Thursday, June 30, 2016

Honey Do List

I was cleaning out my desk last week before locking it up for the summer when I came across a little clipping from our monthly wellness newsletter that I had stowed away there several years ago and forgotten ever since. List 20 things that you love to do that generate feelings of joy and vitality for you, it read. Try to do these things within one month. I could see why I might cut out such a thing, and I stuck it in my writing notebook and continued tidying up.

The occasion of my birthday seemed like the perfect time to do the exercise, and so before anyone else got up this morning, I took my coffee and notebook out to the back patio and sat down to make my list.

Ride my bike, I started. Hike in Maine. Eat lobster, Work in the garden; Have fresh-picked sliced tomatoes for dinner. Read outside, drink iced tea and lemonade. Learn something, go some place new, visit a museum. Play my ukulele, build a fire, grill steaks and corn on the cob. Hunt for sea glass and smooth rocks, catch fireflies, let them go, have a water balloon fight, walk to go out for dinner, go to the movies. Listen to jazz records, go swimming, drink beer.

I paused to regard my list-- this was going to be a cinch!

Then I wondered. Am I cheating or am I charmed?

I think it's pretty clear.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


I was never actually a member of AAA, but I do remember being extremely impressed by the "triptik" one of my college friends, who did belong, acquired before a road trip. Spiral bound at the top, the 4 x 11 custom organizer had section by section directions for our trip with the route helpfully highlighted in neon pink. On either side of the road map, there were tips for the traveler on local interests. When the AAA agent handed us our packet, accompanied by all the appropriate full regional maps, I nearly swooned at its cogent plenitude.

Flash forward 30+ years when we all carry computers in our pockets, and I will tell you that I was quite pleased with the route to Buffalo that my phone chose for us today. Highlighted turn-by-turn in a strong royal blue, we were even able to find a quick drive-around when we hit a little back-up due to construction. Oh, I could have searched for local attractions, but I was too busy enjoying the forests and mountains and scenic little towns that presented themselves along away.

Along the way, though, I did pause to appreciate those  AAA agents of yore with their amazing triptik system who were able to accomplish much the same thing, long before the internet was a thing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Empty Nest

So, today we helped Josh move the rest of his stuff to his new apartment.

Monday, June 27, 2016


I am as nostalgic as the next person, if not more so, but on this day when my brand-new record player was delivered (free and overnight from a GIANT of the internets) I am focused more on what's good about the now.

I guess it's the clear discrepancy between young and older voters in the Brexit referendum and the Sanders/Clinton race, as well as Donald Trump's slogan Make America Great Again that reminds me that the past is usually viewed as halcyon. Still, deeper recollection should convince us that there have always been scary things.

And what makes us forget them?

Is hindsight.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Media Coverage

I clearly remember the first CD player I ever bought. In 1986, the $300 it cost seemed like such an extravagance that I could only afford two discs to go with it. After much deliberation, I chose Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits and So by Peter Gabriel, which both turned out to be iconic albums of the 80s. Back then, the whirrrrrrr of the disc spinning sounded like the future, and we marveled at the clarity of sound that our new gadget provided, and the convenience it added to making mixed tapes.

These days, our library of nearly 500 CDs sits dormant as we, like many folks, stream most of the music we listen to electronically. The miracle of holding thousands of songs in your hand has waned to banality.

So, with my end-of-the-year giftcard I decided to buy a record player.

All my vinyl records and I were separated sometime ago, and although there is a chance some of them may be recovered, I found myself in the oddly parallel situation to that of 30 years ago of purchasing a device without anything to play on it. This time, the player was relatively inexpensive, but the records? Not so much.

In the end I bought four: Meet the Beatles, an original copy of the first LP I ever owned (my teen-aged cousins bought it for me when I was two), a Charlie Brown themed jazz album by Vince Guaraldi, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, and The Eagles Greatest Hits, an album my mother played over and over while cleaning the house on the weekends when we were teens. We had that one on 8 track, though.


Who knows?

Never say never.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Team Work

In most middle schools teachers operate in "teams." There are leadership teams, department teams, grade-level CLTs, and grade-level interdisciplinary teams. Although I am a player on all of the teams I mentioned, it is the last one which is truly the heart of the middle school model when it comes to supporting students both academically and socially.

Consisting of 80-120 heterogeneously grouped students and 5-8 core teachers who plan instruction, collaborate on field trips and other special events, and meet weekly with counselors and administrators to troubleshoot student concerns and coordinate services, and, oh yes, teach, the middle school team is an amazing institution when it works.

Every team has a leader, and I have had the privilege of being my team's leader for the last eighteen years. During that time at least 25 people have come and gone, but there have been three of us who have remained constant. At the end of each term it has become customary for my team to present me with a card and a gift. I always appreciate their appreciation, because truth be told, it is a lot of work. Even so, I don't really mind the time it takes, because our team works so well together to provide our students with the best possible sixth grade year. It totally seems worth the effort.

My team gave me this year's card as we stood in the empty hallway Thursday afternoon just a few moments after waving good-bye to the buses. In the happy glow of almost-summer, I basked in the kindness of their words and the warmth of their gratitude.

"You guys make it easy!" 

Friday, June 24, 2016

At Long Last

The final day of the school year has arrived. After the students left yesterday I finished packing my room and  wrapped my bookcases so neatly that I was tempted to add a bow and a tag reading Do not open until August 25.

Today, we spent our last morning at school tying up a few loose ends, writing thank-you notes, and saying good-bye to colleagues. Then it was lobster rolls for lunch followed by a matinee of Finding Dory.

Summer really is here!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

At What Expense?

One of the toughest kids of my career has been sitting in my class all year. Impulsive and often brutish, his unfortunate life circumstances paired with a clear desire to be successful and lead his peers creates a quandary for most of the adults in his life.

Unfortunately, he seems aware of our uncertainty on some level, and so he is also skilled at manipulation. To be honest, I have not had many issues with him that I was not able to handle, but I have to acknowledge that he receives an unproportionate amount of my attention, which could be construed as unfair to the other 20 kids in the room.

On the second to last day of the year I confiscated his iPad for inappropriate use and was set to call his mom and tell her we would keep it at school for the summer. "No!" he begged me. "She won't let me go to Kentucky with my aunt to see my dad's family! I'll be grounded! Give me a chance! I'll be perfect all day!"

And he was. As I was handing him the device he smiled and thanked me. "I wasn't going to come tomorrow," he told me, "but I had such a great day today that now I am!"

I smiled weakly and clapped him on the shoulder. "OK! Let's have another good day tomorrow, too! See you then."

A few minutes later one of my homeroom students came to collect his bookbag. "I don't think I'm going to be here tomorrow," he said dejectedly.

"Really?" I asked, for it was news to me. "Are you guys going away?"

"No," he shook his head. And then he told me how that other student had been bothering him for weeks and that not two minutes ago he had grabbed his violin and smashed it to the ground. "That's a three hundred dollar piece of equipment!" he said. "I don't think there's any damage, but I've had enough."

"What about your teacher for a day presentation?" I asked him. "You've worked so hard on it! I think you should come!"

He shrugged. "Maybe, but I don't think so. I would really appreciate it if you would tell the principal for me."

And with that he left to catch his bus.

I informed administration, and the other student and his mom had the choice of him staying home or being in in-school suspension all day. 

Denying the whole thing, he chose to come to school.

The other boy? 

Did not.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Bronze Medalists

Yesterday was the day that I asked my students to calculate their independent reading for the year. Each week they turn in a log that tracks their pages and books, and one of the final tasks of the term is for them to crunch those numbers and look at their accomplishments.

This year...

drum roll, please...

my students read...

676,701 pages and 3337 books!

That's an average of 9,531 pages and 47 books per student, which is more than double the minimum requirement of 4000 pages.

Looking at the stats for this year, the thing that stands out to me is that there were very few students who did not make the minimum. This is different than in the past, and it might be due to the increased popularity of graphic novels. Many, many students choose to read those, and by their nature as quick reads, graphic books increase the page counts.

The prevailing wisdom among teachers is that the genre is not relevant, and that as reading fluency is a skill that improves with exercise, we simply want students to read. Perhaps, but I personally encourage my students to alternate graphic novels with traditional texts.

Here's how this group stacks up to their peers from the past:

2016: pages: 9,531; books: 47
2015: pages: 7,342; books: 33
2014: pages: 5,200; books: 26
2013: pages: 9,835; books: 47
2012: pages: 5,356
2011: pages: 10, 788; books: 49
2010: pages: 8,488; books: 40

(Click on the label below to review the posts from past years!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Head Games

With two more days of school left the students are having a tough time keeping it together. Despite lovely lessons on American history and drawing anime eyes, I still found myself questioning a kid about what the guy next to him had actually said.

"I don't know," he told me. And when I raised my eyebrows in disbelief, he added, "I don't remember," and shrugged.

I think it was the shrug that got me, because it is my third-to-last day, too. "Really?" I said to him. "Then you must need a pass to the clinic."

He looked at me, confused.

"If you can't remember what happened 2 minutes ago, I think you should go talk to the nurse!" I snapped.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Strategic Implication

Pushing on the Stone of Hope was not an issue today, although I did tell my group of six super-smart, super-rambunctious boys that I was going to have to stay in the Mountain of Despair if they didn't curb their, ahem, enthusiasm a bit.

To their credit? They totally got what I was saying, and their behavior improved.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cultural Competence

Is it somehow disrespectful to take a photograph of someone pushing on the Martin Luther King monument?

The part that has the sculpture of Dr. King is called the "Stone of Hope," and it has been visibly removed from the other section which is called the "Mountain of Despair." The park service describes it like this:

From the looming Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope surges forward as the focal point for the memorial. This references a line in King’s speech, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

My idea when designing the tasks for the photo scavenger hunt tomorrow was that students would snap a picture of their group pushing on the stone to move it even farther from the mountain to symbolically become part of the solution. It would be fun and meaningful at the same time.

But, when we went down there today to test run the hunt, I felt a little uncomfortable with that particular photo op, and I'm not sure why.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Down to the Wire

The end-of-the-year trip I have planned for my group of sixth graders involves a "selfie-scavenger-hunt" around the Tidal Basin. It's just something that I dreamed up, and as such I have been literally dreaming about it-- anxiety dreaming about it every night for the last couple of weeks.

In my imagination, it involves small groups, walking, smartphones, and social media, as well as a little friendly competition. I've been turning the specifics over and over in my mind, considering this, researching that, visiting there, photographing and posting and hashtagging.

And now, it's almost ready, and I have recruited a couple of neighbors to go down there with us tomorrow and take it for a test drive. I think it's going to be awesome!

Which is fortunate, since the trip is Monday.

Friday, June 17, 2016


As part of our school's annual International Game Day each homeroom was assigned a country. On the day of the event, we would compete Olympic-style as that country, but in the days leading up to the activity we were supposed to design and create a banner to carry in the opening ceremonies.

When it comes to homerooms, it's been my experience that some years the group just gels better, both with each other and me. By that yardstick, this has been a tough one, and so I was not too optimistic when it came to organizing the banner thing. Fortunately for me, one student took an immediate interest in the project, and so I put her in charge.

Oh, I gave advice and praise as they worked, but it was truly a student-directed and student-made product, and a it was good reminder that generally the more we let go, the better the kids do, because

it was also beautiful.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nail Biter

One of the student-presented lessons today was called "My anti-nail-biting seminar." It consisted of a little video of a baby who grows up happily until... he starts biting his nails! There was also a slide show and an interactive online quiz. It was well-planned and well-executed, but not well-received. It just so happened that there were a lot of defensive nail-biters in the class who were not just grossed out by the pictures of paronychia, but dismissive of the dangers of salmonella and e-coli infection. "I've been biting my nails all my life!" stated one kid, "I've never had a problem!"

I knew what he meant. I'm a nail-biter myself, and I confess to harboring the notion that chewing on my fingers actually strengthens my immune system by exposing me to small doses of pathogens. Of course the same could be said about picking your nose and, you know.

Whether my theory is true or not,  I certainly don't want to encourage others to bite their nails, especially kids in my class. That would be wrong, but maybe we could accept nail-biters for who they are, rather than villainizing them.

I mean, us.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Every Student Succeeds

It has been so interesting watching my students design and deliver lessons to their peers. The process reveals a lot about what they think education is and is not. One of the most successful presentations so far was by two girls who made a video of themselves baking cookie bars, then designed an online quiz about their ingredients and procedures, and then gave samples and the recipe.

It was fun, engaging, and informative, but when it came to the assessment, it reminded me of one of the biggest challenges we have as educators. We are trying to provide our students with skills and knowledge they will use outside of the walls we are generally confined by. In this case, short of having everyone bake some cookie bars and bring them in, can we really know how effective the lesson was?

Which brings me to the most chaotic experience of the day. Two well-intentioned students planned to teach their classmates some simple origami. They had tips and directions on the interactive whiteboard, and printed instructions for each pair. "If you get confused," they directed the class, "raise your hand and we'll come help you." It was a relatively small group of 12, but they did not anticipate the questions or the level of frustration. Nor did they appreciate the difficulty of simply explaining a complex task. The class quickly descended into chaos, and I stepped in to restore order. Even so, there were not a lot of folded pecking birds by the end of the session.

I was pushing in chairs and tidying up as the two presenters packed their books to go to their next class. "Wow," said one, "I have a lot more respect for teachers now!"

I raised my eyebrows and laughed a little.

"I know" said his partner. "Hardly anyone got it!" She frowned. "Will that hurt our grade?"

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Catching On

The Teacher-for-a-day thing was the talk of the team today. How wonderful it was to see my students so engaged just one week before school ends.


I am really looking forward to learning how to:

create a photo meme
bake chocolate chip cookie bars
organize my binder
play poker
decorate dolphin-themed donuts
calculate slope
do yoga
make a lava pen
draw anime eyes
rap like Chief Keefe (the clean version!)

Lessons start tomorrow-- stay tuned for future updates!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Teacher for a Day

With the last big project of the year dragging on for some, and others finishing all the enriching activities I can give them, I decided to give them a "BIG opportunity" to finish the year. Some picked up the pace to see what it might be, and one student was even a little disappointed when I handed him the description. "The BIG opportunity is a worksheet?" he sighed.

"But sooooo much more," I told him. "Read on!"

What it is is the chance to design and teach a lesson to their classmates, a lesson on anything they might want to share, and anything the other students might like to learn. What is your objective? It reads. What do you want us to learn? And then, What is the assessment? How will you know we've got it?

Some kids were wide-eyed at first. "I don't want to do this in front of everybody!" one student told me, just a few minutes after he sang a lively song that the whole class could obviously hear.

"You don't have to teach it, but you do have to design it," I said. "Then we'll talk," I winked at him.

To be honest, we have neither the time nor the attention span for everyone to take this assignment its completion, but so far?

We're going to learn some lego-building, origami, and soccer skills.

I can't wait!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Life in Her Years

On Sunday mornings, it is our habit to take the dog and walk just a little under a mile away to our neighborhood farmer's market. But our old dog is getting persnickety about her food and a little recalcitrant about exercise, and so when she refused to eat her breakfast this morning, and the thermometer read 85 at 10 AM, we decided that we would leave her at home this time.

It was with a bit of a heavy heart that I waved good-bye to her and locked the door behind us, and we started up the steps that lead out of our complex in silence. "This is the beginning of the end," Heidi said sadly and we both stopped.

"Let's go get her," I said.

Heidi's eyes lit up, but she was unsure. "It's so hot," she reminded me, "and she hasn't eaten."

"We'll go slow," I said, "in the shade. And bring lots of water."

"And treats," Heidi finished.

And so we did.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Standard Operating Procedure

Standardized test season has almost ended, but we do have a few re-take sessions on our school calendar for next week. Personally? I can't wait until it's all in the rear view.

This year, a phenomena that had me scratching my head a bit was all the students traipsing through the hallways with little fleece blankets draped over their heads and shoulders. Allowed by someone, but only on test days, I loathed the parade of clutched arms and hunched shoulders on the way to the test rooms each morning. It seemed the very definition of distraction. "It's so we can sleep when we finish our test," a student explained to me.

The sixth graders were denied the blankets, although some tried. "You don't need that for a test!" I heard more than one colleague remark. Still, I wondered if we were being curmudgeons. What harm could a blanket do?

Our school has a very diverse population of students, many of whom receive accommodations for their test. These special circumstances rang from the use of a bilingual dictionary to a human being reading the test out loud to a single student. Of course these measures are meant to level the playing field, so to speak, and more importantly, to ensure that the test is an accurate measure of each student's knowledge and skills in a particular content area.

There are rules about the accommodations, of course, the main one being that a student must have had access to and used them throughout the school year. The philosophy of such a policy is two-fold: students must demonstrate a need and a willingness to use their accommodations.

Now where does that leave blankets?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Live and Unplugged

As the year draws to a close, I was feeling a little sentimental in my last class today. Despite their understandable, if somewhat unfocused and rather disruptive, extra energy, as I walked through the room redirecting student after student I realized that I would indeed be sorry to see them go.

"I'm going to miss you guys in two weeks," I said with sincere affection in my voice.

The hubbub subsided to a busy hum that was broken by an inquiry.

"Why?" exclaimed someone. "Are you going somewhere?"

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What it Is

Has it really been seven years since I first met my poet friend and annual classroom visitor? Wow. Tempus fugit.

As always, he was very engaging to my students and they produced some great writing that they were quite proud of.

As always, the same goes for me:

What it IS

It is impossible.
It is possible.
It is snake eyes, double sixes, a one-eyed jack.
You are a lucky duck.
You are a tragic hero.
You are a lucky duck.
It is a goldfish, a ping pong ball, a carnival prize.
It is wood, shadow, a hawk flying.
It is lunch time, children, trains, and trumpets.
It is the devil in the day lilies,
a sunflower looking down.
It is cabbage and potatoes today,
lobster and caviar tomorrow.
It is you.
It is them.
It is us--
in the mountains,
on the farm,
by the sea,
on vacation,
at work until we sleep,
and it is so much more.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Fashion Cents

I've lost a few pounds lately, and while I feel a lot better, it seems that my clothes don't really fit me anymore. Oh, it's kind of fun to "have" to buy clothes, but as warm weather approaches, I am feeling some serious pangs about giving away all the nice, plaid Bermudas that have been my go to summer wear for the last several years.

Complicating matters is the fact that that style is, how shall I put it kindly? Out of fashion? Still, in this economy, and in these days of plenty, I knew somebody, somewhere had shorts for me. Of course, a quick eBay search proved me right, and for five bucks a pop, it wasn't long before I was back in business with three new pairs of gently worn plaid shorts. 

Now about those cargo shorts...

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Marketing Plan

An engine light came on in my car a couple of weeks ago. At first, I was optimistically convinced it was the gas cap, but that turned out not to be the case. So I made an appointment online to take it into the dealer, also optimistic that the extended warranty we bought would cover whatever the problem might be.

Of course, they were booked several days in advance, so I signed up for the earliest one I could, and relegated our main car to as limited use as possible. Bombing around town in our 15-year-old Jeep Wrangler lost its appeal rather quickly, though, even with the top down, and I was looking forward to dropping the Outback off.

Not so fast, Lady. I received a call from an unfamiliar number in the middle of class a couple of days before the appointment. I didn't answer, but the message they left was clear: because of a problem with their online system, they were waaaaaay overbooked. My car was going to have to wait. I sighed and returned the call as soon as I could.

The dealership was apologetic. They gave me the first available appointment, and they were happy to offer a courtesy car starting the evening before should I choose to drop off early. And so it was that I zipped away in a new blue Impreza this evening. It is a fun little vehicle, to be sure, and zipping around in it makes me feel a little disloyal to my until now faithful six-year-old Outback.

I think they kind of know that over there at the dealer, don't you?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Incognito No More

I was walking back to school from an appointment off-campus this afternoon just a little while after the dismissal bell, and several students passed me going in the opposite direction. Perhaps it was my sunglasses, or perhaps it was their eagerness to begin an afternoon of freedom, but I strode forward in seeming anonymity until at last one eighth grade girl who had been in my homeroom two years ago turned around a half a block away from me and shouted my name. I turned, and the smile on her face was so sweet that I lifted my shades, smiled back, and waved.

It is nice to be known.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Do My Dreaming and My Scheming

The other day, as I was invigilating the state math test for my students, I took a moment to do a calculation of my own. Pacing the classroom to ensure prompt attention for any calculator-computer-or-other issue, I considered how much time I had actually spent in that very room.

I set up shop there in August of 1994. Based on a conservative estimate of six and a half hours a day, 170 days per year, with a little rounding, I came up with about three years.

Three years! Five percent of my life had been spent within those four walls.

I gave myself a little half-smile then, a private snicker, and thanked the stars that most days? Were nothing like that day. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Public Storage

In the classic 1985 film, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, the protagonist's bike is stolen, an event which precipitates a nationwide road trip in search of his wayward wheels. Somewhere along the way, Pee Wee gets information that the thieves have stashed his purloined bicycle in the basement of the Alamo, so he heads to San Antonio.

There he joins a tour led by the late, great Jan Hooks, who insists that all questions be held until the end. Hand on hip, Pee Wee taps his foot throughout her windy narration and tries several times to get around the guideline so that he can pose his single inquiry. "Where's the basement?" he finally blurts out at the end of the tour.

Hooks giggles dismissively. "The Alamo doesn't have a basement!" she tells him.

I thought of that scene today as I scouted the Tidal Basin for scavenger hunt-worthy locations. Of course I made my way up the stairs to the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial. To be honest, although we walk there quite often, I can't recall the last time I made that climb since dogs are not welcome up the stairs.

Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that the Jefferson does have a basement. Complete with two gift shops, a short movie, and a couple small exhibits, I saw the whole place in a little over five minutes.

Sorry Pee Wee, your bike isn't there either!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Simple Machine

Three weeks ago we were in Atlanta celebrating my sister's birthday and three weeks from today we will be on summer vacation. 

Now that's a fulcrum!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

It Just Seems Wrong

Today was the last of two state-mandated standardized tests for our sixth grade students. At 54 questions it took the quickest child one hour and forty minutes and the last was still testing 15 minutes before the dismissal bell; she clicked "submit" five and a half hours after she logged in.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

It All Comes Together

"He should get a Newbury for this!" one of my students exclaimed. "A Newbury!"

"What are you reading?" asked the guy to his left.

"This profile that Anuj wrote about me," the first student answered. "He. is. a. genius!"