Slice of Life Tuesday:…a new shade of paint

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

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The children have long since moved out of the house they grew up in, and the time has come for the house to welcome a new family with young children who will fill it again with happy noise and boundless energy.  

We are cleaning out, packing up, preparing for this new thing in real estate (well, new since we bought our house twenty years ago) called “staging”.  In the old days, we wandered through prospective houses that had most definitely not been staged, for there was  abundant evidence of the owner’s personalities (what they read, where they’d travelled to, what their kids looked like), and the work we’d need to do (paint this, retile that, re-do the other).  It was part of the experience of buying a house, and none of us seemed to mind it back then.  Now, apparently, it’s a whole new ball game: all evidence of who has lived in the home (no matter for how long) must be erased.  Now, apparently, we must prepare the house so that the new owners can envision themselves in your thoroughly neutralized, depersonalized house.

This seems easy to do when your broker first speaks of it, less so when they walk you room by room and list what must be removed/changed, and impossible when you begin to clear away, pack, and discard.   Our kids have done their parts by stopping by to sift among their vast belongings and fill boxes labeled: PLEASE DO NOT THROW AWAY or TRASH!  And now it’s our turn to do the same.

I am not enjoying the process: it is a LOT of work, and it is  emotionally taxing.   Every day brings some small moment when you are forced to contemplate the big change that such a move reveals – your children have really grown up and left the nest, that phase of your life is really over.

Yesterday, the painters removed the radiator in our youngest daughter’s room.  Walking by, I could see every shade I had painted this room in the years she lived here: frothy pink, sunshine yellow, teal blue – her gradations of taste and sophistication.  I remembered each color being proposed, the case she’d make for how necessary the new color was for her very existence, and her delight when she came back from school or a weekend sleepover to find her wish granted.

It was all so simple then, when your child was so easy to please. To paraphrase William Carlos Williams…

so much depended upon

the willingness

to be open to a new shade

of paint

#IMWAYR: Rainbow Weaver, Mama and Papa Have a Store & Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate

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Linda Elovitz Marshall’s glorious picture book Rainbow Weaver is a delightful read on two counts: the story is hopeful and uplifting, and Elisa Chavarri’s illustrations are a feast for the eyes.

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Ixchel lives in the mountains of Guatemala, where Mayan women have woven beautiful fabrics for thousands of years.  This is something she would love to do, as well, but her busy mother has no thread to spare.  Undaunted, Ixchel tries a number of substitutes from blades of grass to  the wool sheep leave behind as they make their way through hilly pastures, but the results are dull and disappointing.  About to give up, Ixchel notices the multitude of plastic bags littering the pathways of her village; their vibrant colors spark a brainwave – she could cut these into the long strips she needs to weave!  Ixchel’s weaving sells at the market and she earns a doubly gratifying reward: she can help to pay for her school books AND she can help to tidy up her village.

I loved that each page had its Spanish translation, too – a great benefit for language learners.

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In the preface to her book Mama and Papa Have a Store, Amelia Lau Carling writes: “As a young couple in 1938 when World War II was beginning, my parents fled the Japanese invasion of their village of Nine Rivers on the lush Pearl River delta in Guangdong, China. Like other paisanos, countrymen from their own land, they settled in Spanish speaking Guatemala”.  Her picture book tells of one day in the life of this store and their family, both of which embrace the traditions of two cultures:

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The young narrator weaves a joyous story of the way many traditions come together to make their village life one of cultural acceptance and celebration.  Carling’s vivid illustrations add so much to this beautiful story of immigrants making a new life for themselves, adapting to their new homes, and seeking to preserve their cherished memories and ways of life.

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Nikki Giovanni’s Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate is a must-have book for every classroom library.  In it, Giovanni shares a selection  of poems by African Americans from the Harlem Renaissance to today.  What I loved about this book was the way Giovanni wrote about each poem to explain its context as well as its personal relevance and connection.  Here, for instance, is Robert Hayden’s poem :

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

 

which is illuminated and given such rich residence by what Nikki Giovanni has to say about it:

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I thank my good friend Julieanne Harmatz from the bottom of my heart for the gift of this book  – it will add so much to our classroom explorations of poetry.

#celebratelu & #DigiLit Sunday:Classrooms are for relationships, too

#DigiLitSunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  

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

We had an interesting week last week; I was sick and many of my kids were also sick – a visitor to our classroom would have heard coughing and sneezing aplenty, and we went through boxes and boxes of tissues.  On Monday, halfway through the day, I scanned through my lesson plan book and wondered how much we would be able accomplish given the way we were carrying on in Room 202.

But, we carried on.  Each day, my kiddos and I showed up, we acknowledged how rotten most of us were feeling, and then we got on with the business of learning: preparing for a Social Studies unit test, completing the first drafts of our essays, participating in book clubs, and beginning a unit of short story writing.  It was a busy week, yet day after day, we were there for each other.  And, each day, we gave each other our best shot at whatever task was at hand.  At the end of each day, I was too exhausted to think beyond just being grateful that we had not wasted any learning time.  On Friday, however, as my kiddos took their test and I fielded questions and offered little hints about how to manage time, I finally had the time to reflect (and marvel at) what we’d accomplished during this difficult week…and why we were able to do so.

Relationships.  Merriam Webster defines the word with other words such as kinship, relatedness, and connection.  Relationships are fundamental to all we seek to do in our classroom – without that, without being able to trust that we will all show up and give the best of ourselves (well, most of the time) no matter what, the content of what we teach becomes dry, removed, passion-less.  Relationships allow us to learn in spite of feeling under the weather, and even (at times) uninspired.  And relationships grant us permission to be kind to each other so that we can all make it through each learning day in the most positive, constructive way.

On Friday, I celebrated relationships in our classroom:

We made gifts of winter poems for our pen pals at an assisted living facility in upstate New York, in response to their Valentine’s Day cards:

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We allowed ourselves to get carried away and silly, too:

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We welcomed alumni from years past:

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We shared book talks and book love:

We left for our February Break needing rest, but feeling good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Friday:Infinity by Barbara Crooker

Poetry Friday is hosted by Jone at Check it Out

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I am done with winter.

No longer will I talk of the beauty of snow as it falls and transforms our neighborhood into a Currier and Ives painting.  No longer will I speak of warm-by-the-fireside coziness, or of the pleasure of being bundled up in favorite sweaters or lacing up fur lined boots.  No longer will I think it charming to walk by children adding  final touches to their front yard snowmen.

I am done with snow every where, and cold all the time. I am done with the tiresome ritual of hat-mittens-scarf-boots-coat just to take out the trash or walk the dog.  I am done with snow melting into sloshy rivulets at every turn during the day and freezing into ice banks at night.  I am done with a cold and cough that will not seem to end.

But, it’s February…and winter is not done with me.

Feeling gloomy the other day, I turned to poetry and found this one by Barbara Crooker.  It captured exactly the weariness I felt about winter:

INFINITY

Another gray day, snow everywhere, the piles at the margins
deckled with grit. No sun, again. In the backyard,
crows are passing rumors one rough syllable
at a time. Spring is a language from another
country. Green is a vocabulary word on a flash
card. Crocus and daffodils, impossible constructs.
This is all there is: sky, the color of snow. Snow,
the color of sky. Every day, a few more inches
deposited in the bank. Accumulation takes on
sinister undertones. Finches cluster sullenly
at the feeders, won’t trade their shabby
cardigans for something yellow and silky.
The mind of winter is white and interior.
Silence fills the shadows. The sky lowers,
and look, more snow’s beginning to fall.

~Barbara Crooker

Slice of Life Tuesday:Just another morning…

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

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It’s just another morning…

Jack Frost has left his tracks across our windows, and they sparkle softly in winter’s blue light.  The radiator sighs and tries mightily to take the edge off the early morning cold in time for the arrival of the residents of our room.  When I turn on the lights, the daffodils on my desk glow like a beacon of good cheer.

It’s just another morning…

Boots and sneakers gallumph and squeak up the stairs and down the hallway, accompanied by shouts of laughter and early morning student whining.  Lockers swing and smack open and shut, open and shut.  Two boys attempt to roll down the ramp, and then pretend not to as they catch sight of me. A big group assembles around one student desperately trying to finish his homework before the first bell – they are calling time, just to keep him on his toes.

It’s just another morning…

Our room begins to fill.  Plants are watered. Desktops are made ready.  A group sits on the radiator reading, their long hair lifts and falls to the rhythm of its breathing.  Someone has wedged herself under the easel with a barricade of cushions – the last few pages of a book need to be enjoyed in utter privacy.  Two boys are fashioning paper airplanes as five others look on: paper airplanes are serious work, an art form even.   A group has gathered on the reading rug to study for a Latin test.  In the very far corner of the room, someone has managed to suspend himself upside down from the rocking chair – his eyes are focused on the ceiling, his arms are splayed out on the rug and his fingers are tap tap tapping a rhythm only he can hear.

It’s just another morning… I breathe it all in.

#IMWAYR It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

Truth to tell, I was afraid to read Dan Gemeinhart’s new book Scar Island.  Both his previous books, The Honest Truth and Some Kind of Courage, were wonderful reads, and I feared that (perhaps) this third book would fail to live up expectations.  Thankfully, I was wrong.

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Here’s the jacket copy:

Jonathan Grisby is the newest arrival at the Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys, an ancient, crumbling fortress of gray stone rising up from the ocean. It is dark, damp, and dismal. And it is just the place Jonathan figures he deserves. Because Jonathan has done something terrible. And he’s willing to accept whatever punishment he has coming. Just as he’s getting used to his new situation, however, a freak accident leaves the troubled boys of Slabhenge without any adult supervision. Suddenly the kids are free, with an entire island to themselves. But freedom brings unexpected danger. And if Jonathan can’t come to terms with the sins of his past and lead his new friends to safety, then every boy on the island is doomed.

Gemeinhart is able to create Slabhenge in such vivid detail that it becomes another compelling character in a cast filled with compelling characters.  I was completely transported to this place, ghastly and troubling though it was, and I know that my sixth graders would be even more drawn to imagining its storm tossed walls and mysterious nooks and crannies.  One of the literary elements my students have focused on this year has been the way in which setting influences story, and Scar Island is the perfect book through which to explore this idea.

Jonathan’s “crime” and the way in which this is revealed makes for the heart of this story, Gemeinhart creates the kind of edge-of-your-seat tension that my sixth graders will love. But, Scar Island  is also a story about how to stand up to bullies, and how fear and peer pressure can get in the way of even the nicest kid’s best intentions.  Scar Island has a touch of Lord of the Flies, which is a good thing for our kids, they need to be reminded of these lessons time and time again.  

I have a long list of students clamoring for this book, and I know that each will say: Dan Gemeinhart has done it again! And  I wholeheartedly agree.

 

 

#celebratelu: Activism

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

I have always been political, and I have always been vocal about my politics.  Ever since high school, I’ve marched for causes, signed thousands of petitions, written an equal number of letters, and done my fair share of contributing my efforts to get the candidates I’ve supported elected.  In my view, this what active citizenry looks like: you stay engaged, you participate, and you educate yourself so that you have a leg to stand on when the opposition comes at you…which they will, for that is also part of participatory democracy.

As a teacher, I wrestle with how vocal to be in my classroom, and also in my social media space: what can I write about? what should I share on Twitter?  This election has presented unique challenges because Trump was so often beyond the pale in terms of what he said and did.  There was no way to present this election in the normal way for my students, as I have for so many elections before, because he was simply not a normal candidate – no normal candidate has ever spoken or behaved the way he did, and I certainly did not want Trump to become the “new normal” for my young students.  Even watching the debates became impossible, for many parents let me know that they would not allow their children view the debates “just in case”, which was their way of saying they did want to expose their children to the language used by Mr. Trump.

After the election, there have been even more issues to contend with – the Immigration Ban, the farcical confirmation process, Trump’s Tweeting habits, and the rash of hate crimes which my students are really paying attention to, because they are in the news all the time now:

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There is a fine line between informing and advocating in a classroom setting, but I find myself having to cross it often these days because my kids are full of questions and opinions of their own: why are people racist? why does anti-Semitism still exist? why do people say hateful things? why don’t grown ups seem to ever listen to each other? why does everyone always shout at each other on the news? why are we still talking about all this bad stuff these days-haven’t we learned anything from the past?

These discussions always bring me back to something Mamie Till wrote in her book about her son Emmett’s murder: Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America:

That is, after all, how it works. We don’t come here with hatred in our hearts. We have to be taught to feel that way. We have to want to be that way, to please the people who teach us to want to be like them. Strange, to think that people might learn to hate as a way of getting some approval, some acceptance, some love.

Our classrooms and schools have to be places where hatred can be given no quarter, not even by silence:

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So, even though I feel as though I am skating on thin ice sometimes, I will continue to open our classroom to difficult questions and discussions.  Truth telling is a form of activism, and I celebrate that.