Thirty (One) Little Boxes

Like the 30 little boxes arranged in a six by five array, March progressed much like a game of Wordle. The excitement and the dread. How should I begin? Play it safe, go a little wild? How much time is too much time, I have other things to do after all. I’ve done this before, why am I worried? I know why, because I want to do a good job, and that requires thought and focus, I’m not sure if I have those things to give.

Ok, I made it a little further. And I’m ok, I’ve got this. I had some hits and I had some misses. I lost focus once or twice but I also nailed a few. Good job, good job. Now to move on, one step at a time. Learn from my mistakes and take time to enjoy the journey. All my practice is paying off because I am seeing things and that is helping me think. My thoughts are clear and my ideas are leaping. Oops, that was a misstep but it’s ok. I’ve got this.

Phew, a little stress. Why does it seem harder all of a sudden? Is it me or the pressure? WAIT, wait just a minute, I chose to do this, that means I want to be here. Silly me, what am I worrying about. It is all good! It does get more challenging because I have higher expectations. My skills are sharpening. I ask a little more of myself, stay focused, be alert. I’m almost there.

Well here it goes, I’m at the last bend in the road. One more to go. Should I end it here or should I end it there? Oh, here I go, I’ll take a risk. Because March, like every Wordle game has a beginning and an end. The beginning feels so alone. But then you move forward, one step after another and you begin to feel, comfortable. and stronger. And then suddenly, you find yourself facing the end. And you aren’t sure you want that to happen because, it is so rewarding to be in the midst. But time marches forward and the game will disappear, so it is best to end on your terms. And vow to come back tomorrow or next year for more!

It has been a wonderful month with all you Slicers. And just like a game of Wordle, reaching the end only means you have the beginning to look forward to all over again where surprises await. And just like discovering whether you were a HARRY or a STOVE, there is always a new story to share. See you next time!

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Rising To the Occasion

My third graders were invited to join a fourth grade class yesterday to celebrate the end of their writing unit. The fourth graders had completed two nonfiction pieces and created “expert posters”. The idea was for the third grade to roam around, meet the experts and learn from them about their topics.

Well, the problem was that my class was a little wild yesterday. We have been experiencing some pretty volatile weather as of late and I’ve noticed that this can have a huge effect on my students’ ability to control themselves. They were dangling at the the end of a gossamer thread all day, just barely controlling themselves for any longer than maybe 15 minutes at a time. I was worried about our visit.

Indoor recess finally snapped their threads. That and a rowdy riddle session with the lunchtime aide, who is also one of our homeroom moms, pushed them right over the edge. It took a while but we got them calmed down and escorted them to PE. PE was exactly what they needed but right at the end of PE we had a lock down drill! I was picturing the bedlam as they all tried to fit into the roomy but eye-popping gym closet during lockdown. Definitely the coolest place to hide during a drill but not helping to further our getting under control cause!

Before heading to our classroom visit with the fourth graders we discussed (again) the need for good behavior. The class showed me they were sufficiently calm and I was actually feeling pretty good about our adventure. And let me tell you, did those third graders rise to the occasion!

They listened and raised their hands and participated. They asked questions and gave their full attention to the fourth grade hosts. They jotted appropriate comments on Post-its and placed them on the white board as instructed. And when the final circle time share came, I heard the language of Workshop students. Their reflections and compliments included language like, “I liked the way the posters were structured”, and “Everyone explained their topic with really good details”, and “I could tell you took the time to tell more about your topic.”

Kids can really make your hearts swell with pride, can’t they? After all that worry they got the job done. Well done, third graders!

A New Set of Eyes

I had a security system installed in my home recently. The installer, I’ll call him Stan, and I would get chatting every once in a while. Once he discovered that I was a teacher he wanted to pick my brain about “kids today”. Turns out he was a source of valuable information about our students.

“Do the kids listen to you in school?” was his lead off question. “Hmmm,” I thought aloud, forming my response. “It does take a lot of work to get and keep their attention,” my diplomatic reply. What I wanted to say was, “No! They don’t listen! It’s like every day is a new day and I have to go over and over what listening in school looks like and sounds like!” But I chose instead to maintain a more professional stance.

“Well let me tell you,” Stan continued. “They don’t listen to their parents. And they don’t respect their parents either. It’s like all parents want to do is be their kids’ friend. Instead of disciplining them, they negotiate with them when. Even my own daughter does it and that’s not how I raised her.” He went on to describe some scenes from homes he had been in. Children smacking their parents because they couldn’t get what they wanted and mom or dad explaining why they had to say no. Parents negotiating with their kids regarding whether they should be allowed to eat a cookie right before dinner and being allowed ‘half now and half later’. Moms and dads bargaining with their kids to try to get them to listen and behave.

As Stan spoke I began to get a picture of where the school behavior was coming from. Let’s use picking up behind yourself as an example. Every day I have to remind my class to pick things up off the floor. EVERY DAY! And when I walk down the hall after school lets out I see the garbage being swept out of classrooms. Pencils, crayons, erasers, highlighters, Expo markers, small toys, food wrappers, Post-its, stickers…all being swept out at the end of the day rather than being picked up by the children during the day! According to Stan, kids come in from school, throw down their backpacks, sweatshirts, shoes, jackets, and whatever and leave it there. An adult comes along and picks things up, not the kids.

Next time you get the opportunity, pick the brain of the people who see the families in action. I don’t know about you, but my colleagues and I are always trying to figure out what is different about our students these days. Is it the effects of hybrid learning due to Covid, is it the interruption they experienced to their education, is it too much screen time or parents trying to make up for all their children may have lost? We may not ever truly know, and it is probably a little of this and a little of that, but understanding what home life might look like right now for our kids may help us understand the new challenges we face as educators.

Appreciation

I’m full of appreciation right now for this SOL writing experience. The community I drop myself into each year feels at once comfy and familiar and new and exciting.

It’s comfy to find old “friends” and catch up. I love reading slices that feel like family. I recognize your voices, your dreams, your hobbies, your dislikes. I know many of your stories and enjoy finding out how your year has gone.

It’s familiar because the month moves along for me in an expected trajectory. I start out feeling a little disorganized and distracted. Then as the first week gets going my writing muscles kick back in and I find my old groove. By the time I’ve progressed to near the end it feels like I could go on forever, and I fear I will miss it all too much.

It’s new because I’m new each year. Crazy how life can and will change in just one year. The topics or themes of slices take on a new slant each year because of changing circumstances. And I notice this as I catch up with old “friends”, reading their slices and getting a glimpse of where they are in their life story now.

And of course it is always exciting. It’s exciting to see and hear new voices. The renewed energy pours out of everyone and flows into each and every slice we produce. It’s exciting to watch this long month of March skip along, enhanced by this writing experience. It’s exciting to wonder what to write about and suddenly just know!

So appreciative is where I am at right now. I needed this community this year and I am grateful to the dedication and efforts of the TWT team. I’m also grateful for each story I read, each life I was invited to drop in on, each friend I sat side by side with, if only virtually, one slice at a time! Have a happy day all!

A Great Word

That was a beautiful story. It made me sad, yet filled my heart. I wanted it to end differently but I appreciate where the author took us. I am grateful to have read it because it will stay with me always. It affected me.

I love that song, it is so beautiful. And I don’t just mean just the lyrics, although they make me smile and they bring a tear. But it is the whole package, the lyrics, the music, the timing, even the pauses. It just evokes so much emotion. Just beautiful.

What a beautiful day! When I got up this morning and the sun was shining, I just knew good things would happen. Then, when I went outside, wow! I had to go back in and change into a lighter jacket, it was so mild! The birds were singing their little hearts out. The people I drove past on my way to work were even smiling. Let’s bottle this day.

“Are you ok? You look like you are crying!” Oh, yes, I’m fine, sorry. Let me get a tissue and wipe away these tears. Please, though, don’t worry. I was just lost in a moment. A memory. A beautiful memory actually, but it did bring a tear to my eye. Some moments are so beautiful you can’t hold it all in, you know?

He is a beautiful person. “Beautiful?” Yes, sorry, I should explain that. Hahaha, not all guys want you calling them beautiful, right? But he is beautiful, inside and out. It’s what makes him stand out. He actually takes time to listen to you, to think about things, he thinks about things. He shows he cares and that’s where his beauty lies.

I stopped dead in my tracks. I had never seen anything so beautiful. The blossoms were everywhere, like fairy wings, just blanketing the ground around the cherry tree. It was a pink carpet and it felt like it happened just to give me this moment of beauty. Hmmm, I reflected, it’s going to rain later. Good thing I walked back here this morning. I would have missed this beautiful tree.

There are words and there are great words. In my opinion, beautiful qualifies as a great word. It is a bit common, some might even say overused and perhaps abused. So be it. For me it is often the perfect word, the important word. And I am thankful for every story, song, day, moment, person, and sighting I use the word beautiful to describe.

My cherry tree, Spring 2021.

Ah, Saturday

There is nothing like waking up on Saturday morning. Your eyes sort of flicker open, brain not quite caught up. Turning your head you try to focus; What time is it? Why does it seem light out? Did my alarm go off? Am I supposed to be somewhere?

Nope. It’s Saturday. And everything is ok. Even if you do need to be somewhere it will be in Saturday mode. A little lazy, no pressure, no worries, everything is going to be alright. Coffee will taste better, hey, you might even actually taste it rather than just burn your mouth on it. Breakfast? Sure! No hangry midmorning today. A list? Well, yeah, I have a list. But I have all day right?

Now my favorite day is actually Thursday. I hear you, you are saying; Thursday?Why Thursday of all days? I could understand Friday and you have just gushed on and on about Saturday, but Thursday?

Let me explain.

On Thursday, the whole, ENTIRE weekend is ahead of you. You’ve got Friday, arguably a strong contender for the best day of the week, still ahead of you. Nothing can bother you on Friday because, who cares, it’s Friday. All problems go away for two days! My feeling is that you can always make it through Friday. So therefore, stay up a little later on Thursday because…that’s right, tomorrow is Friday!

And Saturday, you know, the best wake up day of the week, is something you still have to look forward to. All you have to do is get through Friday, wait, I love Friday (I know) and then it’s Saturday! So, therefore, logic would tell me that Thursday is the best day because I still have two of the best days to look forward to!

But today, today is Saturday. I stretched and yawned and pondered rather than jump up and begin the usual morning rigmarole. I already took my walk. I have a delicious cup of hot coffee in front of me. My son came over with a pork roll, egg, and cheese on a bagel sandwich (best morning phone call; Hey ma, I’m going to get a bagel sandwich, do you want one?), heck yeah, Saturday is a great day!

Happy Saturday all!

Because of…a Book

I am a reader. I often tell my students that I was born with a book in my hands. Their eyes kind of bug out when I tell them this but then I remind them of the difference between literally and figuratively being born with a book in my hands and they go back to being, “Ok, we get it.”

So, I love reading books with my students. And of the many many many books I have shared with children, “Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorites. My niece, Lauren, was the first to recommend it. “Aunt Suzanne,” she said to me not long after she finished third grade back in, like, 2001! “You should read this book to your class, they will really like it.” So I did. Lauren was right. My class and I loved it. I have read it ever since.

It is a pretty deep book, as books ought to be. It plows through so many issues; loneliness, friendship, parent/child relationships, judging others, figuring out what is important…well, the list goes on and on. The book is like an entire year of therapy sessions wrapped up in one little bundle. Each class I read it to brings new things to the table, proving over and over how important it is to read to children. Today was no exception to the rule!

We were reading the chapter where Miss Franny Block, the little old librarian, is described as having “fits”. I paused to briefly talk about seizures. A student in the back of the room raised her hand. “I know a little about this because my aunt reads me books about people who have health problems. She wants me to understand about her daughter,” this third grader explained. She then told us about her cousin. “All she can do is lie in her bed and my aunt has to take care of her. She even has a little stick in her side and that is how she eats because she can’t chew or swallow.” She went on to explain that, “Yeah, and its sad because my aunt does it all alone. My uncle moved away and got an apartment because they were having problems.” Like, wow, right? You could just watch the rest of the class digesting this. “So I bet you are a huge help when you come over to help your aunt, aren’t you?” I asked. She was beaming as she nodded her head.

A second student raised her hand. She shared the story of her little brother who requires a lot of attention because, as she put it, “He is a hot mess!”. The boy is in our school so the class knew what she was talking about, most had witnessed her brother having a difficult moment. We spent quite a bit of time discussing how reading about people and their problems can help us figure out ways to deal with problems in our own life. Every one of those children in that room had a story, most chose to hold it close, but all spent some time with their feelings today, “because of Winn-Dixie!”

And so I return to the fact that I love books. And because I love books I read a lot to my students. And they fall in love with books too. Books open up our worlds. They can be moving, sad, funny, controversial, or just plain entertaining. In addition to Winn-Dixie, I love to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Series of Unfortunate Events (the Bad Beginning), The Wild Robot, The One and Only Ivan, Crenshaw, The Boy On the Porch, The Farthest Away Mountain, Silverwing, and Sideways Stories From Wayside School. This is a short list of the many novels I have enjoyed sharing with students. I’m wondering what books you would add to this list?

Wait, What?

I love this phrase. It just makes me chuckle. You can’t work with third graders without appreciating all of its implications. I’ll use a student from a few years ago to help me illustrate what I mean.

“Anthony,” I’d pause here a bit before proceeding, “you need to hand in your paper.”

“Oh, ok,” would come the reply. But Anthony would sit. Just sit. Slowly a realization would dawn. I could just imagine Anthony thinking, “Yikes, she just said something!” So of course, I’d get,

“Wait, what?”

It would happen all the time. Anthony was the “Wait, what?” kid. He couldn’t help it. He just processed language that way. And his, “Wait, what?” response was so honest, so real.

“Wait!” (Somebody said something, what did they say, what did they say, what did they say…)

“What?” (I really need to know what I missed because I know you want me to do something and I don’t have a CLUE as to what it is!)

Real honesty is happening here. And frustrating as it is for the recipient of “Wait, what?” it has to be a thousand times more frustrating for the person who can not process in real time. But I have to believe that awareness will carry them through. You see, Anthony was aware that he missed something. He had developed a strategy for himself. “Wait, what?” was his strategy. Without the strategy Anthony would have just muddled along, oblivious to the fact that he missed something. With support and patience and new strategies he could turn “Wait, what?” into something closer to listening. But at least he had “Wait, what?”. At least he had awareness.

So if you have an Anthony in your life (or maybe 5, 6, 7, or 8 of them!) rejoice in the “Wait, what’s”. It is evidence that our little Anthonys (or Susans or Peters or Nadines or…) will get there! Enjoy a little internal chuckle because growing up isn’t perfect nor is it typical. So just ride it out and patiently repeat yourself. Again!

You Know Alexander? He Had a Really Bad Day.

It was time to introduce the story mountain to my third graders. We are in the Character Studies unit and it has been going along really well. The children are enjoying the character work and of course they LOVE listening to and discussing “Because of Winn-Dixie”. They beg me to read it to them every day. Today, however, it was to be a reading of “Peter’s Chair”. Until it wasn’t.

Hmmm, I thought to myself, Where is my copy of “Peter’s Chair”?

I quickly flipped through the basket I usually keep my mentor texts in. Nope. Moved on to the basket that I often put my mentor texts in after I’ve read them. Nope. Looked in the last place I would have expected to put it. Nope again.

Dang it, I thought inside my head, I should have pulled the book out earlier. But I was so sure I knew exactly where it was.

Obviously I didn’t.

So on to Plan B. My fingertips graced the outer edge of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”. Sure, why not? I haven’t read this book in a long time!

“Well guys, I can’t find the book I was looking for, but guess what, I think I have a book here that you will really love. Do you know this book?” I held up “Alexander” and they all shook their heads no. “Great,” I said, kind of surprised they didn’t know it, “then Alexander it is.”

I began reading the book and they were immediately entranced. It is such an exquisitely written story, the timing and the humor and the illustrations just reach out and grab you. Alexander is every single one of us when we are having a bad day. It is a pity party. And it is social justice. And it is sibling rivalry.

And it was exactly what these kids needed at this very moment in time. It dawned on me while I was reading it that these kids are living “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” days. They just are. It’s not that their lives are terrible, they aren’t. But there is an angst inside them. It comes out in little ways all day long. Adults can’t quite put their finger on what it is. But Judith Viorst put her finger on it. It is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad moment in our history and these kids just need to hear it and acknowledge it and move on.

Because some days are like this, even in Australia!

Smiles

Aren’t smiles the best? They have been so missing for the last couple of years. I would smile at people I passed in the hall, remembering a second too late that they could not see my smile through my mask and may not have caught that twinkle in my eye. For although the twinkle was there, it is just not the same as the smile.

We had our Teacher of the Year celebration today. It was a surprise gathering that replaced a faculty meeting, woohoo! As I sat there I pondered all the smiles and the laughter happening around me. We are meant to smile and laugh and grimace and frown and, well, show emotion. Those masks cut us off from a very important way we communicate.

When I sat behind a mask I found myself hesitant to participate in a conversation. I was missing a big piece of me. The subtle tone changes were not as effective. The emphatic pauses lost a little something. Emphatic head nods are just not the same!

Today I brought Rodger back into the classroom. He is the egg I stand each year on the first day of Spring. It is a classroom tradition. Well let me tell you, Rodger was all aglow this year. You see, last year he wore a mask. Safety you know. Even for eggs. But this year, Rodger was all smiles and so were the children who welcomed him. And so was I!