We Did It!

The posts were great this year! I found myself telling so many of the stories I read. I felt a different connection this year, it was great!

I found myself digging really deep for slices. Sometimes I felt like I wrote too much like a teacher, lol. I would read someone’s post about their day and think to myself, “I want to just write about my day.” But it didn’t always happen like that.

Writing is kind of alive. You sit, you ponder, you write, you stop. You plan to write a slice from a certain angle and then, bam, it all just sort of happens. On it’s own. I found myself with fingers suspended above the keyboard, waiting for my slice to begin! And it often would!

So I bid adieu. It’s the end of March, the beginning of my vacation. Good planning! We’re in California, visiting our son and daughter in law. One of our favorite places to be. It will be good to relax, rejuvenate, revitalize. By the time we head East the sun should have figured out how to warm us again! Then I’ll jump back into the routine with enthusiasm. Let’s see if Tuesdays happen for me this year. I hope they do!

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The Transformation of Drudgery

Forced routines, those things we do day after day, week after week, month after month. They feel like drudgery and we do them reluctantly. We do them under pressure. We do them because of the consequences. We do them, turn around, and do them again. (Are we trying to get better at them?) If we are lucky, we have learned to incorporate some of them into our lives, thereby lessening the pain. Most, however, because we are human, take us by surprise even though we know we have them waiting for us, thereby increasing the torture.

Preparing our taxes, paying bills, yearly physicals, dental exams, doing laundry, emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming, making the bed, replying to emails, correcting papers, preparing report cards (if your occupation is other than teaching you can fill in the previous two with a similar job related duty), unpacking at the end of a work day, going through the mail, fixing lunch, getting gas (in your car!), grocery shopping, cooking (I know, some of you love this!), heck, even showering can become a really annoying routine!

Yeah, the list could go on and on. But, you may say, that’s life, right? The old “circle of life” brought down to moment by moment routines.

So I got to thinking.

What if we gave this level of importance to other aspects of our life? What if we forced ourselves to commit to routines of our own choosing. Would they seem like drudgery too or would the face of routines change from drudgery to delight?

Putting your feet up. Eating ice cream. Going to the movies. Reading a book. Writing. Swimming. Singing along with a favorite song (at the top of your lungs of course). Sitting in the garden. Eating out. Ordering in. Taking a “day-cation”. Playing with your kids. Walking in a park. Geez, what would happen to us if we actually stopped doing everything else because it was time to chat with (insert name of special person)!

What would happen if we set time aside for the things we wanted to do? Made them fit a routine. Why can’t the things we want to do have the same priority as the things we have to do? Would they become less dear, kind of like that old “familiarity breeds contempt” thing? Or would the result be less stress?

Hmmm, can and should drudgery be magically transformed into delight?

 

 

Intense, and It’s Only March

Our school year has hit a level of intensity that doesn’t usually hit until maybe May. Thursday night I will be attending a Board meeting, the second meeting in one week. We are in a bit of a financial hole and of course it is going to be people who will have to plug that hole. I get it, the money has to come from somewhere, but it hurts.

So to combat the intensity all around, I’ve allowed my classroom to be a calm place where happiness reigns (most of the time). My kids are finishing up their information writing and it makes them as happy as clams to work on them. So that is what they are doing. They love reading their information books and I found this awesome idea! They are making little 3×3″ matchbooks out of construction paper and filling them with fun facts that they learn from their reading. Then they glue them into a file folder and, voila! Matchbook Folder Fun Fact Books! So much fun! And I am catching them up on a lot of the wonderful wisdom books (you may call them picture books) that I always want to share with them but often don’t get around to.

I guess the message is, “When the going gets intense, the intensity needs to be calmed down!” No need bringing my stress into my students’ lives. And tons of reasons to enjoy the act of learning!

Running Records

I thoroughly enjoy doing Running Records with my students. I love spending time with them just talking about their reading life. I love listening to them read, noting the fluency and rate and pondering what it tells me about the amount of reading they are doing. I love listening to them walk their way through their retell of the selection. I love how unique each one’s approach to a retell can be, love how strengths and needs really shine in that short conversation. I love the compliments I can pay my readers, real compliments that reflect something they just did as a reader.

I love the chance to help them formulate their next goal. The goal that will take them into this next reading level. This level they have been waiting for, at times begging for (so cute). This new, higher reading level that will challenge them to kick it up a notch, ask them dig in and use all those strategies we do as readers to gain understanding.

And children love them too! So it’s Win-Win! Children love your undivided attention. They love to “move up a level”. And they love to hear you tell them all the things they did well and the areas they need to work on next.

Running Records take a lot of time but when it comes to getting bang for your buck, a Running Record can’t be beat! Happy reading!

 

T and B Time

Taxes and budget, taxes and budget, taxes and budget

Two ugly words, right? In the past few days both have reared their ugly heads and made their best attempt to mar my peace.

Am I alone in this? I don’t think so.

But each can illuminate pinholes in the fabric.

We pay taxes all of the time, not just once a year (or quarterly, depending) and yet it is this once a year tax that produces the big conversation.

“I have to pay how much tax? How can that be possible?”

“Yes, you did tell me last year to do something all year so I wouldn’t owe so much tax, I guess I forgot.”

“I can’t find that document, they must have forgotten to send it to me.”

“All my papers are here in this shoe box. I keep everything in here so I’m ready for taxes.”

And the opposite player.

“Yes, I can take that vacation, thanks tax refund!”

So the tax conversation often leads to the other conversation.

“Hmm, maybe I need to budget my spending.”

Ugh, the B word. It can really mess up a light easy evening conversation. Not to mention plans for the weekend!

“I don’t think that’s in our budget right now.”

But we educators know there is another B word that can rattle our worlds. The school budget. Each spring, right around tax time, the new school budget (at least here in NJ) has to be approved, voted on, and sent to the county. There is time after that to work on the hows, whys, and wherefores, but the hard cold facts come out.

“We don’t have enough money to fund our programs.”

“We are going to have to make some hard decisions, everyone is going to feel this pain.”

“The Board is looking into outsourcing. This will allow us to close the budget gap.”

All of the above are looming in my district right now. The B word. I hate it in my home but I hate it even more in my school district. It yanks away serenity. To lose a person to budget cuts is to know powerlessness. Especially when control of the budget it out of your hands.

Just like to owe taxes is to feel that loss of control, to earn a paycheck, use it to pay bills, have a little fun, buy some stuff you want, only to discover you haven’t paid enough taxes, can certainly dampen the average joe’s spirits.

We deal with T and B time. We might not like it, but we deal with it. Like Ben Franklin may have said, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” 

I’d just like to add the B word to your list as well, Mr. Franklin.

I Hate Advertising

But sometimes I love ads.

Sometimes they make me burst out laughing. Sometimes they make me smile. Sometimes they make me think. Sometimes they make me tear up. Sometimes they give me ideas. Sometimes they even encourage me to buy something.

Heck, I watch an entire football game every February just for the ads. Well, and the halftime show and the pool I am usually in.

I may sometimes love ads but I hate advertising. It’s up front yet sneaky. It’s honest yet deceitful. It’s free yet expensive. It’s irresistible yet annoying.

And it’s very very smart.

I was at the dentist’s office and they had the television on. HGTV was playing, some home flipping show (which is really just one long advertisement!) The volume was low and so I was really just taking in the images. Between the programming and the advertisements, wow, I have to say, who wouldn’t want to be, do or own everything being shown in those images. Smiling families climbing in and out of shiny cars pulling up to beautiful homes in tree lined neighborhoods. Sparkling kitchens spilling over with happy friends and neighbors sporting dishes laden with delicious food. Neglected but full of character homes being magically transformed into places of majestic beauty with just a few bangs of the sledge hammer and a few shovelfuls of dirt in the yard.

But the scariest thing about advertising is the power it has. It has the power to convince us that we need things we can’t afford. It has the power to convince us that our lives are sub par. It has the power to convince us. That is what it is designed to do! Convince us!

I read the book, The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. The author explores the history of advertising and the importance of consumer attention to the sale of any product, idea, or platform. I have to say, the book has had me thinking ever since. Presently, I am reading the book, The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Once again, the vital role of consumer attention/advertising plays out in the struggle to beat cancer (yes, the book’s Emperor is cancer). Even the excellent sci fi romp, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline highlights the potentially dangerous and/or redeeming power of gaining attention. Each of these books has contributed to my distinct unease with advertising and advertisers, their motives and outcomes.

So love it or hate it, advertising is here to stay. I just wish that the time, energy, and money spent on advertising actually would improve our lives, not just promise to.

Road Rants

Years ago I had this idea for a blog but I didn’t even know what a blog was yet. I’m not even sure if anyone was blogging yet back then. But it had a title, Road Rants. The idea was I would just rant about all the things that drove me crazy on the road. I just wanted to be heard. I guess I wanted someone to care or to do something or at least to agree with me! It was just an idea at the time…

but now I have a blog so here it goes…

Road Rants

Lines in roads need to be maintained! As a driver you depend on them, especially if it gets foggy out.

Highway entrances need to be clearly marked. Growth needs to be cut back so it doesn’t block the sign telling you “turn here” to get on the interstate you have been driving around looking for!

Exit sign language needs to be nationalized or normalized or something. One interstate will have an arrow that means EXIT RIGHT HERE while another interstate’s arrows might mean, yeah, it’s coming, get ready but no rush.

For that matter, highway signage could use a little “norming” too. Warn drivers if they need to be in a certain lane, especially if it is on the entirely other side of the 6 lane highway! And put the signs where everyone can see them, even if you are stuck behind or next to a tractor trailer whose size obliterates your view of everything.

If there is a parade behind you pull over and let some cars go by. It’s ok to not know where you are, it happens, but don’t punish the rest of us who are just trying to get where we are going!

Pay attention to how lights are synched. Especially now with more states enforcing “stop for pedestrians in crosswalk” laws. Traffic can build up just because only one or two cars can get through a light!

Close the gap! This is to you drivers who let 5 car lengths go by before you move into an intersection when the light turns green. The 5 car lengths could have been 5 cars, what are you waiting for? Push the go button!

We have smart phones, smart watches, smart homes. We need smart parking lots! We shouldn’t need a compass to get back out to the main road.

Street signs need to be visible. Especially at major intersections. Sometimes every road is marked except for the one you need to turn at. Even with guided directions you still need to double check what road you are on or are about to turn on.

Finish the detour, don’t abandon us halfway through! Put up the signs all the way and then let us know when we have resumed our route.

Well, there, I feel a little better. As I venture out today I’m sure I will tick off a whole new list of rants but that’s ok, it’s a work in progress. I’m sure you hear what I am saying because we all have those little things we find ourselves ranting about. If you’d like to add to my list of road rants, please join the fray! Sometimes, just putting it out there can give you a sense of satisfaction.

 

 

We Just Didn’t Know That Then

One year ago we checked you in for out patient surgery. It was surreal. You were so healthy. You took days off from work, you never took days off from work. You would stay home and rest all weekend. You never stayed home and rested. We thought the surgery would be the end. It was the beginning. We just didn’t know that then.

One year ago we handed our trust over to a urologist. A specialist. We were surprised we needed a specialist. Healthy people dabble in specialists but don’t actually “have” a specialist. Ill people need specialists. Ill people take days off to see their specialists. We thought he would be our last specialist. But he was only the beginning. We just didn’t know that then.

One year ago cancer was a disease we were aware of. Friends got cancer. Grandparents got cancer. Parents got cancer. We raised money for cancer, ran races for cancer, made donations to fight cancer. We thought we would stay on that side of cancer. But we were about to be on this side. We just didn’t know that then.

One year ago we were on the brink of fear. We pushed it away, sought strength in each other. Found faith in each other. We knew whatever it was, we would face it together. We knew we were strong and healthy and together. We thought things would be ok. Then we got news. It was not good. We began to feel, well, cheated. We were afraid, weren’t things going to be ok? They were, we were going to be ok. We just didn’t know that then.

We got more specialists, they were very good. We dealt with cancer. We became insiders. We learned to talk the talk. We continued to trust our specialists. We put one step in front of another. Followed instructions, did what we were told. We supported each other, laughed together, worried together, learned together. We looked forward to surgery (weird, right?).

Six months after surgery, no one will be able to tell what you went through, our specialist promised.

Now we are on the other side. That beautiful six month promise is almost here. And the specialist was right. We are going to be ok.

We just didn’t know that then. But we always believed.

 

That’s a Strategy!

My mom and I were talking about books and reading. It’s a popular topic of conversation for us that wends its way in and out of the dialogue whenever we are together. Anyway, recently she was talking about the articles in The New Yorker I had recently earmarked for her to read.

“This article was so good,” she began, “I found myself reading it twice. I do that a lot. I read something and wonder if I got everything out of it so then I just read it again.” 

I stood there grinning. Little did she know she was preaching to the choir!

“Mom, that’s a strategy!” I told her. “You supported your comprehension by reading something twice. That was really smart!”

“Well, I don’t always reread something over. Other times I take notes, that helps me too,” she said.

“Yes!” I said, “Another great strategy! Jotting things down, like on a post-it or in a notebook, that you think are important and want to remember.” 

I was just giddy at this point, having a real time conversation about reading strategies that my mom pulls out and uses all on her own!

“Oh, I use post-its all the time. Especially if I’m reading a book and there are a lot of characters. Otherwise I get so confused,” she continued. “You know, I’m not a strong reader, I never was, so I have to do these things to help myself.

“But Mom,” I declared, the excitement in my voice growing, “You are a good reader. A really good reader. Because you have strategies that you pull out when you need them. And you use those strategies to support your reading.”

I then went on to give her an overview of how we help children learn to read with comprehension, how we teach workshop. I explained to her that:

  • Understanding what you read is a skill called comprehension.
  • To help children learn to read with comprehension we break down the steps we use to understand what we read.
  • Then we teach those steps to our students.
  • These steps, we call them strategies, offer learners a scaffold, a support, until they acquire the skills needed for independence.

Somewhere along the way, my mom figured out the steps she needed to take in order to understand what she was reading. She broke those skills down into actionable steps and she uses those strategies, even today, to support herself when reading complex text.

Pretty awesome, Mom!

Thanks, Delay

Thank you delay because you were announced last night, I could stay up a little later!

Thank you delay for time to sleep in.

Thank you delay, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.

Thank you delay because the roads just keep improving.

Thank you delay because our school will be in better shape once we get there.

And

Thank you delay

Were it not for you

I may have missed this.

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