Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thankful-Day 27

Read a quick blog post in Humane Connection on the joy of doing good. Service to others is both a higher calling and a source of joy. So, it got me thinking about my work as a teacher. I get paid to help people, and for that I am blessed. I don’t just have a good job I have good work.

I feel true happiness when I work with students of all ages. I’m still working every day to be a better teacher and I have so much to learn. And, of course, not every moment is joyous. Last night I got an email from a student with a draft he wanted me to review before the essay due date 2 days later. This student had failed to show up for his individual writer’s conference last week where I could have given him individual attention. When he saw me later that day, he promised to send a second draft over the weekend for review but he didn’t. The draft he had originally given me missed key aspects of the assignment, despite a detailed rubric and several class discussions and workshops. I made detailed notes on that original draft. Still, what he emailed me yesterday was an inadequate response to the assignment. I was angry, frustrated; I felt like a failure, and like he was. In short, no joy. Then, I took a deep breathe, reminded myself that my goal in teaching this class is to support students in improving their academic writing skills, and carefully read the draft. I wrote half a page of notes and emailed it back to him as quickly as I could so he would have more time to revise. In the end, it wasn’t exactly joy, but I felt at least as if I had done my job. And, I love my job.

I am thankful that I get to earn my living as a teacher, doing work I love, despite the attendant frustrations.

Read a slice of other teachers' lives at the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thankful - Day 25

Today was the last day of our holiday break; back to school tomorrow.
I spent lots of time with my family, got together with some good friends, and truly relaxed.
While I did, I frequently checked in on email to see which students were reaching out for help with their essays. Every time I flip open my laptop, I end up checking in on Facebook to play my move in Words with Friends and see what interesting ideas are being posted. All this week, I have read post after post of thankfulness and descriptions of joyful family gatherings.

I am thankful that so many people around me are blessed with love. What a wonderful world it is.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankful - Day 23 & 24

I am thankful for holiday traditions.

For the past few years, the girls and Greg have taken some time the day after Thanksgiving to begin putting up the outdoor Christmas lights. They look forward to it, despite the headache of testing the lights, finding strings that only half light, and making two trips to the local hardware store for more. They make a great team.

Saturday, the girls and I have tickets to an area performance of the Nutcracker. For the past few years, we have attended the Commonwealth Ballet's production, presented at an area high school.

We have lots of family traditions, both with Greg's family and mine, but these two days belong to just our little family. The two days after Thanksgiving are relaxing for us, with lots of time for reading, conversation, and leftovers. I am thankful for these days.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful - Day 22

Thanksgiving Day. My belly is full, as is my heart.

We added a new tradition to our holiday this year. Since Thea plays with the marching band, the four of us attended the town's Thanksgiving Day football game this morning. Westford lost by one point, but the band played well.

As we have done just about every year since we got married, we went to Greg's parents house for dinner, then to my family's house for dessert. But this year, I had no parents to visit. 

I've been sad all week, thinking about my Mom. I made the mistake of writing some memories in my office before class yesterday and had to run to the ladies room to hide my tears. So, I've been bracing myself for a tough day; and it was tough. But, I made it to the end of the day with no tears. Perhaps it was the distraction of the football game, or my in-laws delicious meal, or the comfort of being with my sisters later in the day; perhaps it was just the loving touch of my worried husband - I don't know what held away my tears. But, I'm glad for it. 

I know to welcome tears when they need to be shed, but I appreciated the relative calm today. I know the tears will return. I miss my parents, and this first round of holidays without Mom is not easy. But, remembering her love, with and without tears, is an important part of my holiday.

I was blessed with wonderful parents. They were the perfect parents for me; I am always thankful for that. Today, as I leaned against my husband and felt his concerned gaze fall upon me, I couldn't help but think of the amazing love my parents had for each other. I am so thankful for the model of love they gave me. They loved each other completely, and I was blessed to have been a witness to it. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thankful - Day 21

Today I am thankful for students who surprise.

This semester, there was one student who frustrated me fairly consistently. I referred to him at home as Mr. Annoy. His gave off an incredibly arrogant attitude, as if the class were completely beneath him and a waste of his time. He often missed assignments, and a few times, when he did one, he added comments that made it clear he did not like what he was doing. He waited to hand in a major essay until the very last day before he would get a zero grade.

He was mostly annoying because he is so bright. This kid has writing skills and an analytical mind. He needed little guidance to dig deep into content, though we're still working on why you would want to analyze an author's writing strategy choices. He's smart, and he has it in him to do really creative work. He's the sort of person you would want to have lengthy conversation with.

During our writing conference today, I braced myself for push back about my comments. But, in a surprise move, he agreed and elaborated on each comment I made; and when he didn't, explained his choices carefully and listened as I offered tips on how to make his points more clear.  He even thanked me for catching some comma mistakes.

I left the office for the day with a humble reminder that, though they look grown up, my college freshmen are still young and finding their way. I'm thankful that we had this time for a one to one conference so he could remind me that people are complex, and sometimes come across publicly in ways that do not reflect their true selves. This conference gave a more clear picture into how his writing mind works and how much thought he really puts into assignments. I'm thankful that he took the time to have this conversation with me to guide me through the gruff exterior to his intellectual best self.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thankful - Day 20

I am thankful to be planning for 2nd grade writers.

My shift back to elementary school is now less than a month away. And, while I just spent a satisfying day reviewing essays with college students, I have spent much of this week mentally planning to work with elementary students. Readers' Workshop, writers' workshop, Social Studies . . . I can't wait.

Today, on my reading list is the outline of how my district is implementing the Common Core standards in English Language Arts. After that, I'll review the WIDA materials for my English Language Learners. Since I left this school district, only a year and a half ago, there have been a lot of curriculum changes so I'll have a lot of catch up work to do. I'm looking forward to all of it.

But truthfully, what excites me the most is Writers' Workshop. I love to write, and I love to work with young writers. Later today I'm taking my Staples coupon to the store to purchase notebooks for my students. I want to make sure they have a place to draft and make lists and explore ideas. I'll probably pick up a few colored pens as well, because sometimes all the writing inspiration you need is purple ink. 

I got to peek into what will be my classroom for only a few minutes last week, but immediately I began planning. Given the unfortunate turnover of temporary teachers and substitutes they have been through this year, there is no clear design to the room; there is too much of what looks like "teacher space" and not enough that clearly belongs to the students. The teachers who have been in there are doing the best that they can - and doing, I should say, some amazing work with these kids - but, since no one has felt that this was their room, they haven't made changes. I'm looking forward to working with the kids to identify the design we need to make the room the best possible learning space.

To that end, I have been collecting. So far, I have two canvas bags perfect for holding special book collections, my mother's old bingo bag that will house craft supplies, rolls of adding machine tape that once belonged to my sister, and a dozen magnifying glasses saved from my old classroom. Once I know what we need and want for our room, I'll put the call out to my family and friends who have always filled my classrooms with treasures. I am blessed with a generous and crafty family, many of whom inherited our grandmother's tendency to hold on to things because "you may find a use for them." 

I am thankful to be planning for these 2nd grade writers.

What are you doing today? Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life challenge every Tuesday.

Thankful - Day 19

I smiled after almost every one of the student conferences on Monday. When I asked at the start what they think they need to focus on during the revision process, almost everyone wanted to discuss the same issues I had listed in my notes.
I read a few dozen essays over the weekend. This assignment asks students to analyze and synthesize a variety of sources on a topic. It's their biggest challenge of the semester and everyone was struggling with some aspect of the assignment - locating suitable sources, interpreting difficult texts, comparing opposing viewpoints, incorporating another's ideas into their own writing, and so on. I asked them to re-read their own work over the weekend, and come to the conference ready to discuss their revision plans. I love to see their metacognition at work. Most students read their essays with a critical eye and thought about ways to improve, or at least were able to ask for direct advice.
I am grateful for a generation of thoughtful learners, despite what we always say about "kids these days".

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thankful - Day 18

Today, simply thankful to be at the end of the pile of student essays.
My wrist is so sore from writing comments that I cannot write more than that.
Lesson in procrastination well learned (until next time).

Thankful - Day 17

Tonight I am thankful for the theater department at our town's high school.

Over the course of this school year, the Westford Academy Theater Arts program will stage 9 productions, including two student directed shows. The girls and I attended Evita, a production that involved nearly 100 students on stage and dozens behind the scenes.

The show was spectacular.

My girls are in the middle school, and both are involved in the fall musical there (one on stage, the other as stage crew). It is amazing to see the quality of production they are in for when they move up to the high school.

I am thankful for the talented and dedicated staff at W. A. who inspire their students to greatness (really, it was great). And for the many parents who volunteered their time caring for details so the students could focus on art.

I am grateful for theater in general, and for the theater programs in public schools specifically.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thankful - Day 16

I woke up next to my husband this morning, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Greg’s job requires fairly frequent travel. He’ll be home for months at a time then suddenly have three trips almost back to back. He can be gone anywhere from two days to two weeks at a time (though those long trips are rare). This past week, he was gone for six days. We talked on the phone at least once a day, shared email, and texted. He sent me photographs of his hotel and stories of his conference sessions and client meetings. I gave him updates about our daughter’s backache, told him how my classes went, and teased him with our supper menus. We covered all the daily grind of our days.

Yet, when we got up together this morning and sat down with a cup of coffee, we could not stop talking. There is nothing like having him close.

My husband is my best friend and I could talk with him for days on end without stop. I am so thankful he came home and we had this time together, even though I was late for work because of it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thankful - Day 15

Today I am thankful for my dentist.

Like most people, I hate going to the dentist. Growing up, we went sporadically and all of my brothers and sisters and I have a fair amount of cavities. Since braces were never an option when I was a kid, my back teeth are crammed tight together, making flossing a true challenge. That, combined with the sweet tooth I inherited from my father, resulted in a new cavity, deep down at the gum line, where my teeth are all crowded. It was quite a job getting this fixed.

Dr. Crane has a wonderfully gentle voice. He never scolds or lectures, just comments on how difficult it is to clean those crowded teeth. He watches carefully as he works and when he saw me flinch, he stopped and added more numbing agent. His assistant (his daughter) had everything he needed ready at hand so I was in the chair with my mouth stretched open for as short a time as possible. Never once did either of them ask me question when there were tools in my mouth preventing me from answering.

I left the dentist with a caution not to eat or to drink anything hot for a few hours, and to be really careful not to bite my cheek or tongue, since I was so numb. It took a long time for the numbing to fade, but I knew to expect that. Dr. Crane explains everything in as much detail as I need.

I hate going to the dentist.
But everyone at Dr. Crane's office makes it easier. I am thankful for such a thoughtful and caring dentist and staff.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thankful - Day 14

Tonight, after a long, frustrating day that has left me feeling grumpy and overwhelmed and like I have bitten off more than I want to chew, I am thankful for fiction. I need someone else's reality for a little while.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thankful-Day 13

Throughout my day I was making note of all the little gifts that came my way. There was the big smile from a former co-worker when I walked in to the school where I will start teaching 2nd grade in December that melted my anxiety away. Then the incredibly helpful clerk in personnel who walked me through the paperwork so I can start that job. Can't help but be grateful for my daughter's improving health, and her sister's remarkable patience.

But, the rainbow trumps them all.

Driving home from the grocery store, I was delighted with that particularly gorgeous light in the sky when the weather is shifting from rain to sun right at dusk. There was an orange glow in one direction, ominous gray in the other, and a Hollywood cloud-spekled blue in another. I did a 3-point turn to back into my driveway and ended up facing a most beautiful rainbow. I wish my phone camera did it justice.

I am thankful for the colors of our world.

Check out the many teacher writers who comment on their days at Two Writing Teachers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thankful-Day 12

Today I am keenly aware of how lucky we are to have a wonderful public library.

Yesterday, after a day of fun with family and friends, Thea twisted her back. She has a degenerative disc and every so often has a flare up. By the time I picked her up, she was in significant pain and really starting to stiffen.

I know what’s going through your head right about now. How on earth does this make her grateful for a library? It connects, really.

As you know if you have ever suffered from back pain, all you can do is rest and wait. Thea spent today on and off the heating pad, propped with pillows to support her in the best position, and downing ibuprofen as often as I allowed.

So, while she rested, Thea read.

Fortunately, we had made a trip to the library last week and each girl brought home a stack, so there was plenty to keep her occupied.

I am thankful for such easy access to great books.
(and for heating pads and ibuprofen)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thankful - Day 11

Thirty-one years ago today, my Nana died. I was in the 7th grade. I remember her with nothing but love.
Nana lived just one town over from us, an easy drive which we made frequently. She had a little blue house that was never completely updated from the part time camp it was originally. I was only 12 years old when Nana died, but I remember her.

Nana made bread and the smell of it when you walked into her house was almost as good as the taste of it warm from the oven.

Nana taught me how to eat a peanut butter cracker: You put a bog dollop of peanut butter in the center of the round cracker, then nibble around the edges and save that gooey dollop for last.

Nana once gave me a wooden nickel she brought back from Niagara Falls.

Nana had beautiful white hair, and her blue eyes sparkled.

Her smile could light up the darkest time.

Her voice seemed to waver, but it was distinctive, which I know even though the exact sound of it has faded from my memory.

My mother loved her dearly. We all did.

I am thankful that my childhood was blessed with Nana.
I’ve missed her longer than I knew her, but I have always had her near me.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thankful - Day 9 & 10

On Friday, November 9, I was thankful for the staff at my daughters’ middle school. Several teachers applied for, and received, grants to add technology to their classrooms that will improve learning opportunities. My sixth grader’s teacher, in particular, is exploring how to make use of iPads for more individualized learning targeted to a student’s needs. I am grateful that my children get to work with such dedicated teachers who put in the extra effort to constantly improve their classroom instruction.

But not only the teachers, the administrative staff is superb. I was in the office sorting through fundraising forms for the PTO when the Vice Principal stopped in to see if I needed any help. I had already received a few emails from him thanking the PTO for their efforts to support programming and materials that add to student learning. He knows the value of his community. Once I was finished with my own PTO work, I found the Administrative Assistant cutting up newly laminated multiplication triangles for a Special Education teacher. It was past 3pm on a Friday before a long weekend, so I asked her why she was still working. She said the teacher hadn’t been feeling well, so she offered to help prepare these materials. My daughter and I sat down with her to lend a hand – such generosity on her part was inspiring. I am thankful for an Administrative team who values the efforts of teachers, parents and staff, and who model what true teamwork looks like.

And now, it’s Saturday morning. I just kissed my husband goodbye as he leaves for a business trip. But before that, we spent a leisurely morning sipping coffee, reading, and talking. I read a blog post about using Writer’s Workshop to meet the requirements of the Common Core, a few articles in our local weekly newspaper examining the election results from our town, and an online article about staying creative through our daily chaos. Greg read sports and national news online. When we sit like this together to read, we make it a point to choose “interrupt-able reading” because we are constantly commenting to each other about some interesting points we have come across. I am so thankful to have a husband I not only adore, but also share many interests with.