#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.



Slice of Life Tuesday: First snow

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers 


The forecast called for snow in the evening. But evening came and went and there was no snow.

And then, just past nine o’clock, as I was carting out the recycling bins full of the New York Times which we had deliberately avoided reading since the elections, I saw the first snow flakes of winter waft down from the inky sky.   They drifted lazily at first, and then quickened their pace.  Soon it was really snowing…as in snowflakes in greater numbers tumbling down faster and faster.

Soon, there was snow on every outdoor  surface – that “blanket of white” my students love to write about.   We waited a bit, Sophie and I, before venturing out.  By the time we did, there was enough snow for us to trudge through, in that winter way: the crunch of boots and paws, and footprints left to be filled again.

The familiar late evening walk took on an air of magic. Twinkling holiday lights, glimpses of Christmas trees through windows, headlights inching slowly up the now-slick winter street – each new view was another delight to pause for a moment and take in.  Sophie buried her nose in the snow from time to time, and tunneled her way through a path of snowy delight.

We made our way through the usual late night route made fresh with first snow.  Winter is upon us, finally, and we are happy for it.

Slice of Life Tuesday: What did you teach?


It was several years ago, but I remember my Institute sessions with Kathleen Tolan at the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project so well.  She brought an intensity to our learning that went deep into my teaching heart – I left each session filled with ideas, enthusiasm, and (most importantly) idealism.   That last bit, idealism, is what gets to me in this stage of my teaching life – new ideas are wonderful and enthusiasm  helps us reach our students, but idealism is something else entirely, it elevates the work we do and gives it a meaning beyond the lesson plan or learning objective of the day. Idealism is the hope that our work will live on in the hearts and minds of our kids long after they have left the four walls of our classroom.

On Sunday, I heard of Kathleen’s sudden passing, and I remembered back to that Summer Institute.  As the evening wore on, I read account after account about her influence over those I consider my mentors: Chris Lehman,  Kate Roberts, Maggie Beattie Roberts, Vicki Vinton, and others.  Then, this post by Tom Marshall stopped me in my tracks:

December 4 at 7:32pm ·

 What did you teach? These were the words Kathleen Tolan pushed us with at the end of every reading conference. Yes, it’s easy to say nice things throughout a conference with a child. Sometimes, it’s easy to be clouded in the complex acts of reading and teaching and say too many things, because there is so much to say when you’re emotionally involved (like I am right now!) However, Kathleen’s words, “What did you teach?” ring true for me in every interaction I try to have today. What meaning does your life as a teacher, as a friend, as a person have? How will this person you just interacted with remember you and feel better, because they spent these moments with you? 
Kathleen taught me and so many of my professional friends so much. She leaves behind a legacy of having helped millions of kids find meaning in their lives through reading. She leaves behind a legacy of hundreds of thousands of teachers who are more empowered to make the world a better place for kids because of all she’s taught them. We can each strive to do just a shadow of that. If we make that our aim, we answer Kathleen’s question, “What did you teach?” so much more than naming a teaching point in a conference…it means we leave behind a legacy. Maybe like Kathleen’s! We’ll all miss you, my friend! Thank you for teaching us so much more than you ever realized!
What did you teach?
What did you teach?
What did you teach?
What did you teach?
What did you teach?
The question changes as I vary the inflections of each word – but, in essence, the answer remains the same, for it points toward and measures our legacy.  And, of course, the legacy we leave our students stretches beyond how well they can write and read; the legacy work runs much deeper.  It’s about the joy we bring to their learning attitudes, the purpose we reveal their learning lives to have, the habits of kindness and compassion we nurture, and the awareness of the greater world we introduce.
In this post-election apocalypse we now inhabit, where every day there are new revelations of greed, corruption, misinformation, and hate, that legacy work seems to have taken on an added import.  As I drove into school this morning, thinking about what to write my slice of life about, I was filled with gloom.  Every idea seemed trivial, somehow, and unworthy of the time it would take to write.  I felt uninspired…and that felt wrong.
I turned on the radio, something I have stopped doing since the election, and heard the headlines on NPR: Standing Rock, the mistrial in South Carolina, Trump’s Tweets…
…what did you teach?
Today, we will read and write and talk about how we do both.  But today (and every day) we will also engage in the larger world, we will think about how our actions can change and shape a better world.
What will I teach?  I will teach towards a legacy my students can carry with them  into the world.