Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Looking back on love

Tuesday fun at TWT!

2015 was a hard year, a stretch-and-struggle year, and a magical, wonderful, delightful year. Most of all, it was a year where my one little word permeated every slice of my life.

When I chose my word, I already knew that the wiggly little creature I was growing would teach me how to love in an entirely different way... but I still couldn't imagine how deep and wonderful this new love could be until the doctors pulled her out of my belly and held her up, all squirmy and perfect, making little squeaky animal noises. Now I really know what it is to love and be loved.

Love is the soft touch of tiny hands exploring my face, as big, bright eyes gaze up at me in wonder. Love is an open-mouthed smile, panting wriggles, and outstretched arms that greet me with pure joy, whether I've been gone minutes or hours. Love is a delighted cackle at a silly song I made up, and also a sweet snuggle burrowing into my shoulder. 

Love is a reason to leave school earlier, to go for a walk instead of staying stuck on the couch, to decide that those emails or papers can wait for another day because it's so much better to watch those blue eyes crinkle as I wave that toy.

Love is being intentional about taking care of myself so I can be my very best for her. Love is lacing up my tennis shoes, coaxing my fingers to clack across the keyboard, diving into the pages of a book, or simply taking a few moments to stop and breathe in awe of the world around me... even (or especially) when I don't feel like doing any of that. 

Love is learning and reflecting, monitoring how I'm doing and training my brain to ensure that I'm who I want to be. Love is fighting the monsters in my head: worry, fear, doubt... and coming out stronger every day.

Love is adamantly pushing for what's best for my students, even if it's not always popular. Love is sticking firmly to what I believe, even if it's not what has always been done. Love is wiping my sweaty palms, swallowing the lump in my throat, shaking out my tense arms, and standing up for my kids.

Love is listening and caring. Smiles at the doorway, hugs on a rough day, questions that show I remember something they told me last week. Love is always being willing to step into the hallway, beacuse that kid may have waited all day to share her heavy weight in the place where she's most comfortable. Love is handing over a carefully chosen book, saying, "I picked this for you. I think you'll really like it."

Love is showing people they matter. Chocolate on a tough week, a hand-written note, a special quotation, a birthday card, a creative gift, an afternoon together, or even a quick text... just enough to say, "You are special. I'm so glad you're here." Love like this creates ripples of love that stretch far beyond where I'd planned. 

I'm excited to choose a new word for 2016, but I'll make sure to keep choosing love. Every day.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The great puzzle

Tuesday writing fun at TWT!
“Let me think:  was I the same when I got up this morning?  I almost think I can remember feeling a little different.  But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’  Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”
 – Lewis Carroll

This spring, I struggled to imagine what my life would look like with a baby. Could I still be a good teacher? Would I still be able to do the things that make me who I am?

Who, in fact, would I be?

Now, in December, I can hardly believe how far I've come. I'm certainly not the same. I certainly feel different. But I have worked so hard at this "great puzzle" that I've never been more sure of who I am, and that's an incredible feeling.

I am a teacher. I love my students and I pour everything I have into making them better readers, writers, learners, and people. My brain spins with ways to engage them, encourage them, and let them know how much I care.

I am a mom. My days are full of sweet snuggles, slimy hugs, gooey open-mouthed kisses, and smiles bright enough to light the whole world. I can change diapers, store milk, make up silly songs, coax wiggly arms and legs into adorable outfits, turn tears into smiles, do myriad tasks one-handed, and interpret a small creature's feelings from a variety of noises and faces. I love with a depth and ferocity that I never imagined, and I feel more joy and more gratitude every day.

I am a reader and a writer. I dive into worlds of words and those worlds change me for the better. 

I am a spark. I push and inspire others to become better. I am brave enough to leave my comfort zone and fight for what I believe is good and true.

I am both an expert and a learner. I share my unique knowledge and skills with others, but I constantly strive to improve, to wonder, and to keep my curiosity alive.

I am a light. My heart overflows with love, and I make sure I live so that love shines onto others.

I am strong and brave. I am finding ways to balance my life in order to take care of my body, my mind, and my heart. I know this is part of being my best, and I am proud of myself.

I am making a difference.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Best

Tuesday writing fun at Two Writing Teachers!

Wide eyes wondering at the world
corners crinkling with delight

a toothless grin rippling across perfect cheeks
opening so wide it splits my heart with joy

gurgles, buzzes, squealing, panting
flailing arms, twisting wiggles
wordlessly shrieking "Mommy!!!"

tiny hands pat and knead
tiny arms squeeze and snuggle

sweet, pure skin against my cheek
nuzzling into delicate, silky hair

the whole world in my arms

the best way to start and end 
every day



living my one little word!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Tuesday writing fun at Two Writing Teachers!

Thin white lines beckon, stretching out and curving
                                                          and back again
across the expanse of sunset-red-orange rubber.

My feet grip the ground with extra excitement.
My legs tense in anticipation. 
Chin up. Eyes forward. Numbers. Lines. Breathe. Push.


Shoes springing
pound pound
muscles reaching
pound pound
shoulders back
pound pound
mind clear
pound pound
shadows stretch
pound pound
soaring through 
pound pound
cool air
pound pound
breathe breathe breathe breathe.

In the distance, 
getting larger 
and then disappearing
over my shoulder, different masterpieces:

scattered, brilliant blazes of orange, red, yellow
brilliant against a backdrop of greener, more patient friends
all reaching toward a cerulean sky so clear
if I could jump hard enough, I could dive 
right up
and in.

heart pumping 
pound pound
almost there
pound pound
lines and numbers getting closer
pound pound
I can do it
pound pound
keep pushing
pound pound
breathe breathe breathe breathe.

Tensing muscles, filling lungs, extra spring, new life:
Everything I've got.
Kick it.

Feet fly over the numbers.
Gulping air
arms up
walking legs stretch, satisfied.

Nothing left, but everything gained.
Bright eyes, clear mind, energy flowing.

Alive. Strong.
It's been too long. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Across time and space

Tuesday fun at TWT!
Do you remember that President’s Cup ballmark you sent me?

I smile as I swipe the alert to read the rest of Ben’s text. Twenty minutes later, after a flurry of flying words, I’m astonished to see that it’s past my bedtime. “Goodnight! We seriously have to FaceTime soon!” I force myself to set down my phone and roll over, curling up in a content haze of almost thirteen years of sweet memories.

My first season in the OSU Marching Band, I got to march next to this goofy, thoughtful, insightful third-year member. He taught me about band traditions, helped me improve my marching, and showed me how to chase my dreams. Hours on the practice field and in the band room turned into hours of talking on the phone, chatting online, and giggling in restaurants. Because of him, I won the spot awarded to the best marcher in our row. Because of him, I was inspired to switch to a major I loved. Because of him, I am a more reflective, more open-minded, braver person.

And when I look back at my years in college, I play a slideshow of snapshots of him: Ben playfully hitting me with his rolled-up charts, saying, “Silly rookie!” Ben teasing me for excitedly wearing my band letter jacket on a too-warm fall day. Ben bragging about his flashes as we watched gameday videos. Ben hugging me as tears spilled down my face after older band members from another row yelled at me.

Countless drills on the band field as our shadows grew long, striving for perfection. Yelling towards the hospital buildings until our voices echoed back, becoming stronger and braver. Our hearts swelling together at our shared love of the Navy Hymn. Perching on a table beside the piano, in awe of the beautiful music floating from his fingers. Keeping him company at work. Cookouts, dinners, and drives. Challenging philosophical discussions, silly jokes, and caring words of encouragement. Fights and frustration resolved into hugs and smiles.

As we got older and busier, the snapshots got less frequent but just as precious. Posing for goofy pictures at Ryan’s surprise birthday party. Making up a funny song at my birthday about my weird neighbor, who was mowing his grass at 11:00 at night. Email epistles back and forth, especially while I was living in Spain. Discussing how to be an effective squad leader, and later, how to be the best teachers we can be.

When Ben got a teaching job in Virgina, my face smiled for him but my heart shrank. What about the hugs and giggles? The long, thought-provoking discussions? Grilled cheese lunches and lasagna dinners? Marching to impress the guy I most looked up to in the world? His steady but gentle pushes to be better while supporting me as I got there?

Luckily, the invisible rope that ties best friends together can stretch across states without breaking, and it’s easier than ever to stay in touch. We send each other articles and recommend books we know the other would enjoy. We text, Facetime, and talk on the phone, sharing our latest travel adventures, weekend activities, and our teaching joys and challenges. Of course, it's too easy to let life get in the way of communicating as often as we should, but whether it's been days, weeks or months, we pick right up as if we were never apart.

Most people grow up with their brothers. I had to wait until college to meet mine, but I love him just the same.

* I wrote this post as my beginner students were writing about friendship in relation to Chopsticks for the Global Read Aloud. Please feel free to check out their posts and tweet them some comments!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Our new pet

Day 25 of 31 days of writing!
Upon waking up, he chirps a lively little song, excited to begin exploring.

He ventures out from his bed and roams around the room, purring with contentment. Whirring and spinning, he curiously investigates every corner, nook, and crevice. He sidles up to walls, scratching his itches and snuggling. He scouts under the bed, hunts under the dresser, and burrows under the nightstand.

When he finds something to nibble on, he gobbles it down with a cheerful little murmur, making sure to take care of every last morsel.

Eventually, he decides the room has been thoroughly inspected and his belly is satisfied. Wiggling with joy, he eases over to his bed and gently settles himself in, squirming to find just the right position.

Just before he falls asleep, he warbles another cheery song, pleased with his work for the day.

Who is this adorable new pet? Roomby the Roomba, our happy helper!

All snuggled up to his bed, ready to explore some more!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dance Party

Day 24 of 31 days of writing
"Is she having a dance party?" Husband's eyes sparkle as he leans over.

"Allison says maybe she's playing soccer in there!" I giggle. "But I think right now she's crawling around or swimming laps or something..."

"Maybe it's like one of those lap pools that's only as long as a person but has a current so you can swim in one spot!" He grins and raises an eyebrow.

"Yeah, she's so big now! See?" We both burst into laughter as a strange bump suddenly appears and squirms on one side of my belly.

"Oop, and now it's dance party time!" Way down in another spot, some little patters push against my skin. "She loves when her daddy pats her!"

I snuggle my head deeper into Husband's shoulder and we enjoy the show: wriggles, ripples, thumps, and quivers. So many surprises right under our hands.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A new grip

Day 23 of 31 days of writing
I smile as I finish commenting on my students' slices, my heart full, as always, of the new connections we're making.

Opening up my Blogger dashboard, I marvel at my stats, astounded that people continue to view my blog even when I haven't posted in days. Realizing that people have my old blog posts pinned on Pinterest always brings an astonishing wave of encouragement, especially when life has done its best to hinder my writing.

The familiar routine of starting a post is like easing into my favorite pair of pajamas after a long day. Add my tags, think about a title (but leave it blank for now), insert the slicing logo, add my typical caption... Wait, what day is it? The strangeness of having missed so many days this March jars me out of the comfort of my routine. Yikes. The 23rd? I click over to the live view of my blog to check this month's archive. And I've only written 11 posts? I shake off the temptation to be discouraged. Really, 11 posts is pretty good with everything that's been going on lately: testing and sickness, enjoying days off, and giving students quality feedback on their writing.

I take a deep breath and move beyond that caption to figuring out my hook. Playing with words again feels like stretching sore muscles in the morning in the midst of marching band two-a-days: tough, but also satisfying and invigorating.

This is the year of not being perfect, and that's ok. That means this is also the year of not giving up, of teaching myself and my students to refocus on what matters and regroup with resiliency and hope. This is the year of identifying with my struggling students in a whole new way.

This is the year of Hebrews 12:12-13: “So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.  Mark out a straight path for your feet.  Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.”

Today was the first day of the new grading period and the first day back after break: a good day to take a new grip, set my feet where they belong, and help my students do the same.

Monday, March 16, 2015

By my side

Day 16 of 31 days of writing!
"Sorry... I didn't quite make it..." I mumbled my sheepish confession and curled up with my arms on the toilet seat.

"It's okay, honey!" Husband looked at me with wide eyes full of concern, using his sweetest just-for-me voice. He grabbed some paper towels and got to work on the tile floor.

"See, you're going to be such a good dad!" I climbed into bed and snuggled up to him, sighing while he texted my parents to say we wouldn't be able to go out to dinner.

"What flavor of clear Gatorade do you want?" He patted my hair, tucked me in, and made an unplanned run to the store.

All through the long night, he rubbed my back, refilled my water bottle, and kissed my forehead.

After climbing back into bed one time, I couldn't find my fuzzy white bear. "Where's Valentine?"
"Do you want him?" His eyes said that he just wished he could make me feel better.
My head nestled further into his arm with every nod. He sat up, rummaged around in the sheets, and finally, way down by my feet, found the cute bear hugging a heart that he'd gotten me years ago. Tucking Valentine in the perfect snuggling spot under my arm, he patted my head again.

In the midst of the shadowy hours, I put his hand on my rollicking belly, where Baby Girl seemed to be protesting the lack of food and water with her biggest kicks and jabs.
"She wants to know where her nutrition is!"
"She'll be okay, honey! Don't worry!" His hand wrapped around mine as I bent my head toward his shoulder.

And when I woke up, I had to uncurl my stiff fingers from his. That's love.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Not perfect

Day 14 of 31 days of writing!
I almost didn't write this March. This challenge, usually one of my favorite (although certainly always difficult!) times of the year, loomed ahead, daunting and unattainable. Ultimately, I put on my game face and charged in, knowing that I needed to reclaim my writing life.

But when I did, I told myself what I tell my students every March: that even if you don't write every day, you'll end up writing more than you would have otherwise. You'll play with words in new ways, grow as a writer, make new connections, and strengthen old ones. You'll start to see the world in a different way, a writerly way, which means being more thoughtful, more observant, more alive.

For the first week, I was going strong, even through tortuous testing and days I didn't want to write. And then, on Monday, it happened: I just couldn't write. Schoolwork ran right into a band meeting and there was just no time.

Maybe I could write during the meeting, if it got boring? Just a quick slice? I could bring my laptop... no, that would make me feel like I HAD to write. I'd just bring my iPad, and if I wanted to, I could blog on there. Yes, that could work! 

But it was a great meeting, one that I'd hoped to slice about later this week. There was no way I was going to take part of myself away from such important, thoughtful conversations with my band family to blog.

That was it. After three perfect Marches, this year's chance at perfection was over after only 8 days. For a lifelong perfectionist, that was a new, uncomfortable feeling.

But missing one day isn't too bad, right? After all, I'd told myself before I even started that I probably wouldn't make it this year. And while I'd hoped to make it farther than 8 days, now I had an idea for my next slice!

But Tuesday was the last of 10 grueling days of testing. I was so excited to get back to teaching, but I was also absolutely wiped out, overwhelmed with how the testing had interfered with my real work, and discouraged by the fact that I'd only have three days with my students before Spring Break. By the time I got my plans ready, I could barely keep my eyes open.

I'll go home early (anything before 5 is "early" for me), take a nap, and then blog after dinner! I'll be refreshed and ready to write! 

I napped for two hours. Husband made dinner and dragged me out of bed to eat it. While that woke me up a little, I could barely put together a coherent thought, let alone a sentence, and my eyelids were heavy before I'd even been up for an hour. It turns out that skipping a second day is even easier than missing the first.

And while I got myself in gear on Wednesday, the next two days brought more napping, a severe need to get caught up on work, and even giving myself permission to just snuggle up to Husband on the couch and let him hug away the stress of the past few weeks.

Sometimes, letting yourself not be perfect is the most perfect choice of all.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Day 11 of 31 days of writing!
"I missed you!!!" Sparks of life returned to our exhausted eyes this morning as my students and I finally greeted each other in my classroom again.

Through yesterday, 10 of my last 11 school days were consumed with testing. 10 days trapped in silent, barren, unfamiliar rooms. 10 days of standardized directions, ridiculous procedures, and logistical puzzles: interpreters, testing locations, dictionaries, make-ups. 10 days of sub plans, adjusted schedules, and incomplete classes. (Most of my students missed 5-6 days of class at different times over the course of the 10 days. Some are still making up tests the rest of this week.) 10 days of disrupted routines. 10 days of heartbreak at the defeatstrugglefrustration, and stress in my students' solemn faces and hunched bodies.

10 days of just trudging through, fighting to remember what matters.

But finally, this morning, we were back together. Worn out, but together. Together in our cozy little community, closely knit with books, words, hope, trust, and love. Weary, but smiling.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Passing it on

Day 8 of 31 days of writing!
As I slowly shake myself out of a blissful fog, a muffled cacophony rises through the heating vents and up the stairs. Sometimes, it's clanging metal or heavy pounding. Other times, it might be the rhythmic purr of sawing or the soft, gentle cadence of sanding.

For a moment, I think I'm a kid again, nestled in my twin bed while my dad works on some project in the basement. But these sounds are even sweeter now, because they're accompanied by cheerful voices: one teaching, one learning.

"Ok, so it looks like we'll need 8 1x3's, minus whatever I have at home... write down '8-something 1x3's... and those will go over here, then we'll need some metal brackets... write 'metal brackets'..." My dad has an incredible mind for planning projects.

"Well, watching and asking questions is how you learn! I learned most of this from watching Grandpa... here, do you want to try the next one?" From staining and spackling to miter cuts and door installation, Daddy always shows Husband what to do the first time and then lets him try.

For a quirky engineer, my daddy is sure a good teacher!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The cute couple

Day 7 of 31 days of writing!
"Wow, you two have such great smiles! You must be really excited about this!" The customer service lady at Babies 'R Us beams at us.

Husband and I just grin sideways at each other, recalling the multitude of similar remarks we've received from waiters and employees.

Earlier this week, my mom met a lady who lives on our street. As they slowly figured out that she lives across the street from us, she told my mom, "Oh! That cute young couple! Nobody knows them well, but they're so cute!"

On our vacation last summer, countless hotel employees and fellow guests asked us if we were on our honeymoon... and were constantly astonished when we said we were actually about to celebrate our seventh anniversary.

Wherever we go, random strangers comment on our smiles, how happy we are, how cute we are, etc. Colleagues and acquaintances who don't often see us together always make the same observations.

Later, our conversation is always the same: Aren't other people happy when they're doing fun things like eating out or going on trips? Don't other married people still giggle together, look into each other's eyes, nuzzle each other's foreheads, and have special smiles just for each other? Then we laugh about the fact that I've always been famous for my huge, ever-present smile that crinkles up my eyes, but Husband never got comments on his smile until we started dating.

Apparently, our love is special enough that it stands out to everyone, and that's definitely something to smile about.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Las dos voces

Day 6 of 31 days of writing!
Fridays are for Spanish!
No quiero escribir.
Pero no quiero dejar el desafío tan temprano.
Pero estoy cansada.
...o mejor, estoy agotada.
Pero a veces es importante seguir adelante 
aunque sea difícil.
Pero no tengo nada que decir.
Pero así puedo entender y apoyar a mis estudiantes 
cuando les cuesta escribir.
Pero es viernes, y no quiero escribir en español. 
Es más difícil. 
Pero necesito practicar mi español, 
y necesito recordar cómo luchan mis estudiantes 
cuando escriben en inglés.
Pero... no quiero...
¡Uy, pero... vámonos! 
Habrán comentarios simpáticos,
la diversión de jugar con las palabras,
y el sentido de lograr algo importante.

¡Sólo una entrada cortita!
Vale... vámonos.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Words with wings

Day 5 of 31 days of writing!
Emails from colleagues who work in other buildings.
Kind words in the hallway.
Likes, comments, shares, and favorites on social media... from "real-life" friends & colleagues, not just blogging friends.

"I've loved your blog posts this week!"
"So-and-so shared your blog post with me and I loved it!"
"Thank you for writing what I've been feeling about all this testing, but in a way that I never could!"

It's hard to believe that blogging used to be my secret hobby, something I was afraid to share aside from the already-courageous act of pushing that orange "publish" button. Did I really keep my whole first March Challenge a secret from everyone but my husband? Did I really wait nearly two years before starting to share my posts on Facebook, because I wasn't sure what my non-blogging friends would think?

Without living the life of a writer and braving those fears, I wouldn't have remembered how my students feel, and I wouldn't have discovered what I hope they take away from my class:

Real writing takes courage.
Sharing those words takes even more.
But the power in words that are crafted and shared from the heart gives them wings far beyond what you can even dream of.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The heart of what matters

Day 4 of 31 days of writing!
The invisible-but-weighty clouds of testing hang ominously over our heads. Weeks of time consumed with arranging and verifying accommodations, writing sub plans, and watching students either toil resolutely for too many hours or just give up after too few.

How can I be excited to pour out my energy when I don't get to go to class or help my students? I feel like I'm losing myself because I don't get to teach.

How are my students supposed to remember that learning is fun when their days are consumed with overly arduous tests? They're losing the readers and writers they've become.

How will they realize all the progress they've made when they are constantly confronted by overwhelming passages and questions far above their frustration level? They're losing the strength and confidence they've gained.

How can they remember that they are special, unique, valuable people when they are wading through tests that tell them there is one right answer, one acceptable score, one way to become successful? They're losing the sense that they matter.

Those are things that no one should lose. So I printed out Peter Reynolds' wonderful encouragement poster that accompanies his short film, The Testing Camera, shrunk it into small cards, and copied them on colored paper. I got out my PARCC and OGT testing rosters, sat quietly, and thought about each student, one by one. And as I wrote small notes about their kindness, their enthusiasm, their attitudes, and their growth, the testing clouds started to dissipate.

mini-posters on the front, personal notes on the back :-)
I hope my words will bring some reassurance, smiles, and flutters of hope tomorrow morning. I hope they might be held in some hearts the way I still hold the words of some of my teachers.

But no matter what they mean to my students, they've already made a difference. As I wrote, I remembered just how much I love those kids, and that brought me back to the heart of what matters. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to work with these amazing students every day!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Back to life

Day 3 of 31 days of writing!
"Well, you can try again in the summer, in the fall, and next spring, as many times as you need to..." When I walk back into the small room where our intrepid testers are taking a lunch break, they've been asking my colleague what will happen if they fail the tests. Their faces are tired and their bodies are tense. They will spend all day like this for a week... they don't need to spend lunch this way too!

"Aw, but come on, you've been thinking about those tests all day!" From somewhere in the depths of my own fatigue, I muster more enthusiasm than I feel. "This is your chance to relax for a half hour! Get your mind away from those tests! Let's talk about something fun!"

Exhausted half-smiles. Testing all day for days in a row is bad enough. Knowing that these tests, which don't even come close to showing all the progress you've made as you learn English and content at the same time, determine if you'll get to wear a cap and gown like everyone else is a burdensome weight. Being sequestered with your teachers for lunch, unable to speak your language or see your non-testing friends, with the rest of the test still looming over your head, is probably close to most students' definition of pure torture.

"So, what's the best food in the cafeteria?" My worn-out brain is not adept at coming up with encouraging conversation topics, but my sweet students slowly start to talk about their lunches. "Salads! They are healthy and good!" S. declares, and a few other students nod.

"Ooh, good for you!" I grin. "When I was your age, I would have never chosen a salad! I always wanted pop, nachos, candy..." Giggles turn into laughs and eyes begin to sparkle with glints of life again. Suddenly, the little room inside the guidance office is bubbling with conversation.

"How's the baby doing?"
"So how did you decide to be a teacher?"
"What's Idaho like?"
"I was BORN in 1998!"
"I came to Ohio because we had family here."

Finally, my students look like my students again, instead of vacant, downtrodden zombies. Sharing our stories has brought them back to life, and it's done the same for me... until I look over and see D. with his face buried in his hands. "D, are you ok?"

He sighs and lifts his head. "Yeah..." But his face is red and his eyelids are drooping.

"Come on, get up and wiggle around while you can! We have to be awake to go beat that test!" I start to stretch and squirm in silly ways.

A few giggles.

"Tomorrow we should have a lunchtime dance party to get your energy back!" More giggles.
"Yeah, we can do the Chicken Dance!"
"Those guidance counselors and secretaries will look in here and wonder what's happening!" By the time we head out the door to confront the tests again, the whole roomful of students, teachers, and aides is laughing. Together.

When impersonal, challenging mandates drain us, connections bring us back to life.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Day 2 of 31 days of writing!
"Teacher!" one of my new students from Saudi Arabia called me over on the first day of PARCC ELA testing last week. "What does this mean?"

I glanced down at the paragraph-long essay prompt inside the red box. "I'm sorry, I can't help you with any of the questions..."

"But I don't understand what I have to do!!!" His punched-out words and panicked eyes pierced me with an accusatory look, as if I were directly responsible for this torture. Gesturing futilely at the cumbersome, cursory word-to-word dictionary on his table, I forced what I hoped was an encouraging smile. "You can try to use your dictionary... just do your best."

About twenty minutes later, one of my Korean beginners raised her hand. My heart sunk when I saw the closed test booklet sitting in her lap. The regular testing time wasn't even over yet, let alone the extended time that my ELLs can (and should) take. "Are you finished? Remember you can take a very long time..." I halfheartedly pointed at her word-to-word dictionary.

Her wide, serious eyes were filled with defeat as she shook her head. "I don't understand."


It was one thing to have my heart break to see my students exhausting themselves for graduation testing, working frantically for entire days all week. It's an entirely different kind of devastation to see them just give up because they can't even access the test questions, let alone complete the tasks that are supposed to show what they know and can do.

Contrary to the beliefs of the PARCC creators, allowing beginner and low intermediate students to have interpreters and translation for a language arts assessment would not invalidate the test constructs. In fact, my graduate classes in foreign language education and TESOL all taught me that reading should be assessed in ways that determine true comprehension of the passage by taking language dependency out of the assessment items: using pictures, nonverbal tasks, and questions in students' first language. And how could anyone possibly show how well they can write if they can't decipher what the prompt is asking them to write about?

The old tests were arduous enough, but at least they attempted to give my students a chance: interpreters, audio CD translations, the use of electronic dictionaries and more robust paper dictionaries. Sadly, the absurd restrictions of PARCC ELA tests do not preserve their validity; they invalidate my students. With the old tests, my students were resolute warriors. This year's freshmen were defeated as soon as they began.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Braving the cold

Day 1 of 31 of the March Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!
Fluffy, feathery snowflakes drift gently through the murky Ohio sky, settling themselves onto windswept drifts and old heaps of shoveled snow.
Do you see the falling flakes? Why is it so hard to capture them in a picture?
In December, the sight of these downy dancers twirling in the air makes me want to run outside, spread my arms wide, and stick my tongue out. But in March, the same sight just makes me want to hunker down and hide. Especially this March.

This school year, there have been lots of reasons to hunker down and hide. Betrayal of my band family by my once-beloved university, tough classes, more students with unique issues to problem-solve, a vast increase in new students to assess and place... and of course, a bigger-than-ever gauntlet of standardized tests with old and new ways to torture my sweet students.

Oh, and there's also that small human growing inside me, bringing plenty of cuteness and joy but also plenty of worries, challenges, and her own whole to-do list.

So it would be easy to hunker down and hide, easy to make excuses, easy to decide not to write. And often, I have. My Tuesdays have been too empty of writing and too full of hunkering down. When I thought ahead to March this year, I felt too much apprehension and not enough excitement.

But being a writer is not only central to my identity, but essential to my teaching. Lately, I've been feeling lost trying to teach writing without living it. I've known I need to get my writer self back.

And as March got closer, special memories of the past three Marches drifted into my mind:

  • Joy that every day would carry the excitement of Tuesday connections: dipping into digital friends' lives, being inspired by their thoughts, and being encouraged by their comments. 
  • Thinking like a writer: noticing the small moments, carefully crafting ideas into words, trying to stretch and experiment.
  • Finding the courage to share my blog with "real-life" friends and family members, and discovering that they were just as supportive and excited about my writing as my blogging friends.
  • Inviting students, friends, colleagues, and even my mom to join me in a month of reflection, connections, challenge, celebration, community and growth.
It's time to brave the cold and step back into the world. I can't wait to see what this March will bring!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Seeing the sky

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
Driving home, after another challenging day in the midst of a particularly arduous couple of weeks, I suddenly saw the sky. Really saw it.

I don't know what I had been seeing for the first half of the drive home -- mostly my mental to-do list tumbling over a blur of barren trees and leftover snow. But then I climbed a gentle hill, swung around a quiet bend, noticed the song change on the radio, or just raised my eyes a little higher... and somehow, I noticed the sky.

A soft, gray blend of light like muted watercolors, melting into brilliant streaks of yellow and orange. Light, not darkness. The days are stretching themselves toward spring just as the trees stretch toward the sky. Beauty and hope.

It was like waking up from a dismal dream, and I realized how easy it is to trudge through days with such a narrow focus, just like I had for the first half of my drive. Testing, paperwork, meetings, and mandates. Lists that grow longer instead of shorter. Tasks like tentacles that drag me away from the joy of planning and teaching. And if I manage to get my mind off of all that, worries that flit through my head with the annoying whine of mosquitoes. How will I possibly do all of this next year, when I can barely do it now?

But just like on my drive home, if I raise my eyes and clear my mind, I can see the sky:

A fun lunch group full of positive colleagues who miss me and ask about me when I have to eat at a different time due to testing. Students whose faces light up when they walk into my classroom. That glorious moment of intense silence that means they really don't want to stop when I ask them to come to a stopping place in their books. Poignant, vulnerable words from growing writers who have learned that their stories matter. Former students who stop by to say hi, borrow books, and tell me that they were talking together about what a good mom they think I'll be. Supportive, caring administrators who go out of their way to help and encourage me. Precious friends who listen closely, understand, and show they care with smiles, texts, and gifts of their time. And at home, an incredibly sweet husband who takes care of me in so many big and little ways.

When I chose my one little word for this year, I was mostly thinking about my own actions. But I see that it's just as important to notice all the LOVE that surrounds me: always there, full of beauty and hope, just like the sky.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

One Little Word 2015: Love

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
Except in kindergarten, when I made a New Year's Resolution to stop sucking my thumb, resolutions were never really my thing.

But when the amazing community of teacher-writers at Two Writing Teachers introduced me to the concept of choosing One Little Word for the year, I was immediately intrigued and excited. After all, I love words! And I'm easily overwhelmed. Choosing just one word to guide me through the year seemed manageable and encouraging: one word to center me and help me focus. One beacon, one light, one anchor.

In 2012, I chose to CONNECT more deeply.
In 2013, I filled my year with DELIGHT.
And last year, I strove to be a SPARK.

Those little words took me on incredible journeys. Every year, I'm astonished at just how often my word pops into my daily life.

The word that has found me this year may seem overly simple and obvious, but I believe it's a word we really don't use often enough or in the right ways.

I made this year's visual with the Drawing Desk app. Fun!
This year, I want to fill my life with a focus on LOVE... and I don't mean the sappy romantic kind, but the kind described in 1 Corinthians 16:14 --
"Do everything with love."

So yes, I'll center myself with LOVE for my sweet husband, in little and big ways. I'll savor LOVE for my wonderful parents, who are so much fun. And I'll explore a whole new kind of LOVE for the tiny human being who's miraculously growing inside me!

But I'll also strive to give more LOVE to my precious friends by spending more time with them and showing them how much I appreciate and treasure them.

I'll remind myself to ensure that no matter what else my students take from my classes, they remember that I LOVE them. Their tears, conversations, and writing this fall around our read aloud of One for the Murphys were a wallop right to my heart: kids just want to be loved. Even the big ones. Especially the tough ones. So I'll do my best to make them readers, writers, and thinkers, but I'll also do my best to make sure that in the midst of testing, rigor, grades, and credits, they know, deep down, that they are loved.

And as I wade through the shadows of modern education
that attempt to snatch my attention
from loving those kids,
those friends, and those family members...
and as Husband and I navigate 
the astonishing, breathtaking, 
formidable new path
 that stretches in front of us...

I'll seek to focus on the things I LOVE most:

small moments,
 special connections,
everyday magic.

I can't wait to see where this year of LOVE takes us!