When the Writing Gets Tough

April 2, 2017

First of all, happy poetry month!

Those of you who read my blog know that I enjoy writing alongside my kids. I like to share my work and my struggles with them.

The week before break, I asked the kids to take on an ambitious poem: to title and write a piece about an important person in their lives, but to do it only by describing something in nature. The reader must be able to make the connection through the text.

Which worked out great, until I hit the source of inspiration for my poem. My brother. My brother, who died two years ago this month. My brother, who sometimes makes his presence known through dreams, or ladybugs, or rainbows, or just the random odd moment that leaves me unable to catch my breath.

It was heavy lifting. I wanted to push this poem to the side, especially when working with students at the same table. I just…couldn’t ignore the need to write. Below is what came to me. It’s ragged around the edges, and it wants more attention than I’m giving it right now, but here it is.

 

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What to do
When the poem choosing me
Stills my pen?

If I could, I would
Tell them
Of my brother the rainbow
The smile-bringer
The color-giver
The everything-is-ok-er

But then, I must
Tell them
Of my brother the rainbow
Who went away
Who disappeared too soon
Who only comes to me in the glints, glimpses
I’m ready to see.

I think their hearts
Could absorb
Those droplets of grief
But I worry
That one moment they
(Remembering my rainbow)
Look upon their brother
Or sister
Or mirror
And see
That they, too
Are just rainbows.

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Just Can’t Help Myself

March 29, 2017

Earlier this month, a colleague and I sat in on a meeting with student teachers in my district. The focus of the gathering was to talk about what we do with our gifted and talented students, and to discuss differentiating in the classroom. In essence, our job was to talk about what we do and why.

Friends, that is absolutely one of my FAVORITE things to do. It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows and works with me that it is frightfully easy to get me talking about what’s important to me as as an educator. The title of my blog – Soapbox – should be the first clue.

The hardest part about sessions like this is to communicate as many of those key foundational ideas as possible without completely scaring people off.

The importance of social-emotional learning? PARAMOUNT.
Homework? It’s nice, but if kids can’t do most learning at school, I’m doing my job wrong.
Gifted kids? They NEED each other.
Want to know what I think – about anything education related? Ask me, ask me, ask me!

I’m just getting started, people.

In some ways, it is a little embarrassing that with nothing but a nudge, I wax on about one of the (many!) areas of passion when it comes to education. I can imagine several folks I know rolling their eyes in a “here we go again” sort of fashion when I geek out with another soapbox. Even now, I’m having trouble sitting still because there is so very much I want to say in this post. I must be a hit at parties.

And yet.

I am over twenty years, three states and four school districts into my practice. I am still just as enthusiastic, as passionate, as idealistic as when I first came out of college. If nothing else, my experiences with students and as a parent have only served to strengthen those ideals. It’s taken a lot of work, but I’m proud that I have been able to hold on.

I’ve been on this blog for about eight years. I love how it serves as a record of my discoveries as a teacher. My practice evolves (always a journey, and probably the subject of a future post!), yet I’m grateful to find, at my core, the vision that has guided me from the start.

‘Til then, just know that if you hear me get rolling on any particular issue…you’ve been warned.

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Using Images to Establish Mood

March 19, 2017

A little while ago, my fourth graders and I began to pair poetry and art to show how words and images are powerful creators of emotional imagery.

First, we talked about art. What mood do artists create, and what techniques do they use? Color? Light? Shade? Brush strokes? Position and treatment of the subjects? It was wonderful to see how clear and articulate the kids were when it came to discussing their thoughts.

From there, it wasn’t a far leap to talk about poetry. Just as artists use their craft to fill viewers with emotion, poets also have tools to accomplish the same task with readers. Instead of using brush strokes and shading, however, writers use tone, figurative language and descriptive vocabulary.
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To further drive the lesson home, we examined Albert Bierstadt’s Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite (1870). Each student reflected on the emotions the painting stirred up within themselves. Our goal was to make our readers feel those same emotions though poetry.

For me? I did the same. My writing began with a brainstorm of the emotions this piece of art brought out in me, then a poem to (hopefully!) invoke those emotions in my reader. I started with a draft, showed students how I edit for word choice and clarity, then asked them for further feedback. It got messy!

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I wound up with the following poem. Enjoy.

Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite

Sometimes my eyes don’t see it
Through the brush,
The fog,
The trees.
But my heart
Remembers it is there.
The mountain lays in wait,
Its sun-washed steep face solitary as the journey itself.
My legs demand respite from the climb.
My soul answers a higher calling:
To sing from the heights,
To discover the next summit.
It wills my feet onward.

Onward.

Post-script: My students’ poetry was absolutely FABULOUS. Both they and their parents were floored to see what their talent and creativity could accomplish. Here’s to more amazing writing!

When in Rome

March 17, 2017

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Whenever I assign my kids creative writing, I like to join along. For starters, it helps keep my own creative juices flowing. More importantly, I want my students to see me as a writer, right along with them. I want them to see what successes struggles I encounter as I work to improve my craft.

Today, we had fun with poetry. The teachers are having a staff lunch on Tuesday (World Poetry Day!), and I asked my kids to write food poems to serve as placemats. We grabbed the construction paper, set out some markers, stuck on some cool tunes, and we had ourselves a writer’s workshop! The two poems below are my contributions. Not sure I’d call them exceptionally deep or earth-moving, but they were fun to write. (And, I hope, fun to read.)

The World in a Fruit Bowl

Joy: an apple
Upon first bite
When tongue
And teeth
And tastebuds
Find their perfect
Crunchtartsweet.

Apprehension: blueberries
All together,
Baby and granddaddy,
Nestled in a bowl.
Sweet and tangy?
Achingly sour?
One way to find out.

Despair: that melon
You picked out the other day
That felt perfect
And smelt perfect
Only to reveal
Its darker self
As sandpaper
And mush.

I Won’t Do It (And You Can’t Make Me)

I don’t fall for those famous food lies,
“Open your mouth and close your eyes.”

Or that phrase guaranteed to sicken:
“Try it! It tastes like chicken.”

Another thing to make me say “Ew,”
“Drink it! Surprise at the bottom for you!”

And the best way to get me to fight?
“No dessert ’til you take that last bite!”

On Parent Conferences

February 3, 2017

After about thirty parent-teacher conferences over the last few days, I have to admit that I’ve pretty well run out of articulate things to say.

But if I could take the recommendations, advice and encouragement from those conferences and wrap it all up with a bow, it would look something like this:

Your child is amazing. I am grateful to say we work together. I cannot say that often enough or more sincerely.

Look at your child’s work. Does it give you goosebumps, inspire you, or make you wish you had their talent? It sure does for me.

I can’t tell you if your child will be identified for the program next year. I wish I had that magic power, but I don’t. Would I love to work with your child next year? Absolutely. Heck, I would jump at the chance to take your child under my wing all day, every day. I just know that child development is a funny thing. Some kids start slow and hit their stride. Others start quickly and even out. Still others take a different path. They are children, and they grow in as many directions as there are children.

And yes, I hear you when you share your worries about your child. Believe it or not, things will be okay.

More likely than not, the things that discourage most us during our children’s elementary school careers are the very things that serve them well later in life. An argumentative child grows to possess a strong sense of justice. Kids who constantly “direct traffic” will demonstrate leadership. And the shy, reserved ones emerge as the colleagues who listen, reflect, then move the group forward in reason and wisdom.

But right now? In so many ways, it is BUMPY right now.

I get it.

Even within my own family, things are bumpy in every which way.

All of us, as families, are somewhere in the weeds. It is hard to be a parent at any stage of the game. Some children make it even harder.

But you are doing a great job. I have absolute faith in you, and – more importantly – absolute faith in your child.

Things will really, truly be fine.

Getting to fine will be a challenge.

But things will be fine.

And…in case I haven’t told you? Your child is amazing.

 

On Carving Out Space

April 20, 2016

In my day, for breath

After the priorities

Have been shuffled through —
A release, perhaps

Of expectation, or the

Desire for different
Such is the promise

Of a few moments caught at

The end of long days. 

Packing Up

January 7, 2015

I love to write. It’s an outlet, a passion of mine.

Up until today, I’ve had two blogs: this one for my education rants and musings, and another for who I am outside of the school day.

Time to simplify. I’m condensing down to one blog. One, that is, until life around me gets simple enough to go back to two separate publications.

Come visit me over at my other space. I’d love to have you!

Lessons I’m Learning

October 11, 2013

Here I am, two months into my new job. I have to say that it’s already an incredible experience. Of course, a new placement  puts me on a learning curve. But quite honestly, I love that about life. I love being challenged and asked to do tricky things. Don’t many of us?

Here, then, is a list of just some of what I’ve learned. You might see some of these themes in future blog posts, but thought I’d sum up here.

1. It’s hard to leave colleagues. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my former co-workers. I miss the laughs we had in the copy room, the after school “book clubs,” the discussions and – yes, sometimes – disagreements we had about our kids and how we thought it best to work with them.

2. It’s hard to leave students and families. How strange it was to stand in the hallway that first day of school in my new job. Were this my old school, I’d be hugging and high-fiving just about everybody. I’d know all the kids’ names and be chatting about their summers. Instead, I kept quiet and soaked up the vibe. I miss those kids, and I hope they are doing well.

3. There will always be new colleagues, new kids and new families. I could say that I’m surprised and overwhelmed by how welcome the staff and families at both of my schools have made me feel. I think that would be a lie. Of COURSE they have made me feel welcome. How could I expect otherwise? The people I work with demonstrate tireless dedication to kids, incredible teaching skills, and some of them have a pretty wicked sense of humor. They amaze me every day. As for the kids, nothing beats their sincerity, their joy, and their enthusiasm for learning.

4. Leadership, leadership, leadership. I have always known how important great leadership (as opposed to management) can be. It’s amazing to be in a place where I can live it. I look at the systems and structures in place, and it’s clear to me that there is forethought, purpose and vision behind everything. Insert sigh of relief <<here>>.

5. Sometimes teaching IS everything. It has been a long time since I have been in a position to pour all of my energy into teaching. It’s almost scary what a difference that time and energy will do. More posts soon on some of the cool things my students and I have been able to accomplish in the short time we’ve been together.

6. Welcome to Disneyland. Around here, where schools are generously funded and richly supported by families and communities that give time and resources, there is a tendency for districts to say that they are like Disneyland. And you know what? They’re RIGHT. With this new job, I’ve gone from one Disneyland to another. How incredible it is to work in places where you don’t have to hold gift wrap sales to buy copy paper and chalk. How wonderful to be teaching children whose parents are so invested and involved.

But, my friends, even Disney has its other side. Discovering that fact in my former district nearly led to a possible burn-out and end to my teaching career. I can look back and say that now. Really. I think if I had allowed myself to continue on that path, I would not be teaching in another five years.

And as cynical as it might sound to say it, I know my new Disneyland will have its darker side. I can look ahead and say that now, because I’ve always known that any situation we find ourselves in can be at once magnificent and unlivable. Now, however, I think I understand how important it is to find a way through whatever problems come my way without actually internalizing them.

Until then, you can find me in line for Space Mountain. I’m enjoying the ride.

On Second Thought (or Third, or Fourth…)

August 15, 2013

Ugh.

So the other night I wrote this post about leaving one position for another. At the time that I wrote it, I thought it was a pretty tight piece of writing, if I must say so myself.

Still.

I couldn’t help but look back over it and pick back over the words that I used. “Quiet desperation?” I guess that fits the meaning, but does it sound too dramatic for the tone of the piece? 

All I had to do was to reach back in and make another edit, another tweak here and there, and I could feel better about my writing. Clicking back on the “edit” link allowed me to see the history on that post. You know what I saw? Eleven sentences. Almost an hour. Over 20 revisions – a word here, a sentence there. Ouch.

I can that some of you out there are shaking your heads and wondering if there is some sort of chemical imbalance that forces me to obsess over my writing. Others of you are nodding your heads in agreement because you know you’re the one doing the same thing to your own creative work.

It’s funny how we talk so much about helping kids through their perfectionism. So much of what I do is teaching children to feel confident and satisfied with who they are and what they can do. And granted, we need to strive for quality, but at what point do we recognize that it’s time to let the work stand on its own? 

So here’s the experiment I’ll try. I’m going to finish typing this blog post, this one right here, and I’m going to walk away from it. One shot to put my writing together. One shot to craft my words. And then I shall release it. I shall be proud of and satisfied by my efforts.

Here goes. Deep breath.

 

The Switch

August 12, 2013

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She shouldered her bag and glanced out at the tree, reflecting green in its early June growth.

Her mind ticked off a mental checklist. (She was always a lister.) Desk emptied. Car loaded. Keys turned in.

One more look around the room to take it all in, to absorb the light reflected from the emotional spectrum. The vibrant glow of voracious learning. The cool, clear trust between respected colleagues. The muted, quiet desperation of a teacher who saw herself slipping away from the person she wanted to be.

With equal parts strength and surrender, she turned out the light for what she knew would be the final time, and closed the door quietly behind.

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