Posts Tagged ‘life’

Tick, tick, tick……

This was a really long vacation.  Two days before it started, I was sure that it was going to last at least a decade.  Ah, sweet freedom……..Those long, lazy, restful, boring, relaxing, mindless days of winter vacation stretched out before me like a mirage. As if there would never be a spring testing season. As if Persuasive Essays existed only in my darkest nightmares.

Ah……sweet freedom…..

And yet, here I am, perched on the cusp of the Return To School.

So anxious.  So fretful.  So restless.

Last night I dreamed that I wanted to reorganize the desks in my classroom, moving them from a horseshoe shape into table groups. In my dream, I talked, and argued and ordered and ranted.  In my dream, I was completely ignored.  No one listened, no one moved a desk.

In my nightmare, the kids were all talking happily, and not one of them could hear my voice as I tried to shout.  In this awful dreamscape, one of the kids in my class came into my room wearing glittery gold makeup, with her hair sprayed and teased. She tried to explain why she wasn’t in the classroom during indoor recess, but I was too mad to listen to her.  (For the record; she wasn’t a real kid, although she was kind of cute).

As the dream went on, and no one would listen to my voice, yelping and arguing and trying to get their attention, a bus pulled up outside of my classroom, and I suddenly realized that I was supposed to have taught my kids a song and dance.  I was embarrassed and horrified and teary; they didn’t know the song! They hadn’t been taught the dance! Crowds of people were gathering to watch them!  I was sure that I was about to lose my job, and my career.  My throat actually ached from the accumulated tears.

But in my dream, my students all gathered together, and worked out a little song and dance. In my dream, they rallied around their friendships and without any guidance from me, they managed to sing and caper and laugh so that the audience broke out in wild applause.

I felt weak and limp and relieved in my dream.  I looked at my kids in awe.  I smiled at the suddenly scary authority figure who for some reason stood beside me, and he was charmed.

My dream ended with me hugging and smiling at my students.  It ended with me wondering, “Wow! Why on earth did I think they’d need me to create a song?”

I woke up with the feeling of the clock ticking.  Vacation is ending.  I have a list of rubrics and scores and mini-lessons that I am supposed to create.  But I woke up with the realization that if I just let go, and relax, the kids and I will come up with everything that we really need to teach our literacy and history units.

I need to trust my dreams. I need to learn how to let it go.



I am riveted by the TV news these days. I am horrified, shocked, angered, frustrated, immobilized by the images coming out of Gaza right now.

Poor little ones! Poor children!

I had a boy in my class this past year. He was ten years old. He was a “football” fanatic. Lionel Messi was his hero. He was the one child I could always find out on the playground, because he was either wearing his bright red “Messi” jersey or his bright orange “Messi” jersey.

This morning a little boy name Mohammed, a boy the same age as my football fanatic, was killed by a bomb that was most likely paid for with my very own tax dollars.

I am sickened by this fact.

I am angry beyond speech, and I am overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness.

I do not feel that I have a voice in this conflict, no matter how many of my hard earned dollars are used to carry it out.

And this is why I love to be a teacher: those 25 little ones who will greet me in the fall will be challenging, feisty, funny, amusing, angry, defiant, loving, joyful and sad. They will be thoughtful, impulsive, anxious and confident.

They will be mine, for a few short months.

They will love or hate Lionel Messi. They will admire or be bored with international soccer.  They will be young and alive and human.

They will be the embodiment of hope.

They will all make me think of little Mohammed, and the bomb that ended his tender young life. Their laughter and their struggles will help me to ease the guilt of having paid for the terrible weapon that murdered their young colleague, so far away on the Gaza strip.

Making it all worthwhile…..

…….There are a hundred times a week when I think, “I can’t deal with this crap any more!!!”  After twenty plus years, I am just getting really tired of the social dramas of children.  “He was being mean to me!”  and “She hurt my feelings!” Gah!

It’s at its worst when the children involved are able to clearly articulate what it is that they have done wrong.  Its incredibly frustrating when they tell you, with big eyes and serious faces, “I know it’s not acceptable to call people names just because they like Pokemon, but I did it anyway.”

Sometimes the only logical response seems to be, “Dude, are you SERIOUS?”

But every once in a while, you have that rare moment when you realize just how vital those conversations can be for the kids. Today I had one of those conversations, and the payoff was really sweet.

I have a little boy in my class who is a very good athlete.  He can be a little cocky about his soccer skills, and sometimes this leads to conflict with his peers.  Like when he says, “I could totally school you any time I want.” Or the times when he tries to make up the rules to the game as the game is being played, and has to come to terms with the fact that 20 kids agree that he is out, even though he insists that the ball was “on the line” and that he gets a do-over.

This boy is a confident jock. He is a powerful fifth grader. He is a leader.

But during the course of this school year, I have come to realize that he is also a gentle soul, a beautiful singer, a flirt, a boy who loves his Mom and a very sensitive child who is trying hard to find his place in a big scary world.

I have mediated at least ten conflicts this year in which this boy has been a major player.

So today, when a sixth grade colleague showed up and asked to speak to this student, I cringed a bit and expected him to have been the aggressor.  I let her bring him out into the hall for a conversation.  When he came back into the classroom, I glanced his way, only to find him absolutely ashen, sitting with his head down.

I was surprised and a little worried!  What on earth had happened?

I asked the recess assistant.  ‘What did he do?’, was how I phrased it.

So she told me that another student, a sixth grade big kid, had called my boy a “really inappropriate name” and that mine had reported it to an adult.  Now he was feeling worried about having started trouble.

So I asked him, “Hey, do you need me? Want to talk?”

At first he said no, but after a little while, he came up to me and said, “I might need to talk to you in a while.”   Just as the day was ending, he asked if we could talk.  So of course, we did!

This poor little guy, the child of an upper middle class family, was so horrified by the bad language that he couldn’t even get himself to repeat it to me. He hemmed and hawed but finally admitted (using spelling and gestures) that the other kid had called him a “fucking dick”.   He was so aghast at the profanity that he had gone to an adult.  Now he was having second thoughts. “I’m afraid I’ve made an enemy”, he told me gravely.  “Maybe I should have just stayed quiet.”

“So why did you speak up?”, I asked.   He wasn’t sure, but with a little prompting, he finally murmured “It just isn’t right to talk that way.”  We chatted for about ten minutes.  I asked him what he thought would have happened if he hadn’t spoken up.  With some guidance, he came to the realization that “He would have kept saying those bad things. Maybe to a really little kid, or to someone who’d be more upset than me!” I asked him what message the cursing boy would get if he had remained silent. “I guess he’d think that I like that kind of language.”  I did my best to reassure him, but mostly I just let him talk and come to his own conclusions.

Finally, the day was over, and it was time for me to send the students home.  As he grabbed his backpack and headed out the door, my sensitive little jock hung back from the crowd.  He waited until he was the last one in the classroom.  “Karen?”, he called.  I turned to smile at him. “Karen, thanks.”  He nodded his head toward me and walked out the door.

For the first time in a while, I truly didn’t regret the time I had spent on childhood drama.

Read Aloud

My favorite time of the day, hands down, is our ‘read aloud’ time.  

With the push for the “common core” (gag), we are asked now to read picture books instead of novels when we read to our kids. We’re supposed to model comprehension and all that stuff.

I haven’t gone there yet.  

I keep reading really great novels.   I love them. The kids love them.  And this is a story of how that practice has helped a child.

I had a girl in my class last year who was a “reluctant reader”.  This child was smart and capable.  But she was the only child of a Harvard librarian and a museum curator.  They are “READERS”, if you know what I mean.  These wonderfully devoted parents were absolutely determined to make a “READER” out of their girl.  They were absolutely in despair when she reached the fifth grade and continued to resist all of the great books that they brought to her.

I tried to advise them to back off.  I tried to explain that a confident, secure young woman would like very much to choose her own areas of interest.  I tried to suggest that if they backed off, she might find her way to books on her own.  

They politely ignored my suggestion.

Then came the day when one of my strong readers recommended a book for me to read aloud.  The book is called “Out of My Mind”. It’s beautiful.   The strong reader who recommended it told me that she had gotten the suggestion to read the book from my reluctant reader.

Oh, really?

As I began the book, I would refer once in a while “Those of you who have already read this book” and my reluctant reader would beam.  Gradually, over the course of the four weeks that it took me to read the book, this little girl began to think of herself as an expert on this book.  She engaged in, and even lead, several discussions about the writing, the themes, the author’s thoughts. 

It was fabulous.

As this child went on to sixth grade, I hoped that she would keep her confidence and her love of literature.

Sure enough, her sixth grade ELA teacher told me that she considers this girl to be a “very strong” reader.  She was surprised that I had ever had concerns.



I had a student a year or so ago.  She was sweet, pretty, funny, creative, shy, warm and wonderful.  She was a kid.

This girl’s heart was in creative arts.  She wanted to be a fashion designer.  She came to school every day in the most inexplicably adorable combination of leggings, colorful shoes, off the shoulder sweaters and hair bands.  As a person with absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever, I was intrigued and impressed every time she walked into my classroom.

This girl was not a strong math student.  Her mom was in a panic, fearing that her child was showing a learning disability or a lack of motivation or a character flaw of some kind. I did my best, all year long, to reassure the mom.  I told her that I found her daughter to be absolutely cognitively and mathematically competent, in spite of her shaky test grades.  I thought that the little girl was slightly intimidated by the math, but I also told her, honestly, that her daughter just didn’t consider fifth grade math to be a huge priority.

I told the mom, as I told the girl, “Math isn’t a goal in itself. It’s just a tool.  If you want to be able to figure out the cost of clothes on sale, you’ll need math. If you want to calculate how much you will pay every month for a new computer, you’ll need math.”  The child began to relax, and the mom seemed to take a deep breath.

It was at the very last conference of the year when I realized that this traditionally very anxious Momma had begun to trust my judgement.  As I finished my description of her child’s academic achievements for the year, she leaned forward and smiled.  “Lily learned so much this year!”, she said, putting her hand on my wrist. “She taught me so much!”

I wasn’t sure where she was going with this thought, but I smiled in return. She seemed pleased, so I was happy!

“I love what you told her about mistakes!”, she said.

I frantically searched my memory, trying to recall what I could have said.  I knew that as a “big picture” learner myself, I often overlooked little details like the operation sign or the carried digits.  As a child, I was often accused of making “careless mistakes”. I found this to be enormously frustrating: it didn’t seem to matter how much I “cared”, my mistakes were still considered “careless”. I wondered if I had passed on the same message to my  not so mathematical student.  I waited with some trepidation as the mom leaned back in her seat.

“She told me what you said about math mistakes!  You said, ‘ There are no careless mistakes. There are only mistakes that you know how to correct’.  She feels so good about her math skills now!”

She beamed at me as I sat there, my jaw agape, my mind a blank.  Did I really say that?  Jeez, I hope I did!  What a wonderful thought to pass on to a kid!


I don’t know if I was really that wise, or if this lovely little girl simply interpreted my words this way. I don’t actually care! She went on to sixth grade, and did very well in math.  


Timing is everything

If you are a teacher, you will totally understand this post.

If you not a teacher, I beg you: Please try to understand this post!

It is June. I have just finished a month of final assessments; creating spreadsheets of final scores; meeting with colleagues to create three balanced classes for next year’s teachers; ordering new books- supplies-bugs/fish/weeds; reassuring anxious children and setting up twenty-five end of year conferences.

To make this year a bit more challenging, our school has decided to reorganize so that all of the grade level classrooms will be located side by side. It will be good for us to be so close together, but it means that I have had to pack up every single books, toy, game, map, pen, pencil, paper clip, elastic band, bandaide, cup, marker, crayon, leggo, science kit and tennis ball in my classroom.  I have had to organize it all, throw things away, recycle things and carefully mark all of the boxes with their contents plus my name and new room number.

And I have done all of this while practicing a class play, finishing the history unit, reviewing math concepts, meeting with special education staff and reassuring anxious children.

Tonight is Sunday night; I am heading into my last full week of the school year.  I have spent all weekend writing personal notes to my twenty five students, finishing report cards and writing one last special ed report. I have 18 conferences set up for this week, as well as six performances of the play that my kids have written, directed and performed.

I will be at school for approximately 55 hours this week, and that doesn’t include my hour and half per day on the road to and from.

And this is not all that unusual.

So what is the point of this post, you ask?  As teachers, we all understand that this is a 24/7 job, you say?

Well……I was on the phone with a friend the other day.  We haven’t seen each other for a bit, and we were catching up on the various events in our lives. We were talking about our young adult children.  And she told me that her daughter was about to take the state teaching tests.  I was delighted, because the young lady in question is smart, funny, strong, and empathetic. She has an undergrad degree from a very prestigious private university.  She would make an outstanding teacher.

But as I was expressing all of this to the Mom, she said, “I told her that this is the kind of job she needs!  She’s a single mom, you know? She needs a job that doesn’t have that many hours.”

I didn’t screech. That’s all I can say.

Post Empty Nest Syndrome

God, I hate June.

I hate it.

I wait all winter for the warm weather, grumbling and growling through every snowstorm and every icy morning.   I bemoan the short days of winter, yearning with all my heart for the late evening sunsets of the warmer months.

But I hate June.

I love the first barbecue of the year, and the smell of smoke that lingers in my clothes and hair.  I love the fireflies and the butterflies.  I love the gorgeous bursting colors of the rhododendron and azalea, and the heady perfume of the peonies.   I even love to mow the new grass, breathing deep as the fresh clean smell of it surrounds me.

But June?

I just hate June.

June reminds me that my nest is now empty, and all of my fledglings have flown.  June brings back the deeply aching sadness that comes with letting go of children you really love.

When my own three children moved out, I thought about them every single night.   The same thing happens those first weeks of summer vacation, after I have said goodbye to my class.

When my  home nest first emptied, I heard the “ghost voices” of my children, telling those familiar jokes, sharing those familiar stories.  The same thing happens to me each summer.

As a mother, I knew that my children had to grow up and move on.  I knew the day that I gave birth to each of them that I would only hold onto them for a while, that if I did my job well, they would be ready to venture out on their own.

As a teacher, I know each September that I am only borrowing these little ones for a very brief time.  I know as I learn their nicknames that in a few short months, if I do my job well, they will be ready to enter the next grade.

As a mother, I knew that I had to love them deeply but not possessively; to hold your child back is always wrong.  To let him go, wrapped in your love, is always the right thing to do.

As a teacher, I know that I have to love them in order to reach them, but I also understand that they are only supposed to love me from September to June.  To send them off, independent and confident, is always a teacher’s goal.

So I hate the month of June.  The month of goodbyes and thank you’s and “I will visit you next year”s, when I know that if I have actually done a good job, and if all goes well, these children who I love so well will come to see me the first week of school, but will then slip seamlessly into the life of their new classroom, their time in my care fading to a hopefully happy memory.

June breaks my heart.  Every single year.

June reminds me that all of my nests are empty now.

Jeez, I really hate June.

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