Thursday, March 31, 2016

Poetry, Found

I like my friend Ellen's idea to wrap up another fun month of Slice of Life! Thank you Two Writing Teachers for sponsoring this annual challenge-- it's been a blast!

Super Tuesday
What does the groundhog say?
Just you wait!

Wildly predictable
makes you stronger,

A stroll through time,
first hand knowledge,
busy town,
as writers do,
ooh ooh!
the time it is a changin.

Csi: the bunny trail,
checks and balances,
seen and unseen,
sixth grade rising,
highly unusual,
the name game,
natural rivalry?

Companion ticket,
two for lunch,
a day at the park,
a little bird told me--
tricks of time,
story starters,
she's seen the sights...

Golden treasure!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Golden Treasure

It was just a metal tube filled with mustard, and yet...

In this country we sell our mustard in jars and squeeze bottles, and that's the way we like it. Yellow, spicy, Dijon, honey, whatever the type, that's the way it comes, and why not? Such packaging is convenient and familiar to our nation of sandwich makers. But not long ago I was in an international grocery of the kind that is rather common in our diverse area.

Shopping there you can travel the world aisle by aisle, finding unusual products at every turn. For the adventurous American cook seeking a specialty item it is a treasure trove, but for others it is a bit of home.

Having had the privilege of living in overseas, I could appreciate both. There was a particular store in Lugano, Switzerland when I was in school there that stocked a variety of international items, among them such novelties as Oreos and Doritos. Some Saturdays we took the bus downtown simply to troll the aisle of American products, longing for a taste of the USA.

Now I picked up the toothpaste tube full of mustard and closed my eyes. I was back in Switzerland at Angelo's, the small general store right off campus, and Angelo's mama was making their famous ham and cheese sandwich. First she split a roll that had been delivered from the local baker just that morning. Next it was a foil wrapped disc of Bel Paese cheese that she spread on the bottom, topped with Italian ham and some sliced cornichons. The final touch was a squirt of mustard and then mayonnaise from the metal tubes on the counter. We growing teens couldn't get enough of them after study hall, but it's still one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten.

Into my cart went the mustard, and down the aisle I headed, wondering what other treasures this place might hold.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

She's Seen the Sights

News today that Patty Duke has died. For some reason this passing rather upsets me. It's not that I'm a huge fan, or anything, but I always enjoyed the re-runs of The Patty Duke Show that aired on nearly every afternoon of my childhood. Despite Patty's spunk, I was definitely team Cathy; I can still sing the song, which introduced me to Zanzibar, minuets, crepes suzette, and Brooklyn Heights, by the way.

It's true Patty Duke hasn't been around much in the last few years, although I loved her role as Meredith Baxter's wife on the last season of Glee. After that, I followed her on Twitter where she became more of a real person to me, tweeting and retweeting about nature and space, politics, the issues she advocated, and her friends and family. She was always gracious to the fans who reached out to her.

Of course her death was too soon: 69 seems ever younger, and the world just seems a little emptier knowing that Patty Duke is gone.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Story Starters

When advising my students about finding topics for their Slices of Life, I usually have one suggestion and one warning. I warn them not to write about having nothing to write about, because otherwise that's all they would ever write on most days!

Which brings me to the trick I like to pass along: think about your day and find something that stands out a little, whether it's for good or bad or because it reminded you of something else, or made you laugh, or made you cry, and then start writing about that, like so,

5:30 A.M. comes even earlier than usual on the first day after spring break...

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Tricks of Time

"We have to get a picture of the dog in the middle of all these flowers!" Heidi exclaimed as we stepped off the boardwalk and into the early spring woods on the Bull Run Trail.

"We have one," I shrugged, "from the last time we were here."

"Na ah!" she replied. "When was that anyway?"

Through the miracle of modern technology, I was able to show her by searching through the photos on my phone. The last time we had been on this trail at Virginia Bluebell time was April 1, 2012.

Oh, we still took plenty of pictures of the dog sitting pretty in a lovely spray of lavender and spring green, and when we got home I checked my blog post for that date as well. It was ironically rather timeless:

"Why do we go to a nature center to learn about energy?" the ranger asked the congregation of sixth grade students. And the answer was that energy is everywhere, and nature both uses it and conserves it well. Case in point? Our guide showed us an example of the Virginia Bluebell. This plant is visible for no more than 4-6 weeks in the early spring. It grows and blooms in the sunshine that is only available because the trees have not yet leafed out, then dies back to its roots to wait for the earth to complete another trip around the sun. It is a spring ephemeral.

Years ago I drove from Houston to Austin at this time of year. Courtesy of the Texas Highway Department and Lady Bird Johnson, the hills were literally covered in Blue Bonnets, the showy lupine native to that part of the country. Fiery orange blooms of Indian Paintbrush were scattered across the blanket of blue blossoms, and it was hard to breathe, much less drive, in the presence of such an exhibition. I have never forgotten it.

Today I witnessed the local equivalent of that grand display. As we walked the trail along Bull Run,Virginia Bluebells carpeted the forest floor, rolling blue and spring green as far as I could see, their dainty lavender bells bowed away from the very sun they sought. I have to admit that I appreciated the beauty of their presence much more knowing as I did that theirs was a limited engagement.

But then, whose isn't?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Little Bird Told Me

Another day, another walk with the dog. This time we drove about 20 minutes out to a small man-made lake in our neighboring county. The combination of sunny skies, brisk breezes, and barely budding branches made this an ideal walk for bird watching, and we were not disappointed:

Canada goose, mallard, sea gull, goshawk, red winged blackbird, starling, nuthatch, downy woodpecker, robin, cardinal, blue jay, tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee, house wren, wood thrush, swallow, bluebird, one lonely mute swan, and a well-known bird that I have never seen before: an oriole!

I think that's a good sign as baseball season approaches!

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Day at the Park

Irate voices carried across the park and onto the trail we were walking on with the dogs. Always drawn to a drama, I slowed my pace and craned my neck to see what was going on. Three children were clinging like happy monkeys to the lower branches of a sturdy tree while a couple of dogs yapped at its trunk. What could possibly be wrong?

A little further off, two men stood face to face. It was their voices I had heard, and now I listened to make out their words. The man with white hair was the most strident, and it soon became clear that the children and dogs were with him. The space they were playing in was in the middle of a frisbee golf course, as the younger guy was trying to explain.

It was hard to tell if it was the tone or the message, but the older man was growing increasingly frustrated. At last he gathered the children and dogs and stomped off indignantly, but not before exchanging many ugly words with the other man and then the whole group of golfers at the tee about 50 yards away.

We continued our walk, passing people playing on baseball and soccer fields, and then on tennis courts, too. No one would ever blink at being asked to move from those places so that a game could continue; clearly the angry man had misunderstood the situation, but perhaps the young frisbee players could have been more patient; I couldn't say.

I looked to the sky. The sun was shining, and a soft breeze stirred the light green and pink branches all around us. No one could stay mad on a beautiful day like today, could they? I wondered, and hoped that I was right.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Two for Lunch

The line was to the door at my favorite sandwich place this afternoon, but they were very efficient at the counter, and I had called my order in ahead. "Can I start your order?" the cook asked even though I was still a few patrons from the register.

"I have a call-in," I told him.

"Go on up to the front," he said. "What's your name?"

"Tracey," I answered and he nodded. "Can I start your order?" he said to the woman behind me.

"I have a call in," she said.

"Follow her to the front," he pointed at me. "What's your name?"

"Traci," she answered.

I turned around to look at her. "Did you say your name is Tracey?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "You, too?"

I nodded.

"How do you spell it?" she asked.

"e-y," I told her.

"I'm an 'i'," she smiled.

My eyes widened. "We better check our orders!" I said.

Just then she spotted my Apple watch. "How do you like it?"

"Love it!" I answered. "You?"

"Love it!" she agreed.

The cashier was ready to ring us up. "I'm chipotle turkey," I told him.

"I'm BLT," she said.

"That's a popular name today!" he said, as he handed us our bags.

I paid my bill and turned to go. "Enjoy your day!" I told Traci.

"You, too!" she replied.

"Thanks!" we both said.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


A month or so ago, after 17 years of faithful service, our waffle maker died. At the time, the research I felt was necessary to adequately replace it (Wait! Was that a character developing detail? YOU be the judge.) seemed a little too time consuming, but recently I found the time, and so we have a brand new Belgian waffler.

Coincidently, just the other day I had the chance to taste the famous savory waffle at the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis. Described as a quinoa & kale waffle, pineapple chutney, rosemary butter, bacon, sunny-side-up egg, feta, and powdered sugar, with maple sugar on the side, it had a lot going on, but I left the restaurant inspired to make interesting waffles!

This morning I made good on that vow and cranked out a few vegan kale waffles. Served with strawberries and maple syrup, they were pretty yummy, but rather tame. Next up? I'm not sure, maybe a turnip-blueberry, or a sweet potato, kale, and pecan, or perhaps a carrot-beet with raisins.

Whatever it is, though? It will definitely be topped with a sweet and salty lavender butter, just because I already made that!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Companion Ticket

The gate area was crowded by the time we made it through security and down the concourse. "Folks," they were saying from the counter, "this flight is full. Anyone who would like to check your carry on bag, please see us up here at the podium."

I scanned my fellow passengers to see if anyone would react, but most of them seemed quite confident that there would be room for their suitcase, at least.  I continued to be a little skeptical of the guy with the huge hard-sided cello case next to him. Even when he picked it up and slipped his arms through straps that turned it into a nifty backpack, I still could not imagine how it was going to fit into any overhead bin I have ever seen.

I needn't have worried, because as we filed down the aisle to our seats we passed him just as he was securely seatbelting his instrument into the next seat. I'm still not sure why the cello got the window, though!

Monday, March 21, 2016


Another day, another fun activity on our visit to my mom in the Twin Cities. This morning we headed over to the Bachman's Spring Idea House, a self-guided designer showcase home all gussied up in the latest decorator trends. Visiting the place as it is completely transformed three times a year is a local tradition, but to us out-of-towners it was a novel experience.

And it could have been a little overwhelming, but fortunately for me, they handed out brochures as we entered which gave an overview of the history of the house as well as a spotlight list of the notable features in each room, which turned the whole experience into a Where's Waldo of home decoration. Mantle covered in faux ceiling tin? Right there! Galvanized wall bucket as toilet paper holder? I see it! Salvaged wood used as valance? There it is!

In every room I searched for the items they mentioned on the list, and as I found them I not only noticed other things, but I also began to make thematic connections between materials, colors, and other choices the designers had made.

Having a tool to help me organize and make sense of all that information made a huge difference. As a teacher, I design such resources all the time, but today I got to see how valuable they really are!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Natural Rivalry

We spent the afternoon cheering on the Minnesota women's basketball team in their quest to defeat South Dakota University and advance to the third round of the WNIT tournament. The team started strong and even built up a thirteen point lead in the first quarter, but when SDU switched from a zone to man-to-man it slowed them down.

Not long after, South Dakota began overloading the Minnesota zone defense and hitting all sorts of three pointers from the weak side. It was a nail-biter; only two points separated the teams at the half and it as tied in the first minute of the third quarter. After that, though, Minnesota let it slip away, down by 16 at the worst but never closer than five.

It was an amazing high-scoring game, 89-101, and we left the Barn disappointed but still thrilled to see so much exciting offense from the women on both teams. In the end, I realized that by mascot alone, the conclusion wasn't that surprising:

Doesn't the coyote (pronounced ki-ote, of course) usually get the best of the gopher (no matter how golden)?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Name Game

I read a few weeks ago about a couple who were expecting their fourth child. Everyone wanted to know what they had decided to name her, because the other three were named after presidents Grant, Madison, and McKinley.

Sure, it was the Washington Post, and such interest may seem like just another inside-the-Beltway trivial pursuit, but the article stuck with me. For instance, there have been five doubles: Adams, Harrison, Johnson, Roosevelt, and Bush, so with the three names they've already used, that narrows their options to 36.

And while it seems like there are a lot of no-starter names, it's really kind of amazing how many could actually be possibilities. Heck, it's amazing how many kids I've actually known with those names! (I'm talking to you Tyler, Harrison, Carter, Kennedy, Taylor, Clinton, Jefferson, Lincoln, Jackson, and Pierce!)

Think about it, though, such speculation provides a whole new lens through which to view the current election. Baby Sanders? Maybe. Clinton? Sure. Trump? Not so likely, but I already know a Cruz.

Could I be on to something? I guess only time will tell!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Highly Unusual

It's hard to know what to think when you walk into the theater and there's a cheerleader with a gong on stage.


There were only 84 minutes until spring break.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sixth Grade Rising

Today was the day when rising 6th graders, 5th grade kids who will be at our school next year, came for a little visit. They got lunch, a tour, an orientation video, and tiny performances from the band, orchestra, chorus, drama production, and cheerleaders. I'm not sure why we do it, but it's a tradition that predates my 23 year tenure.

In general, it's a fun if somewhat disruptive, activity, and it's great to see our current sixth graders squiring their younger peers about the building and overhearing them as they impart the crucial particulars of our school. The tour always takes place during lunch, and so often I and the colleagues I dine with are featured in their narrative. "That's Ms. S," they say, "she teaches English on the Dolphins."

With that I wave with a little more empathy than usual for animals in the zoo. "See you next year!" I say brightly and then fade back quietly into the blur of their somewhat overwhelming day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Seen and Unseen

It was still a little dark when a flash of orange in the gully below me caught my attention immediately as I was walking the dog this morning. Next I saw the size of the creature... was it some small dog eluding its leash?

My eyes widened and involuntary Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! s escaped me as I watched the fox dash through the culvert at my feet and follow the line of houses around and into the woods, never looking back even once.

"Did you see that?" I said to my old dog, but alas the answer was no, and so we ambled on into the gloom.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Checks and Balances

Another Tuesday, another "make or break" primary somewhere in these United States. This extraordinary election season could be enough to dismay citizens who appreciate order, predictability, or at least decorum. I might include myself in that categories, and yet I am comforted by...

Alexander Hamilton!

Yes, my friends, I have been inspired by the popularity of that eponymous musical to listen to the audiobook of Ron Chernow's biography of Hamilton. Realistically? I only get 20 minutes or so a day, and so after many weeks I am only to about 1788, but I do now have a thorough understanding of the Federalist papers as well as some early concerns about replacing that "rope of sand," the Articles of Confederation, with the Constitution.

Hamilton was greatly concerned about the reliability of the voting public, but he set his fears aside and worked to construct a government where one yahoo would be incapable of wrecking it for the rest of us.

Thanks, Hamilton!

Monday, March 14, 2016

CSI: The Bunny Trail

After a few scary events, my sister and her husband in Atlanta upgraded their surveillance camera set-up to a pretty comprehensive system. It's great for their security and their peace of mind, but my 8-year-old niece has other ideas.

"We'll finally be able to see what the Easter Bunny really looks like when he hides the eggs in the yard!" she told me the other day.

"That's a problem!" my sister said when Annabelle was out of earshot.

"Why?" I shrugged. "Isn't the Easter Bunny "invisible" sometimes?"

(Here I made air quotes, which amused me, because I can't use them without thinking of the student who actually called them "bunny ears" in conversation. It took me a while to get what he was saying, but his description fit this situation really well!)

"Yah," my sister answered, "but we aren't! And that's who's going to be on camera hiding those eggs!"

Good point.

The Time It Is A-Changing

Regular readers are well aware of my loathing for this day, the day when not only do we lose an hour of the weekend, but we are also forced to rise an hour earlier every morning until October. Over the years I have spun every argument I could, raging against the postponing of the light, although, to be honest, they all go something like, Why? Why? Why?

Slowly, it seems that people are coming around to my side. Just yesterday the NYTimes ran a timely article debunking both the agrarian and energy-saving rationales and quoting citizens who consider DST a prime example of "government over-reach" Some states are even questioning whether it is truly the wisest expression of Federalism (thank you, Alexander Hamilton 😕).

We live in a time where it seems like radical change is becoming common. Who knows? Maybe the day is coming when I'll have to look harder to find a writing topic on the second Sunday in March.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ooh! Ooh!

Despite gray skies and the fact that the famous cherry blossoms are still a week or more away, there were a lot of folks at the Tidal Basin when we headed over there to walk the dog this afternoon. It seemed like a mix of locals and tourists, but to be honest it was a challenge to tell who was who in this very diverse area, and we heard a rich variety of languages as we ambled around the trail. In such a situation it's always fun to people-watch and today did not disappoint: there were plenty of cute kids on scooters, lots of smiling dogs, and no shortage of selfie-takers.

As we passed the Jefferson Memorial I noticed two women pointing across the water in confusion. "Do you know what that is?" one asked a young father with his toddler daughter on his shoulders.

I literally had to stop myself from waving my hand in the air to show that I knew the answer to their question. Instead I watched intently as we approached to see what would happen.

"No, I don't," the guy answered, and just then I caught one of the women's eye. The poor guy was still apologizing, saying something like, "It must be kind of new, because I've never seen it before, either..." when I jumped in.

"That white thing?" I asked pointing, and when she nodded, I continued breathlessly. "It's the Martin Luther King Memorial!"

"Thank you!" she said.

"You're welcome," I replied as we walked past. "I love knowing the answer!" I told Heidi a minute later.

"I know you do, Babe," she said. "I know you do."

Friday, March 11, 2016

As Writers Do

My students are doing the Slice of Life challenge this month, and that has given us a lot to talk about. Not only am I privileged to read 100 words or more of personal writing from each every day, what's even better are the conversations we have about writing. In addition to highlighting golden lines and showing them exactly why it's important to use punctuation and capitalization, we talk a lot about how to find a topic every day.

"But nothing exciting happens to me!" many have cried.

"That's not the point," I tell them. "The idea is find something, maybe big, maybe small, and write about it. Experiment! Try figurative language, or sensory description, or adding dialog, or making a connection to another time. Write about what annoyed you, or what made you happy for even the smallest moment. What surprised you? What made you think?"

And they have responded. "Look!" one student called me over. "I wrote 150 words about 30 seconds! It took me much longer to write it than it did for it to happen!"

"You exploded the moment! Awesome!" I congratulated her.

Other kids are really getting it, too, and we are beginning to converse as writers do. Yesterday I had my ukulele at school, and so I pulled it out and strummed a few cords right before lunch. Everyone laughed at the silly song I made up. "Are you going to write about that?" one of my students asked.

I shrugged. "Maybe. Are you?"

"Maybe," she shrugged back.

Later I saw her outside with her PE class. It was a beautiful day and I was taking a quick walk before a meeting. "Are you going to write about walking?" she called.

"Maybe!" I answered. "Are you going to write about this gorgeous day?"

"Maybe!" she answered.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Busy Town

As I walking the dog this morning, the world was full of activity: robins bobbed on greening grass; squirrels scampered and scurried up and down trees in sets of two and three; young professionals checked their smartphones as they waited at the bus stop; children practiced soccer on the field up at the school.

Something about it reminded me of Richard Scarry's Busy Town, a book my brother, sister, and I loved when we were little. In fact I half expected to see a calico cat in a white jacket delivering milk. Scarry's books were a combination of large-scale illustrations of complex scenes in between pages with explicitely-labeled single images from the big pictures, and looking back on it, I learned a lot of vocabulary from them. For example, I never rode a train until I was 14 years old, but I knew what a conductor was. Likewise, I was familiar with a toboggan and a trowel, and a lot of other things that gave me a foot up on reading comprehension.

Yesterday our language arts meeting was focused on authentic vocabulary instruction, and the presenter mentioned the 32-million word gap that many children in low-income families experience by age four. In essence, researchers found that the affected children heard on average 8 million fewer words spoken to them a year, so that by the time they were four and ready for preschool, they already had a 32 million word deficit, which translated into both a more limited vocabulary and a more limited capacity for learning vocabulary.

We didn't talk about it, but one instructional intervention to help those kids catch up with their peers is to use visuals alongside key vocabulary whenever possible. The situation also may explain the rise in popularity of graphic novels, particularly among below-grade level readers.

That Richard Scarry was really on to something!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

First-hand Knowledge

Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all.
~Sam Ewing, American humorist

Google inspirational quotes, and you will find quite an assortment attributed to one Sam Ewing. Who is that guy, anyway? I don't know, but I have a slightly different version of the inspirational quote above, courtesy of my winter CSA:

Too many turnips spotlights the character of people: some turn the turnips into soup, some turn the turnips into pickles, some turn the turnips into delicious blueberry muffins, and some turn the turnips into compost.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Stroll through Time

I took advantage of the high-70s, warm-breeze weather we enjoyed today and went out for a little walk around campus before my after-school meeting this afternoon. There were plenty of folks with the same idea on the half-mile trail that circles the grounds. At one point I passed a double stroller filled with twins who looked to be about 6 months old. Eleven years from now? One or the other will probably be in my class, I thought as I waved.

Making my way around to the back corner, I smiled when I saw the infield sprinklers damping the red clay of the diamond; tonight will be a good night for softball. They also reminded me of a sixth grade picnic several years ago.

Back then the turf soccer field we have now was a crushed gravel pitch that had to be watered regularly to keep it playable. There were timed sprinklers all around the perimeter, and right at the end of the picnic they all came on. The students let out a collective cheer and flooded on to the field. The teachers let out a collective gasp and tried to wave them all away, but it was no use. In the end it was so hot it didn't matter-- everyone cooled off AND dried off by the time we had to go back inside, and as a group they were exhilarated.

I walked back in with a trio of girls, still chattering about the dousing. "That was awesome! Did you guys plan this special for us?" they asked.

I laughed and said nothing, because in a way? I wished we had.

Monday, March 7, 2016


"You're all invited to come back in February," our tour guide told everyone on the motor coach from Denali, "for the Iditarod and some Northern Lights!" We laughed at her teasing, but it was more a little tempting. Imagine that, I thought.

I forgot her playful invitation until I saw a piece on the news a little while ago about that annual dog sled race. Watching the video footage of the ceremonial start of the Iditarod gave me a little pang-- despite the snow, it was easy to recognize the same downtown Anchorage we criss-crossed on foot for a couple days last August. Imagine that, I thought.

Later, at my computer, I clicked over to the official site, scanning through the progress of the mushers, and reading about how, because of the warm winter, they had actually had to ship in snow this year for the Anchorage leg of the race. One link in particular caught my eye. Teacher on the Trail it read. I knew the Iditarod had a robust collection of educational materials, but it turns out there is an annual contest to choose one teacher to create lessons and post dispatches from the trail.

Imagine that!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Makes You Stronger

"I must have picked up something from my niece," our neighbor coughed a little while ago as we visited. She sat in the rocking chair across the room from us. "Better not come any closer," she warned with a half-hearted laugh.

She needn't have worried. As school teachers, we both have super-resistant to most common bugs in this household (takes a moment to knock on the wooden desk). I don't want to jinx it, but by my calculations I have been exposed to somewhere near 5000 grubby little germ factories in my career...

...and I thank them all for contributing to my immunity!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

No Complaints

We have had the excellent fortune to have enjoyed the last two weekends away, one on a cruise to the Bahamas and another to a waterfront beach house on the Chesapeake Bay. Relaxing and recharging, both were spent with people I love; I saw the sun rise out of the sea each morning, walked the beach each day, and watched the sun set each evening.

This Saturday I paid the bills, did my taxes, washed and folded clothes, graded some papers, and took the dog for a long walk.

It's good to be home.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Wildly Predictable

This year, because of a change in our district calendar, spring conferences were relegated to a three-hour period on a Friday afternoon, which happened to be today. At our school we have long prided ourselves on well-prepared, student-led conferences, but it was necessary to change that structure to accommodate the abbreviated time period. We decided on a drop-in, first-come, first-served model where parents were encouraged to bring their students, but it wasn't required.

How strange it was to sit in my room at noon today wondering which of the families of the 100 students I have would show up and what they would want to hear. Oh, I had a number of tools at the ready-- my gradebook, some recent standardized test scores, a few work samples, but in the end it was really just my professional opinion that was requested.

"This is your agenda," I started after welcoming each of the 13 parents who stopped by, "what questions can I answer for you?"

The response?

Even though they all knew what grades the student had, it was always the same: How is she (or he) *really* doing?

And the follow up didn't change much either. How can I help him (or her) do better?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Just You Wait

I'm obsessed with Alexander Hamilton.

A few weeks ago I heard an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda about the fact that his award-winning, hip hop musical, Hamilton, was based on the 2004 800+ page biography of that founding father by Ron Chernow. Knowing I couldn't get tickets to the show, I downloaded the audiobook (all 36 hours of it!). And I have been listening ever since: 10, or 20, or 30 minutes a day I have made my way through half of Hamilton's life. So intense a story is it, that I dream about Alexander Hamilton.

A couple days ago, after finding out that one of my homeroom students (who happens to be named Hamilton) is equally obsessed with the musical, I downloaded the soundtrack as well, and so my sixth grade students and I have been listening to the title track each morning. It fits perfectly into their social studies curriculum: at this very moment they are studying the Constitutional Congress, but until recently, only James and I knew who Alexander Hamilton was.

This morning we watched a video of the cast performing that number at the Grammys-- twice! by popular demand. Oh, we'll probably move on to other songs, but definitely not until I finish the book-I started listening to the rest of the album yesterday and was extremely alarmed by the spoilers in just the second track!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What Does the Groundhog Say?

Spring ding ding ding springa ding ding ding!

Or something like that.

Just yesterday, mild temperatures and blue skies had given me some springtime in my step, but this morning when I took the dog for our walk, my eyes watered and the pine trees at the bottom of the hill whined in the chill wind.

Exactly one month after Punxsutawney Phil concluded that spring was right around the corner, I had my doubts, especially considering that we were only two weeks out from the alternative, six more weeks of winter. And then there was that slushy mix that is in the forecast for tomorrow night.

Oh well. Maybe we'll get that one last snow day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Super Tuesday

The coincidence of Super Tuesday and the beginning of our annual Slice of Life writing challenge gave my sixth grade students a lot of fodder to post about today. Even though they could have written about anything, over a third of my slicers chose the same topic. We live in a pretty liberal, politically aware community, but honestly I was unprepared for the strength of their reactions.

Here is a digest of their unedited thoughts about the current election:

im no really into pollitics as long as donald trump dose not win

Donald Trump would make America go downhill in flames. My mother says if he wins the election we would move out of the countr.

If he is elected for president I am going to steal a car and go full speed towards Canada and out of the country! I probably shouldn't say that I did this but I kicked one of the signs!

At least Hilary Clinton has some sort of common sense but personally I feel we really don't have any good candidates .

If Donald Trump is elected president, then I will probably flee the country and move to England.

Today i am sooooo scared, its super tuesday! for me its more like am i gonna have to move out of the country tuesday. i bet its like that for a lot of other people too, but down in Richmond people are like " YAY!!!!! We FINALY get to vote for DONALD frikin TRUMP.

my friend was like make America great again? You don't need to do that it's fine the way it is sheesh

I DONT LIKE TRUMP. He is a misguided person with crazy ambitions for America. 

If I could vote I would not vote for Donald Trump because he is so rude and I do not like him at all.

He is a cruel, mean and half hearted rich guy trying to take over the USA.

Today, was the day people would vote for the presidental candidate. I pick Trump. NOT!!!!!! I would never do such a thing.

Today is Super Tuesday, and as much as I hate to admit it, Donald Trump may become the President. He has far too much popularity and he is so charming, it's impossible to believe. He's going to charm the Mexicans into paying for a wall that's going to keep them out of America! Two days ago, I wrote about how I thought that Trump had bribed Chris Christie to endorse him. But I now know the real reason Christie endorsed Trump. He knows the idea of President Trump is inevitable and he wants to get on Trump's good side. But no one's going to admit that! One more thing I hate to admit is, when President Trump is ruling this country, Canada is going to be a bit too overpopulated for everyone to move there. So make yourself nice and cozy, and remember, stay on Trump's good side.

Oh, and of course there was also this remark, which was much more in line with my expectations:

HeLlO!!! Today is voting day. To be honest since we are kindly giving our space to the community we should get today off.

But, that's the wonderful thing about this writing challenge-- people will surprise you when you give them a chance to say what they think!