Monday, May 25, 2015

Hurt No Living Thing #sol15

When my sister rose to give the toast as Matron of Honor at my wedding, she told our guests about one way she could always bother me when we were younger: She would kick the pine cones when we walked in the park.  For some reason, I imagined the pine cones were with their families, laying on the cement clustered in groups.  She would laugh and say, "Oh no, the baby pine cone is calling out to his mother!" as she gleefully kicked the smallest one away from the group.  I would cry and put the pine cones back as we found them. 

I am overly sentimental, I will admit, but I do think there is something to not deliberately hurting anything, even pine cones.  A few weeks ago, my son Alex was with other children who were squishing ants.  I am not an insect lover by any means and have gotten rid of many a bug, but to purposefully squish ants just scurrying by on their way seemed cruel.  I told Alex that ants were creatures who had families and we should leave them alone.  I saw him process this and he immediately stopped the squishing, telling the other children that the ants have families and we need to leave them alone.

Yesterday we had a barbecue with friends and I overheard Alex telling his buddy that ants are creatures and we shouldn't hurt them.  He was really passionate in his speech, gesticulating and everything! I took his picture because I wanted to remember him defending the rights of ants at 4 and a half years old.

The irony, though, is today poor Alex picked a spot on the curb to watch the Memorial Day Parade that ended up being an ant colony.  Ants were crawling on his legs, his socks, his shoes, his arms before he realized his unfortunate position.  He was near hysterical to have ants all over him, understandably. My mother was with us and helped me get all the ants off of him.  As we walked home, he said that the ants crawling on him was the worst part of the day.  My mom explained that because he defended the ants, they saw him as a friend and knew he wouldn't hurt them.  He listened to her explanation without reply, taking in her words and mulling them over.

He didn't get my love of eating or my curly hair.  He doesn't like to sit with books or color like I did when I was young.  But, he is the daughter of the pine cone defender and like it or not, he is now protector of the ants. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Kindred Spirits #sol15

Anne Shirley is a kindred spirit.  I've read the entire Anne of Green Gables series and also loved the movie version featuring Megan Follows as Anne.  She was a character I respected, admired, laughed with, and was someone who I would have loved to call my friend.  She often used the phrase "kindred spirits" in her books and I've felt that way about special people in my life, too.  

Anne Shirley said, "Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think.  It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world."  Becoming a connected educator has allowed me to see the truth in this quote and my world has become bigger, richer, more alive by the people I interact with online. 

For a long time, I felt under the stormy cloud of the political storm surrounding education.  Article after article talked about low teacher morale, ridiculous and unfair ways to assess, misery in the education field.  When I dreamed of being a teacher as a child, this nightmare was not what I envisioned.  

Politically, things are not better.  The new evaluation plan Cuomo set in motion is a horror show, but for me, the storm clouds have lifted.  Light is shining in, coming from many directions as the kindred spirits I meet share their passion for teaching, learning, reading, writing and helping kids find their way.  

There's Kristen, who is simply a powerhouse of motivation, ideas, and love of literacy.  She's taught me Voxer and I look forward to daily chats with her, knowing I will always know more after talking to her than I did before.  There's Aliza, who takes time out of her jam-packed busy schedule to email me and send me pictures of the reading notebook she has developed.  What's in it for her to do this? Nothing.  But she does it anyway, answering my questions, sending me pictures, helping me refine my ideas. There's Sylwia, who sent me ideas on how she is incorporating math centers in her 3rd grade classroom after I inquired about how that works.  There's Jane, who always sends me supportive tweets about what I'm sharing about my teaching life.  These kind comments help me see that my voice is important.  There's Greg, whose blog, book and life are a testament to the incredible gift he is to teaching and the world. There's JoEllen, who radiates joy and love for learning and has taken the time to connect with me.  Her #booklove and enthusiasm have inspired me to bring more joy back into my classroom.  There's Mark, who has generously put my name into the "Twitterverse" and helped me connect with more educators. His pictures and quotes are always day brighteners and reinforce the notion that someone believing in you is powerful motivation to become worthy of that belief.  

There's more, of course.  Teachers like Katherine Sokolowski (no relation!) who takes the time to make a Youtube tutorial for me when I confessed I couldn't figure out how to create a Padlet.  Katherine's blogs always touch my heart and like Anne Shirley, Katherine's character shines through each word she writes.  There's the Two Writing Teachers team who bring together this community of teachers who believe in writing and telling our stories.  Day after day, new posts are published and each one gives me practical and inspiring ways to approach writing in my classroom.  Their knowledge and the knowledge of the community members who comment on posts is astounding and is helping me grow as a teacher. There's the Nerdy Book Club and the nerdy members who love books and make it a mission to help our students fall in love with reading, too.  

There's the real-life friends I know that I know better now because of being connected online.  Darshna, Mark, Vicki, and Barbara are LIWP friends who are kindred spirits and friends. We only get to meet up a few times a year, but through the magic of online connections, I read Barbara's slices weekly and learn more about her adventures. I read Mark's poems each day in April and found myself stunned by his talent and voice.  I see the incredible things Vicki is doing for her students and her passion for teaching.  I  read the insightful articles that Darshna carefully posts, knowing whatever she puts out there will be worth my time. 

The other day, Dr. Bill Brennan, Director of Library Media Services and Technology in Farmingdale, visited our school.  Dr. Brennan is the person who inspired me to try Twitter.  Two years ago at Superintendent's Conference Day, he spoke to our district about the new ways of learning.  His presentation was awe-inspiring. He talked about how Twitter was helping him to connect with experts and learn in real time and I began to think that Twitter was more than just a place for celebrity gossip. When Dr. Brennan stopped by on Friday, I had the opportunity to thank him for helping me try Twitter.  I told him that teaching without being connected felt a lot like being in a dark house with the doors and windows bolted but now, I feel like everything is bright and open, with light shining in and I can see again.  

The people I know and work with face to face are amazing, helpful, knowledgeable, kind and teach me things everyday.  The people I connect with online are amazing, helpful, knowledgeable, kind and teach me things everyday too.  My world is bigger, brighter, happier and kindred spirits- well, it's splendid to know there are so many of them in my world.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Good Guys, Bad Guys & Befuddled Writing Teachers #sol15

Folding laundry in the basement, I listen as my four and a half year old son Alex plays nearby.  A battle is apparently raging where the good guys are fighting the bad guys.  Every so often I hear an "Oh yeah? See what you can do!" exclaimed or a "You'll never get me!".  He is completely engrossed in the story he is creating with the little figures he holds in his hands.  It dawns on me that Alex is only a few months younger than the kindergarten writers I used to sit next to for writing conferences. A light bulb flashes over my head in what Oprah would call an "Aha!" moment.  

You see, I often struggled with how to handle my little boy writers.  We would be in the midst of a small moments unit of study and I would pull up a chair next to a little guy who would have a frenetic scene scrawled across his page.  He would tell me a very detailed tale about bad guys fighting and I would inwardly groan.  What was I supposed to do with THIS? This was not a small moment about the time you lost your tooth or the first time you rode an airplane or met your new baby sister. Often, the little boy would be so excited about his work and I would struggle with my response.  Sometimes I would say it was a great story but not a small moment and we could keep it in the writing folder, but now we have to write the story that really counts.  Seeing Alex so engaged with his toys and the story he created, I see now that my kindergarten students were writing what they practiced in their play. 

Now I teach third grade and I'm finding that many of the boys have moved away from traditional bad guy stories and now focus on video games! We are doing a persuasive writing unit where the students should be crafting speeches to convince people of something.  A few of my students, yes- boys, have decided to write about a specific video game and why you should play it or not play it.  I am inwardly screaming about these topic choices- THIS is what you care passionately about? All of the problems in the world and you want to convince people to play a video game? A lot of what they are writing is terrible ("You should play it because it is fun"- oh, now I am totally convinced!) and I don't know what to do.  We know choice is so important, so how can I take away what they choose to write about, whether it is 5 year-olds and their bad guy stories or 8 year-olds persuading people to play video games? 

Tomorrow I plan to do a lesson that focuses on the students' topic choices and if they care enough about their topic to spend the time revising.  If they don't feel deeply passionate about the topic, I want them to abandon their writing and find what they are deeply passionate about, making that their new topic.  I'm afraid that some of my students are going to hold tight to the video games.

As a mom to a curious and creative little boy, please don't mistake this post as boy bashing.  I want to help all the children in my class grow as writers, both boys and girls.  Obviously, many boys grow up to be men who are skillful, eloquent writers.  I'm wondering if some of these men can help me understand what and how they wrote when they were younger.  Were they bad guy/video game story tellers too? What do you think boys need to be successful in writing workshop? Am I basing success on what I think they should be writing? Are boys wired differently to focus on battles and good guys and bad guys while girls are more attuned to emotions and stories about families? Am I making unfair generalizations? Sigh.  Befuddled with the battles and video games, I would love to have a conversation with fellow Slicers about your experiences with the difference between boy and girl writers.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Teacher Manifesto Project


The Teacher Manifesto Project, issued by Talks with Teachers, challenges us to post the "anti-resume" and reveal what it really means to be a teacher.  Here is my Manifesto:

A teacher is a tree: firmly rooted in theory and experience, growing each day, yearning to touch the sky & the future, showing students that stars are within their grasp.  A teacher is a cozy home: comfortable and safe, providing warmth and shelter from the harsh conditions, relentlessly beating on the door.  A teacher is a library: knowledgeable, accessible, full of stories that captivate your mind and touch your heart.  A teacher is a coach who believes in you, challenges you, trains you, applauds you.  A teacher is a bridge, sometimes over troubled waters, but always the way to connect you from what you know and who you are to new uncharted territories of understanding and possibility. A teacher is a song that keeps playing in your mind and heart long after the last note was sung, an influence that lasts, a memory forever etched in your soul. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

When things choose you... #sol15

This week, I read Sarah Brown Wessling's "A Letter to My Children: What It Means to Be a Teacher"
(I highly recommend you read it too!) Sarah writes, "What I want you to know is that there are things in this world that you will choose, and there are things in this world that will choose you."  

That line struck me as so very, very true.  I believe that we come to occupations, and places and people for reasons that we might not even understand, but always for a reason.  

I feel that way about my house. 

The morning after our wedding, my husband Mike and I went to brunch. We were leaving for Mexico the next morning and that Sunday was meant to relax and catch our breath after our Saturday wedding.  On the way back from brunch, Mike told me there was an open house he wanted to check out in the town we were hoping to live.  There was a line of people waiting to go inside.  The house was right across the street from the sprawling brick elementary school with the white pillars in front that I absolutely loved.  To live right across the street from an elementary school is considered a drawback in real estate but I thought it was one reason that this house might be calling my name! 
When we got inside the house, I thought it was lovely. Small from the outside, it was spacious inside. Hardwood floors, an updated kitchen with stainless steel appliances, a screened in porch, a door from the kitchen to the garage.  But, what sealed the deal for me and convinced me that we HAD to have this house was the built in bookshelves framing the door to the office:

This is how I knew I was home.  
I stalked the house on the web during our Mexican honeymoon.  Each day, when we needed a break from the sun, we would head to the computer room at the hotel and check the real estate site to make sure the house was still for sale.  When we returned from Mexico, we made an offer on the house and it was ours.  As it should be.  
There are some things in this world that you will choose and some things that chose you.  So happy my house chose me! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Crayon Blue Sky, Red Wagon Ride

Crayon blue sky
Pink puffy trees
Verdant green grass
Red wagon ride.

Some firsts today:
Megan said, "Mommy I love you"
throwing her arms around me
All on her own 
without me saying it first.
Alex reaches the sink
without the step stool
another sign that my baby
is truly not a baby anymore.
Megan climbs with persistence 
up the steep rock climbing slide
without any help.
She couldn't do this
just days ago
and now, just like that,
 she can.

On the swings,
Alex proclaims he is a birdie!
Flapping his wings
as he lays on his stomach
on the black swing,
face full of gold light.

As I stand on the playground,
I notice the sometimes numbness
in my hands and feet
is back today
and I vaguely think
I probably should 
have this checked out.
Will next May be as trouble-free
as today?

Walking home,
we pass the 9/11 Memorial
and I remember that day
was crayon blue, too.
The Memorial says:
"No farewell words were spoken,
No chance to say goodbye.
You were gone before we knew it,
And only God knows why."

My thoughts turn dark and sad
But the indomitably cheerful
song of the ice cream truck plays
as it stops in front of my house.
My family calls to me,
So I choose happiness and a vanilla cone
with sprinkles.