Category Archives: Reflections on teaching

A Slice of Coaching: Year 3 Begins

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

In-service starts today.

I miss my classroom.

Facebook memories kept popping up all August, and even though so many memories are of times when I wrote about how tiring and stressful it is to set up a classroom, they still make me miss it.

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I miss organizing my library, touching every book.

I miss putting up bulletin boards, even though it usually means calling for a tall teacher friend to help.

I miss walking over to the teacher next door and helping them with their desk set-up, moving combinations until it’s just right.

I miss the multiple runs to Target to buy more adhesive label pockets.

I miss putting all the new school supplies in the cabinet.

Post-its. I miss gathering all of my post-its into the big bin and pulling some out to stay at my desk.

Sharpies. I miss those new packs of sharpies.

My mom sometimes makes fun of me, “You became a teacher for the supply closet!” she says.

And, I do like the supply closet. I like fresh back-to-school pencils and notebooks. I like perforating and laminating and cutting. (It’s not why I’m a teacher, but it is part of the job — a part I often enjoy)

I like classroom set-up because it’s fun and satisfying work and because it’s part of the rhythm of anticipating the real joy of the classroom: The students. Every label I make, every book I shelve, is part of the ritual. I know that soon the students will be choosing books from those labeled shelves, adding work to those bulletin boards, needing a sharpie, and jotting thoughts on those post-its.

Last week, a few teachers let me help them in their rooms.  I printed out some vinyl letters for them, helped them with a few odds and ends, perforated some math manipulatives, that sort of thing: Preparation!

I took a set of math manipulatives home with me to break apart. As I sat, doing the satisfying work, listening to the clicking of the pieces, I wondered, “Why is this so great? What is wrong with me that I am so happy to be sitting here clicking these pieces apart? Too bad there aren’t more new teachers who need me to do this job!”

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What’s so great? It’s no small thing to be trusted to put up a bulletin board, to take supplies home to organize. It’s no small thing to lay a hand in preparing for students.

I miss preparing things for my own classes of students,  printing out my class lists, and running my hand down the page — wondering who my amazing children will be!

As an Instructional Coach,  I don’t get my very own class of kids. I do get to share our kids though, and I can’t wait to see those kids fill the hallways next week. It’s year 3 for me in this role,  which means I’ve had the chance to get to know our children for 2 years. There’s something about watching familiar faces enter their new classrooms. There’s something about watching the new kindergarteners come in and find their teachers.

This week at in-service, I won’t be printing out my class list, but I will be reconnecting with my teachers. Maybe someone will have some math manipulatives for me to click apart, a box to unpack, library books to put on a shelf, class lists to print out. A coach can only dream…

Maybe I’ll print out a list of the amazing teachers I get to work with — the ones I’ve worked with deeply, the ones I am looking forward to working with more, and the ones I will meet today.

 

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A slice of 2 PSSA pantoums of course!

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

I saw this “Anatomy of a Pantoum” on instagram today, posted by @beabetterwriter. So, I did some more reading about the form. I guess it used to be a rhyming poem, and now not so much. So I thought I’d try both kinds… no rhyme, and a rhyme…. Because it’s April, and it was the first day of the PSSAs, the first time any of my own children have taken the test. I’m fairly sure I’m not doing this totally correctly… but hey! I’m trying! 

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I don't think it's good for kids
a pantoum without rhyme 

One might be doing it to fit in
One might be doing it for the bubble gum
I'm not sure why I didn't just opt them out
But my kids took their first PSSA today

One might be doing it for the bubble gum
That's what motivates some through
But my kids took their first PSSA today
And by all accounts, it's fine

That's what motivates some through
For 4 more days they'll test 
And by all accounts, it's fine
I don't think it's good for kids 

For 4 more days they'll test
I'm not sure why I didn't just opt them out
I don't think it's good for kids 
One might be doing it to fit in


Cop out on the Opt Out
a pantoum with rhyme 

"I hope I get my teacher a good score"
You knew then you had copped out 
Because this was the very first time your
PSSA-hating self hadn't signed the opt out. 

You knew then you had copped out. 
Pressured from some unseen place, 
Tired of the invisible testing walkout
You can't beat it, so I guess you just embraced? 

Pressured from some unseen place
Your kids are annoyed with this task
Thinking the rules are stupid in this case
"Why no watches or snacks?" They ask.

Your kids are annoyed with this task
You knew then you had copped out 
You put on your happy mom mask:
"You can do it! I have no doubt." 



Mama Bear Slam Poem Slice

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

 

Mama Bear Slam Poem

My question for you is about 
empathy
and if you're ever left 
wondering 
if it's possibly 
tiring
to be a child with the 
tendency
to teach adults about the 
possibility 
of differences being 
necessary?

I strive to teach my kids empathy, compassion, truth. 

I think I've done my due 
diligence
as one of two respectful, kind 
parents
in teaching my kid not to look for 
vengeance
not to give in to 
vindictiveness
to take all the varied 
consequences 
even when they are ridiculous or 
limitless. 

I strive to teach my kids empathy, compassion, truth. 

Listen up, people! I can't, I can't I can't
I can't 
So I'm letting Mama Bear take 
command
She's ready to tackle the problem 
at hand
She doesn't stand on ceremony, you 
understand. 
She has a strong voice and one 
demand
She knows her kid - will take a 
chance. 

I strive to teach my kids empathy, compassion, truth. 

Because, I'll tell you what's 
nonsensical. 
I'll give you a general
hypothetical 
Kid asked to take the high road, be 
impeccable
While adults judge from down low, it's 
disrespectful 
If you didn't know your impact, that's 
defensible
But now you know, so it's 
reprehensible. 

I strive to teach my kids empathy, compassion, truth. 

I hope you don't feel
attacked
I know kindness isn't in your
contract
But I don't want my kid having 
flashbacks
to this kind of negative 
impact.
Time to decide how to snap
back.
Maybe apologize - it's time to 
act.

I strive to teach my kids empathy, compassion, truth. 
Am I in charge of teaching you too?

#sol19 March 27 A Slice of writing with kids (From My Chair)

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge!
I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

 

From this teacher's chair. I see
a paper clip
flair pens
teacher's guides
a read aloud
a
read
aloud. 

Bells, chimes
a small salt lamp all set
on this teacher desk.

From this teacher's chair. I see
students
pencils move 
eyes wander 
heads down- write
boys whisper - share
girls laugh - then write
5th graders slice.

From this teacher's chair. I hear
pencils on pages
keyboards tap
chromebooks open
students giggle
5th graders slice
in (relative) silence.

From this teacher's chair. I miss
my teacher desk
my read aloud
my students. 



#sol19 March 25 A slice of your slices

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge!
I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

March 25 

It's that day in March
stories overload my mind 
The only problem is
These slices 
aren't really mine

Writing doesn't always fit
the roles I take in life
a coach, 
a teacher
a mom and a wife

If I write my stories
and actually hit publish
I've broken the 
trust 
we thought we established

So I'll keep my mind closed
and my stories at bay
So your hopes 
and your dreams
aren't on display


 

 

#sol19 March 22 A slice of memories (AKA I taught 2nd grade once!)

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge!
I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

I’ve been thinking this week about the teachers and classes who have come and gone in our district and wondering where all those memories go. What impact do we have as teachers, as classroom communities?  Where do we hold the personal and institutional memory of all of those beautiful times, all of those beautiful teachers we’ve had and worked with?

My first year teaching was in a beautiful old school. I had a group of second graders and the most amazing para.

I remember working in my new-to-me classroom: Room 16 that summer when the principal walked in and asked me if I’d rather have the experienced para, or the new one they needed to hire.  It was a hard decision, but she needed a decision right then and there.

“Experienced.” I finally said — and what a miracle to have gotten the opportunity to work with Mrs. Cross that year. She brought so much knowledge, joy and laughter to our days. She taught me, Ms. I-student-taught-in-6th-grade how to teach second graders.

Once, I slapped a template on a piece of tagboard and told the kids to use it to cut out the shape.

“I think what Ms. Thought means is,” she said kindly, “Place the template down, hold it with your hand nice and strong. Then take your pencil hand and with a good 2nd-grade grip, slowly trace the pattern….” Ahhhh. Yes. I learned a lot that year.

Mrs. Cross made corn cob compound words, and set up marble painting stations on special days. There was something called a green pickle party, and her word study station was meticulously organized. At lunch she read aloud to the kids and changed all the names in the book to the names of the kids in our class.

When I proudly made tagboard binoculars for a goal-setting activity, she helped me hang them up in the hall. When the art teacher walked by and asked me why I had a display of bras hanging up, Mrs. Cross snapped a picture and laughed with me, “BRAnoculars!” we howled. We often laughed as a joke or pun sailed over the kids’ heads and straight to each other.

It’s lucky for me because one of the second grade teachers I work with now has Mrs. Cross has her para, and it’s like reconnecting with the magic.

In Room 16, we had a castle made of cardboard boxes, a fairytale ball, and we spent the last month or so of school rehearsing an adaptation of Swimmy by Leo Lionni.

In Room 16 we had a morning letter, and song that went something like this, “Chatty, chatty, chatty, chatty, room 16!”

In Room 16, we had guided reading even though I really didn’t know what I was doing yet. We had math stations, and sometimes we watched Magic School Bus.

In Room 16, we laughed a lot, and I read aloud more than once a day. We had 2 computers, and kids took turns using them for something… Kid Pix maybe?

In Room 16, I sobbed on the last day of school, and hugged each kid goodbye.

I’ll always remember Room 16, even after next year when the building isn’t a school anymore, even if they tear it down.

 

 

 

 

#sol19 March 21 A Slice of Shoes

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge!
I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

 

A Tale of 2 Shoes 

Yesterday I wore my newish tan 
sneakers
"sneaks" my dad used to call them
"Do you have your sneaks?"

My new sneaks are comfortable
and soft
and quiet

"You are so quiet!" someone said
as I walked down the hall. 
This is not something I am usually told. 
Quiet is something I'm still working on. 

Today I wore my newish black 
boots
ankle boots, everyone has them now
Good for when I'm tired of regular boots, and winter

My new boots are comfortable
and rattly 
not quiet

I hear them click and bounce
as I walk in the hallway
This is not the pleasant sound my elementary teachers made
when they clicked down the hall with their pretty heels.

#sol19 March 19 A Slice of a Right Now Lesson

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge!
I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

 

I got to write with kids today. I love being invited in as a guest slicer. It’s become a little tradition for me to show kids a “Right now” slice. (Last year’s is here.)

We brainstormed “ing” words, filling the whiteboard.

“Don’t judge my spelling yet. This is a brainstorm,” I told them.

I showed them how you can complete any “ing” thought with something that makes sense for you. Sometimes you have to cheat the phrasing a little, but they are all possible.

They tried it, while I challenged myself to fill the brainstormed list with complete thoughts.

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We came back together to talk about revision. “You could go through your work and circle ones that seem to go together.”

We found a theme in . mine: I’m tired. This isn’t shocking to me. 

“Maybe you should add ‘wishing for coffee.’ one of the boys said.

I love writing with kids.

Below, my revised shorter “Right Now I Am” Slice.

Right Now I Am. . . 
falling asleep at my desk
starving for sleep
running out of energy
dying to go to bed early
living day by day
waiting for time to sleep
aging more rapidly than I want
wailing when I'm annoyed - have I mentioned that I'm tired?
talking too much
doing too much
sleeping too little
Right now I am tired

#sol19 March 17 A slice of Jason Reynolds

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge!
I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

My 12 year old is so impressed that I got to hear Jason Reynolds speak at Teacher’s College.

“Ghost!” he proclaims

And I tell him how it was amazing to hear the author talk about where his books came from, his story, his family and friends. I mean, H isn’t a big fan of reading, but he did love Ghost.

I want to tell him about how Jason Reynold didn’t read either as a kid, and about how none of the books his teachers gave him were mirrors. “Why would I want to have a relationship with literature if these books don’t want to have a relationship with me?” he had asked a church full of teachers. And then he told us how he later had realized that he didn’t hate reading, he hated being bored.  I want to tell my son that doesn’t like reading that Jason Reynolds said that the greatest gift to give is yourself.

I think I’m going to need my notes for this sharing.

“But, did you see him?” My 9 year old asks for the second time.

“Well, I heard him present.” I explain. “I was in the back of the church.”

“So, you saw him,”  he says, “from the back of the church.”

“Well… ” I started. “Actually…We were on our way back from the bathroom, back to our seats when who should walk right by? Jason Reynolds.”

“Did you say hello?”

“I mean, Jason Reynolds, mom.”

I have some explaining to do. “I didn’t want to bother him as he was getting ready to start his presentation. He was walking and talking with someone, making sure things were ready to go. I wanted to respect that.”

The boys shake their heads, disappointed.

Mr. Thought says, “I get it.”

And then I admit, for the sake of authentic learning and full transparency, “It did take every ounce of my self control not to reach out and touch his shoulder though.”

“What?!” everyone asks.

“I mean,  Jason Reynolds.” I tell them.

Mr. Thought raises his eyebrows.

I just keep talking about how powerful it was to hear him speak. I start talking about Queen Latifah and rap in the eighties. “He told us this is a history lesson we need to teach our kids – and not in February.”

I explain how rap music saved Jason Reynolds, and how he talked about Hamilton and rap: “It hurts my feelings when I hear all these people when they say how brilliant Hamilton is. I mean, it is brilliant. But we’ve been saying that for 30 years.” 

My Hamilton loving kids look at me, and I think, “Yep. I’m going to need my notes.”

 

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#sol19 March 16 A Slice of #TCRWP

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers March Slice a Day Challenge!
I’m slicing every day this month. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

TCRWP Saturday Reunion 

You sip your seltzer water at the end of the day
wondering how you would ever pick just one slice

Your notebook is full and messy
your finger still hurts a little – why did you press that flair pen so hard?

Your brain is full
with Jason Reynolds, Eric Hand, Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, Cornelius Minor, Marc A. Brackett

You flip through your notes
remember the day
and hope to blog about it later.