Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Certainly, one of the downfalls of daily writing is breaking through the muddied thoughts and inspirations. Some days...most days, writing is hard work. It's much easier to rearrange the living room furniture and sort through a pile of old sweaters.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
And then there's Clarence, George Bailey's angel (2nd class). There's something about his determination and earnestness that I find heartwarming. He's a "I'm not giving up" kinda guy and I like that. He knows George Bailey can save himself...he just needs a bit of clarity. It's clarity that only Clarence can give..."Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends."
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
"I saw in your blog that you were sick," she said.
I'm okay with that. A college friend follows my blog and often and remarks on my writing in our email conversations. It's nice to know people are reading my daily, sometimes mundane thoughts. Does it count if it's family and friends that are like family? Sure, why not. It's nice to know anyone's reading and it's always good to stay connected to Mom.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
I still take my sick time on the couch. I went to bed early on Thursday with a sore throat and woke up on Friday feeling sick. I was pretty sure it wasn't a serious illness-- just the annoying common cold, which is never much fun. I muddled through the day at work and left promptly at 3:00pm. My one stop on the way home was the grocery store where I loaded up with cookie-making supplies, cold remedies and the makings for chicken noodle soup. By 4:00pm I was dosed up with Zicam, Sudafed and Emergen-C under a quilt on the couch. I rallied around 5:00 to make the soup and enjoyed a cup before yet another early bedtime.
I awoke with new energy this morning. I packed up my cookie-making supplies and headed over to a friend's house happy that I didn't have to miss out on our annual afternoon of baking.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
In the summer of '79 a friend and I took a ride out to Rocks State Park so we could watch as the odometer in her orange GMC Matador rolled back to 00000. It was a big occasion for two 17 year-olds embarking on their senior year of high school. Three months later that Matador was totaled after a moment of poor judgment found it filling up with water in the rushing floodwaters of the Little Gunpowder River.
But that's a whole other story.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I have a friend who feels almost anything can be taught through the show SpongeBob SquarePants. I can't say that I disagree; I've just never tried it.
Today, SpongeBob made his way into my classroom on his own. The students were puzzled by the word miser as we worked our way through a few analogies. Most were not familiar with the word so I took a moment to read the definition from the dictionary.
"A miser, " I began, "Is a person who has a lot of money, but refuses to spend it."
I had barely finished reading the definition when a student in the front shouted out, "That's just like Mr. Krab!"
The class went on to list all of the things about Mr. Krab that make him a miser.
Thank you, SpongeBob. I'm pretty sure I have 18 students that will always remember the definition of miser.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Of course, it took forever for the officer to make his way to my car. I closed my eyes and drew in my breath in an effort to avoid the look of total annoyance. I found my license and fished out the registration, which was expired. I didn't try to talk my way out of anything-I'm a compliant law-breaker.
I waited as the officer strolled back to his vehicle to decide my fate. I considered the possible fines and figured my rolling stop in front of the local lawman was going to put be back about $50.00.
He strolled back to my car, admonished me for the expired registration, returned my license and presented me with a warning. What a surprise...and a pleasant turn of events.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
It took us 75 minutes to decide that a grading scale of 4, 3, 2, 1 and 0 is better than the traditional A through E ten-point scale. We also decided it's best for teachers to round up when figuring out a final grade.
There was a great deal of conversation, and for the most part it was interesting to listen to everyone's point of view. However, I wonder if we would have arrived at the same decision if we took a vote before discussing the pros and cons of each choice.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
I met friends for a birthday brunch this morning and made a quick stop at Tyson's Corner Mall. I returned home about 1:30, threw on a pair of sweatpants, grabbed a blanket and hit the couch. I stayed there most of the day.
I'm hoping an afternoon of rest and an early bedtime will be enough rejuvenation to get me through Monday.
Friday, December 3, 2010
Worry number one was the traffic. Our school is less than 8 miles from the museum, but with rush hour traffic it was tough to guess how long it would take to get there. Fortunately, the rush hour gods were with us, and we arrived 10 minutes ahead of our scheduled tour time.
Then there was the tour. When asked what the guide would cover we were told there was no way to tell...every tour is different. The mystery was slightly disconcerting, but we went in ready to roll with it.
The tour guides were fabulous. They were informative and engaging. The students not only listened, they also answered and asked questions.
Concern number three was whether or not we would be able to get back to school in time to eat a quick lunch before going to afternoon elective classes. Again, no problem. The bus was ready and waiting for us when we walked out of the museum, we were back in the classroom 15 minutes later with plenty of time to enjoy lunch.
One field trip...no problems...a nice way to end the week.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
This was our second meeting, and also the second time that the facilitator reminded us that she was not the boss of the room. She was merely there to send in attendance and give us a place to meet. She assured us that she wasn't in charge. The assurances came from her seat behind her desk. From my perspective in the desk usually occupied by a student, it seemed like she most definitely was the boss of the room.
Monday, November 29, 2010
I read the first Harry Potter book but never bothered with the rest. On a related note, I've only seen the first two movies in the series and doubt I'll see any others.
I'm sure this makes me some sort of weirdo, but I'm okay with that. I just don't "do" serial reading. That's not to say I don't enjoy reading books by the same author. I've read several books by John Steinbeck and Barbara Kingsolver. I love Roald Dahl and Kate DiCamillo. I spent two weeks at the beach one summer and finished five books by John Grisham--although after the fifth one I decided I didn't need to read anymore Grisham books.
No offense to J. K. Rowling--it's just that I found out all I cared to know about Harry and Co. in the first book.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
I put in a mile and a half and headed home for my wallet and car keys.
New shoes always feel great, but new running shoes feel better than great. As soon as I slid my right foot into my new pair of Mizunos I felt comfort. The mesh outside hugged my foot like an old friend. A walk around the store introduced me to a bounce in the sole that I hadn't felt in quite awhile. I exhaled a sigh of relief.
My old shoes went in the box; I paid and glided out the door with a smile on my face.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
I watched carefully as my sister made the mashed potatoes last night. She added butter, milk and sour cream. There wasn't a turnip in sight.
My mother made turnips this afternoon-- she knew better than to mess with the already-perfect mashed spuds. The turnips sat in their own little bowl at the end of the buffet table. A few people ate them and enjoyed them. I stayed way, far away.
My brother-in-law's brother stopped by as we finished up our dinner and was offered a turnip. (By my mother, of course.)
"I don't like 'em." he said. "I never liked it when they ended up in the mashed potatoes."
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Fortunately, I only need to drive about 90 miles north. Unfortunately, a good part of the trip is traveled along the dreaded I-95. I was born in Baltimore some years ago and have never lived more than about 100 miles from my birthplace. You could say I'm pretty familiar with the ins and outs of the Baltimore/DC area. Sometimes I like the traffic for the off-route exploration opportunities it provides. Meeting up with a mass of brake lights and stopped cars sends me into explorer mode. I look for the next exit and wind my way around whatever roads I find in a quest to continue in the northerly direction, on a route that is absent of as many other drivers as possible.
If I'm lucky I'll find a new shortcut and a few photo opportunities.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Twenty-five letters went out on Wednesday. Only a handful came back with signatures on Thursday. I wasn't too surprised. Sixth graders don't always consider the consequences of their actions. They live in the moment, and for many of them those moments have not included doing homework. They may have been less than honest with their parents about how well they were keeping up with their schoolwork. Delivering the letter was bound to mean trouble for some.
Two students, maybe three, decided to forge their parent's signature. I'm sure they never considered how obvious the forgery was. They were in survival mode-if their parents never got the letter they could live another day without getting yelled at, punished or lectured. Whatever the reason, I'm sure that since parents have been informed of the homework problem and the forgery there are two students who are living different moments than planned this weekend.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
You see...he's a small china rabbit. I smiled when I started reading his story. I was reminded of another rabbit tale that I've always enjoyed--the story of Elwood P. Dowd and his rabbit-friend, Harvey.
I finished the first chapter feeling sorry for Edward. The poor little rabbit has a wonderful young friend, Abilene, talking to him, tucking him into bed and saying goodnight, yet he can say nothing in return. "He said nothing because, of course, he could not speak." There are times in my life when I wish I couldn't speak, but there are far more times when I'm glad I have a voice.
Even worse are Edward's eyes. They are painted on and therefore always open. How dull it must be to lay awake all night. The ennui that he experiences must be more than most can bear.
I'm hopeful things will change very soon.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Sixth graders love to send text messages. The fact that it's against school rules doesn't seem to deter them. So, I confiscated the phone and told her to check in at the end of the day. At that point I wasn't sure if I would turn it in to the office or not, I felt a bit of research was in order.
She told me the phone was only out because she was checking the time. My research showed me that was probably true. But then I noted she had sent a text message to her mom at 10:45-during lunch. That was against school rules.
The text message was to her mom. "Mom, I got two C's on book sheets today. I'm kinda sad."
Torn as to what path to take I asked a colleague for advice. It was decided that the turning the phone into the office, and having her parents retrieve it, was the best course of action. I let her know when she came to see me at the end of the day.
Knowing that parents are often waiting for a phone call at the end of the day I let her make the call to her mom to let her know what had happened.
With voice quivering she relayed the information to her mom.
"Mom, I messed up today. When I texted you about the C's I shouldn't have. The teacher is taking my phone...you'll have to come and pick it up at the office."
I sat at my desk grading papers-- her mother's voice was clear.
"Honey, that's okay. I'll come by and get it in an hour or so. Are you feeling okay about the C's? It's all right sweetie, really it is. Please don't worry about all this."
She's a girl I can't quite figure out...identified as gifted but her writing doesn't show it. Just yesterday another teacher commented on the messy work that she turns in. I see her as someone whose brain is in constant motion, unfortunately it works at such a high speed that everything she knows doesn't always end up on paper.
We walked out together and talked about those two C's that she was disappointed with. She let me know about the OT services she received in elementary school to help with fine motor skills. We chatted about the possibility of typing up her next book sheets. It sounded like a good option.
She walked out the door to go home. I walked to the office with the phone in my hand, regretting my decision to turn it in.
Monday, November 15, 2010
There were about 25 names. That's a quarter of the total number of students on the team.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Today I was happy to have the opportunity to take that road once more. I left DC about 11:00 this morning to join some friends for a weekend on the bay. The ride was familiar and lovely as usual. The trees were sporting their brightest colors against a cloud-less blue sky. The one thing different about today's drive down Rt. 4 was that I didn't follow it all the way to Solomon's. Just south of Broome's Island I took a left and headed for the small town of Port Republic. What a treat. Within two minutes of turning off I was surprised to see the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay. Who knew? Yeah, I guess I should have known, but it's easy to forget what can be found off the path that's been beaten down over time.
I won't forget, I'll remember to come this way again soon and follow the path less traveled in my past.
Friday, November 12, 2010
1. Begin with three days of the school week. (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday work best.)
2. Add in one Federal Holiday. (In this case Veteran's Day.)
3. Stay up too late watching your favorite football team lose in the last 3o seconds of the game.
4. Toss and turn throughout the night.
5. Return to work feeling like the week just began.
6. Try your best to teach students who are also suffering from the usual "Monday Blues."
7. Work until 4:30.
8. Smile, it's really Friday.
9. Say hello to a proper two-day weekend.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
The check engine light is the one that the car manual insists requires immediate, expensive attention. The manual states when that little rascal shows itself it's best to get it to the dealer right away.
I first noticed the light on Saturday. I noted it and mentioned it to a friend who was sitting in the passenger seat. She too knew her car manual rules.
"Everything I've heard says you need to take the car in as soon as possible."
"Yea," I smiled. "But look, if I put my hand right here on the steering wheel I can't even see it, so there's really no problem at all."
And so I ignored it. On Monday I filled up the tank, but decided to give the engine a little taste of the premium fuel. Maybe the more expensive fill up was the spinach my little engine needed.
Tonight I was driving home after dinner with friends. While waiting at a stoplight my hands fell off the steering wheel for a moment. I was happy to see the engine no longer needed checking. Problem solved.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
On the ground level I smiled as I listened to the playful shrieks of children as they ran-- kicking up every fallen leaf in their way.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Friday night I plated up a nice piece of salmon with a side of spinach. It was delicious and healthy too. I woke up on Saturday feeling energetic and laced up my running shoes for a 3-mile jaunt. I didn't run the entire way but returned home feeling refreshed and healthy. Later in the day I went for a ten-mile bike ride along the canal.
This week I will eat lots more spinach.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Years ago, my best friend and I were sitting on my sister's patio watching the kids play in the backyard. There was my nephew, his cousin and my friend's young son dragging each other around in a large cardboard box.
"Don't ya love kids who can entertain themselves with a cardboard box?" She remarked.
Yup, I did...I still do.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Playing cards, of course. It's hard to believe it took this long to be inducted. I try to have a deck of cards in my purse at all times, especially when I'm traveling. They're perfect for unexpected layovers or traffic jams. What about Dominoes? I see them as a classic game, but to tell you the truth I've never been sure how to play. I played one game, Mexican Train, a few years back but don't remember how to play anymore.
When I think of classic games I think about my own childhood and the games we played. There was Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Checkers and Operation. As we got older my dad taught me how to play chess. Once I got to college we were all about Backgammon.
Of course there was also the Yo-Yo craze and the Frisbee. Do you think they made the list? See for yourself here.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Even with the extra slumber I moved through the day in a state of exhaustion. Perhaps it was the early morning chill that greeted me when I walked out the door. Maybe it was the culmination of a particularly tough start to the year, it's hard to say. No matter the reason I got a good deal of work done throughout the day and am ready to get started on the second quarter of the year.
I'll be in bed early.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Back then; the costumes came from Kresge's, not a fancy Halloween store. As we got older we came up with our own costume ideas. The design had to be comfortable. Movement couldn't be compromised as the evening entailed a whole lot of walking.
Somewhere along the line we started using pillowcases to collect the candy. They were sturdier than any shopping bag and held a whole mess of candy.
Friday, October 29, 2010
We've met with his mother and agreed he should attend homework club three days a week. Well, he didn't agree, but the adults did. There were days he showed up, usually because the counselor or another teacher waited for him at his locker and escorted him personally. We quickly came to realize...you can lead Hank to homework club, but you can't make him do homework.
His mother says he stubborn. She's right. He's apparently been this way for most of his school career.
I see a kid who is very intelligent, but not interested in what we teachers are selling. The adults in the picture are puzzled and unsure how to solve the problem.
I just hope we figure it out before he decides to drop out of school.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I don't worry too much about the weather. In fact, the only time I ever did was when I found my cat sitting in the bathtub during a hurricane. Animals often have an innate sense about danger, so seeing him sitting perfectly still alarmed me a bit. Luckily when I woke up at about 2:ooAM last night he was curled up by my side sound asleep. I smiled, turned over and went back to dreamland.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Now what? I spent part of today introducing the next step in the unit. Obviously, there's no point in going forward, the only thing to do is take a step back.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
I've run for exercise off and on for at least 30 years. I've never been all that fast but have had some great runs along the Potomac and through DC. I've run in 5Ks, 10Ks and a few 10 mile races. I trained for a marathon, but never made it to the finish line after a flare-up of tendonitis 18 miles into a training run. For me, it's not abnormal for months to go by without a run. Life gets in the way sometimes, making it more difficult to find the time to commit to getting back into the shoes and back into shape.
Just the same, after volunteering to be a "buddy runner" for students participating in "Girls On Track" at school I found myself lacing up my running shoes one more time. My goal was to cover a mile. I knew I couldn't run the entire mile, but was determined to get from point A to point B as quickly as my out of shape body could take me. After a five-minute warm-up I settled into a nice run/walk pattern and covered the mile in about 12 minutes. It's a start...not great, not terrible...but a start. I think I'll be able to keep up with the girls next week. I do believe this could be the beginning of something.
Friday, October 22, 2010
I was right, but the excitement of the discovery was somewhat diminished when I realized that it wasn't going to be as easy as carpet removal and furniture replacement. The floors needed cleaning and refinishing...a skill that I don't have the patience and strength to complete on my own.
A small problem compared to the people I'm watching tonight. They're demolishing their kitchen in hopes of a total renovation. It looks like they've got the right tools but they've also got full-time jobs, children to feed and a marriage to keep on track. Fifteen minutes into the show I know the experts will be bursting through the door any minute now, probably after the next commercial break.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Today I started by explaining why I felt it was a worthwhile activity. Not only does the icebreaker question give us all a chance to know a little more about one another, it also provides a quick opportunity for students to practice their oral communication skills. My sixth graders tend to speak in one and two word phrases. Instead of asking something like "where's the bathroom pass?" I often get something along the lines of "pass?" So when I talked about today's question, "What is the best gift you've ever received?" I reminded them I was looking for more than a one-word utterance. Uttering the word iPod wasn't going to be enough to communicate the information.
I was pleasantly surprised. They communicated their thoughts well. Even better were the gifts they'd received-a baby brother, the love of their mother, a new baby cousin. They loved their cats, dogs, birds and rabbits as well. Yup, they love their iPods and laptops too.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Things did not go as I expected. Instead of a quick share I was bombarded with questions. Do you mean one good thing in Reading Class? Is last Tuesday okay? What if nothing good has happened? Wait...what?
By the last class of the day I found myself explaining a good thing doesn't have to be huge. It doesn't mean they went to Disney World last weekend--something good might be putting on an old jacket and finding a five-dollar bill in the pocket.
There weren't as many questions after that, but there were a lot of kids who shared they found money in their pockets last week.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Three years ago I decided to put my foot out on a creative limb and try making photography a part of my daily life. I had read something about the Project 365 and thought I'd give it a try.
I'm glad I did. Looking back at all the photographs I've taken I'm always happy with what I see. I don't like every picture, but I like the work as a whole. Each picture represents a place I've been or an experiment in perspective. Having a reason to get out on the weekends is great, but it's also fun to be forced to look for the specialness of an everyday object like a pen, or a clothespin. Yes, it's cliché to say there is beauty all around us, but it seems whenever I look through the lens of my camera I can find a little bit of beautiful almost anywhere.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Morning feeding time occurs around 5:30 AM after I shower and get my coffee. Scout knows when I wake up the food is coming so he's taken to waking me up a little earlier than my alarm. The only problem with his plan is the polite paw across the face he uses to wake me up has been starting somewhere around 4:00 AM. That's just too darn early. My only defense is to lie perfectly still as though I'm still sound asleep. Any sense that I may be awake is enough to turn the wake-up paw into overdrive-meaning my chances of going back to sleep for the last hour before my alarm rings are small. I'm supposed to be the smarter one, for now it pays to be the frozen, quiet one.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Like the gloves, my friend and I traveled to many different places after high school. She went off to Philadelphia while I went south to Southern Maryland. After school there were jobs and a few more moves until we finally found ourselves in the same area at the same time. Another twist...after working in a variety of professions we both found ourselves in the world of education.
Like the mittens we've both been on quite a journey over the past 30 years.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
Today we meandered along Cape Cod. The twenty-mile trip from Orleans to Provincetown took six hours. There was a stop at a bead store in Eastham, lunch in Wellfleet, spice shopping in Truro, and general poking around-shopping in P-town. One of our first stops was at the visitor's center of the Cape Cod National Sea Shore Park. It was there that we met up with another group of gals traveling together. They were about fifteen years older than us, but like us just the same. They had made their way to Cape Cod by way of Oregon and California. Their friendship started back in grammar school. We chatted a bit and took group shots for one another. As we parted ways we agreed that friendships among women were important. One of the California gals remarked, "we get each other through the hard times, there's nothing better than good friends."
Sunday, October 10, 2010
She knew it was sea glass. I had never heard of such a thing. I slid it into the pocket of my pants and cast my head back down toward the rocky beach in search of more. I've been hooked ever since.
I like the small stuff. I enjoy walking along the shore in search of the perfect shell. Of course, the perfect shell is completely subjective. For me the perfect shell is about weight and feel. It can't be too light or too heavy, and it has to feel just right in my hand.
As for sea glass, any find is good with me. Shells are easy to come by, sea glass isn't. Shells wash up on shore on a daily basis. Some are pretty and worth pocketing and some aren't. Sea glass is a harder to come by. Any piece I find seems like a little piece of good luck. Oh yeah, the colors are pretty too.
Friday, October 8, 2010
As a first year teacher my opinion didn't count for much back then. Yes, their perspective bothered me a bit and surprisingly I wasn't shy about letting them know that. However, in the end, as parents they must look out for the well-being of their child. I get that and I agree with it, even if I don't always agree with what they think is best.
The student was moved to the other fifth grade class, but when her father tried to console me by suggesting I shouldn't "take it personally" I had to speak up. I told him "I didn't see any other way to take it."
Discussion doesn't always lead to the outcomes one hopes for. In this case, I hoped she would stay in my class. She didn't. Her parents hoped a change in teacher would motivate their daughter to do the kind of work she was obviously capable of. It didn't. Just the same, I think we all learned something in the long run.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
It's hard to tell how groups will handle the challenge. Kids don't spend as much time outside as they used to. They tire easily, they argue about the best path to take, they run ahead of the group, they get frustrated...they whine.
Fortunately, my group didn't do any of that. From the beginning we set our goals. We would find every clue and complete the entire maze. When decisions needed to be made there would be a vote. Teamwork was our motto.
We sailed through the first five stops. Students took turns holding the flag and coloring in the map. Every member of the group cheered on one another, the group members were especially encouraging to one student whose physical handicap makes walking difficult.
The sixth and seventh clues were harder to find. Faces became weary and discouraged but we somehow put frustrations aside and made it to the last clue. We let out a quiet cheer at our success-we didn't want other teams to know where the final clue was. As I looked around at the smiling faces I noticed one face missing. The handicapped member of our group was resting her head on the wooden platform that held the final clue. She was exhausted and close to tears. We'd been in the maze for close to forty minutes by then, her legs were aching.
I told the others to run and find their way to the exit, we'd take our time and meet them at the finish.
One young man spoke up. "No, we'll all finish together."
That's my kind of team.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I can't remember why I never took lessons. I know I asked, it just never happened. And then Saturday Night Fever came out in the theaters. Suddenly music was all about disco, the guitarists of the early 70s faded in popularity...my dreams faded with them.
Twenty-four years later I walked into the local music store to realize my 12 year-old dream. It turns out I wasn't going to be telling my story through music, but I'm glad I tried just the same.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Apparently, the torrential rains of last week were enough to loosen the stranglehold of summer. Saturday was missing a few of the regulars...namely heat and humidity. There was a new kid in town...and it was all about blue skies, low humidity and a gentle breeze rustling the slowly changing leaves.
Autumn, welcome back. It's been pretty hot here without you.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
For a variety of reasons I'm having a hard time getting in the rhythm of the new school year. I seem to be spending more time catching up than getting ahead. Playing catch up is never fun...unless I'm catching up with friends.
This weekend I got to do both. There were somewhere around 275 papers to grade- some essays, some short answer questions and some posters. I was happy to have a weekend to catch up but had also previously arranged to have a friend come visit to help my paint my bathroom.
A good friend knows when to step in and help. I graded papers, she painted the bathroom and every so often we'd meet on the back porch for a break in the sun and a little bit of chat.
It's just about time to get ready for another week at work and I'm close to ready. I've got 8 more essays to grade and one nice looking bathroom painted a lovely color known as "violet evening."
Friday, October 1, 2010
Here's my offering:
Some people swore that the house was haunted. At first I refused to believe, mostly because those people were my two brothers who I didn’t think knew anything at all. Well, they knew how to annoy me, and pinch me harder than any pinch I’d ever felt. They knew how to never get caught feeding their vegetables to the dog under the table at dinnertime, whereas I always got caught.
But haunted houses? No, they didn’t know that. Besides the house they insisted was haunted wasn’t real. It was in the picture that hung in our living room. The house wasn’t even the center of the picture. It was just a run-down old building in the background of the photograph. I hadn’t even noticed the house at first. My attention had always been focused on the old lady standing in front. Her dark hair was pulled back in a tight bun that had to be giving her a headache. Frustration and anger seeped from her eyes. The worn features of her face disguised her real age. Her tightly pursed lips silenced her story. My dad told me she was only about 30 at the time the photo was taken. It was hard to believe. From my own 12 year old perspective she looked to be about 70.
She was my great aunt, times four…my grandmother’s mother’s mother’s sister. Aunt Annie had boarded a boat for the promise of the United States of America sometime during the potato famine. She left the coast of Ireland with a broken heart and arrived in Baltimore six weeks later and twenty-five pounds lighter. The crossing was much rougher than expected. She spent the last 21 days of the journey in misery with nothing but oranges to eat.
I didn’t know much else about her story. For the most part I made it up in my head. I spent summer afternoons in my own world. After lunch I’d race out the back door with notebook and pencil in hand and head for the cool privacy beneath the front porch. By the end of the summer I had made up and written down my story of Aunt Annie…
Annie had left Ireland in desperation. Starvation had taken her family, her farm and a good part of her heart. She had been a woman who loved her children more than anything. When they were gone there was no love left in her, only anger. Coming to America was her last chance. Her sister, Lizzie, had begged her to come and sent the money to do so. Lizzie was sure she could help, she knew if Annie was surrounded by the love of her nieces and nephews her heart would begin to mend itself…she could know love again.
Lizzie arrived at the dock in a state of nervous anticipation. She knew the rough trip was going to be one more thing to deal with--another part of the mess of Annie that must be mended. She felt strong and sure that she could help the older sister who had been such a part of her life back in Ireland. Life in Baltimore had turned out to be better than she ever imagined. As children she and Annie had spent many late night hours planning the happy path their lives would take. She smiled just thinking about those nights, the two sisters wrapped up together under a torn blanket with nothing but happy dreams for the future.
Lizzie looked up to see a slow, dark figure moving her way. Her eyes wrinkled in confusion as she looked into the empty face and dark eyes of the woman that she was there to rescue. An initial tentative hug turned into a five minute, sob-filled embrace.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
It is what it is...
Last night was Back-to-School night and for the seventh year in a row I've noticed that the classes with the largest parental attendance are also the classes with students reading above grade level.
Why? What can I do to change that? Does it matter?
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Fortunately, the evening goes by quickly. Parents follow their child's schedule and visit each class. Teachers are given about ten minutes to go over their class objectives and expectations and to answer any questions about the class.
Tonight I survived my 17th Back-to-School night. It was, as usual, a blur of me talking and parents looking- with a few questions thrown in between. I don't remember many specifics, except for the father who came up to me at the end of class to report his son has been feeling like he got off on the wrong foot with me. He's been in some trouble in my class and feeling like I've been singling him out.
Yup, that kid has been driving me crazy, but tomorrow my goal is to find a way to for us to work together so that we both feel respected and valued.
Monday, September 27, 2010
The gun wasn't real, it was a toy. My sister teaches in a rural area twenty miles north of Baltimore. She teaches kindergarten.
It's been a helluva year.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
One of my struggles has always been the best way to reach the students I have that are reading below grade level. In my opinion they fell behind their classmates somewhere around second or third grade and never caught up. By the time they get to me in sixth grade they've had three or more years of reading frustration under their belts and for the most part they've started to see themselves as non-readers.
This year, I hope to get them to change that vision...I want them to see themselves as readers. A friend offered up a little Nancie Atwell theory and I'm eager to give it a go. I left work today with my copy of The Reading Zone tucked in my bag. I'll spend some time over the weekend rereading it and coming up with my plan.
For the first time in quite some time, I'm excited about my PDP.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Twenty-five years later Thursday is still the gateway to the weekend, but the revelry that went with the welcome isn't quite the same. Tonight I am excited about getting to bed early. My hello to Friday will have to wait until a bit after 5:00 AM when my cell phone alarm awakes me as it plays the theme song from "The Jetsons."
I can no longer schedule my classes for late Friday afternoon like I did in college. My students will begin wandering in to homeroom at about 7:40. They will bid me a good morning and we will be off and running for the rest of the day.
However, since it is Friday, maybe I'll bring in some donuts.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I tried a similar exercise my first year as a third grade teacher. When in the process of learning about a new group of students I found that their questions reveal as much about them as the answers they give. This year's sixth graders disclosed a bit about themselves in their inquiries.
Do we get to blow stuff up in Science?
What time is it when you are late for class?
Will we read Moby Dick?
Are you allergic to anything?
Is it true that if you read more you become a better speller?
Why is there a squeaking noise by the sink?
What are three of your favorite songs?
Who inspired you to be a teacher?
Are you funny as a teacher?
Why do they call it Middle School?
Does anybody else feel the same way I do?
Will we have a lot of homework? Will it be hard?
Is 6th grade a repeat of 5th?
One thing I've learned from this activity is that even though it may look like every student is "with me" during class discussion, they aren't. Their brains are moving every which way. They are filled with questions, but they're not always the ones I'm trying to answer in class.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Yes, when I adopted this policy last year I was sure students with D's would work harder to get B's or A's. For the most part they did.
Today I handed back the first quiz of the year. Students who had scores in the 90s were eager to try again to attain that perfect score. Many students with scores in the 50s, 60s and 70s opted to do the same. But what about those kids that didn't opt for the retake? What's my responsibility to them? Should I allow an 11 year-old student with a D to opt out of the second chance, or is that a parent decision? For now, I'm leaving the decision with the student. No matter what they end up doing I'm pretty sure they'll learn something from the process.
Monday, September 20, 2010
I was happy to hear that the kids felt like they were making new friends and that the teachers were pretty nice. There were the expected comments regarding homework load and a few unfortunate comments about problems with bullies. But the most surprising comment I heard all day came from the mouth of a young redhead. When asked to give a high for his year so far he commented, "The food in the cafeteria is amazing!"
Not what I expected.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
It's all good.
Friday, September 17, 2010
An idea was hatched, by who I'm not sure. We would plan one weekend a year and have a Thanksgiving of our very own. Mock Thanksgiving was born.
The fun starts tonight. Those twenty-somethings have become forty-somethings with college kids of their own. We get about 36 hours of time to yuck it up on the Severn River. Come Sunday afternoon I'll drag my tired, sleep-deprived self back home and wonder how the weekend sped by so fast. I can't wait.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Bring on the leaves of red and orange, as well as the frozen dew of autumn...please.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
This year is no different. Each day a young man has entered my room and each day I've felt frustrated and disappointed with our interaction during the class period. Seven days into the school year I can see that changing the way we interact isn't going to be easy, it may turn out to be my biggest challenge of the year.
Monday, September 13, 2010
This year my goal is to keep one list in one place. That's different from years past where I had multiple lists going in a variety places. I do great job of teaching 11 and 12 year-old students the tools they need for organization, yet rarely do I do such a good job of keeping myself organized. It's a weakness that I continue to work on.
So far I have managed to keep my daily lists in one place and tried to limit the number of tasks to five or six. I employ that same tactic during the summer and have come to find success in prioritizing what needs to be done as well as accepting the reality of what can get done in the span of a work day. I've found that it's best to separate work and home tasks as well.
After five days of teaching I can't say that I'm exactly on top of everything but I'm not flailing my arms in exasperation yet either. I call that success.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
There's a quiet that comes with a rainy day. The silence is only broken by the occasional drippy sound of water as it makes its way down the metal downspout. Clouds hung in the sky for most of today, offering up another layer of sound insulation. The peacefulness in my house had very few interruptions; the clink of a coffee cup as it was set on the table, the rustle of newspaper as pages were turned, and the insistent cries of a cat who desperately wanted to drink the milk in my cereal bowl.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
I can go for weeks or months at a time without a moment of clumsiness. Not today though.
Shifting my body from a seated position on the dock into a kayak gently bobbing on Lake Braddock proved to be, literally, my tipping point. I over-thought the whole process. With my hands placed on each side of the kayak I started to make my move. Feet went in and then I shifted the rest of myself toward the waiting boat. It didn't feel right. My friend was talking me through as best she could, but I could already feel a loss of control.
"I'm going in!" I shouted.
Clumsiness wins again.
On the bright side, it was a beautiful day for a swim.
Friday, September 10, 2010
I did my best to put everything back together quickly, as I did so I heard a something snap. I broke his three-hole punch, or at least I thought I did.
"Ooops, did I break that?" I asked.
"Uh, yeah...you sure did," he snarled.
I promised to buy him a new one, one that looked exactly the same. After confirming that he bought it at Target I apologized one more time. He was obviously frustrated and downright pissed off.
"Did I ruin your day?" I inquired.
I most certainly had.
I left work late last night, somewhere around 5:30. It had been another ten-hour day. I was exhausted and the last thing I wanted to do was go in search of a red three-hole punch at Target. I knew if I wanted to make things right with Frankie I had go shopping. I wanted to go home, really, I did.
I went to Target where, of course, there was no red three-hole punch to be found. Fortunately, there was a Staples nearby and once I entered the store I was greeted by a wonderful store clerk that guided me to the very thing I was in search of.
As I rolled the shiny red piece of plastic in my hand I realized I had not broken anything. Not only had Frankie mislead me about where to buy the thing he had also mislead me into thinking I had ruined it, along with his day. I started to put it back. I stopped and thought about the kind of kid I was dealing with and knew it was important to make good on my promise. There would be no forgiveness without the purchase.
Frankie was still mad at me today. I asked him and he told me so. He was also mad that he had homework on a Friday. I didn't assign the homework, but that didn't seem to matter. We decided to settle up after class.
He walked up to my desk after class still sporting the same sour face he had on for the 45 minutes he'd been sitting in my class. It wasn't until I showed him the peace offering that his expression changed...he smiled.
"It's exactly the same!" he grinned.
"Yup, I told you I'd get you another and here it is, as promised. A deal's a deal, right?"
He offered to give me the other one in exchange but I dismissed the idea. It went into his backpack and he was gone.
I saw him later that afternoon as he was running off to another class.
"Hey, Frankie! Are you still mad at me?" I called.
"Nope!" he responded as he sped by.
For now the teacher-student relationship has been mended, and I'm happy about that.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
A sampling of the responses:
Reading is endless words, put together.
Reading means to be smart.
Creating a picture story in your mind. It's kind of like a dream someone else made up for you.
Reading is a combination of work and fun.
Something you use every day, just like math.
Reading is the measure of a person's imagination.
A fun thing to learn about new words and learn about cultures.
Reading means you look at words and understand them.
Reading is fun as long as you have the right book.
I'm always surprised by the variety of responses I get. This year I was pleased to see that not one student defined reading as boring. That makes my job much easier.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Here are a few of my favorites:
Don't play with anything in class.
Be nice and kind to your new classmates.
Don't be loud.
Don't look on other people's papers.
No breaking anything in the class.
No skipping class.
No bullying kids for their lunch money.
No calling anybody names.
Don't look miserable all the time.
Be positive all the time. You can't have a positive room if the teacher and students are depressed.
No invading of personal space.
No insulting of any kind.
Do not hit, throw or kick.
Be kind and friendly to your peers even if they are mean to you.
quite simply put...
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Then there was Shane. He wanted to be called Josh as well.
Oh yeah, Laurel goes by Olivia.
Monday, September 6, 2010
I was reminded of those bus rides today as I pedaled along the bike trail taking note of various leaves that had begun to change color. Sure there was plenty of green out there, but there was a good bit of yellow and orange as well serving as a subtle hint that fall is on its way.
Of course there's also one rather unsubtle hint that fall is just about here...school starts tomorrow.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Today I felt it...tired. It was a long week, one filled with moving furniture, unpacking boxes, uninspiring meetings and a good deal of low morale among my colleagues. The tired I felt wasn't the sleepy kind; it was more of the exhausted, bone-tired kind. Hence my motivation to get out and about on this gorgeous weekend wasn't real strong, but fortunately it was strong enough to get me out of the house.
I strolled through Eastern Market and enjoyed an hour or two of people watching. The bright blue skies and gentle breeze were enough to put everyone in a good mood. Buyers and sellers chatted amiably. Laughter and smiles were the norm of the day. Jewelry and crafts sparkled in the late morning sun; outside cafes were full with people of all ages.
My find of the day was a necklace made by local artist Zoey March. I was drawn to her booth by a small sign, "Found Poetry Necklaces." Zoey explained that she uses a square cardboard cutout to look for poetic phrases in old dictionaries that she finds. Her inspiration for the pendants on the necklaces comes from her browsing. Zoey explained that what she loves about this type of work is the way the words surprise her when they come together. She went on to say that the pendant I chose, "Wait in silent wonder," took her breath away when she happened upon it. I agree.
Turns out a change of scenery was just what I needed.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I'm sure more than one child has come home and described school as torturous, not me, but surely someone.
Today I find myself joining the ranks when I proclaim that school was torturous today. It wasn't the students. They're not there yet. It wasn't another meeting. We had one but it was short and someone brought delicious pastries. The source of today's very unpleasant day was the fire alarm system. The one that was being tested ALL DAY. The first piercing sound at about 9:00 AM made everyone in the room jump. So did the second one. By the afternoon we were one jumpy bunch of people.
I heard there were 160 units to test. I wish I knew that in the beginning, that way I'd know how many more alarm tests I have to suffer through tomorrow.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
I wonder how long it will take until some young, tech-savvy teen invents a device to repel the sound.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Unpacking and organizing 25 boxes of stuff is not easy work, especially with the usual beginning of the year tasks that need to be taken care of. But, I'm not complaining. Really, I enjoy seeing the daily progress that I'm making in the classroom. I walked in yesterday to a few tables and the same 25 boxes I packed up last June. By the time I left this afternoon half of the boxes were unpacked, tables were set in the usual seating arrangement, the computer was hooked up and my desk was starting to take shape. The concrete evidence of my work gave me instant gratification.
Teaching provides an enormous amount of gratification, however it doesn't always come so quickly...not as quickly as the time it takes to unpack a box of books.
Monday, August 30, 2010
I dislike the food sign-up sheet. I've taken a few classes in the past few years and food sign-up is always the first order of business. Why? We are adults; we are capable of throwing an extra apple or granola bar in our bag and heading off to a class or curriculum area meeting. Food sign-up is not only a major inconvenience... it also becomes competitive.
The first class or meeting of the year usually starts off innocently enough with a bag of tortilla chips, some salsa and maybe some carrots and dip. Time marches on and as it does people feel the need to do a little more. By the last meeting of the year there usually a pizza, homemade guacamole, all kinds of cut up vegetables and, of course, freshly prepared hummus.
It's too darn much. I'll feed myself thank you, it's much easier than trying to feed thirty people.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
It was a great afternoon. The water temperature was perfect, a little chilly but refreshing.
The evening was capped off by dinner at a great place. The Grove Market has all of about 8 tables. Getting a table tonight was some sort of miracle. It's the kind of place that has no menu; the waitress just lets you know what the chef has decided to cook for the evening. For us it was smoked fish appetizers, crab salad, flounder duck, scallops and grouper. All of it was topped off with a bit of wine and for dessert, some kind of awesome coconut cake.
It was all good, made even better with good friends.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Sure, it would have been better to put the money towards rent, but sometimes, especially when in your twenties, doing the right thing is easily overlooked.
Maybe it's because I spent most of my school career through high school looking into a brown sack to find another PB & J sandwich and a ring ding.
When I worked at the Smithsonian the other GS-5ers and I would have leisurely lunches that started as soon as our boss left and ended almost 90 minutes later. When questioned we let him know that we left for lunch at 12:45, about 15 minutes before he was scheduled to return. It was dishonest. We'd leave 1o to 15 minutes after him and head to places like Armand's for the all you can eat pizza bar or the Tune Inn on the hill for great, greasy burgers. Sometimes we'd nap on the mall, if it was cold we'd head to the Hirshorn Museum for a nap on the comfy, leather couches found on the third floor.
During the school year my lunch hour is only 35 minutes. It doesn't leave time for napping or wandering around town. I pack my own lunch, and it's hardly ever a PB& J.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Today's school leadership conference was six hours long, with a few breaks here and there. I filled 14 sheets of my new, red composition notebook. The word accountability was scribbled in several places.
Of all the notes I took there are two phrases that stick out to me:
"We're in the business of getting students to grow, not in the business of punishing them."
"We are leaders, and remember leadership needs to be continually moving forward."
Go, go, go...grow, grow, grow.
Monday, August 23, 2010
I'm happy to say that I haven't had to hear the high-pitched whirr of the drill in quite a few years. Dr. H was happy to tell me it had been some seven years since I'd had a filling. He went on to tell me that my teeth should continue to do well, no need to worry about cracked bicuspids and crowns for another ten years or so.
Good to know.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Air travel can be a pretty nice thing.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
There was great food, good weather, a bit of shopping and good friends.
All in all, a darn good day.
Friday, August 20, 2010
One friend ordered a Cosmopolitan, the other some sort of martini with a juicy name, something like Pomegranatini or Cranberrytini...whatever it was I certainly didn't consider it a real martini.
Sitting in my red leather chair, looking around at the dark walls with darker wallpaper inlaid in rectangular patterns throughout the place there seemed to be no other cocktail option.
Having never ordered such an adult-like drink I decided to text a friend for advice.
"How do I order a martini? Dry?"
The response was quick: "Dry, up, extra olives."
And then there was a small postscript: "Good night ladies!"
Goodnight, indeed. My brain is in Eastern Standard Time, my body is in the Central Time Zone and with a swirl of gin down the hatch I'm happy to be upstairs in my room with the bed turned down.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
This summer I've decided to embrace the last few days of my break. Whatever isn't done by next Thursday isn't getting done on a summer schedule. It will just have to be fit in to the free time I have outside of my work schedule. Thursday morning I'm heading to the beach to relish in the last few days of a nice summer break. My goal is to embrace the time on the beach with friends without thinking about the stress and work that the beginning of the school year is certain to bring.
I think I'll even stay for dinner on Sunday night.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
While away at college it was always exciting to find a letter tucked away in my post office box. Junk mail hadn't found me in Southern Maryland so if there was anything showing through the small window of PO Box 268 it was most certainly a letter from a friend or family member.
I got a good deal of mail during the four years I was away at school. However, of all the letters I receive my favorite was the one I received from my grandmother. When I opened the envelope in the post office I found a small piece of paper folded neatly into thirds. Tucked inside was a five-dollar bill.
The letter was short and to the point:
Here's five dollars. Go get yourself a sandwich.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Oh yeah, have you tried the cantaloupe out there?
Monday, August 16, 2010
With two weeks to go I'm on track to accomplish what I set out to do this summer. Knowing that makes me feel good. The last closet gets a cleaning tomorrow, sometime before my afternoon doctor's appointment.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I maneuvered through the day with slow intent. There were a few chores I hoped to complete today. Nothing too large, those kinds of chores are saved for later in the week. At the end of the day I am content with the progress I made.
It was...a good day.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
"It smells like you in here! Everything of yours smells like you...your house, your car...it all smells like you!"
I was startled and unsure if this was a compliment or a problem I needed to work on.
"Is that a good or bad thing?" I asked.
Older brother Danny piped in, "Oh, it's a good thing. It's a good smell."
What a relief.
Friday, August 13, 2010
For some reason my silly little blog has. Maybe it's because I know that there are three, maybe even four or five people, that read it on a regular basis. Whatever it takes. I'm here tonight with very little to say and twenty minutes to spare. I'm pretty sure I'll be back tomorrow as well.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
It's the kind of question that I've never thought about. Well, until today when I had the opportunity to look through the purse of my great-aunt who died over 20 years ago. I was helping my mother pack up her house in preparation for moving day tomorrow. There were two purses on the top shelf of her closet, one belonged to my great-aunt, the other to my grandmother-my mother's mother-who died seven years ago.
My mother remarked that she'd never looked in either one. Today seemed like as good a time as any.
I think the most interesting thing about the experience was the items common to both purses. Namely...newspaper clippings... obituaries and wedding announcements. My aunt had quite a collection of pictures. Included in the assortment were, of course, pictures of her many nieces and nephews as well as a collection of shots from her retirement in the late 1960s. My grandmother had a few pictures and clipped obituaries as well. She also had the mass program from my sister's wedding and a postcard I'd sent her from Florida in 1983.
It seems like these days women have a different purse for every outfit. I know for myself, that the obituaries I have clipped are stuffed in the top drawer of my dresser. Every time I use a different purse during the year I find the same few items: lip balm, tissues and a little bit of pocket change.
My apologies to whoever gets to go through my purse after my demise, it won't be nearly as interesting as my experience today.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Apparently, they've been chewing on the cable wire that runs behind the kitchen cabinets as well. I can't imagine that the plastic coating on the coaxial wires tastes that good, but who can tell what the palate of a mouse is like. Is it possible that the coating is something akin to "the other white cheese" in mouseland? To each his own I suppose, but this strange craving is creating havoc with my internet signal.
The Comcast technician showed up today to repair my internet connection that went out last week. His fancy equipment indicated the signal coming into the house was weak. It's confusing to me since the signal coming in is strong enough for television reception. Apparently the internet signal is a different kind of animal. A check on the outside showed that the signal was fine coming from the outside, but lost a good deal of juice on the inside. The cable coming in would need to be replaced.
Unfortunately, my 1940s townhouse is a somewhat of a cable-wiring nightmare. The line comes in somewhere behind the kitchen cabinets and is pretty much inaccessible. So, it's time to rewire the house--something else to add to next week's "to-do" list since this week is already pretty much booked up.
Maybe I should add call the exterminator to that list.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Leadership has its privileges...or is it pitfalls? Whatever the case may be, I will be in possession of those very cards later this week when I meet with the team leader from the other sixth grade team and the grade level counselor. We will do our best to sort the students into two equal teams. I think we do a pretty good job and really, I always enjoy the process. It's tough to get a feel for a breathing pre-adolescent from a data and ink on a grouping card. The real fun comes a few weeks later when students and teachers meet for the first time.
Monday, August 9, 2010
This week I do believe it's necessary to include...drum roll please...charging for air at the gas station. Yes, in many places it costs 50 cents for a little air in the tires. I guess free air has gone by the wayside, along with the Texaco man who would run out to pump the gas and clean the windshield.
I suppose it's bothered me for sometime now. However, it wasn't until I was stuck a half-mile from home with a flat tire on my bike that paying for air found it's way on the list. Really, should it cost me the same 50 cents to fill my tiny little bike tire that it costs some guy, or gal, in a Ford F-150 pickup?
I just don't think so.