Thursday, November 28, 2013

Feeling Thankful

Holidays always seem to bring out the sentimentalist in me.  Spending Thanksgiving apart from my parents, sisters, nieces, and nephews this year has made me even more sentimental than usual.   As I reflected on Thanksgivings past, it occurred to me this morning that sadness is but happiness remembered and serves as a reminder of all that we have been blessed with.  So if moments of sadness creep up on me during the course of the day, I will be thankful.

Thankful for friends, past and present, who have filled many hours with laughter and thoughtful listening.

Thankful for growing children, who have taught me the true meaning of "love of my life."

Thankful for my husband, who quite possibly will never fully understand me (I'm still working on that myself!) but "gets me" more often than most.

Thankful for family, who have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in me yet still claim me as one of their own.

Thankful for my parents, who spent their entire lives working tirelessly to provide for their family.  Who created a stable world to grow up in when the rest of the world was not.  Who made it possible to feel anchored no matter where my own personal path led.  Who, in the process of just living day to day, established a bank of memories that point the way forward as I work to create loving and sustaining memories for my own children.

Thankful for all that has been and all that will be.

Happy Thanksgiving.  May your day be filled with happiness.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lessons in Letting Go

It seems like the last few months have been all about the sometimes painful process of letting go.

A few years ago I reconnected with an old friend from my college days.  I have a tendency to drift away from people, so I was happy to have someone in my life who "knew me when."  That "when," of course, was pre-marriage, pre-children, and pre-teaching.  A time that now, in the foggy days of middle-age, sometimes feels like the time when I was truly me.  (Whatever that means.) It felt good to have someone to talk to about a me that no one currently in my life knows anything about.  It was like my friend was the key that unlocked the door to a part of my life when everything still lay before me and the world was full of hope and promise. Talking to my friend allowed me a chance to escape from the painful parts of reality and the opportunity to laugh, something I fear I do too little of these days.  And then one day my friend slipped away.  I had suspected the day would come when that would happen, and I even know, in part at least, the reason for it. What hurt was the walking away without a word.  To me, that silence said our friendship never really mattered.  I thought about reaching out to my friend and tried for a long time to figure out what to say, but everything seemed childish or passive-aggressive, and that was not who I wanted to be.  The only reasonable choice, I realized, was to simply let it go.

My second lesson in letting go came courtesy of my elder son.  As a sixth grader, he was going to attend science camp for a week.  I was excited for him.  I could still remember (surprisingly, given how many years it's been!) my own experience as a 6th grader at science camp.  I later returned to camp three more times as a 6th grade teacher.  I had come to view it as a wonderful opportunity for kids not only to learn about science in an outdoor setting but also to experience a little independence, an important step in the process of growing up.  As I prepared my son for his trip, I made a startling discovery.  Having my son live away from me, even for just a few nights, was an important step in my own process of letting my son go.  It is strange to think that over the next few years he will live more and more of his life beyond my grasp until that moment comes when he leaves home for good.  I know what that will mean for him;  I've been there myself.  But what will that mean for me?  How will I be a mother without children to take care of?  Who will I be then?

The upcoming holidays have provided me with perhaps the most difficult lesson in letting go.  For my entire life, I have always known exactly what I would be doing on Thanksgiving. My family gathered every year at my mom and dad's house at 2:00 p.m. My mom would have gotten up at the crack of dawn to begin preparing, so even if you arrived early, the house would smell of turkey and pumpkin pie.  There would be a certain energy in the house, the result no doubt of my mom bustling around, stressing out about the most minute of details, wanting everything to be perfect.  She needn't have worried.  Even if the turkey had been a little dry and the gravy a little lumpy, everything would have still been perfect.  We were all together, talking and laughing and marveling at how much the children had grown.  Often we had not seen each other for months, but that only made those hours together more precious. Writing about it now, I can actually feel the sensation of standing in my mom's kitchen, sun streaming through the window onto the neatly set table covered in fall-colored linens and laden with food, surrounded by the sounds of voices and laughter.  Family. Home.  That's what the holiday was all about.

But things change.  As I have grown older, so too have my parents, and the holidays of the past are no more. My mother's arthritis prevents her from bustling around the kitchen, and my dad's emphysema makes hard work of even talking.  So I am lost.  I have reached the point when the traditions of the past can no longer continue.  It is my job now to create new ones.  But everything I consider seems completely lacking in comparison.  Dinner for four will just be too quiet and lonely to truly be considered a holiday.

We all know that life brings changes and we inevitably have to someday say goodbye to those we love.  I get that.  But knowing something intellectually and experiencing it emotionally are two entirely different ball games.

Rather than lessons, I suppose these experiences have been reminders.  Reminders that things change, and once they do, you can never go back.  Reminders to embrace all that is good and beautiful in your life so that when it is gone you can move forward with no regrets.  And reminders, too, that while letting go is sometimes sad and difficult, it allows us to reach out to the future and whatever it may hold in store for us.
At least that's what I hope.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A First Venture into Close Reading

Last week I began reading Falling in Love with Close Reading:  Lessons for Analyzing Texts--and Life, written by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts.  The idea of teaching students to read with a lens made a lot of sense and seemed like it would be a manageable approach for helping readers to look more closely at text.  As it happened, I already was planning on having my students look at details in the story we were currently reading, The Talking Cloth by Rhonda Mitchell.  I wanted them to examine the relationship between two of the characters and "reading closely for text evidence" seemed the perfect way to do it.

I became convinced this was the perfect lesson when, the day before I planned to teach it, one of my students suggested the problem in the story involved the relationship between the father and the aunt.  I told my students that we would look at that relationship more closely the next day to determine if this was in fact the problem.

To begin the lesson, I told my students I was curious about the relationship between Amber's father and her aunt and wanted to try to figure out what kind of a relationship they had.  I asked them to help me find details from the story that showed these characters saying or doing something that involved the other.

What I noticed right away was that they had a fairly easy time identifying what the characters said to each other, but they didn't notice the more subtle actions that took place between the two characters.  After pointing out one place where Daddy laughed, the students were able to find other instances where the characters responded to each other with laughter or smiles.  (One student even found a detail I had missed.)

Next, we looked at how the details fit together.  (This is where I should have thought out my chart a little better ahead of time because it got kind of messy with arrows going everywhere.  For some reason, though, the kids thought this was fascinating!)  We looked at all the things the characters said and noticed they were not very nice.  Then we looked at the characters' responses, which were smiles and laughter.  When asked what laughter makes you think of, they responded "happiness," "funny," and "joking." 

I was very encouraged at this point, believing that my students were beginning to understand that Daddy and Aunt Phoebe didn't have a problematic relationship but actually had a typical brother-sister relationship where they liked to kid each other.  I bravely (foolishly?) asked my students what new understanding they had. 

I was somewhat disappointed when the first two students I called on told me that Daddy and Aunt Phoebe had a bad relationship.  It became apparent to me that they were hung up on what the characters said and confused by the contradiction between dialogue and action.  At this point, I backed up and again pointed out the contradiction:  what the characters said sounded mean to us, but the characters' responses were those we use when we think something is funny.  Therefore, I reasoned, the characters must be joking with each other.

It was interesting to me that, although they could see the characters were laughing and they connected laughter with happiness, they still only used the dialogue to characterize the relationship between Daddy and Aunt Phoebe, which led them to determine the relationship was "bad."  Even more interesting was thinking of the five previous years I have "taught" this story and never realized how confused my students were by this relationship (if they even thought about it, that is). 

In retrospect, I think I should have downplayed the "meanness" of the dialogue and set up my chart so that there was a clear connection between the dialogue and the non-verbal responses of the characters.  Also, we needed to spend more time working through the apparent contradiction between the two.  This part was probably too rushed, in part because it was almost time for recess and in part because I panicked when I realized they didn't know how to resolve that conflict.

Did my students get anything out of the lesson?  I think so.  If nothing else, they saw how an experienced reader doesn't just "know" what's going on but looks to the details of the story to build comprehension.  They learned there were steps to follow and that they could follow them too.  What I learned was that even stories that seem simple can have layers of meaning that students miss.  Students rely on the most obvious of details to formulate their ideas.  Without a focus, there is much they read right over.  Even when the more subtle details are pointed out to them, if these contradict the obvious ones, students don't know what to do with that contradiction and will simply ignore them.

For years I have taught my students to use the text to support their answers.  Students as young as 3rd graders can do this pretty well.  As I learned yesterday, reading a text closely - finding details first and then using them to formulate their ideas - is much more difficult.  Difficult, but not impossible.  Rather than being discouraged, I am encouraged by my experience with this lesson and look forward to seeing my students grow in their ability to analyze the texts they read.

                                                       My messy chart :)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Less-Than-Perfect Parent of a Less-Than-Perfect Child

Today was one of those days when if the earth had opened up and swallowed me whole, I would have been grateful.  It didn't, so I'm writing about it instead.

I took the boys to their martial arts class this morning as I do most Saturday mornings.  They both were in good moods, and just yesterday Jack had been ecstatic to earn his red belt, so I really didn't anticipate anything going wrong today.  I know, that was my first mistake.  I should have known better. 

I'm not exactly sure when things began to go wrong, but I suddenly was aware that Jack was not happy.  (He's very good at making that known.)  I was trying to read my book on math talks when I overheard Jack tell the girl sitting behind him not to touch him.  When his instructor told him that she was just trying to remind him what to do, Jack responded, "Yeah, to kick her in the face."  It was all downhill from there and ended with him throwing a ball at his instructor, whom he absolutely adores, and subsequently getting a time out.  Of course, by that time I was fighting back tears and wishing I could just disappear into thin air.

After class, his instructor tried talking to him, but when Jack gets into these moods there is no reasoning with him.  He repeated his usual "you hate me" speech, and when he finally made his way back to where I was sitting, he crawled under the chairs.  Which was exactly what I wished I could do, only I would hope to be a lot less visible.  I apologized and said I didn't know why Jack gets this way and that it is something we are working on.  All true, but I couldn't help but feel like an idiot shrugging my shoulders and not having any explanations.  He's my child.  Shouldn't I know why he is the way he is?  Shouldn't I know what to do about it?

So, I did what any reasonable mother would do.  I came home and cried.  Cried for Jack and how difficult it must be for him to have the feelings he does and not know what to do with them.  Cried for me because it all must be my fault.  Faulty DNA passed down from me.  Faulty parenting.  Or the fact that I left him in the care of strangers when he was just 6 months old so I could go back to work and teach other people's children.  Whatever it was, I ultimately am the one to blame.   And so it goes when you are a parent of a less-than-perfect child. 

Once we had both calmed down and brainstormed ways Jack can deal with his anger and frustration in the future, he sat down to write his instructor an apology letter, and I began to think about the parents I have had to talk to because their child was having problems in school.  I am sure that, just like me, they counted fingers and toes on their newborn child and declared him/her perfect.   And in so many ways each child is.  Just not in all ways.  Perfect or not, we love our children more than anything in this world and would give anything to make life easier for them.  I understand now how, as parents, we hope the problems will go away, that it is just a phase our child will outgrow.  Maybe it's denial.  Maybe it's optimism.  Maybe it's just a stage of mourning that parents must go through before being able to accept that there are things out of their control and they need help dealing with them.  I don't have any brilliant answers, but I do know that when I speak to parents about their children and their "imperfections" I will be a whole lot less judgmental and a lot more supportive. I will assure them that no matter how they may feel to the contrary, their child's problems are not a reflection of them and that parenting is hard and confusing and overwhelming.

I know.  I've been there. 

I'm still there.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lesson from a First Grader

I drove to work in tears yesterday.  It wasn’t because I had yet again failed to get a good night’s sleep.  It had nothing to do with the parent meeting scheduled for after school or the progress reports that I needed to finish or that general feeling of being overwhelmed.  I cried because of an email I received from my first grader’s teacher.

Over breakfast I had checked my email as I do every morning.  And there it was.  An email from Mrs. Cable with the subject line “Jack.”  She had written to request a meeting to discuss some “behaviors.”  I’m not going to lie, I had a pretty good idea what those “behaviors” might be, but given that I had no previous indication that he was having any problems in class, the email took me by surprise.

I’ll be the first to admit my son can be difficult.  He is easily angered and frustrated and has no qualms about expressing his emotions.  However, that applies to both negative and positive emotions.  I’m not completely sure we can teach him to suppress one kind without causing the suppression of the other.  I certainly wouldn’t want to lose all that is bright and beautiful about my child.  Jack can be the most excited, happy, and loving boy you would ever want to know.  He just happens to have an equally dark side.  On more than  a few occasions, I have  referred to him as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  His teacher evidently wants to discuss strategies to help him overcome his Mr. Hyde moments.  I’m hoping she has the ideas, because if she thinks I have some, she is sadly mistaken.  If I had it all figured out, clearly we wouldn’t be having this meeting.

As I drove by my sons’ school yesterday on the way to work, the image of my younger son excitedly running to class replayed in my mind.  That’s when the tears began to flow.  I have been so happy that he loves school and talks enthusiastically about everything:  playing with blocks during Fun Friday, buying hot lunch in the cafeteria, doing Daily Five.  I wondered if his teacher understood that one false move and she could destroy it all.

My biggest fear is that he will learn to hate school.  He often says when I correct him or chastise him, “You hate me.”  As unbelievable as that is for me, knowing just how fiercely I love him and how often I tell him, I know in that moment that is what he truly feels.  If he believes his teacher doesn’t like him, he will no longer see his classroom as a magical place.  His world will become dark and ugly and without hope.  School will be a place of misery.

As a parent the most important thing for me is that my child likes school, that it is a place where he goes and feels good about himself.  If he can go skipping off to class every morning and return each afternoon with a wide-eyed, loud-voiced story about his adventures that day, I am happy.  I want him to love learning.  So, my job today, as a parent, will be to advise his teacher to tread carefully.  To guide with gentleness and kindness and to be positive at all times.  To show my son that he is truly a wonderful kid and that she is there to help him.  To do everything she can to protect the magic of her classroom.

As a parent, I am saddened and fearful about what may come of this experience.  As a teacher, I am thankful.  It is a valuable lesson learned.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Talking About Common Core

Attending my two boys' Back to School Night is always interesting to me, having been on the other side of the desk, so to speak, for the last 18 years. It's a nice change of pace to sit all relaxed in too-small chairs and not have to worry about what I am going to say and how to fit it all in in 30 minutes.

Last night, I found myself nodding in agreement as my six year-old's teacher talked about the need to train her 1st graders to use the bathroom at recess (I could tell her many still won't have that mastered by third grade), the importance of reading and returning homework, and how wonderful Daily Five is.  My nods of agreement soon turned to ones of sympathy, however, when she reached the part of the presentation I knew I dreaded when I presented at my own Back to School Night two weeks ago:  the part where she had to talk about Common Core State Standards.

Teachers have been put in the uncomfortable position of having to talk about something that many of us still know little about.  In my district, we had a couple of inservices last year that totally inundated us with information and left me at least feeling completely overwhelmed.  Other than that, we have been left pretty much on our own to make sense of it all.  My district did create and distribute a PowerPoint to all teachers that we were required to present to parents.  Although the PowerPoint contained little information that was actually useful, because I had spent a good part of my summer on Twitter and familiarized myself somewhat with the standards, I had a bit more to say on the subject than I had expected.  Even so, I felt like I was bluffing my way through.  I was surprised when a parent came back after the second presentation (she had attended the first) and told my teaching partner and me how happy she was that we were up on CCSS.  My surprise turned to dismay when she went on to explain that she works for an agency that goes into schools in need of turning around.  But I don't know anything, not really, was all I could think.  Last night that feeling of discomfort returned as I listened to my son's teacher explain that CCSS was an international movement that would make it so that all the states and countries like Japan would be learning the same things in the same sequence.  I prayed that I was the only one in the room who knew there was much she did not understand about Common Core.  

We teachers are so used to speaking with authority and being the "experts" in our room, that it is difficult to stand in front of parents and talk about something so new that we don't know much more than they do.  In many ways it feels like we're groping around in the dark, trying to find something to grasp on to, something that makes sense and will lead us out of the darkness.  After last night's experience with my son's teacher, I suspect I am not entirely alone in feeling this way.

I don't have a problem with the standards per se.  I would love it if we had time and plenty of support to figure out how to implement the new standards and really work toward improving instruction for all kids.  We need freedom to experiment and try new strategies and incorporate technology without fear.  But as always we have standardized testing breathing down our backs, reminding us we don't have time.  My greatest disappointment regarding CCSS is that the main focus is on testing, not instruction.  My district began talking about testing even before we began to look at the standards. For some reason every time I hear people talk about standardized testing, I think of numbers, not kids.  And that is neither why I went into teaching nor why I stay.  For the creators of the Common Core, for politicians, for the media, and yes, even for administrators, education seems to be solely about the numbers.  For teachers it's always about the kids.  

So, while I understand that my son's teacher isn't an expert in Common Core, I'm not in the least worried.  She has plenty of knowledge about kids and what they truly need to know and an abundance of enthusiasm for teaching.  She showed me last night that she is there for the kids.  My son is going to do just fine.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Giving Up Is Easy

On the surface, running and reading aren’t very similar.  I never would have connected the two if I hadn’t seen two tweets a few months ago.  The two had nothing to do with one another and it was just by coincidence that they appeared in close proximity, thus allowing me to make an eye-opening connection.

The first tweet came from Chris Lehman and was about disengagement being “a cover for ‘Can you help me feel smart?’”  I don’t remember exactly what the second tweet was about or whom it was from, but it had to do with exercising.  My mind instantly put the two together in one giant a-ha moment that I have been contemplating ever since.

The reason these two disparate tweets resonated with me was, in part, because I had just started running.  This is actually quite huge for me as I have never considered myself athletic in the least.  I was a total bookworm growing up and the closest I got to sports was four-square at recess in elementary school.  Whenever I walk into a gym, I nervously look around for people pointing at me and saying, “You.  You don’t belong here.  Get out.”  Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but I am extremely self-conscious.  I have spent the better part of my life avoiding any situation that will reveal my total lack of skill in this area. 

After realizing how I had disengaged from exercise for decades to cover up my own feelings of inadequacy, I immediately thought of students who are forced to confront their own perceived inadequacies, in public, on a daily basis.  Is it any surprise students who struggle sometimes seem disengaged?  It’s a natural human reaction.  We avoid what we are not good at to spare ourselves possible humiliation.  What if I were asked to run in front of a large group of people every day?  (Actually, I did have that happen before.  It was called high school P.E., and it was beyond awful.)  As an adult I would have the option to refuse to do it.  But what about our kids?  What options do they have?  Tuning out or acting out is often their only defense.

The question becomes, then, what can we do to help them.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately how my perception of myself might have been different if, instead of holding a timer in hand and telling me I had to run a mile in under ten minutes, my teachers had helped me build stamina by gradually increasing the demands.  In other words, if they had met me where I was and had gently guided me forward, I might have developed a more positive attitude toward running and confidence that I could do it, which would have allowed me to experience success.  Unfortunately that didn’t happen and I gave up, never having met the goal. Giving up was so much easier.

This past weekend I was working on lesson plans and again experienced the frustration of being faced with performing a task I didn’t feel up to par to complete.  I am putting conscious effort into improving my instruction, trying out new strategies, and also attempting to address Common Core Standards.  I was extremely stressed out and more than once thought how much easier it would be to just pull out last year’s lesson plans and teach everything the same way.  Each time I run, I am faced with a similar dilemma.  It would be so much easier to avoid putting myself through the torture of an activity that I know I am not very good at.  Fortunately, I have kept track of my times and distances and I am able to see improvement.  Though it is slow going, that improvement keeps me motivated. 

In light of my own experiences, I believe more strongly than ever that the key to helping our disengaged learners is building confidence first and then gradually increasing the demands, saying, “Okay, maybe you can’t do that yet, but that’s all right because you can do this.”  We need to provide them with the stepping stones that will lead them to where they need to go, give them the means to track their progress, and celebrate their successes along the way.  We need to remember, too, to move them forward one manageable step at a time and not try to take giant leaps forward because someone says our students need to be at a certain point by the end of the year.  We all develop at different rates, and it is unfortunate that education has determined that everybody should acquire the same set of skills at the same proficiency by the same deadline.  You can standardize tests all you want, but you can’t standardize people.  Why would we even want to?

In a way, I am thankful that I started running, that it is a struggle for me, and that I need to stay focused on how far I’ve come in order to not give up.  It has helped me to see more clearly what some of my own students must experience every day at school.  As an adult I have learned that giving up may be easier, but it isn’t very rewarding.  Perhaps more than any other, that’s one lesson I hope my students learn.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Finding the Writer Inside

Writing has never been my favorite subject to teach.  I have always felt overwhelmed by the myriad of topics to cover:  outlining, ideas, details, grammar, conventions….  The list goes on and on.  Where does one start?  In what order should they be taught?  Then there was the issue of having to read what my students wrote.  More often than not I was disappointed in what they produced and I would be frustrated that I had not guided them toward brilliant (I would have settled for clear) writing.  How could I get them to improve?  Grading was another problem.  During my student teaching I was assigned a fourth grade teacher as my “master” teacher.  Her approach to grading writing?  Count the errors.  A student who wrote pages full of wonderful ideas could end up with a lower grade than someone who wrote only one short, rather empty paragraph.  Even in my teaching infancy I knew that didn’t make any sense.  After a few years I was introduced to the Six Traits, which finally offered me some guidance for giving more focused, constructive feedback.  Still, there was the matter of converting those assessments into grades.  It seemed when it came to writing, I always had more questions than I had answers.  Not surprisingly, writing became that subject that was put on the back burner and often got bumped for “more pressing” concerns. 

This summer I stumbled onto two professional development opportunities that changed my perspective.  One of those opportunities I discovered was Teachers Write.   Teachers Write is an online summer writing camp put on by Kate Messner, along with Gae Polisner, Jo Knowles, Jen Vincent, and a variety of guest authors.   As I told the parents at Back to School Night last night, I am excited to share what I learned with my students this year.

When I first began seeing mention of Teachers Write on Twitter, I was curious.  I had been an English major in college and occasionally wrote for myself, but I hadn’t done any real writing in years.  I wasn’t exactly sure what Teachers Write was all about, but on a lark I went ahead and signed up.  I bought into the idea that if I was going to teach writing, I needed to write myself.  My intention was to lurk and maybe write in response to some of the prompts.  When others began sharing online, I was amazed (and more than a little intimidated) by the quality of the writing.  In spite of this, I decided one day to make the leap from lurker to active participant.  With heart pounding and hands shaking, I shared some of my writing.  I understood in that moment that putting your words out there for others to read is a little like standing naked on a street corner.  (Or so I imagine. I haven’t actually stood naked on a corner.  Honest.)  You are opening yourself up, letting others see what’s inside, the real you.  For the first time I realized that some of my students might feel the same way.  I remember vividly being in high school and hating the idea of anyone reading my writing.  The only saving grace was the fact that my teachers didn’t actually read it in front of me.  I would hand my paper in, and then a few days later I’d get it back with some hastily scribbled comment and a grade.  My junior year teacher, however, wanted us to have our parents proofread our essays before handing them in, which absolutely mortified me.  Fortunately, my mother must have understood this particular idiosyncrasy of mine and would dutifully sign my papers without having read a word.  Having experienced such acute anxiety myself, it was strange that I had never considered that my own students might feel the same way.

I believe it was the positive, encouraging atmosphere of Teachers Write that led me to share my writing with the authors and other participants.  The writing wasn’t picked apart and left to die in puddles of red ink.  The comments were directed at what worked about the ideas and the craft.  The power of praise is incredible.  (Did I really not know that before?  Or had I simply forgotten?)  It made me want to write more.  The implication for my teaching is obvious.  I need to focus on what my students are doing right and praise the heck out of them.  Sure, they will need to be taught how to improve their writing, but if they see that their ideas are valued, they just might care enough to want to apply those lessons to what they are crafting.

During the camp, there was an interesting conversation about planning vs. “pantsing,” as in flying by the seat of your pants.  I have always taught writing as a process.  First, we brainstorm.  Next, we plan by using a graphic organizer.  Only then do we actually begin the first draft.  So, what did I do for the first prompt?  I jumped right in and began drafting.  No brainstorming.  No outlining.  Just writing.  And you know what?  It wasn’t totally awful.  I learned that there will be times when I just need to let my student write, let the ideas flow from their heads to their paper.  It may not come out perfectly, but that’s what revision is for, right?  Writing should be freeing and inspiring, not constrained and regimented, if we want our students to enjoy writing.  Process is important to teach, but perhaps first we need to develop the love of writing so our students will see a need for all the little “rules” that exist so we can make our message as clear and powerful as it can be.

I learned a couple more important lessons from my experience with Teachers Write.  First was how joyful the act of writing can be.  I found myself feeling happier and more energized on the mornings I would write.  The simple act of putting thoughts to paper, creating things that had previously not existed was invigorating.  The other lesson I learned was writing requires bravery.  It is our job as teachers to create an atmosphere in which such bravery can exist.  Where ideas and personal voice are valued above mechanics.  Where mechanics are valued as simply the means of making those ideas and voices heard.  As a teacher this means my job will be to help my students find their voices and to show them all the ways they can make them be heard.  While grades will still be necessary, I will focus more on praising my students' achievements and providing feedback that will help them to keep moving forward as writers.

I still have a lot of questions, but for the first time I am eager to explore writing with my students and know that it will be my students themselves that hold many of the answers I seek.

Friday, July 26, 2013


I have a confession to make.  I have no idea what I am doing.

That's really nothing new.

What is new, is that I am not letting that stop me.

My journey began a few months ago.  I had been feeling restless, generally dissatisfied with my life without any particular event or situation to blame.  To make myself feel better, I went shopping for shoes.  Not just any shoes.  Highly impractical shoes.  Shoes for going out on the town, which I never do.  Shoes I would never wear to work, never wear to pick up the kids at school.  Shoes with heels so high I was sure to twist my ankle.

That afternoon, I called my mom, who is 81 and, because of arthritis, forced to use a wheelchair or a walker to get around the house.  When I told her about those impractical shoes I had bought, her response took me by surprise:  "Do it while you can."  Those words stuck with me and have become something of my motto.  More than that, it has been my catalyst for change.

Now, instead of telling myself I can't do something, that it is just too hard or impossible or not for me, I repeat my mom's words:  Do it while you can.  I started jogging, in honor of my dad, who at 86 and struggling with emphysema can only dream of running.  I joined Twitter and have engaged in conversations with brilliant authors and educators across the country who have inspired me to take risks and become the educator I believe I can be.  Now is the time.  It may be the only time, for we never know when the time will come when it will be too late.

So, here I am, starting a blog not knowing what I am doing or where this journey I seem to have embarked on will take me.  And I am surprisingly okay with that.  I'm just going to keep doing it while I can.