Tuesday, March 20, 2018

SLICE #20: In which I am not a very nice person.

Tuesday night. Eight o'clock.

Three of us are walking out of Spanish class.

I have had a 14 hour day.

I am tired.

I still have several more hours of work when I get home.

My head aches, as it always does after Spanish class.

I have done way too much thinking.

A woman approaches us.

Her car is dead. She needs someone to jump her. She has her own jumper cables.

D, one of my classmates says that she is driving a Hybrid car and doesn't think she can jump people.

C, the other woman walking out with us doesn't have her car. She is riding home with D.

I know I should offer to help, but I am so tired.

Before I can say anything, D jumps in.

"Our Spanish class is right in there," she says. "I'll bet someone in there can help you."

I wonder who might be able to help.

I picture L. She usually leaves her two small children at her sister's a few blocks away, then dashes away afterwards to pick them up. 

I think of Bex, our instructor, who has bronchitis and has coughed her way through class.

I slide by quietly without saying anything.

I know I should offer to help.

But I don't.

Instead, selfishly, I get into my car and drive away.

Wondering why I don't offer to help.

Wondering why I am not a little nicer.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Slice #19- The Newcomers

9:15 on Monday night.
Forty-five minutes until slices for today close and I have not sliced.
But I have a good excuse.
Or at least a kind of good excuse.
I have been trying to slice in the morning, but this morning I had a lot of school work left to finish.

And tonight I went with my book club to see Helen Thorpe.
Helen Thorpe is an award-winning Colorado author who writes narrative nonfiction.
Her first book, JUST LIKE US, details the life of four high school girls, several of whom are undocumented immigrants, trying to graduate from high school and navigate the world of the university. Her second book, SOLDIER GIRLS, is about veterans. Her newest book, THE NEWCOMERS, just released in November, is about a classroom at Denver's South High. The classroom is what's known as a "newcomers" class, for students who have just arrived in the United States. Helen Thorpe spent a year in this classroom, following teacher Eddie Williams, and his 22 students from places as far away as the Congo, Burma, Iraq, and Mexico. Tonight, the South High PTA sponsored an author talk about the book.

And it was stunning.

First four women, all immigrants- one a paraprofessional from Sudan, Mariam from Iraq, then another young woman who just won second in state wrestling, and finally, a 9th grader, who stopped several times during her talk to wipe away tears. Finally, Thorpe got up and showed slides and talked for almost an hour.

And it was one of those talks that left me feeling like I need to do more.
More to better the lives of people who need the riches the wealthiest country is more than capable of providing, if we choose to do so.
More to better the lives of the refuge students at my school.
More to help all of my students understand that their voices really do matter, and it's important to learn to write well, so that you can tell your stories and bring about change in the world. 

My slice is really late tonight.
But I have a really good reason.
Tonight I was inspired by a writer who really knows how to use her voice to make change in the world.
I want to be a writer like that.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Slice #18-Thinking about feedback…

Tonight I'm thinking about feedback…

I got up early this morning and read writing that our kids had done on an assessment that our district uses three times a year. We did it last week, two weeks before our state's "blessed event." Some of the writing looked really good. But a lot of it did not look that good at all.

So now I'm thinking, "OK, I have to give people feedback. I have to give feedback to kids and I have to give feedback to teachers."

And I know it's a matter of staying calm. Of breathing deep. Of finding that one good thing that the writer/writing teacher did and building on that one thing. Of looking forward to the next teaching point, the next desired success. Over and over and over again.

But how do I do that for A, a student's who entire essay consists of three quotes that he lifted from the text. The quotes might work, if he can explain that. But how I explain that in a way that makes sense to him?

And how do I address half of the third grade class, who wrote short constructed responses instead of the five paragraph essay they were supposed to write? And whose typing is simply not that good yet? And who still are not using their and there correctly?

And how do I address those almost successes- those kids who aren't there yet, but whose approximations are pretty strong, and are just in need of a little tweaking, and they might even be proficient, if they get a decent prompt? Or those kids that write really, really well and just need to buckle down and bring it on the day(s) of the test.

I need to be calm, and encouraging, and affirm the success/progress we have made so far. I need to think about what one thing we could put into place that would make the biggest difference. 

And how do I talk to their teachers? Adults who have poured their hearts and souls into teaching kids to  write. Adults who know that it takes a lot of slow to grow. Adults who need to teach their hearts out for the next two weeks, but then let it go, knowing that they have done the absolute best that they can. How do I communicate the urgency of the situation and yet not send a message that is critical or stressed or unkind or accusatory? How can I help us stay together and push forward and do our best for the next two weeks?

I need to be calm, and encouraging, and affirm the success/progress we have made so far. I need to think about what one thing we could put into place that would make the biggest difference. 

And then I am thinking about my own sons, limping their way into manhood. How do I affirm the positive aspects of their character? How do I communicate that I love them, but that I will not allow them to live in our home and do nothing? How do I help them understand that some things may be legal, but are not necessarily profitable.

I need to be calm, and encouraging, and affirm the success/progress we have made so far. I need to think about what one thing we could put into place that would make the biggest difference. 

Tonight I'm thinking about feedback…

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Slice #17- Saturdays start with Weightwatchers.

Saturday morning. It's still dark and a little cold when I left myself out of the house at 6:20. This has been my Saturday routine for the last 15 months. First thing on Saturday morning I go to Weight Watchers.

Last January, I decided I really needed to do something about my weight. My clothes were getting tight. And maybe ore importantly, I'm not getting any younger, and my joints, especially my hips, were starting to hurt. I had been successful at Weight Watchers before, and decided to try it again.

I'm what people at Weightwatchers call a "turtle." I lose weight really slowly. But over the course of nine months, I lost 28 pounds. And I've kept it off for about six months. The things I have learned at Weightwatchers are strategies that work in most areas of life, I think.

1) Show up every week. 
Weightwatchers has several different programs. You can do it online, or you can go to meetings. For me, the key to Weightwatchers is showing up at a meeting every single week. Or at least almost every single week. Even now, when I could only go and weigh in once a month.  Every week I get up on Saturday mornings, drive the five miles in the cold and dark, and weigh in. And I always stay for the meetings. They get a little redundant sometimes, but I need the showing up, and stepping on the scale, and listening to other people's stories. That keeps me going.

2) Practice the three P's.
After I had been attending Weightwatchers for about six weeks, I had a really bad week. Or maybe a couple of bad weeks in a row. I was feeling really frustrated and was about ready to quit. My leader, Cheri, said something at the meeting that day that stuck with me. "It's all about the three P's," she said. "Patience, positivity, and persistence." For some reason, those three P's really resonated with me. Losing weight takes patience-- the weight came on over ten years, after I adopted the boys. It probably won't come off instantly.  Losing weight takes positivity- you have to keep telling yourself that you CAN do this. And losing weight takes persistence- just doing the right thing over and over and over again. Day after day after day.

3) Create patterns you can sustain. 
It's important to create patterns that you can sustain. You can't give up everything forever. And if you can't give it up forever, maybe you shouldn't give it up at all. Last Saturday night, for example, my mom and I went out to dinner before we went to see HAMILTON. I had salmon, but I also had a glass of wine. And a piece of bread with a little butter. And we shared a dessert. I'm going to continue to do that once in a while. And it's really ok.

More regular patterns are ok too. I like having milk in my coffee. I like thousand island salad dressing.  I love a good hamburger. I want to go to a Mexican restaurant and have a margarita and chips and guacamole once in a while. For me, it's not about giving up those things, instead it's about making the choice to have them. And knowing that it's ok, as long as I plan ahead.

4) Do what works for you. 
In December, Weightwatchers introduced a new program. I tried it for a few weeks, but it just wasn't working for me. I had gained two pounds in two weeks. So I went back to the old program, which did work for me, really well. I don't say a lot about it at meetings, because I know it would probably be considered heretical. I just go and listen and then go home and eat the way that works for me. It's important to be true to yourself. There really is something to be said for marching to your own drummer.

5) Be kind to yourself. 
This morning, two things happened at Weightwatchers that really made me think. First, a woman was talking about being proud of herself for setting a goal of getting 10,000 steps a day. She said that she had lost six pounds this week (not typical!) and then said, "But I'm really big." People shut her down immediately. It's not ok to say bad things about yourself. "You lost six pounds. Period. And that's absolutely terrific!"

Another woman said, "When I'm having a bad week, I think about the most supportive people I know. I think of Kathy (the woman sitting next to her) and I think, "What would she say to me if I gained weight? And then I try to be that kind to myself." I think that's important and it's something I'm not all that good at. I really need to work on being a little kinder to myself and not beating myself up when I do make bad choices.

I've been doing Weightwatchers every Saturday for about a year now. I anticipate that I will be doing it for probably the rest of my life. And that's ok. It's a lifestyle I can sustain.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Slice #16- Slicing and Poetry Friday

Spring is probably my favorite season. And daffodils are one of my favorite parts of that season.
We don't have any daffodils in Colorado yet, but  the crocuses are up, so I suspect within the next week or so, they daffodils will begin appearing. 

Every spring, I share one of my favorite poems, "Daffodils," by Ralph Fletcher. Ralph's poem first appeared in his book, ORDINARY THINGS: POEMS FROM A WALK IN EARLY SPRING. I was really surprised to discover that this book was published in 1997,  I would have said it was about ten years old. I guess then, that it's an oldie but a goodie, but it's definitely worth adding to any poetry collection for kids if you can find it. 


They put on
a little show
simply by being
so yellow.

Their stems
darkly green
against the
faded brown barn.

Ralph Fletcher
from Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring

This year, I decided to put my own twist on Ralph's poem. I have been watching people write "Golden Shovel" poems, where you lift a line from another poem,  and then use the words from that line to form the last word of each line of a new poem. I decided to try it with daffodils. Not sure I was all that successful, but at least I can say I tried.

Spring begins when they 
flounce onto the stage, capricious ballerinas who put 
fluffy golden tutus on
over green leotard stems, then twirl a 
quick pirouette, a dancy little 
preview of upcoming redpinkpurple summer show.
Eyes, tired of winter's whitebrowngray simply 
stop, overcome by
spring ballerina being
bold, forthcomings and so 
very yellow.

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Fellow Coloradoan, Linda Baie, is hosting Poetry Friday today. 

You can read more slices at Two Writing Teachers

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Slice #15- Another Missing Chapter in the Parenting Book.

I definitely need to buy a new parenting book. The one I have is missing waaaay too many chapters.

Take the one I need right now, for instance. The one about how to help your adult, or kind of adult children figure out what they want to do with their lives. Or how to help them rescue themselves when they get stuck in a whirlpool that is going nowhere.

Son #2 came back from college about three years ago. He had tried two different junior colleges and just didn't like it. Not very long after that, he started working a series of jobs-- usually food related. He's made doughnuts, delivered calzones, and worked the counter and in the kitchen at a sandwich shop. The pattern is pretty much always the same. He works for six or eight weeks, gets bored, and quits. He  hangs out for another month or so, then when I threaten that he either has to find a new job or a new place to live, he finds another dead end job.

This time has been one of the worst. He hasn't worked since before Christmas. Supposedly, he was going to take three months to get himself into shape, and then join the Air Force. He has already taken a test that says he is qualified for some really high level group that sounds kind of like the Green Berets. But somehow, he hasn't done that.

And then in January, he decided he was going to go back to school. I helped him fill out the application online and gave him money to park at orientation. He came home saying he wasn't going to go to school. I am still not sure what happened with that one.

Since then, he's pretty much done nothing. Well, actually not nothing in his book, but nothing in mine. As far as I can tell, he plays endless video games, finds complicated recipes and texts me lists of ingredients, bakes ginormous (and very delicious) million calorie chocolate chip cookies, and watches lots of You Tube and Netflix.

About two weeks ago, I had had it. I told him he had to have a job by March 24th, period.

And so he borrowed money from his brother, got a haircut, and today he went and had an interview.

At a smoothie shop.

He said it went well. It would be full time. He would work from 10-5 making smoothies for $10.50 an hour. He will find out if he got it this weekend. He probably did. He's smart and articulate and usually makes a good first impression.

And I'm not sure how I feel. For starters, it feels a lot like the past five or ten jobs he's had. And I wonder how long he will last (even though I have told him that he cannot quit another job and live in my house). And wonder if I should tell him, before he even starts, that in about a week he is going to get really tired of driving across town to work at a smoothie shop.

And I wonder how to help him understand that the CEO of most companies started out washing dishes or cleaning toilets. And that the world doesn't owe him anything. And that it doesn't matter if he is smarter than the boss, or if he thinks the company should be better run-- he is not the boss and he needs to keep his opinions to himself and do what people tell him to do.

And I wonder how I can help him develop a little stick-to-it-ive-ness.

And how I can get this 22-year-old no longer a child to start think about a career, rather than simply a series of dumb little high school-ish jobs.

And how I can maybe, if he wants to, help him get back into school because he is plenty smart and really needs to do something with the brain he was given.

Basically, I'm pretty much at an impasse in the parenting department.

And I could really use that missing chapter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Slice #14- Losers, fingers, and small spaces- Another day in the life of a literacy coach

I am sitting on the floor in the middle school hall, when the passing period bell rings. 

"Miss, are you ok?"

"Do you need help?"

"What are you doing down there?"

It's the last question that probably needs answering. 

This all started about twenty minutes earlier. I had just finished recess duty and ran through the office to drop off the walkie talkie. The kindergarten teacher stopped me. 

"Can you help me with X?  He's having a hard time, and no administrators are available.  I left him by the music room while I came down to get help."

I know X well. About a month ago, I helped him sort conversation hearts. "You can color the graph, Dr. Carol, I'll eat the hearts."

Last week, when I was administrator in charge, he threw a pencil at his teacher. 

As we are heading toward the music room, his teacher fills me in on the situation. It seems that the class was going to specials. For some reason, X got mad at another little boy. He made the L sign (for loser). The teacher says that J's parents were already complaining about X and she thinks they are going to be very angry. Something has to be done. 

We find X sitting in a chair outside the music room. 

He tells me he wants to go to music.

I tell him he can go to music, but that we have to solve this problem first. 

X gets up and stands next to the drinking fountain, which is mounted in a recess in the wall. He takes a drink, a very long drink. I wait. Hydration is always good. 

The computer teacher walks by. "You need help?" 

"No, I'm ok."

X squishes himself into the corner behind the drinking fountain. I wait some more. 

After a pause of two or three minutes, X says again, "I want to go to music." He dashes across the hall to the music room, but the door is locked, so he can't get in. 

Again he says, "I want to go to music."

I remind him that he can go to music, but that he did a mean thing, and hurt his friend's feelings, and he has to solve that before he can go to music. I ask if he is ready to try to solve it.


I wait again. 

Two or three minutes later, X says again, "I want to go to music."

I ask if he is ready to solve his problem. No words, but he nods his head yes. I try to get X to talk about the situation. He tells me that J cut in front of him in line, and he was mad, so he did the L sign. 

"What does that mean, anyway?"

"That means loser," I say. "It's a very mean thing to do to people. If you do mean things, people won't want to be your friend."

"I just want to go to music."

Just then, the music room door opens, and children begin coming out into the hall. They are going to the auditorium to practice their piece for the music program. I see J and pull him out of the line. X is now squished in the space behind the door. 

"He did the finger to me," J says immediately. I imagine him telling this story to his parents on the playground after school. At the same time, the situation strikes me as a little funny, and I fight back the urge to laugh.

I explain that X did something mean, but it was not "the finger." Now he is very sorry. He wants to apologize. I coax X out from behind the door.

"Do you want to say something to your friend?" I say. 

X says in a voice that sounds only a teeny bit sorry, "Sorry."

"What are you sorry for?"

"For doing the finger."

By this point, I am pretty sure we are going nowhere fast. I decide I will have to have the kindergarten teacher explain the situation to whoever picks J up.

"Do you promise you won't do that sign again?"

"Yes," X says more than a little grudgingly. 

I ask X if he accepts the apology.

"I guess so," he says, also more than a little grudgingly.

I explain the situation to the music teacher and put the boys back in line to go to music, then head down the hall to tell the kindergarten teacher she has to tell J's parents that X did the L sign, not the finger. 

Just another day in the life of a literacy coach. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Slice #13- Thirteen things about me as a reader

It seems like people are doing a lot of lists as slices this year. Every time I read one, I think, "I should try that some day." Most people do them in relation to the calendar number and suddenly, it occurred to me that if I didn't do one soon, I'd be having to write a 28 item list! I decided to try this one after I read fellow Coloradan Tamara Jaimes' Eleven Things About Me as a Reader. (Tamara is a terrific writer, by the way, and if you haven't read her blog, you should definitely check it out).

1. I was one of those kids who went to school knowing how to read. Actually, I have been a reader since I was a very little girl. The first book I remember reading  was HOP ON POP. I vividly remember the last page- there is a yellow circle with red words. The words are all pushed together and I remember finding the individual words within that huge block of red letters. I haven't stopped since. I will not, however, tell the story about getting kicked out of second grade reading group because I told the teacher I was not interested in learning about short e.

2. I come from a long line of readers. My grandmother was the head librarian at a branch in the Chicago Public Libraries. My mom went to bed with a book every single night. Four years ago, she had brain surgery and has some trouble with her eyes, but she still reads two or three books a week.  My father read slowly, and said he wasn't a reader, but he always had a book going. When I was in college and a young adult, he and I read John Grisham together.

3. As a kid, I loved series books- The Borrowers; Betsy, Tacy, Tib; Miss Piggle Wiggle, Nancy Drew. My all-time favorite was the Little House series. My grandmother gave me the series, one at a time, for every Christmas and birthday for about three years. I still have my Little House books.  Somewhere, I saw someone sign the front of a book, so I wrote a note to myself in one of the first ones My grandmother saw it, and she started signing them for me after that.

4. As a reader, I loved, loved, loved riding my bike to the bookmobile. I still remember the sweet, slightly flowery smell of Mrs. Holly's perfume. After the library, we would always go to the drugstore for penny candy. That was my sisters' favorite part, but I couldn't wait to get home and start reading my newest treasures.

5. My sons are not readers. I adopted them when they were seven and nine. I read to them every single night, and we had family reading time where everyone had a book or magazine, until they were in high school. I still leave things laying around for them to read. Despite all of this, they do not like to read, almost never pick up a book or magazine, and it breaks my heart.

6. I have been in the same adult book club for about 25 years. There are six of us. We used to meet consistently every single month. Now it's more like every six or eight weeks, which makes me a little sad, because those are some of my best friends, and I enjoy being with them. Right now we are reading The Newcomers by Helen Thorpe. We are going to see Helen Thorpe next Monday.

7. I don't like fantasy. At all. Not dystopian literature. Not science fiction. Not even talking animals. OK, an occasional talking animal, but not many. I have never made it through the Harry Potter books, although I did see most of the movies.

8. Right now, I read mostly YA. That's because I am teaching a seventh grade reading class and I feel like I always need to be ready to recommend a book to a kid. Yesterday I finished Sunny, the newest book in the Jason Reynolds' Track series. I liked it,  but I think Ghost is still my favorite. I'm currently reading Takedown by Laura Shovan, about a girl that wants to be on a boys' wrestling team.

9. Even though I loved series books as a kid, I don't read very many now. I do, however, go on an occasional author binge, usually with children's books or YA. In the last year, I have read almost all of Jason Reynolds books. I buy anything Barbara O'Connor writes (How to Steal a Dog is my favorite). Recently, I've been reading a lot of Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire).  Next up is Ruta Sepetys. I heard her talk at a luncheon and she was fabulous!

10. I love narrative nonfiction. Last year, my book club read Boys in the Boat, about a rowing team from the University of Washington. I loved it. Everyone else thought it was really long! I also love historical fiction. World War II seems to be the period I gravitate toward most. My favorite book in the last two years is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

11. I've recently become a fan of audiobooks. I almost always keep one in the car. Audiobooks keep me sane in Denver traffic. They also are a good companion when I'm driving back and forth to Colorado Springs every weekend. I haven't had time to go to the library the last couple of weekends, so I don't have one right now. I really needed one last weekend, when I drove back and forth to Colorado Springs twice.

12. I love independent bookstores. I live in Denver, the home of Tattered Cover, and there's nothing I like better than spending an afternoon drinking coffee and reading. Their oatmeal cookies are also really yummy, but please don't tell my Weight Watcher leader I said that!)

13. I also love the public library. I had the same card for 25 years. Every time I would get it out, the librarians would ask me if I wanted to replace it. Even so, I hung onto it until it finally cracked in half from old age. The Denver Public Library is amazing, and I go pretty much every other Saturday. I also go there to grade papers-- it's just noisy enough to focus.

Monday, March 12, 2018

SLICE #12- Hamilton

We had been waiting almost two years.

And finally, Saturday was the day.


My mom and I used to go to the theater pretty regularly. Before I had my sons, we even to New York City a couple of times. We would go on Broadway binges- fly in on Friday, see a show Friday night, two shows on Saturday, two on Sunday, and then fly home on Monday. Big fun!

Two years ago, when we heard Hamilton was coming, I asked my mom if she wanted to go.

And of course she did.

The problem was, you couldn't just get tickets to Hamilton.

You had to buy season tickets.

So for two years, once every couple of months, we've been to a play.

This year, we've been to WAITRESS, FIRST DATE, THE KING AND I.

We usually make a day of it- I drive down to Colorado Springs to pick her up, we have lunch in a little cafe by the theater, we see the show, and then we head back to Colorado Springs.

But for HAMILTON, we made a weekend of it.

I picked her up about 1:00. We came back to Denver and checked into a hotel directly across the street from the theater. We had dinner at our favorite cafe. And then we saw the show.
It was absolutely wonderful.

The music.

The dancing.

The acting.

Absolutely terrific.

I probably shouldn't confess that I just went online to see if I could get a single ticket to see it again over spring break. I could, if I want to spend $250.

Definitely a day I will never forget.

The day I saw HAMILTON.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

SLICE #11- What's it for?

Sometimes I forget why I teach kids to write. At this time of year, with our state tests three weeks away, that is especially true. It feels like everything is about making sure kids can pull together a coherent five paragraph essay, complete with claim, three body paragraphs, a counter claim (for the older kids, and a conclusion.

On Friday, I was reminded twice about why I care about helping kids become good writers. First I was in a fifth grade classroom. The kids were writing persuasive letters to our principal, Mr. M. The teacher had modeled with a topic she and I brainstormed the day before, then it was the students' turn. Each student chose a topic. I wandered the room, conferring with kids. Students had written about lots of different things. D earnestly told me about how Mr. M needed to buy locked cabinets for the art room, and then new supplies to stock the cupboards, because too many kids were stealing paints, and he couldn't do the projects he wanted to do because he needed colors that weren't there any more.  M wants the school to add an Advanced Technology Class because he wants to learn to code. J wants us to reseed our soccer field because there are too many stickers. Not only do the balls get punctured, but the kids get stickers in their hands. I was struck, as I read their writing, by the earnestness in their voices, and by the quality of the writing. These clearly were letters that mattered to the fifth graders.

Later that afternoon, I watched a teacher candidate do a lesson on persuasive writing. He first showed "Take a Knee," a video from Kwame Alexander's website, then asked kids to react, first in writing, and then by talking. The kids were clearly interested in the topic and responded with a much higher level of engagement than usually seen 30 minutes before dismissal on Friday afternoon. The passion of X, however, was particularly impressive. X said something to the effect of, "We learn about Rosa Parks, who sat down on the bus for us, and we learn about Martin Luther King, but if we don't do our part, what difference does it make?" She went on for two or three minutes, much more eloquently than I am doing here. When she was done, her classmates responded with spontaneous applause.

I can't stop thinking about those two situations this weekend. Kids need to be able to write persuasively. They need to understand the structure and mechanics of this kind of writing. We are doing that for our students.

What we are not doing, I think, is allowing kids to develop and exercise their voices. We are not allowing kids to write about topics they care about. We are not helping kids develop their own strong voices and their own opinions. We are not helping kids to develop into people who use their voices to be strong and responsible world citizens.

And that makes me really, really sad. Because isn't that what persuasive writing is for?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Slice #10- Going to the Dogs

I'm not a spring chicken.

I'm 59 years old. And in the next few years, I will need to start think about retiring. A lot of people are excited about retiring.

I am not one of them.

I love, love, love my job. Love working with teachers. Love kids. Love sharing books with teachers and kids.  I work a lot. Probably upwards of sixty hours, and some weeks, like this one, closer to 80. If I retired, I would need something to do. I don't have a husband. Never have. Probably never will. Most of my friends are married. They do things with me, sometimes, but most of their lives are about their spouses. I get that and it makes perfect sense, but it also makes for a lot of lonely weekends.

A couple of years ago, I started thinking about a hobby. My hobbies right now are reading, kids, and learning about my craft, by going to education classes. I don't knit or sew or paint. I don't cook or bake. I kill pretty much every plant that comes into my house. I don't know how to play bridge. I'm not saying that I will never do those things, but I definitely don't do them now.

I thought about things that I love. Not including kids and teaching and books. One thing that immediately came to mind is dogs. I love dogs. And so I started thinking about hobbies that involved dogs. For the past five or six years, I've watched a web cam, Warrior Canine Connection, that raises dogs for veterans with PTSD. They are located in Maryland (they might be opening a branch in Colorado soon), so that's a little too far away.

Last summer, though, I ran into Debbie, a friend I had taught with years ago. Debbie was accompanied by Shadow, an enormous black lab that she is raising for the Canine Assistance Partners of the Rockies. Shadow is in advanced training and within the next six months he will become a mobility dog for a woman with multiple sclerosis. I told Debbie I was looking for a hobby, and was interested in dogs, and she invited me to attend training with her.

And so since last fall, I have been attending classes two Saturdays a month. Besides Shadow, there are anywhere between 5 and 8 dogs, all labs, ranging in age from 4 months to a little over two years. I don't get to do a lot- sometimes I hold a dog's leash at one end of the room, while the owner walks to the other end of the room and calls them, or I serve as a prop in a training exercise. Everyone once in a while, if the trainers have brought an extra dog, I get to hold a leash and take the dog through the exercise.

I have loved these Saturday mornings. I love the dogs and their handlers. Besides Shadow, there's Ully, an 18-month-old black lab. Her puppy parents, J and M, are a retired occupational therapist and sociology professor. Ully is their third service dog. Their second dog, Rosie, is the mama to Willow and Walker, two bouncing four-month-old pups who just came from Maryland, where Rosie whelped after she was bred to a dad from the Warrior Canine Connection. And there's Valor, an high-spirited seven-month-old black lab, who is just learning to curb his impulsive tendencies so he can become a service dog. His mama is about my age, recently retired. She took Valor in respite care, and then became his full-time mama. She makes me laugh every week with his exploits, most of which involve his fascination with toilet paper.

I'm not sure yet what my role with this organization will be. They'd like me to raise a puppy and take it to school like Debbie did with Shadow, but I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet. Puppies, and especially service dog puppies, are a LOT of work. I'm also not sure that my aging lab, Star, would appreciate or be kind to a puppy. I might become a respite care home, for the dogs when their owners go out of town, or just have a situation when they need a break. Or I might just volunteer in the office this summer, at least for the time being.

At any rate, I need to find a hobby. I'm hoping that raising service dogs might be a possibility.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Slice #9- Bricks and grout

Seventh grade reading block.
I'm discovering it's all about the grout.

Those teeny tiny
seemingly insignificant conversations
that somehow hold the whole thing together.

Boy and boy and boy.
Passing time.
Racing down the hall, someone, usually with a girl in hot pursuit.
Downs lunch so he can head out to the basketball court.
That body needs to move.
End of class clean up.
D's willing to help stack chairs or erase the white board,
but he's also easily diverted to an arm wrestling match or quick boxing tournament.

2:00 every afternoon.
Reading class.
When I started with this crew in October,
D was like most of his classmates.
Leafing through books.
Eyes constantly moving.
Watching the world.
there might be something more interesting going on
and he didn't want to miss anything.

In the past month, D has finished
Jewell Parker Rhodes' GHOST BOYS,
Kwame Alexander's REBOUND.
And yesterday he started Alan Gratz's REFUGE.
He's downing about one book a week.
Shoving them into his backpack to take home every night.
Bringing them back a little the worse for wear.
But I don't really care

because D is becoming a reader.

I think it's partly because of deliberate decisions on my part.
In October, for example, I read Doreen Rappaport's
A Jackie Robinson biography.
Not really short, but not too long either.
Quick chapters.
A few black and white photographs.
Lots of stories.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
When I was done, I passed it off to D.
He loved it.

That pretty much got him going.
And since then, it's just a matter of watching where he's at in his book.
Always being ready to offer a new title.
I just finished SUNNY
And I'm thinking D might like Jason Reynold's track series.
Or right now, I'm reading
Laura Shovan's TAKEDOWN.
It's about a girl who wants to wrestle on a competitive team.
I'm only a little way in.
But I think it's one D will love.
Or he might go his own way
and take off on an Alan Gratz marathon.
(Note to self: when I adjust the seating chart this week, I need to have D sit close to G,
who is a much more experienced reader,
and has spent the year reading everything Gratz has written,
and is also super calm and mature
and can help D keep that constantly moving body, and those zinging hormones in check).

But it's not only about those decisions-
the book titles,
the reading strategies,
the seating chart.
Those things are important.
Maybe even critical
to good practice

But this year,
after thirty years of teaching ,
I'm learning all over again
that's it's really about the grout.

Those other small moments,
ships-passing-in-the-night conversations
when D and I talk about the Rockies prospects for this year
or when I comment on the fact that he is still playing basketball
even though his friends have moved on to soccer
and he tells me he has been asked to join a competitive team
and feels like he's not as good as the other players
or when I ask why he wasn't at school yesterday
and he tells me his mom was sick
and he stayed home to help

It's those are the moments that hold
the whole teaching a kid to read thing

It's those moments that are the grout.

And teaching
is really about the grout.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

SLICE #8- In which she becomes a reader of Harlequin-ish romances??

K pushes through the front door. She has missed almost ten days of school- her family had out of town company and they went skiing. She immediately greets me.

"Hi, Dr. W, I don't have a book log, but I finished my book. And it was so good."

I try to remember what she was reading when she left ten days before.  I don't have to try very hard, because she reaches into her back pack and pulls out the book.

"See, the THE KISS OF DECEPTION from the Remnant trilogy. It's so, so good."

She hands the book to me. The cover, which features one woman, with her back to the reader,  reminds me vaguely of a Harlequin romance. I'm a little surprised- K plays year-round competitive soccer and just doesn't seem like the Harlequin romance kind of kid.

"Is it a romance?" I ask.

"It's everything," she says. "A little romance, a little fantasy, a little mystery. It's so good."

She continues breathlessly, "It's a series and I reserved the second one from the library and my dad is going to take me to pick it up tomorrow."

I am not much of a romance reader, but I can't argue with that much enthusiasm. "I might have to check it out," I say.

"You can read this one," she says. "I'll let you borrow it." I'm not so sure about reading a 400+ page romance novel, but I am never one to turn down a kid's recommendation.

Later that day, when I see her in class, she tells me that the book is so good she has decided to read the last 50 pages again, while she is waiting for the next one to come. "But you can read it after I'm done," she says.

On Wednesday she waves the second book victoriously, and  tells me she forgot the first one, but that she will bring it tomorrow.

Today she brings it. I'm about a third of the way through Laura Shovan's newest book, which I got as an ARC at ALA. I tell her it will probably take me a few days before I can start it, and ask if that will be ok.

"You can keep it as long as you want," she says. "But you have to give it back when you are done.

And so the next book on my TBR pile is a 486 page Harlequin-ish Romance.

The things we do for kids…

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Slice #7- He didn't used to be this way.

Have you seen K?" my principal asks, as he passes me in the hall.

"Upstairs, about ten minutes ago," I say. "He has a gash on his hand. He told me it was from fighting yesterday at (insert neighboring school)."

"Well he's gone now, he's left the building."

"Left the building?" I reply dumbly. "Do you want me to go outside and look for him?"

"No, I already walked all the way around the outside. I don't go hunting for eighth graders. I'm just going to call Security."

Thirty minutes later, I see K come back, accompanied by two policemen. Shortly after that, his mother arrives. I wonder where she has left her twins, born just before Christmas. K and his mom are in the office for a long time.

I see him again in the cafeteria. "I f**ing hate (insert T's name)!" he says to me. I rebuke him for his language, but stop to talk. "All I did was ask for a bandaid," he says, waving around the hand with the gash. "And she kicked me out of class." Evidently, that incident preceded his leaving the building. I know there is probably a lot more to the story, but K and the group of friends our gym teacher calls The Posse stand up simultaneously and head for the playground.

I watch as he leaves and wonder how we got to this point. I have known K for years. He's never been an easy kid, but he's always been a kid you could work with. Very bright, not super hard working, but still a decent student. Terrific sense of humor. Lots of friends, probably one of the best-liked kids in his grades. A protective older brother. A talented athlete.

This year, I've seen changes.  Despite the best efforts of a really talented, really caring middle school team, he has totally disengaged, and is no longer even pretending to have any interest in school. His ongoing banter and jokes, once light and silly, have become mean and aggressive. He misses school one or two days a week. When we call, his mom doesn't have any idea where he is.He didn't play on the soccer or basketball teams. Last week, he used a sharpie to write gang initials all over his hand two days in a row.

Scariest of all, are his eyes. There is no longer light or sparkly or caring. Instead, they are hard and dark and black. He is somewhere far away.

After school, I see K again. "Let me see that cut," I ask. He shows me. It doesn't look like a cut from fighting, and I suspect he might have cut it in a kitchen accident, or maybe horsing around with a knife. The cut is deep and looks like it could have used a few stitches.

"I'm going to get you some bandaids," I say, and head to the nurse's office. I return a few minutes later, wondering if he will have left, but he is still there. "Do you want me to help you put them on?" I ask.

"Nah, miss," I can do it.

I watch and remember.

He didn't used to be this way.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Slice #6- Birthday cake

I knew when I opened my eyes this morning that it was going to be a busy day.

A data review, followed by an all day planning session with the first and second grade teachers.

A three hour meeting with our area superintendent.

A couple of reading groups squeezed in somehow.

And so there I was, at 10:30 this morning. Planning with a fourth grade teacher and a literacy coach from an outside grant. One of the first grade teachers sitting at an adjacent table. My fifth grade group, heads together over their guided reading book.

And then in comes my principal.

With the entire office staff.

And a birthday cake.

Because today is my birthday.

Truthfully it wasn't all that fun.

It was a super full day.

Lots of meetings and stress and disagreement.

Spanish class tonight.

A fourteen hour day.

Minimal to non-existent birthday acknowledgements from my sons.

But this morning,

I had birthday cake.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Slice #5- Fragile

The rest of the class is reading silently.

I watch her drawing. Erasing. Redrawing. Pencil shading.

I should say something, but I do not.

She is quiet. The people around her can read.

That is not always true.

She has been so mad at me for the past week.

On Thursday, I called her mom after she talked through the entire silent reading time.

I don't mean whispered to friends.

I mean talked.

Full voice.

To people across the room.

For twenty minutes.

Despite repeated requests to stop.

Finally, I had had it.

I lost it and raised my voice to her.

Her mom told me I should not have embarrassed her.

The next day, when I tried to talk to her,

she plugged her ears,

told me she didn't want anything to do with me,

then walked away.

Today, I was running down stairs to get something out of my basement office

fifteen minutes after the day had begun.

I opened the door and said good morning. She refused to say hello.

And now she is drawing.

I watch and say nothing.

Until reading time is almost over.

Then I lean over and whisper to her,

"Drawings that beautiful should not be on notebook paper.

I will bring you some plain paper tomorrow."

She looks up, surprised.

"Thanks, miss."

That relationship, so fragile.


For now, anyway.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Slice #4- When They Don't Come Home

When my boys don't come home, I am terrified.

Yes, they are 22 and 24, definitely adults.

But they live in my house.

And when I wake up in the morning and they aren't there, I am terrified.

I imagine all sorts of scary possibilities.

Car accidents.

Hospital beds.


Jail cells.

Son #1 has a new girlfriend. On Friday night, I am out to dinner with a friend and he texts me.

Going over to M's house. Don't text or call me.

I'm a keep-your-phone-in-your-purse kind of gal when I'm at the dinner table, so I don't see the text for an hour.

I text back. Thanks. Have fun and be safe. Love you.

He doesn't respond. That doesn't surprise me.

He is not home when I go to bed.

Or when I wake up at 4.

I wonder where he might be.

I assume no news is good news.

I haven't heard from the hospital, or the police, or the county jail, so I hope he's not dead or incarcerated.

But last week, a teacher in my district lost her 24-year-old daughter to a drunk driver.

And at least once a week, I read about an incident involving young African American males and the police.

And I am terrified.

I wait until 7:30, then text him.

I know you are an adult. And I know you had a date last night. Even so, if you are going to be gone all night, I would appreciate a text that you are safe, but not coming home. 

A few minutes later, my phone dings.

Alright, imma stop by work to get my oil changed. 

Phew. OK again.

And once again, I wish my boys had a dad.

Parenting adult children is the hardest thing I have ever done.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Slice #3- Duties as Assigned

I am a literacy coach.

And as a literacy coach, I have many duties-- co-teaching, backward planning, looking at data, and playground duty.

And other duties "as assigned."

Some weeks, the duties "as assigned" take up a whole lot of time.

Take this week, for example.

Our district has adopted a new platform for storing curriculum. Because I don't want to be sued for libel, I will call it Teach-A-Matic.  On the Teach-A-Matic platform, you join a "Group" related to your particular grade level. After you have joined a group, you can access grade level curriculum and resources, and you get emails advising you about professional development. Mostly it's fine.

Except when it isn't.

And that's when "Duties as Assigned" kicks into action.

This week, for example, I was meeting with a kindergarten teacher. H is a veteran, one of those quiet giants who performs miracles in her classroom every day. I work at a dual language school, and she is charged with the huge responsibility of taking monolingual English speakers, and teaching them to speak, read, and write in Spanish.

At one point during the meeting, we logged onto Teach-A-Matic. As we are logging on, H tells me she really doesn't like this platform, because she gets 30 emails a day about things that aren't related to her.

I can't figure out what she is talking about. As a literacy coach, I belong to all of the grade level groups. And I never get more than two emails a day from any grade level. I ask her to show me what she means.

She opens up her email. And there really are, at one o'clock in the afternoon, 15 emails from different Teach-A-Matic curriculum groups-- High School Chemistry, AP Biology, Financial Literacy, Integrated Math 1-4. I can't figure out why, as a kindergarten teacher, she is getting those emails.  I ask her to log on to her Teach-A-Matic home page, so I can see what groups she belongs to. Thirty groups- including High School Biology, Chemistry, Algebra, Financial Literacy, etc. pop up.

"You aren't supposed to belong to all of those groups," I say.

H just raises her eyebrows. "I don't," she says.

"You work on our SLD plans," I say. "I will figure this out." I vaguely remember hearing about a "Leave This Group" button at an inservice I attended last summer, and think I can find it.

Of course I can't find the button, but I do find the phone number for the Teach-A-Matic help line. I wait in the queue for ten minutes, in which H goes to get her kids. So then there are twenty kindergarteners learning Spanish, and trying to show me their loose teeth, and writing journals, and me on the Teach-A-Matic help line. When the gentleman finally comes on the line,  he first tells me that I must be wrong, that H couldn't possibly belong to thirty groups, 29 of which are high school. He checks, then comes back.

"She is in 30 groups," he says. "Did she join them?"

"No," I say. "She teaches kindergarten. She wouldn't join all of those groups. How do we get her out?"

He messes with it for a few minutes as assigned, then tells me that it looks like a district problem, and that I will need to contact the district level administrator for each group. I ask how I will know who that is and he tells me we just need to open up each of the thirty groups and find the person with the crown next to their name.

"Find the crown for thirty groups?" I ask, thinking that this has become a much larger project than I had envisioned.

"Yes," he says. "Wait, maybe I can help. I think we have a list of administrators." He puts me on hold, during which time five-year-old G leaves his center to come and rub the soft material on my jacket, then asks me why I am wearing my pajamas to school.

Finally Scott, the Teach-A-Matic helper,  comes back and gives me the names of four people I need to email. I realize thirty minutes have gone by and I am going to need to leave to teach my seventh grade reading class. I assure H I will send the email after school, which I do.

On Wednesday afternoon,  I get a response with directions about how to "Leave" a group. There are about ten steps, including opening up each group, looking for a "leave the group" button, telling Teach-A-Matic "Yes, I am sure I want to leave the group," then logging back onto the home page to choose another group.

Thursday morning, at 7:00,  I head down to H's room,  directions in hand, to take care of the problem, but she is conducting a parent/teacher conference, and I don't want to interrupt, so I don't go in. Thursday is a full day, and then we do parent/teacher conferences from 4-8. It's 7:00 on Friday morning before I can get back to H again.

H logs onto her computer and I am ready to begin. Except I can't find the "Leave This Group" button, which is the first step in the directions. After ten minutes and a whole lot of scrolling, I attempt to call the gentleman who sent me the email. He's not at his desk, but there is a cell phone number I can try. He doesn't answer that either.

I mess around a little more and finally find the "Leave the Group" button. It's not at the bottom of the page, where the directions say I would find it, instead it's about halfway down a sidebar on the lefthand side of the page. I begin leaving groups.

Thirty minutes later, I am almost done, when the ECE teacher wanders in and asks me what I am doing. When I tell her, she says, "Hey, I'm in all of those groups too. Can you fix mine?"

"Sure," I say, having become a Teach-A-Matic expert. And then I think maybe I should email the two other ECE and kindergarten teachers to see if they are having the same problem. One of them emails back immediately that she is. The other ECE teacher is new to our district. She somehow escaped the high school group barrage, but wants information on how to join a Teach-A-Matic group. Of course I will be glad to help her do that.

I finish her computer and then email the person who sent me the directions, to suggest a small revision, so that it might be easier for other people to find the "Leave This Group" button.

I estimate I have now spent about two hours, mostly before and after school, on this "Duty as Assigned."

Friday afternoon, we have an FAC. I am telling the middle school studies teacher about the "Leave the Group" fiasco.  The fourth grade teacher sitting on my other side overhears. "Hey," she says, "I have that going on too. Can you fix mine?"

"Sure," I say. Inwardly, I sigh.

Duties as assigned, indeed.

Friday, March 2, 2018


My first conference is waiting when I come back from picking up report cards down the hall. K's mom works in the kitchen at a big Italian restaurant downtown and needed a time on her day off. She is accompanied by K and a smiley younger bother, who proudly tells me he will be going to kindergarten at our school next year.

I ask if she would prefer that we speak in Spanish or English. "Español," she answers. I tell her that my Spanish is not terrific, but that I will do my best. I tell K I will probably need a little help.

K, is probably one of the brightest kids in the seventh grade. Definitely one of the funniest. Articulate far beyond a typical 13 year old. And fully bilingual, moving seamlessly between Spanish and English.

And he has a lousy report card. A in Math. C in Language Arts. C in Social Studies. D in Science. An F in Spanish. F in Reading/Study Hall.

His mom looks over the report card and shakes her head. K's best friend, J, who is getting a ride home, looks over her shoulder. "Dude, an F in Spanish? You speak Spanish. Why an F in Spanish?"

I am K's homeroom teacher. All of the other teachers have contributed comments on a google doc. I read them aloud. Most sound similar. Very bright. Missing assignments. Needs to know when its time to turn off the silliness and be serious. His sense of humor sometimes crosses the line to smart-alecky. 

Yep, definitely the K I know. And yet the K I know is also a really, really likeable kid. Cheerful. Always says hello. Makes me laugh on a pretty regular basis. More than once, I have had to turn away from disciplining him to hide the fact that I am laughing. A kind and caring big brother, sitting across from me, little brother in lap, fiddling with K's fingers.

I address him as best as I know how. "K, you are one of the smartest kids I know. You are one of the leaders in the seventh grade. You are fully bilingual. Colleges are waiting to give scholarships to kids like you. But not with these grades. So how are we going to fix this next trimester?"

K's mom goes next. I expect that she will be angry, but she really isn't. Instead, she is sad. "Every night," she tells him in Spanish, "your father and I leave you and your brothers to go to work at the restaurant. It's hard work. When I come home I am tired.  My legs ache. I am so tired. We do that so you can have more. I want you to go to the university. I want you to have a better life"

K protests. "But I like the restaurant. I want to work there."

His mom continues. "We never have a holiday with the family. Holidays are the busiest day at the restaurant. We never get Christmas. Or New Year's Eve. Or Easter. Or Turkey Day. We work all of those days.  I don't want that for you." A tear slides down her cheek.

Kevin protests again. "But I like the restaurant. I want to work there with you and dad."

And again, his mom resists. "No, mi corazon, I want more for you. Parents do their work because they want more for their kids."

As she speaks, I think about how many times I have given this speech to my own sons.

And I am struck by the similarities between our lives.

She, an uneducated Spanish-speaking immigrant from Mexico, working poor, probably living in a two bedroom apartment in NW Denver.

Me, a highly privileged white woman, living in a nice neighborhood, occasionally eating at the restaurant where she works.

And yet we are so much alike.

Two mamas, working hard, wanting the best for our babies.

A lump rises in my throat, and I have to take a deep breath before I can speak again.

We make some plans for the next trimester. End the conference. They leave and I do five or six more conferences.  Call a mom to explain that her daughter will have detention because of her poor choices in reading class that afternoon. Straighten up the room. Make plans for tomorrow.

I cannot stop thinking about K's conference.

About two mamas, working hard, wanting the best for our babies.

We are so much alike.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


"You don't have to write every day, you know."

I look at Stacey in alarm. This seems a little heretical. Especially from the founder of the Slice of Life. We have been writing together for the past nine years. In February, Stacey came to Denver to present at our state's annual reading conference, and we met face-to-face for the first time.

Stacey continued, "You've done it once. Written all 31 days. Actually, probably several times. You've proven that you can do it. You don't have to write every single day. You could just slice some of the days."

I have been pondering these words for almost a month now. I don't have to write every day. I could just slice some of the days? Is that really an option?

I've done the March slicing challenge for each of the past eight years. Most years, I have done all 31 days. A couple of years something has come up-- one year I dropped my computer and it was in the shop, so I missed a few days. Another year I drove to Phoenix to see my granddaughter, got caught in a snowstorm on the way back, and didn't quite finish slicing. But most years I've sliced all 31 days.

Why this conversation then?

I was telling Stacey that I might not slice at all this year. I am not sure I have thirty-one interesting slices left to write.

Over the years, I have written hundreds, or maybe thousands, of slices. Slices about my sons-- stories of how our very non-traditional family became a family, my struggles as a single mom, my less than successful attempts at pushing my guys out of the nest and into adult life. It disturbs me, more than a little, that my guys are in basically the same place that we were two years ago. I'm not sure I want to write any more slices about that.

I've also written many slices about my mom, and her struggles with the aging process. That's ongoing and probably will be for a while. But I'm not sure I want to write about it.

I'd love to write more slices about my granddaughter Esveidy, but  she's moved all the way to North Carolina. I almost never see her and don't have a lot to say.

I could write about teaching, but there are only so many cute kindergarten and melodramatic middle school stories that people want to read.

I'm still learning Spanish. But I have written about that lots of times. Soy una vieja. Mi mente es terrible. No estoy aprendiendo muy rapido.  (I'm an old woman. My mind is terrible. I'm not learning very fast). 

I'm looking for new hobbies. I've begun volunteering with a service dog organization, and I might become a puppy parent to a service dog in training, but that hasn't happened yet.

And I keep thinking that I should volunteer at the zoo, or the museum, or the Botanic Gardens, but I haven't actually gotten around to doing it.

I just don't know, then, if I have 31 interesting stories left to tell.

At the same time, I have been slicing for eight years. I have met many fabulous people from all around the country. Some- Elsie, Ramona, Tara, Linda, Michelle, Cathy, Nancy and so many others- slice all year. Others slice only in March.  I can't imagine not slicing, and not connecting with those folks.

I have also loved getting to know new people all around the world. For the past three or four years, I've served on the Welcome Wagon, a group of slicers that volunteer to "welcome" the new folks. We visit their blogs every day. Comment on people's stories. Encourage them to keep writing. And it feels like a really special way to pass the writing torch to a whole new generation of writers.

I can't imagine NOT participating in Slice of Life.

So I'm slicing again. I don't know if I have 31 slices to write, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

And I'm going to remember Stacey's wise advice.

I don't have to write all 31 days.

And this year, I might not. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


They don't love to read.
They really don't.
I drag them from the hall into the room.
Lock the door.
Set the timer.
Open my book.
Cast the evil eye.
Point to my own book.
Read a few paragraphs.
Answer the knock on the door.
Watch the eighth grader saunter across the room to drop off his homework.
Go back to my book.
Flinch at yet another noise.
Move to a vantage point across the room.
There is reading going on.
But there is also wiggling,
pencil rolling.

But there are signs of hope.

Baseball crazy D
races into the room
waving Jewell Parker Rhodes'
newest book,
"I only have one more chapter, miss,
only one more."
He finishes.
And then immediately picks up
Kwame Alexander's newest book.
At the end of class
it is sitting out on the desk.
I tell him to put it away before he leaves.
"No miss, I'm taking it home,
I want to read some more tonight."

Sweet, shy M.
New to our school this year.
In September she has a hard time
finding something to read.
I suggest a novel in verse.
She comes back a few days later.
"I like books like this.
Do you have any more?"
She trudges up the stairs after the four day weekend.
"Miss, I finished, DEAR MARTIN.
It was so good.
Did you know it was about racism?
And I started another one."
She stops in the middle of the hall.
Drags the newest book out of her backpack.
"It's really good too," she says.

who is currently leading
the race for most lunchtime detentions
in one month
shouts at me from twenty feet down the hall,
"Miss, miss, miss,"
I turn.
"Did you see my book log?"
I tell him I haven't yet, but I will.
"Last time I was on chapter 8," he says.
"And now I'm all the way to chapter 13."

Perhaps my biggest challenge.
I try all my favorite tricks--
sure hits,
graphic novels,
love stories,
pop star/sports star biographies
much-loved picture books.
Nothing works.
Most days, I consider it a victory
if she just lets the people around her
focus on their books.
But today she spends time
examining the Scholastic book flyer.
Selects two books
fills out the order form.
and spends the $7
allocated by a local book charity
"There, I did it," she says,
pushing the form back at me.
Up to this point I have chosen books for her.
This is the first time she
ever ordered for herself.

I wish I could say I have one of those classes
where everyone loves to read
where kids are falling over each other
to get to the books
That's not happening.
Not yet anyway.
But we are taking baby steps
in that direction.

Friday, February 23, 2018


I'm not sure whether CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT, really counts as poetry, but it definitely falls into my category of poetic picture books, and it's a book I want lots of people to know about, so I'm sharing it for POETRY FRIDAY.

CROWN captures the experience of a young African American boy on his weekly trip to the barbershop. I read it, and am instantly drawn back to the days of taking my boys for their bi-weekly haircuts with Mr. Stan. How they would plan what cut they were going to get. The wisdom Stan would impart as they sat in the chair. How they'd pose in front of the mirror afterwards.

CROWN is definitely poetic. Listen to the first couple of pages:

When it's your turn in the chair,
you stand at attention and forget about
who you were when you
walked through that door.

You came in as a lump of clay,
a blank canvas, a slab of marble.
But when my man is done wiht you,
they'll want to post you up in a museum!
                            That's my word.

He'll drape you like royalty with that cape
to keep the fine hairs off of your neck
          and your princely robes.
It's amazing what a tight face, high/low/bald
does for your confidence:
                           Dark Caesar.

And the last couple of pages:

You'll put the money in his hand
without even expecting change back.
Tip that man! Tip that man! 
             It was worth it. It always is.

You know why?
Because you'll leave out of "the shop"
every single time, feeling the exact same way…

                           Like royalty.

Hello, world. 

The poetic text is accompanied by rich, detailed, colorful illustrations. Boys who look exactly like my boys. And the kids I've taught over the past thirty years.

If you are a person who cares about awards, it's important to know that this book has won a whole lot of awards in it's short life:
  • A Newbery Honor Book
  • A Caldecott Honor Book
  • A Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
  • A Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
  • An Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Book
  • An Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor Book
  • A Society of Illustrators Gold Medal Book
In an author's note, Derrick Barnes says, "CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT focuses on the humanity, the beautiful, smart, raw, perceptive assured humanity of black boys/sons/brothers/ nephews/grandsons and how the see themselves when they approve of their reflections in the mirror. Deep down inside, they wish everyone could see what they see: a real life, breathing, compassionate, thoughtful, brilliant, limitless soul that matters, that desperately matters. We've always mattered."

Liz Steinglass is hosting Poetry Friday today.

Thursday, February 22, 2018


I work at a dual language school. Some of our students speak English as their first language. Some of our students speak Spanish. Our goal is that students will graduate from eighth grade fully bilingual and fully bi-literate. I'm always on the lookout for ways to help students and their families bridge between the two languages. MARTA! BIG AND SMALL, which I encountered at CCIRA, will definitely be added to our library.

Marta is una niña pequeña. She visits the jungle, where she encounters many animals.
To a horse, Marta is lenta. Slow, very slow. To a turtle, Marta is rápida. Fast, very fast.”
She also encounters a snake, who thinks Marta looks very sabrosa (tasty!).

The use of repetition, and movement between English and Spanish will be really helpful to students, who are learning a new language. It's also a great book for thinking about adjectives and opposites. And it's really, really fun besides!

The illustrations in this book are simple and way fun, but also tell a great story; the book reminds me, a little, of ROSIE'S WALK, which I have always loved reading to kids.

Definitely one to own, put in your classroom or school library, buy for gifts, etc!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Two o'clock
any afternoon
27 seventh graders
lost at least for the most part
in their books
And me
leaning against the door jamb
fake reading
the Chris Crutcher ARC
I scored last week at ALA
but really a million miles away
in hell's darkest circle

whether I could really keep
these dear ones


I imagine the front doors
Our building is locked all the time
no one enters
unless the secretaries
buzz them in
and the district put new locks
on the inside doors
about ten days ago
but those wooden doors
with the beautiful grain
that's been oiled
for almost one hundred years
would that old wood hold
if someone really wanted in

and what about the glass window
two foot by three foot
it makes me more than
a little claustrophobic
to think about solid doors
but now I worry
that we don't have them
wonder if I should
talk to my principal
or write to the school board
requesting something
without glass

I scan the classroom
it's almost a perfect square
there are no closets
or nooks
or supply cabinets
where anyone
could seek shelter

My eyes stop finally
on that one tiny corner
the only corner
that could work
as a hiding place
and I wonder whether
we could all fit
Should I bring back the teacher desk
we hauled out last September
could we use it as
as a barricade
if we had to?

I think about other options
the teacher whose husband
is buying her a rope ladder
and a mallet
so she could break out a window
and she and her students could
climb to safety
if she needed to
where could I get those things?
would it be safer to climb out the window?
what if the shooter saw us?
and then I think of
another teacher
who will send her students
into a supply cabinet
that only locks from the outside
then she will slide the key
under the door
and she will face down evil
but her students can be safe.
Would I be that brave?

Two o'clock
any afternoon
and my mind is far away…