?” he asked. “Because the guy just did all that work, he’s gonna have to redo it if you mess it up.” “So?’ he said, “Guys do that to me all the time.” Shaun went on to explain that the “victim” of the intended lack of respect didn’t speak English, making him an even easier target for this behavior.

“I just don’t understand that kind of thinking,” Shaun said, looking at us. “How does that make it right?”

“You know, Shaun,” I said, “one of my favorite sayings is, Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right.

Inside my head I was marveling over what it means to raise your children. They grow up watching you and learning from you. And one day you will find out what they learned. I was proud of our family in that moment. Proud of Shaun and in awe of how great grown kids are. They really are much more fun than the little ones were!

Under Attack!

It starts with the odd feeling way back in your throat. Not pain, not tickle, not scratchy. Well, maybe scratchy. But I talk all day, I’m a teacher after all. So I take it a little easier, drink a little tea.

Next comes the tiredness. Just tiredness. No muscle aches. No headaches to soothe. Just tiredness. Like…REALLY TIRED. But I’m on my feet all day, the kids are wild, after all, I am a teacher. So I head to bed early one evening. Drag myself to bed. And I sleep. And in the morning I feel better. “Whew,” I think. “I’m glad that took care of it.”

I always forget that this is D-Day minus one or two. This pattern of something funny and really tired. It happens every time. It just doesn’t always blow up into THE ATTACK!

I have spent the weekend under full blown allergy attack. As Friday wore on I knew it was here. I knew it was D-Day. There was no turning back. I quickly went over my defense plan in my head as the day wore on.

  • Speak softly and not too often. My voice is always the first to succumb.
  • Take some Advil Cold and Sinus. My go-to first line of defense.
  • Drink water. Drink water. Drink water.
  • Get home, make tea, get warm, get rest.
  • Repeat.

So I did. And I’m fighting back. And I’m planning my Monday so I can continue my defense plan. The steps are all difficult when faced with students. But they will rise to my defense, I’m pretty sure of it. Or we can have a lot of DEAR time. We all love that!

And each day gets better. It could be worse!

First, You Can’t Breathe

I have never experienced a tornado. I’ve never heard the telltale (so I hear) roar of the train that is actually the wind. I’ve never seen the dark, dangerous and swiftly moving funnel coming from a distance. But I would imagine that the sensation of all the air we breathe being sucked from us accompanies the terror associated with such an experience. And I would imagine the aftermath leaving one speechless, helpless, defeated.

And then we must find the words.

What I have experienced is the tornado that rips through a life. Over and over and over. The phone call late at night. Never good news. The doctor’s report when he or she asks you to come into the office. Never good news. The emptiness that accompanies the sound of your name when it is spoken by someone who needs to share news. Never good news.

And now I realize that a tornado rips through our school community every spring. I never thought of it this way. It starts with the request to cut back on expenses for the coming year. Why? We are never told. It is followed by the rumors. The budget doesn’t look good. Personnel needs to be cut. Why? We are never told. Then come the invitations to the office. The “I’m sorry to have to tell you this.” The tears. The rage. Why? We may be told but we never understand.

And just like how I imagine one feels during and after a tornado, your breath gets sucked away. You can’t breathe. You can’t see.

But somehow we find the words. Because we must. Because there is work to be done. The work of supporting, healing, moving forward. Because we are humans and some of our most powerful attributes are our ability and willingness to solve problems, to mend, to help. So we do.

We don’t like it. We always ask why. We don’t like the answers.

But we get up and face another day.

We begin.

Again.

Choices, Reasons and Story

“Sorry Ace, that is not your tail and it never will be. You did not get a tail. That is the reason we chose you,” I said quietly to our dog. Ace was ‘checking out’ Harry’s tail. I laughed inside my head remembering the story my uncle always told. He was great for stories. He always began this story by asking, “Did I ever tell you the story of why dogs sniff each other’s tails?”

One day, a looooong time ago, all the dogs in the world decided to take a cool dip in the big pond. Before they jumped in they were careful to take their tails off so as not to get them wet. They were having a grand old time swimming the doggie paddle and fetching sticks. Suddenly a cat ran by! Quick as a flash all the dogs ran out of the pond and the wild chase began. Each dog grabbed a tail as he or she ran by but of course no one grabbed their own tail. And to this day, dogs have been sniffing each other’s tails, searching for theirs!

That story always got a laugh. Actually all of my uncle’s stories got laughs. But this story on this particular day got me thinking. Ace has no tail. He never had a tail. The story of Ace’s missing tail is the story of Ace.

It was the winter of 2007/2008. Back then the construction yard where my husband works was protected by yard dogs, big Belgian type Shepherds. But there was also this medium sized brown dog who hung around. My husband called her Honey. She would make her rounds of the construction yards in the area. She was well taken care of but no one could get near her. She was a wild dog. The closest my husband could get would be if he held a biscuit out behind him. She would creep up and take it from him if he wasn’t looking.

Honey had a litter of puppies each year. Like I said, she made the rounds. Those rounds too! Her litters were a combination of Rottweilers (from the big guy down the block), Belgian type shepherds and brown dogs. She always had her litters in the construction yard where my husband worked. She was smart you see. The yard was completely enclosed with high fencing and topped with barbed wire or razor wire or some scary sort of “stay out!” fencing. And, like I said earlier, it was protected by yard dogs.

Honey had had her first litter that we were aware of the year or so before this particular winter of 2007/2008. The crazy thing was that some of her pups would be born without tails! Honey did not have a tail. Until her first litter was born we guessed she had just lost her tail somehow. But then we figured out that it must be a sort of recessive gene or something, the no tail gene.

So during the winter of 2007/2008 our family was anxiously awaiting Honey’s litter because we had decided to adopt one of her puppies. I guess you would call it a rescue. As winter wore on she got more and more obviously pregnant and then one day in April Rich announced, “She had her pups!” “Where are they?” I asked. “Don’t know but she is not pregnant any longer.” So then everyone kept their eyes peeled.

They emerged about a week later. Twelve puppies! (I told you she was well taken care of!) The same combination of Rottweilers, belgians and brown dogs. Once they were eating solid food (my husband and the guys brought food and water out to them regularly) we went to pick one out. It was to be my son’s pup so he got to choose. “I want a Rottweiler with no tail,” was his decision. “But what about one of the super friendly brown ones,” I asked. “Nope,” his reply, “the Rottweiler with no tail.”

We had to kind of reach in and catch this puppy when the day came to take the puppies home. Being that they were in an active heavy machinery construction yard it was not safe for them any longer to stay with their mom. So, true to my word, and against my better judgement, we came home with a little 5 week old Rottweiler with no tail.

The vet was amazed at how healthy a pup he was, considering his story. Ace has been with us ever since! He has his issues, not because of any mistreatment but just because he does. He has issues. But he is the most loving dog we have ever owned (when he is not chasing squirrels, birds, chipmunks…). And he adores his Harry! We got both dogs as pups together and they have been thick as thieves ever since.

And to think Ace is ours because he has no tail! That, dear reader, was my son’s choice and therefore it is Ace’s story.