Thursday, May 18, 2017

REAL FRIENDS- Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

We are currently suffering through a rash of "mean girl" syndrome at my school. I feel like I have spent the better part of my recess duty for the last couple of weeks helping kids resolve conflicts, talking to the social worker, calling families, etc., etc., etc. I'm really glad, then, to have discovered a brand new graphic novel.

REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, is a graphic novel, a biography, of Shannon's intermediate grade experiences. It includes stories of friends who become "not friends," being part of groups, and not being part of groups, getting glasses, bullies, loneliness, making new friends. All of those intermediate grade experiences that are so much a part of kids' lives, and so, so, so hard.

On a teaching note, REAL FRIENDS includes a lot of short, episodic stories. I can see myself using it during a unit on personal narratives. Kids could tell their friendship stories in graphic novel format, then move to a more traditional personal narrative.

I'm thinking this is a book I'm going to be replacing pretty regularly. I suspect it's going to get read a lot!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Mother's Day. I'm feeling a little down. There will be no cards or flowers or dinners out or even burgers on the grill at home. My boys don't do holidays.

I do holidays, at least a little, and I'm going to Colorado Springs to have brunch with my mom. I grab my keys, head out the door, and then I see him. David.  He has mowed my lawn for years. His mom lived down the street for over half a century. He lived with her, at least most of the time. Recently, she moved into assisted living, and he's living on the streets. This morning, he looks like he has probably been out all night. He is more than a little rumpled. Wearing a backpack. A sleeping bag hangs from the handlebars of his bike.

I never know what to say to him. Everything seems so trite when he is so lost and so alone. We talk about the lawn. It needs cut. I ask if he will see him mom. He tells me he won't. I think it's probably a pretty long bus ride across town. He tells me he wants to find a church to try, and I tell him there is a new one at the school down the street.

I want to do something, but I don't know what that would be. We make plans for the next yard work, and I tell him to take care. Wave goodbye.

I have to make a quick stop on my way to Colorado Springs. I have some boxes that need recycled. They are too big for my bin, so I want to drop them off at a recycling dumpster at a park not too far from my house.

And then I see them. The car is from out of state, and loaded down with boxes on the seat and a luggage rack on the top. A woman is in the driver's seat, small children are in the back. She looks old to be their mom. Maybe her grandchildren?  I wonder if they are living in the car.

I drag my boxes out of the car and walk around the back of their car to put the boxes in the dumpster. I almost run into a man, pulling a royal blue shirt over his head. I know those shirts, they are the uniforms for a local amusement park, and many of our parents work there. I wonder if this man is trying to support his family on the barely above minimum wage pay most of the workers earn.

And again, I do not know what to say. I make small talk. Say it's a beautiful day. Say there will probably be lots of people at the amusement park. He wishes me a happy Mother's Day.

I drive away, wondering how I could be so ungrateful when I have so, so, so many blessings in my life. Starting with a roof over my head.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Tomorrow, I am triple booked.


Before noon.

We have faculty meeting tomorrow at 7:15.

Like we do every Wednesday.

Except my principal retired midyear and we kind of haven't had regular meetings for the past few weeks. So this morning, when someone asked me if I could attend another meeting, I said sure, I could come.

And then I found out we really are having a faculty meeting.

An then I also remembered I had said I would help with playground coverage, because we are doing teacher appreciation this week. And tomorrow morning we are having a breakfast for the paras.

Except the paras do morning recess duty. So the leadership team offered to cover the duty.

And I'm on the leadership team.

So now I'm triple booked.

Before 8 a.m.

And then again at 10. I have a regularly scheduled meeting at 10:10 on Wednesdays.

And I'm supposed to be testing kindergarteners, which is taking way, way, way longer than I hoped it would.

And then my new principal emailed and I told him sure, I could meet at 10:30.

So I'm triple booked twice.

Before lunch.

I really hate this time of year.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


So we are testing this week, and I'm thinking, as I always do, about the qualities that can't be measured. One of the first things that comes to mind is kindness. It makes me sad that something so important can't be measured.

When I think about kindness, one of the he first people I think of is Miss A. A has been at our school since first grade. Reading, actually school, has never come easy to her, and she's worked and worked and worked. She's in fifth grade now, and has never scored proficient on any standardized measure.

But she is proficient in lots of things that matter.

Last Friday, for instance, I accompanied the fifth grade to the library. I grabbed a stack of books to book talk. They are all new books, and there were a few I didn't know. One of them, the title of which I can't remember, was about a young girl whose mother has left. The girl thinks if she wins a poetry slam, her mother will come home.

D is another student in that class. She is new to our school this year, the oldest girl in a family of four children. D's stepmother and step-siblings moved out of the country earlier this year. Now it's just D, her dad, and three siblings.

D immediately asked for that book. Someone else had already snagged it, but I did a little finagling, arranged a multi-book trade and was able to procure it for her. But then they got to the checkout counter and it turned out that D has two books checked out from her previous school. And the district has a new policy that no one who has old fines can check out any books until they are taken care of, so D couldn't have that book.

I understand the district rationale, but I also know that sometimes a kid just needs a book. Nevertheless, the person in charge of the library wasn't bending. D was crestfallen.

Miss A. was right behind her.

"Can I check out that book?" she asked.

I told her she could. And she put down one of the books she had chosen, and checked out the book D had wanted to read, then we went back upstairs.

On the way back up, I suggested that maybe Miss A could share her book with D. She looked at me like I was crazy. "I didn't check the book out for me," she said. "It's too hard. I checked it out so D could read it."

And with that she handed the book over to D.

"Here," she said. "Here's your book."

And for about the millionth time, I wondered why we never measure the things that really count.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


So it's sounding like I might become a military mom. Air Force, to be exact. And I'm terrified.

My younger son went and met with a recruiter today. Took some kind of a preliminary test. Discovered that he was smart enough to be in the Special Forces. Made me dig out his birth certificate tonight, so he can take it, and his diploma to the recruiting office tomorrow.

And I have to tell you I have very mixed emotions.

On one hand, he has got to do something. For the past four or five years, since his senior year in high school, it's pretty much been one failure after another. Two different junior colleges. Motorcycle mechanic school. A zillion different jobs that he likes the first day, and quits the second or third. He's been going nowhere fast for awhile. The military might be really good. Structure. Discipline. Male role models.

And at the same time, I am absolutely terrified. I don't want him to go to war. I am afraid he would come back with missing body parts. Or with more PTSD than he already has. I am afraid he wouldn't come back. I don't know if his older brother could bear it, if he didn't come back.

And yet, at the same time, he has to do something.

So this morning, when I knew he was going to the recruiting meeting, I texted him and wished him luck. And called him afterwards. Tried to feign excitement when he showed me the recruiting pamphlet. Tried not to look at the picture of the person holding a very large machine gun. Tried not to think about where someone might need a gun that big.

I might become a military mom.

And I'm terrified.

Friday, March 31, 2017

SLICE #31- Thanks for the stories

"All we are, yes, all we can be, are the stories we tell," he says, and he is talking as if he is talking only to me. "Long after we are gone, our words will be all that is left, and who is to say what really happened or even what reality is? Our stories, our fiction, our words, will be as close to truth as can be. And no one can take that away from you."    Nora Raleigh Baskin

This came across my Facebook page today. And somehow, it seemed perfect for the last day of March, the last day of slicing for this year. Actually not really the last day of slicing, because we will slice again on Tuesday. But this day, the last day of March, even the seventh time, feels, like always, a little bittersweet. 

I think about all of the stories I have read this month- slicers like Linda, Elsie, Michelle, Tara, Ramona, Chris, and Elisabeth and others- people I have followed for years. They've become more than fellow slicers. They have become friends.

 I think about all of the new slicers- my Welcome Wagon folks- that I got to know  for the first time this year.I have loved getting to know them through their stories. I hope I will see them on Tuesdays. 

I think about the people that didn't slice this year- Cathy who started, then went on vacation and didn't pick back up again, and Nancy- who I have followed for years. I hope they will be back next year. I missed their stories.

I think about the stories I have told this year. Stories of possible retirement. Stories of struggling sons. Stories of school. I know next year I will look back on these stories, from farther down the road. I wonder how I will view these stories then.

And I think about the stories yet to be told. So many stories are left.

Until Tuesday, my friends, until Tuesday…

Thursday, March 30, 2017

SLICE #30- Wonder Woman Strikes Again

My teaching friend, Kathy, and I have a running joke.
We call ourselves the Wonder Women.
No, not Wonder Woman like you traditionally think of.
Not the one with the long black curls, red bodice,
and blue and white starred swimsuit bottoms.
Not that one.

We call ourselves the Wonder Women,
because we spend a huge part
of our teaching and personal lives
 wondering where we put things.

I wonder where I put my keys.
Kathy wonders where she put the piece of paper with last unit's math scores.
I wonder where I put the reading data I just printed out.
Kathy wonders where she put a gift card someone gave her.

We wonder on and on and on.

Take today for instance.
I had lunch with a friend, then dashed across town to renew my license plates.
I knew the little one inch by one inch sticker is really easy to lose,
so I stuck it on license plate the minute I walked out of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Done and done.
One more thing off of my spring break list.

And then I came home.
And remembered that my son's license plates were also due in March.
The thing is, I would swear I already renewed his plates.
I thought I did it online.
I thought the envelope came in the mail.
And I gave the sticker to him
and told him to put it on.
He swears it didn't happen.
That I never gave him an envelope.

And so I went through the stack of bills
where I found my renewal notice.
His renewal wasn't there.
I have no idea where it is.
And of course it has to be done by tomorrow.
So that means I have to go back to the license plate bureau
and try to figure it out.

Wonder Woman strikes again.