Slice of Life Tuesday: Class Tour 2015

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life community at Two Writing Teachers!

Tuesday will mark our first day of school for teachers, and Wednesday is The Big Event – school officially begins!  I spent Friday and Monday preparing our classroom, an experience I view as the beginning rites of a brand new school year.  Today (Monday), the hallways echoed with  squeaky sneakers and flapping flip flops – as new sixth graders, schedules in hand, tried to memorize how to get from one place to another before Wednesday.  Some looked anxious, others looked confident…they will all look terrified, I know, when Wednesday brings big and  loud upperclassmen, and the hallways are packed with bodies hurtling from one class to another.

I had a few students step gingerly into our classroom, escorted by their moms who introduced them and assured me that they were very much looking forward to the start of the school year. 15 years of teaching and raising three children of my own have taught me otherwise, but I was happy to see a few of the faces I will be getting to know very well as the year goes on.  One wanted to borrow a book right away, and a few others wanted to bounce on our chairs.  As they walked around, inspecting the way the desks were arranged, the book shelves, and our meeting area, I began to see the very first signs of our year together.

School year 2015- 2016, here we come…can’t wait to get started!

Here’s a class tour, my first imovie, and not a very good one at that…but our room is ready for another great year of learning:

#CelebrateLu: A letter to my first class

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Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because, we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get!

Today, I celebrate my first class of kiddos:

2S

Dear 2S,

All of you are now on your way to your  dorms, ready to begin your freshman year at colleges and universities far and wide. It seems such a very long time ago now that you walked into my second grade classroom, all bright eyed and squirming with excitement, ready to begin a new year with a brand new, first-year teacher.   Today, as I do at the end of every August, I unpacked this photograph of our class and placed it on the window sill of Room 202.  My new sixth graders will be curious about this picture, and I will have to explain that it is because I learned so much from you that I want to hold on to and remember every new school year.  And, in that way, I celebrate our special year of learning and the teacher I am today because of what I learned from you.

I remember starting our day with a good morning zydeco, dancing in our meeting area and clapping our hands to the beat. I remember snow dances to bring on snow days, and rain dances to celebrate buckets of rain pouring down just outside our big windows.  You taught me that joy, and laughter, and silliness were just as important to our learning community as reading, writing, science, and math.

I remember walking around the school with yard sticks, rulers, and clipboards to measure the perimeter of our building and play ground.  And, I remember trying to figure out how to balance varying cupfuls of water on hangers outside our classroom.  In my new-to-teaching enthusiasm, I didn’t realize that multiplication and  volume were not in the second grade curriculum. But, you figured it all out, anyway.  My ignorance gave you the freedom to push boundaries and learn; I had such faith in your abilities, and you rewarded me each time by delivering on each high expectation, you thrived on it.  You taught me to think beyond boundaries and have faith in my students’ innate desire to view learning as an exciting adventure.

I remember sitting under the big oak tree near the playground and taking time to read “Danny, Champion of the World” when Spring arrived at last.  I remember how you spread out on the grass, on your backs so that you could see the passing clouds and the just budding leaves of our “Danny tree”.  I remember whispered pleas to “read that part again”, and the conversations that would flow at the end of each chapter.  There were no prompts, or guided questions, just your curiosity and your hearts leading us to think about kids and parents and love.  You taught me that the heart of any reading workshop  was creating a love and wonder of story, and investing on the emotional atmosphere that cultivates love and wonder in story.

I remember your forgiveness when I made mistakes: lessons that didn’t pan out, unclear directions that led to confusion and chaos, and the times I misunderstood and misjudged.  You taught me that our mutual trust was a critical element in our classroom, and that my honesty in admitting mistakes was vital to our classroom culture, and our ability to learn and grow together. You taught me that I would grow every teaching year, too, because of the children in my room.

I remember the years after, too.  Nothing made me happier than seeing some of you back in my sixth grade classroom when you finally made it to middle school. And that joy was the same as you stopped by to visit as you made your way through middle school and high school.  I remember seeing fine young women and men in those last high school years, and marveling at this gift I had been given – to watch you grow up, and to be a part of your learning lives for so long.  With each college acceptance that you burst into my room to share, I felt a bittersweet tug; you would be moving outside the circle of my attention finally, even as you found your paths in life.  You taught me that teaching is all about building relationships with children; teaching is all about love.

So, 2S, wherever you are today, do great things, change the world, drop me a line from time to time, and come visit Room 202 when you are home and have the inclination.  Thank you for all you have done to make me the teacher I am.

Love,

Mrs. Smith

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It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading (#IMWAYR): A Curious Tale of The In-Between

Join Jen Vincent for the round up of great books @ Teach Mentor Texts

I had heard of Lauren DeStefano through alumni of my sixth grade classes; they loved two of her series: The Chemical Garden Trilogy and The Internment Chronicles, but I didn’t think that these books would be appropriate for my sixth graders and so I never read them.  Last week, I received an advance copy of DeStefano’s latest – her middle grade debut, A Curious Tale of the In-Between:

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The ghostly cover drew me in, perhaps because living in a very old farmhouse for the summer has me wondering about ghosts around every corner on country-dark night.  But I was more intrigued by her letter to the reader, in which she explains her intent in writing this book: “…the sort of book most readers want: something we can relate to. Something that tells us we are not alone in our thoughts and reactions. Something that helps us to understand.  When we can’t make sense of our world, we turn to the world’s that have been written for us.  Sometimes, it’s the best answer we’re given.”  So, I read on, and didn’t stop until the last page.  A fabulous read.

Pram Bellamy lives with her Aunts  Dee and Nan, in the  Halfway to Heaven Home for the Ageing (yes, it is misspelled, and deliberately so).  She’s been told that her mother died in childbirth, and that her father had disappeared long before her birth, and never returned to collect her. Pram is an unusual child,  she can see ghosts and speak to them, and would rather their company than that of children her age. Her dearest friend, Felix, is of course a ghost – the one who inhabits the pond and trees on the property; and Pram is quite content to read her books, spend time with Felix and try to help her aunts manage the Home and its inhabitants.   But the local school has different ideas about how Pram should be spending her weekdays, and though she dreads it, Pram must go.  There, she meets Clarence, who also likes to sit in the hast row or the table by the exit in the cafeteria.  Why, wonders Pram, would someone like Clarence want to hide?

But, as bright and vivid Clarence has  lost his mother; he misses her dreadfully and feels her spirit near.  As their friendship grows, Clarence comes to understand Pram’s gift, and Pram herself comes to believe that she must look for her lost father. The two friends, each searching for consolation and comfort, are soon ensnared and kidnapped by the mysterious Lady Savant – an in-between, just like Pram.  The journey back to the land of the living is filled with twists and turns, uncertain to the very end.

I love the way DeStefano writes, it makes this unusual tale of magic and loss and redeeming friendship a beautiful one to read. Here, for instance, is a passage in which Pram learns more about Clarence’s mother:

“What’s it like to be able to remember someone you lost?” Pram asked him.  She had lost both of her parents before she was born.

“It’s like my mother has become an actress in a play,” Clarence said.  “And the play isn’t told in order, and sometimes the lines have changed.  Sometimes I’m sitting too far away to see her face or hear her voice.”

“What’s the play about?” Pram asked.

“It’s all just moments she’s lived before,” Clarence said. “Good ones, mostly. Like how she had a silk scarf wrapped around her neck, and when she drove with the top down in the car, it flew behind her, and the way it fluttered it looked like the entire world was underwater.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Pram said.  It was a proper memory, unlike the black-and-white photo of her own mother that hung over the stairs.

“It is, sometimes,” Clarence said.  But then, just when it starts to feel real, it disappears.”

That is such a lovely and moving way to describe loss; and  A Curious Tale of the In-Between is a lovely and moving book. DeStefano has created a mysterious and compelling world in this story, one which pulls the reader in and enfolds you in its spell.

Poetry Friday: Cherry Tomatoes by Anne Higgins

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 The Poetry Friday Roundup  is at My Juicy Little Universe.

Vermont is an eight minute drive from our farm in Washington County, NY, and its green mountains are just as much part of the every day scenery around here as are the dairy farms and cornfields of upstate New York.  In fact, I see an equal number of Vermont license plates as I do ones from New York in my travels everyday.  We are, it appears, close and good neighbors.  One of the great delights of being here has been access to Vermont Public Radio, host to NPR, which is I what I listen to whenever I’m not teaching, reading, or talking.  I’m learning a lot about Vermont, and liking the state and its people more and more every day. It’s actually a relief to get a bit of distance from NPR in New York City for the summer, and listen to stories about searching for whippoorwills and the history of log driving for a change.  Best of all, VPN hosts the Writer’s Almanac (sadly, WNYC does not), so every morning I get to hear Garrison Keillor read a poem and tell of literary events that took place on this day of the month in years past.

On Wednesday, he  shared a poem about tomatoes which had me eating them for breakfast.  Who would not want to, after reading this?

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Cherry Tomatoes

Suddenly it is August again, so hot,
breathless heat.
I sit on the ground
in the garden of Carmel,
picking ripe cherry tomatoes
and eating them.
They are so ripe that the skin is split,
so warm and sweet
from the attentions of the sun,
the juice bursts in my mouth,
an ecstatic taste,
and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer,
sloshing in the saliva of August.
Hummingbirds halo me there,
in the great green silence,
and my own bursting heart
splits me with life.

Slice of Life Tuesday:The quieter we become…

Sitting on the porch one glorious summer day, I was startled by a loud, whirring noise behind me.  Sophie leapt out of her chair and dashed to one side of the porch, her doggie senses all alert to the source of that noise.  But neither one of us could see anything, so back we went – I to my writing, Sophie to her nap.

And then it happened again…and again, we were mystified.

The third time, we were ready.  The mystery turned out to be a hummingbird, drawn to the bright red scarlet geranium on the porch table.  Our presence, and all our loud and startled antics,  must have scared it away.  I’d never seen a humming bird that close up before, but once I was aware of its existence in our garden, I knew that I needed to be ready for return engagements.

Bee Balm in the garden was one way to attract visitors, and it did…a daily flock of hummingbirds arrived to partake of its nectar, but it was too far away for me to see the action.

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So, I purchased something just for these tiny guests, in their favorite color, red, and waited…and waited:

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This time, we were ready.  This time we were still. And this time we were rewarded:

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Even when I thought I couldn’t see our new friends, I knew they had arrived…they were there:

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“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” Rumi

Isn’t that the truth?