Category Archives: Reflections on teaching

#sol22 March 19 A Saturday Reunion & Some Tips

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

In normal life, in the past, I’d be walking down the streets of New York City after hearing the closing keynote at the TCRWP Saturday Reunion. So, as I sit here after the inspirational virtual TCRWP Saturday Reunion, I can’t help but reminisce a bit.

The first step to a normal Saturday Reunion was always seeing who could go and then picking a hotel. (Tip: You need 2 beds for 4 friends, an extra pull-out sofa if you have 5 people.) Then there was the road trip on a Friday after school. We usually had normal car snacks like pretzels and carrots, chips, dip, dried mangos. But one year someone brought a plate of cheese. “Care for some cheese?” is a favorite road trip saying to this day. (Tip: Accept any kinds of snacks, the driver gets first dibs)

We’d check-in and quickly decide if we were going to do a late dinner at the Mexican Restaurant or the Italian one. (Tip, decide if you want chips and guacamole and a margarita, or bread, sauce, and wine. Also, don’t worry, you can have the other one tomorrow.)

The next morning was a mad dash to get out the door in time to stop for a coffee, a bagel, or oatmeal, and catch a taxi to Riverside Church for the 9:00 Opening. (Tip: If you walk in next to Jason Reynolds, don’t stop yourself from stroking his shoulder. You only live once)

Then the day of inspiration would begin and was a whirlwind of learning and moving and seeing so many awesome people. When it was over, we would leave with the thousands of other teachers, and make our way back to the hotel. (Tip: Look before you cross the street – I am a teacher, I love teachers, and we aren’t always the best at following directions.)

A few years ago, we decided to stick around the Columbia University campus area instead of getting a taxi back to our hotel. We found a little bar. It wasn’t crowded, it wasn’t fancy. But, it had a nice vibe, great drinks, and even some vegan snacks. We sat at a table or the bar for a bit and then we’d walk some more. (Tip: Wear sneakers!)

One year we stopped where a crowd was gathered and watched as a church security guard chased an albino peacock. At least, I think that’s the story. Seems kinda farfetched now, right? (Tip: don’t just take pictures on your phone, but remember where they might be stored!)

Today I finished the whirlwind day of inspirational zoom learning, closed my laptop, and emptied the dishwasher. (Tip: Make your kids do this chore.)

Although, I must say: My notebook is still full and my brain is still thinking, I still saw so many awesome presenters along with thousands of other teachers… and I still haven’t put shoes on today! (Tip: Wear really comfy soft clothes so you can go directly to the couch to read or take a nap.)

#sol22 March 15 Yes!

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

One of my favorite things about Tuesday’s after-school club, Writer’s Society is how much I can say, “yes!” to kids.

Can I do my own story?
Yes.

Could we collaborate on the story map?
Yes.

Can you read my story?
Yes.

Can I use a gold sharpie?
Yes.

Can I have another notebook?
Yes.

Can I decorate my notebook some more?
Yes.

Can I start over?
Yes.

Can I write science fiction?
Yes.

Can I write fantasy?
Yes.

Can I write a graphic novel?
Yes.

Can I write a song?
Yes.

Can the three of us write a three-book series?
Yes.

Can we spend more time planning out and drawing the clothes our characters wear?
Yes.

Can I take this home?
Yes.

Can I take this home to work on?
Yes.

Can I go to the bathroom?
Yes.

In fact, talking with kids in general is a highlight.

Today a young writer was creating a map of his setting. “I can assure you there will be no death in this story,” he told me. “It’s a mystery, but the main character just wants to find some friends. Behind him, a duo was working on a collaborative story on a shared google doc. They’ve been working together since the first day of our club.

“The sad part is,” one of the boys said to me pointing to his friend “he will be moving not next Friday but the next one.”

We talked a bit about the move, how it would be good and bad. I told them how I moved in 5th grade, and it was tough, but then okay.

They said they were going to “stay connected.”

“He has my mom’s phone number from my birthday invitation,” the friend who is moving said.

“We can facetime.”

I tried to explain that they could maybe continue sharing a google doc for their story, too.

“Would it be okay with you if I finished the story, printed it out, and made it into a book?” the kid who is staying here asked his friend.

“No,” his friend said, still looking at his Chromebook. “I want to keep writing it with you.”

I want to keep writing?
Yes!

#sol22 March 5 Breaking News

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

Breaking News

I’ve been coaching at this school for over 5 years and I’m ready to make a big announcement.
I officially,
usually,
mostly,
can walk out of a kindergarten classroom and turn the correct way to go back to my office.

I’ll be taking questions and comments about how I have accomplished this dream in the comment section.
Thank you for your attention to my breaking news.

#sol22 March 2 Thumbs-Up

Slice of LIfe
Part 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 get to teach phonics in kindergarten this week. Any time I get to spend with Kindergarteners is a dream come true for me, even if it is just waltzing in for 15 minutes to do some reading routines with them.

I’ve trained people on this specific reading routine program, and I’ve taught a handful of lessons, but this week I get to go every day.

“I’m just learning these routines,” I remind the kids.

I figure I may as well be transparent in my non-expertise. They know the routines much better than I do, so I get to learn too. They do such a great job, I have them give themselves a round of applause after each routine. (A round of applause is where you quietly applaud yourself while moving your hands around in a circle.) And then, I ask them to give me a thumbs up, thumbs down or thumbs to the side for how I did with the routine.

The first day, I got a bunch of thumbs-up, several thumbs to the side, and a few thumbs-down. A boy in the back gave me two thumbs down for some of my routines. I mean, he wasn’t wrong – I did struggle through a few parts.

“I see thumbs down again,” I said. “You’re right. I really do need to practice my blending routine!”

Today I got almost all thumbs-up, and a few to the side — and one still some thumbs down from the boy in the back, but not for every routine. I’m improving!

At the end of the lesson, I told the kids they needed to give themselves 3 rounds of applause.

“Threee?!?!?” someone said like I had told them they could have three cupcakes.

After their rounds of applause, I asked for one final assessment of the whole lesson and looked around the room at their thumbs.

I said “Wow! two thumbs-up from some of you!”

The boy in the back said, “I’m giving you two thumbs-up too!” Then he held up his foot and said “I’m giving you three thumbs up!”

We dismissed for recess and I followed the kids out to the hallway, feeling that lovely feeling of bonding with kids. A girl walked up to me, looked at me so sweetly, and said. “Who are you?”

I told her I’m Ms. Thought, but she can also call me Ms. Ona. I explained that only the kindergarteners call me Ms. Ona, so when she gets to first grade she’s going to have to switch to Ms. Thought.

“Ms. Ona,” she said confidently like she knew that all along. She laughed and went outside with the rest of her class.

Tomorrow’s my day. Tomorrow they will remember my name, and I will get all thumbs up!

A Slice of Writers’ Club

Slice of LIfe
Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesdays are Writer’s Club days. Fifty or so third, fourth and fifth graders race to the All Purpose room after school to get started writing. We have a quick introduction, and then the kids decide where they want to go. They can go collaborate, they can write quietly on their own, or they can stay in the All Purpose room for an invitation to write.

Today’s invitation was character work. I brought ink pads, and a roll of white paper. And sharpies.

And yes, after the kids left and I was using hand sanitizer to clean off the sharpie marks that bled through the paper onto the cafeteria tables, I still told myself that it was worth it…Because there is something about a giant piece of paper, rolled out across a table, some ink pads, and a bucket of sharpies.

Three boys sat, 6 feet apart, making characters, collaborating on characters, creating stories, and laughing, There was so much laughing.

They looked up at me, eyes wide.

“Are we in trouble?” One of them said.

“Nope. I like laughing.” I told them.

Another boy said “Yeah, what do you think? Teachers don’t believe in laughing or something?”

And then they all laughed some more, before stopping again to make sure they weren’t in trouble.

An older girl walked in, and I asked her if she wanted to use the roll paper or her notebook. She held up her notebook and said, “I’m going to fill this whole notebook with character development.” She sat down and carefully wrote “Character Development” on the first page of her notebook.

She still started with some big paper, an ink pad and a sharpie though. There’s just something about that big paper!

She and a couple of other girls quietly filled their large papers with pictures and words, thumbprints and stories. The boys continued to laugh.

There was another writer who came over. He had needed some help writing earlier and was a little quieter than the rest. He wanted to sit at his own table, and only wanted to use his notebook and a sharpie.

“So what kind of character are you going to create?” I asked him.

“A famous one.” He said and he showed me his page.

“Oh! Wow!” I said. “That’s a great idea! Maybe you can draw a bunch of people all around trying to take pictures of him! He’s like ‘No pictures, no pictures!'”

I tend to get excited when working with kids as they create cool characters and stories. . .

He shook his head though. “No,” he said, “He’s rich. Not famous. Just rich.”

I laughed and asked him what the character’s problem was going to be, but he interrupted me to ask how to spell rich.

“R-i-c-h,” I told him, and he asked me to repeat it, and then wrote “Rch.”

He sat and quietly worked for a bit, and then showed me his page, where he had a whole story mapped out. I should have been recording as he explained. There was the rich guy, who was dropping his money along a path. There was an arrow to show the path, and another character picking up all the money, and more!

As we cleaned up to go home, the boys with the giant piece of paper were having a hard time deciding who would get to bring the roll paper home. The girls didn’t want to stop. “I’m not finished!” One said to me, with her eyebrows crunched with worry.

I told her she could take it home to work on, or leave it at school for next week. She quickly started nodding her head at the prospect of taking it home.

Lining up, I got to hear more about the rich guy story.

“That is amazing!” I said, “You have a whole graphic novel planned out! You could write each part on a different page of your notebook!”

He looked excited, nodded his head and then said, “Yea, but I might need a little help with it.”

I reminded him that that’s what we are here for, and he nodded again, and walked down the hall and out the door, then back in. He shrugged his shoulders and said “I forgot my backpack.”

The three laughing boys walked by and I asked them if they decided who would have the paper. They hung their heads and told me they couldn’t figure it out, because they all wanted it. I’m thinking their parents are all unknowingly grateful for the decision to leave it at school for next week’s work.

Tuesday is Writers’ Club. Today was our second meeting, and I can’t wait for next week!

A Slice of Heartbreak

Slice of LIfe
Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers Thanks for stopping by!

These kids are breaking my heart.

It’s the way they call out my name “Hi Ms. Thought!” in the hallway.
Or pass me on the way to music and say, “Ms. Ona! I miss you sooooo much.”

Or, today when a class walked by me on their way to the library. They all waved and said hello. I told them I hoped library was super fun. The last boy passed me, waving. He said, “I don’t remember who you are. But, hi!”

It’s N, who comes in from book club, walks over to me, as I sit observing his class, and says “Can I draw? I want to draw a cherry.” I convince him to listen to the writing mini lesson instead, and he cartwheels over to his spot. When his teacher corrects his behavior, I think, “Oh no! He isn’t going to want to sit there now.” But instead he becomes engaged, helping with a shared writing. Later he is the very last to go to recess, because he wants to finish writing his book.

Last week I helped protect his toy all day in my office cabinet. He isn’t allowed to play with toys during class, but he really loved the one he snuck to school. He was hiding under the coats, and I coaxed him out, asking him what his toy did. He popped the toy out of the coats, pushed a button so the monster character started waving around. “Whomp, there it is!” he said. We walked the toy down to my office, and every time I saw him that day he asked me, “Are you still protecting my toy?” Every time, I explained that it was still in my cabinet, and that nobody would go in my cabinet, because everyone knows it’s mine.

“Is it locked?” he asked near the end of the day
When I told him that it wasn’t he looked at me and said, “I’m going to make you a key.”

It’s the way third graders get silent, revising playdoh builds of important, intriguing things they know and care about. Yesterday one boy worked so hard on making his cat, and said “she is important because she was my cat and now she died.” Yesterday he was so sad to squish his cat prototype back into the playdoh container.

“You’re going to make another one tomorrow!” I told him, “And you’ll remember how to do it, and it might even be better.”

He didn’t believe me.

Today, a few minutes into our playdoh revision, he said “Ms. Thought, you’re right! I do remember, and this time it is even better!”

It’s L, a first grader who I knew in remote kindergarten, who can’t seem to keep his mask over his nose for longer than a minute, but dutifully pulls it up every time he’s reminded. He’s working hard to learn his letters and sounds and last week he took me over to the word wall to point out the words he had made. “All the ones in black sharpie are mine!” he said with so much pride I almost started crying. Then he asked me if he could get the Woody toy again, to help him write his piece, “How to play with Woody from Toy Story.”

It’s fifth graders who joke with me, and get my sarcasm.

There’s the kindergartener I helped on the second day of school during the fire drill practice. He was scared, and I held his hand. Now every time I see him, he waves his hand intensely and calls “Hi! Ms. Ona!!!”

When I’m lucky, I get to see kids walk into school: Kindergarteners carrying huge backpacks, and paper trays overflowing with cafeteria breakfast, primary students waving goodbye to their siblings, fifth graders chatting with friends on the way upstairs.

I can’t tell if feeling this much heartbreak about kids that I’m lucky teachers share with me means that I’m in the right profession — or the wrong one.

A Crossing Guard’s Wave

Slice of LIfe
Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers Thanks for stopping by!

When I arrived at school today, the crossing guard waved me through the intersection and I waved. He waved back, just like he does every time I happen to see him. The crossing guard I see at the end of the day waves back too. When I see him, it’s usually between the elementary and middle school dismissals. He is sitting on his chair waiting for the next round of kids. He looks up, I wave, he waves back. I’m pretty sure these crossing guards don’t know who I am. I might wave to them with familiarity and a feeling of shared responsibility for these children on their way to school, but they have no idea that I’m a teacher. I guess crossing guards just always wave back?

Today after the intersection wave, I suddenly remembered my middle school crossing guard. My bus stop was oddly on an island in the middle of a Y in the road. This seems like a strange, maybe even dangerous place to wait for a bus, but that’s where I went each morning. I wish I remembered my crossing guard’s name. I remember shat I enjoyed seeing her at the bus stop. She was kind, I felt like she knew me. I have vague memories of her smile and her bouncy wavy hair, and did she have conversations with my mom sometimes? Did my mom walk me to the bus in middle school? Why am I so old now that middle school is a faded memory? Can I go back to middle school to assure myself that one day I will have forgotten most of that part of my life?

But today, before I grabbed my stuff and walked into school, I texted my mom to ask her if she remembered my middle school crossing guard’s name. A few minutes later I noticed her reply:

Are you kidding me?
No
I don’t
Sorry

(I mean, you think you can count on your mom in these situations. . .🤪 )

So in honor of my amazing and kind middle school crossing guard, I will continue to wave to all the crossing guards I see. I have a feeling they will wave back.

A slice of the last day of summer

Slice of LIfe
Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers Thanks for stopping by!

I fell asleep with my glasses on last night
Trying to read, I guess.

I woke before the sun and couldn’t find my glasses.
They were nowhere.
I can’t see without my glasses.
I got on the floor, aimed the light from my phone, tried to catch a glimmer of an edge or a lens-
Tried to ignore the dust under the bed.

Finally I gave up and just stayed there for a bit
On the floor, with my head on my hands.
Awhile later I got up and found them on the other edge of my bed, neatly folded, waiting.

But I had already wondered —

What does it
mean
to start the last real day of summer
blind
with your hands as pillows
on the floor
waiting in the dark?

A slice of School Shopping

Slice of LIfe
Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers Thanks for stopping by!

We went school shopping today.

When I was a student, I loved school shopping. Who am I kidding? I love school shopping and school supplies as a teacher too. Notebooks, pens, pencils, markers – all a blank slate for the year to come. Smooth, new, perfect.

Truth be told, we could probably gather enough supplies from around the house. I have a stash of new notebooks, a few places where there are dozens of pencils waiting to be sharpened. I might even have some folders somewhere. (And maybe I have some sticky notes to spare, but I don’t really want to give any of those to anybody.)

BUT…What’s the start of middle school, the start of high school, the start of college without a new notebook, a new planner, some brand new mechanical pencils, a binder, some new markers….

My boys don’t really love shopping. I found number and letter erasers to add to my make-writing supplies, L thoughtfully selected notebooks, a binder, paper, a planner, pencils, etc. for college. But, the boys? They threw a few things in the cart. I think they got some post-its and some pre-sharpened pencils. Maybe some colored pens and on-sale markers got thrown in there too.

I tried to interest them in a planner.

“There’s no way I’m going to use something like that.” My soon to be 6th-grader said.

I tried to interest them in folders.

“I just want to get out of here.” My soon to be 9th-grader said.

“Do you think you’ll want to keep your different class things in different folders?” I asked. “Or, maybe an accordion folder? See how it’s easy to slip papers in? If you get a regular 3 ring binder, it’s kind of annoying to put papers in all the time –” I said, calling on my years as a 6th grade teacher, my decades of loving school organization.

“Whatever you want. Whatever you think is best.” My 11 year old said, exasperated with my enthusiasm.

Probably when everyone gets to school they will realize the thing they need. When the time comes, we’ll figure it out. L can order what she needs while she’s away at college (SOB!) I’ll share my notebook stash, and I’ll try to find those pencils and folders for the boys. But, I am not planning on sharing my sticky notes. No thank you —

I mean, unless I can go buy myself new sticky note replacements. . .

I want to write you a poem: A slice

Slice of LIfe
Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers Thanks for stopping by!

I want to write you a poem
about how life changes
it’s dark outside before 9
It’s August
the great Sunday of the year for teachers

I want to write you a poem
so you understand what’s coming –
everyone is starting something new here
college, high school, middle school
Do you know about being left?
for minecraft
for something new
for something different
What do you know about being left?

I want to write you a poem
about Sundays
and still being here while life gets ready to change
In the pause of August-Sunday
my dog snores next to me, his head on my knee
we are in our favorite corner of the red couch
in the dark, with the sounds of laundry and bedtime