Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday SOL Up above the clouds

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


The misting rain was accompanied by a thick fog. I sat on the right-hand side of the airplane, in a futile attempt to get a glimpse of the beach town where my cousins and I had played so many times when I was younger. As we ascended into the air from the runway, I was able to just barely discern the outline of a large tanker on the water, but then I couldn't see a thing other than pure grey fuzz. It continued this way for about ten minutes, grey all around. Nothing to see. Then, surprisingly, we burst into bright sunshine - we were at cruising altitude, up high above the clouds and fog. I looked down at a floor of mashed potato clouds, thinking they looked thick enough for someone to walk on. I saw no footprints, but became lost in thought thinking about Peter traipsing through the snow in The Snowy Day, finding a stick, and making a new path with it. Looking down on these thick, whipped clouds, I noticed that they thinned in the distance, like a foamy seashore, disintegrating, with all sorts of unexpected and haphazard curves, seeming to spill onto a gorgeous blue counter...deep blue sky meeting the edges of bright white clouds. Truly, gorgeous. I could not make out the land far below, though I believe it was still rainy and foggy down there.

I love cruising altitude. It reminds you that things aren't always as they seem in the immediate. It reminds you to try to fit the sour or imperfect into the big picture - to challenge yourself to see it from a new perspective. 

The preschoolers have their first day of school tomorrow. Here's my hope for the year:

May I pause at the misty, foggy moments and remember that cruising altitude awaits.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tuesday SOL: New school year begins

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


The start of the school year.
Summer gone. School begins.
I always, always, always forget that it is going to be like this.
What is the appropriate metaphor?
A predicted storm, shifting the calm weather into wild wind and rain?
The contrast of an idling race car at the starting gate and the fast and furious laps that follow?
The quiet of a house followed by the big surprise party, filled with raucous, loud guests?

We are only two days into a week of professional development.
5:30 am alarm.
Out the door to the metro.
New staff, new faces, new names to learn.
A whole new cohort of teaching residents.
Get to know, 
still more.
Working lunches.
Get your keys, your ID photo, your handbook, your binder.
Reflect on lessons and teaching, role play teacher-student interactions - what might you do?
So many "conversations," 
lower school, middle school, special ed, lead teachers, teaching residents.
Get to know, 
still more.
Update vertical plans for literacy and math.
Add details to unit and lesson plans.
Review mission, core beliefs -
what does it mean to learn through inquiry? 
allow student voice? 
be a teacher leader?
Get to know, 
still more.

Was it just a moment ago that I 
was sleeping in,
basking in solitude,
writing with abandon,
making my own plans
for how I would spend my day?
Or was that long, long, long ago?

Only two days in.
Three more to go.

When do I get to prepare my classroom for preschoolers?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday SOL Ready or Not, Here She Comes!

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


It is back to school time! I return to school next Monday for a week of professional development; the children arrive the following Monday for "Meet and Greet," and our first day of school is August 26th.

I've had three back-to-school dreams in the past week! Funny, funny, funny:

1. A field trip is planned and it is for all ages, preschool through elementary...it's early in the school year, and I don't know all the students yet...some 83 students are signed up for this field trip, and all I have is the list of their names and grades. The bus has pulled up in front of the school, and the driver is impatient to go; the cafeteria is packed with students of all ages, excited to leave. The ten chaperoning teachers are clumped together in the back corner of the cafeteria, lost in chatter with one another, oblivious to the students. The students begin streaming out of the cafeteria and onto the bus...only one teacher makes it onto the bus, when the doors close, and the bus pulls away from the curb. It turns out, I'm in charge! Panicked, I run towards the bus, holding my clipboard, crying, "WAIT!! I don't know who is on the bus!! I haven't checked off their names!! I don't know where you are going!! There are not enough teachers on the bus!! There are no chaperones!" The bus drives away.

2. "Meet and Greet" is in full motion, but I'm still setting up my classroom...it looks like a department store on a sale day, some semblance of order but items strewn here and there. Books are stacked high on all surfaces. We've had so many meetings this past week! I never got to set up my classroom! Here are the children, here are their families. It is borderline chaos. I can't introduce my new Teaching Resident, because she hasn't yet been offered the position...my principal hopes to hire her by October or November. How can I do this all by myself? I can't keep track of the new faces, parents aren't supervising their children (they seem to think I'm in charge!) and children are running from the classroom...I can't see who is coming or going because the stacks of books are so high, they block my line of vision.

3. It's the first week of school and I am so excited to meet my new preschoolers and their families, but I wonder if anyone will notice that I'm pregnant? Will I have the chance to meet with my principal and head of school to share this totally unexpected news before the families begin chattering about it? This is a nightmare, being pregnant with my fourth child at age 55! I am in good health, but, will I be up to this challenge - being on my feet with these lively preschoolers as I grow in size? I still haven't shared the news with my adult sons or my daughter-in-law...I'm sure they are going to be freaked out...as I am. How is this even going to work?

There are some serious recurrent themes here! My goodness! I woke up from each of these in a cold sweat.

After all these years of teaching, I'm still wondering -

How will I manage up the enormous and immediate responsibility of caring for these new little preschoolers? 
How quickly will I learn the names of everyone in my class? 
How quickly will we form a bond?
What will my relationship with the families be like?
What about my relationship with my new Teaching Resident?
How well will we work together?
Will I have enough time and clarity of thought to set up my room the way I want?
What "outside" burden(s) will be thrown my way, that I will have to juggle as I teach? (Definitely not pregnancy!)

Funny how the mind works when you are sound asleep.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Are my students visible?

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


The power of visibility can never be underestimated.
- Margaret Cho

When browsing in the children's section at my local library this past spring, I found a beautiful picture book on display  - Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper. I checked it out, knowing my preschoolers would love the heartwarming story of a boy riding in his family car, only to find the moon following him. At the end of the read-aloud, one preschooler lingered at my knee, studying the beautiful illustrations.

I said affectionately,
"Do you think Max loves the moon as much as you do?"
and he replied,
"Yes, he does, but, see, he is brown and I am not."
"Yes, you are right, you noticed his skin color...you and he are different, you and he are the same."

Preschoolers notice details. There was no malice or bias in his words. I love that this little boy studied the illustrations so closely. And what a testament to Floyd Cooper's extraordinary artwork - so realistic, so life-like, so gorgeous.

In reflection of our conversation, I started thinking about my picture book library. I have an extensive collection, gathered through the years, since my own (now adult) children were little. The reality is, the majority of my picture books feature white characters. What must this be like, day in, day out, at my read-alouds, for my students of color?  Children should see themselves in the stories we share.

I do not want it to be a rare experience for children of color to see themselves reflected in positive ways in the world around us.

I decided to spend some time this summer adding more diversity to my existing picture book collection. My summer goal has been to find more books about ordinary moments, ordinary situations, embellishing all the topics that young children love, but with black, brown, diverse faces in the illustrations.

What if it was the norm for me to read books that featured people of color? 

I have unleashed my inner "teacher nerd" this summer!

I have spent time on the web,
chasing down book lists,
reading through blogposts,
searching through articles,
reviewing award winners,
looking up various topics,
on and on,
scanning for books.

The other day, armed with an Excel spreadsheet with the list of possibilities (see, I told you I am a "teacher nerd"), I wandered over to my local library and searched through the stacks, to see if I could find any of them. What a fun afternoon I had! It was so delightful to have endless time to browse, not driven by any particular curriculum deadline, simply to savor children's books. I found a great many of the books on my list, and I spent time reading them, considering their appropriateness for my preschoolers, and imagining how I might fit them into read-alouds throughout the year.

Of course, I didn't find every single book - I have many that I still want to track down. The list itself is a living thing - I keep adding books to it, whenever I find new ones. My initial research has focused primarily on finding picture books featuring black characters...clearly, I have a long way to go before I can consider my book list truly diverse. But, wow, there are so many amazing books out there!

Let me whet your appetite, too...check out picture books by Angela Johnson, Anna McQuinn, bell hooks, Brian Pinkney, Eloise Greenfield, Ezra Jack KeatsFloyd CooperJacqueline Woodson, Kadir Nelson, Mary Hoffman, Patricia McKissack, Yuri Morales. (This is by no means a complete list, but I had multiple great finds for each of these authors.)

Here's to a few more days of summer exploration and a new school year filled with reading new books!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday SOL Summer musings

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.

Just this week, in the midst of summer, I was sorting through my photos on my phone, collecting my favorites from recent travels. (We traveled to Oregon for the wedding of the daughter of my best friend from college; we had a great time sightseeing and hiking.) I was delighted to see not just these vacation photos, but many fun photos from the last days of the school year...and I find myself smiling in memory. 

Let me share a few with you....

The Bucket Truck

Rain didn't stop us from heading outside to play on this day. But the showstopper was this repair truck - the children were riveted, studying every move. Children call us to be present, so curious about the world, finding joy in their surroundings.

Water Play Day

Our traditional "splash day" was also an overcast, rainy day...and our location was the crumbled surrounds of a community center behind our school (scheduled to be renovated and revamped this next year!). But that didn't stop the children from having such a great time outside, enjoying the hoses, buckets, spray bottles, sidewalk chalk, and more.

The Tablecloth

We created a process art tablecloth/dropcloth for our Teaching Resident (Ms. Kim) as an end-of-year gift. The children used found objects and nature items to stamp prints all over the canvas, choosing their favorite colors. They also used fabric markers to sign their name on the cloth. We're hoping that Ms. Kim will use this cloth for 'messy' activities in her new classroom, and remember this sweet class of preschoolers every time she does.

Marble Art

The first art activity the children experienced in the Big Cats was doing marble art on a nametag. At the beginning of the year, this was a teacher-led and supervised project. Here, at the end of the year, the children ran the project themselves - selecting paper, paint colors, dropping marbles into the paint, and rolling these onto paper. Everyone had a grand time and even enjoyed cleaning the table and supplies at the end. I got to marvel at how much everyone had grown during this year. 

Balls, Cars, Blocks, and Ramps

There was incessant creativity in the block corner these last few weeks of school, as if the children were well aware that they would no longer have access to these open-ended building materials. I was amazed by the teamwork, how well the preschoolers worked together, sharing the materials and ideas.

The Family Book

This was our favorite book to read - with individual pages about each child and family, created by the families themselves. Here, the children are helping me to stuff these pages into their portfolios, so that the pages are returned home at the end of the year. But, these boys are transfixed - not wanting to take the pages out of the book but seeking to re-read the pages about each other, noticing who's who. It is amazing how much we learn about one another during a school year.

Engineering with Recylables

We had a "free for all" with the recyclables, with me issuing an open invitation for children to create and invent with abandon. 

Helping Clean the Classroom

We had created a train track out of tape on part of our classroom floor and the children worked diligently and tirelessly to remove it, to help Mr. Thomas (our Building Manager). Again, I am awed by the focus and tenacity of young children when they desire to accomplish something.

Field Day Fun

I think we had the hottest and sunniest day of the school year for our traditional field day - but that didn't stop these preschoolers from running non-stop.

Signing the Goodbye Board

They had helped us clean the room and put away all the toys, supplies, materials. Now it was time to practice their writing skills one more time, using the whiteboard markers.

I really enjoyed this past year of teaching...I worked with a delightful group of preschoolers and their families, I had a strong teaching team, I love the physical space of my classroom in our new and permanent school building. It is fun to go down memory lane in the midst of summer!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tuesday SOL: Three poems about four girls

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.

My apologies - this post is not about teaching preschool...
in fact, it is radically different. 
Summer provides me time for reflection and creativity.

I'm daring to share some poetry that arose from my personal research and reflection about the four young black girls who were killed in a churching bombing by klansmen in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960s.

 "I am just slowly awakening to the privilege of my own life experiences.
Elissa Johnk

Until recently, I knew very little or nothing about these four young girls.

What were their names?
When did it happen?
How old were they? (How old was I?) (How old would they be now?)
What can I learn about their hopes and dreams?
Why did it happen?
How did their loved ones recover? Did they recover?

Why don't I know more?
Were they invisible to me because they are black and I am white?
Was I taught about them and I forgot?
Or was I never taught?

I don't have answers to all these questions yet, and I have many more questions the more I learn. These poems grew out of my reading/research about this horrific crime. 

Three Poems About Four Girls

The Calculated Crime*

September 15, 1963,
10:22 am,
16th street Baptist Church,
some 450 parishioners gathered,
Birmingham, Alabama.

5 days after
3 all-white schools desegregated,
Birmingham, Alabama.

21 bombings
in 8 years;
1st that killed,
Birmingham, Alabama.

4 white klansmen,
15 sticks of dynamite,
20 black children injured,
4 black girls killed,
Birmingham, Alabama.

Addie Mae Collins, 14 years old
Denise McNair, 11 years old
Carole Robertson, 14 years old
Cynthia Wesley, 14 years old
Birmingham, Alabama.

[*Note - title of this poem was inspired by a reflection by Condoleeza Rice, at the 50th anniversary of the bombing; Condoleeza Rice was 8 years old at the time of the bombing and a classmate of Denise McNair. Here are her words: 

The crime was calculated, not random. It was meant to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations, and ensure that old fears would be propelled forward into the next generation.” ]



strewn about,

brightly painted children’s furniture,
bibles and song books ,
rear wall of church,
the back steps, and

all stained-glass windows,
except one,“Christ with the Little Children;”
this window was intact,
with only Jesus’ face missing.


Hopes and Dreams

Addie Mae, Denise, Carole, and Cynthia.
September 15, 1963,
a new school year just beginning.
Four young girls, 
imagining, dreaming, hoping, and seeking.

Desiring college and careers?
Imagining love, hope, and peace?
Four young lives abruptly ended,
Addie Mae, Denise, Carole, and Cynthia.

Addie Mae Collins, 14,
An avid learner,
loved to draw,
imagined herself an artist,
strong and athletic,
with a powerful softball pitch,
an entrepreneur,
sold her mom’s potholders and aprons door-to-door,
her family loved her as a peacemaker,
solving conflicts amongst her seven siblings.

Denise McNair, 11,
an only child,
with a ready smile, and
a big heart for others,
she organized fundraisers for muscular dystrophy, and
an annual neighborhood talent show,
with skits, dance routines, poetry,
she was inquisitive,
stood up for others, and
wanted to be a pediatrician.

Carole Robertson, 14,
an “A” student,
an avid reader,
with many extra-curricular activities,
ballet, clarinet in the marching band, girl scouts, choir,
loved listening to rock and roll on the radio,
wanted to teach history,
she loved to let friends practice hairstyles on her,
she was a good listener, a mediator,
thoughtful, reflective, a good friend.

Cynthia Wesley, 14,
a strong student,
excelled in math and reading,
loved music and played clarinet,
she was much loved by two families,
informally adopted and treasured as an only child to educators,
visiting her birth home on weekends as a big sister,
she shows us it takes a village,
we need one another,
we are all connected.

Four young girls,
gifts and passions,
hopes and dreams,

Who were their best friends?
What did they want to know more about?
What were their favorite books?
What did they like to do when they got home from school?
What did they think about as they went to sleep at night?
What were their worries?
How were they hoping to change the world?

Four young girls,
gifts and passions,
hopes and dreams,

Addie Mae, Denise, Carole, and Cynthia.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday SOL Summer of healing

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.

Summer is delightfully underway and
I am immersing myself in many daily pleasures -
reading and writing,
gardening (weeding!),
painting outdoor furniture,
walking and bicycling,
cooking and eating well.
This year, my summer is an amazing eight weeks long, and
I am trying to savor each day.
I know how extraordinarily lucky I am to have this much time for rest and reflection, and
it is much needed.

In the midst of my son's health challenges this spring,
I signed up for a workshop to jumpstart a summer of healing -
Basic Mind Body Skills for Alleviating Anxiety and Trauma with Robin Carnes.

As is true with all that I do, see, read, experience,
I thought so much about my preschoolers during this workshop!

It seems to me that 
I have more students showing signs of anxiety than
I used to have.
I don't have any empirical data to support this,
just a gut feeling.

I wonder,
are families more stressed?
are parents more preoccupied?
are children's lives more structured, with higher expectations for performance? 

I don't know.

I see children who
worry a lot
continuously scan the room for changes
seem unsettled
avoid interacting with others
have nervous tics
cry a lot
tense up unexpectedly and frequently
seem uncomfortable in their own skin

and it is my job as classroom teacher to help them
feel safe, loved, welcomed,
to help them feel a strong sense of belonging.

I came away from this workshop with ideas
not just for myself and my family
but ideas to enhance my teaching -

lots of physical movements to weave into my daily routines,
helping to ground and orient children's bodies;
new breathing exercises, to help us calm and focus; and
new understanding and acceptance of anxiety.

Perhaps the most powerful "take away" was Ms. Carnes' repeated reminder to
work with ourselves and others
gently and compassionately...
experience what is,
be with ourselves,
in the moment,
just as we are,
gently and compassionately.

Ms. Carnes suggested that we lose one admonishment of ourselves, of others -
lose the command
When we try to fix,
the body resists.

work gently and compassionately,
experience what is -
that is how things begin to shift.

Happy summer, one and all!