Celebrate: Student-Parent Conferences

Every weekend I land here for reflection. Thank you, Ruth, for the space to meet with others and share.  We need to take the time to stop and notice the good. It’s always there even when things aren’t just right yet. Click here to read more celebrations.

celebrate link up

I deal with little humans. Little in stature and little in experience. They are new to the game. Their “newness” is a gift and a challenge.  That’s why parenting and teaching are the best and hardest jobs.

This week was all about conferring with students and parents. Together. Two parents, often a sibling or two, flanking the child. I’m there with my partner teacher. All eyes on this little person.

Some students revel in the spotlight. Ready and willing to share all they have done and all they plan to do.

Other students worry. Their eyes downcast.

We, teachers and parents, want the best for the child in front of us.

Sitting in the teacher’s seat, I am grateful for being a part of a child’s learning life. A year has been handed to me. I’m honored.

Parents love their child with every inch of their being. They worry. The love and worry manifests in many ways. Are they on grade level?  What does my child need to work on? What can we do?

I start by asking, “How’s the year going?”

Students share.  Some without hesitation.  Others with one-word answers. “Good.”

Then, “Say more about that.”

If we listen, we hear some answers.

Me: What are your reading goals?

T: To track the problems and how the character deals with them.

Me: How have you have done that? Maybe share a read aloud story.

T goes on to discuss Yard Sale by Eve Bunting. He recounts the problem: they have to sell everything because they are moving to a small apartment. How the character handled this: at first she was upset, and then she understood.

Me: So why do you think the family had to move out of the house to the small apartment.

T: Hmmm. Maybe because they need to go to a nicer neighborhood?

Me: Maybe. Or maybe…

T: Hmmm. Maybe… I’m not sure.

Me: Why might someone move from something big with lots of stuff to something small with less?

T: (Long pause.) I don’t know.

Me: Could it be something to do with money?

T: Oh yeah, maybe taxes got too high. Or maybe someone lost a job.

Me: Maybe. The author didn’t tell us, did she. She’s asking us to figure it out on our own. Sometimes we need to take what the writer gives us and fill the holes they leave with our understanding of the world. When we do that, we interpret the story, and it becomes ours.

All the while parents are listening.

Me: When we work on filling the holes the author leaves us, it’s called inferring.

I look at the parents. “Does that help?”

They nod.

The good news, he’s growing, and we know what to work on. The better news, you’ll be there to see it.

That’s the beauty of parenting and teaching.

This week I celebrate the gift of students, parents and teachers who give time to listen and learn together.

Slice of Life: Getting Un-Stuck

One of my colleagues asked me if you had to be invited to join in the Slice of Life. That made me realize, once again, what a gift this community is. No invitations, just show up on the page with others who are willing to put it out there.  Gifts abound here at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesdays. One of the newest gifts is the juicy, sunny Slice of Life button. Check it out and join in the slicing.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hHere’s a slice of parenting mixed up in a slice of teaching. Where one begins and the other ends is sometimes a murky thing. People get stuck, and we don’t know how to get out. We feel like we don’t fit or we can’t do it. When this happens to our children we try to help, to impart our hard-earned knowledge. But our advice seems float out and away, while they struggle through. Are they paying attention?  We talk, they listen, and then we worry when we say good bye.

I see kids stuck every day, not knowing how to get unstuck.  As teachers I work to get them to the next step. Growing takes time and it is uncomfortable at the very least. …we try to help…they struggle through. Are they paying attention?  We talk, they listen, and then we worry… We ask questions. Students sit and shrug their shoulders. They don’t know. They just know they don’t fit in this space at this point. We push. We prod. We try another angle. Maybe this will work. And they struggle. We struggle alongside them.

I have a new student. He is a writer. He is a reader. You’d think he’d fit beautifully into our reading and writing classroom. But he doesn’t yet. He is a truly wild reader and writer: reading and writing to his own drummer. He loves fantasy and he is writing his own. Pages and pages. At home. And no one can look at it. He is hugely creative. He is infinitely private.

His writing inventory reveals he DOES NOT LIKE writing memoir. He DOES NOT LIKE reading historical fiction or realistic fiction for that matter. He wants adventure, fantasy and can consume it in vast quantities. There is no way I can keep him in books. When we confer he mostly shrugs his shoulders. Any work I ask him to do he does as quickly as possible in order to get back to HIS book..

We talk about school and how it is a place where we have to fit in to a degree. And sometimes it does us good to try. To fit in. To read something a little different. To expand our horizons, to see the world a little differently. He sits and shrugs in his parent conference. And puts his head down, A hint of a tear is there.

It seems wrong to make this creative soul conform. To fit. He’ll just go through the motions because he is compliant. But then I move to the inventory’s questions on work habits, and I see one thing thing he wants:

I‘d like you to teach me how to talk. I don’t know what to say. I get confused and it doesn’t make sense.

Eureka! To talk. I know what to teach. For most of my students, talking is the easier part. For this student, who is quite frankly lightyears ahead of the others in reading and writing abilities — the job is different. It won’t be easy. Success may be partial, but I know what to teach and he as the learner knows his job. The relationship is clear.

For our own children, while we were their first teacher, our ability to influence seems to recede as they reach out to adulthood. That’s their job I suppose to seek independence.  So we sit and wait for them to get un-stuck.

Holes, Hope and Possibilites

sols_6I have been struggling with the thoughts behind this post. Before you read on know that it is difficult.

I am sandwiched between the old and the young. Parents aging and children reaching out for their own lives. I sit in the middle, feeling a bit helpless.

For my children, the process of letting go is hard. I’ve written about my youngest trails. In spite of their thrashing around, and my worries, I still have a very hopeful outlook. Actually the world is in front of them. The possibilities seem endless.

My oldest didn’t come home for Thanksgiving, which left a bit of a hole in our celebration. When I mentioned this to one of my student’s parents she said, I think God leaves a little hole in our lives so we can look forward and hope to fill it.  That thought stuck with me. My children may have a few holes in their lives, but they can look forward to what those holes might contain some day.  I have great hope for my kids and let go (eventually), knowing that it’s their job to work on filling the holes.

When I think of our parents, my husband’s and mine, the holes and hope become problematic. My parents have their issues. They struggle, yet thankfully they have each other and their independence. We saw them on Thanksgiving along with my brother’s family, and it was good. Now we’re thinking about the next holiday, and not thinking about how truly fragile my 87 and 94 year old parents are. They have their holes and some are impossible to fill, yet they compensate and keep going. God bless their resilience and relative good health.

We saw my in-laws on Friday. My father-in law’s health is in decline due to Parkinsons. He has fought it for years with various medicines. The meds have kept his life pretty good. Now he is at a point where he has to choose. Keep the meds that allow him to be physically mobile or the ones that keep him mentally acute — he can’t have both. The prospects are dimming, and possibilities are lessening. My mother-in-law’s spirit is so beat down it breaks my heart. And we, their children and grandchildren, watch the decline, feeling helpless. In this case, letting go has an entirely different connotation.

God leaves a little hole in our lives so we can look forward and hope to fill itHow does that work for them? How does it work for all of us in the end?

IMG_1063I hope to have someone to hold on to as well as grace, courage, and faith when my holes get bigger and possibilities become fewer. But who knows. So I’m going to keep filling up holes and hoping for something just around the corner. It won’t be what I left behind, but I will look on with the knowledge and often sweet memories of what was there.  Perhaps, holding on to knowledge and memories is how to fill up those impossible holes — a gift for ourselves, our parents and children.

Celebrate: What a Good Idea!

Here are my vocabulary words for next week:

  • Euphoria — a feeling of extreme happiness
  • Mayhem — a situation that is extremely frightening or exciting
  • Remote — physically or emotionally distant
  • Bittersweet — emotions or feelings that are both sad and happy

I love these words. They connect in some beautiful ways — in my life, in my teaching and in our read aloud, Wonder by R.J. Palicios.

I am at the place in my life where my children are growing up and going.  It has been an honor to be a part of their lives, They have formed me as much as I have formed them. Moments of euphoria, coupled with extended periods of mayhem (the frightening and the exciting kind) have filled the past 20 plus years.  I suppose that’s part of why we take on the most debilitating, frustrating, irritating and sometimes thankless job of parenting. You can never do it “right” you always feel you could have done it better.  And then when they reach that place where they are so remote (both physically and emotionally) your heart is filled with bittersweet emotions and memories.

Hmmm… Sounds a lot like teaching.

I am at the place in my teaching year where we know each other.  The euphoria of our beginning is lessening. The reality of who we are — our weaknesses and strengths — is evident. I’m getting that I’m not doing enough, could have done it better feeling.

Yesterday, I was down. Part of it was the down you get after coming off a euphoric high. Thursday I had spent the day with Lucy Calkins (oh, yeah hundreds of other educators were there too). I was completely swept away by her commitment to and investment in teachers, students, and teaching. Leaving the hotel, I felt like I could climb every mountain, ford every stream. Walking into my classroom, the vision wasn’t quite as clear.

Leaving your classroom in the hands of an unknown substitute is unsettling at best. I only do it for emergencies and really good professional development.  I asked my students, “How’d it go?” Their response: She talked too much — She wouldn’t let us do anything –We didn’t get to read or write — We didn’t have Read Aloud. We continued our day, but I was still in a funk. Irritation came easily. As I left for home, I was disappointed in myself, I wasn’t the teacher I wanted to be. I didn’t come to class with my game on.

Come Saturday, after a cup of coffee and a few blog posts (thank you Katherine Socklowski and Ruth Ayers), I replay the day, and it hits me. I have something big to celebrate. My students 1) wanted to read and write, 2) felt cheated when they didn’t get the time to do it, and 3) expected it. Oh my gosh! They are doing it. They believe reading and writing is something they are entitled to. YESSSS! There is that moment of euphoria, and here a first link-up to CELEBRATE!