Category Archives: Reflections on teaching

The Teacher Across The Hall

Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers

Have you ever had a teacher across the hall like Mardi?

Let me paint a scene for you. Mardi at her desk, grading papers, checking things off of her to-do list one by one. The rest of our team is there too, chatting away. Sure we’d talk about things that needed to be talked about, but then we’d stay there chatting, Mardi would chat too – but while getting work done.

“Hey!” We’d say every so often. “How is this fair? You’re getting all your work done!”

“You guys came here.” She’d shrug, smile, and check something else off of her to-do list.

Mardi used her planning period exactly the way we were supposed to use planning periods. She’d grade and plan and get kids set up for success. It was maddening really. I mean, how dare someone be so good at all the things?

One of the last years we taught together, Mardi had a planning period right while I taught Social Studies.  It was right after lunch if I am remembering correctly.

At some point, I noticed a pattern. My kids would be settling down, I’d be passing something out, or I might even be starting my lesson. That’s when I’d notice Mardi. She’d be walking around my room, holding a post-it with kids’ names on it, kids with late math work. She’d walk around, telling those kids that they needed to finish that work at the end of the day instead of going to their last choice period.  Sometimes she wasn’t quite as quiet, interrupting the start of my lesson, telling kids in no uncertain terms that they would need to get the work to her.

(Mardi always knew who owed late work, like 30 seconds after it was due. She probably knew the night before she assigned it, honestly.)

The first few times I noticed her in my Social Studies class,  I probably just ignored her and got to the business of teaching. After I noticed a pattern, I think I most likely smiled at her and raised my eyebrows. Once I realized it was happening often, I started to welcome her with open arms as soon as I saw her. “Good afternoon, Ms. McDonough!” I’d cry with glee. “Welcome!” We’d laugh, and I’d not so secretly be jealous of her organizational and time management skills. I’ve always wished I could be like that, but alas I haven’t gotten there yet.

Then one day I realized that I had a planning period while she taught Science. So I grabbed my orange megaphone and marched across the hall. Revenge!

“Alert! Alert!” I said into my megaphone as I walked into her classroom. “This is an interruption. I repeat. This is an interruption.”

I might have scared a kid or two, but Mardi paused her lesson and we both laughed. I took a blurry selfie, which I will always cherish, and I left.

What I wouldn’t give to teach across the hall from Mardi again.





Slice of LIfePart of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers


I’m not saying that it’s quite as easy to find the joy each day, remotely.

Even before pandemic times
Before The Quarantine,
There were days.

Days when
meetings overtook
people were mean
things got canceled
I didn’t see a child,
(other than my own and they were grumpy that day, for sure)

There’s a reason I have a wine glass that says

On those days,
Before pandemic times
Before Quarantine
I sometimes had to look for joy

And maybe I learned that looking for joy
is how you find it

Now it’s pandemic times
The Quarantine

Now I have to look for joy
It doesn’t pop up on its own and wave its hands in the air as often as normal

But it’s still important.
Because I’ve learned that looking for joy
is how you find it

Even if you are looking into your computer screen at little boxes
reading emails instead of faces
walking down your steps instead of around a school

Some people have reminded me that I don’t have to keep finding joy
posting videos, sharing every day
“It’s a pandemic!”
“Cut yourself some slack!”
“You don’t owe videos to anyone!”

But I do.
I owe it to myself
I owe it to myself to keep looking for joy


(Check out my #findthejoy videos on Twitter and Facebook @OnaFeinberg … and join in! See what happens when you look for joy!)

#sol20 March 18 A Slice of a list

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.


some things that are getting me through…

kids doing (some of) their chores & school work, it’s a start
facetiming mom & dad, even though they are only 20 minutes away
slicing every day, and commenting too
texting with friends, stay connected!
zoom meetings with colleagues, zoom zoom!
funny memes on facebook, because you have to laugh or…
goodnewsnetwork, to balance out the other stuff
walking the dog, making the kids come along
the good place episodes, and telling netflix that yes, we are still watching
movie nights, a lot of movie nights

#sol20 March 15 A Slice of Day 1 Eve

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. 🙂

Happy Day 1 Eve! 

Tomorrow is the first day of no school.
I wonder what kind of first day of no school outfit I will wear.
Do we go to bed early so we can start the day off right?

Tomorrow is the first day of no school.
My meetings will all be zoomed.
Will my learning curve zoom-zoom-zoom?

Tomorrow is the first day of no school.
Only time will tell if my kids do any of the things I ask.
Should I make a chart? Have rewards? Have high expectations… or none?

Tomorrow is the first day of no school.
So today is Day 1 Eve
How exactly do we celebrate that? Another movie night you think?

#sol20 March 7 A Slice at the Grocery Store

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. 🙂


At the grocery store, I stare at my items on the conveyor belt. I didn’t think I needed this much for our spring break, but I guess it makes sense.

Vegan Mac & Cheese
Dark Chocolate
Laundry Detergent…

I wonder if people think it’s an odd assortment of items – I even try to take a picture to show off how strange it is.

Or maybe anyone passing by can just tell that it’s a mom’s conveyor belt for Spring break:  Snacks by the fire, easy dinners, let’s not get sick, there’s no more hand sanitizer on the shelves, and by the way, we also need to keep up with the laundry.

One of my items doesn’t ring right, and I joke with the clerk, “I’m just here to make your day more exciting!”

“Oh, that’s just what I need,” she says, “after that last family with an $881 order! Three carts worth!”

“Wow,” I say. I feel better about the size of my order.

“Yea, I don’t know if they were one of those people in a panic, stocking up for the pandemic or what,” she says.

“Well, I’m just stocking up for Spring Break!” (Aren’t I witty with the checkout banter?)

And then we talk about hand washing, and how shouldn’t people be doing that anyway? I tell her I’m a teacher, so hand washing is kind of second nature to me.

“Oh, yea,” she says. “That’s what I did too. I was a teacher. I remember back when we had a flu scare. The county brought in gigundo bottles of hand sanitizers and huge boxes of tissues. But then they took us teachers aside to tell us that we shouldn’t use the hand sanitizer too much, or it would stop working against the germs. Soap and water are the best.”

I agree that soap and water are the best bet, she hands me my receipt and we say goodbye,  wishing each other good health.

I feel kind of weird about it, but I take a squirt of the hand sanitizer on my way past the bottle attached to the end of the counter. I mean, better safe than sorry.

#sol20 March 4 A Slice of a Poem, I Guess?

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 don’t usually hear owls in the morning.

Do I?

This is what I am thinking as I arrive at school, balancing my coffee and bags and a water bottle, and my phone so I can speech-to-text a note to myself to remember later. Only, my phone thinks I’ve said, “I don’t usually hear about it in the morning.”

So I have to rebalance my bags so I can correct that in the note– because it feels like a slice. If I go home hours later and see a note that says “I don’t usually hear about it in the morning,” I’ll never know what I was talking about.

I breathe in the cool morning air, that feels both like it’s spring now, and also like it could snow any day.

Maybe this will be the kind of day where there are slices all around me, I think. Maybe I’ll fill my note on my phone with amazing inspiration for a poem that starts with

I don’t usually hear owls in the morning. 

I can add something about the cool morning air.

I don’t usually hear owls in the morning
Cool morning
Spring air
Snow soon

What a poet I am! I write a little in my mind while I walk to my room.

It will be a day full of slice inspiration. Slice-piration! 

Only I’m pretty busy, and the only other note I write is scrawled on a post-it on a page of the 5th-grade literary essay book. It’s a comment a student makes during the connection of our mini-lesson, and I have to write it down because I need it for my #finthejoy video.

I had reminded the class I was there for writing yesterday, and that today we were going to continue growing ideas about our stories to help us with interpretations for our literary essays.

“Wait. You were here yesterday?” A boy asked. “Morning or afternoon?”


“You’re like a ninja!” he said.


So, that’s my poem for the day, I guess. It must mean something, right?


I don’t usually hear owls in the morning

Cool morning
Spring air
Snow soon

Like a ninja


#sol20 March 1 A Slice of Vegan

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 recently received some pictures from NAPDS. Well, I got a link to where I might purchase and download some pictures. The pictures made me laugh for many reasons, and then I noticed that my nametag was flipped over in one of the pictures so all that you see is my meal ticket that says “vegan.” I’d show you the picture, but it doesn’t belong to me. You’ll just have to imagine. 

It makes it seem as if I have been labeled. 

Watch out! The Vegan has entered the room! 

Hi, I’m vegan. Nice to meet you. 

It was lovely to receive these little meal tickets when I registered at the conference. The directions were to hand the ticket to a server at each meal. #inclusivity 

I got a chance to try it out at our first lunch. It was a buffet, so it was a little tricky to find someone to help me. I glanced at the buffet tables in case there might just be some vegan food labeled already. Salad with cheese, creamy dressing, pasta (Is there butter on it? I don’t think so), and a bunch of kinds of unlabeled sauces (Alfredo? Meat? Maybe marinara? Vegetables in something…chicken broth?), and some plates of buttery cookies. 

Finally, I found a server and asked if he could help me with my ticket. He looked at me with a crinkled brow and said, “That’s for tomorrow.” 

“Oh,” I said, thinking about the stack of tickets I had received for all the meals at the conference. “I got like 4 of them!” 

“Well, how many vegan meals do you NEED?” He asked in shock, adding “I’ll see what I can do,” as he walked away. 

I never saw that guy again. I did eat some pasta and marinara that seemed safe. But in case you are wondering, I actually eat a vegan meal every time!

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.


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.


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."