Friday, December 30, 2011

Honest Conversations

My second hour speech class talked a lot. They moved around a lot.  They needed music going all the time.  They demanded my attention--good or bad.  They wanted me to notice them, to talk to them, to like them.  Many of them didn't get those things from other people teachers.

One of our last days of class together, as they put finishing touches on their "Commencement Addresses", some of us got involved in a conversation about teachers and school.  A very honest conversation.

Most of them hate school and can't wait to "get out of here".  They hate homework, boring classes, and lectures. When I asked them when was the last time they liked school, they told me elementary school (except for Mr. Cocky Wrestler, who told me he never liked school).  Their teachers were nice and the work was easy.  According to them, that changes in about fifth grade. In our district, that's the year they begin switching classes and teachers--and evidently, the work gets harder too.

It's the year we begin losing them.

By high school, their school "personalities" are fully formed...

So what did they hate about the high school?  Lectures, the same thing happening day after day after day, paper and pencil work all the time, teachers who write on the board all the time with their back to the class, and teachers who don't care.

What would they like to see their school like?  More hands on classes where the work makes sense, less lecturing, less "homework", teachers who care.

They want connections with teachers.  They want to know their teachers realize that students have lives outside of school. They want teachers who ask about those lives. And, they even want to know about the teacher's life outside of school.

Connections.

I'm not naive enough to believe that simply asking a student about their day is going to make them love school. Going to their game is not going make them A students or raise our test scores. Attending a concert is not going to make them do their homework. None of that is going to change anything--especially if it only happens one time.

When you ask an elementary teacher what they teach,  most say, "I teach ______ graders". When you ask middle school teachers you get a mixed response, but when you ask a high school teacher, 95% of them will say, "I teach ____________ (fill in subject).  When did we forget the most important part of our job?  In defense of high school teachers everywhere, there is always pressure to cover all the curriculum. To prepare our students for the next class in the spectrum.  To make sure they "get it".

My classes make it easier to connect, I know that. In speech, the first three or four speeches are about the students.  Actually, since they choose their own topics, all the speeches are really about them.  I find out many things about students in listening to those speeches.  Creative Writing also gives me opportunities to find out about my students.  Their writer's notebooks, their personal narratives, their poetry and stories, all give me a glimpse into who they are.

But I think all teachers at every level can find ways to connect with the kids in their classes.  It takes some time. It takes some effort. It takes teaching young adults and not curriculum. It takes knowing that in the end, it will be worth it.




Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Favorites: 2011

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The end of 2011 is also bringing to an end my first year blogging.  Although I didn't start Coffee With Chloe until March, I started a different blog elsewhere in January.  Last night I deleted that blog.  It just didn't fit with my blogging life.

As I read through many of my posts, I sometimes wondered how I had the nerve to publish some of them.  They certainly weren't very good. Others I read almost as if I was reading them for the first time--I almost didn't remember writing them.

And then there were the old friends.  The ones I loved as I was writing them. And, I think that love shows in the writing of them.  I always preach to kids to write what they love--I guess that goes for me too!

So, here they are, from the early ones to the latest ones. My favorites posts of this past year. Not necessarily the most popular--but the posts that I loved writing.


  1. Puppy Kisses  The first, the scariest.  I introduced Chloe and myself to a whole new world.  I'll never forget clicking "publish" for the first time and then figuring out how to link this post to the TWT site.  It amazes me I was that brave!
  2. Look Gramma, It's a Princess  I write many posts about the grandkids.  This story is a particular favorite. I still remember that day vividly.  I don't know that I did it justice with my words, but for me it was important to record the memory.
  3. Dance With the Red Dog  Another Chloe post.  I like this one because it gives readers a glimpse into my mornings.  This is a dance I perform daily.
  4. Goat Dog  I wrote a lot about Chloe at the beginning of this blog.  She is a constant source of inspiration.  
  5. Lake of the Spirit  "The Lake" is another favorite topic of mine.  This piece shares why. Also, it's the first time Alan Wright commented on a post of mine. I admire his blog so much so this seemed like a milestone!
  6. Today I Walk  Funny. This wasn't on my list last night, but as I saw the title this morning and I reread it, it made the list.  I miss my dad a lot.  And our school memory walk is something I am proud of since I was on the original committee that started it.  This piece still makes me cry.
  7. Just Read I am passionate about my teaching, my students and reading and writing.  This piece did create great conversation and introduced me to The Book Whisperer.
  8. Flying Books  A moment in my classroom that made a difference to a few kids.  At the end of the semester, a couple of them came and asked me if they could still check out books from my room even if they didn't have me for class next semester.  Now that's success.
  9. Let It Be Me  More than my teaching, I am passionate about my students.  There are always a few I would take home with me if I could.  This piece and the poem Throw Away Kids are about two of my students this year.  Unfortunately, the young lady in this piece has dropped out of school (well, technically, she's being home-schooled). I'm happy to say, the young man from Throw Away Kids and Just Gone is back and with me.    
  10. Time  This post ran through my head so many days that it almost wrote itself.  

So, from Chloe and I, our favorite posts.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Peek Inside: My New Notebook

I started a new writer's notebook last month--my geekiness is showing, isn't it? I love it.  It's actually a notebook that I sent for a year ago and GOT FREE!  A cool free notebook--does life get better than this?


I have found the perfect pens to use when writing in it. The right pen is always an important component in writing in my notebook, It's got to look good...


I've been playing with words in it. I did write a blog draft in it.  I am adding others writing that inspires me.  "Revolution for the Tested" by Kate Messner is one I turn to a lot.

The inside cover of the notebook has a copy of a journal card that my art teacher friend gave me entitled "Introduction".

Introduction
 The last paragraph says,

We have to be willing to be observers.
To listen to leaves blow, to look for rare pennies and
to be anonymous.
Only then will our observations begin to
unfold, as we scribble, attack, write, draw, and scribble some
more until who we are slowly appears like invisible ink and
the pain stops for that split moment...and then we do it
all over again.

I apologize I can't credit this right now. When I get back to school I'll get the name of the journaling set.  It's awesome.  

I've used it with my freshmen and showed them how I add little snippets to it

A place I am comfortable/A place I am uncomfortable



I also copied a form from Angela Maiers that gave me permission to play!

Permission to play
I've stashed some previously written pieces into it. Who knows if they will see the light of day, but they are there.  There's a list of ideas for blog posts, there's a list of things to include in a writer's notebook.
I'm excited to share this with my new classes in January!

So, what's in your writer's notebook?


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Celebrations for the End of the Semester

It's here.  That most wonderful time of the year. Winter Break!  For our district it is also the end of the semester.  We've finished those projects and tests, said good-bye to those we won't have in class next semester, thrown away the trappings of the beginning of the year and are ready to move on.

But before I move on, there are a few things to celebrate:

  • As I listened to my sophomores give their graduation speeches, I was amazed at how much they had all grown.  The skills they have picked up during the course of the semester showed as they stood in front of their classmates.  Even the boys, notorious for their "Slacker Voice", stepped it up for this last speech.  Students who read their speech looked up at us and spoke with enthusiasm. The students who took the time to memorize their speech were phenomenal!  Some of the best speeches ever given.  
  • The reflections written by my creative writing students show that I am on the right track with this class.  I still am not whole class sharing as much as I would like, but they shared amongst their writing groups well.  Most like that they are able to write what they want, when they want.  Most liked that they could start a draft and abandoned it if it wasn't going the way they envisioned.  I laughed as they also wrote that they learned to never throw a draft away because you never knew when you might want to work on it again.  
  • Our new principal is wonderful.  "Bossman" has been in the "line of fire" so to speak since day one.  I am amazed at his resiliency and ability to keep smiling after the semester he has been through.  He is the ultimate professional and treats his staff as such.  It's been a long time since I had an administrator treat me like this.  If you want to try something new, he is all over it. Finding you resources, sending you to observe finding the money.... 
  • The attitudes and behaviors of students in our building are improving--thanks in large part to our principal.  The rules are the rules and they now know if they break them, there are consequences.  Students are learning to respect that.  Many of the graduation speeches in class talked about his arrival and how it was hard to adjust. They all acknowledge this was a change for the better.  He won them over!
And now, on to second semester.  I wonder what surprises it will have in store?




Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thanks for Being Tough


Dear Mrs. Day,
You know how most of my speech was about victory and survival? Well, ironically, I can't believe I survived that! I mean, my speech was better than I had expected, but I would never have DREAMED  I could turn a four- minute speech into one that might just as well have been a perfect 6 minutes long! Thank you SO much for pushing me like you have in this semester! If you had gone any easier on me, my grade would be even worse than it is now (plus I would still be a chicken on the stage today!)

I often feel like I've failed kids. That I haven't done enough for them.  But not this student. The student from the above email, I actually felt like I was picking on him at times.

He's in a wheelchair, you see.  Spina Bifida. My instinct was to coddle him.  But I soon realized, he had had enough of that. And it was his body that was handicapped, not his mind.

In addition to being in a wheelchair, he had also been home-schooled (Don't jump all over me. I have had some excellent students who have been home schooled. But some, including this one, don't have the skills, social and otherwise, needed to "survive" in the school setting).

In talking to Mom at conferences, she appreciated most of the challenges going to high school afforded him. She wanted us to be tough.  And things happened that made me tough with him.  

Fast forward to last Friday morning before school.  It's our annual staff Christmas Breakfast potluck.  We all look forward to it.  Shortly before school starts, I see him sitting in his chair outside the library door.  I just know he's looking for me.

"Mrs. Day, I really need more time for my speech.  I haven't got it memorized, it's not long enough. I just need more time to prepare."

It's tempting to just say OK.  But it is clearly written on the assignment handout I give all students that once the order is set for speeches, there is no changing.  And if you skip are really sick the day you are supposed to give your speech, then you go to the end of the list.  Or maybe, you just receive a zero. Depends on the case.

His case is this.  Once he has a computer in his hand, it gets all of his attention. He hears nothing--not people talking around him, not bells, not directions.  And even though somewhere in his backpack is a sheet entitled "Commencement Address" filled with all the important information one would need to complete this final speech, he doesn't remember this. Or if he does, like all students, he thinks he is the exception to the rule.

I explain all this to him.  Again.  (he also accidentally deleted his speech once during the time we were working on it)

"Go down to my room and go over the speech. You are giving it today. It might be short, it might not be memorized. But it is not fair to the people behind you on the list for you to get more time.  It is now or never."

"Fine," he snapped as he rolled down to my room.

By the time class started and a few others presented, he was ready.  And you know what?  It was quite good.  A little short. Not memorized.  But good.  And as you can see by the email at the beginning of this post, he learned more than just how to give a graduation speech.



SIlly Snippet Slices

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Ok. So this last week has been crazy busy.  You all know what I mean.  The end of the semester craziness of:

  • semester projects (and getting them graded), 
  • tests (and getting them graded), 
  • portfolios (and getting them graded). 
So, frankly, I haven't written since last week. Nope. Haven't even thought about it.  Because on top of all the " of the semester, gotta cram it all in craziness", there's also the "Christmas is coming chaos".  You know:
  • finding the perfect gift (and wrapping it), 
  • baking the cookies (and frosting them),  
  • Christmas cards (scratch that--maybe next year).
So not one word has escaped from my pen.  However, that does not mean I haven't thought about writing.  Here's the list of never written blog posts:
I even took pictures of my notebook!
  • I started a new writer's notebook.  This makes me inexplicably giddy.  It will have a decent start when my new writing classes start in January. I can't wait to show them how I use it.  This notebook is so different from my old (but never forgotten) notebook.  I bet it will fill up faster too. (On a side note--I found graph paper sticky notes while shopping last weekend.  Those excited me also--I love writing notes on graph paper)
  • I'm frustrated with my English 9 class.  New textbook that I don't feel comfortable with is the main cause. It got better as the semester wore on.  I hope to have some time to prepare more over break.  I also feel like my freshmen are really immature--not just socially, but in their reading and writing abilities.  Need to fix that!
  • I'm thinking of tinkering with Creative Writing again.  Sharing is still an issue, but I noticed that my students broke themselves into groups naturally and shared through that.  Ruth's post on crit groups  has me thinking.  It's a much more comfortable way for students to share.  
  • I revisited my New School Year Resolutions.  Checked off The Book Whisperer. She and I really do think alike. I have created a new web site for English 9 (oh, did I mention in the craziness I took an online class on Google Apps?).  It's finished for class, but I will definitely be working on improving it for the kids.
  • A student THANKED me for being tough on him.  And trust me, that is a story in itself.
  • I continue reciting my quotes when things get rough: Attributed to Buddha, the first is Life is so very difficult. How can we be anything but kind? The other quote that I used as a mantra last summer and will continue to use throughout the year, You must be the change you want to see in the world. Mahatma Ghandi. 
Whew!  I really can't go a week without writing again!  There's more, but I really have to stop and get ready for school.  Semester tests start today!  Yippee!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Elf on the Shelf

Thirty years ago an elf made an appearance at our house. He didn't look quite as fresh and new as this one. Especially as the years went by. Playing with two young boys tends to take a toll on an elf. But, even with all the abuse he took,  he was an annual visitor to our home.

Elf generally made his appearance on December 1st.  All of a sudden, he would just appear somewhere in the house.  We've never had a fireplace, so we knew he didn't come down the chimney,  We lived in  small towns and didn't lock the doors much, so I suppose he could have gotten in that way.  However he got in, his arrival was always an annual event.

Elf would spend the month with us, making sure the boys behaved themselves in those crucial days before Christmas.  It was hard to keep track of him because he moved about the house at will. Sometimes he showed up in the playroom to watch the boys at play. Other times he sat in a kitchen window sill to make sure they ate all their supper.  He liked to watch over them at night, so many times he slept in their room.

If the boys had an argument or didn't pick up toys, and sometimes when they were really good,  Elf would disappear for awhile. Never for long, and he always came back, taking up his station on a shelf somewhere in the house.  He liked to come down and play once in awhile, but the older the boys got, the less Elf got to play with them.

Soon, he just sat on a shelf.

Elf continued to make occasional appearances in our house for a few years after the boys were grown and gone. I think he was lonely and bored.  There wasn't much to do without two young boys in the house. And finally, one year, he just didn't show up on the first of December.

I see all the "Elf on the Shelf" books and toys for sale now.  He even has his own Christmas special now.  The Elf is everywhere.   Good for him. Success comes for those who wait....

But somehow, I miss the years when he was just ours.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Morning

Hot coffee
Warm blanket
Paper read
Writing done
Homework Avoided.

A whine
Nose in lap

Put that computer down
Writer's notebook, be gone.

I need some morning hugs.

And it's cold with my new
Haircut
Share the warmth

What?

Another cup of coffee?

I'll just go sleep on the couch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No Gifts With Cords

I am a  "What I Want for Christmas" list maker. My husband is not.  I love to make long wish lists of things I would love to receive. My husband does not. I love getting other people's "What I Want for Christmas" lists. You guessed it--my husband does not.  My philosophy is if you make the list long enough, you won't know what you are getting, but at least it will be something you really will enjoy. My husband believes it takes all the fun out of opening gifts because you already know what you got.

We "argue" about this every year.  It happened again over the weekend as I left a "wish list" of books and music on the kitchen table. Problem was, at the time, there was only one CD on the music list.  Evidently, it the one he was going to buy me.

So don't buy it. Look at the list of 15 or 20 books that are at the top of my book list. I'd rather have those.

Now, I'm sure some of you are thinking I'm being selfish, greedy, materialistic.  Really, I'm not.  Let me tell you a story.

Back when the boys were living at home we always planned a night for our own Christmas before our annual Christmas trip to Mom's.  We'd fix a favorite dinner.  Later settle in the living room  and pass out gifts. The boys were pretty good at finding gifts for mom and dad on limited budgets, always striving for the gift that would mean the most.  We'd take turns opening the gifts, appropriately oohing and ahhing over them.

But there was always one.  One that my dear husband would qualify before I'd even open it.  "Well, this one is kind of for all of us."

The dreaded gift with a cord.

One year it was a toaster we needed. Another year it was a blow dryer.

My question--if it's really for everyone, why is it wrapped and given to me?

Hence, my number 1 gift giving rule for men:  No gifts with cords (unless it specifically listed on the aforementioned Christmas list).

If only I could teach him how to search the Amazon Wish list....

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Special Thank-You "You Matter"


Just had to show off my new "You Matter" picture.  The wonderfully talented Christy Rush-Levine made if for me (she also made herself a new header for her blogs).  Of course, then I had to redesign my blog again to go along with it.

Christy is starting a new blog also for her former students--students who want and need books to read now that they are in high school.  It's called Reading Beyond the Middle. I love that she is going out of her way to make sure they have good book recommendations to keep them reading long after they have left her classroom.

So this week's You Matter goes to Christy for going out of her way to make sure her students know they  matter.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Middle of the Night

3:22am

Ferocious barking coming from the kitchen. Not your " Oh my gosh, I saw a dog (reflection) in the window! Why won't that other dog play with me?" bark. Not "How dare that squirrel, rabbit, stray cat run across my yard!" kind of bark.  This bark was of the "Danger! Danger Will Robinson!" variety (of course, at 3:22 in the morning, all barks could sound like that).

Chloe never barks in the middle of the night.  Never.

I sit straight up in bed and let the sound register in my head.  I walk to the front window and look out. So does Hubby.  A red truck is backing out of our driveway. A red truck I have never seen before.

"Good girl, Chloe,"  I say.  "This is a good time to bark in the house."

She wags her tail and leans against my leg, seeking comfort.

"Did you see that red truck go down the driveway?"

"Yea.  Maybe they were just backing out to turn around."

"No. They were all the way up to the house.  Who would do that?"

"Could it be the weekend paper starting?"

A check of the front door confirms....paper delivered.

We pat Chloe and turn to go back to bed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Time


Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.  ~John Archibald Wheeler



My life is chaotic right now. I'm so tired at the end of the week, I can hardly wait for bed on Friday night. However, I put all the blame on the clocks in my life.  This is how this morning went as I tried to make it to school on time for a 7:30am rehearsal (anytime kids are willing to rehearse at 7:30, I am going to be there!).

  • got up, according to my bedroom clock, at 6:14am (never mind that my dear hubby sets his clock 15 minutes ahead. So that clock is at 6:34!)
  • walked downstairs and it was 6:21am  (I'm slow in the morning, but not that slow!) Start coffee and take a shower.  6:34 when I head to the living room, according to the clock on the stove--the one on the wall actually tells me it's 6:36
  • After checking email, Facebook, Twitter, and drinking a cup of coffee while watching the morning news, I left the living room at 7:04am and walked to the bathroom to dry my hair--arrived there at 7:07 (again, not that slow).
  • Got ready to leave the house. Kitchen clock said 7:21
  • Started car. Clock said 7:17 (Oooo, I'm speeding up!)
  • On school street the sign outside said 7:21(still good!  I'll make it on time. Understand I only live five blocks from school. I should make it on time.)
  • Walked into school building. One cafeteria clock said 7:28 the other said 7:31 (really--I don't walk that slow!) 
  • Office clock says 7:29
  • First hallway clock I pass says 7:30
  • Turn the corner to my room. Clock in my hallway--8:36!!!!!!  Arrrrgggghhhhh.
Really--I'm not making this stuff up.  I need to get my clocks together!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Back Row Kids

The view from my desk
Since last Tuesday, I've been contemplating a post called "The Front Row" on Otter Landing's blog. I keep thinking about those back row kids. It's hard for me you see, because I don't have a back row.  I don't like to let kids hide.

Right now, my desks are arranged in rows (I change my room arrangement a lot). So, I often teach from the back of the room.  That way, the back is the front and the front is the back.  Those front row kids stay engaged because they want to be the ones to tell you the answers, but the back row kids are now in the front and they can't hide.  

My desk is at the side of the room so that when I mix up the desks into little pods of three or four, the side is the front and the front and back are now the sides.  Confused?  So are the kids sometimes, but no one gets to hide.

I have also been a back row hider myself at times.  I have been known to have my desk in the back. That really confuses the hiders in the back row, because now they are sitting beside the teacher. You can't hide when you are beside her!

I think that often the back row kids aren't really hiding. They are waiting, daring challenging you to create something so engaging that they have to come out of hiding.  They want you to make them come out  and participate. Make it worth their while.

I also believe that the back row hiders want to see if you care enough to connect with them or if you only concerned with getting through curriculum. So make those connections.

Talk to them outside of class--and not about school. Ask about their game the night before, how rehearsal is going, did they get a deer over the weekend, how their race went.  And sometimes, go beyond the obvious. When NASCAR driver Dan Wheldon was killed back in October, I asked a young race car driver if it scared him to race after accidents like that. I got a great lesson in the difference in NASCAR and modified racing and why that kind of accident wouldn't happen in his races.  But, he knew I had been thinking about him and cared.

Soon, the back row will come to you. They'll let you know about their game, their rehearsal, they'll bring you a picture of that deer.

And, once they come to you, you've got them. Now, you can sneak a little learning in on them. You see, back row kids don't really like to be preached to, lectured, or talked at. They want to do things. They want to be active. Personally, I try not to talk for more than 15 minutes, then we move on to an activity of some kind.  
Relate. Talk. Do.
That's my philosophy.

And here's a little secret. It works with the front row kids too.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful

Ever notice how sometimes the blogging ideas seem to dry up and then all of a sudden, you have more than you can possibly write about?  An overabundance of ideas have hit me this week, so the "Things I Am Thankful For" post had to wait until the end of the week.

1. My family:  Although life may not always be perfect, although it may sometimes be a struggle, we have each other and can depend on each other.

2. My friends:  I have the best.  I know that anyone of them, at a moment's notice, would drop what they are doing and come to my side if I really needed them.  And that's the most you can ask for.

3. My students: All of them, even the naughty ones, have made me a better teacher, a better person. And it because of them that I look forward to going to work every day.

4. My blogging friends: And that's what you are, you know. Although we have never met face to face, I feel like I know you.  You have made this new adventure of mine take off and for that, I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Turkey Day

It was my first Thanksgiving away from home.  We had always managed to go home before, but this year, it just wasn't going to happen.  We had moved further away and my husband had to work on Friday.  A one day trip just wasn't in the cards.  We were going to try it on our own.  My dad and grandpa said they would come up, so at least we would have some family with us.  But neither Greg nor I had ever cooked a turkey--that was the grown-up's job.  Guess we were the grown-ups now!

The boys were small. Josh had just turned one and was beginning to talk. Mitch would turn six in a couple of weeks.  Greg worked for days getting Josh to say "Happy Turkey Day" so that when Dad and Grandpa came he could say it to them.

Greg was in the kitchen, getting the turkey ready for the oven. The boys were with him, watching everything he was doing. He was digging inside, grabbing the bag of innards out. Evidently, the turkey was still pretty frosty on the inside.

"Dang, that turkey's cold!"

"No cold," Josh's  little voice piped up. "Turkey happy!"

So Happy Turkey Day to all.  Make many happy memories.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful Memories

I never planned on living in my hometown forever.  Always knew that I would move away and start my life somewhere else (even though it ended up only three hours away). But I never considered what that really meant.

Kids sick and needed to miss a day of school?  My friends called their moms, sisters or mother-in-law. Me, I had to stay home.

Family member with a serious illness?  You can't just jump in the car and drive across town to the hospital to visit or stop by to see how everything's going.

Holidays?  Takes some planning.

And then we met Tom and Brenda.  Well, actually, Tom and I met first when we were Cub Scout leaders together, but it wasn't long before the four of us became close friends. Thanksgiving became our holiday because we couldn't spend it with family for a variety of reasons.  For 20+ years we have spent this holiday together.  Our kids have grown up celebrating with this other part of our family. And obviously, there are many, many memories.

The kids "painted" the turkeys for several years when we cooked them on rotisseries.  It was their job to keep them painted with the melted butter. Those were the years we also did "turkey updates" with the camcorder--news reports that recorded the day for posterity!

The kids went sledding some years and played football and rode bikes in others.

I had to take one of ours to the ER the day after one year to make sure that the football injury wasn't more serious than what I thought.

Some years it was just our two families. But many times we had other "homeless" friends, those who needed a friendly place to spend the holiday. Sometimes friends just stopped by to join in the fun. The only rule was, you brought a dish to share that was important to your Thanksgiving memories. One year, when Tom and Brenda's oldest was home from college, he brought foreign exchange students to join us. Sushi was one of our side dishes that year.

Our sons and their families have their own plans this year. Tom and Brenda moved a couple of hours away two years ago, so my husband and I are driving there Thursday morning. Friends and family will join us. We'll cook too much food, laugh over old memories and make some new ones.  We'll play cards and watch football. Some will head out Friday morning for Black Friday deals. And as always, we'll be thankful for friends who have become family.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Author To Be is Published!

I wrote about my "author-to-be" back in August. She, of the bangs in her face and disheveled clothes. She, who constantly wanders around with her nose in a book. She, who is writing, always writing.

She asked me a month or so after that post if I would let her take "Creative Writing 2" as an independent study.  There really isn't a number 2 for this class, she just wants to write.  So I said yes (unbelievably, a few more have asked!).  She can't wait. I hope her enthusiasm for writing carries over to the others in the class!

She met me at the door Monday morning, bouncing with excitement--and I do mean bouncing. Hardly able to contain herself, she skipped and tripped over to meet me.

"Mrs. Day, I could hardly wait to show you this.  I'm so excited and it's all because of you."

I'm trying to think what I could have done to elicit this much enthusiasm.

"Really, it's all because of you. Look!"

And she pulls out several sheets of well-worn paper from the envelope in her pocket. It's obvious that these papers have been shared and read many times in the course of a few days.  She smoothes one out and then shows it to me.

"Look!  Look!  One of  my poems is being published in a book! It's my 'I Am" poem. The one you made me keep working on and adding stuff to. Look!  Here it is. It's all because of you!"

But it isn't all because of me. It's because of her. It's because she never gives up on a piece of writing. It's because she found a contest to enter her poem in. It's because she believes in herself.

"Allie," I say, "I am so proud of you."  And I truly am.


My Favorite Holiday




Thanksgiving. Plain and simple. It's my favorite holiday. There are no expectations except to be thankful for your life.  How much better can a holiday be. Great food and thankful.

For me, Thanksgiving is peaceful. There is no running around buying presents or decorating.  It's the calm before the storm, so to speak.  Growing up, it was always a family holiday, spent with my mom's family.  I remember waking up to wonderful smells on Thanksgiving morning (my favorite smell--the celery and onions sauteing butter.). Mom was always a bit frantic, trying to get as much done as possible before the family arrived. After breakfast, it was time to help and I was always in charge of three things:
         
1. Put together the relish tray: cleaning the green onions (I still don't know why anyone eats them!); filling the celery with some kind of cheese spread or peanut butter; cleaning and peeling radishes and carrots.  I remember when I was in seventh grade I learned how to make radish roses. I spent forever making them so the relish tray would look nice. No one noticed and I never made them again.

2. I wish I had a dollar for every potato I peeled for a holiday meal.  To this day, I hate peeling potatoes. I always thought one of my younger sisters would grow into the job, but I don't think they ever did...even when I complained. I'm sure I'll hear from them when they read this and they'll tell me everything they did for the holiday  meals.

3. Getting down the "good china" and setting the adult table for dinner. I didn't always get to sit at the adult table, but I got to set it! One of my uncles brought the china back for Mom when he was stationed in Germany. It's beautiful and I love it.  It goes to me when Mom passes away, but I don't know if I will ever use it.  Maybe. We'll see.  I haven't grown into a very fancy person.

One of my favorite memories from those years is of my maternal grandfather.  The women would be in the kitchen, mashing potatoes, stirring gravy, checking the sweet potatoes, and he would sit in the corner of the kitchen, always in the way.  Mom said he was sneaking a shot out of the liquor closet when he sat there, because Grandma would only let him have a beer or two.  All I know is that now, whenever someone is just standing around in the kitchen and getting in the way, we call them Grandpa Ellifritz...and smile.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What to Write, What to Write

5:30am. I awake like I do every Tuesday morning (my body just seems to know it is Slice of Life Tuesday!). Chloe greets me with morning hugs and kisses, I start the coffee and sit down to write.

Nothing.

Really. Nothing.

I couldn't think of a thing to write about today.  And then I started reading other blog posts. And I met with my writing group. And the ideas began to flow.

So now I have a long list of ideas and I can't pick just one.  So here's the list--watch for upcoming posts:

1. Linda at TeacherDance wrote about her beautiful granddaughter and what a "nice" baby she is.  And that moved her thinking to the nice kids in class who sometimes get the short end of the stick when we teach.  Thoughts to ponder. Even though I am always an advocate for the "bad boy", there's truth to this.

2. Christy at Living posted about her school being in the news for a bullying incident and how the news stated that the school did nothing about it.  Always the bad news about what happens in school. She went on to share a very nice thing that someone at her school did.  Much better news for me.

I've avoided writing about an incident at our school and the way it was handled in the press and community. But maybe now is the time.  I don't know. But I know it's definitely time for some good news!

3. Ruth and Stacey both brought tears to my eyes as they wrote about those little moments with their children.  I really  miss those days with mine. I could start capturing some of those moments in my blog.

4. And as my class of really nice kids work on their presentations for their informative speech and talk about movies they haven't seen (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, anything black and white) I could write about movies and books I think they should read or see (although I really hate that when someone tells me what I should read or see).

OK. So now I have ideas to write about. But now my time is done  :o(

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Things That Go Bump in The Night

A small noise from outside.
One we don't really hear,
but Chloe does.
The start of a growl comes deep from inside her.
A bark.

"What is it?" we ask.

Another noise,
Another growl,
Another bark.

Suddenly she flies.
Not to the door,
Not to the window,
But to my lap.

Is she trying to protect me,
This big, 60 pound ball of fur?

Nope.
Chicken dog needs to be protected
From things that go
Bump in the night.

Friday, November 11, 2011

You Matter: All Vets Everywhere


Veterans Day Pictures, Comments, Images, Graphics
I woke up this morning thinking about them--well, not just them, but all the Veterans I know.  Cousins, nephews, former students, friends. They all matter. But there are two who are special, and I wondered what they were doing today.

I've written about them before. My "adopted sons"--students who through the course of  years I became extremely close to.  Josh, my reading machine, and Daniel, my former speech student; both are young men I am proud to know. But today, Veteran's Day 2011, I want to share my pride. They matter, you see, not just to me, but to all of us. They serve their country proudly.

I walked into the cafeteria for morning duty and looked around. The Veteran's were there in uniform, eating breakfast at a special table set up just for them  They looked so proud in their uniforms. And there he stood in his Army fatigues, filling his tray in the breakfast line with the older Vets. I felt tears welling up as Josh came over and gave me a big hug.

The tears spilled during our Veteran's Day assembly as I watched him, in uniform, sit in front of our junior and senior high school students. Josh said it best when he spoke briefly. "Two years ago, I was sitting where you are, listening to the Vets. Last year I was in Afghanistan. Today, I am proud to stand next to these men up here."

And we are proud of you--both of you--all of you--for serving your country with pride and dignity.

Thank-you.


Another Vet who matters to me is our nephew, Kyle.  He and others have started a company called Oscar Mike, run by and for the benefit of disabled Vets.  Check out their new video and their web site







I AM OSCAR MIKE from OSCAR MIKE on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Tis the Season

Today is our first late start of the winter season and I am basking in the moment. Snuggled up in my blanket, coffee and Chloe at hand, I am just enjoying the unexpected freedom. There are many thing I could be/should be doing. But they will wait until I am ready to face them.

Possibly today, but maybe tomorrow
Really, I promise.
Only don't count on it if it snows
Cause then, all bets are off.
Readying myself for
A crazy
Schedule.
Trying to stay focused on work,
Instead being dragged away by
New
Activity on Facebook and
Twitter.
Imagining a day
Of
Nothing but nonsense.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hard Work

So, this whole NaNoWriMo thing isn't going so well.  Writing 1,667 words a day is HARD WORK! And when you pile that on top of teaching teenagers all day-- reading writing and assessing their learning-there isn't much left of me at the end of the day. Some contest speech practices have started also, and I'm getting ready to start the rest. Oh, and have I mentioned that writing 1,667 words a day is HARD WORK!

I started the month well. The writing flowed, the characters were strolling into my mind and letting me in on their story. Fantastic. And then the reality hit. Oh yeah. I have a job. There were commercials to grade, papers to read, lessons to plan. Oops. On the plus side--if I ever become independently wealthy, writing won't interfere with my work life. But I have a feeling writing 1.667 words a day will still be HARD WORK.

The weekend came. A good time to catch up, right? Nope. Our youngest son and his family came. And who in their right mind would try and write while there is a baby to play with, and first grade to find out about, and who knew all that went on in preschool nowadays. So, I cooked, I played, I rocked. But I didn't write. Not one word.

Not even a blog post. And I missed that.

This morning I will meet again with any students who show up to our NaNoWriMo support group.  Last week we discussed writing platforms, and how writing 1,667 words a day is HARD WORK! We talked about how to find time in our day to accomplish it. We all decided that worrying about daily counts just didn't work for us.  That weekly goals would fit our lives better ( how can I tell them I failed at that too???). And no one shared what they wrote. Too early, I guess.

After all this whining, am I quitting? Nope. The characters are still talking and their story still needs to be told. I'm back to writing in the morning. It seems to be the best time.  If I write before my life starts, I listen to them better. I'm just not going to worry about 1,667 words a day. Or 50,000 words in a month. I won't be a "winner", but I will still be a writer on a journey.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Let the Wild Rumpus Begin

I am officially crazy. In the midst of a crazy school year, with contest speech starting, I am participating in NaNoWriMo.  You've heard about it. That insane challenge to write a 50,000 word novel (about 175 pages) in one month. 30 days.  That's 1,666 words a day.

I didn't mean to. Hadn't planned to. But the whispers in my head haven't gone away. They keep giving me little snippets of life--just enough to keep me interested.  Just enough to make me want to dig up more about them. Just enough questions that need to be answered.

This, and several students are doing it and want me to join them. We are going to meet on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for our own writing group. We'll share successes and failures. Talk about our writing. Give each other pep talks. And I imagine, a little food will be involved.

Just thought I'd warn you, in case you don't hear from me for awhile. I'm taking the plunge and will be drowning in an ocean of words--I hope.

"Let the wild rumpus begin!"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

You Matter Sunday

We've been friends for almost a quarter of a century.  We raised our kids together--everything from diapers to driving. We cheered those kids on through rock bands and basketball teams, high school musicals and college tests, dating to weddings.

We bought lake trailers next door to each other. Learned to golf together (although she is now MUCH better than I am).

We cried and hugged through the deaths of parents and the birth of grandkids. I can't imagine her not in my life.

She is one of the strongest women I know and also one of the best friends. She taught me how to stand up for myself. She got me to go out and have fun and until this year, always rode the roller coaster with me.

She buys me presents she keeps for herself. Or gives them to me early so she doesn't keep them for herself. She always has chocolate stash that she willing shares if I need it.

She keeps treats for the dogs in the area, although her family says she doesn't like dogs.

She shares my love of Bobby Sherman, the Osmands, the Jackson 5 and American Idol.

We know the same "lullabies" and can sing the words.

She cries easily and loves fiercely.

She's my friend and today is her birthday.  We can't be together, but I want her to know how much I love and appreciate her. Today and always.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Little Things

It was a week of big things:  Two nights of conferences, post observation conference, and the commercial project in speech.  How was I going to focus on one little thing like Ruth challenged us to do in her post? Looking at the big things took all of my time!

But this morning as I uploaded pictures from a visit to our oldest son's last weekend, I found myself smiling--at the happy, giggling smiles of our grandkids, the proud smiles of our son as he holds his youngest, Grandpa's smiles as he plays with them all.


How
Can something so small
and perfect
Create such a
Large swell of feeling
Inside me?

How
Can those upturned corners
and sparkling eyes
Melt my heart and
Make my arms ache?

How
Can the giggles that escape
and grab my soul
Still be there
Today?


But those smiles weren't the only ones that I thought about:

Student smiles as they walk into my room, excited to work on the current project. They talk, they giggle, they show me what they've done.

Parents step into my room with such trepidation.  Each one wondering/worrying that I will have something bad to say. Each one hoping I will make a difference in their child's life. Each one smiling as they realize that I truly like their child--even the naughty ones--and will do my best to give them what they need, whatever that may be.

Stepping into my principal's office after conferences for a conference of my own.  My first real evaluation in an extremely long time took place last week. We were meeting for my post-observation conference. His smile and welcoming words put me at ease immediately.

A simple little thing that makes the world a better place....

'smile!' photo (c) 2006, seanbjack - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Of Course, It's Monday!

'monday' photo (c) 2011, Sean MacEntee - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/A typical high school Monday--a little bit of everything and conferences to boot!

The morning went well. Kids worked pretty hard on their commercials. Almost all of my alternative school kids showed up. And someone put apple bars in the lounge.

Life was good.

Until after lunch.

Two groups were working in the hall and in the reading/writing center outside of my room.  Something that goes on most every day. I was in the classroom when I heard a crash/clank.  I went into the hall...

"What?" Surly voice, surly look, defensive posture.  This was not good.

I give my best teacher stare, "What is going on?"

"He called me a c&*^%*%$er," the surly one replies (rather calmly, I might add).

"He laughed at our story," an angry young man on crutches answers, "And then he kicked my crutches!

Dealing with 16-year-old boys for quite a few years, I am not surprised by the language, but I am angry about the crutch kicking!

"I'll see you both at 2:15."

That should end it. Meeting with Mrs. Day after school normally ends a confrontation.

Normally.

The jawing and posturing continue. I don't catch it all because they are mumbling under their breath. All I know is this is escalating at a rate I don't like.

I snap my fingers and point. "With me!" I command, with no room for refusal.

I march them to the office, a place where I hate to dump my problems, but this situation quickly became out of control and I needed to diffuse the situation.

On the bright side, a parent thanked me at conferences last night and said they see a real difference in their child. More confidence, more self-esteem, more enthusiasm for school. And they credit my speech class for a lot of that.

See, Mondays aren't all bad!


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Whispers

'IMG_7030.JPG' photo (c) 2008, David Poe - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
They speak to me at odd times.  Sometimes in the morning during a quiet cup of coffee. Sometimes  while I play outside with Chloe.  Last week, they kept whispering to me during Creative Writing and I just had to put down the papers I was reading and write down their stories.

Will they continue sharing with me?  Do they want the world to know about them?

Or will they continue to just whisper, never fulling revealing who they are?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Harriet the Spy


What a coincidence!  My post yesterday for National Day of Writing credited my love of writing back to when I read the book Harriet the Spy as a child. I wanted to be Harriet. I wrote in my own little notebook as I spied on the world around me.

Then, this morning I am checking my Twitter feed (mrsday75) and a tweet by Sharon Creech caught my eye.  All it said was "Harriet the Spy" and gave a link to the Children's Book Almanac site.  Who knew that on October 21, 1964 Harriet the Spy was published. And somewhat controversially, it seems. Harriet was a new kind of children's character in the '60's.

And, I wasn't the only child to want to be Harriet.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I need to go revisit an old friend's neighborhood!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I Write: National Day of Writing

What I write:
Grocery lists
To-do Lists
Scattered Poetry
Scrapbook journals
Diaries
Journals
Comments to kids
Notes to colleagues
Thank-you notes
Facebook messages
Tweets
Birthday cards

Why I Write:
To keep in touch
To Share
To Learn
To Explore
To Rant
To Create
To Give Encouragement
To Leave a Mark
To Record My History


But really, I write because I always wanted to be Harriet. You remember Harriet...Harriet the Spy ?  After I read that book, my life changed.  I took my little writer's notebook and roamed our neighborhood, spying on the neighbors and writing down what I saw. I wanted to be Harriet.

Eventually, that writer's notebook became a diary. I wrote down inconsequential things that meant nothing to no one. I remember keeping real feelings locked inside and only wrote down what I thought people wrote in diaries.

Mrs. Henke and Creative Writing entered my life in high school and along with her a love of writing poetry (notice I didn't say a love of teaching poetry). My diary became a journal (really--what is the difference if it still is full of the inconsequential), and my writing became the fluff of silly teenage girls everywhere.

With college and an English minor, I wrote as I imagined the great writers wrote. Stuffy. I hated it. And writing left my life for a good long time.

Except, of course, for the annual Christmas letter, which I tried to make as creative as possible.

And, now, I'm back. Writing for me. Writing because I can't imagine not writing. Writing about life so the world (well, mostly the grandkids) knows I was here. Writing so others know I cared.

But, seriously, I write because deep down, I still want to be Harriet!



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thief of Dreams



Inadequacy
Creeps in,
Stealing creativity,
Squashing ideas,
Putting out the fire.

Inadequacy screams,
Better than you have tried and failed.
Inadequacy whispers,
Just shut your door and teach.
Inadequacy writes,
What makes you think you are good enough?


Inadequacy,
The thief of dreams.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's Not the What, It's the Who!

It's 5:00am and I woke early.  Not sure why, but I am.  I was going to post about being evaluated today, but I read blogs and checked Twitter instead.

I reread Christy's Slice of Life from Tuesday again because I love the way she wrote her post about the young man in her classroom. The intro, especially, grabbed my attention and I wanted to use it today as a mentor text with my freshman. But most importantly, she is connecting and making difference in that young man's life.

I read a new blog for me, but one I enjoy, JennM at I Hablo Espanglish. She made an analogy to the starfish story and two students at school.  One she kept from being bullied at lunch, one she helped get her locker fixed. She made a difference in those two lives.

And then Michelle tweeted a post. I generally read anything she tweets about because it's usually good stuff! And it was again this morning. A new blog to follow Justin Stortz at Pursuing Context. Justin comes right out and says the important theme running through these blogs--It's not what we teach, but who!

So, as I go back to looking over my lesson for today, as I make sure my room is in order and the SmartBoard works, as I teach a mini lesson on writing great leads for their personal narratives, I need to remember that the what I am teaching is not the most important thing in the classroom--although it might be the easiest thing to observe and evaluate.

These are


 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living and Learning With Passion

Last week was Demonstration Speech week in my speech classes. I think it's my second favorite speech that students give. With this speech I learn my students' passions.  I learn what gets them excited about life.  Students who may struggle with other speeches shine when they give this one because this is where they live and love. This is something they enjoy.

I took pictures for the yearbook of students presenting their speeches, and wish I had them with me to include. You see, the speeches don't just take place in my classroom. The kids present everywhere. We were in the gym (lots of volleyball speeches), the parking lot (I think I could change my own tire after that one), on the track (learned to throw a shot put and do the long jump), and the back lawn behind the building (I can throw a pretty good spiral now).

Passion.

And then Friday night at the lake, we had a little jam session in the store at the resort:


Here are guys, doing what they love. It might not be their job, but they kept their passion in their life. Some plays gigs on weekends, but they all play for themselves and for the joy it brings to their life.

Passion.

Today, I traveled with four like-minded teacher friends three hours from our hometown to visit another high school. We're observing a new way to teach kids. We'll be observing in classrooms of what I am sure are other like-minded teachers.  We have one thing in common--finding new and better ways to reach students.  We are passionate about our teaching and becoming better at  it.

Passion.

What's yours?