Pride

It is with humble pride that I submit my thirty-first writing submission this Thirty-first of March, 2021.

Pride in the accomplishment.

Pride in the completion.

Pride in working under the circumstances.

Pride in the moments found, and used, to this end.

Pride in the ideas, day after day, even when no idea was forthcoming.

Pride in being part of this community.

Pride in the learning-the lessons-learned at the knees of my fellow slicers.

Pride in education, in each of our desire to improve ourselves, thereby improving our profession.

When I begin a conversation with a co-worker or relative or friend with, “Oh, well, it’s March and in March I join this writing challenge. Well, see, I made a blog and I write every day, um, it’s a community of writers and we read each other’s slices…”

I do get some strange looks.

I push forward at times, striving to get the feeling of this project into my words so I can explain. “Well, I follow this website called “Two Writing Teachers”. Every March they invite educators join a writing challenge. It is a way of strengthening our writing muscles, of experiencing firsthand what we ask our students to do. But we also read each others’ writings. And we build this community of writers. Of friends, really. And we go through this whole month together. And we meet new people every year and we catch up with old friends. And we learn a lot about ourselves, our profession, our writing skills, even the world.”

I do still get some strange looks. But little lightbulbs go off too. And the idea is interesting to people.

But no words can describe this month. It is a month of experiencing, not talking. Funny because writing is placing words one after the other in such a way as to make your thoughts, ideas, feelings, maybe fears, understood. Yet when trying to describe the SOLC, words fail.

But the sense of pride in its accomplishment endure.

Congratulations, fellow slicers, March 2021 is a wrap. Reach around and pat yourselves on the back!

Out Like a, Lion or a Lamb?

The end of March is here people. Here in NJ it is going out with a bit of a bang. Kind of calm, kind of volatile. Kind of mild, kind of cold. Pretty much kind of normal. That is what March does. I honestly can’t remember if the month came in like a lion or a lamb. I know the beginning of March brought a kind of calm after all of February’s snow but beyond that, I’m not sure.

The concept of lion v lamb is an interesting one. One we could apply to many situations.

“Wow, the weather really went downhill today. I don’t know where all that wind and rain came from!”

“Phew, I’m glad that week is over. It started out great but by the end of it I was just done!”

“Wow, we really got lucky with this vacation. The way it started, I didn’t think we would ever be able to salvage it. But as it turned out it has been one of the best ones ever!”

Lions and lambs, right?

As I neared the end of 2019, I was thinking back on the decade (the 2010’s) that would soon be ending. I realized that I had gone through a really bad decade! I had lost my dad, my uncle, and my aunt (who had been like parents to me off and on throughout my life). My younger son had gone through some serious challenges (all better now, happily reported). My husband was diagnosed with cancer (an ongoing battle but he is doing well, again, happily reported). My mother went into near kidney failure and had to make some serious lifestyle changes. Our country spent four embarrassing years (my opinion, I know) under the leadership of a man who should not have been President, and prior to that my state spent eight years under the leadership of a man who hated public schools and public school teachers.

So I was really looking forward to a new decade. Lions and lambs, right?

2020 arrives with all its renewed promise and, yup, you know where I am heading with this. The world is besieged by a global pandemic.

Lions and lambs, right?

And yet, through it all, and I do mean all, I have to pause and think. Throughout this year of Covid-19, throughout that decade that delivered such challenges, there were lions and there were lambs. And throughout those vacations that almost went wrong, those weeks from (you know where), those days that leave you beaten up or struggling to get home, the lion and the lamb keep leap-frogging. Lion, lamb, lion, lamb, lamb, lamb, lion, lion…

Today I get my second dose of the vaccine. So that makes today a lamb day, right? Tomorrow I might not feel well as a result of the second dose (a bit of a lion) but still, in this case lamb trumps lion.

So maybe March is our reminder that we can handle the lions because there is always a lamb. And we must be humble about our lambs because there will be lions. But, ultimately, we got this. Because we have no other choice!

A New Use For Character Traits

A common discussion in my, and many, reading classrooms has to do with main characters, character traits, wants, and needs. Giving kids time to think about and draw connections between these important story elements. My part of the conversation might sound something like this,

“Let’s think about your main character. They are very important because the story is about them. The more you understand about him or her, the more you will understand about the story and about how the story will go.”

And student responses might sound something like this,

“Well, she’s the kind of character who wants to do things by herself. But then she messes up and needs help.”

“He is a very friendly character and is nice to everyone. But I think he is lonely too.”

“He is loud. And funny. And he wants everyone to listen to him. I think that is why he is so loud.”

“She is a book reader. And she is confident. Because she knows she can find answers in books. So she is smart.”

“He is a worried character. And the worry makes him quiet. And because he is quiet he doesn’t explain what is bothering him.”

I made up the responses listed above. They are composite responses that students and I have batted around while discussing main characters, even secondary characters. We spend a lot of time discussing our characters’ traits. And every once in a while we ask our kids to identify their own traits.

But what if we spent some time naming our personal character traits?

If we examined our personal character traits how could we use that knowledge? In a book we use knowledge of our main characters to predict how they are going to handle situations. To warn ourselves of problems coming because we know what our character is about to do. To feel confident when we see a situation perfectly built for our main character, one in which their response will be top notch and they will shine. And the opposite as well, sometimes we know our main characters better than they know themselves and we want to warn them away!

Since we are our own main character, shouldn’t we put a little more effort into naming our strengths and weaknesses? Shouldn’t we begin recognizing how we will handle situations – preparing ourselves better for them when they are rapidly approaching? Shouldn’t we know when to reach out for help, overcoming our own character’s desire to “do everything myself” even though it doesn’t usually go well when we act that way? Shouldn’t we remind ourselves about the times things didn’t go well and try not to repeat those behaviors? Instead try to reach for the behaviors that ended with more favorable results?

Can we write ourselves a little better as the hero in our own story? I think it is worth a try!

Time, In a Line

It all comes back to time. To timelines. Time travels along that continuum. We stand at point zero and time stretches back, to our past, and forward towards our future. Both are bright and clear, both are gray and hazy. Both are known and unknown.

I know, you are scratching your head, wondering how could a past, a life already lived, be similar to a future, the unknown steps leading forward? But both contain events that we either remember – or look forward to – and the way we remember them – or foresee them. Both are bright and clear at times. Both are gray and hazy at times.

I’ve been working on timelines this year both in my personal life and in my professional life. The length of my personal timeline (62 years and counting) was getting full. Thank goodness! But a full life of events leads to confusion. When did this happen, who was there for that? So I decided to create a timeline and start placing events on it so I could straighten them out. Clear them up.

In school, my students were presenting their timelines. They happily sat before a computer camera, me lifting, lowering and moving left to right their gigantic (on camera at least) poster boards full of 7 to 9 life events. All the appropriate “Awwwwws’ at the emergence of adorable baby pictures and “Ooooohs” at the trophies, trips, and triumphs. And then came Maddie’s timeline.

Maddie, you see, is my little horsewoman. Her timeline began with baby Maddie and Maddie’s first day at school (bigger brother by her side). But then Maddie’s timeline became my memories. Maddie riding her first horse, Maddie standing on a horse for the first time, Maddie cantering and jumping for the first time. “Maddie,” I said, “You are a mini-Mrs. Scannell!” Maddie beamed! “Maybe you will even grow up to be a teacher! You would be a wonderful teacher.”

So what does Maddie’s future hold. What will be on the rest of her timeline?

You see where I am going now? Each of us sees those future events on our timeline. They are both bright and clear and gray and hazy. We know with bright certainty that certain events will occur, the are clearly in our path. We just can’t yet tell how they will play out. That is the gray and hazy part. Just like those life events from a long time ago (or even last year). We know they occurred, the memory is bright and clear, there are just some gray and hazy bits.

We even plan things on our future timelines don’t we? Vacations, weddings, celebrations, chores, outings, shopping trips, all are there, reaching out before us, bright and clear. The gray and hazy bits are the exciting ones. The ones we also dread. But they are there, waiting for us to catch up to them.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to plot out the events of our future? Continue the timeline forward? Because time lives on a continuum and we are traveling right along with it. But, come on, who has the time to do this. Certainly not we humans. Because time also flies!

Don’t Be a ______

Are you curious? Have I got your attention? Wondering what I don’t want you to be? What word I am planning on using and where I am going with that blank space I left in my title? Well, I will tell you but first I need to share two stories. Then you will know what to fill that space in with, I promise!

Mean girl stuff is beginning to rear its ugly head in my class. I learned from a parent that one little girl’s feelings were hurt during a fun online session the children participate in called Buddy Rooms. I designed these sessions with the children as a way to include the virtual learners in some relaxed “recess-type” hang-outs with their in school classmates. The class chose topics and I set up Break-out rooms once or twice a week in lieu of Office Hours. I supervise but there is also some freedom, just enough freedom for fun, and, as it turns out, for feelings to get hurt.

One of my virtual students, a lovely, quiet, and somewhat anxious little girl, was the at the receiving end of the hurt feelings. The girls she joined the Buddy Room with, her friends, made her feel like a third wheel with some poorly chosen words. Words that were just not-innocent enough to have me believe they were not intended to hurt. Words that went something like this, “Sandy,” Bella said, “Delia and I think you just wait to pick a buddy room until we pick one first. Then you just follow us so you can be in our group.” Do you see what I mean? The words may have been misinterpreted by my quiet, anxious little girl, but some intervention is called for here. Warning flags are going off. These are third graders and they are at the age this behavior begins. It’s time for some well placed and well chosen lessons on empathy and kindness. It’s time for my Rosemary story!

I got lucky because this week we were celebrating International SEL Day. (A bit of irony, wouldn’t you agree?) Today (Friday) we were focusing on empathy. I began my well chosen lesson by introducing empathy. “Picture someone you know who seems a little sad, maybe a little lonely. Now put yourself in their shoes, imagine feeling what they are feeling. Now think about what someone else could do to help you!” We named what a sad or lonely person needs. The children suggested friends, someone visiting, letters or phone calls, maybe a gift. They had the right idea.

“Well now I want to tell you about a time when Mrs. Scannell was made to feel very sad and lonely by her friends.” I went on to tell them my “Rosemary” story. It is the story of how my third grade friend, Rosemary, left me out of a play date with our other friend. I ended up going home in tears. The children are always horrified that I was treated that way. “Exactly,” I say, “And that is why I say, don’t ever be anyone’s Rosemary. Don’t be the person who does something to make someone else cry. Protect your friends and their feelings!” In other words, use a little empathy!

I will continue to guide and teach my third graders. They will still be mean sometimes, it is the human way. But maybe, just maybe, my Rosemary story will stay with them. Remind them how mean words and unkind behavior can make others feel. Remind them that kindness and empathy will help them battle poorly chosen words and actions. Maybe, next time, when they are tempted to be unkind, they will remind themselves,

Don’t Be a Rosemary.

Spring Fever

It.is.here.

There is a certain feeling in the air.

Lots of chatter everywhere.

Spring Fever is here.

How.do.you.know?

An edge has crept in.

Calm replaced with a din.

Spring Fever is here.

What.will.you.do?

Take deep breaths, be like steel.

This is temporary, though real.

Spring Fever is here.

Are.you.ok?

It’s normal and grand.

No need to take a stand.

Spring Fever is here.

What.will.come.next?

Take a break,

Go out and cheer!

Spring Fever and Spring Break are here!

Woohoo!

My Hero

My hero is patient. He walks through life with life with a big smile on his face. A smile worth commenting on. Almost as if he has nothing to worry about.

My hero is a positive person. He will infect you with his positivity. I know because he has done this for me. He knows things will work out. “I don’t go places with an expectation,” he says, “that way I’m never disappointed.” And when treatments begin to affect him and he can’t get to something, he takes a little nap. “It’s ok,” he says, “I’ll feel better soon.”

My hero can do just about anything. He can replace the brakes on your car, solve electrical and plumbing problems in your home, install new flooring in your kitchen, and get a campfire going in a flash. If you need help with anything, he is your guy! No problem is too big or too small.

My hero has cancer. He has battled it for nearly 4 years. His surgery in that first year was the toughest thing he ever had to get through. It “knocked him for a loop!” He was patient, though, while he waited for his body to be strong again. He stayed positive, “I’m going to get better!” always his retort when I worried. He faces the challenges this disease poses with a “can do” attitude, navigating chemotherapy, immunotherapy, Ct scans, and even back surgery. And always he lets me in, allows me to participate in this journey of his, because together we are strong.

Hug someone right now in your thoughts. Hug your hero. List their qualities in your mind. Embrace their strengths. Look up at what they embody and smile because you value them.

My husband, my hero. He has taught me so much in our nearly 38 years of marriage. Because of him I am stronger, and calmer, and kinder, and smarter. He reminds me every day to go along with the flow because things are going to be all right.

I’m proud, always, of my hero.

The Snake Guy

1991-1992, Sometime during the school year

“Ma, this kid came to my class today and he brought all these snakes. It was great. He owns the snakes and goes around to schools and teaches about them. He was just a kid mom, just a kid. And he knew so much!” Daniel had come home from school rather excited.

“Well, why did he come to your class, why wasn’t he in school?” I asked.

“Because my teacher is married to a guy who works in your school mom! The kid and his mom live in Green Brook. It’s true! They said they knew you too!”

So I investigated. And yup, Daniel had his story straight, sort of! As most stories out of the mouths of babes usually are, mostly accurate. As it turned out, this young man (the kid) lived in the town where I worked. His Grandma was a PE teacher in our high school for years (before my time) and his grandpa drove a school bus in the town where I lived (part time at this point in his career). Daniel’s second grade teacher was married to a teacher in my district and that was the connection that brought this amazing kid with the snakes to my son’s classroom. Daniel was so impressed that a “kid” could know so much about snakes. I was impressed that he got the day off from school and was allowed to bring snakes in to a second grade classroom!

So come on a little time trip with me now…

2020-2021, September of this school year

I get my class list and discover that I have a special young man coming to my third grade class. A young man with a history, a special history. This young man (some might call him a kid since he is a third grader) is the great grandson of a former PE teacher in my district and a former beloved bus driver in my town. His grandma has worked with me in my school for years and his mom spent many years working in our after care program. Yup, the snake kid grew up, got married, and now his son is in my class. I immediately texted my son, I was so excited!

Later that same school year, all the way to March!

And yesterday, that “kid” sent his son in to teach his classmates about snakes. He didn’t bring any snakes, he brought the snake “sheds”! Yup, he had the skins of 4 of their family snakes. He taught the class all about each snake, rolled out the different sheds, including the 12 foot boa, and held them all in thrall for about 20 minutes before we had to move on. I was so proud of Tyler. Proud of how he spoke, his calm demeanor, his knowledge. And I was proud of being a part of this family tradition. It was an extraordinary moment!

Patience!

Talk about a HUGE word! Maybe one of the most important words. Certainly a word that does great things, subtle, but great. That’s it! It is a subtle word. A subtle skill. A subtle trait. It calls no attention to itself and is in fact often over looked. But oh, its power!

I’ve learned patience from my husband. He was a patient daddy. Allowing our oldest to follow along behind while he installed new woodwork in our sunroom. A very young Daniel mimicking Daddy. Wearing his own tool belt, wielding his own red hammer, patiently (yes, he was already learning from his Daddy) hammering nails about a sixteenth of an inch into the brand new woodwork. Tap, tap, tap, calmly helping. My husband, later, calmly sanding about forty nail dents out of his newly installed wood. He is a patient man. I know because I am married to him and he has shown me much patience!

I’ve learned patience from my son. Daniel is an excellent teacher. Patiently explaining how to use shortcuts on the computer. Quietly summarizing a book he has read, engaging you in his summary, seeking out your thoughts, encouraging you to ask questions. Pushing you to be the best version of yourself. Happily running ahead a mile or two while on a hike, waiting for you to catch up. Enthusiastically providing you the best strategies for biking up a ridiculously tall hill (some would call it a mountain), encouraging you not to quit. Circling around a few times while you walk the remainder of said hill (because, really, normal humans don’t get to the top on a bike!).

I learned patience from my mom. In her last few months of life. When she would forget, and I’d help her remember. Retelling the same stories day after day. Reassuring her that it was ok to forget, even though I didn’t understand why she was forgetting. Helping her to the bedroom. Then to the shower. Then to the chair so she could eat breakfast. Drying her hair and trimming her nails. Helping her pull on her socks because she just couldn’t manage. Easing her panic with patience.

And of course, I’ve learned patience from my students. Because they deserve it most of all. And the more I practice patience, the more productive they become. No one meant to spill that water bottle. Or lose that math test. Or break that pencil sharpener (shavings all over the floor). Or ask to go to the bathroom right when you were beginning to introduce a new concept. That story had nothing to do with the lesson on hand, but it had to be told. Patience made a difference.

Patience makes a difference. Patience is a HUGE word!

Best Day

Thursday. It’s my choice and I am sticking with it. I love Thursdays because Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are still spread out ahead, just waiting. In their entirety. Ah, nothing like that feeling!

Why, then, are you writing this on a Monday, you are wondering. What could Monday have to do with Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday? What triggered this post on this day?

I’m glad you asked that question. You see today is the beginning of the last week before Spring Break for me. So I have one week of work with an entire week off still spread out ahead, just waiting. In its entirety. Ah, nothing like that feeling!

It’s true, isn’t it. The best of anything is this elusive, odd sense that we develop over time. Because what is “best”? Best is only best because it is your opinion of what is best. Even if you have decided what is best for someone or something else, it is still your opinion. For example, you could tell your friend, “This is the best ice cream flavor, you have to try it.” And then they listen to you and are less than enthusiastic. Do you feel badly? Nope, because you still know it is the best and your friend is just crazy. Or a salesperson could tell you, “That is the best look on you!” You could be looking in the very same mirror and not be seeing it but you buy the outfit anyway. Then you wear it to work and friends could even say, “That is the best look on you!” But you still might not see it. Because it isn’t best to you. And that outfit lives in the closet until Goodwill comes knocking.

So I guess what I’m saying here is embrace your best. Whatever that best is. Set your own parameters and feel good about them. Love your best day. Buy the outfit that you feel is best. And by all means, eat that best ice cream. Argue your point with a smile because it doesn’t matter if you win the argument or not, does it?

It’s my best and I’m sticking with it.