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!"