Long silence but not low effort

This school year has, predictably, been a time of extreme effort on my part. I rarely have time to just sit and enjoy fun things, when I do sit I am usually working on a small present or reading the news.

I feel inadequate most days, knowing that there are so many more strategies I could be using, so many more data points I could be tracking, so many other things I could be teaching. I keep telling myself, “next year,” as if that means that this year’s inadequacies are somehow understandable and therefore I should stop worrying. Each day I go in, I teach the best I know, I learn more about these particular students and this grade level’s expectations and abilities, and I fit more pieces into the teaching puzzle.

“Next year” has a reassuring ring to it — I work so hard to try to meet the needs of all the children (24 at the moment, but up to 25 again soon I expect), and I am seeing progress. But I don’t see as much progress as I would like, I don’t know how many missed opportunities I have, and about once a week I have a moment when one student or another clearly doesn’t get what he or she needs. Next year I think that I will be able to predict many things and spot many things, and prepare in advance for many things (truth be told, a lot of the preparations from this year will serve for next year).

In the moment, I respond appropriately and catch many misconceptions, I predict what kids will need in advance most of the time, and my explanations are making sense to my students. We have a couple of long-term projects underway, and I am feeling comfortable modifying those as needed. Usually I overestimate their readiness and understanding of concepts and have to go back and fill in. But I am getting better at figuring things out quickly so we don’t waste too much time!

And one last niggling teaching issue I have been struggling with is balancing the good of the whole class with the excursions of individual students to specialists, not at the same time or for the same purposes. I cannot fill in the gaps for all of them, so have finally made the decision to stop trying. I will provide some students with less instruction in the “exploratory” instruction for this grade level, such as science and social studies. This saddens me because I think all students need to learn in a wholistic manner — but I have a responsibility to make sure that the most essential learning is taught. Perhaps next year I can figure out a way to incorporate everything.

Next year. Always next year. Next year I will be more knowledgeable. Next year I will be more organized. Next year I will be more prepared. Next year…

It’s good to think about a “next year” and so I will continue to give this year my all, knowing that these children are teaching me far more than I am teaching them.

The classroom after an actual MONTH

This is how I left the room today, set up for a sub who gets to do the “fun stuff” with the kiddos. :-) I try to keep a few tricks up my sleeve just in case, and today it was necessary to pull a few of them out.

Tomorrow, Grant has a surgery to repair a hand damaged at work earlier in the week. Should be an “easy” fix and he should be fine, but just in case I thought I should be there.

So I took a few pics of the classroom. Here are a couple. I am not commenting on them individually since they are relatively standard schoolroom pics, but the room is looking more and more lived in. The large leaves hanging from the ceiling are felt. I got them at a local large kitchen and bath store, and they have really made the room feel less cavernous.
Continue reading

Passages: Joe

Joe was the life partner of my mother’s cousin all of my life. He was an intermittent, but important part of my life. We loved him.

My mother’s cousin died several years ago. After our house fire last year, I didn’t have the heart to write to Joe, so he never knew. Joe had been very ill from complications of diabetes for years, and I had been trying to figure out how to restart the conversation but…

And now it is too late.

I hope he is finally comfortable. I hope that his memory will fill others with as much joy and love as I feel for this kind, generous, gentle man.

I hope that my heart will stop feeling like it is going to break — I think I am done with big losses for a while.


A year and a half ago this evening, I was planning the pizza party for the class that had “most improved” in behavior and academics; and deciding to have cookies and juice for the other classes, who had been working very hard as well.

Tomorrow will be the 18 month anniversary of the last day of that grading period, the day that I entered in all the data I had and started making comments in the evening so parents would know how their kids were doing in school. That was a Friday. I was so looking forward to the weekend, to the following two weeks (right before spring break). The weather was lovely and we were able to take Lucky out nearly every evening for a walk. I had plans for the garden, for the house, for figuring out where I was going after the break (when my long-term sub position would end).

I liked my home, my cluttered corner where I planned lessons, read books and watched TV. I loved my purple and yellow and green bedroom with the basketry light fixture over the four-poster bed and the walls of books…

I loved the times we spent cooking in the cramped kitchen, eating at the linoleum-topped table, playing games.

I walked the gardens daily. I knew the plants, the animals, the sunrises and sunsets. Predictable, but ever-changing.

On Thursday, it will be a year and a half since all of that was taken from us, the bright Monday afternoon that home was lost and we learned the true meaning of neighborliness and friendship. A year and a half since we ended up in a hotel without a clean change of clothes, or toothpaste or even a hairbrush. A year and a half … that feels sometimes like yesterday and sometimes like a completely different world.

We have been back on the land, in a new house, since the first of June.

I still sometimes feel out of place, not sure where I am.

I don’t yet walk the gardens daily, too many things perished while we were gone.

I don’t yet have a handle on everything that is lost, because there are still boxes to go through. Every box holds memories…

Every memory I have to let go because the papers or fabrics are too damaged (and toxic) to keep hurts. It goes slowly.

And yet, a year and a half of new memories are already built. The picture of Grant and his girlfriend’s senior prom is clipped to my lampshade next to my new corner where I plan lessons, read books and watch TV, and think about maybe tidying up someday…

Once again, Tom cooks in the kitchen, this time a more spacious and workable space, with a separate area for the table where we eat and play games.

This autumn we will plant bulbs, tubers and corms in the back yard, reclaiming the ground that was damaged by construction for a pleasant view that doesn’t need mowing.

This winter, we will sit in front of the fireplace when it rains (or snows), something brand new for us.

And in another nine months, we will have been back almost as long as we were away, and I hope we will finally feel home again.

For now, the memories still invade at inopportune moments, and I have to catch myself and figure on which side of the memory I stand…

This loss hasn’t been the hardest we have faced, but it has been very difficult. Recovering from something like this … never easy. But recover we do, and every day a little more falls into place. Every day, the new memories are stronger and the painful memories are easier to bear.

Ready for Customers!

I think of my students as my clients, or customers. I provide a service. They benefit from my instruction (although as with a dentist it isn’t always “fun”) and I have a purpose.

Here is the view looking toward the front of the room as I got ready to leave today. Student desks lined up, names on cubbies and books and folders…

The front of the room...  the large map will disappear at some point, we don't use it at this grade level.

The front of the room… the large map will disappear at some point, we don’t use it at this grade level.

And the beginnings of the calendar. The students will be coloring stars tomorrow as part of a math lesson on patterns and then the stars will be the background for the calendar days this year. I will laminate the calendar after we get the stars up. I will also put days of the week on the calendar, trying to decide how best to do that.

The beautiful stars are courtesy Tabitha and Grant, more to come from the students!

The beautiful stars are courtesy Tabitha and Grant, more to come from the students!

So, we are ready. Or, ready enough. I have subbed so often that even if we get derailed I should be able to move us along. This should be a truly grand adventure!

Making Progress

The classroom as I left it this afternoon about 1…

desks in appropriate rows, space in front for "floor time" space in the back to add computers, space for a small-group table...  and I know where the materials for the first couple of units are!

desks in appropriate rows, space in front for “floor time” space in the back to add computers, space for a small-group table… and I know where the materials for the first couple of units are!

I have things cleaned, I have things (roughly) organized.

I have also planned the first day (need to get the materials pulled together).

I am ready for tomorrow! And almost ready for the first day of school.

Going Back to School

As adults, we often forget what it is like to have regular opportunities to start anew. We become used to having made enough mistakes that from here on out we can reliably predict what will happen as a result of our actions or inaction. And so, we float along secure in the knowledge that we are “done” learning and can simply work hard to get ahead.

But children, and adults who are trying new occupations, walk on shifting, uneven ground. The familiar terrain of the people who have “been there, done that” is off beyond the horizon. Rather, each step, each turn, each moment and day provide the unknown — situations where the outcome is unclear; disappointments from which recovery is not certain; words that are unfamiliar; even the roadmaps of directions and examples are so new as to be unintelligible.

This year (2014) I am going to do something “completely” new. I am going back to third grade. Now, truth be told, third grade was probably not my finest year as a child. I butted heads with my teacher (I am sorry, Mrs. Russell!) on many occasions, based probably more on factors outside of school than inside her classroom. I remember pronouncing a word in one way, to be told that it was incorrect (it was an alternate pronunciation, not incorrect!). I remember staring out the classroom window at the old, abandoned house outside, in a snowstorm and wondering about the people who used to live there — and whether that house felt sad like The Little House (story by Virginia Lee Burton).

I don’t remember what I learned, but I do remember “my” spot on the bench outside the principal’s office… and if Mrs. Wright ever reads this, thank you for being so patient!

I have taught in middle school classrooms mostly; even as a substitute my calls were mostly for middle schools once they knew I liked that age. I have volunteered in grades K, 1 and 2, and 4… and student taught in grade 5. But no prior contact with the missing year other than three sub assignments (I went back and looked). So going to third grade? Shifting terrain, for sure!

Add in to this learning I had the job only ten days before the school year. Today is the day after —

And I can tell that already, before the school year starts, I am “behinder” than I have ever been. I will try to pick up copies of the teacher manuals tomorrow, and read over them in the evenings.

I am researching (this is one of my strengths) and, having subbed for many teachers in many places, I know that kids are resilient and any beginner’s mistakes I make this year the students will be fine. I can figure out what they need to learn — and teach it — and they will learn a lot, and grow.

I am fortunate that, in this new territory, I have the most amazing guides. Publicly, I want to already say think you to my colleagues Marilynn, Kim, Cindy, Liz, Cathy and Jeff who have already offered to help me with everything from setting up the room to figuring out the first days and beyond.

And yet, still, persistently, I feel unsure. I am uncertain whether my decisions from day to day are the “right” ones, if the outcomes will be what I hope. I will need to learn new vocabulary — from having taught primarily Language Arts at the middle school and upper intermediate level, I now move into teaching “everything” (except music and PE and computers) with much younger students. Will my vocabulary be appropriate? Will my demeanor?

I am in a new land. With strange and wonderful creatures, landscapes and denizens. Everywhere I turn there are (and will continue to be) amazing sights, wonderful vistas, and occasional frights.

The advantages of starting anew are not inconsequential. Old ways that didn’t work can be left behind. Ideas that weren’t useful can be forgotten. The gait of the walk, the rigidity or fluidity of responses, the optimism that things might be somehow more magical here and now… those are precious gifts, and unusual in adulthood even if the accompanying growing pains are not much fun.

This is my second time in two years to feel this way. Excited about new beginnings, unsure (and a little anxious) about the unknown.

My students are feeling this way for the third time in three years (more, if they move often!). I hope to remember this as we get to know each other and develop our class into a community. When they are unsure, I will be patient with them. When I am unsure, I will be patient with myself. And I will step out confidently knowing that my guides can keep me on the right path!

We may be on different journeys, but for this segment at least we travel together.

New Beginnings

Well, this past month has been a series of ups and downs. Losing a friend to cancer, doing poorly at several interviews (including one I really had my heart set on), and dealing with a series of allergy-induced migraines made it hard to get much done. So add guilt to the list of negatives…

But thanks to good friends, and a small amount of desperation — and rethinking my health — I can finally report good things again.

I realized that allergies were the cause of the headaches and used the “sanitary” feature on the washer for the sheets and blankets. Cost: three hours of washing and an hour of drying. Waking up headache free? Priceless.

I asked for help improving my interview technique, got better for each one, and finally it paid off.

I lost my friend, but in thinking about it, I have such good memories and a desire to see her legacy continue. And now…

In my own elementary classroom, I will!

I have been hired at a district I never subbed in, but is closer than many I considered! Third grade will be a real challenge this year, it will also be a joy. To be able to work with students at this age all year long, to see them grow (and they grow a lot at this age) and help them explore and interact with the world will be priceless. My friend who works at this new school has told me for years what a great place it is, and I am very hopeful that I will be an asset to the community.

I met the other third grade teachers and a few others,, and they are going to be wonderful to work with. I can tell this is a caring, focused community.

And now — open house is in five days. Students in the classroom on the second of September. I will be posting here as a way to think things through — and to record the small successes we have.

Pictures — house/yard/classroom — when I have the time again.


Passages: Mentor

My friend, Denise, has passed on.

I hadn’t seen her in a couple years, except for once at my school last year and once at a restaurant this summer. She was busy with parenting and teaching, and so was I. She was terribly ill, I was trying to recover from the fire. So many regrets…

She was a kind person, an excellent teacher, and the best mentor for a mid-life new teacher I could ever have had.

This is a hole in my heart, and a crater in the universe.