Saturday, March 31, 2012


We like to hike and we like to eat. So naturally, over the years, we have visited many of the parks with nature trails in our area, as we have likewise visited most of the specialty food shops and grocery chains. Of the parks, we have a few favorites, but our choice often depends on the day of the week and the time of day (traffic), plus the season of the year and the weather (bugs).

When it comes to groceries, however, our favorite is always Wegmans. Unfortunately for us, the closest location is over 15 miles away, and with the traffic in this area consistently rated in the worst 5 in the country, we don't get there as often as we'd like, maybe every couple of months.

Today, with spring break spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table, I did a bit of research to find some new trails, perhaps even a little farther from home than usual. Luck was on my side, and I found a nice regional park that combined nature, recreation, and history, but that's not all. The place was five minutes from a Wegmans!


Friday, March 30, 2012

The Breaks

Today, the last day before spring break, we walked the entire sixth grade a mile up the road for a morning of ice skating and then lunch at the food court of our local mall. This annual trip is always a big crowd pleaser: it has just the right mix of independence and containment to work for adults and tweens alike. However, the skating is also somewhat perilous-- every year for the last six, there has been at least one significant injury, and today was no exception; unfortunately, a student fractured her ankle.

I believe that sleeping during the day is a waste of good sunlight and will only interfere with sleeping at night, and so for as long as I can remember, I have had a strict no napping policy for myself. I can count the times I've broken my rule on one hand, and usually there was a high fever involved. Today when I got home, though, I kicked off my own spring break with an hour snoozing on the couch.

I may just have to revise that old rule.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


People frequently ask me if I get bored teaching the same lesson five times each day. My stock answer is that I try to make it student-centered enough so that even though we do basically the same activities to achieve the same objectives, the difference in individual students makes it different enough to be interesting.

On days when we have field trips, or other activities which I have not planned, and where my role is chaperone instead of instructor, I'm afraid the same can not be said. This week, I heard the same lecture on energy three times, and I confess that by the final rendition my interest was flagging and my patience was thin.

That was until we entered the raptor house. The students were all very engaged by the three birds they had there, and I knew why. They were fascinating to watch, and I could almost tune out the repetitious drone of the very knowledgeable docent as he explained (for me for the third time) how energy efficient they were. Almost... until I had to ask a student to come stand by me rather than pestering the kids around him. "I know why bird poop is white," he told me when he reached my side.

I nodded and tried to model what I wanted him to do by turning my attention toward the ranger.

"It's because..." the student began, but just then the park guy added something new to his presentation.

"Did you know that..."

"...birds pee and poop at the same time!" they finished together.

"My! That is efficient!" I admitted, but quite honestly, the birds were unimpressed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Parents Say the Darnedest Things

At the beginning of the year we had one parent who swore to us that her daughter was a "pathological liar." Oh, it seemed like she was speaking at least half in jest, and so we teachers laughed it off as yet another early adolescent giving her folks a run for their money.

Even so, as the year has gone on, this particular mom has been very vigilant on checking behind her daughter and following through on missing assignments and even the slightest report of misbehavior. Some might be tempted to dismiss her efforts as over-involved, but I have found her to be a very supportive partner to work with in terms of meeting her daughter's educational needs. And sure, I've seen the kid stretch the truth a bit and try to shirk responsibility for her mistakes, but nothing outside typical sixth grade behavior.

Today, I saw the mom as I was leaving for the day. "Have a great spring break," she called to me from across the parking lot.

"You, too!" I replied with extra cheer, for vacation is only two short days away. "I hear you're going to Hawaii!" I added. "Have a great trip!"

"She is such a liar!" she said with exasperation. "We're going to South Carolina."

I laughed out loud. "Awww! She totally got me!" I told her mom, who nodded sympathetically. "But don't worry," I added, "it won't happen again. I think I finally get it."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Outside Job

"I'd bump that guy off if I thought I could get his job."

So said I on a field trip to our local nature center, as the students dined on the flagstone patio of the main building in the warm sunshine of this cloudless day, spotting deer and all sorts of other wild life, after our tour of the park where the director not only gets to live on the property with access to all the historical nature trails, but his house, which is right next door to a huge vegetable garden and the resident falcon and owl enclosure, is also outfitted with a solar water heater and attic fan.

To her credit, my colleague looked shocked, but I knew she was wondering if there was any way...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Weird Weather

"Ooooh! It looks like snow!" So exclaimed our 10-year-old neighbor today as she spun around, arms out, surrounded by cherry petals swirling in the wind.

Besides the unusual Halloween dusting we got, that is pretty much all the snow we'll see this season, although there is a hard frost predicted for tonight.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Watch This!

We have been watching the new-ish TV show Awake lately. Starring Jason Isaacs (most famous to us as Lucius Malfoy, but very debonair despite that villainous past), the premise is that he is a man caught between two realities. After being involved in a tragic car accident, each time Michael Britten awakes he is in one life where his son survived or another where his wife did. In both lives he is dealing with tremendous loss, as is the other surviving member of his family. Some details cross over; some do not. He is also in therapy in each reality, and the two counselors offer very different insights on how he should cope with his dilemma.

The show is thought-provoking, and so far the writing and plotting have been more than enough to capture both our curiosity and our imaginations. Isaacs does a good job portraying not only the intense emotions of such an impossible situation, but also the logistics of a man juggling two lives.

Seriously? If you've ever looked at one of your Words With Friends game boards and letters and wondered where the heck they came from, then this might be the show for you.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Target Audience

It often happens that I hear a movie or other such media project dismissed as being aimed a little too directly at adolescents. It seems that if something is too accessible to kids, then it must be flawed in some way.

Hm. Maybe the amount of time I spend with people under the age of 13 has distorted my perspective. Or, maybe? Those critics need a little more tween time.

Either way, I thought The Hunger Games movie was super!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The View From Twelve

Here in my corner of the world, it's been a week dominated by ZAP (read my post from last year for a primer on that particular topic), mice in our team area, and The Hunger Games movie. Having my sixth grade students participate in their own Slice of Life Story Challenge adds perspective to it all. Here are a few excerpts of their thoughts:


I had no idea what that stupid game Zap was, until today. Basically its purpose is too humiliate boys like me.

OK so yesterday the counselor came in and talked about zapping. And personally, I don't see the problem. It's just a game, and they take it so seriously. I mean everyone says no anyway. They just had to overreact for everything!

It's just a joke, and nobody forced you to do it, so I kind of just ignored the counselor. But then, at lunch, my friends and I were discussing it, and I learned that one of them was told by the person that she asked out that she was ugly and he'd never date her, and that really hurt her. So, I erased everything off my hands.

Our Little "Problem"

Today in homeroom we found out that there were mice in the room!!!!!!!! We all had are feet up and we always were scared. We scared K. like 4 times and she was screaming! It was soooo funny. We couldn't stop laughing! 


I love the Hunger Games, I love it so much that I can't even describe my love in words. For people who haven't read this book or don't read very often this book has more adrenaline then hang-gliding.  Trust me, I know.


I'm hungry for the Hunger Games. :)

I'm pretty excited about the movie, except for the obvious concerns. I mean, what if they butcher up the movie so bad, that it doesn't resemble anything close to the original story? I mean Hunger Games is so good, that I kind of doubt Hollywood can produce any thing that is as good as the book.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Friends AND Family

My sister-in-law teaches art at the same school where I work. We have the same last name, so there is inevitably some confusion from time to time. Aside from getting the wrong mail in our boxes, and the odd phone call mis-transferred from time to time, the students are always curious about our relationship, and they don't hesitate to ask questions.

Today was a typical example.

Kid: Is she your sister?
Me: No, she's my sister-in-law.
Kid: What does that even mean?
Me: She's married to my brother.
Kid: So she's in your family?
Me: Yes.
Kid: Are you friends?
Me: We sure are.

We sure are.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Deal Breakers

I know people who refuse to eat tomatoes out of season. When it comes to the hard, greenish-orange variety that used to be a staple of the winter produce department, I'm totally with them, but these days you can get decent tomatoes all year long. One of my favorite things to do in the winter is to roast grape tomatoes to intensify their flavor and then toss them in salad or sauce. Of course, vine-ripened is the gold standard, but I don't see any reason for deprivation the nine months those aren't available.

In general, I try to have a pragmatic attitude toward food and cooking. Despite considering myself kind of a foodie, I try not to be unreasonable when it comes to what I will or won't eat, mostly because like most people, I am constrained by time and money.

I tell you all this to shed a little perspective on my latest culinary line in the sand. Ever since I made my own tortillas a couple of months ago, I have rejected the store-bought variety. Yes. The difference in quality is THAT enormous. Tender, flavorful, flaky, they put the ones that come in a plastic bag to shame.

So take this as a cautionary tale, friends. DO NOT spend the extra time on mixing and rolling your own flour tortillas (even though it really doesn't take that long), because if you do, you may never turn back, either.


12 oz bread flour (or 9 oz bread flour and 3 oz whole wheat or spelt flour)
1/2 tsp salt
3 oz shortening
3/4 c warm water

Mix flour and salt together. Cut in shortening. Add water and stir until a soft dough forms. Divide into 8 equal balls, flatten, and let rest for 30 minutes. Heat a cast iron skillet on the stove, or a pizza stone in a 500 degree oven. Roll each disc as flat as possible (about 8 inches) and cook for 1 minute on each side.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I had after-school study hall in my room today. The hour after school is definitely the most convenient time to offer this support to our students, but it is not necessarily the best time. After a full day of learning, one more hour of quiet can be challenging for some. In an effort to make it as productive as possible, we give everyone a snack, offer a frequent attendance bonus program, and allow as much movement and collaboration as possible without letting such activity to become a distraction.

Because we teachers take turns supervising "Homework Club" for all the kids on the team, there are always some kids I don't teach in the group. That is not usually a problem-- I like to say I've been in sixth grade long enough to be able to help almost anyone with any assignment. Even so, today I ran into something I wasn't prepared for.

One of the kids asked me for a couple of sheets of loose leaf paper. I handed it over without questioning him, but he was eager to tell me why he needed it. "I have to write I will not chew gum in class 200 times!" he reported.

I'm sure my surprise registered on my face, because even though I've been around for a while,  I thought using writing as punishment went out way before I came in.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Over my years of teaching sixth grade English I've read and heard many a malapropism. Some can be blamed on the spellchecker-- once when I asked kids to write about whether it is our conscience which sets humans apart from the other animals on the planet, I got an essay that began with the memorable line, Continence, oh continence, where would we be without continence? Hmmm... Where indeed? I'm sure the makers of Depends would love to find out.

Many such mistakes are funny, but some are downright inspired. Take for example this recent bit of writing: Bees, the most horocious insect in the world!

Now, "horocious" should totally be a word. Not only does it combine horrible and ferocious, but it also  sounds a little like Hiroshima.

The sheer calamity of the term is positively palpable! Who's with me?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Guarding the Crosswalk

Seven or eight years ago we got a crossing guard at the intersection closest to our middle school. It happened after one of our students ran into a moving car while crossing the street. The accident occurred hours after school was out and nearly a block down the road, but the traumatic brain injury the student sustained made everyone want to do something to make things safer for kids.

From time to time I hear adults complaining about the guard on duty. They don't like it that not only does he stop traffic for kids who are ready to cross, but then he goes on to direct traffic, too. It's a 2 stop-sign intersection, and the line of cars can get pretty long at the stop signs in the middle of the morning rush. Personally, I don't mind, although if I'm running late, it's me he stops from taking the quick right while he waves the other cars on. I always like it when someone imposes order on potential chaos.

My sister aspired to the job of crossing guard. When she was 5 or 6, she told us how much she liked the uniform, especially the white cap and gloves, and we knew she could imagine herself and her cat, Dusty, in matching outfits, standing on that bold yellow circle in the middle of the road, whistles at the ready, hand and paw held straight out in the universal gesture for Halt.

When I was in sixth grade there was a crossing guard at the intersection near my bus stop. It was his job to cross the elementary kids safely across busy Cooper Street. His name was Ernie, and even though we middle school kids didn't need him to help us get to our bus stop, we all knew him because he had been there for years. That didn't stop a bunch of the older kids from verbally abusing him every day. He was short, older, and definitely not the smartest guy around, and these kids took delight in shouting insults across the street until our bus picked us up.

Of course Ernie blustered and threatened, but he really had no recourse, and more often than not his responses just made the kids worse. Their cruelty and disrespect really upset me, but I didn't know how to stand up to the prevailing culture. There was one thing I thought of to do, though. I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper in defense of crossing guards.

That was my first publication. It made me very proud to see my name and words in print, but nothing at the bus stop changed. Even so, I had an inkling that writing, too, could help bring order to chaos.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I was reading an article today where the documentary film maker Errol Morris describes a private eye trick he learned along the way.

“It went like this,” Morris explained. “He’d knock on a door, sometimes of someone not even connected to the case they were investigating. He’d flip open his wallet, show his badge and say, ‘I guess we don’t have to tell you why we’re here.’
“And more often than not the guy starts bawling like an infant, ‘How did you find out?’” And then disgorges some shameful criminal secret no one would ever have known about otherwise.

I laughed a little and wondered if we are all really so wracked with guilt. Then my thoughts turned to my sixth grade students. On the occasions that I must ask them to step away from the class to discuss their inappropriate behavior I typically begin the conversation with "Why did I ask you to come talk to me?"

And the usual parry is, "I don't know."

To which I reply, "That's too bad. Why don't you stay here and give it some thought. I'll be back when I can."

Oh we get there, we do, but sometimes it takes a while, so as I read today, I found myself speculating about ways to improve my approach. Was it the element of surprise that got those guys to confess so quickly? Was it the burden of carrying such a guilty secret for so long? If so, I was out of luck.

Still, as an English teacher, I have faith in the power of sentence structure, word choice, and phrasing, and that is why I intend to begin my next conversation with an errant student like so:

I guess I don't have to tell you why I asked to speak with you...

I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, March 16, 2012


As St. Patrick's Day, the day when everyone is Irish, approaches, my thoughts turn to my own ethnicity. My last name is English, and there are documented reports that the first immigrant to this continent with our surname came in the mid 1600's. That was my great-who-knows-how-many-other-greats grandfather, Daniel. Several generations later, the branch of the family from which I am descended went through an interesting trend. All of the men married women of full Irish descent, so that eventually our last name was the most English thing about us.

That's not an uncommon American story, is it though? We watch Who Do You Think You Are? every Friday night, and one of the draws of the program is seeing people find a connection to some other amazing person or culture, separated from us by time and space. As proud as most of us are to be American, everyone gets choked up on that show.

Once I told a friend that on my mother's mother's side, I'm 1/16 American Indian. Rather than be impressed, she laughed dismissively and noted that many poor white trash families use the same story to elevate their heritage.

I can't say that I'd ever thought of those ancestors as white trash before, although they did work hard at farming for a living. I was silent, but my expression must have conveyed my dismay. "Think about," she said, "how did that white guy get hooked up with an Indian in Mississippi? Much less marry her?" I stayed quiet, and I confess that I wondered if my story seemed so foolish to everyone who heard it.

Recently, a friend at work mentioned that she had gotten her husband Ancestry DNA testing for his birthday. For a hundred bucks and a couple of cheek swabs you can discover your genetic heritage.

Hmmm. That just might be worth it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gardener's Dilemma

It is time to move some of the seedlings from under the grow light to bigger pots for some outside time to harden them off before planting them in the garden. Even though they are getting too big for their little starting cells, they are still very fragile, and some of them won't make the transition.

As a relatively new gardener, I don't take this loss very well; I feel as if I've done something wrong and let my little sprouts down. (Which may be true.) Even worse though is when you have to thin the seedlings. Ordinarily, you plant two or three seeds per cell, and then once they've had a chance to establish themselves, you're supposed to cut the weaker plants so that the strongest can grow unhindered.

Although intellectually I understand the procedure, such culling goes against my nature. I want to nurture them all, regardless of size and space and resources, so that every one of them grows to be productive.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Fine Points

I was out of school for some appointments yesterday and so I left a rather concrete assignment, because that just makes it easier on the sub and the kids. On Monday, we were analyzing the grammatical patterns (courtesy of Image Grammar by Harry R. Noden) of their independent reading book titles, so that the students could come up with some "tantalizing titles" of their own. As we worked, it became clear to me that a little parts of speech review might be in order, and so I left a noun packet with the substitute.

Today we went over the answers and after giving everyone an opportunity to ask questions, there was a little quiz to see how they could apply the information they had just reviewed. Such a concrete, right-or-wrong, lesson is quite rare in my class where we mostly focus on the admittedly hard work of writing real pieces, so I was curious to see how they did on the assessment.

The first thing I noted was that with 2 1/2 weeks to go in the quarter, this grade had no impact on their overall grades. A couple of kids moved up or down a point, but nobody moved a letter grade. The next thing I noticed was that some kids who usually struggle when it comes to sustained effort were happy to fill in some blanks, and they enjoyed a much higher level of success than usual.

 This is the difference between grading and assessment. What you do with that information is teaching.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Yeah, There's an App for That

My brother in law was in town this weekend and we enjoyed some rare alone time with him. Usually when we're all together there are plenty of distractions-- the kids, the cats, the family, the yard, the beach, the dinner, etc. and so it was nice to have a couple of hours of adult conversation with the guy.

Even so, the most memorable part of his visit might just turn out to be the iPad app he recommended. It's a game for your cats... yes, really. And not only do our cats like it, but so does the dog. It's super entertaining just watching them swat at the screen. Thank goodness for that super strong glass-- but we may have to start limiting their screen time.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Making Peace

It's no secret to those who know me how much I despise Daylight Savings Time, but this year I've accepted that it is just one more item on a very long (and unfortunately growing) list of things I don't like but can do nothing about. With apologies to Dylan Thomas, I'm through raging against the postponement of the light. Oh, DST and I will never be friends, but I've got to let my resentment go.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Generation Gap

One of my students addressed me directly in her SOL post today. I <3 young, wild & free! You should listen to it sometime Ms. S.

The problem is that I'm familiar with the song, and although I like its catchy anthemy-ness, I can't get on board with some of the lyrics. Call me old-fashioned, but So what we get drunk? So what we smoke weed? just doesn't seem appropriate for sixth graders.

As a result, I was at a loss for how to reply to my student. I wanted to be positive, but I didn't want to imply that I approve of the song. I decided to save her post for a little later and went on to read and reply to other students' writing.

As I worked, I had my own music on. Coincidentally, I was listening to a playlist of all the songs I own from the 1970s, which was when I was in sixth grade. What did I hear you ask? Oh just a few classics like, Tequila Sunrise, Elderberry Wine, and Cocaine, not to mention Let's Get it On, Baba O'Riley (Teenage Wasteland), and The Wall.

Point taken.

(Check out some of our students' SOLSC posts here)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On the Loose

I went shopping with a friend from work yesterday. We needed to pick up some snacks for a few upcoming club meetings and other school activities so we headed to the big warehouse store not far from our school. At 1:30 on a Friday afternoon, the place was packed. "Who are all these people?" I wondered aloud as we entered the parking lot.

"It's lunch time," my friend reminded me.

Such a detail is easy to overlook when you have eaten lunch at 10:35 for the last 20 years. My job usually keeps me in my classroom or at my desk, and so it can be disorienting when I leave our massive bunker-like building in the middle of the day, much like being in a different setting with someone you have known primarily at work.

I was trolling the parking lot for a space, any space, when to our right we saw someone leaning over to load his car. As I slowed to see how much more stuff he had and whether it was worth waiting for his spot, my friend shouted out, "Hey! I can see your back AND your crack!" and although her remark was accurate, I was appalled. She laughed uproariously as I zoomed away.

"Hmmm. Maybe not such a good idea." I said.

"I know, right? He totally shouldn't have worn that!" she laughed.

"Oh no," I told her, "I meant you and me shopping together!"

Friday, March 9, 2012

At Least She Asked

I've been teaching sixth grade a long time, and every year the kids really enjoy writing fictional short stories. We use the writing process: they plan, compose, confer, and revise until their pieces are as polished as possible. Today I had the following conversation with a student as she worked on her first draft:

Student: Will you read this part of my story and tell me if it's okay?

Me (regarding the look on her face with a bit of concern): Sure.

We hold hands as we get to his house.  He tells me to come to his house, and I follow him to his room.  We have a lot of fun and then we fall asleep in his bed.

Me (with eyebrows raised quite high): If you're asking me if it's appropriate for the characters in your story to have sex, I'm going to have to say no.

Another student (overhearing our conversation): Ewwww! Who wants to read that?

First student: Fine! I'll change it.

In the interest of engaging them in writing they really care about, I give my students a lot of freedom, choice, and leeway when it comes to topic and content, and to be honest, there have certainly been times when I have had to address inappropriate themes and action, but that was definitely a first.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Raising Awareness

Five kids came up to me today to ask if I had ever heard of Joseph Kony. When the first student asked, the name sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it.

"Is he on the other sixth grade team?" I frowned.

"No!" my student answered with barely veiled frustration. "He's this really bad guy in Africa."

My confusion must have been obvious. This was not a student I would ordinarily expect to show an interest in international issues. "Just YouTube it," he told me, "and I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Variations of this scene played out over the course of the day ending with a couple of former students stopping by after the bell. "I know, I know," I said. I promise I'll watch it tonight."

"Good!" one girl told me, "because we want to do something! I'll come talk to you in the morning."

Perhaps many of my readers are already aware of what these kids were talking about. There is a 29 minute video that has gone viral on all the social networks about Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony whose group, the LRS (Lord's Resistance Army) has been kidnapping children for the last 25 years to fight the government. Once I looked it up, I realized that I had indeed heard of him and his atrocities many times over the years.

As I told my students I would, I watched the film tonight, and I too was moved by its message-- I highly recommend it to all-- but more than that, I was impressed by the kids who really got it, enough so that they wanted to do something, and honored that they came to me for help.

Take a look for yourself if you haven't already: Kony 2012. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I Asked For It

My students are writing fiction and over the last couple of days they have been experimenting with techniques to develop their characters. As a starting point, we use a list of strategies from Nancie Atwell's Lessons That Change Writers. She suggests Reflection, Dialog, Letters and Journal Entries, Action, Reaction, Other Characters, Quirks, Setting, and Beloved Object as ways to reveal important details about the character to your reader.

As a mini-lesson, I gave the students three short paragraphs from a fiction piece that I am working on and asked them to identify the strategies I had used to help develop the two characters.

Here's the passage:

It was his grandfather who had taught Ned to ride a bike. One evening after dinner when the sky was that watery blue-before-pink, and Ned could tell that his grandfather was tired— he had been working at the waterfront all day— they went out to the quiet side street and up the gentle hill a little ways from his grandparents’ house.

He loved his grandfather and trusted, him, too, but Ned was scared and put his feet down every time. It was so hard to believe that he and his new blue bike could defy gravity and avoid the hard, cold pavement. “Have faith in yourself, Neddy!” his grandfather told him. “Falling and flying are shipmates. Embrace the sweet fall forward.”

When the fireflies came out, there was only time for one more run. The armpits of his grandfather’s shirt were wet, and the old man was breathing hard, and Ned felt that huge, steady hand on his back pulling away like the gangway from a clipper, and this time he wobbled but stayed upright, finally underway, with a fresh breeze at his back. That night, as he rode away from his grandfather who had eased to a stop and was clapping and laughing in his wake, Ned caught a balance he felt that he would never lose.

The number one comment? The grandfather should use more deodorant.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Totally Worth It

Maybe it's a little sentimental, but since I have spent the last six days replying my proverbial butt off to all my students who are participating in the SOLSC challenge, you'll forgive me if I paused a bit longer at this particular post today:

A Big Slice of Me

Ms.S- your reply to my post from yesterday got me thinking about what is important to me and I see that you're right. My family is very important to me and I don't often think of it like that. I mean, how many people in the world think that I am super special? Almost all of them are my family so they are really important. Lots of people say stuff about how evil someone in their family is, or how they hate a sibling. I may be angry at them sometimes, expecially my little sister, but I could never hate her or anyone else in my family. They make me who I am and I need them.

Yes, family is very imporant to me and they are so special that I have decided to spend a whole slice tellling you about how much I love them- too much to fit in this little tiny post. <3 -abby=")</i">

Love it!

Monday, March 5, 2012

So They Do Listen

As I mentioned, my students are doing their own SOLSC this month. I introduced it last week and they started it on Thursday, but Friday was conference day and so today was my first chance to touch base with them about the first few days. I had some technical notes about the logistics of the challenge and posting to our class website, and I had a few suggestions about the content of their posts as well.

My commitment to them this month is that I will read and reply to every post, every day. It can become consuming to be sure, but to be able to talk to them knowledgeably about the topics they've chosen to write on is invaluable both in terms of writing instruction and relationship building.

Today my advice was mostly to avoid the bed-to-bed narrative that can be so tempting when no idea immediately presents itself. "Pick something and focus on it!" I encouraged them, and over the course of the day, I tried to point out possibilities when I heard them.

In education, immediate gratification is rare. So often we teach our hearts out knowing that our advice and guidance might not kick in for weeks, months, or even years. Still, we understand and hold on to the frequently immeasurable value of our effort.

You can imagine how I laughed tonight when I was reading through today's posts and found the following two:

The Skate Disastor
By Rania

"Does anybody have any comments or questions about The slice of life challenge?" 
I raised my hand up high. "Yes,Rania?" 
"Well can you right about anything that hapenned before?" 
"Yes you can. Do you mean skate night?" 
"Oh yeah."I said outloud. 
Ms. S. gave me a puzzled look. Then began to tell her my story. "So I was at skate night and i was having the time of my life there and the next thing you know I was on the ground because I bumped into this little girl and once I said sorry, she got up and looked at me like I was crazy. My friend Annabella was their to witness what happened and of course she started laughing!" 
"Ok then Rania you could write about what you were saying," Said Ms.S. 
After that I was so excited to write about my skate night discussion with Ms. S.

 My Reading Log
By Adrita

"Okay everybody get your reading logs out, get your English binder out, write down the homework and put your big binder on the floor!" Ms. S. said in one big breath. I grabbed the home made log from my binder, skipped writing down the homework as always. Wait I wasn't supposed to say that, oh well! Ms.S. stared at my reading log.
 "What!" I said breaking out the silence
 "Your reading log, it's so unusual!" She said Then I gave her this whole story on how i lost my reading log.
  "Well I went with Camilla to the um... movies and the log was in my north face pocket all folded up. So when I went to grab popcorn the log had dropped but I never noticed." In all of my explanation she had just said...
 "Well you should write about this for the slice of life challenge!" And here I am writing about it!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Obvious, Child

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and found it nearly impossible to go back to sleep. At my age, like Paul Simon said, I don't expect to sleep through the night, but I don't expect to lay awake for hours, either. For me, there's always a tipping point when I can tell that I might be up a while. It usually happens when specific things I mean to do both at home and at work start seeping into my consciousness. After that, all the meditation and relaxation breathing in the world won't let me drift off.

In our recent economic downtrend, I've often heard it said that one of the bright spots is an increase in worker productivity; companies are able to do much more with fewer employees. While that looks great on the balance book and sounds even better on the stump in this election year, I can't help wonder about the toll it's taking on the human beings involved in all that production. What is the objective?

This year, for the second in a row, my sixth grade students are participating in our own Slice of Life Challenge, and over the last four days, I've noticed a couple of bothersome trends in their posts. The first is boredom. So many of them write about being chronically bored. Ironically, the second is stress. They feel anxious and over-extended.

I don't think the two are unrelated. It's hard to feel engaged in anything with so much hanging over your head.

At least they're sleeping, though.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pack Animals

Back when our dog was just a puppy, we took her to the dog park almost every single day because we wanted to make sure she was getting enough exercise, especially considering the fact that she stayed home alone most days in our modestly-sized condo. At any rate, the dog park had a social structure of its own. Not only were the dogs trying to decide who was alpha, some of the people seemed engaged in the same kind of contest. After a while though, we were accepted as regular members of the pack. It was rare that we went and didn't know several people, and in a true sign of belonging, almost everyone called our dog by name.

As she grew older, we opted for different forms of exercise, mostly walking, running, or hiking, as well as swimming in the summer, and visiting the dog park became a rare occasion. A few years later, we happened to stop in one evening, maybe because we were in the area, maybe for old time's sake. I guess the relatively short lifespan of dogs accelerates social turnover, because although the place and the culture had not changed, the pack members were all different.

How odd it was to be in such a familiar location and yet treated as a total newcomer. The clear feeling that we would have to find our place in the community all over again was irritating. Frankly, we had other butts to sniff, and as we pushed our way out into the real world, the double gate clanged with finality behind us.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Today was student-led conference day for us. We have a student on the team who has stopped doing most of his work. He seems apathetic, and his effort has declined to nearly nothing. In the conference, the father explained that it was because his son is convinced that the world will end on December 21 of this year. This boy has seen several television documentaries about the Mayan calendar and he is convinced that there is no point in doing anything.

I was not in that particular conference, but I laughed when my colleague shared the story: it seemed so absurd and so easy to dismiss as a rational adult. It wasn't too long though before I remembered how crushing it can be to carry such a burden of fear and hopelessness.

One night, when I was 9 or 10 years old, I overheard the adults talking. Our neighbor, Vlad, was telling a story about a time he wrestled the devil in his motel room.

A man in a business suit knocked on the door and asked to come in. Vlad gestured to the two chairs by the window and offered the man a drink. Over the course of the conversation, it became clear to Vlad who he was speaking to."Go away," he told the man. "I'm stronger than you." That's when the devil laughed and challenged him to a wrestling match. They struggled there in the middle of the room, arms locked, each one's fingers digging into the other's shoulders. It was a draw until the devil pushed him away and disappeared.

The next thing Vlad remembered was waking up in the morning."But I knew it wasn't a dream," he said, "because there were two vodka glasses on the nightstand."

"Time for bed," my mother declared when she saw my wide-eyed stare. She hadn't known I was listening, but who could have failed to be riveted by the image of our burly neighbor physically grappling with the prince of darkness?

That night, I couldn't sleep. I was sure that the devil was going to come visit me, too. The next day, my mother did all she could to reassure me that no matter what he said, Vlad had been dreaming, and I was safe. I tried to believe her, but I felt that fear wrapped around me for weeks, and it seemed like a long time before the persistent love and happiness of my family and friends helped me get out of its hold.

As for our student, we referred him to the counselor, and now that we know what's bothering him, we'll do our best to convince him to at least have a contingency plan, just in case 12/22/12 dawns with all the promise it should for a twelve-year-old boy.

We all wrestle, but fortunately wrestling is a team sport.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Psst... Hey Coach

This morning I heard a piece on the radio about how Virgin Atlantic has hired a "whispering coach" to teach their staff in the "Upper Class" how to speak at between 20 and 30 decibels, a level chosen for both its calming effect and its unlikeliness to disturb other passengers.

I think there might be a place in middle school for such a professional.