Lesson Learned

Clear blue skies.  Sun beaming down. Warm ocean breezes.  Time for ice cream!  My daughters and I stopped for a sweet, cold treat while shopping in Harbor Town on a recent vacation.  Relaxing in chairs on the sidewalk, enjoying our ice cream, it was a perfect time to people watch.

A dad and his son, of about 7 years of age, stepped out of the ice cream parlor with their fresh purchases in hand. Dad led the way taking a bite of his chocolate cone with every step.  His son lingered a bit behind, trying to manage the walking with the eating.  Suddenly, he stopped and called in a panicked voice to his dad.  “Dad, I think I spilled some on my shirt!”  The way he said it, one could tell that it was a big deal to him.  Perhaps the shirt was new, or perhaps he had been reprimanded for spilling before, but whatever the reason, this child saw it as a monumental problem. I held my breath waiting for the dad to answer.

Dad replied casually while continuing to walk at his steady pace.  “Son, that’s what washing machines are for.  You can spill all that you want to.  Let’s go.”  The relief on his child’s face was immediate and he quickly dug back into his ice cream.  What a wonderful thing that father just did for his son!  People often say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but this dad actually showed his son what it means.  Witnessing this interaction just made my day.

Reflection on SOL

Right-to-the-point reflection on SOL:

*It was a real challenge to write every day.

*Putting myself out there to possible criticism was uncomfortable at first.

*It may have helped me be a better teacher as I often put myself in the shoes of the child to view writing from his/her perspective.

*Reading the writing of others was a wonderful way of connecting.

*I found that I actually would have liked more critiquing of my writing to help me be a better writer.

*I did not try as many different writing strategies as I should have.

*Belonging to such a positive writing community was fulfilling.

*I want to thank my colleague who asked me to join her in the challenge.

*Thank you, too, to those who run the SOL and do the work to keep it going.

Until next year!


Time to Debate!

Last minute instructions were given to the class as they fidgeted with their notes.  Remember to listen to the speaker without interrupting.  A student was so excited she couldn’t sit still and knocked her pencil box to the floor with a crash!  Several students helped her pick up all of the contents.  Clearly state your claim, your reason, and evidence when presenting your argument.  Whispers such as “I don’t think I have enough evidence,” and “I think one of my reasons is lame” started to circle around the room like an undercurrent.  If you are having a difficult time of creating a counter argument or rebuttal, you may confer with your team to get ideas.   A student tripped on the way to the drinking fountain, his arms going like a windmill until he regained his balance.  Any questions?  You have worked hard.  You are prepared.  Good luck!

The fifth graders took their positions in five groups to debate five different issues.  The affirmative side started, beginning with their strongest reason.  At first, the speakers were soft-spoken, a bit unsure of themselves, as they carefully started sharing their opinions.  Counter arguments slowly followed and then rebuttals took the floor.  As the students continued through each round, they started to gain confidence.  Their voices grew stronger, there was less fidgeting, and the conversations gained momentum.  A few students needed gentle reminders that raising your voice does not make your argument stronger (they must have gotten that from current-day politics!) The room was charged with electricity as students increased their engagement and argued their side of the issue with all their might.

When it was all over, the class reflected on what went well and what they would do differently next time.  They all agreed that they would research more…more deeply and with more breadth.  Many said that they would be more organized with their notetaking.  Then the students began to ask questions.  “Can we do this again?”  “Can we pick our own issues this time?”  “Can we pick which side of the issue we want?” Admittedly, I felt like this was an indication of a successful learning experience.   I do think we should repeat the debating activity, but next time I will invite a few politicians in to have my students demonstrate the right way to  hold a conversation around an issue.

Pirates, and Bears, and Trolls, Oh My!

Reaching way back on a shelf in my memory bank, I took down an idea today and dusted off the cobwebs. This idea was created many years ago when my children were little and their daddy would make up stories to entertain them.  My husband had a colorful imagination and would put it into high gear when weaving a tale to fascinate his girls.  There were tales of trolls that lived in our culvert who would come out every day at dusk.  Talking bears, BIG brown bears, roamed amongst the trees in our backyard looking for friends to play with. And pirates frequently landed on the beach in front of our cottage searching for their buried treasure. The more squeals of delight or even fearful moans he could emit from his offspring, the more successful my husband felt.

We often talked of collaborating together to write stories for youngsters.  My husband with his vivid imagination would come up with the story lines and I would commit them to paper, wrangling with the wording, is how the plan went.  The idea was fascinating to us both, but time passed and we got busy raising the family and working.  No words ever made it to the paper.

Now, however, may be a good time to rekindle those stories as gifts for our grandson.  If we could present him with a story written just for him every year on his birthday, he would always have a little part of us to enjoy at his whim.  As a youngster, we would hope that he would like the stories, and as an adult, perhaps he would appreciate the love that would be woven between the words.  Charge up your creative juices, honey, I have my pen and paper ready!

We are Family

It’s funny how we create our habits of routine without even realizing it.  Leaving school tonight after putting in my normal 10 hour day, I went through the same steps I do almost every night. Lock the classroom door.  Forgot something, went back into the room to get it.  Lock the door again.  Say good night to the custodian.  Say good night to the teacher next to me who stays later than I do.  Walk down the stairs, greet a couple of parents picking kids up from Kids Club. Walk down the final hallway that has the door leading to the parking lot.  The last room in this hallway is occupied by a teacher who frequently stays late, also.  I peek to see if she is in her room, then I call out, “Good night, Patty!”  Without even looking up, she quickly replies with, “Good night, Karen!”  This almost-nightly exchange often reminds me of the old Waltons television series where the show ends with the large family calling out to each other from their bedrooms. This simple routine of ending my day brings me comfort and the nightly exchanges with my colleagues makes me feel like we are family.

Am I Vain?

Left my makeup bag

at school one night

when conferences ran late.

Without my “mask”

upon my face

small talk just had to wait.

When morning came

I ran real fast

to paint my face anew.


Kids will never see

my paint-free face

or they would cry “That’s who?”


Am I vain?



Where are They?

Life lessons come in many different forms, often when you least expect it.  Annually at this time of year I always remember one of the biggest, most important lessons I ever received.

My husband was packing the car the night before we were to leave for a 16-hour road trip for spring break. Easter was going to occur while we were gone, and, since our girls were 4 and 6, I was taking all of the paraphernalia that goes along with that holiday.  Easter baskets filled with plastic grass, colorful plastic eggs containing trinkets, special stuffed animals, and the like.  Plus, there was a big gift for each girl. And, there were new outfits for each. Indeed, the girls were going to be so surprised and thrilled when they discovered what the Easter bunny had brought!  Not wanting the kids to peek at their goodies and ruin the surprise, I put each of their items in a black garbage bag so that they could not see anything. I felt so smart for thinking of this…

…until the next morning and we were all piling into the car.  I looked around in the back of the mini-van and didn’t see the two black bags.  My husband must have left them in the house.  I looked around, though, and could not find them.  Maybe he hid them because he was as concerned about keeping them a secret as I was. He was in the driveway making last minute car checks in the early morning dawn when I asked him about the bags.  His face went blank, and he asked, “What bags?”  Uh-oh.  I immediately had a sinking feeling.

You have probably already guessed what happened.  My darling husband, in his effort to be efficient and forgetting what I had carefully explained to him, had put the two precious black garbage bags out on the street with the rest of the trash the night before.  They were gone.  Gone forever.  He was more upset than I was, for I took it as a sign.  I felt that God was telling me that I was not teaching my children properly.  The holiday was not all about the trappings, it was about His message.  Actually, I felt rather foolish that I had needed this lesson.

Yes, the girls did get a surprise basket from the Easter bunny that year.  A simple one. And nothing else. But along with it, they did hear about the reason for the holiday and the purpose of our celebration. Life lessons are happening all around us and to us all of the time, we just need to be receptive to their message. I am grateful that I was tuned into this one.



Poems for Two Voices

Today I pulled out an oldie but goodie to engage my students:  poems for two voices.  Armed with the works of Paul Fleischman from Joyful Noise and Scholastic’s Partner Poems for Building Fluency, the students enjoyed a new poetic experience.  We practiced as a class first to understand the concept and  practice the rhythm.  They were quickly hooked!  Next they partnered up, practiced for a few minutes, and presented to the class.  This brought renewed life to my classroom as the students’ faces brightened and they sat up a little taller.

As they were reciting their poems in front of the class, I was brainstorming ways that we could build on this experience that they were enjoying so much.  Poems for two voices would be an enriching tool for teaching perspective.  Whether it was two historical figures, two characters in a book, or two real-life people, students would have to understand the viewpoints of each to create a poem for two voices. I’m going to have to delve into this deeper…


“I need some advice,” she started with trepidation in her voice.  As my friend paused, my mind went through a quick list of what the topic might possibly be.  The tone of her voice, the hesitancy to go on led me to believe that this was very serious, possibly life-changing.  She finally continued, “I went to my daughter’s conference today and they want to test her for special ed.”

Now I understood.  With my background in special education and having a daughter with special needs myself, this mom was asking for guidance.  She wondered if she should approve that testing be done. The professional educator in me came to the forefront. Slowly, carefully, I explained the process in very plain language.  Pointing out the information that testing would provide, I let her know more than once that she had choices in the process.  As the parent, she is in control of the situation (schools don’t often let parents know that.) And above all, the process is about providing the best education for her daughter that she can get.

My friend was full of questions and worry, I could still hear it in her voice.  She quietly asked, “Is it my fault that she is having trouble reading? Should I have done something differently?” (So many feelings are elicited from the words of special education; I wish special education did not have such a negative stigma attached to it.) It was time to change hats, to take off the “teacher” hat and put on the “mom” hat. Knowing that this mom reads with her child every day, and has for years; that she makes sure her daughter gets to school on time every day; that she oversees her homework; that she is a loving mom…my friend needed reassurance that she is a good mom. She has not failed her child.

Our talk was long and I hope it helped. I hope her daughter learns to read with joy.  I hope my friend views helping her daughter get the support she needs as a positive thing, not as being a failure as a mom. This was possibly a life-changing conversation for both mom and daughter.