Slice of Life: Turf Wars

He moved from the desk, toward the corner chair. Repositioned himself in the stream of sunlight pouring through the windows. Books surround him. Finding solitude, he closed his eyes.

He had thought the desk an excellent location to work.  A quiet space stacked with papers and books.

Then she came and moved things around.

The reorganization was not disturbing at first. It was a refreshing change, advantageous allowing him more room.  He enjoyed her company from time to time. She gave him his space and attention.

Then she brought in a few of her bags and her computer and started to spend more time there.

Yesterday, she decided to stay. He thought it would work out. But she was there all the time. Just when he’d get settled, ready to mediate on something of great importance, papers would be adjusted, and books rearranged. He just couldn’t take the unpredictability of it.

He had to leave. She could have the desk but without him.

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Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for Tuesday Slice of Life. I am grateful to each and every one of you who venture here to share your stories. Read other slices or share your own here.


Celebration: Endings and Beginnings

celebrate link upSaturday, a day to celebrate with Ruth Ayers and all the bloggers who link up with the spirit of celebrating the week.

One — Endings. The Slice of Life March Challenge ended this week. So much growth, connections and writing love was shared. I really miss it. Bittersweet.

Two  — Beginnings. This week has been the beginning of a new experience for me, writing poetry.  I am learning, growing, and having fun with it. I’m not worrying so much about the outcome; looking more at the process of doing. I want to celebrate these poets who inspire and make this  journey a joy check out their blogs:  Leigh AnneMichelleMargaret, Kevin,  Mary Lee, and Cathy.

Three — Student Questions. One big moment in my classroom life this week was a conversation spurred by our read aloud, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. The question came up around the concept of government, a shaky idea for fifth graders. The conversation led to power and literacy and the importance of being able to make wise decisions, being thoughtful and responsible citizens. We talked about basing their actions on close careful reading of people and text. That our future depends on it. I don’t know how much my students got from this discussion but the questioning that came up filled me with purpose for what I do and belief in the future.

Four — Quotes that Inspire. Friday evening I read Tara Smith’s post celebrating Jane Goodall’s 80th birthday with Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes.”

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. -Jane Goodall

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. — Mary Oliver

Then this quote from Terje’s blog and highlighted by Ruth today:

Live your life for you not for anyone else. Don’t let the fear of being judged, rejected or disliked stop you from being yourself.” ~Sonya Parker

Five — Finding Poetry. Today I played with ideas from the week. I messed around with order, placement.  Finally, I tried to mimic a poem I shared with my students this week, “First Take” by Jane Yolen, see her reading it here. My students were delighted when they discovered they could read it multiple ways, line by line and then vertically.

Shifting Equilibrium 

Starting at an ending:

always bittersweet;

Beginnings foster challenge:

break throughs and stumbles;

Daughters seek definition:

creating possibility;

Sons separate then settle:

finding deep connected roots;

Students naturally push:

powerful questions unearthed;

Independence requires trust:

shaking up the balance;

Citizen caretakers created:

the landscape redefined.




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.

#Nerdlution Two — Week One

If you’ve heard of Nerdlution and want to know more, read this post from Chris Lehman to get some perspective. Join in if you are so inspired. There is no expiration date and no invitation  is needed. Post your journey on Michelle Haseltine’s blog on Thursdays or tweet #nerdlution.

So far, week one is on track.

Goal #1  Check!  My  Slice of Life post this week brought some wonderful feedback. The Slicers are an amazing group o storyteller teachers. Read some of these posts if you want a boost!  The support I received in comments this week filled me with the energy to meet my student writers right where they were on Wednesday.

Good news: the reluctant writer of my post had two meaningful stories he was planning on Wednesday. Both were memories of moments that have shaped his “inside and outside smarts.” A huge leap from his I-hate-writing-stance last week. His success gave me strength and patience for another struggler with a deer-in-the headlights look and nothing on the page. Tomorrow is another day. Thank you Stacey Shubitz for sharing your reluctant writer story. You’re my inspiration.

Goal 2: Tweeting as a class is rolling. While the beginning was a little shaky, we got off several tweets about The One and Only Ivan. Yeah us.2014-01-17 19.09.15

If I had Ivan as a friend I would make sure he had a lot of other animal friends & make sure he had a good owner who cared for him.-Michael

Ivan grew up as human baby..why was he treated that way but now he’s in a domain? -Lydia

I learned from the One and Only Ivan that mack and his wife took care of ivan when he was a baby.Why didn’t they keep him -Jill

Goal 3: The getting to bed on time…not yet. BUT the week isn’t over, and I remain ever hopeful. This is one of those I should because it’s good for me, but something always gets in the way things. Maybe that’s how some of my reluctant readers feel about reading at home. They know it’s good for them, but something gets in the way.  Hmm. Even something to learn from my inactions.

Happy rest of the week!nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1

Code Switch

sols_6I read Molly Shield’s post this morning. A beautiful slice of life that involves code switching, something I do quite a bit. Being the daughter and then being the parent, and back again. Where do I belong?

Saturday morning, it is 1:20 am. I am loading my daughter with crutches, her friend and their luggage into my car. It’s not an emergency. This is a planned trip to meet up with over 200 high schoolers who are going by bus up the coast to a YMCA-sponsored Youth and Government camp. The streets are surprisingly busy. I think, could all these people be taking their high schoolers to Albertson’s, the designated drop off spot.

We pull into the lot; it is difficult to find a space. Picture this rather zombiesque moment: masses of youth, their luggage, followed by sleepy disheveled parents. All trudging toward the waiting buses.

I find a spot up close. In my opinion (and in every other sane parent’s opinion), this child should stay home. She’s still fragile after knee surgery, on crutches and has missed a day and a half of school due to a cold. She has no business (as my mother would say) going.

I have already mapped out in my mind the most likely scenario when she returns: sicker, more school lost, getting behind in classes, up late trying to catch up, all coinciding with a relapse in progress made in her knee rehab efforts. Doom and gloom.

But she’s determined. It will take severe pain or delusion-invoking fever to stop my daughter. I know this inside and out and there is no stopping it. I am this person. I moderate only when stronger forces prevail.

I open the trunk. Pull out the bags, pillows, and blankets they have packed for the ride. She calls a 17-year old young man over to help with the bags. He’s our neighbor. I’ve seen him grow up. Love that kid.

I say, “Have a good time; call us if you need anything.”

She says, “Ok bye.”

“Love you,” I call out.

They come home tonight. I fear the possibilities, but at the same time (code switch for a moment) I am hopeful that she’s as strong as she thinks she is and will “be fine.”


The second part of my post is my attempt at erasure poetry demonstrated beautifully by Dana Murphy in her most recent post.  Poetry is a scary thing for me. In my mind it takes an otherworldly kind of craftsmanship. But in this attempt, it feels like a personal journey to finding more in my own writing. This feels less risky. I’m not calling myself a poet or this a poem, I’m just digging into my writing a little more than before to see what’s there.

Code Switch

Being the daughter
being the parent
and back again.

Where do I belong? 

It’s difficult to find a space.
Youth followed by sleepy disheveled parents.
All trudging toward the waiting buses.

I find a spot up close.

This child should stay home,
she’s still fragile.
She has no business going.

But she’s determined, 

I know this
inside and out.
There is no stopping it.

I am this.

It moderates only
when stronger forces prevail.
“Have a good time, call us if you need anything”

Love you.

I fear the possibilities, but at the same time, 
–code switch–
I am hopeful.

She’s as strong as she thinks and will “be fine.” 


Daring Myself: Be Too Happy

I have a superstitious thing about being too happy because if I am, that will surely tempt the demons lurking and show me. On the other hand what good is it to live that way. Why not be joyful when it is so obviously present.

So here’s to a whole lot of good showing up this week.

First – The community of writers at Slice of Life (SOL)  sponsored by Two Writing Teachers is simply beautiful. This group has given me a space to share my family, my work, and my thoughts. To be something I didn’t really feel I could be, a writer.  And they in turn share things that add so much to my life. I use to go workout or sleep in on Tuesday mornings. Now my Tuesday mornings are spent reading and often crying over pieces written by the lovely people who contribute to SOL.  Thank you, thank you Slicers. I you have added so much to my life.

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Second – The Nerdy Book Club’s 2013 nominations inspired me to spend some time and money ordering books this weekend. They are trickling in now thanks to Amazon Prime. Every night I come home to packages. Yesterday it was God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee and My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O’Hara.

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Today Stitches by Ann Lamott and Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo showed up. These books are like chocolate cove2013-12-17 20.38.28red carmel. Absolutely perfect. The thing is, as I open each book to give it a look see, read the first or first several chapters, I think, “I must give this to…” I then wrap it  and make a note to reorder another copy for me.

Third  – My students did a post assessment in information writing today. We have been working on the report writing unit from TCRWP’s Units of Study. These post assessments fill me with a combination of excitement and dread. Excitement: I want to know what they can do, but also dread: oh no what if they haven’t grown.

I read through them just to get an initial feeling for the work, and for the most part, it is good. I’ll slice and dice them over break with the TCRWP’s exquisitely designed rubric, but the overall verdict is thumbs up.

Fourth –  A skype with Ryan Scala and his third grade writers about information writing was the high point for my students’ Tuesday. My season starved kiddos were so excited to hear that there was snow falling in New York. They still are boggled by the time difference.

It was also a treat to talk with Ryan about all things literary as we prepared for our classrooms’ first meeting. The technology is great but it is nothing without the human elements attached. Connecting with passionate students and teachers is simply wonderful.

Fifth – Nerdlution continues.nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1

All this and it’s only Tuesday.