Friday, September 30, 2016

Simple Gifts

The champagne was open and a lovely tray of smoked salmon, cucumbers, herbed cheese, and wheat crackers was set out on our coffee table last night to celebrate the tin-year anniversary of my writing group. I pulled open the drawer where we keep our cocktail napkins, and was momentarily concerned when I couldn't find a single one. Rummaging a little deeper past coasters, crossword puzzle pens, and scissors,  I was able to dig up a mismatched pile enough for the four of us, but as of now?




Of course I will add them to my shopping list, but it will be a first. I have certainly purchased cocktail napkins before, but it has been mostly on a whim, never of necessity. I guess I owe that in large measure to Emily's mom, Judy. She was always the one who tucked a package of lovely or clever napkins into almost every gift bag. Judy's been gone almost seven years exactly, now, and how wonderful that those gifts have lasted until now.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The First Decade

Ten years ago I had recently finished the summer institute at our local chapter of the National Writing Project. I believed with all my heart that to be an effective writing teacher, I had to write myself. And I had-- all summer long. As part of the program we were put in writing groups to meet and share our work twice a week. It had been such a rewarding experience for me, but now that the institute was over, I was worried that I might not continue writing.

Fortunately, that autumn I found three other teachers who were interested in writing, too, and we have been a merry band of scribblers ever since, meeting every month or so to eat, drink, and share writing.

Tonight was more or less our 10th anniversary, and so for the occasion (and okay, because I'm also feeling a little swamped) I dug up the first piece I shared. To be honest, it was pretty good, and I can't really say that I've written anything better since then.

So, has it all been a waste of time? Far from it. That piece may have come together for me, but I wrestle with writing every day, and it's definitely the struggle that makes me a better teacher.

The food and the friends ain't bad, either! Here's to the next ten, you guys!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Copy That

Call me old-fashioned, but personally, I don't know how a school can function with both of its main copy machines down. At about 5 PM yesterday I found myself wandering the building trying to figure out a way to make sure I was prepared for my first class the next day. Oh, I knew if worst came to worst, I could probably come in early and get in line for the one copier that was being repaired at that very moment, but generally? I prefer to avoid such crunchtime moves.

That's why, after the third time I cleared a paper jam in the main office I turned to a very slow and little-used machine nearby. With only 20 copies, I felt it was the best solution, and so I pushed all the buttons, fed in the originals, stood back and checked my email, played Words with Friends, picked at my cuticles, and otherwise waited the 15 minutes it took. Triumphantly, I carried the finished packets back to my room, hole-punched them, and left the building confident that I was ready for the next day.

Flash forward to me and my reading class at 9 AM this morning. "Can't we just read?" someone asked for the 97th time. "Why do they call it "reading" anyway if you won't let us read?"

"We are going to read," I answered brightly. "This is a good story!

Children sighed as packets slapped the table and pages turned.

"Wait!" said somebody. "Do I have the whole story? Is it mixed up?"

I looked over a shoulder. "Oops!" I said. "You know what, you guys? I made a mistake with the copies." I shrugged. "Why don't you read your books?"

They cheered.

"You are definitely the best teacher," someone said, sticking her nose into Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban just before the room went silent.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

It's What They Do

This year it so happens I have one class that is mostly girls and another class that is mostly boys. And so, in a lesson where each student was asked to think of a verb and share it in a quick round robin, the answers were wildly different.

Dance, play, talk, skate, suggested the girls.

Kick, yell, fart, poop, contributed the boys.

But, happily, both groups came up with read.

Now to get them to write!

Monday, September 26, 2016


"Did you have a good weekend?" a colleague asked as our paths converged on the way to the main office this morning.

"Oh, yeah!" I answered. "The weather was perrrrfect!"

She frowned. "Don't tell me. You like fall?" she asked with heavy irony.

"You don't???" I responded.

"No!" she replied. "I. LIKE. SUMMER. You know? Hot weather, shorts, baking in the sun by the pool or at the beach? SUMMER!"

"But the light..." I started, thinking of the warm gold of the autumn sunshine and clear blue skies. "The leaves?"

"Nope and nope!" she cut me off. "Too chilly! And the next thing you know? It's winter!"

She frowned.

I smiled.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Joshing Around

One of Josh's best friends back home is also named Josh. We got to spend some time with both guys this weekend, and it was very entertaining. Take for example this exchange, as we were driving off for our hike this afternoon, leaving Josh's hand-painted bean bag toss in the front yard.

Josh 1: I hope nobody steals the game while we're gone!

Josh 2: Pretty sure no one wants your corn hole, Buddy.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bob the Dog

At the end of a fun family picnic with a chaos of kids running in and out of the house, we looked up as Michelle came up the walk with a tiny black dog in her arms. Her new place is located just off a busy road, and noticing a bit of a commotion, she went over to see what was happening. A woman from New Jersey had stopped to avoid hitting the little guy. "I can't take him!" She told Michelle. "I'm on my way back home."

The entire group of 6 children and 12 adults turned our collective attention to this current canine crisis. Is there a collar? He looks well-groomed. Take a picture and post it on Facebook! Let's call him Bob. Go door to door with the picture. Where's the closest shelter? He's shivering-- we need a blanket. I read on the internet you can use a stud-finder to see if there's a microchip. Beep beep beep beep bleep. How does this thing work? Nobody's answering the doors across the street. The vet is closed. Bob is soooo cute. Clearly not a stray. Where would we even put flyers?

In the midst of all this hubbub, a couple of guests with a long drive ahead of them bid us all farewell and good luck. Imagine our surprise, then, when their red Crowne Vic rolled back into the driveway a little while later. Out jumped a very worried looking woman they had spotted as she scoured the road calling for her dog. A heart-warming reunion between Pat and Yogi was only a moment away.

It happened that Yogi had indeed been bathed earlier today and so was collarless when Pat's husband started using a hydraulic nail gun. Since it was such a beautiful day, the front door was open. Spooked by the loud noise, Yogi pushed open the loose screen, and hit the road.

Pat's husband and grandson pulled in just as she ended her tale, and the four of them happily headed home.

Friday, September 23, 2016

School Daze Chapter 7: Sunny with a Chance of Opposition

We have a student this year who embodies a conundrum I've never tackled before. He is definitely oppositional: ask him to do any simple task, and he just can't help himself from doing the opposite. You have to say his name three times before he'll even turn his head, and yet? He misbehaves with the sunniest of smiles.

In all my years of teaching, I have never met such a contradictory soul. I redirect him, ready to be confronted with anger and resentment, and he simply laughs with a twinkle in his eye. When frustrated by a task, he shuts down, but when I give him guidance and suggestions, he digs in and does a great job.

He has lost his water bottle at least 10 out of the 14 days we've been in school so far, but he is always appreciative when I, his homeroom teacher, spot it and return it to him. Maybe that's why he always stops by at the end of the day for a few minutes with his friend from another team, even when they could both be heading home.

Today I met them at the door on my way back from a meeting. "Hey!" I said, "I think you're rubbing off on me. I just left my water bottle downstairs."

"Do you know where it is?" he asked.

"Yep," I answered.

"Well then," he told me, "I haven't rubbed off on you enough!"

Thursday, September 22, 2016

School Daze Chapter 6: Dynamic Duo

I teach one class each year that has a mix of both special and general education students. As an inclusion class, it also has an instructional assistant assigned to work with me to meet the needs of all of the kids in there. This year, I am lucky to be working with a guy who is also a former teacher.

As such, he has a lot of experience and a sharp eye for student needs, and so far, we form a pretty good team. In fact one of the students in our class today asked me if we were married.

I laughed and told him no.

"Oh," he said, "I just thought so, 'cause you're like our school Mom and Dad."

"Really?" I answered. "Well, I think we're more like you're school Batman and Robin!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

School Daze Chapter 5

Once a week our team of teachers meets with the counselors to talk about "student concerns". We share anecdotes and observations of the sixth graders in our class, comparing notes to see if there is some sort of support we might add. To be honest, since kids are, well, kids, some of the stories can be rather hilarious, some are heart-breaking, and some leave us kind of scratching our heads.

Today, for example, the counselor reported that she received a note from a student who was alarmed because another boy had threatened to "kick him in the shins" if he didn't stop singing some annoying song.

That story me with so many questions! Who was the threatener? What song was soooo annoying? And what sixth grader even knows what a shin is?

"Shin" seems a little old-fashioned to me. Most of the kids I know just go with the generic term, "leg" when referring to any part of that lower extremity. My dad used to say "shin," when I was a kid, and I think I even have a vague recollection of him talking about kicks in the shin. And wasn't there an old joke, a parody of a cheer, really, that went something like,

Ra ra ree! 
Kick 'em in the knee! 
Ra ra rin! 
Kick 'em in the shin! 
Ra ra rass... 
Kick 'em in the other shin!

Maybe he was singing that!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

School Daze Chapter 4: The 3rd Shift

Oy vey! What a day! After completing my regular job, you know the one where I try to bend a hundred strong-minded young adolescents to my will, and make them think it is all their idea, I had a meeting where I tried to bend one strong-minded colleague to my will, but she was having none of it. Later, I conducted an overview session of the online course about young adolescents that I teach for 20 tired teachers, most of whom, like I, had Back-to-school Night tonight. At 5:30 I dashed home and actually cooked dinner, ate it, and cleaned up the kitchen before changing my clothes and heading back to school. Of course there was no parking, so I pulled in by the tennis courts and hoofed it two blocks to the building where I just barely beat the first of the families arriving for the evening's festivities. Two hours and six twelve-minute presentations later, I slipped off the loafers that were pinching my feet and walked barefoot back to my car, only stubbing my toe that once.

Monday, September 19, 2016


"I want a tattoo of Isabel!" Heidi told me a few weeks ago.

"Hmmm," I said, "maybe you should wait a little to make sure that's what you really, really want."

She shrugged sadly. "I just want something I can look at it any time to remember her."

I understood what she meant, even though I am not a big fan of tattoos. (Okay. I kind of hate them.)

Early the next morning I got to work. We had gotten temporary dragonfly tats at a taco place in Atlanta, and it occurred to me that such things must be for sale somewhere. I easily found a website, and then an image, and in a matter of minutes a dozen little temporary tattoos were on their way.

They arrived today and boy! Are they super cute and really seem to capture Isabel's spirit. Maybe such a permanent reminder wouldn't be so bad.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

School Daze Chapter 3

"Tracey, what would make you happier at school?" my mom asked me on FaceTime yesterday.

"I'm not sure," I answered.

"Well, what is making you unhappy?" she asked.

I thought a minute. "I guess it's not really that much fun," I shrugged. "Teaching used to be really fun."

It wasn't quite as hopeless as all that, though. Just Friday, when the 90 degree heat had finally relented slightly just in time for the annual "Sixth Grade Watermelon Social," I had stood on the turf soccer field surrounded by over 300 kids running and shouting and generally playing quite nicely together. Eating a big slice of sweet watermelon, I soaked in their exuberance under the clear blue sky.

To carve out these 45 minutes, we had had a crazy-schedule day with short, out-of-order classes, but the kids pretty much rolled with it. And to be honest, the looseness seemed to become us all.

Maybe it finally felt like September.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

School Daze: Chapter 2

It was the hectic beginning of my last class of the day. Twenty-three sixth graders had jostled their way through the hall and into their seats in my room. "Record your homework," I reminded them routinely and then--" I stopped, spotting an anomalous sight. "T!" I said. "What're you doin' in here? You're not in my class!"

I paused. T looked upset. "I wish you were," I assured him, but your real teacher will be missing you. What class do you have now?"

With over a hundred kids on the team, by the second week of school, well honestly? By the second day of school I knew who T was, even though I didn't teach him. Not only did his behavior stand out a little in the halls, his teachers had shared several anecdotes to illustrate their concern about him.

My favorite T story came from the science teacher. A few days earlier, in the hubbub of changing seats for a group activity a student inadvertently pushed T, who turned around and punched the other kid in the head. "Hey now!" said my colleague to T. "We never put our hands on another person!" Then she turned to the other student with concern. "Are you all right? Did he hurt you?"

"I'm okay," the boy assured her, rubbing his head. "It didn't hurt."

T reached over and scratched his arm. "How about that?" he challenged him. "Did that hurt?"

Before I continue, let me assure you that the other student was fine, and I do not condone such behavior. But I do find T's reaction a little amusing, mostly because it is so far from the norm.

More than that, though, to me it showed how impulsive T was, and how little self-control he was able to exercise in that situation.

Back in my classroom, T looked panicky. "It was just a mistake!" he chanted over and over as he jumped out of his seat and started to pace.

"I know!" I assured him. "I think you're supposed to be right next door, though, in science."

"Yes!" he said.

"It's okay," I told him as I led him to the right place. "Kids get confused sometimes."

He sighed with relief as he entered the classroom.

Later I considered what his reality must be like: how out of focus must this new school be to him that he could sit, unaware, in a classroom he had never been in before with a teacher and kids he didn't know?

Friday, September 16, 2016

School Daze: Chapter 1

The writing prompt seemed so do-able:

You have one class period to write the best personal narrative- the best true story about you- that you can write. Make this be the story of one time in your life. You might focus on just a scene or two. You’ll have one class period to write this true story, so you’ll need to plan, draft, revise and edit in one sitting. Write in a way that allows you to show off all you know about writing.

After all, we had been coming up with topics for a week, talking about them, and free-writing. All of those resources were available as my students sat down on Tuesday to complete this formative assessment. I just wanted to know what kind of writers they were.

A few minutes into the first class period, I noticed a student who was reading. His writing lay, seemingly abandoned, on the table:

"Whoa!" I whispered to him. "It looks like you're having some trouble."

"Not really," he shrugged. "I'm just finished."

"Hmm," I answered, "why don't you bring your writing notebook out to the hall so we can talk a little?"

He grabbed his notebook and I picked up the paper and out we went.

I was determined to be patient, and he was determined not to write, and so we didn't make a lot of progress in our conversation. "The assignment says to write your best story," I finally said. "Is this really it?"

He assured me it was. With 178 days to go in the school year and the knowledge that I had only begun my work with him, I said, "Okay," and we went back inside, where I read the placement card his fifth grade teacher had sent.

Excellent student! he had written, and under "Writing"? There was a checkmark in the High column.

It was a conundrum, indeed.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

An Old-Fashioned Conversationalist

We went out to dinner this evening with a neighborhood friend and her parents who are visiting from Colorado. Her mom and dad were lovely company, and I have to admit that I was completely charmed the two times her dad worked a joke into our conversation.

Both stories were perfectly timed, relevant to the topic, and funny. As we walked home from the restaurant it occurred to me that such a style of humor has become very old-fashioned. I have memories of my grandfather and an uncle or two weaving formal jokes into a conversation, but not too many people do that now. I never considered it before, but I think it might really be a loss.


A frugal farm widow went down to the newspaper to publish her husband's obituary. "That'll be a dollar a word," the clerk informed her.

"Write: Johannsen died," she told him.

"There's a five word minimum," he replied.

She thought for a moment. "Then put: Johannsen died. Tractor for Sale."


A man was driving along a country road when a cat ran in front of his car. Unable to stop in time, he hit the cat but pulled over to see if he could save it. Unfortunately, the cat was dead. Feeling guilty, he walked up the nearest driveway and knocked on the front door of the house. "Do you have a black and white cat?" he asked the woman who answered.

When she nodded, he apologized. "I'm so sorry to tell you that I hit her with my car, but I'd really like to replace her," he finished.

The woman looked at him skeptically. "How many mice can you catch?" she asked.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Ever since I was a kid I have loved a good ghost story, and judging from the books many of my students choose, I am not alone.

My students also love graphic novels, and Raina Telgemeier is a favorite author. Her breakout book was Smile, a memoir of orthodontic woes and her own middle school years. The novel Drama and another memoir, Sisters, were her follow-up offerings. In between, she also illustrated graphic versions of the first four Babysitter Club novels by Ann M. Martin.

Popular with boys and girls alike, no matter how many copies I have, I can't keep her books on my shelf. So, when I saw back in May that her newest novel would be released in September, it was a no-brainer pre-order. This morning, I grabbed it from my mailbox and threw it in my school bag, knowing it would make great reading as my students were taking a required online reading inventory.

I was right! Ghosts has everything-- perfect for this time of year, it follows a family of mixed Mexican and American heritage who move to a coastal town in Northern California right before school starts to benefit the youngest daughter's health. There they find a diverse population who all seem to embrace the ghosts the town is famous for. Spooky but not too scary, it straddles this world and the spirit world and culminates late at night as Halloween fades to Dia de los Muertos. With a likable but conflicted main character, Ghosts explores serious issues that are relevant to lots of kids: loss, family, regret, death, and forgiveness.

I loved it! In fact, when one of the kids spotted it on my desk and asked if someone was reading it, I confess to being a little snippy when I replied, "Yes! Me!"

But, since I already have a waiting list of ten kids to read it next?

I ordered three more copies.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lesson of the Day

"Hey guys!" I started my class today, "do you realize that this is your one week anniversary of starting middle school?" After a spontaneous but very well-earned round of applause I continued, "So guess what? We are going to take some tests!"

There were equal parts groans and laughs, but everyone was resigned: these kids have never been in a school that didn't test the heck out of them. They expected nothing else.

And as such? Most of them performed like yeoman, brave and stout, producing a page or so of prose in 45 minutes or less. (We'll talk about quality later, I'm sure.)

At the end of the day, one girl stopped at my desk on her way out the door. "I have a pop quiz for you," she said.

It was only fair. "Shoot," I replied.

"What's my name?" she asked.

"Greyson," I answered without hesitation.

"Wow!" she said, "How do you do that?"

"I work at it," I told her honestly, thinking of how I go over and over my rosters matching names to faces, "Because it's important!"

She nodded, genuinely impressed.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Darking Bogs

Sounds ominous, right?

But it's just a spoonerism our neighbor inadvertently used to describe some local tension in our little community. Hopefully it will all be resolved soon-- we definitely prefer dappy hogs!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cheers for the Cuppa, Mate

We did a stint caring for our neighbor's cats while she was in London last week. Although we are happy enough to help out, she always makes sure to bring back a few gifts for us. This morning, as she presented us with a lovely little bag of goodies, she apologized to me.

"I think I may have gotten you the same thing as I did the last time I was in London," she said. "I shopped in some of the same places."

"You got me another catapult?" I asked excitedly. "From the London Catapult Shop?" I teased her.

"We call that shop the British Museum," she laughed, "and no, I did not get you another catapult."

I ended up with a special edition tea and bone china mug from Harrods... can't complain about that.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Illegal Motion

I know that you're not allowed to touch artwork in museums, but I also know that "mobile" means motion, and so when I saw a tiny little Alexander Calder work sitting perfectly still on its pedestal in the Hirshhorn this afternoon, I wanted to see it move. So both the rule-follower and the problem-solver in me stood before the little mobile and blew very gently, watching it twirl and admiring its perfect balance and grace.

"Please don't blow on the artwork," a stern voice interrupted me.

I turned to face it, quizzically.

"I know it doesn't say so," the uniformed guard apologized, "but to preserve the art, we really don't want people doing that."

"Okay," I shrugged.

She lowered her voice. "I've never seen that move until now, though," she told me. "It's amazing. Thanks!"

Friday, September 9, 2016

What Really Matters

Ten years ago my friend Mary shared an activity she did with her students. Well, really it was an assignment for her students' parents. In a million words or less, she asked them, tell me about your child! Well... I know an awesome idea when I see it, and so I sent the same request home. Turns out, parents have a quite a bit to say about their kids: the replies that we received were some of the most heart-warming writing I have ever read.

For many reasons, I have not repeated that activity. Times change, and the focus of education has famously followed. As a teacher I have been pushed and pulled into so many initiatives and requirements that I know I have dropped many valuable things along the way. I guess this parents' homework was one of them.

Back in 2006, electronic communication and the Internet was still catching on, and we asked the parents to do their work on paper. Oh, I'm sure a twig or two gave its life so that our request could be fulfilled, but the upside is that as I was going through my files last week before my new students arrived, I found one stuffed full of letters about kids who are just turning 21, adults themselves now.

Despite several initiatives and requirements scratching at the door, I took the folder and a yearbook over to a table by the window and I looked at each student's picture as I read the words of their parents.

So many of them started the same way:

What can I say about... 

And then continued:

He has natural curiosity
She likes vegetables
He is sweet and happy
I was just sixteen when she was born
He is kind and compassionate
She has a thrill to tell stories
He learns better by doing
As the oldest child, she has a tendency to be bossy

And they ended like this:

Thanks for giving me the chance to tell you about my daughter. 
Please push him-- he needs it! 
I'm not sure if I did my million words, but I tried! My hand is tired!
His dad has been away a lot the last four years to Iraq and Afghanistan. 
He is a little bit Dr. Doolittle's push me-pull me, a little bit monkey.
I want to tell you more about my daughter, but I don't want you to get to bored.
I want the very best for my son. I didn't finish high school, but I hope he will.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Game Changer

I confess that I was dragging a little as I made my way to the front entrance of school this morning:

The beginning of the year is always sooooo hectic; I'm teaching an unfamiliar curriculum; and I don't know these kids yet! Throw in a 5:30 alarm and a 90+ heatwave in September, and there I was, slow-walking it to work.

Still, there is something to be said about being a long-time teacher at a middle school, and I got a bit of a rockstar's welcome, lots of waves and shouts, as I walked by students past and present waiting for the bell to enter the building. Right before I hit the front door, I was hailed by one of the new guys. "Who is your favorite superhero?" he asked breathlessly.

"Gosh," I answered, "that's a really good question. I like Iron Man's attitude, but I feel like the suit is kind of cheating. Is he really a superhero?"

He nodded.

I shrugged. "I guess it's Captain America?"

He beamed. "I can draw him!" he told me. "I'll bring you a picture tomorrow!" And with that, he and his friends headed off to the sixth grade doors.

Me? I kept going toward the main entrance, but there was definitely more oomph in my step.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Yeas Have it

We spent a good ten minutes this afternoon wrangling the teachers on our sixth grade team into a posed group photo for the school website, but when all was said and done, nobody really liked any of the pics.

"Hey!" said the social studies teacher, "weren't we all here last year?"

There were nods of agreement all around.

"How about we use the same picture?" she proposed.

Problem? Solved.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

All's Well

I was busy over-seeing the students in my reading class following written directions to create name tags that communicated essential information about them using symbols when a semi-frantic knock came on the door.

"Have you seen Max?" asked the director counseling.

I nodded. Of course I had. He was one of my homeroom students, and I had met him just a half an hour earlier.

"Do you know where he went?" she asked.

I took a deep breath. The first day of middle school is especially hectic for sixth grade kids and teachers alike. We take special care to make sure that these students who are new to our school know where to go, but it's never a smooth transition that very first time. Teachers stand outside their doors guiding wayward children long after the bell rings. It's not until the hallway is clear that we even enter our rooms.

I looked over my own group of 22 students. I had called the roll and asked if there was anyone who hadn't heard his or her name, and I had even sent one kid next door. Still, I had absentees who may or may not have been at school, but I knew that eventually everyone would get straightened out. But Max was hard of hearing, and so there was a little more concern when he didn't make it to his first period class.

There wasn't much I could do to help, and so I returned to my own class. As students finished their name cards I circulated through, admiring them, and reading the names and the glyphs. "Oh Carolyn, I see your birthday is December 28 and your favorite subject is math! Kylie-- you have one older sibling and have lived in Virginia all your life! Max, you..."

Max! My eyes popped open wide.

"What?!" he asked, alarmed, and rightfully so, because he didn't know he was missing.

"You have an awesome name tag!" I assured him, and then stealthily flagged down an assistant and asked her to inform the counselor that our missing student had been found.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Betwixt and Between

As summer fades to fall my pantry is filled with the bounty of both seasons: apples and nectarines, tomatoes and butternut squash, and savory pumpkin muffins with summer peppers and basil.

The cook in me is inspired!

But the teacher in me goes back to work tomorrow.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

On Your Mark

A little spray adhesive, some scrapbooking paper, a few alphabet stickers, and my writing notebook is good to go!

(In case you're wondering about the inside cover?)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Living on a Prayer

"I never did see that national parks IMAX movie," Heidi remarked as we walked home from the grocery store this afternoon.

"Let me see what time it plays," I said. "That might be a fun thing to do this weekend." By then we were nearly home. "Oh my gosh! There's a show in 20 minutes! We can make it if everything goes perfectly. Wanna try?"

"Sure!" she answered, and we threw the perishables in the fridge and raced to the car. Although the theater is less than five miles from our house as the crow flies, making it in time for the movie was not a sure thing by any means. To begin with, we had to cross at least one bridge and then find parking in downtown DC on a holiday weekend. Fortunately, though, Labor Day is a traditionally dead time in our nation's capital.

Despite a couple of jerks on the road and a few clueless pedestrians, I made it to the city in under ten minutes. Trolling Constitution Avenue for a spot near the Natural History Museum was unfruitful, though, and so I rounded the corner hoping for a spot right on the mall. Bazinga! Just a little down and across from the sculpture garden was a perfect space. In I pulled and we headed down the sidewalk, up the steps, through security, and into the great hall with three minutes to spare. There was only one person ahead of us in line.

And then it all fell to pieces.

One customer. One staffer. One hundred questions. Ten tickets. Ten minutes too late.

The American History Museum was awesome though! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Safety First

I've spent a lot of time in my classroom this week, hanging posters, moving furniture, organizing and putting it all back together after packing it up in June. This is the start of my 23rd year teaching in that very room, and when I moved in there in August 1994, the building itself was celebrating its own 23rd year. I still have the same tables, chairs, and teacher's desk that I started with, and I know they were original to the building, which makes them 46 years old-- vintage, if not antique.

I thought about that today as I fulfilled one of the first week requirements for teachers in our district by watching a 13 minute video on safety. According to the recording, teachers number more than six million in the United States and make up the largest workforce in the nation. Unfortunately, we are also a workforce without any formal safety training, and as such, 300,000 teachers are injured on the job every year.

The number one cause? Slipping and falling at ground level, but close behind is falling off something else.

Like maybe 46 year old tables?

Thursday, September 1, 2016


"When were you in sixth grade?" I asked a former student who was all grown up and accompanying her younger sister to the open house this afternoon. "Was it 2005?"

She thought for a moment and then laughed. "No! It was 2004. Remember? My mom was in labor during our conference." She nodded her head toward her sister. "And look who showed up the next day!"