Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Back-to-School Insomnia

Does anyone else suffer from back-to-school insomnia?  The time has come where I lay in bed, and I just can't turn my brain off.  Constant thoughts of school and what still needs to be done and ideas to try  and the numbers of students I have and...

Now that I am trying to live this "writerly life," I thought I could turn this into a poem.  Several of these lines came to me while waiting for sleep to come.  Eight more days....of summer and sleepless nights.

I see you there
glowing in the dark
laughing as my mind races
with no shut-off valve
thoughts turning
lists growing

book boxes to fill
lesson plans to make
36 name-tags to write
not enough desks
or chairs
or space
data folders to assemble
did I mention 36

it makes me tired 
to even think about it
as I watch your time move on
wishing sleep would come

I hope these next fews days or weeks or whatever you have left, are filled with summer fun and hopefully sleep!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Slice of Life - Worry Lines

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"Be careful!'  

"I am.  Why do you always say that?"  he asks.

"Because I'm your's my job!"

This has been a typical conversation around our house the past couple of months.  We have hit some major life milestones.  My son got his driver's license and my daughter turned 21 over the weekend!

Someone should have told me when I was pregnant that you not only have strange middle-of-the-night cravings, baby weight that is hard to get off, and stretch marks that never go away, you also get worry lines.

As I sat on my back porch the other night enjoying this unusually mild weather for this time of year and reading a blog I learned about from Ruth Ayres, I came came across a post about worrying...what timing!

It was a guest post by Gari Meachum on Ann Voskamp's website, A Holy Experience.  This is a beautful place.  Many times I go here just to listen to the music as I am working on my computer.  If you have not experienced this, here is a gentle will be glad you did.

Gari talks about raising teenagers and the "worry praying" that accompanies it.

"I spent many a night “worry praying” my way through the hours until my kids were safely back in their beds, sensing that worry is like a rocking chair—it consumes a lot of energy and takes us nowhere."  

So here I am, rocking away with my what-ifs on either side.  I have two wonderful children who have always made good life choices.  But worry just hangs around.  Uninvited.

She goes on to say that worrying means that we don't think God can look after the practical details of our life.

I know that there are many things in my children's lives that I cannot do anything about, even if I am their mother.

I know as a Christian I am to let go and let Him take care of things....all things

I know that worry doesn't move God's hand, faith does.

I know.

But... this isn't easy for me.  Because I am their's my job!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wise Words From a Pre-school Teacher

After reading Michelle's slice at The Literacy Learning Zone about potty training her girls, I couldn't help but remember some wise words spoken by my children's pre-school teacher.

Seventeen years ago my husband and I were faced with an important decision - whether or not to send our daughter to pre-school.  I had been a stay-at-home mom and "letting go" was not something that came easily for me.  We were very fortunate in that she had a wonderful teacher, Miss Jhan.  Miss Jhan was passionate about the life of three and four year olds.  It certainly made our decision much easier.

I learned a very important lesson from Miss Jhan as I stood in her classroom with tears in my eyes on the last day of school.  It was difficult thinking that my first born was leaving her caring classroom and would soon be starting kindergarten.  She looked at me mother to mother and assured me that every stage of Megan's life would be wonderful.

Megan will be 21 in a couple of days and you know, Miss Jhan was absolutely right.  I look back and remember...
  • the day she read a book to her kindergarten class
  • learning how to ride without training wheels
  • the toothless first grade picture 
  • the first spelling word she missed
  • the day she learned about Santa
  • her first basketball game
  • not being able to unlock her combination lock in middle school
  • walking out onto the court as a varsity basketball player
  • getting behind the wheel of our car
  • her first fender bender
  • broken hearts
  • girl drama
  • prom
  • graduation
  • her first day of college
Megan will start her third year of college in the fall, planning to become an elementary teacher and high school basketball coach.  I am so proud of her, and I look forward to the life stages yet to come.

So for those of you who have young children, let me remind you of the words I once heard from a wise preschool teacher...each stage of their life is wonderful.  Just slow down and enjoy it, because in the blink of an eye, they will be 21!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


This weekend I will celebrate my 23rd wedding anniversary.  Some days it is hard to remember what life was like before meeting my husband.  Those first two years were a time of learning about each other, learning about give-and-take, learning about love.  

Our love then, was young and innocent...our love now is becoming seasoned.  I don't need words or gifts, his presence is enough to fill my heart each day and for years to come.  But there are days when the two loves merge and take me back to those first two years.  

I remember.  I smile.  I think about our life together.  I anticipate what is to come.


Love is more than

it’s that smile 
shared across the table
still...for my eyes only

it’s the touching of elbows
sharing the swing
still...stirring the butterflies inside

it's the snapping of the dishtowel
standing at the sink
still...playing like young lovers

it’s falling asleep 
your heart in rhythm with mine
still...after all these years

I am so blessed and grateful for these 23 years with my husband, especially after reading Linda Baie's post over at  Teacher Dance.  What a special kind of love!

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Monday, July 22, 2013

An Unexpected Hero

My grandmother turned 88 this month.  She is still very independent, but shows characteristics that are typically found in the elderly.  Remembering things that happen and the details surrounding them, are sometimes difficult for her.

So, when I was told of an incident that happened Sunday morning, I have to say I was a little skeptical.

Grandma was getting ready for church around 7:00 am.  She looked out the window and saw a little girl with long hair walking with two dogs.  She seemed to be around three years old.  Knowing that the little girl was too young to be outside unsupervised, Grandma went out in her bare feet and robe to see about the girl.  They walked around the block, thinking someone would be out searching for her.  At some point while they were walking, the dogs disappeared.  Since the little girl was too young to know her address, and no one was looking for her, Grandma saw no other option but to take her home.

She called my aunt and told her about the situation, and my aunt immediately called the police.  When the police arrived, they knew the little girl.  As it turns out "she" was actually a boy, and the police took him home, which happened to be several blocks away.

The police called Family Services.  Unfortunately, this was not the first time.  Supposedly, the little boy climbed over his gate and somehow got out the door.  The parents were still home asleep in bed.

I know that small children learn quickly how to maneuver gates, latches and locks, but when I think about what could have happened to that little boy, it makes me sad and angry at the same time.  I have to wonder what would have happened had Grandma not been looking out the window at that time?  What if she would have ignored it?  Were the dogs walking with the little boy sensing they needed to protect him?  Did they know the little boy wasn't supposed to be out there alone?

I don't think this was a coincidence.  God was looking out for that little boy, and at the same time, He gave my Grandma a gift of pride - something everyone needs, especially the elderly, especially the unexpected heroes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Lesson From Katie Wood Ray

I have always believed in the saying that "you get out of something what you put into it."  I say this to my students all the time, but recently this is a lesson that I have learned.

Last summer I bought and started reading What You Know by Heart from Katie Wood Ray.  I have to admit that I abandoned it.   I could not connect with it, and I was not getting anything out of it.

Fast forward a year.

This summer I decided that I was going to concentrate on becoming a better teacher of writing.  The first thing I did was to create this blog and start writing!  I also ordered several professional books on teaching writing.  Here is what I ordered:

Before those books arrived, I decided to dig out Katie's book and give it another try.  Reading it through a different lens, (that of someone who is actually writing) has been a "light bulb moment" for me.

She says, "We look at the texts of our experiences to see where ideas come from, how those ideas are developed, how a writer gets a draft started, what happens along the way as the draft progresses, and on and on."  p. 17.

The rest of the book uses those experiences to develop writing curriculum and minilessons.  The first time I tried reading this book, I was not putting anything into it - I was not writing.  Therefore, I did not get anything out of it.

Now all that has changed.

I have a notebook with ideas, and drafts, and revisions, and yes even published blog writing.

I have those experiences on which to draw.

I have visions of using my writing as mentor texts to teach these process lessons,

AND I can speak from experience when I say "you get out of something what you put into it!"

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Slice of Life - My Classroom Library

The middle of July brings with it thoughts of a new school year and teachers heading back to their classrooms in preparation for a new class of students.   I spent several mornings last week cleaning, unpacking, and trying to get my room back together.  

The area of my room which ALWAYS gets my attention first, is my classroom library.  It is my absolute favorite part of my room, and I believe it is a direct reflection of me and what I believe in. When someone walks into my classroom, I want them to think, "reading is important in this room."

The past four years I have arranged my room so that the library is like a little room within my classroom.  It is a secluded area, and the students love to go in and lay on the floor with pillows and read.  When the students arrive on the first day of school, the library is blocked off, so they can't go in or even see in.  They all want to know what is in there...creates quite a mysterious effect.   I always tell them it is a very special place, and some day soon they will be able to go in.  A couple of days later, we have a library grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  I give them bookmarks and pencils and together as a class, we have our first reading celebration.

This year due to the high number of students in my class, I have had to open up the library to allow more room.  At first I did not care for the new arrangement, but I am starting to see the possibilities.  It now houses my gathering spot for minilessons and what better place than my library!

The past couple of years I have also made some changes on how I organize my books.  We are an Accelerated Reader corporation and most teachers have their books arranged by book levels.  I am not a fan of AR and quietly express this to my students, parents and other teachers.  I think there are many other ways to get kids to read - but that is another post!

Trying not to rock the boat but still hold fast to my beliefs, I started organizing my books by different categories.  I pulled out the most popular series, favorite authors, Mrs. Eck's picks, and new books and created separate baskets for those, while leaving most books still organized by AR levels.  This worked well and only solidified my belief that kids need to know how to choose books arranged as if they were in a bookstore, not by AR level.

This year I have decided to organize some new baskets according to genre.  As I was perusing the baskets and pulling out books, I started thinking about how these new baskets could be used with my genre lessons while creating a learning experience for my students.  I am thinking about letting my students do the organizing as they are reading.  After a student reads a book and uses what he/she has learned about genre, they can decide where the book belongs.

As of right now, the baskets are empty, waiting for books that my students will read.  What do you think?  Do I dare continue decreasing baskets of AR book levels and creating more authentic organization, or do I keep it in AR levels like most other teachers.  I would love to hear your thoughts and how your classroom libraries are organized.

Have a great week!

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Slice of Life - Celebrating Firsts

A common strategy used in teaching students to generate ideas in their writing notebooks is to make a list...things you love, favorite places, special people, just to name a few.  I have always had my students create a list of "firsts" - things they remember doing for the first time.  As an adult, trying to seriously use a writer's notebook for the first time, I have found that I could write my personal lists as a child, a mother, a wife, or as a teacher.

After last week, I can now write about things I want to remember as a writer.

  • my first blog
  • my first post
  • my first slice of life
  • my first comment from Katherine Sokolowski
After my first slice last week, I became courageous enough to leave a comment on Katherine's blog telling her what an influence she has been on my teaching, reading and writing life.  She thanked me and told me she was off to find my blog.

Later that day, I opened my laptop and sure enough, she not only found it, but she left a comment.  I felt like a child at Christmas time....Santa not only stopped at my house, but he left me a present!

Last summer was the first time I started reading blogs.  I spent hours reading the endless trails from one blog to another, many times getting lost along the way.  I honestly do not remember how it all happened, but I do know that Read, Write, Reflect was the one I connected with.  It was first on my bookmarks and the first one that I read every day.  

I don't know if the connection was because Katherine lives somewhat close to my hometown, compared to the locations of some of the other teachers on the blogs I was reading.  It may have been that I actually lived down the cornfield...I mean interstate...from where she lives.  That was many years ago during my first career as a retail district manager. 

What I DO know is that I admired her way of teaching and her "reading relationship" she had with her students.  I was like a sponge and absorbed every word she wrote.  After reading her thoughts on teaching and education and learning about some of the things she did in her classroom, I knew that was how I wanted my classroom to be.  This gave me the courage to teach in ways I knew in my heart were  right, but was afraid to do them for fear of being the only one.  I know I became a better teacher last year because of her and what she taught me through reading Read, Write, Reflect.  As I told her in my comment, she was my silent mentor, and I wanted to be just like her "when I grew up."

Now that I am focusing on becoming a better teacher of writing, I know I will continue to read her blog along with many others, to gain inspiration and knowledge.  I still have so much to learn about this blogging, writing world, but I am grateful for this new chapter in my life, for Katherine's inspiration, and for celebrating my firsts.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Lesson From May B.

I just finished reading May B. by Caroline Starr Rose.  Beautifully written in verse, this book reminds me of a combination of  Little House on the PrairieThank You, Mr. Falker and Love That Dog.

May B's family sends her away to help a neighbor and his new wife adjust to pioneer life.  After a short time, May finds herself left abandoned in the sod house on the prairie during a blizzard.  As May struggles to survive, she thinks back to her time at school and the relationships she had with two very different teachers.  We also find out that she has a learning disability which diminishes her dream of becoming a teacher.

I have been reading/thinking about mentor sentences and their use in writing as well as responding to reading in my classroom.   Which sentences speak to me, resonate with me, make me think about something a little deeper?  Although this is a book of survival, it is also a book about determination and having dreams.  I heard these sentences loud and clear:

"What does it matter those things that hold me back?  What does it matter when I make mistakes?  They don't make me who I am."

How many times do we have students who hold back from doing something because of their struggles or mistakes?  How many students think those struggles make up who they are and influence who they want to become?

Mr. Falker, Miss Sanders, and Miss Stretchberry are my role models.  When we start school in five weeks, I know I will have students like May B.  I hope I can reach them, encourage them, and inspire them to realize "...there's no shame in hoping for things that might seem out of reach."  Everyone has dreams.  I can't wait to share mine with my students, learn about theirs, and achieve them together.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Slice of Life - Milk Jug Calendar

Time has a way of slipping by, and the older I get, the faster it goes.  And NO I did not believe that when my grandparents would say those words when I was a child.

I have this quirky way of watching time go by...especially as it relates to school--reading the date on the milk jug.

We go through about three jugs of milk a week at our house and paying attention to the dates is just something that I do.  Those dates have a way of marching through time.  At the end of the school year, I can't wait until I finally see May, then June with the anticipation of summer break.

Last week I grabbed two jugs of milk and I couldn't believe my eyes...JULY8th!  I gasped, my heart started racing and I broke out into a cold sweat (well maybe I just gasped!)  It couldn't be!  I blinked to make sure I was reading it correctly.  Yes, it did say July.  I knew then that it was all down hill from there.  Summer was flying by and not even a jug of milk could stop it.

This week as I timidly approached the refrigerated section and opened the door, I opened one eye and then the other.  Oh no...July 18th!  I slammed the door shut and said, "No thanks, I think I'll try the OTHER store!"