Tuesday, October 2, 2018

What is time?




I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.



I wrote a lot, this past summer. I wrote in my journal every day. I played around with some 'fiction' writing, for the first time in ages. I reflected on several key memories from earlier in my life and wrote about these. I participated in the weekly SOL challenges as much as possible. I tooled around with a second blog. Anyhow, point being - summer was a delight for my writing.

And then the school year began.

I have not felt as if I had time to sit and write in the morning since this school year began. Every school day is filled to the brim with school things, and no personal writing. Instead, I fill my weekends with 'catch up writing,' binge writing - the writer's version of the weekend athlete. 

Then I went on that silent retreat (10 days ago). The first Monday after the retreat, still under its spell, I lingered in bed for a moment, after the alarm went off. I let my thoughts flow. Then, I got up and made a cup of tea. Without any forethought, I opened my journal and began writing up a few of those flowing thoughts. I wrote for about 20 minutes.

I realized I could hear crickets cheering me on, yes yes yes yes yes yes...affirming the day ahead, affirming my writing. It was still and quiet in my home.

It turned out, I still had ample time to get out the door.

How did this morning move slower than normal?

Then, I thought - wait a minute, maybe I have time every single day?

I think part of my writing problem during this school year was simply posturing: I set myself up to believe the limitation, to think "I do not have time." In the transition from summer to school, my early morning alarm needed to be about work - to get going, with precision and readiness. I loved the leisure of summer and I saw the alarm as the death knoll on that easy routine. I thought - summer's over, and so is my leisure writing.

Also, I am trying to get out of the house fifteen minutes earlier than I did last year. So, to take a bit of time to write in the morning - well, that just seemed an extravagance I could not afford!

But then I did. Yes, I did. It worked just fine. And I have been writing every morning since!

What is time?


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What's happening along the edges?









I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.



I spent this past weekend on the most amazing silent retreat. The retreat is nestled in a forest conservation area, surrounded by beautiful meadows with simple mowed paths for contemplative walking. I did a lot of walking, a lot of noticing, and a lot of writing. Entering the retreat, I was aware of the many transitions in my life right now - we are newly empty nesters, my husband is retired, and we will become grandparents in late October. Plus, of course, a new, fast-paced, and full school year is underway, with many new preschoolers and their own powerful transitions. I had a lot on my mind. Rev. Sarah Anders, our retreat leader,  challenged us to put our own lives and worries on hold throughout the weekend, and, instead, focus on being present in our walks, in our silence. We were invited to stop and notice the nature around us. We were invited to pay particular attention to the edges - what's happening along the edges? Such a magical pursuit! I threw myself into it...

...and it was extraordinary!

I walked slowly, noticing. There was a very inconsequential rain throughout, with sun streaming as well - a 'last vestiges of summer' kind of rain. My protective hat was just enough to keep the rain away from my face, and that's all I needed to ensure my continued walking. The meadow was filled with gorgeous yellow yarrow, milkweed, and purple thistle. There were so many insects busy at work...there are, in fact, I soon realized, an amazing number of lives in a meadow...butterflies, dragonflies, crickets, bees, hornets, spiders, beetles, flies, ladybugs, on and on, innumerable small and new, anonymous species. Within each of these categories of insects, there was tremendous variety...I saw so many different types of butterflies, for example. Are there a zillion types of dragonflies? Thin-bodied, thick bodied, blue, black, small, medium, large, and more?

As I walked, I seemed to stir up the insects...my footsteps instigated immediate, quick, and yet nearly invisible movement - as if we were playing hide and seek. As I wandered, all sorts of insects would jump from the mowed path that I was walking on, into the recesses of the tall grasses and plants in the meadow. How to describe the movement of all these small beings, all at once, as if on cue, with every step I took, within five feet of my own steps, always in the direction I was walking? If I stopped and went completely still - well, they would go still as well, nothing moving, quiet all around. But if I stepped again - voila! Immediately, the grass started jumping, coming alive, shimmering and flickering, almost like a light show with teeny tiny lights. Surreal. 

It felt like a celebration.

Why all this movement? Did the insects hear me? Did they feel the shaking of the ground? Or did they see me moving their way? Was I disturbing them? Or were they delighted to see me? Were we playing a game of following the leader? Who was leading whom? 

Here I am, back to my normal life, for just two days now - and I have remembered to "stop and notice" throughout the day. At school, I've started a fun little personal challenge, thanks to this retreat - what's happening along the edges in my classroom? Who's on the sidelines and what kind of merrymaking are they up to? The possibilities are endless.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How to put the puzzle pieces together?




I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.






Have you ever watched a group of preschoolers create a floor puzzle together? Everything that children need to learn about sharing can be learned through this one activity. Simply place the puzzle box on the floor and invite children to join you - and, wow, watch the fun unfold!

The play begins wildly, boldly, instantly, and selfishly, with each child automatically grabbing one or two pieces and trying to shove their own pieces together. Three year olds are used to playing with things by themselves and for themselves. They are not accustomed to working with others. The first few moments of puzzle-making are fast-paced motion...the grabbing of a piece or two, trying to connect the pieces, dropping puzzle pieces in frustration, and moving onto another piece immediately to see if it matches. Many hands moving quickly, mashing pieces together on the floor, stepping onto pieces or bumping into a classmate, whirling, spinning, commotion.

Most preschoolers seem to readily grasp that the pieces fit together in some way; I have never had to explain this. There are typically about 20 pieces, meaning a small group of preschoolers can grab one or two pieces each, and each feel very powerful. Of course, in reality, there's not much exciting about one or two pieces of a puzzle. There's not much to see or make, with so few.

Often, one child will walk off to the periphery of all the commotion, clutching a piece, not seeking out any other pieces, and, seemingly, feeling no need to participate in the puzzle building. This savvy child! They may look disinterested, but they have claimed some very valuable real estate. Yes, they are holding what will be the LAST piece of the puzzle...ha! This piece is being ignored right now, but, without a doubt, it will become very important very soon.

As teacher, I try simply to moderate the overall process. I try not to direct the children to follow 'my approach.' For example, I don't say - "Hey, let's grab all the straight edges first." - which was definitely the way I was taught, many years ago. I enjoy watching preschoolers find their own way, to figure it out...I trust that they will. I sit back a bit, and use my voice mostly to guide - helping them work together.

Sometimes the puzzle piece that you simply must have is in another child's hands, and, here, it's often easiest to just grab the piece out of the other's hands. Teachable moment! I pepper them with questions - "Who had that piece first?," "Did you ask her if you could have that?" "Where do you think it goes?" "What makes you think so?" "How do those two match up?" Many instinctively know to turn the piece around and around and around, exploring new positions, to see if the pieces will connect.

As the children work, I begin to build some ground rules with them - "If two pieces are connected, you leave them be and try to match your piece to the connected ones. Don't take apart what is already working." Somehow, this often seems to surprise preschoolers - as if, "Wait, I didn't match those pieces! But, you expect me to leave them be?" Another important rule, "We don't take pieces out of our classmates' hands." Also, "Puzzle makers move slowly and purposefully, they don't stand on the puzzles."

I am frequently amazed at the ferocity and motion involved in making a puzzle together. Around and around and around they go, testing this piece against the other.

Always,
after a short while,
seemingly arising out of thin air,
certainly,
bubbling up without any plan of action other than 'every child for herself',
the puzzle begins to form,
with interconnected sections becoming more apparent.

I often wonder if this is the very moment that young children become aware of the power of team work..the very moment they become aware that, wow, perhaps each person has something to offer to the process...the very moment each child begins to literally see how what they are doing connects with that of others.

Although the puzzle begins with every child feeling and working solo, in the end, it is completed by the work of many...it takes a team.

The learning from such a simple 'toy' is truly profound. Children learn to be more observant of one another and of the puzzle, noticing details on each individual piece. They begin to interact with one another, communicating - "Does this go here?" "Put yours there." "Here!" "Look! These go here!"

And that child who might have wandered off with that one piece? Oh, yes, we need her now! You can't finish without a floor puzzle without including everyone.

Floor puzzles have two distinct phases for preschoolers -
the first, egotistical, self-absorbed, every child for him or herself; and
the second, enlightenment, the mind opens, the realization comes - we do better when we work together.

There's always a big round of applause at the conclusion of a puzzle! Go, preschoolers!


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Are you able to bear the responsibility?




I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


Second day of school. Early dismissal for preschoolers. 12 noon. Three of them wait to be picked up. Tick-tock, tick-tock. 12:10. One child helps to sweep the floor, one child dances on carpet, one colors at a table. These three watched every other child get picked up. Oh, here is a family! Down to two children. Three teachers, two preschoolers. 12:15  I lean down to tie the dancing preschooler's shoes; no sign of his parents yet. Oh, here's another family! This Mom has questions, I turn to answer her -  "yes, we need napping materials for tomorrow's full day..." and, quietly, invisibly, unexpectedly, he slips out. Elopes. Right by me, standing three feet from the door of our classroom. He, my dancer, the last child, waiting, desperately, for a Mommy or Daddy or another loving adult who never comes. He is impatient, he is three. He has just watched every classmate get picked up. 

In a split second, he was gone. 

Just a minute more, maybe only 30 seconds later, I knew he was gone, too - and I bolted from my classroom, down the hall, towards the front desk - only to be met by Mom and Grandmother, holding him firmly by the hand. Mom was livid - "I did NOT find him right here in the hall! I found him out front, coming out the front door of the school!" 

Her angry eyes will stick in my memory forever - devoid of trust, filled with hurt and anger.

I rambled,

"I am SO sorry. I am SO sorry. I need you to know, this is on ME, I am responsible. He was just here, and he slipped out, and that SHOULD NEVER EVER EVER have happened and I am totally at fault. I am so sorry. I have never had this happen in all my years of teaching and it won't happen again, I promise."

She was LIVID.

Words are nothing but nasty air when one's most important possession has almost vanished.

I continued,

"Please, this is horrible. I invite you to speak to our principal about this. It is a terrible mistake and you should report it. I can assure you it won't happen again. I'm sorry."

I moved automatically to find my principal, and I breathlessly told her, "Please speak with this family, they are so upset, as they should be - their preschooler in my class slipped out the front door of the school at early dismissal."

My principal asked with remarkable calm, "Did we find the child?"

"Yes! His family was walking right up to the school when he was walking out - they grabbed him and brought him back to me."

My principal continued to me, before talking to the family - "This is a blessing. Hear me, it's a blessing. He was found. He is safe. Now we know. We revise our plan. We continue on." 

As she walked toward the family to talk further, I dissolved into tears. 

It is hard to bear the responsibility.

***
Epilogue -

Even now, a whole year later, it is hard to think about this day.

My principal and colleagues gave me tremendous support and perspective, and I am so appreciative. We revised our 'end of day' routines, and there was never another such incident all year. I worked hard to rebuild trust with the family; I am very close to this family, now.

Truly, on this day, my biggest fear about working with young children happened: losing a child...that one might simply disappear, no matter how hard I try to keep my eyes on them. Whenever I hear one of those nightmare stories about a child who walks away from school, I think "but for the grace of God" - and I am filled with compassion for everyone involved. It takes a village!!



Tuesday, September 4, 2018

What is most important?




I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.



My beloved colleague Connie came up to me and said, "I'm going to tell you something that is going to make you mad, and, here's the thing, you can be mad for a minute and then you are going to get over it and we are just going to get it done." I looked at her surprised, wide-eyed, perplexed - and then asked cautiously - "Well, what is it?"


Connie quickly told me what the problem was, and the necessary solution. I'm not sharing what the problem or situation was, because, honestly, it doesn't matter. Teaching days can be filled with problems like this. Suffice to say, it was annoying, and small, not a big deal.

Her preceding words echoed in my head: "...you can be mad for a minute and then you are going to get over it and we are just going to get it done."

I stared at her a moment and then I burst out laughing, amused by Connie's clear-eyed insight about me. I said "Well, let's skip my 'getting mad' part and just get down to it." We laughed together as we worked. And, yes, we got it done.


I want to celebrate Connie's approach with me.

She held a mirror up for me to see myself - and she did so in a caring and amusing way. She made me laugh about my own foibles. She was showing empathy and understanding for my expected frustration with her news, while simultaneously urging me to not get bogged down by my annoyance and, instead, stay focused on the larger goal and complete the task.

It was more important to get past my frustration and anger and to just shine in our work. 

I wonder how long I will carry this wisdom: don't let my anger keep me from doing what matters. Or, maybe I should state it this way: save my anger for that which matters. I know anger is a powerful tool for change...I don't need to squander it on the small stuff.

Stay focused.
Don't get bogged down by what doesn't matter.
Don't get distracted.
Keep on with my purpose.
Be joyful.


Thank you, Connie. Such powerful insight for me at the outset of a new school year!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What about the first day of school?




I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


Today was the first day of preschool for this school year, 2018-19. What an amazing day we had together!  We worked hard to prepare the room for them...and I believe the children felt both comfortable and safe right away. 

Although we only met for half a day, I am totally worn out in the happiest of ways. Here's to the year ahead!!!

For this Slice of Life, let me simply share my note to the families -


Happy first day of school!

We had a fabulous day in the Big Cats! There were so few tears - and these lasted only a brief moment. Your children loved dancing, playing, singing, running, painting, exploring, building, writing, and reading together! We tried to take lots of pictures of their fun together. Here are a few things we noticed them doing:
 

  • loving babies
  • finding sharks
  • painting with marbles
  • reading books
  • creating tall mountains of sand
  • making tea parties
  • being Mommies
  • racing cars
  • build a castle to the ceiling

We are learning the routines of school each day. Today, we played ‘follow the leader’ to investigate every center of the classroom. We practiced:

  • washing our hands,
  • lining up together and walking quietly through the hall, and
  • ‘going quiet and listening’ when the teacher calls for our attention.
We learned a couple ‘call and response’ techniques - 1) when someone calls “Agoe” [do you hear me?], we answer “Amay” [I am listening to you]. 2) when someone says “bop bop ba bop bop”, we answer “bop bop.”

Our books today: From Head to Toe by Eric Carle and Owl Babies by Martin Waddell.

Again, such a special day!! Thank you for sharing your children with us!
 


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What do you remember about school?




I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


On our first day of pre-service this past week, the teaching staff wrote reflections about key educational events in their lives that brought them to where they are now as teachers. Everyone went back through their memories of school and classrooms, and considered what stood out. Here's one of my school memories -



The butterfly was painted with every color of the rainbow, and it spread its wings across the entire front of my bright orange sweatshirt. It was a tween's dream - it looked magical, beautiful, and fabulous. I was in eighth grade, a new student at public junior high, and a recent transfer from a parochial school where we wore the same stale uniform every single day. The butterfly sweatshirt was my exhale, my celebratory release. It was also a gift from my Dad, who was in the Navy and had just left for Vietnam. This sweatshirt splurge was his way of saying "I love you and I'll miss you" to his 13 year old daughter.

The first day I wore the sweatshirt to school, it was unusually warm. I had worn it over another much more boring top, and that turned out to be a good thing...I couldn't stand the sweaty feel of both layers and by mid-morning, I had slipped off the sweatshirt and hung it in my locker. I double-checked the lock after closing the door. I hoped it would be cooler when I walked home from the bus stop; I knew, even if it wasn't, I would 'suffer for beauty' and put that sweatshirt back on, hoping to impress my friends. I raced off to my next class.

At the end of the day, I excitedly opened my combination lock - only to discover the locker empty, the sweatshirt gone.

Gone.

Gone.

Gone.

I couldn't believe it. It didn't make sense. I know I locked the locker. Where did the sweatshirt go? Who would take it?

This 'underground' world where students surreptitiously broke into others' lockers was new to me. I had never had a locker before; I didn't know it was possible. But, yes, it was. This was my sad reality, my tough learning.

It was a hard loss, not something I could easily replace.

The very next day, as I made my way through the halls after lunch, there was Ramona Carter wearing my butterfly sweatshirt! Well, what was left of it. She strutted down the hall in a bright orange sleeveless sweatshirt - yes, sleeveless. At the shoulders, the arm holes had all those tiny triangular edges where the sleeves had been cut off with pinking shears. The body of the sweatshirt - with its beautiful multi-colored butterfly - was covered in signatures. Yes, it was signed in black permanent marker by 100 or more of Ramona's closest friends.

My sweatshirt. Destroyed. Vandalized. Ruined.

I didn't know Ramona. I only knew OF her. She was tough and cool and ran with a very different crowd than mousy, awkward me. I was very afraid to confront her.

I didn't know what to say.

I didn't know what to do.

She stole my beloved sweatshirt! Out of my locker!

I went to the Assistant Principal and told him what had happened. I hoped to get his advice and input. I remember he listened to me and didn't ask me a single question or clarification. He was quiet for a brief moment and then he said, "I'm sorry but you can't prove that the sweatshirt is yours. You'll just have to get over it."

I think his reaction hurt worse than the theft itself.

I walked out of his office, stunned, numb, and surprised. I am still so saddened at his lack of effort to help with the situation. His reaction made me feel both isolated and, somehow, wrong. I spent the rest of my time at junior high school avoiding Ramona.

As the years have passed, my reflection is - what a missed opportunity for conflict resolution, for restorative practice. We have to grab onto these challenging moments between students and help them to hear one another, to consider each other's perspective. Without a doubt, this Assistant Principal had a huge influence on me in my teaching - I work hard to help students resolve their conflicts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What does it mean?




I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.



Loved seeing this bird on a recent walk!
I love a nice long walk, whether in the woods, through the neighborhood, in the city, by the shore...it doesn't matter where, I simply love to walk. I walk and I notice. I look for 'signs' - signs of what? Well, I don't know! Signs of the unexpected, signs of surprise, signs of wonder.  

We have had a lot of rain this summer, here in the Mid-Atlantic. We have had powerful storms, light drizzles, long days of rain, brief squalls...it has come in all shapes and sizes. We've broken records for rainfall. After a rainstorm, I love to wander down to my local walking path and explore what's new, what has changed. This walking path is alongside a creek. A couple of the rains have been so mild with no thunder or lightning that I have been able to throw on my raincoat and take a walk in the park during the storm. Walking in the rain is a delight all its own. Several times this summer, the storms have closed the park (thankfully, only for a matter of hours at most), as the water from the creek rushed up over the banks and threatened the road...I avoid the walking path at these times, and wait for the park to re-open. 

In recent weeks, due to all the rain, the creek runs fast and brown, with the soil from the bottom swirling about. There is sand and sediment on the walking path, and debris woven into the fences of the foot bridges, the trees and shrubs along the bank. It's not unusual to see plastic bags and other trash hanging from the branches of trees, as if reaching back to the creek. The shrubs along the bank are also flattened, pressed down at an earlier time by over-flowing water. Many trees have toppled...each rainstorm brings down a few more, lifted up out of the ground by over-saturated roots. I notice that there are often very few if any birds or other wildlife immediately following a storm - it's as if the area is briefly abandoned.

I am fascinated by one tree that - rather than coming up by its roots - cracked open about six feet from its base and toppled onto the ground with its two enormous forked branches falling on either side of a recently-installed park bench. Smaller branches and twigs are strewn every which way. The park bench sits in the midst of this destruction, intact and happy:




Why did the tree break like this? The trunk did not appear ravaged by decay or termites or anything. I didn't see a line of similar damage, no other trees in the vicinity broken in the same way  - which I know would have indicated a wind storm. Hmm. Mystery. 

What does it mean? Here's my thought on this last day of summer - may I be like that park bench, strong, resilient, in the midst of whatever wild storms await me this school year. When those heavy demands rain down on me - may I remember to breathe in, breathe out, resilient. 

Goodbye, summer. Here's to the new school year!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What's special about summer?






I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.






My 2018-19 journal
Here it is, July 31st. I know what that means: summer break is coming to a much too rapid close. I return to school on August 8th (yikes - next Wednesday!), for two weeks of professional development and then the start of the new school year.

Two small purchases this week cemented this transition for me:

- A school journal for 2018-19! I love selecting a new one of these each summer...imagine all the special snippets that I will write in the months ahead - notes about children, lesson plans, workshops, and more.
- A large wall calendar for my kitchen, where I have begun to enter this year's schedule...all the school holidays and special events, along with all my family celebrations, appointments, and events.






I am having an absolutely fabulous summer...one with so many days of true leisure that I am often unsure what day it is. Is there a better luxury than this? Here are my top ten pleasures of this summer:

  1. So much sweet time with my husband, Tony; he's retired, and summer means we both have free, open schedules. We are able to be truly present with one another.
  2. Finding time every single day to write...challenging myself to write a couple pages each day, and finding this time so meaningful and well spent, such a joy.
  3. Reading novels, devouring novels, enjoying novels - reading for the fun of it!
  4. Long, meandering walks with no real time limits - so much more relaxed than the 'must do' exercise squeezed in at the end of a teaching day.
  5. Visiting with others, catching up with old friends, traveling to Maine and Georgia to visit family...leisurely meals, excursions, relaxed conversations with family, friends, and neighbors...reconnecting with dear ones is a highlight
  6. Weeding...I actually enjoy working in my yard when I am free to start and stop when I like.
  7. Tony and I finally figuring out how to turn on Netflix without one of our sons showing us how to do it - and then browsing movies and shows.
  8. Indulging in #7 in the middle of a rainy day! 
  9. Sitting outside and noticing all the nature around me, especially the birds...whether a plump mourning dove balancing on a stair railing, bright yellow goldfinches darting out of the purple coneflowers, a single hummingbird at the feeder, there is always so much to see.
  10. Sleep..waking without an alarm, daring to take a nap in the middle of the day...yes, this is a delirious pleasure.
Oh, summer...please don't disappear on me!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What would you do with your grief?




I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.



My husband's brother died in a tragic accident 50 years ago this summer. Just recently, we heard a new (and, I think, very beautiful) story related to this sad time - how a young child helped with the healing. I have found that I can't stop thinking about it - so, I'm sharing it here. 


Imagine -
a mother,
a mother who has many children,
whose oldest child has made her a grandmother,
whose youngest children are in their teens.
Imagine -
this mother receiving the news that her 18 year old son has been killed in a construction accident.
Imagine -
her eviscerating pain, her crying, grief, and anguish.

How hard it must have been to breathe.

This was 50 years ago...the death of my husband's next oldest brother, in a small town in Georgia. My husband, Tony, was 16 at the time.
Tony remembers
he was pumping gas at his summer job,
mid-way through washing a customer's windshield,
when his typically tough, demanding boss broke in and said
"Tony, time to go to lunch."
(Tony always went home to lunch.)
Then, his boss stepped into the slow-moving traffic on the road by the gas station
to stop oncoming cars and make it easy for Tony
to slip out of the gas station and drive home.

Tony says he knew then that something awful must have happened,
but he didn't know what.

When he walked into the house,
his mother was sitting, wailing, in hysterics.
Family and friends were gathering,
his Dad,
brothers,
sisters,
everyone in acute pain and shock.

Wrong place, wrong time, turn back the clock, let's have a do over, this cannot be real. 

Imagine -
The next few days were a blur of pain and sadness.
A house of mourning.
Relatives, neighbors, and friends dropping by at all times, 
bringing casseroles and sympathy. 
Everyone moving on autopilot, needing a task - 
wiping up spills and tidying up,
perhaps one standing guard over a coffee maker, producing cup after cup for visitors, 
another fixing a plate of food for the grieving mother - which, I'm sure, remained untouched.
Hushed, muted voices repeating the details of his death over and over, 
in various corners of the house, 
a horrific vibration that mother and family could not shake, could not unhear.
A house filled with people and, yet, incredibly empty. 

Imagine,
in this mix, the youngest grandson (nephew of Tony) appears,
this six year old, in the midst of all these mourners.
Oh, I know that house was filled with people!

The grandson knew a good thing when he saw it ... 
all these people, this MUST be a family reunion, 
oh, yes, it must be.
He began to entreat, to beg, "Let's play whiffle ball!" 
Because, this is what everyone did at Mimi's when family gathered.
In-between and around all that delicious food and conversation, 
family would flow out into the backyard and play a pickup game of ball.
This was the tradition.

The little guy wouldn't be silenced,
as many a young child is not,
making the suggestion over and over
to his parents, his aunts and uncles, his Mimi and Papaw,
"Let's play whiffle ball!" 

Imagine
this request,
this playful need,
in the midst of all that mourning.

Well, his own mother grabbed him by one arm and marched him to the back door to discipline him- "This stops! You do not ask to do this again! Can't you see, people are hurting?!" 
Mimi jumped out of her chair,
and rushed up to her daughter-in-law,
and interrupted - 
"Never you mind, girl - that boy doesn't know what he's asking, he doesn't know what's going on. Give him to me." 
With that, she took him out back, and, 
together,
just the two of them,
they played whiffle ball. 

Back and forth they played, 
she squatting down and throwing the ball, 
he swinging hard.

 I can hear his little happy voice, when he hit the ball
"Yes! I got it, Mimi!" 

Imagine,
perhaps,
every time she threw the ball to him, she was a little less numb,
perhaps,
every time he took a big swing at that ball, her heart began to heal just a little tiny bit,
perhaps,
every time she chased a ball, she absorbed the love and laughter in his eyes,
perhaps,
it was the first soft feeling she had had in days.

Playing whiffle ball with her grandson was exactly what she needed.





There's so many things you try to skip
But who'll be there in case you slip
At the end of the day
little children.

Well, you're not alone.
You're not on your own.

- George Cromarty





Friday, March 23, 2018

SOLSC #23 And that's a wrap!




I am participating in the
March 2018 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.




Thought I'd share a moment from today. I really enjoyed how the children's block play grew organically, with very little input or prompting from me. I was able to sit back, observe, and take notes - the proverbial 'fly on the wall' - my favorite pastime in the preschool classroom. Let me share...


W wanted to make a house with a flat red roof. She worked with O, and continued to add pieces of different shapes and sizes. O decided it was no longer a house, but an apartment building. "A lot of people like this home," O said.

Then the focus was on the area around the house. Shouldn't there be a highway near the apartment building? "It's going to need sidewalks," C announced. More construction ensued. L suggested that the highway should have a bridge, with a road going under the highway. He became very excited at the way it was looking, declaring "We are building the whole world!" 


With this whole world in place, B wandered over and asked "Can I play family with these dollies?" Then the focus became all about the dolls [Duplo figurines]...how many could fit in the apartment building? How many would walk down the sidewalk? Maybe one or two would be on the bridge? M became very excited when she found two Duplo figurines that were identical - "Twins!! Look!!" O did not appreciate M's loud voice and reprimanded everyone with the words, "Everyone is supposed to be in bed right now!"



With preschoolers, it starts with blocks but it ends with family. Always.





This is my last slice of this March challenge...spring break has arrived and I'm off to Costa Rica in the morning, celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary! There are many more things I would have liked to write about, but I will save them for another time. I hope that everyone continues slicing and enjoys this last week of the writing challenge. I'll be back for the Tuesday Slice of Life in April. Enjoy!








Thursday, March 22, 2018

SOLSC #22: What is your whimsy?




I am participating in the
March 2018 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


It's Intersession week at my school, wherein the early childhood students spend an hour a day in mixed age groups doing focused exploration on one thing...I'm working with our wonderful Art teacher Ms. Lane and a group of 10 three, four, and five year olds to create "Whimsical Worlds" in a box.

Every student received a special box. (Our school computers came in these and Ms. Lane had the wisdom to save them!)






Day One - Everyone chose a couple fun paint colors, transforming the box, slowly but surely.


























The next day - and the rest of the week - students chose from an array of art supplies and craft materials to make their whimsical worlds come to life...
buttons, pom poms, pipecleaners, clay, yarn, straws, and more....





As the children work, I am hearing about slides, ziplines, candy factories, houses, puppies, bridges, forests, mountains, rivers, clouds, superheroes, bad guys....





Yes, whimsical worlds!! So much fun!!










Wednesday, March 21, 2018

SOLSC #21: How much should we say?




I am participating in the
March 2018 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.



The March For Our Lives, the national march against gun violence, is this Saturday, March 24, 2018 here in Washington, D.C., and I know many people who are participating. (Tony and I will be headed to Costa Rica for our 30th Anniversary on that same Saturday; I am sad to miss the march and so very excited about our trip.) Many families from my school have connected about this important issue and will be walking together with their children.

There have been so many tough conversations and strong opinions shared about this topic.

One tough conversation topic is about when should we be talking about these hard issues with young children? When is it appropriate to discuss these things with our youngest learners?

I wonder if one's perspective on this correlates with how sheltered one's own life is? Who falls on the side of preparing their children, talking about potential issues, opening their eyes to the cruelness of the world? Do these families have more history of violence or disenfranchisement? I wonder, how privileged are those who believe their children don't know about violence, don't know about racism, don't know about these hard topics, and we should not dare to bring these topics up?

Or is the varied responses to this - when should we be talking about these hard issues with young children? - more indicative of each adult's individual comfort with having these conversations? Do many simply not know how to approach or what to say, and therefore choose to avoid the discussion, deny its need?

In my classroom, I see preschoolers playing about real-world stuff. I hear them playing through real-world problems. I don't think children are escaping the cruelty of this world; I don't believe there is any way that they can. Example - there has been a huge uptick in gun play in my classroom these past few weeks. I believe this is precisely because of the tragedy of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida and our national conversation about guns. Just this past week, three preschoolers were "shooting" a block building that they had built. I saw the same thing after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when children built block towers and flew make-believe planes into these, toppling them to the floor. Children are like sponges, absorbing everything in the world around them - those tittering adult voices, those sad, frightened expressions on faces, that brief snippet on the car radio before a parent turns it off, the headline grabbing voice on the TV in the barber shop, the lunch counter, or car repair store. The cruel world weaves its way into their consciousness.

And whoa to the young child who has begun to read - how can they miss these stories on newspapers, magazines, TVs, computer screens?

If your child goes to school, your child is likely to hear about these hard stories from classmates and other students. Just as in the snippet about the block play above - friends will introduce children to these topics even if families are avoiding the conversation at home, even if families have walled off their child from the news.

Our violent world is the proverbial elephant in the classroom.

I don't see how it is possible to entirely shelter a child from these topics and I believe it is wrong to pretend that we can.

What is better, to have them hear a snippet of something real and violent and frightening, and then try to process it entirely on their own, in their own head? Or to dare to speak truth in a developmentally appropriate way?

We can't ignore violence.
We make a huge mistake when we avoid these hard conversations with our children.

We don't need to immerse them in the details of violent incidents, but we need children to be assured they are safe and we keep them safe. Certainly, we need to assure them that school is a very safe place. We need to honor their questions and concerns with answers, however incomplete or brief those answers might be. ("You are always safe here, I take care of you.")

Adults should intentionally cultivate opportunities for conversations about imprecise social issues, such as -
- arguments and how to have disagreements,
- how best to treat one another when we disagree,
- how to show frustration and anger in appropriate ways,
- how to join into play,
- how to be a helper,
- who is hurting? are you hurting? how to help someone who is hurting,
- what makes us feel safe? what makes us safer?
- what to do if they are scared,
- how to assert yourself when someone has something you want,
- what is fair?
- what to say or do when someone's doing something you don't like,
- how to listen to other perspectives,
- how to believe one thing strongly even while a classmate believes something else - and know that this is okay,
- how to make amends,
- how to give one another space,
-who to go to and what to do when something bad happens,
and so many more thoughtful, unending, ongoing conversations that normalize the work of living and being together. These respectful conversations will help a child feel less anxious, more able, and more hopeful. Through such conversations, we'll move from a stance of fear into one of courage.

We need to get children thinking about nonviolence. Our world needs this, now.

I believe the sad truth is - we must dare to talk about it now.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

SOLSC 20: How do you spell 'Hot Diggity Dog'?




I am participating in the
March 2018 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


As soon as I arrived at school this morning, I changed around the dramatic play area in my classroom. I'm such a pro at these reorganizations that I only needed about twenty minutes to make it happen. Out with the suitcases and the travel theme, in with a restaurant! I set up the kitchen as one long galley against one wall for our many passionate chefs; I moved two small tables to the center of the area, draping them in tablecloths and setting them with dishes, to entice our hungry customers; I transformed the puppet show booth into a hostess stand, right at the entrance, so that we might welcome guests to our charming establishment. 

It may seem strange to change it just four days before spring break, but changing the area was more than overdue. All three of us teachers (my two Teaching Residents and I) felt invigorated by the change - it was like a breath of fresh air to imagine new play and conversation with the children. Also, I feel as if it gives us a chance to see what the children most like to do with the area, and we'll be more informed about the children's interests, as we plan the learning for the remainder of the year. The Teaching Residents are running a unit on Cooking, and this dramatic play area will be a fabulous complement to that unit. 

As students walked into the classroom at this morning's arrival, I met them at the hostess stand and said, "Welcome to the Big Cats' Restaurant, today is our 'soft opening.' Please come in and visit with us." Their eyes grew wide with delight and incredulity - everyone loves a happy surprise! They immediately entered into play, searching for plates, cookware, pretend foods, and taking on various roles. (I was most amused by the two children who honed in on using the broom and dustpan! Every good restaurant needs this kind of teamwork!) Their excitement was palpable...yes, it was more than time to make changes to this area! At our morning gathering, I shared that we will brainstorm ways to grow this  restaurant over the next many weeks, adding in their suggestions of what to name the restaurant, making menus, taking down people's orders, deciding what we should cook, and so much more...we will all work together to have a great time at the restaurant. One student exclaimed, "Hot diggity dog!!" and we all burst out laughing.

The restaurant had an excellent 'soft opening.'

That wasn't the only happy surprise of the day. Fast forward, I am home from school. Unbelievably, just after 7pm, D.C. Public Schools announced that schools are closed tomorrow. Snow day! Wow!! This. Day. Off. Is. So. Needed. It feels as if I have been given an extra day this week...my list of to do's has been bursting at the seam, and now I can be home and focused, with feet up, hot tea at my side, computer on my lap...oh my, oh my, oh my! I feel like a little kid, I am so excited. 

(Of course, the power must stay on, if my fantasy day is truly going to be fulfilled ;-)

(I wonder how much shoveling I'll have to do? My husband is in Atlanta...this is going to be all on me...hmmm. Fresh air and exercise is never a bad thing, right?!)

D.C. Public Schools are like the "little engine that could" of this area...all the surrounding counties will cancel school (as they have many times this school year), but D.C. chugs on, "I think I can, I think I can." This storm must be a doozy, to have them announce the closing the evening before. Oh my, it just dawned on me - I don't have to wake up early and search for the announcement! Is a "no alarm clock" morning - woohoo!

This preschool teacher is smiling! Yes, she is! All I can say is, "Hot diggity dog!"




Monday, March 19, 2018

SOLSC #19: How many different voices?






I am participating in the
March 2018 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.



A long, demanding day with so many facets. What teacher hasn't had that strange sensation of being in so many places at once, where you are present with a small group of students but thinking about the upcoming family conference or interrupted by an administrative task or challenged by someone's behavior?

I keep a school journal beside me at all times during the day, to capture data, anecdotes, and important things I've heard and want to remember. It's late in the day and I haven't written a slice, so I thought it might be interesting to capture fragments from today's journal notes... showing how many pivots a teaching day has...how I volley between adults and preschoolers, between coaching, teaching, collaborating, conferencing, connecting...always so much going on. Here are those scraps of notes from my journal -

Can be a toxic emotion in a classroom.
Create chart of student assignments for Intersession
"I painted, and you know what we painted with? Apples!"
"Those go like this, and those turn, and they fall down, and some balls flip...it's going to be the awesome way!"
"It's a rock cross. Step, step, step - and you don't fall in. Come, follow me."
"Can we have a ramp contest and see whose goes down?"
love of learning
Are you just going through the motions? What are you feeling?
Structure creates safety.
Paying attention to the internal state of the teacher.
Professional development - worst ones are ineffective use of time, best ones are stimulating, interactive, thought-provoking
As Fred Rogers says, 'You'll always find someone who's trying to help.'


Yes, this is fragmented. Which is how I feel this Monday evening, fragmented. Wooh. Four more days until spring break!








Sunday, March 18, 2018

SOLSC #18: How did I forget this?




I am participating in the
March 2018 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


Today is my Mom's 89th birthday and somehow I managed to forget it. I remembered it two weeks ago and I remembered it this morning, but I didn't think of it in between. Therefore, my traditional gift of sending flowers and a card could not happen. Sadly, I know it doesn't really matter because my Mom has Alzheimer's and doesn't even know it is her birthday; she certainly has no worries about me missing it.

As I brooded over this, I realized there were some very sweet years when she would get flowers and be so thrilled over them, phone me right away, and mention them yet again on the next week's call. I didn't realize how precious this was, at the time. I only know it in retrospect.

Alzheimer's set in, and that sweet experience disappeared. Now, the flowers come and the caregiver has to draw Mom's attention to them. The memory or understanding of the gift doesn't make any impression at all. However, she loves to look at them and remembers clearly that flowers are pretty - and every time she looks at the bouquet, they are new to her again. "Oh, look at the pretty flowers!" This brief, repetitive joy is enough for me and why I will still send flowers to her, arriving as a belated birthday gift.

Let's get back to this morning...certainly, I had to call her and wish her happy birthday! A simple phonecall would have to do.

I called the house and my Dad called her immediately to the phone - "It's Maureen, to wish you Happy Birthday!"

Mom confusedly says into the phone, "Happy Birthday?"

I said, "No, it's YOUR birthday, Mom!" and immediately launched into song, Happy Birthday to you!

As soon as my singing ended, she gushed with excitement,

"Oh, thank you! I will remember this always!"

Always,
for one moment,
was really beautiful. 

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

SOLSC #17 What if I ramble today?




I am participating in the
March 2018 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


It's mid-month in this blogging challenge and I am so aware of how my slicing ideas are so totally bereft. Time, too, is ridiculously precious - this must be the craziest March since I began participating in the challenge seven years ago. No time and no ideas do not a good slice make! Ha! Yesterday's post was written on the fly, a "place holder" simply posted to ensure I was making a post for the day, and then I quickly squeezed in time to comment on three others. (The good news is...no one commented on my post yesterday - ha, my goal of invisibility for that particular post was achieved!!) My hope is that I am absolutely alone in this sad type of blogging, however I suspect that this rudderless, pointless, 'meh' kind of writing hits everyone at some point, and, goodness knows, writing for 31 days in a row shines a real focused light on the deprivation.

Write on.  

Today, Saturday, looms quiet and I thought I'd just ramble onto this page and see what emerges. 

I am thinking about beginning teachers, novice teachers, first year in the classroom public school teachers. Whew. My school is a residency school for a teaching alternative certification program, meaning we have maybe a dozen Teaching Residents working alongside lead teachers; next year, these "emerging teachers" will be the teacher of record in their own classrooms in other schools in the city - i.e., first year public school teachers. I've been working with Teaching Residents for eight years, working alongside them in my preschool classroom. I feel "intellectually" aware and savvy of pretty much all things new early childhood teachers experience.

Two years ago, my son became a Teaching Resident (not at my school!!) and he is now, much to my amazement and delight, a first year teacher in a public school - unbelievably, he is teaching prek-3, just like me.

Some days I just want to pinch myself! How can my life's joy and passion be the same as that of my child's?

It's pretty amazing.

But then, of course, there's the dark side. As I said, I feel "intellectually" aware and savvy of pretty much all things new early childhood teachers experience...now, I am emotionally aware of everything that these teachers experience. I am watching my baby (oh, he would hate that I am writing that - thus, I will not name my son ;-)...I am watching my baby work so very, very hard...practice, practice, try, fail, do-over, try again, practice, success!, strive, dare, practice, practice, mis-step, mis-step, practice, practice, success!, setback, reconsider, practice, practice, practice, triumph!, practice, practice, practice...every day is filled with new stories, many joyful, many stressful, all truly normal in the development of a [dare I say "great"? is it possible to brag about the future?] teacher. Thankfully, he works in a very positive school environment, one that truly cultivates teachers - coaching, mentoring, and leading them into expertise. I see him becoming the reflective, creative, and joyful teacher that I would love children to have...

but, wow, teaching is hard work! 
Teaching as a first year teacher is excruciatingly hard at times. 
Being a parent of a first year teacher is a pretty wild ride.

Honestly, I can feel myself aging this school year!


Friday, March 16, 2018

SOLSC #16: What to do with an ear worm?




I am participating in the
March 2018 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


In recent weeks, we have had a lot of fun practicing our assertive voice with the folksong "Jump Shamador" at our morning gathering:

Class - Good morning to you  ____
Child - Good morning to you, Big Cats.
Class - What is your intention?
Child - I want to be a  _____.
Class - You can’t be a  _____.
Child - I must be a ____. (Stomp feet)

Something about this song has moved even my quietest students to the center of the carpet, for their chance to insist on what they want. Maybe it's the foot stomping that is so freeing? It is a joy to see these preschoolers find their voice. What do they most want to be? Well, we have princesses, Spidermen, Batmen, police officers, puppies, excavators, flowers, butterflies, frogs...if you think it, you can be it! 

My only complaint, why must I wake up singing this at 4 a.m.? 

Jump Shamador me darling,
Jump Shamador me dear...

Jump Shamador, Jump Shamador, Jump Shamador...



Thursday, March 15, 2018

SOLSC #15: What if you could take it back?




I am participating in the
March 2018 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.


There is a sad, bluesy song by John Hiatt called "Slip of the Tongue," which I have always been haunted by:

Some words flew out
And made a crash landin'
No love survived
Not a trace could be found
I broke your heart
With the back of my mind
From the tip of my tongue
To the end of the line
When I listen to his heartbreak, I wonder - What exactly did he say? How come he couldn't make amends? What causes us to be thoughtless? 
These 'slips of the tongue' are so ordinary, so human, and so horrid. We're living through one right now. A colleague received a text that was intended for another colleague, and - here's the heartbreak - not only was it written ABOUT the colleague who inadvertently received it, it was offensive and hurtful. 
How will they ever make amends? How will the beautiful and important work of teaching resume?
Ugh.
Teaching is hard work...you team with people that often are not your favorite folks and you have to make it work. I often joke that working on a teaching team is like being in an arranged marriage, one where even your children are chosen for you! It's not like you are sitting at a computer terminal with your back to the other person, hopeful that your one meeting together is over quickly. No, teachers spend their daily life so close together, mired in lots of social-emotional issues, communication problems, family discussions, thought-provoking strategizing, planning, planning, planning...working together as teachers in intense. Truly, intense.
We plan to have a restorative circle about this. We will now put into practice what we try to teach children - how to care for one another, how to be respectful, how to make amends.
Ugh.