Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Always a Poet

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
As some of you know, I've been participating in Chris Lehman's TeacherPoets online workshops for the past several weeks. (What?! You missed them?! Don't worry, there's still one left this Saturday, and you can watch all the previous session archives! Trust me, you'll learn a lot!)

In addition to all the learning (and fun!) in each hourly session, I've grown so much by digging deep into my own poetry throughout the week. Chris often tells us, "Poetry lives in revision." I've always been a revise-as-I-write writer, constantly changing my words as soon as I write them down... and then not wanting to look at them ever again once I declare them "finished". Watching Chris go through such detailed revision of his poetry, with multiple complete drafts, made me decide to try more drafts as well, to move beyond "good enough" and push myself to keep looking for better ways to craft a line. The mentor texts we've shared, the "big idea" that focuses each session, and the process of "workshopping" poetry together have made me think more deeply about how to raise the quality of a poem.

So instead of churning out a poem, playing with the words over an hour or a day, and then setting it aside, I've spent over a week crafting, drafting, revising, and tweaking one poem. (I'm planning to write another post about this process and how I brought it into my classroom... but not today!) This poem grew out of a moment from the original poem I wrote in response to Chris' question: "Why Poetry?"

Always a Poet

Blurry red numbers shine,
showing a time most people never see.
Dark shadows sprawl across the floor.
Silence and stillness.

The whole world lies sleeping:
my stuffed animals, cozy in my sheets.
The neighbor's dog, barking only it its dreams.
My parents, far away on their own peaceful island down the hall. 

But not me. 
Words buzz, hum, and dance inside my head.
Sparks fly as they come together.
There's school tomorrow, but my brain is busy now.

I swing my scrawny legs out from their cozy cocoon
and carefully sneak through slanted moonlight,
my familiar room now transformed
into murky mounds and secretive shadows.
The curly carpet tickles my little feet
as I beg the floorboards not to squeak.

I shiver at the smooth coolness of my desk chair
and fumble for the overhead lamp switch.
The sharp click echoes through the still shadows
and a bubble of soft light drapes itself over me.

Peeling back a deliciously smooth blank page,
I let the words tumble out joyfully.

Suddenly I'm soaring, carried high
on waves of words that jump and crash.
My pencil dances, not caring for my smudged hand,
my stiff wrist, my weary eyes, or the minutes ticking by.

Finally, my thoughts rest, content on the page.
Not yet perfect, but preserved.

I gently turn the desk lamp's knob and cringe
at another resounding click.
Without my dome of golden light
and without those buzzing words pinned on a page,
the darkness is deeper
and the silence stiller.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Right out of their mouths

Discover. Play. Build.
with Ruth Ayres!

"How do I know who wrote this post?" A. calls me over in the middle of ELL Resource, gesturing at his phone.

"It should say whose blog it is at the top... Scroll up... See, this is E.'s blog."

"No. Way." He glances over his shoulder at E., who's sitting at a computer but has now turned around upon hearing her name. "She was in my English class last year and she HATED reading!!! Now she loves it!" (They are not in the same English class this year, so he hasn't witnessed her daily excitement about reading growing like I have.)

Behind him, she giggles, nodding.

"It must be because she had you as a teacher!" he declares. Before I can sputter "thank you," he continues. "Because you encourage us so much!" 

I grin. Every time he has to find a new book, A. still insists that he can't find one and he doesn't like reading... but after he flips through a stack of books I've picked out just for him, he always finds one that leaves him spitting constant updates on the plot or characters whenever he walks into my room. He won't declare himself a reader yet, but he's working his way up the road.

I'm still digesting what he said when E. looks up at me with sparkling eyes and blurts out, "You work miracles with reading!!!"

I wish I could scoop the words right out of their mouths and hold onto them, freeze this moment and play it back forever: the pure delight on her face, the way he looks as if he's standing at the open door to a secret club.

"Aw, thanks guys... That's part of why I became a teacher."

My heart is so light I might fly right up into the square ceiling tiles.

Earlier this week I submitted my data for the "student growth" part of my evaluation: two pages of numbers on a spreadsheet. How do I submit this moment?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A few kind words

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
I think I could listen to Chris Lehman talk about poetry all day. The past two Saturdays I've enjoyed taking a break from my usual morning languor to dive deep into poetry with his group of TeacherPoets. Each hour flies by, a flurry of reading, writing, listening, and tweeting. Each hour leaves me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to spark renewed vigor in our writing workshop. Each hour reminds me of the atmosphere of joy and purpose I want to create in my classroom.

Last week, Chris made my day when he tweeted me about my reflection on our first session:

Words are so powerful. Even though he's never met me, he could see my enthusiasm through my writing. And with a short reply, he made my day just as much as he claimed I'd made his.

Then, on Saturday, I almost fell out of the bed (That's right, bed. I won't pretend I'm sitting in a chair at 11:00 on a Saturday!) when this happened:

I couldn't believe it. Right there, in front of everyone, in the midst of all the talking and tweeting and reading and writing, he interjected that I "wrote an awesome blog post" and thanked me for my "energy"!!!

For that minute, I was really special. He noticed who I was. He remembered my post.
I mattered. And I wanted to work even harder. That's the power of a few kind words.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teacher Poets: more than a workshop

at Two Writing Teachers!
Unless we have special plans, weekend mornings at our house slither slowly by. Long after Husband has snuck into the computer room, I relish curling up in the cozy covers. Whether I'm drifting in and out of sleep or playing on my iPad, I'm sure to be snuggled up with a serene smile.

But this Saturday was different. With bright eyes, I hemmed in my cozy nest with supplies: iPad, phone, notebook, pen, printed poem. As glittering sun poured in the window, I nodded and pondered as smooth ink danced across the page. Circling and smiling, marking and noticing, wondering and appreciating.

Listening to Billy Collins "workshop" his own poem sent me into ripples of giggles. This was going to be so much fun!

From deep in the words, I surfaced, peeking at the time on my phone. It was almost time! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! I wiggled with anticipation as I clicked "play" on the livestream Google Hangout on my iPad and propped it against a nearby stuffed animal, then opened Twitter on my phone. #TeacherPoets, here we go!!!

It. Was. Awesome! The immediate glimmer of excitement in Chris Lehman's eyes sparked an exhilarating hour of thinking and sharing, reading and writing, listening and responding. Even though we were all in different states and only 6 people were live on screen, we all seemed to be part of the same room. Somehow, seeing faces and hearing voices made this so much more magical than a regular Twitter chat. Chris' work became real because we could see the flush in his cheeks and the sparks in his eyes. We could watch ideas forming as he pre-wrote and follow his hand as he captured those ideas with careful words. We could hear the tears lurking in his voice and catch them hiding in his eyes as little moments reminded him of the power of writing, teaching, and learning.

Halfway through, Husband came in with a basket of clean clothes and couldn't hold in his sputtering laughter at the sight of me simultaneously watching my iPad, tweeting on my phone, scribbling in my notebook, and referring to the printed poem. "He showed two of my tweets on screen!" I squealed, and then dove back into the nascent poem pieces taking shape in my notebook.

Too soon, the hour was over. My head was spinning with writing ideas, teaching ideas, and that wonderful sizzle that comes from contributing to an inspiring, encouraging community of learners. My notebook and brain were full, my heart was recharged, and I couldn't WAIT for the next session.

That's how I want my students to feel, and now I have new ideas to help us get there.

Friday, April 11, 2014

¿Por qué la poesía?

at Latinaish!
Today is Spanish Friday, so this post is in Spanish! If you don't speak Spanish, you can try out Google Translate, but be prepared for some crazy errors! Computers don't do languages like people do!

Abril es el Mes de la Poesía en los EEUU, y esta semana Chris Lehman nos preguntó: ¿Por qué la poesía?

Hace unas semanas, me chocó leer que la poesía intimida a mi amiga Laura. Wow... pensé. Hay gente que vive sin poemas revoleando por sus cabezas... pobrecitos.

Para ellos dedico un poema hoy, aunque lo escribo también para conocer mejor a la poeta que vive dentro de mi corazón. Todos somos poetas, porque todos somos humanos.

¿Por qué la poesía?

Para mi, la respuesta es bastante sencilla:
porque la poesía soy yo,

y yo soy la poesía.

Vivo en poesía.

Vivo en un mundo de palabras que vuelan y giran,
estirándose para capturar imágenes deliciosas y remolinos de emociones.

Desde que era muy niña, los poemas me han chorreado por la mente:
antorchas radiantes en las sombras nebulosas de la madrugada,
pájaros elegantes bailando en las brisas suaves de la primavera,
chispas centelleantes rebotando en los rayos delicados del sol.

Saboreo las palabras:

A veces flotan y juguetean.
A veces chorrean como un torrente.

Se unan, se entrelazan.
Y me ayudan a ver,
                                        a entender, 
                                                                       a sentir,
                                                                                                a vivir.

En la poesía se encuentra la vida,
y la vida se expresa en poesía.

¿Por qué la poesía?
La poesía es la humanidad.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Unexpected joy

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers
11:20 (near the end of 4th period): Flicker. CLICK. Shudder. Hummm. Flicker. ZAP.


Giggles. Chatter.


Stirring. Wondering. Eyes meeting with incredulous glances.

Ruffled, restless, buzzing anticipation.

11:31 (end of 4th period): Principals appear in the dim doorways, carrying calmness like a gift.
"Go on ahead to your next class, just like normal."
Quizzical looks. Incipient complaints snuffed out before they finish forming.
A smattering of questions.
Strangely quiet people-shapes drift like ghosts through filtered sunlight, navigating new shadows.

11:35-1:00 (5th period & lunch):
Coveting her window, I move into my colleague's room.
"Phew! So glad I didn't bring a microwave lunch today!"
We accomplish a surprising amount of collaborative work, punctuated with brief bursts of "Oh wait, no Internet..." and "We'll Google that when the wireless comes back..." and "Here, I should make a copy of this for you... oh, wait..."

1:02 (beginning of 6th period): In the murky depths of our windowless cave, my smallest class huddles under the too-glaring, too-fake canopy of one brazen emergency light.
"Thank goodness we have a small class!"
"Awwww, man, my phone's dead!"
"This light feels bright."
"I heard we're getting out at 1:15!"
"Can we just do nothing?"
"I heard no such thing. But I have a great book to tell you about!"
Eager ears tune in.

1:10: The secretary comes on the loudspeaker... telling staff that the deadline for submitting grades online has been extended.
Quick gasps, bright eyes... and long sighs.
"I thought she was going to say we could go home!"
"We are NOT going home... now let's get to work!"
Quiet minds settle in.

1:15: The principal comes on the loudspeaker... summoning a student to the office.
Quick gasps, bright eyes... and exasperated exhales.
Re-start. Re-focus.
Big grins. Pencils scratching.

1:25: D. bolts upright in her chair. "My mom just texted me that we're going home at 1:30."
"Ask your mom why she's texting you during class!"
Re-settle. Re-focus.

1:30: A student enters the room, looking for a book.
Quick gasps, bright eyes... and giggles.
"Aw, I thought that was a principal!"
"Yeah, I thought someone was coming in to tell us we could leave!"
"Soooo, annnnywaaaay...  that work we were doing..."
Sheepish smiles. Pencils scratching.

1:37: An assistant principal comes on the loudspeaker... to explain which clubs and sports are canceled and which are still on.
And then he starts listing bus changes.
That's odd... 
"... And you are all... very calmly... DISMISSED!" he declares.
"VERY CALMLY!" I reiterate in the midst of a whirlwind of papers, bags, scurrying arms, and scuttling legs. "Don't forget that today is Tuesday! This would make a great Slice of Life!!!"

1:55 (should be the beginning of 7th period): As I finish checking in with a colleague about some students, my footsteps echo down the shadowy hallway. Not much to do here with no wireless... I gleefully text my parents and husband to brag.

I force myself to focus long enough to gather up the correct work to take home.

And then...

I step into the brilliant sunshine and practically float on the playful breeze.

My cheeks delight in the sunshine that spills in through the open windows and moonroof.

I guess Somebody Up There wanted us to enjoy this gorgeous day.

2:42 (should be the release bell at the end of the day): Rustling wind. Skittering leaves. Swaying branches. Dazzling sun.



Not a bad spot to end the school day, right?!