Posts Tagged ‘musings’

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.


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.

Sapping my strength

What do you do when you have one child who simply saps every bit of your energy?

One child who demands your constant attention, whose burning need to be special and different pulls you away from every other child all day long?

What do you do when you are faced with a vulnerable, needy, lost child whose parents have allowed her to think that she has the right and the power to control the actions, words, thoughts and opinions of every other child in your class?

I don’t know.

But I know that I am becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with this situation, and I know that my frustration and anger are fueling this child’s need to continually seek my assurance that she is, in fact, more special and deserving than anyone else in our community.

I am caught in a vicious cycle.  And I truly don’t know how to get out.

This little girl is so desperate for validation and attention that, quite literally, every time I call on her, she coughs/chokes/swallows her gum/trips on a word so that we are all left waiting for her to finally speak.  Every eye is trained on her, every ear is waiting for her words.

This girl manufactures injuries so that we can hold the door for her, get her some ice, ask if she is OK, dote on her. She drums up conflicts so that we can all process the differences of opinion.

She is the last to line up, pausing to tie her shoes and making the rest of the class wait for her. She asks if she can eat her lunch in the classroom because her head hurts. (“No, honey. You can go to the nurse, but you can’t stay in the classroom because I won’t be here the whole time to supervise you.”)

The entire grade is told that they must either choose one of the band instruments to play, or join the grade level chorus.

This child tells me that she plays the guitar, so she should be able to skip both band and chorus.  I repeat the school rules, and she answers, “Yes, but I play the guitar, so its different for me.”

I don’t mean to be harsh. I don’t mean to be heartless.  But every time this child finds a way to drain off my attention and my energy, I want to scream at her (and her equally entitled parents), “This class has a child with autism. It has a child from a third world country who has witnessed terrorism and war.  One of your classmates has a mental illness. One has witnessed violence in his own family.  You are so incredibly and overwhelmingly NOT special.  Not the way you want to be special.”   I resent the way she drains me. I resent the way that she tries to control every interaction in our classroom so that she is always cast in the very best light.

I resent her parents, and the time that they demand from me.

What do you do when one family just doesn’t understand that they are only one teeny tiny piece of the complex puzzle that makes up a school community?


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.

I know a girl

I know a girl who is very, very strong.

Her opinions come bursting out of her before she even recognizes their formation.

I know a girl who is incredibly smart.  She solves most math problems before I finish asking them.  She sees connections in literature that would amaze some college professors.   She remembers the history facts and understands why they are important.  Her mind is sharp and quick and filled with sparks.   She shines.

I know a girl who is confident and sure.  She walks with grace, her eyes open, her head raised.  She likes herself and she is ready for the world.

I know a girl, a very young girl, who does not suffer fools.   She is quick to correct, ready to help, eager to fix.  She puts herself right out there when there is a problem to be solved; she will not watch quietly while others stumble and search.  She will reach out her strong and able hand, and she will make things right.

I know a girl, a little child, who is beginning to feel her power and who is unsure of how to celebrate its force.

Sometimes her actions are too swift, her movements too certain; other girls may feel diminished by her sureness.

Sometimes her judgements feel a little harsh.  She will tell you if you are acting like a fool.

I know a girl who has hair of gilded copper, and delicate skin so fair that her slightest hesitation floods her cheeks with flame.

I know this girl.   I know that she wants to nurture those who seem more fragile.  I know that she wants to fix the problems, save the day, grab the glory, bask in the praise.

I know her pretty well.  I know that her heart is proud but gentle; she wants to have your praise, but she wants to have earned it with her tender care of others.

I know this girl.

She keeps me awake at night.

How do I help her to relish her gifts without worrying that she is vain?  How do I teach her to see that her boldness is courage, not pride?  To value her assertiveness without worrying that she is too forceful?

I know this girl.   I want her to look in her mirror and see a warrior, not a bitch.  I want her to keep on fixing what is broken, calling herself clever, not pushy.  I want to help her to understand that she doesn’t need to be beloved by anyone other than herself.  To know that she can be admired without worrying that she is being seen as too aggressive.

I know a girl.

She may very well become one of the world’s great leaders. If only I can help her to see herself as she really is, and not through the prism of her gender.

Arming the schools, one more thought

Sometimes my class likes to put on a play.  Its creative, its messy and its almost always a lot of fun.  We write the script, we make the costumes, we create the sets.

At least once during each production, a student asks if he or she can use a sword, or a gun or a big stick for some reason.  The actor is always very earnest, and always has a great reason to explain why that weapon would make the play so much better.  “I’m playing the King!  It would be so funny if I chased the thief around with my sword!”

No, I always explain patiently. We don’t bring any kind of weapon into school; school is a place that has to feel safe for everyone.

“We can use a plastic sword!”   No, I’m sorry, honey. No weapons, even pretend.

And every Halloween, as we get ready for our little classroom party, we talk about what kind of costumes are going to be allowed. Kids are told that they can wear funny clothes, they can dress up in capes or wigs or even scary style clothes.

But I always go on to talk about the little five and six year old students who share our hallway and our playground.  I remind them that Halloween can be scary to such young children. I ask them to think back to how Trick or Treat used to feel to them at that age. We share stories of times when the whole thing was just too overwhelming and scary for them.

And they get it.

I help them to come to the conclusion that when they arrive at school on Halloween, they can wear cool outfits, but they can’t wear masks (not safe for them to walk around; scary for little kids). They can’t look bloody or injured, and they absolutely can’t bring any kind of weapon. Not a gun, not a sword, not a light saber, not a cudgel.

“This is school.”, my colleagues and I tell our students. “School has to be safe for everyone.”

And every teacher knows that little boys like to form their fingers into pretend guns and aim them at imaginary foes.  In our district, we ask them to stop when we see them take aim with their pudgy little fingers.  We know that they are only pretending, but we remind them, once again, that “School has to be safe for everyone.”

We are supposed to be teaching children to solve problems without conflict. We are supposed to prevent and end bullying.  We have been mandated by law to “teach peace”.   And we try.  Every single day, we try.

How are we supposed to do that if we are carrying guns ourselves?

How are we supposed to do that if every time we walk the kids to the music room we have to pass the armed guard in the doorway?

Bringing loaded guns into schools is just such a supremely stupid idea.  Even a ten year old can see that.

Where would we be?

It has been a lovely four day break.

A hiatus from the madness.

A tiny little respite from the Common Core, the rubrics, the reading levels, the formative assessments.

Know what I did with all this time off?

I read books.  For fun.

I know, this is a concept which is completely incomprehensible to modern children. The very idea of reading a book for pure pleasure, just because you like the cover, or the topic or the author or the whole idea of the story….well.  Kids in school today just can’t understand or relate to any of these ideas.

See, in the world of the modern classroom, students are given “reading assessments” so that we can find their “instructional level”.  So…..if reading has been a little bit of challenge for you, and you are really interested in reading one of the Rick Riordan books, you get a very clear, very obvious message.  That message is this: ‘You aren’t smart enough to read that book.  Back to ‘Junie B. Jones’ with you!”

So what’s wrong with this model?

Oh, my. Where do I begin?

#1: You just told a child that he/she is a crappy reader.  Exactly how do you think that child is going to change that in the next five years? H’mmm?

#2: You just told the kids that even if they are really excited about a subject, or an author, they shouldn’t try to reach beyond their comfort level.  You’ve just told them that they need to stay firmly in their “comfort” zone, where they are at the “instructional level”.

#3: You just wasted a whole big whopping bunch of time on assessment when you could have been actually reading real live books.   How on earth is that going to help ANYONE?


I picked up a big old whopping biography of Abraham Lincoln.  Why?  Well, I saw the movie, and I had a lot of questions.  If I used the “just right books” training that is used with kids, I would have come to the conclusion that this book was way too hard for me.  When I opened it up and read a random page, I was confused by the content and the language.  The length of the book was daunting.  I should have put it down.

But I didn’t.

I want to know about Mr. Lincoln, so I want to read this book.

I’m now a50 pages into the story, and I am riveted.  Yes, there are parts that are a challenge. Yes, there are moments when I come to text that I don’t understand.

But you know what?

I feel smart as I read this book.  I feel smart, and smug and happy with myself.  And most of all, I am learning a boat load of information about our 16th President and what motivated him to act the way that he did.

So as I enjoy the last few hours of my Thanksgiving break, as I ready myself to head back out into the fray, I vow to keep in mind the ways that Mr. Lincoln’s intellectual prowess was matched by his intellectual curiosity. I will remind myself that if he had lived in the days of “ongoing formative assessment”, he might have been told at the age of ten that he was not an “age level” reader. He might very well have been told to read less challenging text.

And he might not have taught himself the law, and he might not have set himself up as a surveyor and a lawyer and he might not have dared to run for public office, and he might never have become the sixteenth President of the United States.

And where would we all be now?  H’mm? Where would we all be now?

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