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Sunday, March 24, 2019

SLICE #24- DOGMAN LIBRARIAN

I had heard about X long before he entered our school in August.

X has autism, but he is pretty high functioning.

X was supposed receive two hours of SpEd support every day, but it would be push in (That's great with me, I'm much more comfortable with co-teaching, than pull out).

X has adapted just fine to my classroom.

Partly, I think, because he has his own unique role.

X is the DOGMAN librarian.

But maybe I need to back up just a little. Our school is part of a philanthropy called Book Trust. With Book Trust, each student gets $7 a month to purchase a book from Scholastic. The kids choose the books. Teachers order them. The kids write their names in them and they become part of their own personal libraries, which they can take home. Some of our students, who have been doing Book Trust since kindergarten, have collections of almost one hundred books that they probably wouldn't have otherwise. Book Trust is a terrific program.

This is X's first year at our school. In September, he examines the Scholastic flier, and find the DOGMAN books.

"I love these," he says. "I'm getting this." And he does.

In October he gets another one. And another in November. And in December. Until finally, now, in March, he has the whole set. And also one in Spanish.

But he hasn't taken them home. Instead he has kept them at school. For awhile, he kept them in his locker, bringing them to class every day. When he reached four, the stack got a little precarious, so I found him a box, which he decorated with freehand DOGMAN sketches. The box won't fit in his locker, so he keeps it in the closet in our classroom. Every day, X comes into class, drags out his box of DOGMAN books, and holds court in the front corner seat in our classroom.

X has become the resident DOGMAN librarian.

He has shared his love of DOGMAN and now everyone else is reading them too. D, an English Language Learner, who has only been in the United States a little over a year. A, the class romance novel reader. S, who recently finished THE LIFE OF PI. M, who has also read everything Alan Gratz has written, and has moved on to other WWII books. Everyone, it seems, is reading DOGMAN.

There is a set procedure for borrowing the books. Whoever happens to be sitting next to X, generally helps arrange the books in a stack, spines facing out on his desk. X really prefers to have them laid out flat, kind of patchwork style, but if he does it that way, he doesn't have any room to work, and they don't  really all fit anymore.

Kids are then allowed to borrow the books. X doesn't make them write their names down, but they do have to return them, and he counts them, at the end of class. We lose books, especially graphic novels, from our classroom on a regular basis, but X's DOGMAN books never go missing. The kids are very careful to return them.

Granted, sometimes things do get a little raucous in that corner. The patrons can be a bit loud and unruly. X not only likes to read the DOGMAN books, he likes to read them aloud, with sound effects. Occasionally, ok, actually every day or two, I have to remind him to read a little more quietly. And piles of books has been known to crash off X's desk and onto a heap on the floor, at which point three or four of his neighbors have to jump up to help pick them up.

I'm ok with all of those things.

Everyone needs a special role in the classroom.

And DOGMAN librarian is the role that belongs to X.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

SLICE #23- Hanging out with Ruedi

Tonight I am hanging out with Reudi.

Ruedi is an almost three-year-old black lab.  He belongs to Canine Assistance Partners of the Rockies. All of the CaPR dogs are named after places in Colorado, Ruedi is named after the Ruedi Reservoir, up by Aspen. Next week, Ruedi will go to live with his forever partner, a young woman who was paralyzed after a diving accident.

Ruedi's puppy mom is a woman named Kate. She has been working with him for almost two years. About a year ago, I started thinking about things I might like to do after I retired. A friend of mine was volunteering for CaPR and thought I might enjoy it too. So far, I'm just a puppy sitter, meaning I babysit if someone has to go out of town, but sometime, in the not too distant future, I'm really hoping to raise a puppy. Ruedi has stayed with me about once a month since last summer. Sometimes, like this time, it's only for a couple of days. Earlier this year, he stayed with me for almost two weeks, while Kate was on a cruise. The kids at school loved him.

Training a service dog is kind of like having a young child. The idea is that you take them with you as much as you possibly can, basically pretty much everywhere, to socialize them and familiarize them with as many different experiences as you possible can. Today, Ruedi and I started our day at dog training class. The group goes on a field trip once a month, and today we were at Chuck and Don's, a kind of specialty pet supply store.

From there, we went to the Botanic Gardens, to meet my book club. Ruedi slept under the table as we ate lunch, walked over a wooden bridge, practiced using the automatic door opener, and did "ups" and "go-on's" on a slate bench. He "made friends" with several people, mostly little kids who can't read his vest, that says "Please don't pet."

After that, we went to Pet Smart, to pick up a couple of things I needed. And then we came home, and have been hanging out with Star. Tomorrow, Ruedi will go with me to see my mom in Colorado Springs. He's always a huge hit at my mom's retirement facility. On Monday, I will take him to class, and then he will go back to Kate until the end of the week, when he will be permanently placed.

This will probably be the last time I get to hang out with Ruedi before he goes to his permanent placement. And I am more than a little sad about it. I will miss hanging out with Ruedi. He's a good, good guy.

Friday, March 22, 2019

SLICE #22- A LESSON IN GRATITUDE

It is 4:30 on Friday afternoon. We are 90 minutes into Spring Vacation and the building is pretty much empty. My teammate supervised locker clean out this morning, and when I arrived at noon, there were almost one hundred books waiting on a table, ready to be reshelved. I am slowly working my way through the pile.

One of my students, E, is helping me. E stays for tutoring almost every day after school. His mom works nights, cleaning restaurants, and sleeps during the day. Most days, she doesn't pick E up until almost 5. I told him yesterday that he was all caught up and didn't need to stay today. Even so, he arrives at 2:58, as regular as clockwork.

About 4:45, E's cell phone buzzes. His mom has arrived. I think E will be leaving, but that's not the case at all. She has brought pizza to say thank you for helping her son. She wants E to come down and let her into the building. Soon she, and E's younger sister and brother arrive in my room with two large pizzas. I call my one remaining teammate, and the six of us have a pizza party.

At first, the party is silly. The pizza has champioñes/mushrooms. E's little brother and sister do not like champioñes. I tell them that's my favorite and so they carefully pick the mushrooms off their pizza and place them on my slice. E's mom is embarrassed, but I laugh and eat the pizza. I am an old lady, and a few fingers in my pizza are the least of my worries.

Soon the conversation becomes more serious. E's mom was a teacher in Mexico, and very much wants to teach again. She is waiting for her papers to clear, so she get a Social Security number, and have a real job. She would like to go back to school. Maybe be a police detective some day. We talk about how hard it is to learn a new language, single parenting, the cost of rent/property in Denver, medical insurance, the house E's mom lost when she and his father divorced. The conversation is rapid fire, in Spanish, and I only get a little more than half of what is said between her and my teammate. Even so, it is enough for me to understand that her life is very, very hard, and she is tired and a little lonely.

E's mom stays more than an hour. It is 5:45 before I get back to my book sorting. Even so, I am so glad she came. She has taught me so much. All day, I have been a little down. It's spring break, and all day, I have been hearing my colleagues' plans for exotic vacations-- Florida, Cancun, New Orleans, San Diego. And I have been feeling sorry for myself because my most exciting plans include doing my taxes and getting dog's toenails clipped.

And then E's mom arrives. And she has so little. A menial job. Three kids. Who all got new tennis shoes yesterday. She is alone. Far from her family and her home. And yet she brings pizza. Makes a party for her children. Says thank you.

She has taught me much today.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

SLICE #21- Watering seed dreams

D is a fifth grader, new to our school, when I meet her. I am a literacy coach, recruited to teach fifth grade for a month or so, while we wait for our new hire's paperwork to clear. The second day, I am standing in my appointed spot in the front hall, clipboard in hand, waiting to direct any family who might be lost, or anyone who might need assistance.

D wraps her arms around my waist. Not the "I'm glad to see you" kind of hug, but rather the "I'm drowning, and you're my life preserver" kind of hug. She was smart and sweet and shy and totally overwhelmed by a new school, not to mention a recently blended family, with two adults and six children living in a two bedroom apartment. Even so, the work she produced, day after day after day was absolutely brilliant. She was meticulous to a fault, and often asked to come in for extra work time at lunch recess.

D and I have been book buddies for the last two years. A year or so ago, I took her to the Tattered Cover to see one of her favorite authors. It turned out that she had never been to a book store before and we did it up right- giant cookies and hot chocolate with whipped cream, autographed books, a crazy book-related scavenger hunt afterward. She said it was one of the best days of her life

Two weeks ago, I got an email that she would be doing a presentation this morning. She had just completed a mentorship program with a medical student, and as a part of the program she was required to present her learning.

When I got to the auditorium, D was sitting on the floor in front of a huge presentation board. A young woman sat beside her. D's voice trembled a little as they rehearsed. Her dad, a construction worker, probably on his lunch break, came through the door, and after a quick respite for a fire drill (gotta love that timing!), D was ready to begin her presentation. Approximately twenty kids, from third grade to eighth, sat on the floor in front of her. D took a deep breathe, then another, and another. And then she began.

She talked for twenty minutes about using an electron microscope, about melanoma, about staining cells, about a case study where she watched medical students diagnose appendicitis. At first, she was clearly nervous, but the longer she talked, the more confident she became. I was floored, as I listened to her, by her medical knowledge and her use of highly technical vocabulary. Afterwards, she answered questions and posed for pictures.

At the end of the presentation, the woman in charge of arranging mentorships asked D what she wanted to do with what she had learned. She said she wants to learn more about cells, and maybe be a cancer researcher some day.

And all day I have been thinking about this little seed dream. The seed is planted in such hard soil- the family is beyond poor, no one has ever attended college, there's not money for food or clothes, let alone extra experiences, or visits to museums, or anything like that.

And what an incredible privilege it is to be invited to water those seed dreams…

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

SLICE- #20- BEYOND QUIET



She is so very quiet.

So very sweet.

Such a good girl.

She rarely talks.

She asks so little.

I work hard to let her know

I see her every day.

Once or twice a week

 she sneaks upstairs at lunchtime.

Somehow sliding past the cafeteria monitors

And the parents at the welcome center.

I am always surprised

when I hear her soft voice,

"Miss, can I help you?"

I wonder on those days

if the noise in the cafeteria,

the meanness of some girls,

is just too much.

for her soft, sweet spirit. 

She stays ten or fifteen minutes

wipes the board

sharpens pencils,

straightens books,

then heads outside.

Today we are citing evidence.

Less than two weeks from the state test

And I am stunned to realize

Oh my gosh, she doesn't get it.

And I wonder how many other things

She has missed

Because she was too shy

and too sweet

to advocate for herself.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

SLICE #19- THE POWER OF A STORY

I'm a huge believer in the power of story.

Stories help us to understand each other.

Stories help us to connect.

Every once in a while,

a story hits me in the gut.

Like this morning, for instance.

I live in Colorado.

Colorado is right next door to Nebraska.

For the past week, I have been hearing and reading about the flooding in Nebraska.

And to be honest,

I have not paid all that much attention.

It hasn't really hit home.

And then this morning, I was driving to work.

Listening to the radio, like I do pretty much every morning.

A man called in asking for prayer.

He is a fourth generation cattle farmer from Nebraska.

Right now, his land  and his cows are under 18 feet of water.

The water will probably not recede until Saturday.

His cattle,

one hundred years of hard work,

and planning,

and dreaming,

are almost certainly gone.

His voice broke as he said,

"But they are more than just cows.

They are part of my family."

and I imagined him milking them,

and rubbing their heads,

and calling them by name,

and now they are gone.

And all day, I have been thinking

about those cows

under eighteen feet of water

and that man who loves them so much.

Monday, March 18, 2019

SLICE #18- THE WORLD WE LIVE IN

On Monday nights, I go to a Community Bible Study.
It's held at a giant church about five miles south of my house. 
The church is a beautiful facility.
It's used by several different congregations.
I regularly hear about concerts 
and lectures 
and special events
that are happening there

There's a gym so big 
that there are bleachers on one side
every week I stop to watch the basketball teams practice
and long for the day when basketball mom 
was one of my jobs. 
People use the building 
seemingly 24/7.

Tonight, our Bible Study leader
announced that because of the Christchurch shooting
there is a change in policy

effective immediately
the doors will be locked

all the time

if anyone arrives late for Bible Study
they will need to ring a doorbell
and someone will come
and let them in. 

Tonight my heart aches
that people

cannot even worship

in peace.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

SLICE #17- A HEART FULL OF STORIES

I inherited my love of stories, I think, from my mom.

She's an avid reader, and I spent many nights, snuggled up in her bed, reading. At 85, she still reads three or four books a week, and belongs to two book clubs.

She and I also love the theater.  For the past several years, we have had season tickets to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

About once a month, I drive 65 miles south and pick up my mom. We drive back to Denver and check into a hotel. We go out for dinner, and then we go to the theater

Well, actually, it's not quite that simple. We drive to the theater parking garage. My mom uses a walker, so she has a handicapped parking pass, but there are almost never any handicapped spaces, even though we usually get there over an hour early. The parking lot, and the sidewalks, and the entryways to the theater are always really uneven, and I am always terrified that my mom will fall. She always does fine, but I always worry.

Last night we parked on the top level, but not too far from the elevator. We rode an elevator to the theater level, walked up a bumpy ramp, and went through security, then walked another half block back the same way we had just come, went down a level on the elevator and found our seats.

Last night we saw, "The Play That Goes Wrong." Neither of us knew anything about it, and truthfully, neither of us was that excited about it, but it ended up being super funny and we had a good time.

Afterwards, my mom rode the elevator and I sprinted up the stairs to meet her. Then we went back out the doors, down the bumpy ramp, and waited ten or fifteen minutes in line for an elevator to the seventh level. We found our car and made it out of the garage and back to the hotel in about 30 minutes.

This morning, we had breakfast and I took my mom back to Colorado Springs, and then came back to Denver.

With a  heart full of stories.

And full of memories of good times with my mom.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

SLICE #16: Walking the tightrope between choice and push

After a million years as a literacy coach, I'm back in the classroom this year. Actually, I'm teaching sixth grade half time, and then acting as instructional dean the other half of the time. Being back in the classroom is really hard work. Writing lesson plans. Creating materials for five kids who don't speak any English. Responding to seventy kids writing every week. Yikes! It's a lot of work. And I really love it.

One of the things I have thought a LOT about this year is independent reading. I think it's absolutely critical that kids are immersed in great books. And that they are allowed to choose what they read. I totally get the role of choice in reading. And I think it's important, maybe even critical, to let kids choose what they read. It's definitely one of the hills that I would die on.

At the same time, I think there is a really fine line between letting kids choose what they read, and pushing them out into the big wide world of reading to try new things. I'm still trying to sort out exactly what that means in my head. Here are a few examples I have confronted this year:

  • Z is a very capable reader. When she comes to me in August, she is reading #9 in the WIMPY KID series. She tells me she has spent the summer reading all of the books sequentially. She plans to finish the series. I leave her alone. 
  • X is one of my most unique readers. He has an IEP and is on the spectrum. He loves, loves, loves DOGMAN and has bought one each month, until now, in March, he owns all six. He stores them in a box in my closet. Every day he gets the box out and reads from this series. My teammate thinks we need to push him on. So far, I've left him alone. 
  • O was not a reader at the beginning of the year. None of my tried and true choices worked for him. Not graphic novels. Not WIMPY KID. Not I SURVIVED. Not CROSSOVER. Nothing. Nada. And then he came across the POKEMON series in the Scholastic catalogue. And ordered one of those. This month, he brought the book to me, and showed me two other books that were available from Scholastic. Would I order another one, he wanted to know. He even wrote down the titles on an index card. Then asked me the next day when they would be arriving. I'm not a huge fan of pop culture type books. But if they will engage a kid, I'll buy them. And leave him alone while he reads, at least for a while. 
But then there are other kids that I don't leave alone:
  • J is one of those girls that often gets overlooked. She's really quiet. She does her work, and she does a good job. But she's really, really quiet. And often gets overlooked, I think, because of that. At the beginning of the year, she was reading HARRY POTTER. But it was a little hard, and really slow going, and I didn't think she was enjoying it. I book talked a couple of realistic fiction titles, and she's taken off, reading one or two books a week. She still pulls out HARRY POTTER, and maybe she'll finish the series at some point...
  • L is new to our school this year. He's an English Language Learner, pretty quiet, a  skateboarder. For about half the year, he read pop culture and he read graphic novels. About a month ago, I ordered REFUGEE for him. Yesterday he came into class and told me that it was the best book he had ever read. He's over halfway through it. I am ready to push with other similar titles. 
  • M is one of the brightest kids in my class. Really capable and pretty much really disengaged. A FORTNITE guy.  At the beginning of the year, he was reading almost exclusively WIMPY KID. One day, I pulled him aside and asked him if he would like a suggestion. He said he might and I started him on Allen Gratz, which he totally loved. He read all of Gratz's war stories, and then went on to read BAN THIS BOOK and several of his earlier books. After that, I pushed him into other historical fiction. I make sure I'm always ready with a book talk or two. He's probably ten really challenging historical fiction novels this year, most recently THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ. 
I guess, then, I would still say that I am all about choice. Absolutely. But I also think there is a really fine line between allowing kids to choose and helping them make choices that work for them. Or helping them be aware of new choices. And knowing when to push a little. Or in some cases a lot. And then there's that whole deal of me being ready and knowledgeable so that I can offer good choices.  I guess what I am saying is I think there is a whole lot more to choice than some people would lead me to believe. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

SLICE #15- GROWING READERS

V flies down the stairs to greet me. I know what she wants before the words come out of her mouth. Last week, she fell in love with THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER. Jen Wang has another book. She wanted me to order it for her.

"Miss, did it come, did the book come?"

"It did, I put it in my car on Tuesday night (before two snow days). I forgot to grab it this morning, I'll go out and get it."

"You want me to go with you?"she asks eagerly.

I am on my way into a meet and greet for our new principal. "I have a quick meeting," I say. I'll go get it in just a little while."

"When?" she says. "When will you go get it for me?"

"I will bring it to you in 15 minutes," I promise.

Fifteen minutes later, I mount the stairs, book in hand.

An hour later, she tells me she is not sure it is as good as the other one.

After lunch, she comes back again to tell me that the books are definitely equal.

"They're so good," she says. "You have to read them."

Two hours later, A comes into class, carrying THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER.

"I finished this one," she says, "V says there's another one. Do you have it?'

I tell her V is reading it. .

"Can I go find her?" she says. "She's in math class. She can't read it right now, so maybe I could look at it. "

Five minutes later, she is back. "She says I have to wait until she is done," she says.

I have seventy students. About a third of them have grown up as readers. The rest of them are growing. One book at a time.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

SLICE #14- WE DO THIS TO KIDS EVERY DAY

So yesterday the fence fell down.

And today the fence repair guy came to look at it.

The posts are rotted.

But he can fix it.

For $1600.

On April 11.

In the meantime, he suggested I go to the local big box hardware store and buy some of that orange plastic fencing. And some zip ties. If I would do that, he could come back and put it up for me later on today.

I don't like the local big box hardware store. In fact, I pretty much hate it. And today was no exception.

When I get there, the store is relatively empty. I guess that's probably true on most weekdays, but mostly, if I go there at all, I go on weekends. Today,  pretty much the only people in the store were men, dressed in sweatshirts and heavy boots. Everyone was pushing around those huge carts of drywall and lumber and electrical wire. Everyone looked like they knew what they were doing. Everyone except me, that is.

I scanned the store signs for fencing. I didn't find one, but way down at one end, I did see lumber, so I thought that might be a good place to start. I walked to the back of that aisle and found all kinds of fencing- chainlink and picket and privacy and barbed wire, but no temporary fencing. I went around the corner and managed to find the guy who worked in that department. When I asked him about temporary fencing, he didn't say anything, but marched back toward the aisle where I originally looked. Almost running to keep up, I followed him. Mid-aisle he stopped, and kind of grunted and pointed. There, above the chain link and above my head, was the orange temporary fencing. I said thank you, and he strode away, not even looking back.

Now I knew where the fencing was, but I still couldn't reach it, and couldn't get it off the shelf. I went around the corner again and found another store employee. He was walking down the aisle, about fifteen feet in front of me, but when I said, "Excuse me, can you help me?" he stopped and turned around and came back. I told him what I needed, and he pulled it off the shelf for me, and put it into my cart. One roll didn't look like it would be enough, so I asked him to get another. And then I asked him about zip ties, which the fence repair guy had told me I would also need.

"They're in Aisle 5," he said.

"What aisle am I in now?"

"Thirty. You're in Aisle 30," he said. And then he turned and strode away.

I was almost at the end of the store, so I figured Aisle 30 had to be to my left. When I got there, I discovered it was all electrical equipment. Lots and lots of little tiny things. I had no idea what kind of a container would hold zip ties, or where they might be in this aisle, but somehow, miraculously, I found them. And then I had to decide-- 8" or 11" or 14"? Regular or heavy duty? White or black or fluorescent colored?

I thought I was done, but then not quite. Figuring out the price scanner was yet another ordeal.

As I walked out of the store, it occurred to me that my experience at the hardware big box matches what we do this to kids every day. We send non-readers into the school "big box," the library. There are aisles and aisles and aisles of books, and we expect them to somehow make sense of those aisles, without anyone knowledgeable to help them. The people in charge are not always friendly or helpful. Not very many schools, or at least not many in my area, have librarians who know books, and know how to match books to kids.  And it's hard to get help if you are not willing to assert yourself, or ask for exactly what you want or need. The checkout system is not always easy to figure out.

And yet we expect kids who are not knowledgeable about books, not confident about themselves as readers, or not articulate about their needs, to enter this foreign land and emerge with a book that they like and want to read. And sometimes people even make fun of them if they come out with the old favorite that they grabbed because it looked familiar, or if they come out and say they couldn't find a book they liked.

There's another hardware store, not too far from my house, where I prefer to go. At that store, someone greets you when you walk in the door. He/she asks how they can help and takes you to aisle you need. There, they either turn you over to someone more knowledgeable about the particular area, e.g. Harv, the paint guy, or Brad, the man who knows about lawn mowers. That person stays with you until you are ready to make your purchase, and then they walk you to the front register, where another smiling face helps you check out.

I imagine what a school library would look like if they followed this model. A smiling librarian would greet you at the door. "What kind of books do you like? What's a book you loved?" she would say, and then take you to the area where those books were kept. She might pull a few off the shelves and book talk them, and then allow you to choose which one you wanted. And then she would walk you to the check out, and either do it for you, or make sure you could do it yourself. And the student would leave with a book they liked, and the memory of a helpful face, and a pleasant feeling about the library.

I wonder which of these experiences our schools are providing for readers, especially those kids who are like mine in the big box hardware store today. We have got to do better.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

SLICE #13- In which the fence falls down

Bombcyclone 2019 arrived around 9:30, pretty much exactly on schedule.

(Fellow Colorado Tamara Jaimes has a great description of the blizzard at her blog, The Loyal Heretic).

A friend and I had planned to go to dinner tonight, so we decided last night,  that if we woke up and the weather wasn't too bad, we would go to breakfast instead. She texted me at 8:30. At that point it was raining, and breakfast seemed like a good idea.

The snow arrived while we were at the restaurant. We finished our breakfast, I went to the grocery store, and the post office to mail a birthday card, and then I went home.

My son had gotten off early and was waiting for me.

"Our fence fell down," he said.

"What are you talking about?"

"The fence fell down."

"The fence fell down?" I said dumbly, following him to the backyard.

And sure enough, our entire back fence, about 30 feet, was laying flat in the alley, a victim, I guess, of the blizzards winds.

I was more than a little surprised. Aside from a balky gate latch, our fence seemed fine. It was not that old. It did not seem wobbly.

But there it was, laying in the alley.

Which presents a problem on several different levels.

Number one, we are blocking the alley. Our alley is not that wide. I do not think our neighbors are going to love us.

Number two, Star likes to hang out in the backyard. And even though she is old and creaky, I don't totally trust her not to wander off down the alley, in search of foxes or raccoons, or Big Mac wrappers.

And so every time she wanted to go outside today, blizzard or not, I went outside too.

Late this afternoon, I got hold of a handyman. He'll come tomorrow and look at the fence, but I think it will be a few days before the snow melts enough so he can work on it.

I'm thinking, then, that I will be spending quite a bit of time hanging out in the backyard, with my good friend Star, for the next few days.

She really likes it out there.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

SLICE #12- SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES

At 8:00 tonight I drive home from Spanish class.

The temperature in my car registers 55 degrees.

It seems almost impossible, then, that tomorrow has already been declared a snow day.

A Snow Day?

WHAT?

It's true!

It's supposed to start raining sometime tonight,

and then sometime in the morning,

it will start to snow

and we will have up to eight inches

and lots and lots and lots of wind.

And the crazy thing is that my school district,

that almost never closes

had announced by 4:30

that we would not be open today

(along with almost 400 other schools and business in the area).

And I'm imagining

sleeping past 4 a.m.

and cleaning a little

and catching up on my grading

and maybe baking cookies

and writing my slice before 9:40 p.m..

A snow day.

Such an unexpected treat!

Monday, March 11, 2019

SLICE #11- How do you teach empathy?

We're having a rash of thefts at my school.

Last Wednesday, my partner's iPhone was stolen.

She was sitting on a bench, talking to our assistant principal. When she got up, she accidentally left her phone. Five minutes later, she realized she had left it, and went back to get it, and it was gone.

The next day, they found out that two eighth grade girls had stolen it.

She got it back, but minus the SIM card.

On Thursday, I passed out Scholastic book orders. Our school is part of a special program, where the kids get to spend $7 a month on any book of their choice. When I passed out the orders this month, one of my little guys said, "This isn't the book I ordered."

Pretty much every month somebody says that, and usually it means that someone got a book they like better. And I have to go back and look at the order list. And show it to the student. Just to prove that they actually got what they ordered.

But this month, M was right. He had ordered something else. A book about a hamster, that came shrink wrapped with a whistle. I found the book, but the whistle was missing. Until Friday, when another student ended up having it.

And insisting it was hers.

Even though I absolutely knew it wasn't.

Today it was my turn. I had sent a student to get something out of my office. I had given my keys, on a lanyard. When she came back, about twenty minutes before the end of the day, she put the lanyard on my teaching table. I saw her put it down. It was still there after school.

And then I rushed off to a meeting and forgot to pick up my lanyard And when I came back, an hour later, it was gone.

I searched for a little while, but the thing is, I knew exactly where it had been.

When I went down to tell my principal it was gone, he said, "Was it blue? I think someone found it outside."

And they had. But the lanyard had been cut. And my keycard was missing.

And so tomorrow I will go through the hassle of getting the keycard replaced and finding a new lanyard.

The thing that bothers me in all three cases, is that I feel like our kids are better than that. To take someone from someone else represents such a lack of integrity, such a lack of character.

And such a lack of empathy, not to think about how someone else would feel.

And that makes me really, really sad.

And I wonder how you teach empathy.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

SLICE #10- The annual Star slice

She is thirteen now. Her muzzle, once pure black, gets grayer every week.

And she's gray around the eyes now too.

She doesn't jump on and off the bed or couch anymore. Sometimes she hoists herself up, but mostly she sleeps on the floor, on a pile of blankets I've put down for her. She still prefers the pile of blankets to the expensive dog bed I bought a couple of years ago.

She doesn't follow me all over the house anymore. Instead, she lays at the top or bottom of the staircase, waiting for me to come back.

Somedays, she has trouble up and down the stairs. Sometimes, I have to help her. Once in a while, I'm not fast enough, and she slides backward on her belly, then lays at the bottom of the stairs until I get there to hoist her back to her feet.

One thing, though, hasn't changed.

And that's her after dinner ritual.

The second she has finished the last morsel in her dish, the pacing begins.

Followed by the whining.

She is ready for her walk.

And she is relentless until I put on my sneakers and pick up her leash.

The minute we head out the door, the years melt off, and she becomes the frisky young pup that she used to be.

She is not a dog who trots obediently next to me. Instead, she is always out in front, sniffing, sniffing, sniffing.

She's an expert at finding food. No fast food wrapper, or chicken bone, or potato chip bag, escapes her.

She's delighted to meet new friends, and approaches with tail wagging glee or an occasional bark.

She's a little more crochety though, and does not like her new friends to be overly friendly or touchy.

And heaven help the over amorous male. 

Star's still good for a couple of miles.

And she does not like it when I shorten her walks because of my time or because of weather.

Once in awhile her back legs give out and she falls onto one hip or onto her belly.

And then I wonder how much longer our ritual will continue.

How much longer she will be around.

And whether this will be the last year

I can write a "Star" slice.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

SLICE #9- I Wish You More

Approximately 29 years ago, on a rainy September afternoon, I left my classroom as soon as the school day ended, and drove 70 miles south, through a downpour, to meet my niece, Megan Elizabeth. For five months, my sister had believed she was having a boy. When Megan arrived with a head of spiky black hair, and huge black eyes, the nurse commented, "He's so cute!"

"Yes," said the doctor. "Except he is a she."

I held her that day, and have held her a million times since, both literally and figuratively. We have read thousands of stories. I've dressed American girl dolls and been her partner in water ballet in swimming pools all over the United States. I've traveled with her and her family to Disneyland and Grand Cayman. I've cheered at her graduations, and prayed for her as she struggled through eating disorders.

Megan's grown up to be a pretty remarkable young woman. She graduated first in the Business College at Baylor, and has gone on to work in the IT field, where she currently makes three times as much as I do, with a Ph.D. and after 35 years in education.

This morning, I left Denver and drove that same 70 miles to celebrate my niece again. She's married now and is expecting her first baby, a boy, Jackson, in late May. My sister hosted a shower today. Megan's absolutely beautiful, with her six month baby belly. It was fun to see Megs in her new roles as wife and mother.

I, of course, once again took on my role as the book auntie. I bought a bassinet, because that was something she had asked for on her registry, but I also filled a box with picture books- I WISH YOU MORE, THERE'S A BIRD ON MY HEAD, IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, HOP ON POP, A PARADE OF ELEPHANTS- and about 25 board books. My nephew lugged them into the shower for me. I wanted to offer meal time entertainment, a read aloud of I WISH YOU MORE, but that seemed a little presumptuous.

Even though I didn't read it aloud, I really do wish Megs and her husband, and her sweet baby, Jackson, more.

A whole lot more.

Friday, March 8, 2019

SLICE #8- Unforgettable

Eight o'clock on Thursday morning.  I am walking by the office when the secretary asks if I can run something upstairs for her.

As soon as I open the door, V makes eye contact.

"I need to talk to you, miss," she says. V is not a kid who I would ever describe as especially connected to me. She is an English Language Learner, and talks more easily to my partner, the Spanish Language Arts teacher. And she definitely does not think teachers, and especially an old lady teacher, are all that cool.  I am surprised she wants to talk to me.

The class is preparing to take a math exam and the teacher shoots V, and then me, a look. V ignores it, and flies across the room. Her friend S is not far behind.

"I finished that book, miss. Wait, I'm going to get it out of my locker."

I think of the math teacher's look. "You can give it to me this afternoon," I said, "Or give it to S, remember, she said she wants to read it."

"No," she says, "I have to show you something. Right now," she insists.

I wonder what could possible be so urgent. V rummages in the bottom of her locker, and comes up with THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER.

"Look," she says, flipping to the back cover. "There's another one. I want to read it. Do you have it?"

I look at the book. "IN REAL LIFE. I don't think we do. Do you want me to buy it?"

"Can you do it today?" she says urgently.

"I'll go do it right now," I tell her. "Now go back in there and take your math test."

"You won't forget?" she says.

"I won't forget."

How could I ever forget a kid who doesn't like to read finding a book she loves?

Unforgettable, in my mind.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

SLICE #7- FEELING LIKE A TOTAL FAILURE

I'm feeling like a total failure tonight.

I should not be a teacher.

I do not know what I'm doing.

It all has to do with tests.

Our kids have to take a test about a month before our state's blessed event.

It's supposed to be a predictor of what students will do on the state test.

My students took it yesterday.

And they did horribly.

Really badly.

One of my students read the Life of Pi earlier this year.

He wasn't proficient.

Another one of my students reads three books a week.

She wasn't proficient.

Nor was my Harry Potter lover.

Or three of the five kids who get pulled out for GT every week.

And now I'm wondering what I'm doing wrong.

I believe in Reading and Writing Workshop.

I believe kids should have time and choice and rich conversations.

And yet I really don't know what to do with the information I got today.

And I'm feeling like a total failure.

And more than a little panicky about next month.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

SLICE #6- Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday.
And I have to admit,
I have not been all that excited about it.
It's a big one.
A really big one.
Six decades.
I'm feeling really old.
And more than a little bit un-special.

But it was a nice day.
Both of my sisters and my brother-in-law texted me this morning.
As did a couple of friends.
My mom sent an absolutely beautiful bouquet of flowers.

And my work family celebrated big time.
Somehow, despite staggered lunches,
and the ongoing craziness of life in schools
they all managed to gather in the library
to surprise me at lunch time
We had yummy lemon cake
And they just generally made me feel
all around special

At the end of the day
all seventy of our sixth graders
and the best ever sixth grade team
crowded into my classroom
to sing happy birthday
and give me a group card
they had made
and I felt really loved

even though i had to stay until after seven
for the principal selection committee
it was a really lovely day

that said, it would have been a little bit lovelier
if either of my two sons
had even bothered to wish me
happy birthday

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

SLICE #5- WHAT AM I MISSING?

E's been coming for tutoring for about a week.

Ever since his mother discovered he had an F in my class. Mostly because he likes to sit in the back of the class and draw when everyone else is writing.

I've actually been tutoring another little guy for about a month. So now there are two of them. We work on literacy, mostly writing, usually for 30-45 minutes. Then J's mom comes to get him. E usually stays. And stays. And stays. Often his mom doesn't come for another hour.

Truthfully, I don't mind. I'm usually there anyway, and he's really easy to have around. Mostly he just draws. Sometimes he looks at You Tube videos. Tonight he decided he would do some math homework on a website our kids sometimes use.

He hadn't been working long before he asked if I knew how to do math.

"Sometimes," I said. "What are you trying to do?"

He turned his computer so I could see the screen. He was dividing fractions. Something I actually do remember how to do. I grabbed a piece of scratch paper and sat down next to him. Talked my way through a few problems as he watched. Handed the scratch paper to him. Coached him through a few more problems.

And then he was ready to work on his own.

He called me back one more time. He thought was doing the problems right, but the computer program kept saying he was wrong. It turned out that he actually was doing the math right, but was using the lowercase l instead of a slash to write fractions, so the computer was counting them wrong. A minor adjustment and he was on his way again.

He worked for a solid hour.

And as E worked, I thought about how quickly he had moved toward independence. And how different he is, and how much less successful, in writing. And I wondered how I might make writing more like math. I already provide mentor texts. I write in front of, and next to the kids every day. I give lots of feedback. I give lots and lots of feedback. I try hard to be really clear and explicit. I celebrate successes pretty much every day.

And yet, I'm not feeling like I am being that successful with kids like E. It feels like there is something I am missing.

And I am wondering what that might be...


Monday, March 4, 2019

SLICE #4- At the Other End of the Spectrum


At one end of the spectrum is sweet L. 

Reading, reading, reading. 

Growing her mind

and her heart

and her world

a little bigger

with every page she turns.

She is so easy to teach.

She is so easy to love.


And at the other end of the spectrum is A.

He does not like to read.

Not sports novels.

Not graphic novels.

Not Kwame Alexander.

Or Jason Reynolds.

Or the “I Funny” series

Or Origami Yoda

Or Dogman.

Or March.

And not fantasy.

Definitely not fantasy.

None of those.

Every day

he careens into class

touches base with his buddies

flirts with a girl or two

and then does

a whole lot of nothing

for the next 45 minutes.

I cajole,

confer,

call home,

and get nowhere.

And every night

I lay awake wondering,

“How do I reach this kid?

“What matters most to his heart?”