Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thank FULL

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"I love godmother"

"💕 THANK YOU 💕 "

"Dear Mama, Thank you for loving me..."

My heart does a few flips in my chest as I glance around the table at the thank-you cards my beginner ELLs are making for people they are thankful for. "Aww, your people are going to LOVE these!" I squeal, and the warmth spreading through my body grows as I peer closer over their shoulders.

"Thank you for supporting me in everything..."

"I appreciate when you listen to me..."

"I am grateful for your patience even when I am unruly"

"I love when we talk in the kitchen..."

The language teacher in me is excited that they're doing a great job applying the sentence structures and vocabulary from my mini-lesson, but the so-much-more-than-language teacher in me wants to skip across the room. My kids are the absolute sweetest. They do not have all the words they need, but they are not afraid to try to say exactly what is in their hearts.

The bell is about to ring, and I want to hug them all, wishing I could see each of them give these cards to the special people in their lives, when H. waves me over to her seat. "Mrs. M, how do you spell your name?" And in case my heart couldn't get any fuller, she fills my name into the blank space she had left after "Dear" and hands her card to me.

There is no better feeling than knowing that your students see you exactly as you hope they do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In person

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"I voted on Saturday."
"I mailed mine in weeks ago."

Around the lunch table yesterday, it seemed like hardly any of my colleagues were going to vote in person today. Everyone did their civic duty, but in their attempts to avoid lines and crowds, I think they missed out on the magic.

When I was little, my mom always made a big deal out of taking me to vote with her. We'd go inside the little blue cloth stall and excitedly close the thick, velvety curtain behind us. Firmly, with purpose and enthusiasm, she would push the switches to select her chosen candidates, telling me how important and special this process was. I don't remember exactly what she said, but I definitely remember walking away, voting stickers on our shirts, with a sense that we had done something BIG.

"I just love going on Tuesday to push those buttons myself!" I tried to convey to my colleagues the impression my mom gave me on all those Tuesday trips to the little blue stalls.

And so, as I unbuckled Sweetie from her carseat this afternoon, I put some extra sparkle in my eyes. "We're going to vote, Sweetie!"
"Vote! We're going to vote for the president!" I swung her onto my hip, straightened her stars-and-stripes dress, and marched up to the "VOTING TODAY" sign.

The poll workers oohed and ahhhed as they swiped my ID. "What a cutie! She looks so patriotic!" Beaming, they got her a sticker and grinned when she tenderly patted it as I put it on her dress.

No heavy blue curtains or metal switches anymore, but the touchscreen machine certainly got Sweetie's attention as soon as I started to push my selections. As it chortled and chirped, spitting out the little paper on the side, she wiggled and giggled against me, pointing her tiny finger back and forth between the screen and the paper.

"See, that was fun, right?" As soon as I touched the final green button, I pushed my forehead against hers, squeezing her tight. "Your first presidential election!"

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Already a storyteller

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Sorry, we went to Boo At the Zoo!" As we burst into my parents' house 20 minutes late for Sunday dinner, I breathe in deep whiffs of my mom's spaghetti sauce, which, luckily for us, just gets better the longer it cooks.

Little Sweetie yanks her hand out of mine and toddles over to my dad, looking even more adorable than usual in her BB-8 costume. "Did you have fun at the zoo?" he asks.

Fish mouth. Fish mouth. Fish mouth. Her eyes bulge with excitement as her lips pop open and closed.

"Oh, did you see some fishies there?"


"Oh, and some turtles?"

"Burrrrrr!" She flaps her arms so hard I think she might actually lift herself off the ground. "Uh MOU!" She sticks out her tongue and then dramatically pokes her pointer finger into her wide-open mouth.

"Oh, Granddaddy," I interpret, giggling, "after we saw the fish and the turtles, we got to feed the birds in the Lorikeet Garden! They used their tongues to put our food in their mouths! It was so exciting!"
While we were there, I think she flapped her arms and squawked more than the birds did!

She may only be 17 months old, but she is already quite the storyteller!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
I forgot it was Tuesday. Writing day. Slice of Life day!

I don't feel like writing. I'm tired and stressed, and because I forgot what day it was, I forgot to be thinking about writing all day. I forgot to roll writing ideas around in my head as I showered, walked down the hallways, and drove to and from school. I forgot to notice the wispy, glittering hints of writing ideas half-hidden all around me. I forgot to start giving myself pep talks, to remind myself why I write, to sweep out the dark corners of my brain and make room for writing.

So, at 7:30, when I begrudgingly pull my laptop out of my bag and settle onto the couch, committed to keeping my assigned appointment with myself, I am not in a writing mood. I am like a kid staring down a pile of homework.

Strong Jennifer and Frazzled Jennifer start to argue:

If I don't write tonight, I'll have to tell my students next week that I didn't even come close to my goal... again!

But I don't have anything to write about...

Yes, yes I do! Dumb excuse! I have a whole list of writing ideas in Evernote!(scrolling through list of ideas)

  Nope. Not that one, too much work. Nope, not that one, not in the mood. Nope... Nope... Nope... None of these are any good. 

Oh hush, yes they are! There are so many great ideas in there!

Well, all the good ones are too much work. Or they don't match my mood right now.

How about a slice about not wanting to write?

But I've done those before! Who wants to read another one of those?!

Let's put a new twist on it! I can think of a new twist! Besides, they're great for showing kids!

But I'm so sleeeepy! We just finished the first nine weeks! I could take a break this week...

No! No more breaks! It's only part of one evening! There are plenty of other breaks in the week, and if I start writing only when I feel like it, I won't do it nearly enough! I'm forever telling kids how sometimes we have to work even when we don't feel like it! 

But, you know, that one extra stressy thing... IMPENDING DOOM! (gritted teeth and tightness in my neck, for extra drama)

Oh, come on, it's not even that bad. Just one dumb thing. It will almost certainly turn out better than I imagine. And not writing is not going to help. In fact, not writing will make me feel worse! 

Yeah, ok, I know, totally right. But... sleepiness! Snuggly couch! 

If I start right now, I'll have time to relax afterwards! And then I can really enjoy the relaxing, instead of feeling annoyed and guilty that I didn't write when I had the chance!

Oh fine. Here we go. I suppose we can do a new "I don't want to write" one...

(Fingers clicking.
Brain spinning.
Words flying.

See, that wasn't so bad, right? Actually pretty fun? And how about this proud, STRONG feeling?!

That's what I don't want to forget.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
Tight shoulders, gritted teeth, buzzing brain. I slam my laptop shut with a little extra oomph and shove it into my bag, barely noticing the usually-calming texture of my case and decals. That email, rrrRRRR, seriously?!... I didn't get to write my plans on the board and tomorrow morning is collaboration time... Have to get those book reviews graded in time for the kids to make corrections... and grade those projects... Still haven't responded to that other email... So much to... "Ma-ma-ma!"

Little Sweetie tugs at my pants leg, peering up half-sideways with her signature grin. "Ok, are you ready to go buh-bye with Mommy? Let's go have some fun!" I take a deep breath, pick up my bag, and grab her warm little hand. Her tiny fingers cling to mine, and those once-pressing thoughts drift away like fog in sunshine. Her neon pink shoes patter on the tile beside me, stopping periodically to investigate open doorways, lockers, and fascinating spots on the floor.

"Are you ready to go to the zzzzzzzoo, since Meemaw had to drop you off early?" She stops, flips her eyes wide open, and does her best fish-mouth. "That's right! We can see the fishies!" I giggle, and she continues with her famous extended version of her favorite word: "Tur-tur-tle-tle!"

"Yeah, and the turtles! We can see the fishies and turtles at the zoo!" The language teacher in me is in constant awe of how huge her receptive vocabulary already is, especially now that she is really starting to be able to produce a wider range of words and gestures to communicate her understanding.

By the time we're driving up the road with the windows cracked and sunlight streaming through the moon roof, my shoulders have loosened and my jaw hangs in an easy smile. As we walk up to the distinctive yellow entrance with its towering sign, my mind empties and opens to take in all the zoo joy that awaits:

rich, creamy Black Cherry ice cream in a crisp waffle cone, and Sweetie's hysterical puckered face each time I give her a lick...

her spindly legs bouncing as she crouches to peep through the barn slats at the goats, stretching her little hand out to pet any that come close enough...

she sticks out her tongue and pants heavily (her signal for "dog") as the black bear waddles right up to the glass in its newly redesigned enclosure...

"Beehhhh!" she shrieks when we approach the polar bear, who lazily lounges by his pool...

her tiny finger curls and straightens at each new habitat, then her little hand opens into a floppy wave as I name each animal for her...

her toothy grin as she pats, then slaps, then hugs the baby polar bear statue on the arctic playground...

she toddles up to the small blue slides, unsteadily sets herself down at the top, slowly hangs her legs down, grins, sticks her tongue out, and slides herself down like a very big girl, no longer needing Mommy to hold her like she did this summer...

and, best of all, her squealing, cackling, shrieking windmill of writhing legs and flailing arms each time the cougar paces past her, the beaver dives in front of her, or a flock of sparrows flutters by us on the path.

Pure delight. So much joy. The perfect reset to my day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Joy, love, and strength

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Let's watch Mommy now!" The little blonde girl tugs at her toddling brother's hand as their mom lines up in the lane beside me. "Ok honey," her husband mutters in her ear, "let's see what you've got left: one more lap!" She takes off like a tightly coiled spring let loose: smooth and powerful.

She doesn't look like a mom. She looks like a runner.

I'm halfway through my run, and this family has been my adorable entertainment since I got to the track. I've seen both parents run serious laps, the dad run with the little girl, the mom push the toddler in the jogging stroller, the boy toddle along beside the mom, and both kids run/toddle behind the dad. Together, they absolutely exude joy, love, and strength.

"Go, Mommy, go!" Over my shoulder, the girl and boy are jumping up and down as their mom rounds the last curve. "You can do it! Just a little farther! GO MOMMY!!!"

Little Sweetie is at home in bed, but I hear her little voice in my head and run a little harder. In a few years, that could be her, watching and cheering for me, knowing that her mommy works hard to be strong. Knowing that she is part of a family who treasures joy, love, and strength.

I pound down the straightaway and head into my last two laps, watching Blond Runner Family pack themselves into their SUV. Their giggles fade into the lengthening shadows and the track fills with its usual serenity. I let my mind drift open and absorb everything I love about running outside.

Bright white lines cut cleanly through the soft murkiness of dusk. Tree silhouettes stand like giant heads of broccoli against the fiery brushstrokes of sunset. Crickets and cicadas trill soaring songs that rise and fall against the stillness. A refreshing breeze swishes across my skin, chilling the beaded drops of sweat before they can run into the rivulets of summer. And in my pumping legs and arms, tight muscles strain to learn new strength.

As the shadows threaten to overtake the red rubber entirely, I push my shoulders back and kick it around the last turn. I just have to grin as my legs and arms launch me towards the finish line. Look at me! I've come so far! The unassuming middle school bleachers are empty, but cheers ring in my head. Go Mommy! 

Little Sweetie will be watching, and she will know joy, love, and strength.
She already loves to look up to me!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Science, too!

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
If you would have asked me ten years ago where I'd be today, this would not be it. It's the middle of 6th period, and I'm suddenly having one of those random moments of acute self-awareness, as if I'm floating above myself, watching a scene unfold while also acting in it.

My small group of students is huddled around me on one side of the biology lab: two Muslim boys, a Korean boy, a Chinese girl and boy, and three Muslim girls in hijab. As we work together to scrutinize cell diagrams, I hear myself saying things like, "Remember, cells with a nucleus are eukaryotic..." Look at me, teaching science, haha!

"Ok, 5c: 'Based on your answer to the previous question, what can you infer about the cells without this structure?'... This question wants us to use our answer from 5b to make a guess. We said the flagellum, that little tail, helps the cell move..." If my engineer dad, who can't picture what I do in my science push-ins, walked in here right now and saw me pointing to a cell diagram with one hand while waving my other hand behind my rear end like a little swishing fish tail, he would die laughing... "So what can we guess about the cells that don't have one?"

I like this activity. My kids are getting it! At first glance, I didn't think it would be helpful. Too wordy, too boring, another packet in the Sea of Too Many Worksheets otherwise known as high school. But upon closer inspection, the diagrams were clear and well-labeled, and the questions (once we decoded their academic language together) were carefully targeted to help us closely read the diagrams to learn the most important characteristics of each type of cell.

I seriously love teaching. I feel like skipping down the hallway. We are making such a difference!

Before my colleague and I pushed into content classes, our ELLs spent most of their day drifting, lost, silent. In their own ways, our colleagues were just as lost, feeling like they had no idea what to do with kids who didn't speak English.

Now, I spend two periods of my day in science class, right there to support everyone, and I love it. I love seeing my kids fully engaged with rigorous academic content. I love working with my awesome science colleagues to design and implement more linguistically appropriate activities and assessments to enable that engagement. We still have so much work to do, but I truly believe we are on the right track.

Most of all, I love moments like one of my favorite snapshots from this fall, when a "regular American" freshman, frantically looking for one of my colleagues in the hallway, saw me and exclaimed, "Hey! You're my science teacher, too!"

"That's right! What do you need?" My grin stretched so much wider than his. I'm your science teacher, too!