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Friday, March 27, 2020

SLICE #27- Lessons from Distance Learning

It is Friday.

The end of a long week of remote learning.

Yesterday, between classes and meetings, I was online for 13 hours straight.

Today, I am in my second of six classes, and I am tired.

The presenter is great, but I am having trouble concentrating.

My eyes are drawn to the participant thumbnails on the side of the Google meeting.

Most people, myself included, turn off their cameras, so all that you see are their names, and some kind of initial or photograph.

My eyes are drawn to movement from one of the people who have not turned off their camera.

It is a woman, about forty, standing in her bathroom.

She is wearing dark colored leggings

and nothing else…

I watch,

along with I don't know how many of the other 250 session participants,

as she grabs a lacy white bra off the counter,

and fastens it,

leans forward several times to adjust her girls,

and pulls a long-sleeved t-shirt over her bra.

The show goes on for almost two minutes,

and I keep waiting for the tech guy to darken her screen

but that doesn't happen.

All day I have been thinking about that poor woman

who by now is probably mortified

by her digital indiscretion.

Her friends and colleagues

are probably all talking about her,

Her principal has probably heard.

I am sure she is considering moving to another state

or perhaps changing professions.

I shudder thinking about all of the mistakes

I have probably made this week.

I have decided that rule #1

of remote learning should be

"Always put your bra on before the session starts,

because you never know who might be watching."

Thursday, March 26, 2020

SLICE 26- It's hard to watch your kids screw up

It's hard to watch your kids screw up.

Even when they are adults.

Son #1 has had a rough year.

In August, he got in a car accident.

He totaled his car and broke his femur.

His car was not a new car.

It was actually about ten years old.

But it was a working car.

In October or November, he got his insurance settlement.

His half was $2200.

And he immediately started looking for a car.

He found what he thought was the perfect car.

A 25 year old Saab.

I was not so sure it was all that perfect

and advised him to take it to our mechanic to get it checked out.

He refused.

It was perfect.

And so he bought it.

It lasted three months.

He finally sold it for $300.

To a junk dealer.

A couple of weeks ago he got his taxes.

$900.

A trusted friend sold him an old truck.

A 25-year-old-truck.

"It's always worked great," he said.

Last week it wouldn't start.

A bad battery cable.

He's still not working,

because he still can't be on his feet for 8 hours

or do heavy lifting

so I loaned him the money to have it towed.

And get it repaired.

This week, the serpentine belt,

whatever that is,

broke.

The friend was going to help him fix it.

If I just went and bought the belt.

And then they had a disagreement.

And he didn't come.

And my son drove his limping old truck

To the mechanic.

The diagnosis was bad.

And so he sold the truck

for $300

To a cousin who likes to tinker with old cars.

And once again

my son is carless.

It's hard to watch your kids screw up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

SLICE #25-- In Which I Forget How to Make a Sandwich

Today has been a teeny bit hard.

OK, maybe more than a teeny bit hard.

Actually somewhere between pretty hard and really hard.

Today was so hard I forgot how to make a sandwich.

I spent the morning, 3 hours straight, in my basement doing online tech sessions. We are learning all these new-to-me apps. I can do the basic stuff, e.g. Google Classroom, Slides, Docs, Flipgrid, Padlet, etc. but I don't do a lot of fancy stuff. And this morning felt really fancy. And it was the kind of PD where there is three hours worth of material poured into one hour, so you don't get any time to practice or mess around, you just watch someone else do it. And take notes frantically hoping you can remember to do it yourself.  And get more and more stressed.

So I staggered up from the basement at noon to make some lunch and get outside for a breath of fresh air before the next three-hour go round started at 1.

And I should mention, I pretty much have the same thing every single day for lunch-- a turkey sandwich, either on two slices of light bread, or one slice of whole grain. This week it's whole grain because that's what I found at the grocery store last weekend. And when it's regular bread, I only have one slice, except I cut it in half.

And so I got the bread out, and the turkey out, and the mustard out and started to make my sandwich.

Except I forgot to cut the bread in half. So I spread the mustard, and laid out the lunch meat, but then I couldn't figure out how to where the top had gone.

And I probably stood there for 30 seconds, staring dumbly at my sandwich, trying to figure out how to make a top.

Right now, some days are so hard, you forget how to make a sandwich.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

SLICE #24- I miss my homies

I'm on the leadership team at my school.

Today the district came out with a bunch of information about what remote learning is going to look like when we return from what was supposed to be spring break, next week. The information included some classes that start tomorrow. We weren't sure that everyone is checking email every day, so we decided that everyone on the leadership team should call a few people.

I just finished making my six phone calls.

It took awhile.

Not because there was that much information to share.

Mostly because it was so really good to talk to the people that I usually see and talk to every single day.

R and I talked about going to the grocery store.

E and I are huge baseball fans. Last summer, he and his wife, and K, the first grade teacher and I went to several games together. Tonight we talked about when baseball might start, and dreamed of warm summer nights, and beer and hot dogs at Coors Field.

I texted K because it was starting to get late and I didn't want to call and wake her up. I shared that I had been learning from Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher every morning. She wants to check it out.

I miss my homies.

I wish we could go back to school.

Monday, March 23, 2020

SLICE #23- Confessions of a crappy notebook keeper

Can I just admit this?

I am a crappy notebook keeper. As in, considering I am a writing teacher, and that I learned from experts like Don Graves, Ralph Fletcher, Jane Hansen, and Linda Rief, I totally should be much better at this than I am.

Don't get me wrong, I've kept notebooks of some kind or other, off and on, since I was in junior high. I still have many of the notebooks I kept in high school and college, piled on a shelf in my closet.

I have a favorite type of notebook-- spiral bound, heavy cardboard or plastic cover. I like them 3/4 size, not full 8"X11", probably because they are easier to carry around. And lined, because I can't write straight without lines, and I don't like when my words go downhill.

I almost always have several different notebooks going- sometimes intentionally for different purposes, or sometimes just because I misplaced one, and started another one, then found the other one.

But these days, I am seriously doubting my notebooking expertise.

It's been going on for a while actually. I want to be more consistent with the keeping of notebooks. I even signed up for a Facebook Group, 100 Days of Notebooking. I only lasted 25 days. Mostly, I think, because people were so creative, and so artistic. And the things that they produced were so beautiful. And my notebook was so uncreative and unartistic and un-beautiful, that I felt embarrassed sharing it. So I quit. I still belong to the group. And I still admire people's gorgeous notebooks. But I don't post on that page myself.

I've been watching several people talk about notebooking while I have been home for the last week. Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher are doing an amazing thirty minutes of PD every day. Today, they talked specifically about their notebooks. And Kelly has this really incredible record of life during the Corona Virus. Penny started out planning to draw a fish last weekend and ended up with this incredible collage. You should totally go to You Tube and watch their Day #6 presentation. And Ralph Fletcher is also doing a really cool series on notebooking. And one day, when I get my schedule down better, I really want to watch Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's series on notebooks, because I've heard that it's terrific.

I really, really, really want to be a person who has a beautiful notebook. I dream of having a notebook like Paula Borque, or Penny Kittle, or Linda Rief. You know, one of those that is beautifully lettered, has lovely and creative collage illustrations, and is deeply profound besides.

I think about it a lot.

I've been trying to learn to Sketchnote for two years. I've bought several books. I follow (ok, actually stalk) a bunch of people who do it on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I practice it. But not nearly enough. And so I'm still not very good at all.

I like art. I like to draw. I like collage. Today Penny Kittle recommended a book called SKETCH. And said that the woman who wrote the book doesn't see herself as a natural artist, but she practices art for ten minutes every day. And because she practices, she has gotten better. I'm going to order that book.

But I really don't quite know about those fancy notebooks.

When I write in my notebook, it's usually quick and dirty. Just stuff I want to think through or process or remember. I don't usually take the time to make it pretty. Most of the time, I'm lucky if it's even legible.

And yes, there is also the typing thing I need to acknowledge. These days, I much prefer typing to writing. There are a lot of days when I don't write in a notebook, but I do write something on the computer. I tried several of Ralph's notebooking ideas, but I didn't do them in a notebook, I did them on my computer. Typing is a lot faster for me than writing by hand. And I don't get the balance thing as to when I should be writing in a notebook and when I should be typing on the computer.

I'm thinking a lot about notebooks right now....

Sunday, March 22, 2020

SLICE 22/31- Does someone know something I don't know?

Sometimes I get a teeny bit creeped out by the whole social media thing. Usually, it has to do with Facebook or Google sending me advertisements for things I have recently purchased, or thought about purchasing. A couple of years ago, for instance, a first grade teacher friend and I were looking for white t-shirts. Her class was doing a unit on Mo Willems and Field Day was coming up. The kids wanted to make Pigeon or Gerald and Piggy T-shirts to wear on Field Day. We googled children's t-shirts and for weeks after that, we got advertisements for little boys' underwear. I kept thinking the school district was going to fire us for being pedophiles.

That "advertising connection/pollution" happens all of the time. I just bought cookies for my mom, so now I'm tempted by pictures of yummy desserts several times each day. Several weeks ago, I was stuck in a huge traffic jam next to a Rolls Royce. I wondered, as I sat there for over an hour, how much a Rolls Royce actually costs, so I googled it (for those of you who are now tempted to email me about irresponsible phone usage, I literally was at a full stop, for more than an hour) and now I get advertisements for ridiculously priced luxury cars several times a week. On a more mundane note,  I want to some minor bathroom remodeling, so right now, I get pictures of bathroom cupboards every day. 

This week, though, the advertising craziness reached an all time high. I have started getting advertisements for jobs. Clearly, the people who are sending the ads don't know anything about me. Driving an 18 wheeler shows up pretty much every day. Whoever is sending the ads doesn't know they are talking to a woman who struggles to parallel park her car in front of her house several times each day. 

And then there are the ads for nurses. If I thought there was anything I could do, I would be glad to volunteer in a hospital right now, but again, that's pretty much out of my league. I'm really healthy, but I'm over 60, so I'm considered high risk. I don't particularly like blood, although as a veteran teacher, I apply a mean band-aid. I don't do vomit, it makes me gag even after thirty plus years of teaching. Nursing does not seem like a likely second career. 

Today's choices include RTD Bus Cleaner (whoever sent this has clearly never seen the inside of my car, my own mother told me it looks like I live in the car a couple of weeks ago), KFC line manager (do you have to be able to cook? Or like KFC?), and Warehouse Worker (OK, I could probably do this, I carry our Scholastic Book Orders from the office to my classroom, up a flight of stairs and half a city block down).

I keep wondering though, why am I getting all of these ads for new jobs? Does someone know something I don't know?  Is a new career looming on my horizon?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

SLICE 21/31- A teeny bit of normalcy

Today started out with a teeny bit of normalcy.

I went to Weight Watchers.

I've gone to Weight Watchers pretty much every Saturday for the last three years. It's part of my Saturday morning routine.

OK, I didn't actually GO to Weight Watchers, because the physical facilities are closed.

But I did go to a meeting via Zoom.

And there was a lot about it that was the same.

Cheri, the leader I have had for the past three years, led the meeting.

Mary Ann, who usually weighs me, and Denise, the other weigh-er, were both there, helping with the technology.

Lots of the people who usually attend- Deb, Cassie, Alice, Jean, Jessica, who also goes to my Monday night Bible Study, and about twenty more were there, most in sweats and t-shirts, many nursing mugs of coffee, some looking slightly sleepy.

We followed the same format we usually do- people shared how their week had gone, and then Cheri moved into the topic for this week. We set goals for next week. Mine was to track what I ate  honestly and completely. Oops. Today was not too pretty in the point department.

And like I do most weeks, I came away thinking about what people said.

One woman, about my age and single, talked about how much she needed to physically TALK to someone every day, not just text, or email. That made sense to me. There's just something about having an actual conversation. I need to work harder at calling people and making connections.

Another woman talked about how tired her husband was this morning. He works in the oil industry. Yesterday, he had to lay off two of his co-workers. And I thought about how blessed I am to have a stable job. It's not always perfect, but I love my job, and I won't get laid off.

Cheri really put everything in perspective for me. She said that she led a meeting on Friday, and at that meeting, there was a mom, who is an ER nurse, but has been out on maternity leave for the past five months. On Sunday, she will leave her family-- her husband, her baby, and a two-year-old. She said she probably won't get to go home again until she gets sick. I've been thinking about that woman and her family all day.

I left the meeting feeling really energized, and ready to move forward with my day and my week.

It was really nice to have a teeny bit of normalcy.

Friday, March 20, 2020

SLICE 20/31- I miss my kids!

I miss teaching.

I miss seeing my kids and reading to them and talking about books.

I miss seeing their faces light up when I tell them they did something well in their writing.

And how that same thing usually shows up the next time they write.

And how they point out that they did it again.

I miss hearing about their families and pets and music practices and sports teams.

I miss them.

I'm trying to stay connected.

Every two days, I email them on their school accounts. I am not sure how many of them are actually reading them, because not that many reply. When they do reply, I jump right on it, and send them back personal emails.

My teammate set up Zoom, then taught me how to do it. We plan on being there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, until "real school," such as it is, starts again.

Today five kids joined us on Zoom. K didn't like seeing himself on camera and kept covering his face up with his hoodie. J only stayed for a few minutes, then left. Girl K did her makeup, including curling her eyelashes. Sweet B was very quiet, but stayed almost the whole time. And R taught us about his video games.

We met for about an hour. We all dragged our pets into the screen and compared pet stories. We talked about what we are reading. We played a drawing game. And made plans to get together on Monday.

It was so good to see them.

I miss my kids!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

SLICE 19/31- A good day for learning


I guess it's time to admit it. I work a lot-- sometimes more than sixty hours a week. And that doesn't include the evenings at home responding to essays, preparing lessons, talking to parents, etc. And then I do other stuff- Spanish class, Bible Study, Weight Watchers, Book Club, and dog classes. And now, all of a sudden, everything has ground to a halt. I don't have a husband or any kind of significant other. My sons are adults-- they live at home, but they don't spend a lot of time with me. And life is way, way, way quieter than I'm used to.

I'm trying hard to establish some kind of schedule for myself. Every day I try to:
  • read my Bible
  • do housework
  • do financial stuff (taxes, etc.)
  • spend time outside
  • do something physical
  • do some reading
  • do some writing
  • connect by phone or video chat with other human beings
  • learn something
  • practice my Spanish

So far, I think I have been the most successful in the "learn something" category. Today, for instance, I did two big "learn something" activities. First, I watch Ralph Fletcher's presentation on keeping a notebook. Ralph actually did the presentation yesterday, but I was driving the puppy to the mountains, so I missed it. He shared his full-sized notebook and also a smaller "stealth notebook" that fits in his shirt pocket.  Ralph also shared a poem, and encouraged watchers to write off of the first and last lines. Here is my first attempt:

“Football Mom”

Sometimes I remember 
the good old days
watching you
team captain
a red and white flash
flying into the end zone.

And you,
after the game,
shy smiled
king of the field
pushing your way 
through adoring fans
to give your mom
a sweat-scented 
post game hug. 
I still can’t imagine 

anything better than that.

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2020

 Later this afternoon, I watched Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher on You Tube. Every day this week, Penny and Kelly have amazingly and graciously gotten together (cross country) and shared their thinking about reading and writing. It's been beyond fabulous; thoughtful and deep and practical, such a sweet respite in the middle of these crazy days. Penny and Kittle have also pulled together an amazing guest list. Today was Donna Santmann, a middle school teacher from New York City, who talked about using notebooks with her middle school students. Donna was down-to-earth and realistic and really honest about her work with her middle schoolers. And she said a couple of things I really want to remember...

It’s eighth grade.They’re little. Let them play.Who cares if they are wrong?

They’re not so deep.
We’re not so deep. 
Most of us are fairly ordinary. 
         Let’s embrace just being beautifully ordinary.

Today was a good day for learning

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

SLICE 18/31- IN WHICH I FEEL MORE THAN A LITTLE BIT DISAPPOINTED IN MYSELF

So I have to tell you that I'm feeling more than a little
disappointed in myself tonight.

Maybe even ashamed of myself.

It has to do with our state tests.

Yesterday, our state department of education announced that we will not be having the tests.

And that's a good thing. I hate those tests.

At the same time,  I feel really disappointed in myself.

Because we spent a whole lot of time getting ready for the tests.

We did A LOT of literary analysis paragraphs and essays.

My kids were ready for the test.

And now they are not even going to take it.

(As of today, according to our governor,
we may not even go back to school at all this year.
That seems totally crazy to me!)

I think what I'm most disappointed about is what we didn't do,
because we were writing those stupid essays.

We didn't tell enough stories.

We didn't write enough narrative.

We didn't read enough poetry.

Especially not the kind of poetry that kids love.

And we definitely didn't write enough poetry.

We were going to do that in April.

We didn't do enough writing to express our opinions.

Or use our voices to change the world.

Instead, we wrote literary analysis.

Every year, for the past three years, I have told myself I am NOT
going to fall into the testing rabbit hole.

Instead, I am going to do real teaching.

Every day.

All year.

I think I did better this year than I did last year.

We started the year with a Coming of Age unit.

And wrote some personal narrative.

We did a unit on Immigration.

We read infographics.

And read and wrote informative pieces.

And did some writing around undocumented immigrants
(a topic that impacts a lot of my kids).

Even so, we wrote way too much literary analysis.

And now, I'm feeling really badly.

Because I am not sure my sixth graders understand

that reading and writing can make their lives better

and also change their world.

And it really doesn't matter

that they can write literary analysis.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

SLICE 17/31- TODAY I TOOK A PUPPY BREAK

Today I took a puppy break.

No CNN.

No Facebook.

No Twitter.

No Corona Virus.

Today I did puppies, pretty much all day.

CaPR, the organization that owns Rooney, has three new puppies- Vail, Frisco, and Breck- named after Colorado ski resorts.

The puppies arrived from California about ten days ago.

One of the puppies, Breck, is going to spend the next month or so in Salida, a mountain town about three hours southwest of Denver, with one of the CaPR board members.

CaPR needed someone to transport him to meet her in Fairplay, which is not quite two hours away.

And because I don't have a whole lot going on right now, I volunteered. A drive in the mountains would be nice. And it doesn't feel like I am violating any social distancing rules because I will spend two hours driving, get out of the car long enough to pass off the puppy, and then turn around and drive back.

Today Rooney and I picked Breck up in Boulder, where he has been staying with his brother, Frisco, since he arrived. I brought him, and his crate, and his harness, and his bag of food to my house. Tomorrow, I will drive him to Fairplay.

But this afternoon, he and Rooney played.

And played.

And played.

Tag.

Tug of war.

Bitey face.

And I laughed.

And laughed

And laughed.

It was a nice change from thinking about Corona Virus.

And all of its short and long range implications.

Today I took a puppy break.

Monday, March 16, 2020

SLICE 16/31- Today was a hard day

Today was a hard day.

I went into school with the intention of straightening my classroom library and cleaning up my office. When I got there, the administrative team was congregating in the office. They were there to do triage, or at least that's what it felt like. A local restaurant, a really nice restaurant, wanted to give dinners to 50 people, starting tonight. And that was great, except that we probably have 200 kids, not to mention siblings, and parents, that could use meals right now.

We also had some gift cards to give out. $50 to King Soopers. $50 is not much, but it's better than nothing.

And then there was the option of free "grab and go" breakfasts and lunches at schools around town, and also dinners at the recreation centers.

The administrative team was a little shorthanded, so I volunteered to call the sixth graders. We had listed about half of the sixth grade class, about thirty kids, as possibly needing support. I called down the list, explaining the situation in my less than perfect Spanish.

Some of the parents thanked me, but said they were ok right now.

Others said yes, they would like the gift card.

And still others said yes, and arrived within minutes to pick it up.

When they came, we offered them access to the teacher supply closet.

D and his family took markers, crayons, notebook paper, pencils, and glue. S and her mom, who I had never met before today took wipes, kleenex, and paper towels. G wanted plain white paper for drawing.

Every time I said goodbye to someone, I wanted to cry.

I know how far $50 goes at King Soopers. Not very. Especially when you are feeding a family of five or six or seven, like many of the families at our school are doing. I wonder what they will do when the cards run out.

I know how icky the bag lunches from school can be. We take them on field trips. I always bring bags of chips, and cookies, to try to offset the nasty bologna sandwiches and bruised fruit that usually appears in the bag lunches. And now kids will be eating those lunches for days on end. With no extra bags of chips or cookies.

And I know how much our families depend on school-- for everything from day care, to social worker, to medical diagnoses. And now we won't be there for them, for at least three weeks, and probably a whole lot longer.

Today was a hard day.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

SLICE 15/31- Today is Sunday. I'm supposed to visit my mom.

Today is Sunday.

For the last five years, Sunday has meant one thing for me.

I've driven to Colorado Springs, about 65 miles south of where I live in Denver, to visit my mom.

My mom is in an independent living center there. She's 86 years old, and sharp as a whip, to use an old term. She lived alone and drove until she was 80. About five years ago, however, she had to have a shunt put into her brain.  Since then, she has had a few balance and vision issues. She moved into a senior living apartment, where someone is always available if she needs help. There's a dining room where she can eat if she wants to, and there are also activities every day.

My mom doesn't drive anymore, but still manages to get out almost every day.  She goes to the grocery store on the facility's shuttle bus. She also goes to dinner once or twice a week on the shuttle. A friend still drives and they play bridge several times a week, at various venues around the city. And she's in two book clubs.

My sisters and I also see my mom, pretty much every week. One sister goes most Saturdays. They get their nails done together and then usually have lunch. Occasionally, when my brother-in-law is out of town, my sister and mom also go out for dinner during the week. My other sister and her partner usually see my mom sometime midweek for dinner. And Rooney and I go on Sundays.

Most weeks, we don't do anything all that exciting. Sometimes my mom has errands she needs to run. We go to Barnes and Nobel to restock her never-ending need for reading material. We go to the office supply store. We go to Target. Sometimes we go to the grocery store. Once in awhile, usually when it's just starting to get warm, like it is right now, we go for a walk around the park across the street from her place. Once in a while, we go to a movie. And we always go have lunch.

So today, right about now, actually I should be heading out to Colorado Springs. I'm not though, because her entire facility is shut down because of the Corona virus. No one is allowed to go in unless they are a medical care provider. If I want, I can take my mom groceries or a meal, but workers would take it from me at the door, and deliver it to her room. No one is allowed to go in or out.

Today is Sunday. I'm supposed to be driving to Colorado Springs.

Today I'm missing my mom and our regular routine.

On Sundays, we are supposed to be together.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

SLICE #14/31- Maybe I am getting old

I'm getting older. 61 last Friday, to be exact.

I like to think that I am still flexible and open to change, except a few things have happened recently that are causing me to wonder.

The grocery store I have shopped in for the last five years, is undergoing a complete, and I mean complete renovation. Everything is in a different place than it was. And it's not having to look for things that bothers me, ok, I guess it does a little; but it's really more having to readjust my shopping patterns. One of my staples, for example, is Diet Coke. I buy a 12 pack pretty much every week. And it's always been on the far north side of the store. I start on the south side of the store, in the fruits and vegetables department, so by the time I get to the north side, my cart is full and I'm pretty much done. I grab a couple of things in the dairy department, heft the Diet Coke onto the bottom shelf of my cart, and then usually, unless I need tylenol or bandaids, I make my way to the checkout stand.

Last week, though, they moved all of the Diet Coke, and other related items to the southeast corner of the store, right beside the bread. I saw it today,  but I didn't want to put it in my cart at that point in time. It was on sale, 3 twelve packs for $11. I didn't want to push the cart around with three twelve packs; first because it's heavy, and secondly because one inevitably falls off and either breaks open, so the cans roll around in the aisle, or it gets stuck under the front wheels of the cart and I have to dislodge it.

I decided I would do my shopping, then back track to pick up the Diet Coke when I was almost done. But then I forgot to backtrack. I remembered that I had forgotten while I was waiting in line, but the lines were super long, and I had already waited fifteen minutes, and I didn't want to start all over again. I decided, then, that I would stop back by the store, or maybe another store, tomorrow.

I was bummed because I wanted to cross grocery shopping off my list. And now I can't. Because I didn't quite finish.

I don't think I am quite as flexible as I would like to believe.

Maybe I am getting old...

Friday, March 13, 2020

SLICE 13/31- A WAY TOO TYPICAL SIXTH GRADE CONVERSATION or maybe WHY ARGUMENTATIVE WRITING IS NOT GOING ALL THAT WELL

Some days I wonder if anything I say goes into the sixth grade brains I teach.

Most of the time, the kids seem pretty oblivious.

Take today, for example.

Our district gives interim exams three times each year. Supposedly they are a predictor of the state's blessed event. I have questions about whether that's actually true, but that is a post for another day.

Anyway, my kids did pretty well on the last test, beating the district average by 8 points. Our administration wanted to reward them for their hard work, so today each student received five "bravo bucks," which can be spent in the school bodega. The bodega has items like gatorade and chips and candy.

Today, my assistant principal came in to pass out the bravo bucks. After she left, O said to me, "So what am I supposed to do with this?"

"You spend it at the bodega," I said.

"Where's that?"

I am surprised that he doesn't know. The sixth graders go down the main staircase to leave at the end of the day. The bodega is held two days a week at the Welcome Center, right at the bottom of those stairs. I'm not sure how anyone could walk down the stairs and past the Welcome Center without noticing.

"It's at the Welcome Center on Tuesdays and Fridays after school."

"Where's the Welcome Center?"

"It's that big desk (probably eight feet long), right in the front when you walk in."

O still seems confused. "Where you get tardy slips if you are late," I say.

"I'm never late," says O.

"It's that big wooden desk," I say again.

"Oh yeah. And what am I supposed to do with this?" says O.

"You spend it at the bodega, to buy gatorade and stuff."

"Oh yeah," says O again.

"What am I supposed to write here?" he says, pointing to the lines that clearly say name and date.

And then I wonder why our argumentative essay writing unit is kind of limping along.

POETRY FRIDAY

So last night, I learned that my school district will be closed for the next three weeks. I'm not afraid of Corona. I am afraid for my kids. I'm afraid for my sixth graders being alone for days and weeks on end. Or alone with little brothers and sisters while their moms and dads go to work. I'm afraid of kids being hungry. I'm afraid of parents who are over stressed and worried about money being harsh with their kids. Mary Lee published a beautiful poem this morning. And then Parker Palmer shared Lynn Unger's poem "Pandemic."



Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
Read the rest of the poem here
Matt Esenwine, at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme is hosting Poetry Friday today.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

SLICE #12/31- A Good Day

People warned me about J. 

Wiry, fast moving, loud.

Performing significantly below grade level. 

English language learner. 

Single mom, working all the time.

J and an older brother are pretty much raising themselves. 

The warnings were pretty accurate. 

She is loud. Busy.

At the center of pretty much every off-task event in the classroom.

And yet at the center of all of the naughty

there is a sweetness.

A little girl longing to be loved. 

Despite her insistent protestations,

"Don't touch me, Miss. I don't like to be touched."

Again and again and again.

"Don't touch me. I don't like to be touched."

In my afternoon class of 30.

She's pretty rough.

But she shines in my morning ELD group. 

She's grown a bunch. 

Is writing in English. 

Loves graphic novels. 

Especially NEW KID.

She stashes a copy behind the bookshelf 

so no one else can find it. 


Today I had to meet with J.

during recess.

There had been another incident. 

She dropped a book out the window

on purpose yesterday during cleanup.

We talked about safety.

That she could have hurt someone

And about respect.

That that's not how we treat our materials.  

She apologized

And we talked about how much 

she has changed this year.

Who she had been.

Who she is now.

"I'm trying Miss. 

I'm trying to do better."

I assured her that I knew that. 

That change takes time. 


"Can I go outside now, Miss?"

I told her she could and then I took a chance.

"Can I give you a hug?"

I expected her to say no, she didn't like to be touched. 

Instead, she wrapped her arms around me.

Stayed there for 30 seconds. 

I wondered when she had last been hugged.

Today was a good day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

SLICE 11/31- SOMEONE CRIES PRETTY MUCH EVERY DAY

I'm not sure I should admit this,
but pretty much every day,
somebody cries in sixth grade.

Today there were two.
This morning D cried.
She's afraid her mom might be dying.
I saw her mom a couple of days ago
she didn't seem sick.
She works at nearby restaurant
and was wearing her uniform.
I ask D if her mom is in the hospital.
She isn't.
I ask if they went to the emergency room.
She didn't.
Why do you think she's dying? I ask.
You can see those blue lines.
Those blue lines? I say.
Yes. She says, pointing to the veins
snaking across my old lady hands.
You mean her veins? I say.
You think she's dying because you can see her veins?
And then she tells me that there is purple
around one of the blue lines on her hand.
I'm trying to put the pieces together.
I'm thinking perhaps her mom has a bruise on her hand.
In the mean time, A jumps into the conversation.
My mom gets lots of those, she says.
She says there are these little tiny red hairs
all underneath your skin
all through your body.
This seems to appease D.
Your mom gets them too?
Yes, says A.
But she's not dying.
She's at work making cannolis.
D seems much relieved.

This afternoon K cried.
Was sobbing when she walked in the door to class
With a friend holding her up on either side
Are you ok, I asked.
Even though she clearly was not.
Is there anything I can do?
No, she says, I don't want to talk about it.
I watch as she walks across the room to her seat
Puts her head down on her desk.
Doesn't raise it for at least five minutes.
I make sure everyone else is started on independent reading
and go across the room
Her face is tear-stained
but she isn't crying any more
Can I do anything?
I ask again.
No, she says, I don't want to talk about it.
Will you let me know if I can help?
 I say as I move away.
She nods.
Five minutes later she is laughing with her table mates and
shortly after that, she leaves for an internship meeting.
She seems ok.

I'm not sure I should admit this,
but pretty much every day,
somebody cries in sixth grade.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

SLICE 10/31- Rooney's Best Girl




A few days ago, I wrote about all of Rooney's girlfriends. 

He is definitely a fickle guy. 

And yet, in spite of all of his flings, he has one true love. 

It's my thirteen-year-old lab mix, Star.

Star is old. And chubby. And a teeny bit crochet-y. 

She snaps at him when he irritates her. 

Occasionally growls or barks. 

But Rooney fell in love with her that very first day.

And his love is undying. 


Every morning, the first thing he does when he wakes up is to hunt for Star.

And the first thing he does when we come home from school is to hunt for Star. 

Sometimes, she is asleep on the bed next to his kennel. 

Sometimes she is asleep in the bedroom.

Once in a while, she will be laying out on the back porch. 

Rooney always greets her enthusiastically. 

Sometimes too enthusiastically. 



Rooney is not exactly the greatest boyfriend. 

For starters, he has absolutely no personal boundaries.

He sits on her. 

Jumps off the bottom stair onto her back.

Lays as close as he can get on her bed. 

Drops his toys on her face. 

Drags her around by the collar. 

Pulls on her ears. 

Insists on endless games of bitey-face.

Star puts up with him. 

I think somehow she knows

she is his best girl.


Monday, March 9, 2020

SLICE #9/31-TOO BIG

When I was a little girl, I loved to put on my mom's high heels, or my dad's rubber rain boots and tromp around the house. My balance, of course, was more than a little precarious.

And somehow, that image dances through my head pretty regularly these days.

Pretty much every time I write with my sixth graders.

Every day, I ask them to try on shoes that are a little too big.

One day it's all about point of view. "Read this short story," I say. "When you are through, we are going to write a poem from the main character's best friend's point of view."

And the kids slog valiantly ahead.

Another day we talk about theme. "Today we are going to write literary analysis essay that compares how the author develops the coming of age theme in two different texts," I say.

And the kids slog valiantly ahead.

Right now we are writing persuasive letters. The kids chose their own topics and audience.We should be allowed to keep our cell phones. We should have a school letter jacket. We should have more after school sports and activities for middle schoolers.

There is a lot more voice and energy in their writing.

They are excited because the audience is bigger than their teacher. We are actually going to give the letters to someone.

Tomorrow we have to try persuasive essays.

And those too big high heels and rubber boots are once again dancing around in my brain.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

SLICE #8/31- A DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200 KIND OF DAY

Today was one of those "DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200" kind of days. Not awful, but definitely a day where I just kind of did, and redid, and redid, but never quite got anything done.

1) I got up early and wrote my slice. It was about trying to parent my 26-year-old son, which has been more than a little challenging for about the past six months. After I finished it, I decided that maybe it was too personal and  wasn't fair to him to post it, even though he never reads my blog. So 45 minutes writing a post I will never use.

2) I was going to visit my mom in Colorado Springs (about 90 minutes south of where I live), like I do pretty much every Sunday. I was on my way out the door, literally, with keys in one hand and dog leash in the other, and my mom called. She had had a really busy day yesterday and was tired and didn't want me to come. She might have been fudging a little, and just saying that because she knew I had had a really busy weekend, but I ended up not going.

3) This afternoon, Rooney and I went to the grocery store. My store is going through a huge remodeling, which will be great when it's done, but right now, it just takes forever to find anything. I left my cart in one aisle, while I went around a corner to find the Hot Pockets, which my son thinks are one of the four food groups. When I came back, my cart, which was about 2/3 full, was missing. I went back one more aisle, thinking maybe I had misplaced it, but no cart. Then I spied a woman a little ways ahead, pushing what looked like my cart. I hustled after her, and tried to politely say that I thought she had my groceries. At first she was a little miffed, insisting it was her cart, but it really wasn't, I could see my son's store brand white bread, and the dark chocolate I had bought for my secret pal at school. The woman had put a few items in on top of my groceries, and wanted to go through everything in the cart to make sure she had her groceries. Ten minutes later...

4) After I got the groceries unpacked and walked the dog, I was ready to do school work. I am not a television person, but I do like the background noise of the television when I am doing schoolwork. Tonight, the television happened to be on, because my son had been watching. The channels he likes are very different from those that I like. The remote had gone AWOL, as it seems to regularly do, and so I attempted to change the channel from Channel 300 to Channel 7 manually. Except somehow I pushed the RECORD button which I had never used. And then I couldn't get it to turn off. And my son couldn't get it to turn off. And the television wouldn't let me change the channel until it was done recording, which was about two hours later. And I didn't want to watch "The Simpsons," which was the channel it was stuck on. And we still haven't found the remote, three hours later. My son thinks Rooney took it, which is always a possibility, but if he did, he buried it somewhere in the backyard.

5) And now I'm grading restaurant reviews, which alternately make me laugh out loud, and want to weep, because we have to take our state tests in two weeks, and they have to be ready to write persuasively. Here are a few favorites:

AC reviewed Wendy's
I love me some Wendy's. The food there is amazing. You should definitely try the spicy chicken combo because you get a soda which i'm pretty sure is large size and you also get the sandwich which tastes super good 
It might take a while to get your food but it is definitely worth it. It is a fast food restaurant so sometimes you can get your food fast, but it depends.
The service is good and they are really nice. If you are a cheapskate, you might find it expensive but if you are not that cheap, trust me buying this food will be amazing. Overall, if you go inside it might not be that clean but it is a little clean but once again it is still worth it. 
They accept anyone. Even if you are in a wheelchair or have a disability, they will still be really nice to you.
L reviewed McDonald's, although I'm not sure she has ever been there. 
If you are in the mood for some burgers or more fast food like nuggets or fries, come to McDonalds. I don’t really eat the burgers over there at McDonalds but i’ve heard the burgers are good. But then again we all have different tastes and i’ve never tried the burgers before so i am not very sure how they taste.  
K chose to review Applebee's.

 Applebees has good service besides the fact that they take forever to get your food to you.

J reviewed a more upscale Italian restaurant.
In my opinion, you should go to Italiano's because the food is very delicious, and the service is also very good. The bathroom is clean, and there are mints, hairspray, and mouthwash.  

Umm, ok, so I guess we need a little more practice with persuasive writing.

Definitely a "DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200" kind of day. 

Saturday, March 7, 2020

SLICE 7/31- OPRAH AND ME


Our original seats, Section 324
8 a.m. My friend, Kathy, and I huffed and puffed our way up the stairs to Section 324, Row 13 of the Pepsi Center.

Oprah! No matter that we were half a block from the stage and would probably spend most of the day watching the jumbotron. We were going to see Oprah! We had bought tickets more than a month ago and finally, the big day had arrived.

We hadn't been sitting in our seats in Row 324 for more than five minutes when an usher approached.

"Would you like to move closer to the stage?" she asked. "Oprah has just released some tickets and they are much closer to the stage."

"How much would it cost?" I asked. The seats we currently had, even as high as they were, had already cost more than $200 apiece.

"Nothing," she said. "The seats are empty. You can just take these tickets and move down there."

Kathy and I just looked at each other. We had the opportunity to move from seats that were about ten rows from the top of the theater to seats that were about ten rows from the stage? A day doesn't start out much better than that!

And only got better!

Oprah walking the audience through a vision setting exercise.

Julianne Hough leading an exercise session.

Grammy award winning rapper Common performing spoken word poetry.

Gospel singer Tamela Mann.

Oprah interviewing Gayle King, her best friend for more than 40 years.

The day ended with Oprah sharing her own life story.

My heart is full.

Friday, March 6, 2020

SLICE 6/31- Happy Mouseday to Me!



Happy Mouseday to me!

So today is my birthday. My 61st birthday. I had a birthday celebration with friends last night and will have another one tonight. However, today started out a little inauspiciously.

This morning I got up and took my shower. Then I went upstairs to the kitchen to make coffee. On the kitchen floor, right by the trashcan, was a dead mouse. Now I can handle many things. I am not afraid of spiders or snakes or things that go bump in the night. But I absolutely, positively cannot handle mice! I have a pest service that comes regularly, but I live in an old neighborhood and people are constantly renovating and rebuilding. A couple of months ago, they tore down the old house behind me, and all of the mice that lived under that house have now moved across the alley to my house. So, so, so, so gross! Ewwww!

Well, of course I did the only logical thing.

I grabbed my coffee and ran back downstairs and stayed there for an hour.

But then it occurred to me that the mouse, because it was dead, would probably still be there. My sons don't do mice, so I knew it was up to me.

I bravely put on my boots and marched back up the stairs. My plan was to throw a bag over the mouse so I wouldn't have to look at it, then slide a piece of cardboard underneath it, dump it into the trashcan, and then carry the garbage bag quickly outside.

Except after I threw the bag over it, I couldn't really find a piece of cardboard that was sturdy enough to support the mouse. And I didn't want it to fall on the floor and touch me, or anything like that.

And so I went to Plan B. I got a big disposable cup. I put it over the bag which was over the mouse. I tipped the cup so nothing could fall out. I slid an old Blomberg election ad over the top. I dumped the whole thing into the trash and carried it, as fast as I could, outside.

Happy Mouseday to me!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

SLICE 5/31- On presidents and immigrants


The questions begin the minute she sees my "I Voted" sticker.

Who did I vote for?

Will that person be the new president?

Is the election over now?

If the election isn't over, when will it be over?

Why did I vote today if it wasn't the election?

I explain, as best as I can, the process for the presidential primaries, tracing the timeline on a desk with my finger. She watches anxiously.

"So in November?" she says, "In November it will be over?"

And does the one you elected, does he like immigrants? Or will he make us go home?

And again, for about the millionth time in the last year, I have no words.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

SLICE #4/31- SOY UNA VIEJA

Hoy es miércoles. Wednesday.

That means one thing.

La clase de español.

I started taking Spanish when I was in fifth grade.

Stopped until college.

Took it for two years, until the professor told me that I had gotten as fluent as I was going to get unless I did a semester abroad.

Played around intermittently for the next thirty years.

Nine years ago, I was hired to work at a dual language school. And was totally blown away by how my colleagues, and my students, some as young as kindergarten, could move seamlessly between Spanish and English, depending on whom they were talking to.

I wanted to be able to do that too.

I dabbled in Spanish for the next few years.

About two years ago, I decided I wanted to get serious.

I really do want to learn Spanish.

I want to be able to interact with my colleagues in both languages.

I want to talk with my students and their families.

And so at least once a week, and more if I can squeeze out the time, I attend Spanish class.

Tonight was that night.

This semester, the teacher is Bex, who also owns the school. Except she wasn't there tonight

Subbing in was Austin. I think he's probably about my son's age. Austin graduated from college, spent several years traveling the southern hemisphere perfecting his Spanish, and is now back in the United States, going to grad school and teaching Spanish on the side.

There were four other students in class tonight. All about my son's age. I definitely felt like una vieja (an old lady). 

But if there is one thing I have learned in taking Spanish, it's that you just have to put yourself out there. Try. Make mistakes. Laugh at yourself. Try again.

And so that's what I did.

And even though I was the oldest, and definitely not the most fluent, I had fun. Practiced past and imperfect verbs. Learned the superlative.

I really do want to learn Spanish.

Even if I am una vieja.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

SLICE #3/31- A BIT OF A CAD

Rooney cuddling with his best girl, Miss A
Yesterday, when I wrote about how much Rooney loves kids, I made him sound really wholesome and respectable. And that's true, but Rooney also has another side. Rooney is a bit of a ladies' man, or as my middle schoolers would say, a total player! Rooney has lots of girlfriends!

He begins every day with Miss A. A is in seventh grade. Her older sister has to be at a nearby high school at 7:30, so she drops A off on the way, usually between 7 and 7:15. Rooney loves A. He lays in my door, which is at least a half a city block away from the front of the school, listening intently for the front doorbell, and letting out a low pleading whine every time he hears it ring. When A finally comes around the corner, Rooney leaps to his feet, tail wagging frantically. We're still working on what it means to be a respectable and politely behaved service dog, and almost every morning, we have to practice with A. Rooney would much prefer to greet her front paws on her chest, licking her face frantically. And then it's time for toy after toy after toy, "A, do you want to hold my stuffy? It's my favorite. No, too slobbery? Ok, well do you want to play tug of war? I like tug of war. Not that either? How about ball, you want to play ball with me?" Roo's devotion to A is almost embarrassing. As long as she is there, no one else, including A's best friend, who also comes by pretty much every morning, is even given the time of day. When classes start, and A has to leave, Rooney goes to bed, and sulks for an hour or two.

Or perhaps he's not really sulking. Perhaps he's getting geared up for Round #2. He does a quick chaser with the sixth grade girls at lunch time, his adoring hordes crowd into my classroom every noon. They take turns walking him up and down the hall, practicing his training moves, and taking erasers and chewed gum and other random objects out of his mouth. He smiles and pants and prances around the room, reminding me a little of "The Bachelor" on a group date.

The sixth graders don't know, though, that they are just a filler. Rooney is actually waiting for his afternoon girlfriend, Miss Nina. Miss Nina is the night manager at the school. She is a dog lover (with six or seven of her own) and Rooney pegged her immediately. She usually comes by to say hello to him after school, and we have another opportunity for polite greeting practice. For some reason, Rooney has decided that Miss Nina might like puppy bitey face games, so he greets her with an open mouth, and snapping-ish teeth. He's not really biting her, but I do have to admonish him with "No teeth" repeatedly. It doesn't help that she always laughs when he does the teeth thing with her. Miss Nina is in charge of the second floor, and every time Rooney and I go out into the hall, he cocks his head, listening for the vacuum cleaner. When he hears her, if I'm not holding onto the leash, he ignores all polite service dog rules and races off to say hello. He's recently decided that he likes her keys, which she wears on a lanyard, stuck in her back pocket, and every chance he gets, he grabs them and races up and down the hall until we can corner them and take them away.

One might think that all of his weekday shenanigans might be enough, but unfortunately they are not. Rooney has a weekend girlfriend too. Mary is his weekend buddy. Mary is 91, one of my mom's friends at the senior center. We stop by to see her, not every Sunday, but pretty regularly. Rooney is more than happy to sit adoringly at Mary's feet, enjoying a good cuddle, and snacking on the dog biscuits she keeps on her kitchen counter (she also has another stash in the seat of her walker, in case we run into her while she is out and about). Rooney loves him some Mary.

Rooney is a sweet, sweet guy, but he's also a bit of a cad. I'm wondering if that's going to be a problem when he turns into a full-fledged service dog...

Monday, March 2, 2020

SLICE #2/31- Raising Rooney


Probably the biggest change in my life since I sliced last year is Rooney. Rooney is an 11-month-old yellow lab. Technically, he belongs to Canine Partners of the Rockies (CaPR). CaPR raises mobility dogs and dogs for people with autism. About two years ago, I decided that at some point, they were going to make me retire from teaching And I had better find a hobby to fill my time. A friend of mine, Debbie, was raising a dog for CaPR and asked if I wanted to go along some time. Of course I fell in love and jumped in with both feet. Well, actually I kind of waded in, because I was a puppy sitter first, when people went out of town, and then became a puppy mom last summer.

Rooney arrived from the Bergin Institute in California last May. He attended the last week of school, including a day at the bowling alley and a picnic in a park. We had the summer to get to know each other better, and then he came back to school with me this fall. He spends part of his day hanging out in my office, and then part of the day in my classroom. He has a crate in the classroom, but often just hunts down a sunny patch of floor.

Rooney loves the kids, and the kids love him. We visit one of the ECE classrooms every morning, to help a little guy who has a hard time transitioning from home to school. He loves the little ones, and is only too willing to lay in the middle of the floor, as they stroke his ears and rub his belly. Once or twice a week, he acts as a first grade reading center. I sit with him, and kids come up one or two at a time to read. With the middle school kids, he's much more exuberant, bringing balls, stuffies, and tug toys. Once or twice a week, I will see a kid who looks a little down at the mouth, and I'll ask if they need Rooney time. The answer is almost always yes. He's good at listening to family problems and relationship breakups.

Rooney goes everywhere with me. Work every day. Restaurants once or twice a week. Rockies games. Book club. Movies. Weight watchers. Bible Study. As long as he has his blankie, he's more than willing to turn around three times, settle himself, usually with a big sigh and nap for an hour or two. Sometimes he snores, which always makes people laugh.

I will have Rooney probably until he's almost two. It's hard to think about saying goodbye, even though I know he is going on to bigger and better things. I've already told CaPR that the day I turn him in, they better have a new puppy to put into my arms. I can't imagine a day with out my sweet Roo beside me.