Friday, June 15, 2018


This week I attended a district literacy training. One of the sessions that I attended, they talked about Overdrive, a tool that allows kids to access books on their computers and phones and tablets. While I was messing around with that app, I stumbled across A MAZE ME by Naomi Shihab Nye. I first thought it was a new book, then discovered it was originally published in 2005, then re-published, (maybe with a different cover?) in 2014. At any rate, I loved the poems. I also loved the foreword, which I think will be perfect to use with sixth graders the first week of school.

From the back cover: 
Life is a tangle of
twisting paths.
Some short.
Some long.
There are dead ends.
And there are choices.
And wrong turns,
and detours,
and yield signs, 
and instruction booklets,
and star maps,
and happiness,
and loneliness.
And friends.
And sisters.
And love.
And poetry.
Life is a maze.
You are a maze.
And amazing.
Naomi Shihab Nye

"Every Day"
My hundred-year-old next door neighbor told me
every day is a good day if you have it.
I had to think about that a minute.
She said, Every day is a present
someone left at your birthday place at the table.
Trust me! It may not feel like that
but it's true. When you're my age
you'll know. Twelve is a treasure
and it's up to you
to unwrap the package gently,
lift out the gleaming hours
wrapped in tissue,
don't miss the bottom of the box.

Naomi Shihab Nye

"If the Shoe Doesn't Fit"

you take it off
of course you take it off
it doesn't worry you
it isn't your shoe

Naomi Shihab Nye

Karen Edmisten is hosting Poetry Friday this week. She shares "Sustenance," a beautiful poem by Barbara Crooker, and then her own "Sustenance" poem, which is equally beautiful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


I probably should not admit this, but last week I was a big, fat, quitter pants.

I quit Spanish.

During Christmas break, I decided this was going to be the year that I really did get better at Spanish.
And so I signed up for a class.
And I've been going every Tuesday. 

It's not cheap.
It costs about $30 a session. 
Even with a teacher discount.

And it requires a time commitment.
There is homework.
Lots of vocabulary and verb conjugations to memorize.
And there are tests every couple of months.
I spend at least three or four hours a week,
and sometimes more,
preparing for class.

But most of the time, I really like the class.
I like that there are only five or six people in each class,
so we really do get a lot of time to practice.
I like that most of the people are at about the same level as I am.
I like the teacher.

But the last couple of weeks have been really, really hard.
We had a test.
And despite the fact that I had studied
and studied
and studied,
I didn't do very well.

And then a new session started and two new people joined.
They are sisters. And they are very nice.
But they are way, way, way better than the rest of us.
And it kind of tilts the dynamics of the class.
Not to mention that I always seem to get paired with one of them for partner work.
And it's embarrassing because their Spanish is so much better than mine
and I make so, so, so many mistakes.

Last Tuesday was the ultimateawful.
I had been traveling, and had a 21 hour day on Monday.
I had a leadership class all day Tuesday,
followed by a doctor's appointment I was really dreading.
And I was so tired
I probably should not even have gone to class,
except I knew if I missed a session,
I would never catch up.
And so I went.
And it was awful.

We started with a warmup using a verb conjugation that I use all the time at work.
It's one of my fall backs when I can't figure out how to say something.
I use it all the time.
Probably ten or twenty times every day.
Except that on that warmup,
I just could.
how to do it.
Maybe that should have been a sign.

Then we went on to a different activity.
It was a partner worksheet.
And it was one of those activities that all of us
who are teachers
have experienced at one time or another.
You know, the kind where teaching kids how to do the worksheet,
or how to fold or cut the paper,
instead of the skill or concept you actually intended to teach
becomes the lesson.
The Spanish teacher finally gave up and had us put the worksheet away.
But not before I had said,
"I think I'm too stupid for this.
Can I just listen to everyone else?"

And then we went onto a domino game
that didn't quite work either.
And I just kept feeling stupider and stupider.
And older and older.
(Did I mention that I could easily be the mother
of every other student in the class?
And also of the teacher?)

Finally, mercifully,
class was over.
And I should have just gone home
and gone to bed.
But I didn't.
Instead I went home
and emailed the teacher
that I was through.
I wasn't going to come anymore.
She emailed right back that she was heartbroken
and hoped I'd reconsider.
I wasn't planning to.
I was through.

The next morning when I woke up
I knew I had probably done something stupid.
But I was also a little relieved
because Spanish is really hard.
I went to the second day of my leadership training
and told my team,
almost all fluent Spanish speakers,
that I had quit.
They were aghast.
But you really wanted to learn Spanish.
You are getting a lot better.
What about growth mindset?
I didn't care.
I was done.
Spanish is too hard.

Two days later I emailed the teacher
and asked if I could come back.
Of course I could.
And so I have studied a lot this week.
Done my homework.
Spent extra time with my vocabulary cards
and on the Duolingo website.
Spanish is hard work.
And I wanted to make sure I am ready.

But this experience as a learner has also made me think a lot about myself as a teacher.
Does the content always have to be rigorous for learning to occur?
What is the role of success in learning?
What am I doing to make sure every single kid in my class
feels smart,
and ready to try again,
every single day?
In what ways am I making the learning harder than it has to be?
Are there days when kids should simply be allowed to opt out and listen?

I don't know the answers to any of those questions,
but I do know that my experiences as a learner
will definitely impact me this fall as a teacher.

And I will probably start by telling the story
of when their teacher was a big fat quitter pants.

I want my students to know
that I understand
that learning is hard work.

Monday, June 11, 2018

LAST MAN OUT- Mike Lupica

Since I'm going to teach sixth grade literacy, my goal this summer is to read a lot of books that I could recommend to kids that age. Realistic and historical fiction are really my favorite genres, but I'm trying to read others, that I'm not as likely to follow. I've loved Mike Lupica for years, so when this book showed up in my Scholastic orders, I picked it up.

LAST MAN OUT is the story of Tommy Gallagher, a middle school strong safety on the Brighton Bears football team (Side note: As the mom of two former football players, I loved that this book was about a defensive player, many of the football books I have read feature offensive players- quarterbacks, running backs, an occasional wide receiver). In the first chapter, Tommy is playing in a football game when his family is notified that his firefighter father has been killed in the line of duty. Each member of the family copes in different ways- Tommy still loves football but struggles because his dad is no longer there to practice and coach and advise, so he turns to skateboarding to fill the hole in his heart and life. (I kept thinking about the list of do's and don'ts I always got at the beginning of each sports season. Pretty sure my boys would not have been allowed to skateboard because of the potential for injury, but maybe that's not true on every team). Tommy's younger sister, Em, a star soccer player, quits her team and spends hours and hours alone in her room.

I think this is one of those books teachers need to have in their repertoire because some day some kid who has lost a parent will need it. A solid story about grief and integrity and learning to move forward when life has changed and it's really, really hard.

Friday, June 8, 2018


I hated junior high. Hated it. I went from playing on the playground at Longfellow and Stratton and Madison Elementary Schools, where "smart" was an acceptable currency to Washington Irving Junior High, where no one wanted to be smart and all the girls wore makeup and the cafeteria served brown hamburger gravy over rice or mashed potatoes, and no one liked it, but no one brought lunch from home because that wasn't cool. And I didn't understand, somehow, that everyone felt as uncool, and uncertain, and unloved as I did, and that's why so many kids were so, so mean, and so, so, so unkind.

I think maybe that's why I fell in love with IMPERFECT:  POEMS ABOUT MISTAKES, AN ANTHOLOGY FOR MIDDLE SCHOOLERS, Tabatha Yeatts' new book. I know other people have already reviewed the book, so I won't spend a lot of time on it, other than to say it's a collection of more than seventy poems and quotes about making mistakes. The kind of poems that you read and just know that the poet was inside your life or inside your head. Poets include lots of folks that show up at Poetry Friday every week and then some other "classical" poets, like Ella Wheeler and Carl Sandburg. There are endnotes about making good decisions and apologizing effectively.  I LOVE the book and can't wait to share it with the sixth graders I will be teaching next year.


Through this course
we'll explore the art of being thirteen
going on fourteen

We'll practice sitting on a chair
without falling on the floor,
posting in the class group chat
without hurting anyone's feelings,
having a crush on a ninth grader
without losing your dignity.

In our year together
we'll entertain a range of frequent emotions
without frustration being a frequent visitor.

We'll experience rejection,
some days all before lunch.

There are tissues on the teacher's desk.

Bathroom humor will be tolerated
on a limited basis.

The teacher will try not to roll her eyes at you
if you try not to roll yours at her.
We'll read what many others have written
about being alive,
and we'll write what we think and feel,
or at least some of it.
Some of it we'll bury on the playground
when nobody's looking.

Evaluations will be gentle,
since nobody has ever mastered
the art of thirteen
going on fourteen.
Or any other age, really.
We're all just figuring it out as we go along.

Ready? Let's begin.

Ruth Hersey


Make a mistake for goodness sake!
Take a risk in being wrong.
Listen to a different drummer
Write the words to your own song.

Be wild and woolly whenever you can.
Be foolish and daring and brave.
Be silly and fun. Skip when you run.
And try not to always behave.

Be honest and fair. Act like you don't care.
Be loving and caring and free.
Just be yourself. Take care of your health.
And don't listen to people like me.

Charles Ghigna


Are you sorry?

I don't know
but I have your
wounding words

splashed across
my brain and heart
like spray-painted letters-

and eye-catching--

how can I think other thoughts
with these here
taking up all the room?

I carefully
peel up the words
like stickers,

letter by letter
tugging up the edges,
and pulling carefully--

when they rip,
I start over,
picking from another side
until finally…
they all come loose,
flimsy and flat,

so I crumple them up
and toss them away.

Tabatha Yeatts

Kiesha is hosting Poetry Friday at Whispers From the Ridge. Head on over to read lots more great poetry.