Monthly Archives: October 2022

I’m sorry

You were in my 6th grade class over a decade ago. You were cool. You laughed and joked, fooled around with your friends, did your work (Mostly. With reminders…) We got along.

One day, you made a mistake. I wondered if I could ignore it until read aloud was over, but soon the whole class saw it. That’s when it really became a thing. A thing I had to deal with. I didn’t want to deal with it though, especially after I saw your face when you noticed me notice the hidden project you had in your hoodie.

I had to make a quick decision. There’s a teacher brain thing that happens. It’s a mode where you are still teaching or reading, or talking, but your brain is making a decision. Your brain is engaging in a very short, seconds-long debate. Mine probably went something like this:

He shouldn’t have done that. It could hurt someone. He’s not going to hurt someone. He’s just joking around. It’s a stupid joke, I need to take that away from him. Can we talk about this later at recess maybe? All the other kids see it now, I have to acknowledge it. The handbook is very clear on this. My gut says this isn’t really textbook handbook stuff. I’m supposed to do what the rules say to do. I don’t want to make this a bigger deal than it is. Is this really zero tolerance stuff? What about that kid I read about in the news who was suspended for accidentally bringing a nail file to school? I have to follow the rules. But he doesn’t need a 10 day suspension for this, that’s overkill. Rules like that really do show kids that adults don’t have it together. But ugh. I have to do what I’m supposed to do. I really hope the principal can handle this in a nurturing way.

I took you into the hall. I took a deep breath. You already could barely look at me.

“I’m going to have to give this to the principal.” I said. I think I said it kindly. I hope I said something to show you I understood.

You looked so uncomfortable.

I probably made a face with my lips curled in and my nose scrunched up. It’s supposed to mean, “I know this sucks. But it’s going to be okay.”

It was a long walk down to the office and you trailed behind me the whole way, sobbing.

When we got there, I tried to explain the situation to the substitute vice principal:

I’m here because he needs to turn this in, and it isn’t okay that he made it. But he didn’t make it to hurt anyone. It’s not a weapon. I hope we can be reasonable with consequences.

She nodded. Told me she would take care of it, and to send you in.

The next day you started your 10 day suspension.

I didn’t take any data, and it was a long time ago. But, when you came back you were never really the same kid. There was less laughter, less chatting, less fooling around, but that wasn’t a good thing. There was also less engagement and fewer friends. We didn’t NOT get along after that, you and I. It’s just that the relationship was damaged.

Maybe you didn’t want to have anything to do with me because I didn’t fight hard enough for the grey in the situation, I didn’t advocate for you enough. Maybe you were just embarrassed about the vulnerability I saw in all of your sobbing.

Maybe it was all of the above and more.

I’m sorry.

I should have done better.

I’m really sorry.

My Turn

Part of Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers!

When I walk into second-grade, I’m happy to see that the guest teacher is not only one I know and love, but one I used to request when I was a classroom teacher. I had hoped it would be her!

“My dream has come true! It’s you!” I tell her.

“Ms. Gabriel! You’re here!” A girl says with a big smile, and I feel loved. Then she adds, “I knew it would be close to recess when you got here!”

The students clean up from reading and join me on the carpet for some phonics routines.

I’m not lying when I remind the class that I am just learning phonics, and the routines too. I mean, you should see how many times I have to text one of the other Instructional Coaches about this stuff.

Is gi_ the same as gi without the line after it? Sounds like Jump?
How do I know what the spelling focus is for each word in the spelling focus routine?

I make sticky notes to myself at the bottom of pages to remind myself of the sounds for the sound spelling review, because my brain has just never worked this way.

When I started teaching, decades ago, I used to have to ask my lovely para to remind me about long vowels vs. short.

So basically the fact that I can now do any of this is a miracle.

Why does the spelling card for ring say that “ng” can be spelled with _n_? The substitute teacher and I quickly discuss. Isn’t it always a short vowel, n, then a g or k?

Stamp is an interesting word to blend. You really have to dig into vowel sounds with that one.

The second-graders are wonderful though. Great critics. I’ve asked them to rate me at the end of each routine: Thumbs up, thumbs sideways, thumbs down.

They give me way more thumbs up than I deserve. But, I’ll take it

Before we started I told them I found stickers while I cleaned out my basement this weekend. I wasn’t sure they’d care. But, wow. Second-graders really love stickers. I don’t know why I had forgotten that. . .

“What do you think you need to do to earn a sticker?” I asked them, knowing full well there was no way I wasn’t going to give them all a sticker.

“Be good?” One of them said.

“Well, you are all good!” I said

“Pay attention!” Someone offered

“Participate!” Another student said.

“Those are all great ideas,” I told them. “But really there’s one big thing. You are going to have to have to help me practice these phonics routines!”

They were all in for that, especially the one student sitting right in front. Last week when I came in to do these routines for the first time, he said to me, “I’m going to be a phonics teacher one day.”

This time he sneaks it in again. In between a routine, after a thumbs up check, I tell them they are the ones that really deserved the double thumbs up for such amazing reading. I hear him, very quietly say, “Yea. I’m ready to be a phonics professor.”

At some point I ask the students how they got so good at this.

“We’ve been doing it for three years!” They say, like they are some sort of commercial for a vertical articulated curriculum.

We finish the routines, (something I always feel like I deserve a sticker for, to be honest!) so it’s sticker time!

They chose without argument, taking turns.

They sweetly ask if they can put their stickers on their hand, their backpack, their lunchbox, their chrome book, their water bottle.

I advise them that paper would be the best place, or on a notebook – because they might fall off otherwise.

The guest teacher says, “Ms. Gabriel’s been doing this a long time. I’d take her advice.”

One of the last kids to choose a sticker asks if he can take the little sticker on the side of sticker sheet – a tiny rectangle with, I don’t know, the item number printed on it.

“Sure…” I say.

“Does this count as a sticker?” He asks.

“If you want it to,” I say.

“Okay!” He says and walks away with that teeny tiny rectangle.

The class is outside, and if you walked by the classroom you would hear me and the guest teacher sounding out words, discussing why it’s so hard to sound out anything that has an an or am.

Caaaannnnn, Mannnnnn, Raaaaannn . . .
. . .

“Great to see you!” I tell her as I leave.

“You too,” she says “Thanks for coming to teach the phonics. I always learn more by watching it.”

“Thanks for not laughing at me while I was doing it!” I say

“Oh I was,” she smiles, “I was laughing WITH you though.”


Part of Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life

Clyde is a busy kitten
He runs toys up and down the stairs,
Hisses at the dog
Chases the other cats.

So you’ll understand why it’s such a gift
that he has decided to sit next to me while I write —
First to stretch and look cute on the cushion next to mine
Then right up against my thigh.

He cleans his feet – six toes splayed out
Licks his belly
He lets me scratch his soft soft head
But tries to kill my hand when I rub his belly

Sleeping on my other side,
not noticing Clyde-
The dog is clueless
But, the battle is imminent