Category Archives: Reflections on teaching

Celebrating a few Themes at TCRWP

celebrate-image So happy to Celebrate with Ruth Ayres this weekend! 

So much to celebrate after the 93rd Saturday Reunion at TCRWP.  Of course the day is full of all kinds of learning, and that is a huge celebration for me… a true gift. Another gift that I love about every Saturday Reunion I’ve been to is that there are always a few themes and connections that I follow the whole day — at the conference and sometimes around the city itself.

Here’s just a handful of celebrations from my time there this weekend…

Celebrating Writing and Teaching…

Arriving in front of Riverside Church just a little early (okay, an hour early) we had time to walk around, and bump into Jack Gantos. Well, by bump into, I mean…

Me: I think that’s Jack Gantos
Friends: No…Oh wait, is it?
Me: Googles picture of Jack Gantos and shows it to friends
Friends: Nod.
Me & Friends: Silently wish we had the courage to stop him, ask each other why we didn’t stop him after he walks by, and decide it would have been rude anyway…

Don’t worry. We snuck up after his keynote to shake his hand and say thank you.

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Picture by Kris Hall

Jack Gantos started his keynote looking out into the audience of teachers and saying, “We have so much in common. We are agents of positive change. When you are an agent of positive change, you get it back!”

Then, he talked about writing, his new book called Writing Radar, and effective writing instruction.

“The world right in front of me.” He said. “The first person world. That is the world I should be writing about… That’s the real stuff.”

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Jack Gantos speaking at TCRWP Picture by Kris Hall

Later, after many trips on the hotel elevator, the three of us were trying to figure out why we could never find our floor number. Why was the 26th floor button always somewhere different? We knew this would make an excellent math problem, so we were taking pictures of the button panel to compare with our other button panel pictures.

We turned to the only other person on the elevator with us.

Us: We just want to figure out exactly what is happening with these numbers.
Man: I know! Number 16 is always in a different place!
Us: Well, we’re teachers so we have fun figuring this sort of thing out.
Man: (exiting elevator, turning towards us one last time.) You guys are teachers? Thank you for being teachers. I have children.
Me: I’m writing that down

I think this is what Jack Gantos said to write about … this is the real stuff… and teachers are agents of positive change. Nice to be thanked. Go thank a teacher next time you see one. 😉

Speaking of being an agent of change…Celebrating Cornelius Minor.

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My new favorite picture. Love connecting to the powerful force that is @MisterMinor. (Picture by Kris Hall – Thanks, Friend!)

I can’t pass up an opportunity to see Cornelius speak. I went to his session last year and was happy to hear him again. Cornelius spoke about change, he mentioned it is evolutionary not revolutionary.  He told us that “everybody wants to make a difference. Not everyone gets invited to do so…We need a posse to help… and that can just be one other person…Change takes time.”

Later, walking the High Line, we couldn’t help but notice the story of 2 neighborhood leaders starting the fight against demolishing the high line. Now, the old abandoned railroad tracks are a beautiful garden path. Those leaders had a posse!

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Celebrating Revision…

In Lucy Calkins’ session, she talked about writing expecting revision. “Breathe in, breathe out. Draft, Revise.” She shared writing quotes with us that resonated.

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Later at the Strand Bookstore,  I saw a sticker that I think captured some of that, in a different sort of way.
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Celebrating each other…

At Lucy’s closing, she told us that this work we are doing is noble, and she reminded us of the importance of standing by each other. For our workshops to flourish, we need to rally together and support one another. “How we are to each other is most important.”  After spending the weekend with a couple of amazing teachers whom I get to call friends… I couldn’t agree with her more.

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A slice from my chair

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

From my chair, I see
An empty grape juice bottle, not in the recycling bin
A red and grey backpack, not hung up
A sweatshirt that should probably go in the laundry
A dishtowel too.

For some reason there are 2 folding chairs and a folding table
folded up, and just leaning

and a basket of Mr. Thought’s clean laundry. Folded!
(So many things folded… does this mean something?)

From my chair, I see Mr. Thought working in the other room,
the lights from his computer
brighter than the old floor lamp leaning there

I’m not sure why this room is such a mess.
My books from my classroom are still sitting here
and even though I should be annoyed at how they spill out of their bins,
I’m not
Because it reminds me of how the books have been lent and given
to teachers
to kids
to friends

From my chair, I see
this computer
with my blog window covering up
my calendar
my to do list
my email

I wonder if it’s still called procrastinating
if it is writing?

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Celebrating. . . Children speak in poetry

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So happy to Celebrate with Ruth Ayres this weekend!  (In a better late than never sort of way. . . )

I want to celebrate going outside to write slices of life with second graders.

We walked outside, a monarch butterfly to release, and slices of the butterfly garden to write. After a brief butterfly lesson, we sent them off to notice and wonder and write about the things they saw. Their teacher and I looked at each other and decided we couldn’t write with them … we would be too busy supervising, conferring, helping…

And we were busy… but later, as we gathered the children to go back inside, we both confessed that we had put pencil to paper…we couldn’t help it.

These children speak in poetry! I kept crying out to them, “That sounds like a line in a poem! Write that down!” And they did. They wrote their words down (after speaking them to their teacher, to their friends, to me). As I walked around, I heard these kids noticing and wondering, and saying lines that belong in poetry and on inspirational posters.

Goldenrod Butterfly
       Children speak in poetry

We found red berries
This is the perfect spot for monarch butterflies
And also spiders

Write it down, friends! 
       Children speak in poetry

Follow me!
Another path!
I know where everything is in this school

Write that down, the things you say are lines of slices
       Children speak in poetry

This leaf feels like wool
I see nature all around me
I notice, I love nature
Trees, plants give us oxygen

Say it to the page, boys and girls! 
       Children speak in poetry

Oh! The monarch's still here
A path full of plants
Even though some plants are pokey
You should want them to live. 
It's nature

Goldenrod, Butterflies
     Children speak in poetry

I almost wrote down everything. 

A Slice of Life, It’s Not Easy!

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

You know what’s hard?

It’s hard to do algebra when you’re 39, re-learning it on the fly
to help your 9th grader with radicals – simplified
“This is stupid! When will I ever need this in life?” She asks.

It’s hard not to answer her with sarcasm,
“Well, when your 9th grader is crying to you about algebra,
You might wish you paid a little more attention!”

It’s hard to push back your own memories of hating. math. class.
so that you can say instead,
“Algebra helps you in later math classes, and the logic behind it helps you in life…”

It’s hard to hear yourself sound like a cartoon mom
saying some sort of script instead of
the inspiration you wish you could be.

It’s hard to watch your child try and try
struggling, worried, stressed
with new teachers, new classes, new expectations.

You know what’s hard?
High School.
High School is hard
Learning, that’s hard
Parenting, teaching,
having patience,
perseverance,
knowing when it’s okay to fail, when you should try harder…
when it’s time to ask for help.

Slice(s) of Elementary

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

How are you? Without a classroom? How are you?

I’m fine! I’m good! It’s weird, It’s different. But I’m good.
I am in constant wonderment of the teachers around me
My eyes are teary because
I don't want to sound dramatic, but 
elementary school is magic 

Little people walk through the doors
Each morning -- Hundreds of them 
The first day, they are dressed up ---
Bows in their hair, little ties, dresses, tutus 
Even the 5th graders are dressed up -- 
Dressed up by dressing down 
just so
casual 
Oldest in the school now, leaders -you can tell by the way they walk and talk
I don't want to sound dramatic, but 
elementary school is magic 

And the littlest ones,
New to school, they look for their kindergarten teacher 
Who greets them, of course, like they are 
The one they have been waiting for
(because they are the ones they have been waiting for. All 20 of them) 
First graders hug their kindergarten teacher from last year before walking down the big kid hall
They carry their backpacks and their breakfasts on little trays 
They look happy. They look worried. They look excited. They look nervous. 
A fifth grader walks by, 
looks at her friend, and all around the hall
"I've missed this place." she says, shaking her head with joy.
I don't want to sound dramatic, but 
Elementary school is magic 

I spend my days popping in and out, slices accumulating in my tired brain….
A second grader looks at me with utter confusion, each word emphasized with a furrowed brow.
"Who are you?" 
A kindergartner makes plans for catching the gingerbread man who got away today. 
"I have a cage. I can build a security camera." 
A fourth grader says "Can you help me spell division?" and then in almost a whisper, "Are you H. Thought's mom? I'm Abby from school. I started a new school now." 
I walk with a first grade class to recess 
a sweet boy talks to me about his star wars game, 
He quietly grabs my hand as we walk
I don't really know him yet, but I love him. 
I don't want to sound dramatic, but
Elementary school is magic

 

Fueled by Love

celebrate-image So happy to Celebrate with Ruth Ayres this weekend! 

I want to celebrate one of my kids today. One of my wonderful children is a little extra unique. He’s smart, creative, comical, helpful, talented, a struggling reader, fidgety, a nonconformist, sensitive and loud. If you haven’t met him, watching this will give you a good idea of him. (If you’re his parent, watching it might make you cry and hope.)

The other day I overheard someone else use the word tricky to describe him. They hadn’t met him yet, but it was my fault because sometimes I have labeled him “tricky” in order to try to describe him to others. But I think I’ve been using the wrong word. It’s not that he’s never mischievous… it’s just that that isn’t what I mean by tricky. The nuance of what I mean is lost in the translation from my brain to others’ ears. I mean unique. I mean not interested in the status quo. I mean challenges you to be a better person.  I mean sensitive but not quiet. 

The other day, Mr. Thought and I were talking about how to make sure our son starts off his new school on the right foot.

“He’s not tricky.” Mr. Thought said. “Well, sometimes he is, but that’s not the point.”

We both thought for a moment. “He’s just fueled by love.” My husband explained, “He needs to know he’s loved.”

I don’t usually speak in hashtags, but come on. This is #truth.

So, I have a new way to talk about my amazing kid. He is fueled by love. He deserves it.

And I think I have new way to talk about all kids, right? Who isn’t fueled by love? Who doesn’t deserve it? What does it mean? It means give every kid the benefit of the doubt, set kind limits, give second chances, again and again. Take a deep breath, let it go. Don’t make compliance your learning goal. Look around at your students and get to know them. Please. They are fueled by love.

 

 

A Slice of just stopping by

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

I was just stopping by, a quick summer visit. Camp was in session. I am not a part of the camp. I was just stopping by. A quick meeting or two.

A boy was wandering the hallway, with a look a teacher can spot from a mile, or at least a hallway or two away. It’s the look of “Maybe I’m doing something I’m not supposed to be doing, but I’m a little lost, I don’t really know. Am I in trouble? I don’t want to be in trouble, and I don’t want to go where I’m supposed to be or do what I’m supposed to do.”

I’m just stopping by. I’m just here for a couple of meetings. I’m not involved. 

A camp counselor came out of a door at the other side of the hallway, and she called out “Mark! Mark! Where are you going?” (Names have been changed, of course.) He said nothing, just wandered further away, closer to the outside doors.

“Get back here, Mark! Where’s your counselor? Where are you supposed to be? Upstairs? Come here. You need to find your teacher. Does she know you are here? You have to come here.”  She kept repeating these kinds of statements, then said something I couldn’t understand, and walked back into her room for a moment.

Mark just kept walking, almost out the door.

I’m just stopping by. I’m just here for a couple of meetings. I’m not involved. 

“I don’t think you’re supposed to leave.” I said, and then I called out, “Is he supposed to go out here?” (Sometimes we have to ask obvious questions…)

“No! Are you with him?” the counselor asked me, and I started to wonder… who is with this boy?

I’m just stopping by. I’m just here for a couple of meetings. I’m not involved. 

Mark walked back, as the counselor walked away and up the stairs. I watched him, but he didn’t follow. He walked slowly towards the outside doors down the other hallway. I easily caught up to him.

“Hi.” I introduced myself. “I’m Mrs. Thought. Is there something I can help you with? I’m a teacher, and it looks like you might need some help.”

“I lost my lunchbox.” he sniffed. “I left it outside, but I don’t know which door it was.”

I’m just stopping by. I’m just here for a couple of meetings. I’m not involved. 

We talked a bit, and as I was convincing him to not go outside until he found his counselor, another woman rounded the corner.

“Mark! You can’t just leave like that! You have to stay with me.”

I’m just stopping by. I’m just here for a couple of meetings. I’m not involved. 

“He thinks he lost his lunchbox outside.” I explained.

She looked at me and shook her head, mouthing, “He didn’t lose his lunchbox.” in a way that meant, “This isn’t about a lunchbox. Don’t believe everything this kid tells you.”

I’m just stopping by. I’m just here for a couple of meetings. I’m not involved. 

She walked away with Mark, and I heard her softly say, “Do you want me to go outside with you to look for your lunchbox?”

I’m just stopping by. I’m just here for a couple of meetings. I’m not involved. 

His camp counselors have it covered…

But wow, I would really like to know the rest of this story, the rest of his story, and if there was a lunchbox out on the playground.

A slice of getting ready

Slice of LIfe Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

Every time I go to target, I find myself looking at the dollar spot. I look at the cute wooden signs, and the fun mini clips.

“I don’t need any of these things!” I whine to my kids. (Which, Mr. Thought would argue is what I should always say when I think I should get something for my classroom.)

Summer is a weird time for a classroom teacher with no classroom of her own.

Every time I read a blog, a school idea floats through my brain, or I see a great deal on colorful pens, I pause. I wonder a little about my choice to take a break from the classroom and move to an instructional coaching role for awhile.

Seems silly, for sure — that a few mini clothespins with cute pencil tops could make me question my life choices — but I think it speaks to my love of creating a home for my students and me. My mom might raise her eyebrows here — she knows I have a deep love for office supplies that lives alongside my altruistic teaching heart. However, I think my school “nesting” each year is a way for me to ready my brain and my heart for a new year.  The Reggio Emilia approach to education tells us that the environment is the third teacher, so I try for a bright, organized, calm and inspiring space in hopes that it will help students learn and work. (Considering how hard it is for me to concentrate on writing this right now, on the tiny space I’ve carved for myself on my dining room table in the middle of the mess of a new floor installation … I tend to think the environment really does matter!)

Lucky for me, almost every time I’m at Target, I bump into a teacher I get to work with for the next few years! Usually it is one teacher in particular, but I’ve bumped into several. So, even though I might stare longingly at the book bin labels, a few minutes later I will be reminded of how cool this job is! These teachers are amazing!

When it’s almost August, and my teaching year is on the horizon, I like to think about the 50 kids I’ll be spending the year with. I look at the class list, and make conferring forms and checklists. The promise of a blank-slate-school-year always feels exciting. So, I reorganize my classroom library, and get ready for back-to-school night.

But, now it is almost August, and it’s my coaching year on the horizon. So I’m thinking about the teachers I get to spend the year with – the creative, hard working, smart, kind, welcoming, kid-loving teachers! And guess what? Each of those teachers spends their day with 25 kids or so… so the reality is, I get to spend my year with about 35 teachers, and about 875 kids. How lucky can you get?

 

So I’m readying my brain and my heart in a new way. I’m helping a friend set up her classroom – it’s getting those organizing and setting up needs out of my system.  I’m reading a lot of resources, and focusing myself on learning across a breadth of grade levels, I’m working on curriculum writing teams, getting to know the curriculum, and the teachers. I’m turning my brain into my classroom, I guess! (Hey, the analogy works, until you realize that my brain doesn’t have any cute paper clips.)

…I may have also bought some cute ABC and ruler ribbon from Target, just in case I need to wrap up a little mini “Back-To-School” treat for teachers. I couldn’t help myself.

Celebrate change (again)

celebrate-image So happy to Celebrate with Ruth Ayres this weekend! 

I’ve celebrated this before! This week, I accepted the opportunity to leave my classroom for a few years and coach again. 6 months of coaching last year was a great taste, and I’m excited to do it again, for “real” this time! I loved my work with teachers and students last year as a coach. I can only imagine how amazing it will be to build those relationships and learn more about how to best support the work and growth of teachers and students. I’m looking forward to the challenge!

And, it’s still hard to leave my classroom, and my (amazing!) team.

When I told my class that I wouldn’t be back in my room for the next few years, they were more upset than I had predicted.

“What does a coach do?” They asked and then quickly added, “Where will your classroom be?”

“I won’t have a classroom.” I told them.

“What? Where will you put all of this pinteresty stuff?”

“My garage.” I shrugged, imagining the current state of my garage disaster, wondering how on earth all this stuff will fit.

“Oh!” a student shouted. “Set it all up! We will just go there for school.”

I’ll stay! I should stay! I’ll just be your teacher forever! 

Later, another student looked at me with confusion. “You’re going to take down all the stuff from the walls?”

“Yes.”

“All of it? The walls will just be plain? White?”

“Well, mostly. Gray I guess.” I nodded.

“But this is my favorite classroom! You can come in here and just feel peaceful.”

I’ll stay! I should stay! I’ll just be your teacher forever! 

“I’ll always remember you for you reading Rain Reign, and making us sob, and for your beautiful classroom.” One of my students told me. Another one piped up, “I’ll always remember you for being a good teacher.”

I’ll stay! I should stay! I’ll just be your teacher forever! 

Earlier I had told my team that I was leaving, and they were happy-mad. “I’m happy for you! You’re going to be an awesome” they each said, but their eyes did just a little bit of “I can’t believe you’re leaving us.”

I’ll stay! I should stay! I’ll just be your teammate forever! 

After school this week I started to pack my room. June is always about cleaning my room… but it’s different to pack up all my personal things because I won’t be back for 3 -5 years. I didn’t realize how much of my classroom library I have personally collected. Wow. Crates of books are ready to lug to my van. And the baskets. Oh the baskets. People always make fun of me for my baskets (and borrow them!) but really, I do have a lot of baskets.

I’m not going to lie. It’s a ton of work. This week I told Mr. Thought more than once, “I don’t think I can do it! I can’t pack up this room by the 16th! It’s too much work!”

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I’ll stay! I should stay! I’ll just live in this classroom forever! 

Change is hard, transitions are hard. Saying goodbye, or even see you later is hard. Packing up a classroom is hard. Starting a new job is hard. Filling the shoes of the coaches that are leaving is more than hard. All in all, though, it is a thing to celebrate.

On Friday I had the chance to go to the schools I will be working in. One of the schools is new to me, and the other is one I worked in last year during my 6 month coaching stint.

Friday morning, I got to do math with a third grade class. I watched a master coach and master teacher. I talked about math with kids!  I met teachers I haven’t met before, and got “Welcome back home!” hugs from others.

These are lovely, amazing people I’ll get to learn with, and that is something to celebrate.

I have so much to learn, and that is something to celebrate.

I get to (try to!) rise to a new challenge, and that is something to celebrate.

I am so excited, and that is something to celebrate!

(My boys want to go to my classroom with me this morning to help me clean and pack, and that is also something to celebrate!)

So, here’s to change! (Again!)

Celebrating the Mess

celebrate-image So happy to Celebrate with Ruth Ayres this weekend! 

It’s “Muppet” time in my classroom. Several years ago, my intern and I came up with this project as a way to honor Jim Henson, who she researched for one of her classes. I’ve done the project with each of my classes since then, even though I always try to convince myself to skip a year. The mess! The time! The money! The begging parents to send in supplies and help! The mess! The research! The script-writing and revising! The performance! The microphone technical difficulties! The mess! 

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Just part of the mess. . . 

Yesterday, I walked around helping students thread needles, pin pieces, and attach arms. And, I listened. I tried to collect the reasons why I do this project. There they were, the gems that came from my students’ mouths. Some of them were easy to spot, the students who exclaimed, unbidden, “This is the best project ever!”  Then there were the quieter students. I asked one girl how she thought the project was going. She kept sewing, eyes on her careful stitches and said, “Great. I think this is my favorite project of the whole year.”

Other gems are hidden, hard to capture: the kid looking at his puppet’s face for the first time, after turning it rightside out;  the boys helping each other stitch the mouthplate on; the girls teaching each other hot gluing techniques; the classmates holding each others’ pieces to help with placement; the students who finish a step and then help others;  the students persevering through resewing pieces that were placed incorrectly, and the thread that gets cut too short… There are too many of these moments to count. But, the magic is there during our “Muppet Madness.” The parent volunteers see it too, through the crazy loud mess. They smile and shake their heads with wonder as these 6th graders work through the challenges of creating and they say, “What a great project!”

At the end of the day, I finally sat down. There were just 10 students in my room, not in choir or other activities: 7 boys, 3 girls. They had chosen to work on their muppets, and I watched and listened, and started typing what they were saying. As I listened, I heard students engaged in their project, and having fun with their peers. It sounded like learning, and it felt like camaraderie:

“I wish making puppets was more like photoshop.”
“This is the best project ever!” 
“Wait. I know how to do this. Don’t question me. “
“Who has the scissors that really help cut?”  
“This is going to have giant eyebrows. Giant blue eyebrows.” 
“I need some glitter.” 

“Hashtag glitter!”
“We should all do our own little muppet show.” 

“That is what we are doing.”
“No, I mean,  a muppet movie. Each of us.”
“Who took my scissors?” 
“You shall not pass!” 
“Pins. I need pins.” 
“Is this a sharpener?
“I’ve got glue.” 
“So, how do you control arms with no hinges?”
“You don’t. You use little sticks like this.” 
“There you go. This looks nice. A nice little fabulous shirt!” 
“I laugh when I’m nervous.” 
“I bite my nails when I’m nervous.” 
“Is there glitter anywhere?”
“I sewed one side of my pirate hat. It is going to be beautiful.” 
“Ms. Feinberg? do you like it?”
“Ms. Feinberg, where can I find glitter? My shirt is pretty. “
“Huh!!!! No Glitter?”
“See these stitches on the side of my body?? Those are battle scars!”
“You have to sew through all 4 layers.” 
“Ms. Feinberg, I never realized how hard it would be to cut out fabric letters.”
“Here’s ‘Tinkerbell’ fabric.”
“Ms. Feinberg, this was so cool — I mean watching it go from fabric to a muppet!”