Monthly Archives: April 2015

A love note to my students

I wore my “gratitude” bracelet today as I proctored our state test. And even though I occasionally wanted to whistle Rue’s song, I didn’t. I just did my job. I walked. I monitored. I walked. I monitored. I walked. . . you get the picture, I’m sure. Since I’m supposed to monitor without looking at or reading the test itself, I decided to closely read my students instead.  In the book Falling In Love with Close Reading, Kate Roberts and Christopher Lehmen remind us that we closely read what we love. (Read this post from Kate Roberts for a great perspective on this concept.)

So I closely read my students, who you must know, I already loved. I jotted down a love note to them on a my very own piece of scrap paper.

Dear Students,

I think I love you even more today.  You know this isn’t my favorite time of school, but right now I’m full of gratitude for you.

I love that I can tell you don’t want to be silent, and I am so thankful that you are silent anyway. I love how you whisper, “This is so suspenseful!” as I finish handing out scrap paper and start reading the directions.

I love how you roll your eyes, in a friendly way when I ask once again for any electronic devices. I love how you mouth the words to my directions as I read them. I love your twitchy legs, and your bored smiles, your hard work and even your not so hard work. (You – I see you’re finished after just a few minutes. You’re so bright and creative. I’m sorry you are having a hard time putting that all into a text dependent analysis.)

You all sit behind privacy screens, even after your work is done. I watch you fidget and you settle. I love that you chose to read Calvin & Hobbs, and you chose Lacrosse Magazine. You picked up Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I love how many of you are reading Harry Potter books, Maze Runner, and Lord of the Rings. Everyone seems to have the perfect post-test choice. And I love the way some of you aren’t reading. Your heads are down. You’re done for now. That’s okay.

I love the way you stacked your  mints, and lined up your pencils. And then how you stack and line them again. And again. I love the way you put your book down, and pick it back up. I love that you ask for extra time, and I love that you don’t. I love that you stick your finger through your tissue to make a puppet. I love that you silently cheer when testing is done, and remain polite and silent as I read the directions to close your test booklets, even though you have already given your test to me.

We’re in this together, folks. Thanks for being such great people. I am lucky to spend my days with you.


Your Proctor Teacher

A Slice of Anger, in rhyme

Slice of LIfe

Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers. Head over there for information and links to more Slicing! It’s also April… So poetry it is!

I’m angry.

I'm angry.
So I’m choosing rhyme 
and a little bit of meter
to tell you about some
of the testing today, dear reader. 

I’m angry. 
So, I need to write
and hope that somebody is starting a fight. . . 
That people will stand up for 

I’m angry.
So, I don’t quite trust
myself to write
something real, but not mean
before I head to bed tonight.

I’m angry. 
This testing day wasn’t 
so hard 
for me
It was not
I handled it fine
My students didn’t cry
Nobody had a fit
They sat where I 
told them to sit

Kids sucked on mints
behind privacy screens
and the testing cop 
wasn’t too mean.
He pointed to a hood on someone’s head
and handed me a piece of paper.
Nothing was said.

We had it easy in my room. 
Maybe because 
most of the kids I proctor
had breakfast and lunch
and will have supper.
Most are white
and middle class.
Most of them read pretty well, pretty fast.

I taught them to breathe
whenever they felt stress.
I told them they are worth 
so much more
than this test.

I assured them that whatever happened
our school wouldn’t close down
that I’d still be around
that they would be fine
even if they messed up 
a few times. 

I decided some things
while everything was silent
while I walked and I walked (and I walked) 
the aisles of this new classroom climate

I decided you should 
I decided it’s something we all need to shout.
I decided I’m angry 
at all the rules
and all this wasted time in our schools. 

I decided It’s about civil rights
and so much more.
It’s about standing up for others --
even if your own kids are fine 
not stressed
have a high score.

It’s about taking back assessment
so that it can mean something real.
It’s about caring more about 
how the actual children feel.

Learning is hard: “Getting to know kids through content”


I’m participating in Ruth Ayres Celebrate This Week. Check out the link up here.

Today, I’m celebrating that learning is hard, and messy…even when it looks fun and fluffy.

IMG_5916Every year, I almost cancel my puppet project before it even starts. I think about the planning: finding research times, writing times, prep times, sewing times, practicing times, show times… So. Much. Time. I think about finding enough parent volunteers, begging for supplies, trips to the fabric shop, and how much fleece I’m going to have to cut and count just to get it ready for the kids. I think about how hard it is to get everyone started on that first day of sewing. I think about how students will look at me like I have 2 heads when I show them how to thread their needle and how to whip stitch. But, In the back of my mind, I do remember why I do the project.

I see flashes of students gathered in “sewing circles.”

IMG_1414-1I see students faces beam with pride as they right-side-out their puppet’s face for the first time and say, “Look! It’s a real puppet!”

I see students putting their information into creative, entertaining scripts and rehearsing for their puppet show.

I see families coming to watch the show, wondering what all the fuss is about, and families leaving with smiles and pride. IMG_1922

I see emails I’ve received from parents telling me, “Thank you for all you do to teach them in creative ways…my child learned so much, benefitted so much….The newspaper should do a story on this project… ” Those emails are wonderful reminders of how a project can mean something to a student.

My Instructional Coach said something at a meeting the other day – it was a lightbulb moment for me. We were talking about curriculum, responsive teaching, relationships and knowing our students. We were talking about inquiry and literacy and my Instructional Coach said, “Content is one of the ways we can get to know our students.”

Content? I think I’ve always had content and relationships separate in my brain. I teach students…and what I teach them is content. But my coach is right (as usual – don’t tell her I said so…) and I felt the lightbulb turn on. I have been reflecting on this throughout the week, especially as it relates to my Greek research project that culminates in a big puppet show.

This content, along with the process, and the product for that matter, really helps me get to know my students. Often, I see a different side of them. It isn’t just the contagious engagement level: Many students who are used to experiencing failure are often successful; Some students who are used to experiencing only success often hit some roadblocks along the way. I love to watch their mindsets as they work hard to be persistent. It takes rigor to pull out a whole row of stitches and start over. As students take their information and turn it into creative scripts, they are working hard and having fun.

IMG_0095Sometimes I feel defensive when people ask me about this project. It takes a long time, and a lot of effort by students, teachers, and parents. At first glance, people may think it is “fluff.” Sometimes students are worried about the project challenges and tell me “I’m not crafty.” I’ve had parents tell me that when they first looked at my information about it, they rolled their eyes. Even after the first day of sewing, it still looks “messy.” (And I don’t just mean the piles of embroidery floss and small bits of fleece!) Some kids are left with so much sewing to do after that first work time that people don’t believe it’s ever going to work. I still get nervous after that first day.

But then — it works. The kids are amazing. The parents volunteers are amazing. The puppets are amazing. The scripts are informative and fun. At some point after the project has been put away, I know I will stop finding fleece bits on my clothes.

So, when it was once again time to start planning the research and sewing calendar, I took a deep breath.  I sat down to really write out the purpose of this project. I wanted it to be more than an awesome feeling. My list of “Knows” and “Dos” and “Understands” filled up a page and a half of a google doc.

Let me tell you the truth. I actually like “fluff.”  I think “fluff” has its place in our classrooms, because our classrooms are full of children. But, here’s another truth. This project – the one where my kids research and plan, symbolize and represent, write and revise, rehearse and preform? This project is not “fluff.”

After this project, students will know more about ancient Greece, research, script writing and presentation. They will have gathered, evaluated and organized information. They will have symbolized with representations. They will know how to whipstitch, and how to hot glue. They will have performed in front of an audience! My goal is that they will understand that creative expression can be hard work, and that creativity is not the opposite of learning.

Celebrating in Free Verse


I’m participating in Ruth Ayres Celebrate This Week. Check out the link up here!

Celebrating. . . in free verse for April Poetry…

Thursday's Run
I think it's been about a week since I last ran, so I lace up and head out. My itchy ankle distracts my warm up walk, and suddenly my app tells me to start. So I start, and I'm slow. I can't believe it's been only a week. What kind of person am I thinking I can run? I can't run. But I do. So I go, I will myself not to look at my pace. That will just depress me! Instead I remind myself of my first runs: Run for 90 seconds, walk for 60, repeat. My phone rings, I ignore, my music comes back, softer than before. I am annoyed. I can't get my music loud enough, my pace fast enough, my stride long enough. It's warm, and I like to run in the cold. I'm crazy, crazy for running, crazy for not running. I think it's been more than a week. Maybe it's been two. This run is not fun.  But at least I'm running. This is not a good run, but it is A run. And my next run will be better. It better be better.
Getting Report Cards Done
Papers piled, late work too, kid blog posts & comments, emails, google docs. I'm overwhelmed. Stressed. I could blame snow days, delays, spring break. Instead I blame myself:  I got in over my head, I was tired, I was busy, I accepted so much late work. Too much. But I finished! Report cards and comments are entered, and a new blank slate called "The 4th marking period" has begun!