Thursday, October 24, 2019

Fall Break, Comfort Food, and Nikki Grimes #TeachWritetober19


It's fall break. But a break is a far cry from what I would call these past two days.

I have been
     pitching
          purging
               tossing
                    switching
                         sorting

and wondering how in the world did all of this mess happen in these short nine weeks.

Among all this cleaning, I did take some time to read Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes. My eyes are always opened and my heart gets a little bigger when I read something from her. And this book did not let me down.

We just finished our first nine weeks, so realtionships are strengthening. Reading the stories of Kyle, Marcel, Darrian, Freddie, Jenesis, Valentina, Angela, and Li help me to remember that behind each pair of eyes that look at me each day, is a story, stories that some are afraid to tell and stories that don't yet know how to be told.

I begin to wonder how I can be more like Mr. Ward and teach them how to not only search for their stories, but how to find their words.

We're not there yet, but I'm still working on it. I reflect on Darrian's words, "Once you teach a bird to fly, you should expect him to use his wings."

Yes, we'll get there.



Tonight I fixed a dinner of comfort - a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato-basil soup. The kind of meal that warms the heart and soothes the soul (and I so wish it could soothe these aching muscles too!).

I have Nikki Grimes' newest book, Ordiary Hazards, beside me ready to read and my notebook open, ready to write. From what I hear, it has many lines that need to be savored and treasured. Check out Paul Hankins' review on Goodreads.

Fall break, comfort food, and Nikki Grimes...a fall evening doesn't get much better than that!
                       

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Ripple #TeachWritetober19

Last week I read the book Each Kindness by Jackie Woodson to my 6th graders. Although we were doing character ananlysis, I love this book for its simple message.


Ripple is my one little word for this year becuase I truly believe that what we do makes an impact in some way, big or small.

Sunday, I was in the drive-thru of our McDonald's before I went to school to prepare for this week, and I saw my colleague behind me. As I approached the window, I told the employee, who happened to be a former student, that I wanted to pay for Mr. Connor's meal. My student looked up the amount, and I paid it and pulled forward. 

As Mr. Connor approached the window, I saw that he handed the employee his card. I thought, "Hmm...what is going on? He shouldn't be paying."

Little did I know that when Mr. Connor was in line, the car behind him turned his music up really loud - the kind of loud where you can literally "feel" the beat. Mr. Connor stuck his head out the window and looked at the guy. Surprisingly, the young man turned it down. Mr. Connor thought, "I should buy that guy's meal since he respectfully turned down his music when I looked at him."

That's when the ripple began. When Mr. Connor got up to the window and found out that his meal was paid for, he then made the decision to pay for the meal of the young man behind him. As Mr. Connor moved up, he watched the car to see his expression, and guess what? That young man handed the employee some money.

The
       ripple
                continued...

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Finish #TeachWritetober19


Today one of my students came running over to me. I could tell she was excited about something and seemed just as excited to tell me about.

She had her book in her hand and said, "Look! I have just a few more pages left to read. I read this weekend at home."

I gave her a high five although I really wanted to just hug her tight and try not to cry.

You see, she struggles with reading. She has book hopped her way through the first grading period, starting and stopping book after book, forgetting to bring her book to class, and not completing a single one.

During reading time in class, I heard her tell her neighbor, "Look she ended getting Henry (the dog) after all."

When I asked her why she just didn't finish it home this weekend, she replied with a huge smile on her face, "I saved these last few pages because I wanted to finish it at school."

This. Just this.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Walking Out

I have always been amazed by those teachers who never carry a bag to and from school. Many days I walk in behind someone either leaving or arriving at school with nothing.

Not a single bag.

For most of my teaching years I have carried two bags:  my computer bag and my school bag. My computer bag, obviously, has my computer. My school bag at any given time may contain the current book I'm reading, the book I'm reading next, my notebook, a folder with the current unit or the unit I am revising, PD books to help plan those units, papers/tests to grade, my pencil/pen pouch, current projects, my standards binder, my student reading tracking binder, my mentor text binder, and/or my teacher notebook.

I am always afraid that I will not have something I need when I need it. I am always working on several different things at one time - usually something current and something in the near future. But many nights I take the bag home, and nothing comes out. I don't even open it.

But I still need that safety net...just in case.

Two nights this week I stayed late at school to watch our volleyball teams play. Both nights I left after 8:00, and both nights I decided to not take anything home. Not even my computer.

And do you know what? The world didn't stop spinning. I didn't stay up late thinking I was forgetting something. I didn't get up the next morning worrying that I didn't get something done.

I survived, and I felt so light the next day walking in with those other bagless teachers.

After all these years, I learned how teachers do it.

They just walk out. I can't say this will happen every day, but at least I know I can do it!

Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Only 158 Pages to Go! #TeachWritetober19



I am procratination's best friend! We go togther like peanut butter and jelly! 

I had intentions of sharing stories this school year - 180 of them - one each day of the school year.

But THAT obviously didn't happen. 

Instead, I decided to take the time this month while I participate in #TeachWritetober19 to find those stories in my classroom and live my school year through them. Single stories are all around us, single stories that build great things.

Here is story number one.

"Briana" is a student who has struggled with reading. It's not that she can't - she just doesn't. As I conferred with her yesterday, I could tell she wasn't into her book. I suggested another book, but when I mentioned foster care, she immediately cut me off and said, "I don't want to read about foster care."

I backed off, not knowing what our conversation had triggered.

Come to find out, she was mad at me for another matter. Later that day she came in and asked if she could get another book becuase she didn't like the one she was reading. She looked down and asked me, "Can I have that one you were talking about this morning?"

I smiled and said, "Of course." I went to my closet to get one of my extra copies of Orbiting Jupiter, and handed it to her. "You're going to love it. I promise!"

Today during first period we were reading, and when I made the announcement that it was time to close our books, she begged, "No, wait!" She even carried and read the book with her to get a computer from the computer cart - she did not want to put the book down!

My reading heart skipped a beat.

She is only on page 25, and if you have read this book, then you know how much I want to talk to her when she finishes this book.

Only 158 pages to go!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

#TeachWritetober19


It is hard to believe that almost three months has passed since I have occupied this space.

I have no excuses. 

Just this reminder from Jennifer from TeachWite.


I believe in every word of this. Writing is important to me, and I have missed it. Lucky for me, I have a wonderful support system to help me avoid the excuses. With the calendar turning to October, I am participating in #TeachWriteober19 with some amazing teacher-writers.

This month we have agreed to spend time working on our writing. The best part of participaing is that there are no rules...just glorious writing.  I can write what I want, when I want, and why I want. But I do have a plan to write every. Single. Day.

My goals for this month:

  1. increase notebook writing
  2. write a weekly reflection on my progress
  3. write a blog post for an upcoming venture
  4. launch a new writing space
Why don't you join us? Follow the hashtag #TeachWritetober19 on Twitter to find some inspiration and accountablilty. I look forward to writing this month with you.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A Well-Meaning Adult

Barbara Dee has a gift for taking tough topics and writing about them on a middle grade level. She doesn't "water them down." She relates. And her new book, Maybe He Just Likes You, is no different.

Mila is a 7th grader who becomes a victim of sexual harassment. It begins with an awkward hug from a boy and moves to other boys grabbing her butt, brushing against her arm or her leg, and making comments about the way her clothes fit her developing body and laughing. The boys even make a game of out. Her friends blow it off, saying it is just flirting and that she is overreacting. Mila feels that no one takes her seriously, and she has nowhere to turn.

I became frustrated with the teachers in the beginning of the book. I couldn't understand why the adults in Mila's life didn't see what was going on and when Mila tried to talk about it, they appeared to ignore it as well.

Middle school kids are dealing with so much. Hormones, puberty, and rapid growth and how these affect their social, emotional, and psychological health. Their relationships with their friends become more important than the relationships with their parents. One day they want to talk about their problems, and the next day, I can't get them to talk. Social media adds another complicated layer.

The behavior of the adults in the book hit me hard. When I mentioned this on Twitter, Barbara tweeted back, "The adults are well-meaning--they just don't see."

By the end of the book, I realized this was indeed true. Understanding middle school kids is tricky, but I don't recall a student ever coming to me about incidents such as those that Mila experienced.

Or have I just not noticed? Have I missed the signs? Has there been a time when a student has been afraid to talk to me when they have been a victim of sexual harassment? Do they even know what sexual harassment means?

Or have I unintentionally been a well-meaning adult?

This is such an important book for middle school students AND middle school teachers.  For many, this will be a book about consent and crossing the line. For me, this book was about making sure I am NOT just a well-meaning adult.

This is a book you will want on your shelves when it comes out in October.  

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Creating Reading Experiences

This past week, Donalyn Miller wrote a post about her annual #bookaday on the Nerdy Book Club Blog. She explains how the #bookaday came about and the guidelines to participate. But toward the end of the post, she writes this:

"Ultimately, the measure of a reading life isn't how many books we read. We measure our reading lives in the experiences, knowledge gained, the conversations and relationships we have with other readers, or the further reading inquiry, or action our reading experiences spark."


Like many things Donalyn says, this got me thinking and has left me with many questions. As hard as I try to be a literacy advocate in and out of my classroom, I believe I can always do more and be better.

I have been thinking about how can I make reading experiences stronger in my classroom. How can I create different ways for my students to show their knowledge through reading? How can I improve conversations about books and our reading lives, which will build reading relationships? How can I engage students, which will spark that desire to read and learn more?

I brainstormed and made a list of things to think about this summer, which I share with you.

  • I can be more consistent with my book talks and give more opportunities for students to talk about books among themselves. Summer is a great time to revisit books I have read and to think about the books I will share in the fall.
  • I can be more consistent with making reading time in class a priority. Some times I let other important-things-at-the-moment take up the time set aside for reading. I believe Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher have said if they aren't reading at school, then they aren't reading at home. It is difficult to have reading experiences when students aren't reading.
  • I can strengthen my reading conferences. Making time to confer with every student regularly allows me to create reading relationships. 
  • I can continue to read myself. When I sit down with my students to confer, they know we are talking reader to reader, not teacher to student. Being familiar with the books in my library helps me to recommend books to students, solidifying that reader to reader relationship.
  • I can create different ways for students to share what they have learned through reading. Reading response is a part of my standards and is expected. But the response does not always have to be a written paragraph or essay. 
  • I can find texts that will spark their thinking and lead them to other reading. Thanks to the connections on social media, finding texts that are timely and relevant for my students is much easier. Summer is the perfect time to search for these.


As Donalyn said, it is these experiences that ultimately measure a reading life. This fall, students from four elementary schools will converge in my classroom, each coming with their own set of reading experiences. These experiences have made or have broken a reader and also contribute to students' attitudes about reading. 

My students come from AR reading experiences. Points are how they measure their reading lives. I have many students who come in saying they don't like to read; some even say they hate reading.

It becomes my job early in the year to find out about their experiences. But most importantly, to create better ones.

Ones that will become a new measure of their reading lives, hopefully, for years to come.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Truth in an Old Wives' Tale #sol19



After a six weeks break, I am exercising my writing muscles again and taking part in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge.  


My college graduated son comes down the stairs, running his hair though his mussed-up hair and announces, "I think I have a stye in my eye for the first time in a long time."

I smile, grateful to have him home for the weekend, and tease, "Have you been peeing in the road?"

He avoids my gaze, walks into the kitchen, and stifles a giggle.

Monday, April 1, 2019

#letswrite2019 Check In


Back in January many people were making reading goals for 2019. I wondered where were the writing goals? Finding none, I created my hashtag, shared it on social media and small group of us made writing plans.

This is the first of four check in posts. How's it going? Are you checking things off of your list? It is time to share your progress and celebrate - remember everything counts as a celebration!

Here is my progress on my list of writing goals for 2019:

  • Write at least 100 blog posts.  I currently have 43 posts written in three months, so I am on track to reach 100.
  • Rethink the purpose of my blog and write more about literacy for literacy teachers. I have decided to not rethink the purpose of my blog, but creating a new blog/website instead. I hope to roll that our by the end of my school year.
  • Explore more professional opportunities. I have an idea for a professional article, but have not committed to anything yet. 
  • Open my eyes to the small things around me and write more poetry. April (Poetry Month) is here, so we will see how this goes!
  • Keep a writer's notebook. I bought a new Moleskin notebook last week (still waiting to write in it!)
  • Complete the Slice of Life March Challenge. Completed the challenge!
  • And now for the biggie - I have wanted to write a professional book, even if no one ever reads it!  My goal is to write an outline and look into the publishing process. This goal got squashed a couple of weeks ago. I am trying to figure it all out, once again.

Now it's your turn. If you have an update post, please link it in the comments and share it on social media using #letswrite2019. Please try to visit those participating and leave a comment of support. 

Did you miss out on the original post and want to know more about #letswrite2019? Check it out here. It's not too late to still join us!

Our next update will be June 30th, but until then...Happy Writing!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sustain Writing #SOL19


I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.  

The challenge has ended, and another month of writing, commenting, wishing to comment more, building community, meeting new friends and reacquainting with old friends, is complete. Thank you for those of you who read my words and graciously commented on them or connected with them in some way this month.

Throughout it all...

Sustain writing and writing sustains me.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Burst of Spring #SOL19


I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.  


I really don't like spring. I like knowing that winter is almost over, and summer is on the horizon. But I truly am not a spring person.

I don't like unpredictable weather.

I don't like spring tornadic storms.

I don't like being teased by warmer temperatures one day and back down in the 30's the next day.

I certainly don't like going from 50's to 80's before school is out.

Today as I was walking in the front door, I saw one sign of spring that I do love:  the blooming of the magnolia tree.

It seems like one day it is full of buds and the next day -- it's an explosion of pom pom blooms.


Welcome Spring!


Friday, March 29, 2019

A little help from our friends #SOL19


I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.  


Sometimes we just need a little help from our friends.

Today, I was teaching parenthetical elements using commas, dashes, and parentheses. One class was just not getting it. I showed different examples from books they were reading, and I explained it more than one way. But it just wasn't clicking.

I called my assistant principal who used to be an English teacher.

"Are you in middle of something right now?"

"I'm giving an assessment, but what do you need?"

"I'm teaching parenthetical elements, and they aren't getting it."

"I'll be right down."

I knew she would jump at the chance to get back into the classroom. When she peaked her head in the door, I said, "You want to teach this?"

"Sure!"

"I'm just going to sit right over here and watch." I sat down on my conference stool and watched as she seamlessly transitioned from the role of administrator to teacher. She asked a few questions, wrote a few examples, and gave more explanation. There was an collective "Ohh..."

At lunch I sent her an email. 

Thank you!

I loved it!

I knew you would!

Yes, sometimes we just need a little help from our friends.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hello there... #SOL19


I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.  

The end of the month is approaching, and slice ideas are dwindling, and time today is running out. I am returning to an old stand-by.


i am without a slice
i keep thinking inspiration is going to hit
i wish I had a story tonight and not a list
i love my new notebook (but have not written a single word in it yet!)
i dance - never
i sing only when no one is around
i think my reading life is reaching a flow once again
i really want to go to bed (but I'm watching March Madness!)
i should be working on a slide for tomorrow's lesson
i can use today's minilesson in my own writing -- parentheses and dashes!
i like having a weekend coming up with my sister from Tennessee
i make my fingers dance on the keyboard
i always appreciate the writing that comes from not having anything to write about

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Blessings in a Day #SOL19


I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.  

I have been reading Betty Before X, a story written by the daughter of Malcolm X. The book "illuminates four important years in her mother's childhood."

Betty lived with a family who encouraged her to not look at the negatives in life but, to "look for the good and praise it." Betty, who is trying to come to terms with her "unwantedness" from her mother, begins to count her blessings.

Today, I tell the story of my day in blessings:


  • A warm, sunny day
  • A few quiet moments before students arrive 
  • A lesson on colons
  • Shared laughs with colleagues
  • A principal who respects our time and keeps meetings short
  • Short lines in Walmart
  • A new Moleskin notebook
  • A writing group who (hopefully) forgives me for forgetting a writing session 
  • A few quiet moments in an empty house
  • A beautiful sunset
  • Time to write
  • Time to read

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Hunt #SOL19


I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.  

"I found one!"

"Where? Lemme see."

"I can't find one."

"Will you help me?"

"I found another one."

"This one has two!?"

"Can it have two?

"Mrs. Eck, can it have two?"

"Is this one?"

"No, that's not one!"


What were we doing today?  Well, going on a semicolon hunt. That's what!



Monday, March 25, 2019

The Hand Off #SOL19


I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.  

Sometimes when I read a book, I know just the student I am going to hand it off to. After reading The Skin I'm In last week, I could not wait until today.

During homeroom this morning when my student walked in, I told her, "I have a book I want you to read."

She rolled her eyes and gave me that look that said, "Yeah, right."

Did I mention that she doesn't like to read? And that she hasn't finished a book the entire year. But I'm not about to give up on her.

At the end of homeroom I made the hand off.

I took the book out of my and bag and said, "Here is the book. I really do think you will like it if you just give it a chance."

"Uhmm," she mumbled. I could tell she was trying her best to ignore me, but I pressed on.

"It is about a girl who gets teased and bullied because of how dark her skin is. She has very low esteem. She has a mirror that her dad gave her, which helps her to see herself in a different way."  She continued to roll her eyes. Because of her body language, I could tell she wasn't interested, so I knew I had to do something different. I followed up with, "Oh, and toward the end, she catches her classroom on fire."

That perked her up. I could tell she was warming up to the idea, so I left the book on her desk. When the bell rang for the next period, I looked at her desk.  Yes, the book was gone. That was a start.

I have this student the last period of the day. When she walked in, I asked her, "Did you start the book?"

"Yes, I did," she replied showing no emotion whatsoever.

"You think you're going to like?" I asked crossing my fingers.

"Maybe..." she says with a slight smile.

Yes! I love the hand off!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Test Prep and Pep #SOL19


I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.  

March seems to be that time of year when doubt begins to creep in. We begin to question whether we have done enough, been enough. Yes, it is that time when what we have done gets put under a microscope under the disguise of standardized state testing. It has become part of the educational central nervous system, a system in which many believe that all else functions.

Friday, our State Superintendent of Education puts out a weekly newsletter. In this newsletter was a video about "test prep and pep." Finding the title intriguing, I clicked on it and was quite pleased by its message.

I believe that it honestly put test prep and pep where it belongs, as a natural part of teaching and learning - not front and center. It explained how test prep and pep "places undue attention on testing and damages the cycle of teaching, learning, and assessment." They further explain how this leads to additional anxiety and stress on students and encourages schools not to do these types of activities.

I have never been a fan of test prep and pep. I believe that if I teach my students to be strong, strategic, and critical readers and writers throughout the year, then I am teaching them to be prepared for the test, any test. I try to explain to my students that I do not teach them something because it will "be on a test." I teach them something because they need these skills to be literate human beings and to be part of our society.

Now I just wish they would put out a video on how testing shouldn't be used to evaluate teachers.

Baby steps!

Friday, March 22, 2019

False Alarm #SOL19


I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.  

Some things just spend their life doing what they are supposed to do. They don't ask questions. They don't complain. They just go about doing their business.

This week we were all standing in the kitchen while I was making dinner when all of a sudden, our smoke detector in the basement went off.

"I wonder what that's all about?" I asked my husband.

"I don't know," he answered and opened the basement door to inspect.

We have electric detectors in the living levels of our house, but we have battery operated in the basement and in the upstairs storage where we installed a separate heating and cooling unit. This detector was going off for real, and not the go-off-in-the-middle-of-the-night-because-the-batteries-are-dead-and-drive-you-crazy kind of beeping.

My husband goes down, pulls out the battery and tests it with his tongue. "Nope, batteries are good. Not sure why it went off."

I had the dryer going, and I went downstairs to check on it. As I approached it, I could tell something was not right. As I got closer, it smelled differently. Not burning, but just a stronger clean laundry smell. Then I heard something strange. I looked behind the dryer, and the hose on the vent had come off.

Ah-ha! That smoke detector didn't detect smoke, but he knew something was wrong.

Yep, just going about his business of keeping us safe.