Slice of Life Tuesday: Testing, testing, testing…

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Spring Break is over and testing season is here – the PARCC test, and the “too cool for school” test.   The PARCC test will be over and done with in a week…the other test, well, that will take longer than we have time for this school year.

Every year,my sixth graders return from their Spring Break on the precipice of adolescence.   A switch is flipped by some mysterious, known-only-to-sixth-graders force, and they return from break seventh graders in spirit and behavior.  Suddenly (or so it seems), there is a need to present a cool facade, a demeanor of disinterest, a sort of “I’m kinda done with this little place-ness”.  Everyone has a crush on someone else, and middle school drama begins to show up at inopportune times…in the middle of book club, for instance.

Sly smiles, and throwing serious shade  become common place; a need to watch oneself becomes moment by moment work, for one never knows who is watching, or what they might say.

Of course, all of the above does daily battle with the pre-Spring Break self who fights mightily, and with success, at every turn.   That sophisticated sixth grader can (ion the blink of an eye) morph back into the kid who laughs at fart jokes, needs to build a “reading fort” behind the easel, and wants to spend choice time writing about magic wands.

And, of course, there is the unrelenting need to test boundaries, rules, limits, patience…and sometimes even kindness.  They are watchful when testing, paying close attention to how far they can push before there is push back, to whether the same rules apply in the same way they did when the year first began.

They are comfortable with each other and me, sometimes too comfortable.  Throughout the day there is the constant push and pull of maintaining that exact level of comfort that allows for freedom of expression, creativity, and thinking, and yet prevents all of that good stuff from careening off into mayhem (which they both yearn for and and are terrified of).

Testing, testing, testing….

SOL Tuesday: Beckoning the lovely in Room 202

Tuesday’s  Slice of Life writing community is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

It’s the story of my teaching life: I have an idea, I toss it out to my kids, and then they blow me away.  Over the years, I’ve learned to place my trust my kids in a “Field of Dreams” kind of way – if you name the idea, scaffold it a bit, and invest it with purpose, they will rise to the occasion, and often exceed the idea you had in the first place.

Two weeks ago, while thinking about the recent loss of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, I felt the need to share her with my students.  I wanted them to know of her work, her spirit, and the joyous way in which she invited her readers to consider noticing and doing lovely things.  So, I came up with this Slice of Life Assignment (we write a slice of life every Friday on our class blog):Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 1.47.49 PM

At first, my students were puzzled.  There were a hundred anxious and agitated questions: what do you mean by “lovely”? does it have to be something written down? can I sing a song? can I work with a partner?

Then they were a bit annoyed by the open endedness of the assignment (these are kids who seem to need very explicit directions: how many paragraphs? how many lines in each paragraph? – so much of my work with them this year has been to break this neediness and encourage more risk taking).

Then they got to work…and I waited.  Some of our “lovelies” came in during the week, and were cause for celebration, like Lila’s painting:

On Sunday, when the assignment was due, I logged on to Google classroom and watched lovely unfold:

  • movies about lovely moments and memories
  • planting trees in our neighborhood inspired by #ALTNPSPLANTATREE:

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  • creating a community kindness project:

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  • poetry – lots of poetry!

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  • crafting something lovely for those we love (sketching a flower for mom, delivering treats to grandma)
  • looking out of the window and celebrating the lovely that Nature has to offer (a cherry blossom in bloom):

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On Sunday, I was overwhelmed by what my kids had been able to do: they came to that metaphorical field and they brought their A game.  They imagined what kindness looks like, and they paused to notice what was lovely in their everyday.  We beckoned the lovely in room 202, and the joy of our endeavor reverberates.








#SOLC17: Monday morning bag(s)

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

On any given morning, in the hour before school begins, our middle school parking lot becomes a parade of teachers and their bags walking from their cars up the stairs and through the school doors.

Monday mornings are the busiest, in terms of teacher bags.  Here, for example, is what I hauled from my end of the parking lot all the way up two floors of stairs to Room 202:

My trusty backpack, filled with my own notebooks for each of my subject areas, PD books, picture books, and our current read aloud…oh, and also my lunch:

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One bag filled with my morning class’ reading journals, and the week’s supply of coffee (thank you Trader Joe’s!):


Another bag filled with my afternoon class’ reading journals and my week’s flower selection:


My Monday morning haul…


…is there any teacher out there who knows how to “pack lightly”?!


Slice of Life Tuesday:…a new shade of paint

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers


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

Slice of Life Tuesday:Just another morning…

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers


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.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Why I marched

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers


We arrived early for the Women’s March on NYC, thinking we had plenty of time to have a cup of coffee, meet up with our children, and then make our way to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza so that we could be there for our scheduled 12:45 march time.  After all, we were advised to: “Please follow the start times listed. Dag Hammarskjold Plaza cannot hold all of us, so staggered start times keep everyone moving instead of waiting. “

When we rounded the corner of First Avenue and 46th. Street, however, we were greeted by a sea of people  already several thousand strong.  Young and old, some in wheel chairs and some on the broad shoulders of their mothers and fathers, many wearing pink hats, and all carrying signs, there we stood…shoulder to shoulder.


It was hours before we marched, and hours while we marched.  The going was slow, but no one seemed to mind.  We sang, we chanted, we raised our voices and felt the power of our collective sound.    We passed the hours chatting with those around us, learning their stories and sharing ours.  Sometimes a wave of cheers would roll through the crowd, and suddenly the long trek ahead seemed not so long.

Sometimes, it was enough just to read the signs all around us, and marvel at their creativity and sense of humor:


 or power to inspire:

At one point, while we stood at the crest of  42nd. Street and paused to take in the view – a river of humanity wending its peaceful, joyous, purposeful way.

Why did I march?

Because I needed to remind myself that we are a hopeful and compassionate nation.

Because I believe in the need to fight climate change, guarantee healthcare, and provide great public education for all our children.

Because I reject racism, misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia.

Because I know the historical implications of “America First” and I reject those ideas, too.

Because I needed to be surrounded by people who believe at their very core as I do, that we simply cannot turn the clock back on all the progress we’ve made over these last eight years towards being a more just and compassionate nation.

So, I marched.  And now, hope restored, I turn to doing the work .

Yes, we can.

Yes, we did.

Yes, we will.

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Slice of Life Tuesday: Stay calm…and be consistent.

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

We don’t have many rules in our classroom.  In fact, there are just three that cover all our needs: be kind, be respectful, honor each other’s right to learn.  From September through December, we journey as a class to understand the point of these rules – they create a learning community built on safety and trust.  It is a long and sometimes difficult journey for my ebullient and impulsive sixth graders, and it’s a long and difficult journey for me, as well.  For no matter what we’ re in the midst of, or how well the lesson is going, if someone calls out, interrupts, laughs at someone else, puts someone down, or (in short) crosses the line with any of our three ground rules, I have to:

  • ask the class to pause
  • wait until the student in question has acknowledged the breach
  • name the issue, accept the apology on behalf of the class
  • move on

If it happens again, I simply pause and wait, and on the rare occasion there is another repetition, I ask the student to leave our room until such time as he or she can collect themselves and return to our learning.

As I said, this is a long journey. September and October see many occasions when we find the need to go through the above rigamarole time and time again.  And then, just as I begin thinking – Will they NEVER learn? -they do.  And we are off and sailing through calm waters.

Until January.

Because in January, some of my kiddos decide it’s time to test the old lady teacher, to see how  much energy she still has to survive the CONSISTENCY TEST!

I felt the first rumblings last week, our first week back from break.  It took a little longer to transition from one thing to the next, to settle into work without a hundred and one pokes, shoves, and smirky comments.  This week, they’ve upped the ante: interruptions, calling out, laughing at classmates’ contributions.  By “they”, I mean the ones chosen for this mission – the few who feel brave enough, ready enough, for the throw down, the crossing of the line.

When it happens, the class grows furtively watchful: did she hear it? see it? will she ignore it? will we have to go through “the drill”?  A part of each student (I think) wants me not to respond, to pretend I somehow missed what was happening under my very nose, to allow our rules to slacken.  But, a greater part of each student (I really believe) wants me to notice, to follow through.  As much as my kids crave the chance to break rules and have a go at mayhem (they are sixth graders, after all) they also need the assurance of structure, the security of consistency.

So, we had our first throw down today.   Out in the hallway, at the end of our little “talk”, I asked X. what had gotten into him? why???  I confessed to being exasperated, perhaps my voice was an octave higher than necessary.   He smiled sheepishly, shrugged, and mumbled, “I don’t know…I just couldn’t help it, you know?”

I couldn’t say it, but I did think, yes, I do know – it’s testing season now…we’ll get to February before long, and it will be smooth sailing again.  I just have to stick to following through, to being consistent.