Seeing New Things

As a teacher, I’ve always treasured my summer breaks. This year it was extra special because I’ve been looking forward to spending it with my little boy, since this was my first year back to school from maternity leave & it was hard not spending the entire day with him. We’ve kicked off the summer with a visit back to my hometown.

Today my son’s godmother took us on a trip to the zoo- my son’s first time ever! We both relished my son’s reaction to all the things he was seeing. I loved how he’d point his little finger at the animals; I’d lean down and tell him these were all the animals we’d read about in his books- the cows, monkeys, birds….

At bedtime today, my son and I read a special book about animals at the zoo, his godmother’s gift at the end of our visit. What a special day!

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10 Things I Should Do this Summer

I get it every year, beginning with the first day of summer vacation…this “phantom anxiety” that I should be doing something for school- getting up at my usual 5:40 a.m. to get ready for the school day, grading and not lying around relaxing and watching a movie, planning lessons for the next day. It’s this feeling of anxiousness that I feel for about a week until I finally start letting go and really relaxing. This week, the same week as my last day of school,  I came across a post on the We are Teachers blog which listed ten things every teacher should do this summer. I have made a promise with myself that by the end of the summer I will have checked off each item. Here’s what I’ve done so far.

2. Read a book that’s just for grown-ups. Currently reading Nicholas Sparks’ The Longest Ride, thank you very much. 

3.  If you have your own kids, let them plan one wandering, wild, carefree day. The kind that’s hard to have when there are piles of papers to grade. My son and I just spent the afternoon at the park yesterday- we played on swings, fed ducks, and kicked a ball around. Definitely wish I had more days like this with him during the school year but I loved our carefree day.  More to come this summer!

4. Whether or not you have kids, plan one of those carefree days for yourself! Today, I am having a movie day for myself- The Fault in Our Stars.  Can’t Wait!

Below is the link to the blog post that inspired me 🙂

http://www.weareteachers.com/community/blogs/weareteachersblog/blog-wat/2013/06/04/10-things-every-teacher-should-try-this-summer

 

Sharing What I Learn from My Students

My friend and I have known each other since sixth grade.  She was my maid of honor, and she’s also my son’s godmother.  We rarely have opportunities to talk on the phone since work and life keep us so busy.  My life feels like a spinning top, gaining more and more momentum as soon as the school year begins.

No matter how long it’s been, however, I know I’ll laugh the next time I talk to her, and we’ll pick up right where we were. Last night she called me to share some special news. One of our favorite high school teachers is being honored during the graduation ceremony of the university where my friend works. We got to chatting about other things and I got around to telling her about the typical challenges of adjusting to a new job- I recently made the move back to high school after teaching middle school for a few years. I told her about how I missed my lunchtime buddies from my old school; these days, I have lunch by myself due to different lunch periods and class schedules.  Then, I told her about how I love to learn the slang teenagers use these days.  Working with high schoolers again makes me realize that I really need to get with the times again.  As we continued chatting, I said, “Cha’ feel you” (this means ‘I feel you’, an expression of empathy teens use) when she started venting about frustrations and challenges at her work.  She replied, “Oh no, if you say YOLO next, I might hang up.”

Though I do sound silly using teen slang, I get a real kick out of practicing the vocabulary I learn from my students.  I just hope that whatever I teach them sticks as much as what they teach me.

By the way, I feel like the female version of this when I use teen slang…

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Confessions of a Teacher/Cafeteria Monitor

Four times a week, I have to monitor the last lunch period at the high school where I teach. It’s a pretty uneventful task. However, our impending winter dance brought on an interesting event last week, which also happened to be our first full week back from school…

I stood at my usual post in the cafeteria- at the front by the exit- and watched students munch on their popcorn chicken and sweet potato fries. Other students had opted out of the school fare and were enjoying Spaghettios and homemade sandwiches. As I mused at the idea that Spaghettios still remained a top lunch-from-home preference, I suddenly heard a male student yell out “Attention!” from the opposite end of the cafeteria… in the back.

Immediately I thought to myself This can’t be good. Nothing good ever happens when a kid does something in the “back” of my class- there’s usually some mischief going on. The back of the cafeteria can’t be any better. I stood there, unsure of what my next move should be. The teacher in the back of the cafeteria also seemed bewildered at this sudden change in the usual lunchtime routine.

The students quieted down and turned their attention to the boy, who then directed everyone’s attention to his friend, another boy holding a corn dog. Corn dog boy bellowed out across the cafeteria, “Leila (name has been changed to protect the innocent), will you go to Winter Formal with me?! I bought you a corn dog!!”

Leila and her friends laughed as she got up from her table. Students began clapping and she headed toward the boys to accept the date and her corn dog.

Just when I thought I was about to find myself in the middle of some food fight extravaganza, it turned out to be a romantic (yet quirky) teen moment. Phew!

Interesting Incident over Christmas Break

“Heeey, how come Little Guy’s elf is still here? He was supposed to go back to the North Pole already.” It was January 2 when my niece had walked into the room while I was changing my son’s diaper. Her head was cocked to one side and her hand was on her hip. She was clearly perplexed by the fact that my son’s Elf on the Shelf had not left his shelf to report back to Santa for the final time this year.

I froze. Thank God I was facing the wall, so my niece wouldn’t see the terrified look on my face. I hadn’t followed Christmas protocol this year and hid the elf away on Christmas Eve since my son is a baby. “He doesn’t even understand right now. What’s the point?” I thought to myself. I had simply bought the doll and sat him on the baby’s bookshelf, planning to officially kick off the tradition as soon as he was old enough to understand the elf story. I didn’t, however, plan on my niece and nephew walking into their cousin’s room well after Christmas and noticing the elf! I felt like the winner of the Ultimate Bad Aunt of the Year Award as I struggled to think up a story and QUICK! “Play it cool,” I told myself as I calmly turned to face my little interrogator and her big brother, who had happened to enter the room at just that moment.

“Nope, this is the elf’s first year with Little Guy, so he’s been assigned to stick around a little longer since he knows it’s LG’s first Christmas.”

My niece looked back at the elf, thinking over my story, and my nephew seemed to be doing the same as his eyebrows came closer together and he fumbled with one of my son’s toys. They were five and eight years old, wiser in years than my son and totally familiar with all things Elf on the Shelf (his reappearing in different places every day, the special elf dust-glitter you spread if you accidentally touch the elf, etc). I rattled on, trying to keep them from finding a contradiction…

“Oh, yes. You know how LG really doesn’t get into much mischief right now, so his elf has a different sort of job this year. It’s simply to watch out for him and report to Santa that LG’s getting big and drinking all his milk. The elf will watch over him and keep him company until our Christmas break is over and Little Guy returns to daycare.”

A moment of silence, and then my nephew spoke, “Yeah, LG can’t do as much as us… He doesn’t do much to get in trouble.” He seemed to be buying my story, which certainly clinched the chance that my niece would believe the story as well. I was almost in the clear, praying that my carelessness wouldn’t ruin the elf magic for my niece and nephew.

Finally, some help arrived as their mom, my sister-in-law, walked in and backed my story, “You know? The elves know how special first Christmases are, so they like to stay with the babies longer and care for them. They wait until the next year to start their mischief and hide in different spots.” The kids looked at each other, and then my niece looked at me. “I got a tatoo today,” she said, and she rolled up her sleeve to reveal a small Hello Kitty temporary tattoo on her right forearm. I leaned in close with my baby in my arms and pretended to marvel at the tattoo, inwardly breathing a sigh of relief… Crisis averted.

The next day, I stowed the Elf on the Shelf book and the elf doll in its original box and placed it in the basement where we keep our Christmas decorations. Next year, Ace, my son’s elf, definitely goes back to Santa on Christmas Eve.

I Carry It in My Heart: A Memorized Poem is Part of You Forever

      After reading an NPR article, “A Memorized Poem ‘Lives with You Forever,’ So Choose Carefully,” regarding the U.K.’s Poetry By Heart competition, I started to think about the poems I had to memorize in school and which ones have actually stayed with me even today, years after grade school.  One poem that always resurfaces in my memory is “The Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall.
     One year in grade school my class was assigned to recite two poems- one poem was chosen by the teacher and the other poem was the individual student’s choice. Waiting for the right one to simply catch my eye or draw me in, I spent a couple of days perusing poetry books from our school library until I came upon “The Ballad of Birmingham”, a poem based on the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. The image of the mother searching frantically for her daughter in the rubble and finding her child’s shoe was the part of the poem that really affected me; my heart broke for that mother and what she must have been feeling. This poem really hit a nerve with me, and I felt compelled to share it with the class. I just wanted to ask my classmates Isn’t that awful how this poor mother lost her daughter?  Don’t you feel her sadness and despair as she lifts the shoe out of the rubble? To this day, I remember how that poem made me feel, I remember the need I had within me to share it with others. 
     The author of the article, Camila Domonoske, wrote Jean Sprackland [helped assemble 130 eligible poems to recite for the competition] says that a poem known by heart becomes a part of you, and “it’s something that lives with you forever.” For some, that might stay true even if you lose a few of the words. Truer words were never spoken, Mr. Sprackland!  Though I can’t recite the words by heart any longer, the images in the poem “Ballad of Birmingham” and the sorrow I felt when I first encountered the poem years ago still linger and creep into my mind from time to time.  How wondrous that a poet’s words can strike in such a manner, the way those words can anchor themselves in one’s heart and live there forever.

Mentors Out There in the Worldwide Web

During my time at the Teachers College Writing Institute this past summer, one of my group session leaders was Chris Lehman, who has written books about teaching research writing and helping unmotivated young writers.  He’s an amazing instructor and has excellent strategies for teaching research writing, which has always been challenging for me. One great piece of advice Chris Lehman gave us was to get on Twitter. “It’s one of the best ways to stay connected to writers and an excellent professional development tool!”  he told us.  Though I didn’t instantly sign up for a Twitter account (truth be told all the hash tags overwhelm me), his advice stayed with me.

In an effort to start this new year by finding new ways to stay informed and gain more knowledge as a teacher, I recently signed up for a Twitter account and discovered that Lehman was right!  I came across the pages of many great mentor authors I usually work with in the classroom- Jon Scieszka, Ralph Fletcher, Sharon Creech.  On top of that, I’ve come across the mentors I normally depend on to help me personally as I strive to be a better teacher of writing- Ruth Ayers, Stacey Shubitz, Jim Burke, Chris Lehman, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle.  The list goes on and on!!! Every day I look  forward to reading about what is on the minds of these great people, these great mentors.  I love to read the articles they share and learn more about the projects they work on.  For example, thanks to Twitter, I learned that Ralph Fletcher has created a new blog that focuses on his life as a writer. I immediately added his link to my blog roll and began waiting patiently for the first post, on the edge of my seat and ready to embrace any words of wisdom I could take in and later share with my students on ways to become better at writing together.