Sunday, March 9, 2014

Getting Back to Writing

Today I was able, or rather, I made time to do some writing. March 9 and a New Year's Resolution was still in play. I reread a piece from many years ago, and did some revising. Here is what I have so far.

      We were about one third of the way through the school year. Sixty days so far with A. Only 120 more to go! No, A had certainly not been the “easiest” student I had ever had. She was loud and brash and entered the room every morning with all the grace of a blonde, gawky hippopotamus.
            “Good morning, Giffin,” she would shout across the room.
            With that greeting I knew that today would be a good one. At least, we were off to a good start. If there were no greeting, no eye contact her PCA and I would brace ourselves for the inevitable onslaught of “No’s.” A wasn’t proficient in any of the twenty odd standards for language Arts and Math. But when she was in the “mood”, she was advanced in “No’s”.
            “Good morning A. Would you please give me your book” I would ask ever so gingerly, able to predict what would come next.
            “No.” A would shake her head slightly and look at me with all the patience of an exasperated teenager. Ms. S would try, “A grab your bag and it is time to head upstairs.”
            Once again, look, head shake, gosh-you’re-so-dumb smile and, “No!”
            And so our days would go. Some days were good, some days were dreadful, and most were in-between. A, Ms. S, and I had settled into a routine – sometimes comfortable but more often than not, not. It was late December. The air had grown cold. The leaves had fallen and the trees were now bare. What precious little time there was of daylight was often gray. The scenery outside belied the chaos going on inside the school. Students and teachers were eagerly awaiting the winter vacation. Nerves were stretched to just about the breaking point. Snippets of conversation floated around the building giving hope to those who were barely hanging on.
            “Only three more days.”
            “I am going to sleep until noon.”
            “Yeah! No homework for a whole week!”
            Yes, we were all a bit frazzled and tense, but we were hanging on. Today was the day of the winter concert assembly. Grade level by grade level we were called down to the gym. The students were excited at the change in routine, excited to be seeing siblings playing an instrument or singing in the chorus, excited to be out of the classroom. In short, they were EXCITED!! I however was thinking of the 25 narratives that still needed to be scored, the holiday cards that needed to be written, the gifts to be wrapped, and a hundred other items to be crossed off a list.
            We filed into the gym and quickly took our places. We sat in front of the older grades so we could see, and behind the younger grades so they could see. Never mind that half the children were of extremely different heights and the other half would sit on their knees. As usual, I sat on a bench and positioned A on the floor right next to me.
            “Yes A, I see your sister” I whispered as the older students began to file in.
            “No A you can’t go see your sister now.”
            “A, please sit on your bottom like the other students.”
Would this assembly never end? A was wound as tightly as a clock and we had two and a half more days to go. I just knew that I would never make it. First came the strings. Screech, scritch, scratch. Clap, clap. What a lovely rendition of Silent Night. Excuse me? Oh, it was Frosty the Snowman. So far so good with A but one could never tell. She tried over and over again to get her sister’s attention, waving frantically. A few more reminders, “, please sit down, the people behind you cannot see. Watch your hands, you hit So-and-So.”
            Next was the orchestra. Could A make it to the end? Could I?
            Finally, it was time for the chorus. A’s sister was in the chorus so I prepared for more waving, loud calling of her name, even standing up. A did not disappoint me and managed to stand up, call her sister’s name, and wave all in one motion.
            “A you need to sit down so everyone can see and hear your sister sing.”
            I don’t recall the first two or three songs. A though greeted each song with enthusiastic applause. The end of the concert had arrived. One more song, dismissal, and then quiet. The final song was immediately recognizable to all in the audience. Jingle Bells! A was no longer able to contain herself. But this time her outburst, instead of being negative, was pure joy. Her eight year old face lit up with the joy of a toddler seeing Christmas lights for the first time, or a young child hearing the familiar tinkle of the ice cream truck on the first warm spring evening. A was excited, smiling, unable to stay in her own skin.
             Suddenly, I didn’t feel so stressed and tired. I found myself smiling at A. Such pure and innocent joy. It was at that moment that A gave me the first of many gifts. I was able to see, through her eyes, the eyes of a child, joy and hope. Joy and hope at the sight of a loved one, joy and hope at the familiar, much-loved song, joy and hope at life’s little pleasures. A. taught me much that year. The thing I remember most is her face when she heard “Jingle Bells.”

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Organizational Tip

         How do you keep track of what your students are reading, especially at home. I used to have my students log in their nightly reading in their homework book. Of course sometimes they would forget.Or I wouldn't be able to check. They always had their assignment books so I couldn't even collect them and take them home. This year I changed the way they keep track of their reading which has mad a huge difference. Each week the students begin a new reading log. Most days I give it a quick check to see that it has been collected. Then, once a week, students write me a quick note on what they are reading. This way I can collect 28 logs and easily review them during lunch, assemblies, or at home. Students then file the completed pages in a binder which we keep in the classroom. Students, parents, and I have quick and easy access to what the student has been reading at home to date.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Snowy Evening

Today's weather perfectly matches my favorite book. When looking at Kelly Hines' 20 day blogging challenge, Day one's assignment is to talk about a favorite book. The back corner of my mind spent the better part of 24 hours considering one book after another. I thought of Little Women - my first favorite book. The quintessential tale of a strong woman, my first experience real or otherwise with someone who shared my name, and the first book I stayed up all night to read (in third grade.) My first favorite series was Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. I thought of my favorite read alouds On My Honor and House on Hackman's Hill. But nothing seemed to fit. Nothing that is until tonight.

After a long day starting with a 5:45 am spin class I returned home at 9:00pm.It had started snowing about 6:00 and a few inches at least had already fallen. My husband had swept the driveway a couple times but, it was now time for shoveling.  I had a quick snack and then set about clearing the driveway and the deck. It was so peaceful. There were no cars, no people, just the occasional sound of the shovel scraping asphalt. The snow fell silently glistening with the twinkle of Christmas lights buried under snow.

Then I had it, my favorite book to share and/or teach. Okay, technically it is a poem, but a dear friend had given me the book one year as a special gift. The absolute perfect book is Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Long a favorite of mine Frost captures for me so eloquently the beauty of a snowfall - a big snowfall. The kind of snowfall we are getting tonight.

So at 11:30 pm, after shoveling twice, I messaged a friend to join me for a walk on a snowy evening. Save for a few shovelers and snowplows, we saw no one else. Yet the Christmas lights still up kept us company. Our boots crunched on the snow unable to tell if we were on sidewalks or grassy lawns. After a few miles, I dropped her off at her house and continued home. My footsteps from when I started out nearly covered up as the last line of Frost's poem whispered in my ears...And miles to go before I sleep.

In school I read this to the students (ideally on a snowy day.) There are also some good videos with wonderful pictures on YouTube. Or, you could scan your students' art and create your own video. Afterwards the students draw pictures with white pencils on black paper of a snowy evening. They then write their own poems of a snowy day or evening.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year - 2014!

Another new year has arrived. And with it comes my resolutions. This year is no different. I have the usual - lose weight, get more fit, get more organized, declutter etc. Part of my resolutions (aka goals) are to specifically blog/write more often, track my workouts and nutrition, and return to my photo a day challenge. Of course, I also want to spend more time knitting, reading, and start a new garden. Does anyone know where I can get some more time?

Part of my blogging/writing goal has been spurred by Kelly Hines. Kelly is an amazing educator I met through Discovery Education. I sure do miss being part of the DEN. She has started a 20 day Blogging Challenge. So, I plan to use at least some of her challenges in my blog this month.

My very dear friend Susan Holden gave me a wonderful gift - a calendar. Now of course I already
have a school calendar, a bulletin board at home calendar, a desk calendar, and my Google calendar. But this calendar is different. It is to track my fitness goals and accomplishments. The year already has its first entry.My Winter Series Cham-Pain run. I feel so fortunate to have such good running/fitness friends. Often I get discouraged and feel too slow and not enough to really participate. But these friends, and Dan my husband as well, are always supportive and encouraging. Thanks guys!!

If you like to run, or you hate to run, but you want to get better, consider joining the Bucks County Roadrunners Winter Series. It is a series of Sunday morning runs in Tyler Park at 9:30 in the morning. Yes, it is usually cold ( And sometime wet, snowy, or flooded!!) And yes, it is early on a Sunday morning. But, the camaraderie and fellowship is well worth it. can always join us afterwards at Jake's for pancakes!