Saturday, March 31, 2012

You Are A Writer! (SOLS 31)

Today is the last day of #slice2012.  This morning, @ruthayers posted her final slice for this month.  I read her words, "Take the time to celebrate and relish the fact that YOU are a writer."  I thought to myself, yes, I Am A Writer.  Thanks Ruth, for that affirmation, and for encouraging us to continue our "writing habits".

Writing habits.  Those 2 words resonated with me.  I started thinking about habits and how they are done often and automatically.   According to Wikipedia, habits are routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously.  Writing daily HAS become routine for me, thanks to this challenge. 

I know that I have become more aware of the stories in my life, "the slices".  Stories that once seemed hidden from me, are up close and personal.  They're in the people I meet, the places I go, the things I see and hear, the experiences I have, the thoughts that enter my mind but used to silently slip away.  They are here, they are there, they are everywhere!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Closed Eyes (SOLS 30)

As my daughter was leaving for the school bus this morning, I reached for her coat to button it.  She looked at me and said, "Mom, you're doing that because you wish I was still little, don't you?"  "Yes, I do."  I admitted.  Then Rachel said, "Remember when I was little, and you read stories to me at bedtime?  I would close my eyes, and tell you to keep reading because even though my eyes were closed I could still hear you."  "Yes, Rachel.  I do remember that."  I said. 

I started thinking about other times when it's appropriate to close our eyes.  Here's my list of those times:
We close our eyes...
  • when we are sleeping.
  • when we are kissing someone.
  • when we are being surprised-someone tells us to close them or someone covers them for us.
  • when we are playing games-my students love playing 7 Up.  Everyone closes their eyes except the 7 that are standing up.
  • when we are watching a scary movie-not through the entire movie, just the scariest scenes.
  • when we are riding a Roller Coaster-especially when going down the really high parts.
  • when we are visualizing something or someone we read about in a book.
  • when we are praying.
Perhaps there are other times when closing our eyes is an appropriate response.  Can you think of any that are not on this list?  Please share.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The End of the Story (SOLS 29)

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes.  I love getting cozy with a good book.  I aways feel a bit of sadness when I finish a really good book.  Sadness, because I love connecting with the characters, and predicting what they will do next. 
There are times when I feel like the end of the book is not the end of the story.  Eventually, I get a new book and the excitement starts all over again.

This year, 13 people are retiring in my building.  They are colleagues, they are friends, they are people I've seen everyday for the past 12 years.  It feels like these colleagues are ending a very important book.  Many have tearfully submitted the necessary paperwork that ensures that this book will come to a close. 

I anticipate that these friends will start new books.  Books that will be just as engaging as the last.  After all, teaching is all about engagement.  They will pursue other interests; travel, reconnect with family in more meaningful ways, become support systems for grandchildren, explore hobbies, start businesses, and begin new careers.  The possibilities are as big as whatever they dare to dream.  The end of this book... is not... the end of the story.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I Struggle (SOLS 28)

I struggle with going to bed at a decent hour.
By decent I mean by 10:00 p.m.

I struggle with getting up at 5:00 a.m. for my morning workout.
Who can function on 5 hours of sleep?
Getting to bed at a decent hour would help tremendously.

I struggle with writing this post.
Too tired to think of something interesting.
Too spent after a day of teaching little ones.

I struggle with the demands of the workday.
So many things to do; self-evaluations, reports, and planning meetings.
All of that in addition to teaching, engaging, planning, assessing, remediating, enriching, differentiating, collaborating, and connecting with parents.

I struggle with getting through this week.
Two more days before I can revel in a much needed spring break.
Three more days of slicing to complete this challenge.

Tomorrow is new day.
A new outlook.
A new plan.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Things First Graders Like To Say or Ask... (SOLS 27)

  • Is it time to go home yet?
  • My mom's ____ years old.
  • Next month is my birthday!
  • The end of the month is my birthday!
  • Next week is my birthday!
  • In two days it's my birthday!
  • Can I have another one?
  • Hey, mom!  I mean Mrs._____ .
  • Can I have a band aid?
  • My fingers hurt from writing so much.
  • Can we have extra recess?
  • Can I turn off the lights?
  • Can I turn on the lights?
  • Can I turn off the lights tomorrow?
  • You're the best teacher I've ever had! (They've only had two and I'm one of them.)
Today's Funny Story:  Today at their music special, they sang a song and the lyrics went, "How do you spell far? F-A-R" and the kids told me they thought the music teacher was saying, "How do you smell fart? F-A-R...oops far not fart." 
They couldn't wait to share that story with me.  You gotta love it.

First grade is a magical year!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Majestic Sun, Mysterious Clouds (SOLS 26)

I photographed this on my drive into work.  I was mesmerized by the beauty that was unfolding before my eyes.

Majestic sun
   Mysterious clouds

Warming the earth as you suspend overhead
   Changing shape as you glide across the morning sky

Majestic sun
   Mysterious clouds

Bright and bold, you command our attention
   White and feathery, you sooth our senses

Majestic sun
   Mysterious clouds

I am mesmerized by your beauty
  I am captivated by your activity

Majestic sun
   Mysterious clouds

I am blessed by
   Your presence.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Forsythia in Bloom (SOLS 25)

Forsythia, Forsythia, Forsythia...

I've been admiring the Forsythia for about a week now.  They were just starting to peek through the leaves on their glorious branches, and today they're in full bloom.  On Friday, I dropped my students off at their art special and to my amazement, the art teacher had a sample of a Forsythia project she was going to make with them.  They we going to make Forsythia out of yellow tissue paper, and glue them to branches in a vase.  I spent the whole week noticing Forsythia everywhere, and my students would be creating that very thing in art.

I started thinking about why I get so excited when the Forsythia start to bloom.  The typical reason is because it's one of the first signs of spring.  When the Forsythia start to bloom, I know spring is around the corner.  Then it occurred to me that it reminds me of my childhood.  When I was little, we had Forsythia bushes in our yard.  I always thought the flowers were bright and beautiful.  I remember spending many spring days making mud pies.  I would use the pans that came with my Easy Bake Oven as a mold.  I would put dirt and water in one of the pans and stir the mixture with a stick as if it were cake batter.  I would turn the concoction upside down onto a surface like our picnic table, and lift the pan away, leaving a perfectly round mud pie.  I would then collect a few Forsythia branches from a nearby bush, and use the delicate flowers to decorate my pies.  The end result would be a masterpiece.  So, when I see the Forsythia in bloom, I think of spring and great childhood memories.  Do kids still do that?  Make mud pies? 

I hope so.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I just spoke to my sister, Kathy.  She just informed me that my 11 month old niece is now walking and talking.  Yes, little Gracie (Grace) is walking and talking.  Grace is my great niece and my sister's first granddaughter.  Last night, Grace was no longer content with holding her Granddad's hand.  Instead, she was anxious to let it go, to take off, and to run!  Not walk, run!  Soon Grace will experience the pain of falling down.  She'll eventually obtain her first boo boo.   When I reminded my sister of that, she became immediately sad and protective.  "Oh no, Grace will have to fall soon." she repeated.

That's when the thought struck me.  Yes, we all have to fall down now and then.  That's how we learn.  We fall down in many different ways, not just physically, but emotionally, socially, professionally, and when we are learning something new.  It's a part of life.  I remember when I was a teenager, I was learning to roller skate backwards.  I could skate forwards, but desperately wanted to skate backwards.  I fell many times, and a lot of those times I fell hard.  People who were watching told me I was going to get hurt.  Of course, I didn't listen.  I'm the kind of person that becomes more determined to do something when people tell me I CAN'T do it.  So, I fell down, but I got back up.  Each time I fell, I got up and kept trying.  Eventually, I learned to skate backwards, and I was pretty good at it.  Ask my sister, Kathy.  She was there, and she'll back me up.

Falling down is not fun.  It's not something we even want to do, but it happens.  What's important is that we get back up.  When my students are learning to read, they have to be willing to take risks.  Sometimes they are more successful using one strategy over another.  They don't stop reading when they make their first attempts or an unsuccessful attempt at applying a strategy.  They may fall down several times in the process.  However, what's important is they get back up, they keep reading and trying.  When my students are problem solving during math exchanges, they make mistakes.  They fall down.  They try solving the problem one way, and when that way doesn't work, they try another way.  So, they get back up.

My sister knows that Gracie is going to fall at some point.  She also knows that Gracie will get back up.  The falling will make her stronger, smarter, and more confident because Gracie will learn how to get back up.  It's okay to fall now and then.  Just make sure you get back up, dust yourself off, and keep trying.  DON'T GIVE UP!

By the way, today (March 24th) is Kathy's birthday.   Happy Birthday, Kathy!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Three Questions (SOLS #23)

One of my favorite picture books is, The Three Questions (Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy) and written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth.  In this book, the three questions are worded slightly differently from the way they appear in Tolstoy's original story.  I thought I would use these three questions as a backdrop for my slice and also to reflect on this challenge.

When is the best time to do things?
Who is the most important one?
What is the right thing to do?

When is the best time to do things?
Everyone knows the answer to this question.  The best time is now.  For many of us "Now" started on March 1, 2012 when this year's Slice of Life Story challenge began.  Initially, we may not have been sure if this was going to be the best time to join this challenge.  But, we knew the time was "now" because we felt deep within, that the time was right.  We may have been nervous, apprehensive, or just plain overwhelmed, but we jumped in with both feet, resolving to do it, committing to give it our best shot.

Who is the most important one?
We all are!  Every person participating in the Slice of Life Challenge has a voice.  Writing styles vary from slicer to slicer.  Yet, every one's stories are of value.  While we think of Ruth and Stacy as our mentors, they seem to think of us as partners on the same writing journey.  Ruth and Stacy write daily slices along with the rest of us.  They identify with our struggles as writers.  I know this because they tell us so when they comment on our posts.  They encourage us just when we seem to need it most.  We may put them on writing pedestals, but they have placed themselves right besides us.  Thank you Ruth and Stacy for your encouragement, motivation, and support.

What is the right thing to do?
The right thing to do is to keep writing.  The right thing to do is to complete this challenge.  The right thing is to keep writing and living writerly lives long after this challenge ends.  The right thing may be something different for each of us.  The right thing is to do all those things you've desired to do with your writing, but until now, didn't have the time, confidence, or motivation to do it.  You have what it takes, and you've had it all along.  Just Do It!  We all have this challenge to thank for opening our minds and hearts to believe it.

What are the old or new possibilities this challenge has opened your heart and mind to?  Please share.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Get It Right (SOLS #22)

My daughter is the typical teenage girl is some ways, yet she is so unlike other teenage daughters in other, good ways.  Rachel is kind, respectful, and affectionate.  She never lashes back with a wicked tongue when I have to reprimand her.  She never ignores me, and she never murmurs huffy inaudible words behind my back.  I hear that other teenagers do that.  I'm so fortunate to have a sweet and sensitive, teenage daughter.  How often do you hear those words used in the same sentence?  Sweet-sensitive-teenager. 

When Rachel goes on a borrowing spree, is when she acts like a typical teenage daughter the most.  She goes into my bedroom and helps herself to whatever she needs.  Everything from socks to nail clippers.  Of course she owns the same items, but there is always a reason for borrowing mine.  When she was about six years old, I noticed that some of my pajama tops would go missing.  When I would ask her about it, she would confess to having borrowed them.  "WHY do you keep taking my pajama tops?  I would ask.  "Because they remind me of you, mom." would be her reply. could I be angry about such a sweet sentiment?

Just last week, I was looking all over the place for an item.  When Rachel told me she had it, I was miffed.  In my anger, I didn't kiss her goodbye.  She acted as if she didn't notice, but I'm sure she did.  I immediately felt ashamed of my behavior.  I would not repeat that behavior again.  No matter what.  Regardless to the circumstance.  Life is way to short, and way to precious to sweat the small things.  Even the small teenage things.

Today's another day.  This time, I'll try to get it right.  My daughter deserves nothing less.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

MY BAG... (SOLS #21)

Tonight, like so many others, my guilt runneth over.

My bag...
Full of books, papers, information, and notes.

My bag...
Heavy, cumbersome, ponderous.

My bag...
Full of good intentions.

My bag....
Comes home with me night, after night, after night.

My bag....
Still sitting in the car.

My bag...
Waiting for me.

To remember...


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Letters No More (SOLS #20)

Writing about a slice of my life was not at the top of my "to do" list this evening.  Perhaps, it's because I've had a long day.  My daughter and I had dentists appointments after work, and I'm finally home and settling in for the night.  Now, what to write?  Writing.  Letters.  When was the last time I wrote (not on the computer) a letter?  It's been so long that I can't even remember.

I do remember writing lots and lots of letters when I was a child.  I must have been around 5th grade.  I used to write letters to a favorite cousin who lived about 30 miles away.  There was no cell phone, Internet, or Skype at that time.  Of course, my parents would never allow me to make a long distance phone call.  I may have rebelled a couple of times, and called my cousin without their knowledge.  If I did, I'm sure I only stayed on the phone a few minutes, otherwise they would certainly have found out.  So, my cousin and I did the next best thing, we wrote letters to each other.  I recall how excited I would be to find a letter in the mail, addressed to me.  I would run to the mailbox, find  the letter, and rip it open.  I probably read those letters over and over.  Then I would sit at my desk and write a letter to her in return.  In my letters, I would answer questions, give her updates, and share secrets.  Not family secrets, I didn't know any of those (none that were interesting enough to write about), but secrets that would be shared between the two of us.  I would send  my letter off, and wait for one in return.  I remember spending an entire summer writing letters to my cousin.

Letter writing seems to be a lost art.  I remember my grandmother writing lots of letters to family and friends who lived far away.  I remember my older sister buying scented stationary to send love letters to her boyfriend.  All of which it seems, is becoming a lost art.  I know that letter writing is still taught in schools.  Yet in the real world, outside of school, how often are kids exposed to the fancy penmanship of a handwritten letter?  Perhaps on occasion.  Maybe not at all.  Don't get me wrong, technology has it's place, and I can barely function when there's a problem with my computers, or there's a power outage, or the $300 bulb on my Smart Board goes out, in my classroom.  However, I feel a bit of sadness at the idea that letter writing may become a thing of the past.  So many boys and girls, will never know the thrill of running to the mailbox in anticipation of a letter   J-u-s-t   F-o-r   T-h-e-m.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sister's Ring (SOLS #19)

This is a fictional piece I've been playing around with.  I'm not sure where I'm going with this story.  I'm not even sure that this is the beginning.  It could very well be somewhere in the middle.  For now, I just want to see where the story takes me.  Thanks for coming along.

They were not twins but she had always dressed them alike.  The older girl was two years older than her younger sister.  She had never really wanted children, yet she had given birth to six of her own.  The two girls were the last of the lot.  There were two older daughters and a son.  The other boy would only grace this world a few months.  It had almost broken her.  But she managed along for the sake of the others.  Being the eldest of nine siblings, she had grown up being nurse mate to her younger sisters and brothers.  That was when she had secretly decided she would never have children.  Why should I? she thought.  Mama is too busy nursing the new baby to worry about any of these.  These meaning the younger siblings she had helped to raise.  They never went to mama when they scraped a knee or had a cough.  They came to me!  Why do I keep going over this in my head.  It's like ancient history now.  "Ma? Why do we have to dress alike?  We're not t w i n s, you know."  the older girl protested.  "I know, but it keeps down confusion."  she said.

She had come to this town at 19.  Just married and far away from home.  She hadn't wanted to marry him.  But they gave her no choice.  They, meaning her parents.  They would rather have her marry a man she didn't love, than to risk the chance of embarrassment.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Dry and Dreamy Days of Writing (SOLS #18)

If you are reading this post, you are reading my 18th Slice of Life story.  "Yay!"  When I began this challenge, I didn't know what I was really in for.  My biggest concern was finding an extra bit of time, in my already too busy life, to write.  Well, so far so good.  I have found the time to write, to read slices written by others, and to comment on at least three other posts written by others who have joined this challenge.  I don't know about you, but for me the story doesn't always come easy.  I call these "dry days".  These are the days when I can't seem to think of anything interesting enough to write about. Every story that comes to mind, seems like a story I've already told.  Sometimes, I attempt one or two story ideas, but abandon them for lack of inspiration or desire to write them.

I also have "dreamy days" for writing.  These are days when the story finds me and the writing comes easy. This happened to me on the third day of the challenge. I was dreaming about people holding hands. When I woke up that morning, I had developed most of the story in my head and excitedly ran to the computer to write it down. I love when this happens and I can't wait to see the story unfold before my eyes.

What I enjoy most of all,  is this writing community.  This is a community where it's safe to share your story, to put yourself out there, or try something new.  In this community, writers are boldly telling their stories and sharing slices of their lives, trying out new craft moves, and inspiring others.  Let's not forget the comments.  The comments that are left on your posts are supportive, encouraging, and compassionate.  It feels like...A Community Of Writing Friends.

I have learned a lot about myself as a writer since I joined the Slice of Life Story challenge.  Most importantly, is how this challenged has impacted my teaching.  I teach first grade students who are just beginning to write and live writerly lives.  As I work with my students during writing workshop, I have a new appreciation for how difficult it can be to get started or to come up with ideas for writing.  So, I started reflecting on the Slice of Life challenge.  What was it that helped me?  It was reading stories that other Slicers had written and the comments that were left on my posts.  I started thinking about writing workshop in my classroom.  I must admit, there are days when we run out of time, and my students don't get a chance to share their writing with classmates.  This was something that I NEEDED to correct.  If reading stories written by other writers in my writing community was important to me, it must be important to my students in our classroom writing community.  I'm happy to say that in my classroom I now make time for sharing stories in the Author's Chair on a daily basis.  I'm not saying I found some extra time, but now I "MAKE" time for sharing our stories.  The benefits are worth it and are listed below:
  • Inspiration:  Students get story ideas by listening to stories written by classmates
  • Audience:  Students enjoy having an audience and sharing their stories
  • Craft Moves:  Students attempt new craft moves they saw boldly used by a classmate
  • Comments:  Students are encouraged and supported by the comments of their classmates
  • Motivation:  Students are motivated to finish pieces so they have something they can share

In my classroom we comment on the stories we hear.  The writer chooses three classmates to share something they liked about their story.  Additionally, they choose three more classmates who have questions about their story.  The questions often help with the revision process.  They remind the writer of details that need to be addressed in their story.  It's similar to what happens during the Slice of Life Story challenge.  The process motivates, encourages, and provides ideas for future writing. 

Positive comments, questions, and demonstrations of new craft moves, help to infuse our writing community with enthusiasm, which encourages writers to continue in the process.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Love Gifts-Straight From the Heart! (SOLS #17)

Have you ever gotten a love gift?  It's a gift from the heart.  The cost is not important.  The size is not important.  The coolness is not important.  Love gifts come in all sizes, colors, shapes, and categories.  The only requirement.....It Must Come From The Heart.

I get several love gifts on a daily basis.  By the end of the week, I have a pile of them.  These love gifts come from my first grade students.  They are sometimes cards, often drawings, and frequently airplanes.  (B.B. is really fond of airplanes and trains.)  Whenever, he makes an airplane for me, he throws in a demonstration for free.  He's always surprised when I say, "But B.B., you forgot to put your name on it. How else will I remember it's from you."  He smiles, and quickly writes his name on his love gift.  Sometimes he remembers on his own and says, "Oh, by the way, I put my name on it for you."  By the end of the month, my counter is running over with love gifts.  Why don't I hang them up? you ask.  Well, I do.  I've run out of both room and wall space.  My office cabinets are covered with these love gifts.  Yes, I have an office in my classroom.  I know, I'm very fortunate in that way.  I love, love, love my office.  I realize they are a rarity, even in my district.  How did I get an office in my classroom?  That explanation could be the topic of another slice.  Thanks for the idea!  Hey, am I talking to myself again?  I do that occasionally :)

These love gifts are so important.  They are not just pieces of paper.  They are tokens of love.  I did the same thing when I was a child.  I recall picking dandelions for my mom and presenting them with pride like they were exotic flowers.  Mom was so nice, accepting them graciously and putting them in water to keep them alive for as long as possible.  Those dandelions were love gifts.  So, I cherish the love gifts I receive from my students.  I know they come from the heart...full of love. 

What love gifts have you gotten lately?

Friday, March 16, 2012

I Need A Band-Aid! (SOLS 16)

My, oh my.  I think I have opened three or four boxes of Band-Aids in the last week.  My first graders can't seem to get enough Band-Aids.  They need one for this, they need one for that.  I can't tell you how many times a day a little one approaches me with an extended finger, showing me a tiny mark that I can barely see.  I've been bombarded with fingers, elbows, ankles, knees, arms, and the list goes on and on.  Mind you, none of these places show one sign of blood.  None the less, they still need a Band-Aid.

It occurred to me that all of us need a Band-Aid from time to time.  After all, Band-aids are for protection.  We place them on cuts to protect them from dirt and germs.  There are lots of things that need protecting.  We protect things that are vulnerable, things that can't protect themselves, and we protect our emotions and feelings.  When it comes to things like feelings, we don't use a literal Band-aid, we use a different kind of Band-Aid.  We protect our feelings with sarcasm, defensiveness, laughter, avoidance, and honesty.

My first graders don't always need Band-Aids to protect their cuts.  Sometimes they need them to feel better on the inside.  A Band-Aid is a relief, a comfort, a soother, a reassurance, it's a "hug" in a tiny strip.  It's a visual reminder that I'm hurt, and an emotional reminder that I have a "hug" on my finger and everything will be okay.

Have you needed any Band-Aids today?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I'm Grateful For... (SOLS #15)

This picture was taken on my drive into work this morning.
As I stopped at a traffic light, I looked up at the sky, and started thinking about some of the things I'm grateful for.

I'm grateful for the morning sky, 
Of streaks of gold,
And sapphire blue.

I'm grateful for the early sounds,
Of Wippoorwills singing,
barely visible among the trees.

I'm grateful for another chance
To make a difference, to teach,
To learn, to discover.

I'm grateful to God,
For family, for friends, for me,
And for the chance, just to be....

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Are You The Pain...or the Great One? (SOLS 14)

Have you ever read a book and felt an immediate connection to the story?  As an elementary school teacher, I read lots and lots of children's books.  One of my favorites is, The Pain and the Great One, by Judy Blume.  I have read this book to both first graders and third graders, and the response is the immediate connection.  In the classroom, we refer to it as making a "text-to-self" connection.  This book is perfect for making those kinds of connections because everyone can relate to the characters.

The Pain and the Great One, is a story about sibling rivalry.  The younger brother is "The Pain" and the older sister is the "Great One".  The Pain is like the typical younger brother; the parents baby him, he annoys his older sister by simply being around and in the way, etc.  The Great One is the typical older sister; she can do things easier and better...she IS older after all, and her parents allow her to do more things.

When I read this book to my students, they always identify with either one character or the other.  Even  kids who have no siblings can relate because they have friends or cousins who remind them of the characters.  My students make comments like, "My brother is just like that." or "My sister is the pain in my family."  I always share how I was the "Great One" and my younger sister was "The Pain". 

When I think about my childhood, and how I thought my sister was such a pain, I have to laugh.  I'm beginning to reconsider our roles.  I think that I was the real "Pain" and my sister was probably the "Great One".  It has nothing to do with being smarter or getting more attention.  My sister was the "Great One" because she has always loved me.  Even when I was BEING a pain, because I THOUGHT, I was the "Great One". 

What's your favorite children's book?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Driving on Automatic (SOLS 13)

You probably don't know this, but I LOVE Starbucks.  I spend so much money there on a weekly basis, that I'm afraid to tally it up.  So I don't.  I just go when the urge hits me and that's at least twice a week.  It's so bad that I spilt my visits between two different locations.  You know you've got it bad when the people who work there recognize you.  One time I decided to go "cold turkey" as a part of a diet I was trying out, so I sent my daughter inside to get herself a White Chocolate Mocha, while I waited in the car.  Guess what happened?  One of the barista's asked, "Where's your mom?"  Being the good daughter that she is, and not wanting to divulge my secret, she responded, "She decided to go off coffee this week."  When he persisted in the reason why, she just said she didn't know.  After returning to the car and relaying the conversation that took place inside, I said, "Next time, just say-SHE'S ON A DIET! OKAY?"  See what I mean about needing to split my visits between two locations?

Anyway, one day I drove to Starbucks with my daughter, and I'm placing our order, but the barista loses her train of thought and forgets to give me change.  She's so embarassed, that I say, "No problem, I do things like that all the time.  It's like when you drive somewhere, but you don't remember doing it or how you got there."  She and the other people nearby laugh and agree that this was something that happens to them too.  I call it Driving on Automatic.

This "Driving on Automatic" phrase got me thinking about my students and their reading.  Many of my first graders are becoming really good readers.  This year, they have been learning and applying various reading strategies.  Our goal is to be able to articulate the strategies that we have been learning.  With this in mind, more and more students are not just learning to read, but they are reading to learn.  I love when my students make that transition, the one from learning to read, to reading to learn.  When this happens, I know they are "Driving on Automatic" or reading on automatic.  They know various strategies and when to use them.  For instance, they might visualize the story by making a mental picture.  Often times, they don't even realize that they did, because they are "Driving on Automatic".   We'll continue to learn and practice different reading strategies, apply them in our independent reading time, articulate them during reading conferences, and we'll continue to, "Drive Read on Automatic" forever more.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Keeping The Faith (SOLS 12)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
                                                                              Hebrews 11:1

About six months ago, I had thyroid surgery.  I had a large nodule on one side of my neck and two smaller ones on the other.  I was very nervous about having the surgery done, but it was something my doctors told me was necessary.  I'm a pretty healthy person.  I watch what I eat, driving my husband crazy because our grocery bills are quite high, since I only eat organic foods.  I work out regularly, at least now I do, and I don't smoke or drink alcohol.  I had never had surgery before, let alone been hospitalized, except to have my daughter and that was 17 years ago.  With that said, I must admit, I was downright afraid.  Yes, this christian woman was fighting fear and Big Time.

All those negative thoughts started running through my head... the "What Ifs".  What if something goes wrong?  What if they find cancer?  What if I lose my voice?  After all, I'm a teacher...I can't teach without a voice.  Then there was THE WORSE THOUGHT OF ALL THOUGHTS.  What if I die...and never return home?  I couldn't bare the thought of leaving my family.  Of my daughter, losing her mom when she needs me so much.  She's only 17 and soon she'll be entering into adulthood.

So, I did the only thing I could do at a time like this.  I Prayed.  I Prayed.  And... I Prayed.  I got out my bible, meditated on a few scriptures, and little by little, the fear left.  This fear that had been gripping my thoughts left, and was replaced by Faith.  The faith that I have in my God.  The faith that has always kept be moving in the right direction.  The faith that gives me hope during difficult times.  The faith that helped me overcome every obstacle that I was ever faced with.

Thankfully, the surgery went well.  I was back in my classroom and teaching a week later, with my voice pretty close to normal.  The most difficult thing was trying to hit those high notes, but my first graders didn't seem to mind.  That's one of the things I love about teaching first graders-their unconditional love.  There was no sign of cancer.  However, the size of one of the nodules was quite large, and it gave my surgeon quite a challenge.  Part of the nodule was slightly visible from the outside, but a large part of it was hidden beneath my collar bone and was beginning to go into my chest.  I don't want to get to graphic here, but simply stress how important it was that I had this surgery done, and how putting it off could have been disastrous.  I thank God for my faith.  It was faith that got me through this fearful time.  My faith saved my life, where fear tried to end it.  Fear is the opposite of faith.  If there is anything that is keeping you from doing what you need to do, work on increasing your faith.  Faith erases fear.  Just.....Keep the Faith!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

May I Introduce Myself? (SOLS 11)

I heard someone say, "Young lady, you should put your coat on before you catch a cold."

 I turned to see a handsome man walking behind me.  "No, way!" I respond.  "I just got over a really bad cold."  He walks over to me and extends his hand.  "May I introduce myself?" There's a short pause.  I reach for his hand, a bit nervously.  "My name is Dennis." he continues.  "It's nice to meet you Dennis, I'm Valerie." I say.

It's February, but the weather is mild and spring like.  He continues to explain that he's been watching me for several weeks and wanted to finally meet me.  We exchange a few more pleasantries, and he walks off.  Meanwhile, my mother has been walking a few feet ahead of us.  When he is far enough away, her excitement bubbles over.  "Wow! Where did he go?  Do you still see him?" she says with a bit too much enthusiasm in her voice.  

I just turned 30 a week ago.  I had been hoping to meet someone nice for about three years now, and I wasn't about to pin all of my hopes on this one single introduction.  "I don't no where he went, mother, and I really don't care."  Suddenly, a black car pulls out of a nearby parking lot.  "It's him!" she says, the excitement having returned to her voice.  "He's looking at you through the rear view mirror." she continues.  And he really was.  Now I'm in for it.  It's going to be a long drive home.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The 3 People I would Invite To Lunch (SOLS #10)

Have you ever thought about the three people you would invite to lunch, if you could invite anyone?  Well, I've thought about this a lot lately, and so far my list remains the same.  The order isn't important, but the reasons for selecting them is.  I would invite, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and my father.

Why Michelle Obama?  I think the First Lady of our country is an exceptional role model.  In my opinion, she is the epitome of elegance, intelligence, and beauty (both inner and outer).  I admire her values, and her commitment to her family.  The First Lady is fighting to end childhood obesity, and she is an advocate for and supporter of, our military families.  I imagine Michelle Obama and I having a lot in common, and after meeting, talking, and laughing together, we would become fast friends.

Why Oprah Winfrey?  I think Oprah Winfrey is one of the most interesting and knowledgeable women of this century.  Oprah Winfrey has an amazing way of connecting with people from all walks of life.  She interviews celebrities and everyday people with both skill and insight.  She has a way of asking the tough questions, that not only inform, but often teach us things.  Additionally, she has a wonderful sense of humor.  I think Oprah and I would be good friends as well.  In case you didn't know, Oprah and Michelle are friends.  So, as you can see, I'm really on to something here.

Why my father?  Well, I've never met Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey.  They're just two people who I find interesting.  My father, on the other hand, was someone I knew.  He passed away when I was in my second year of college.  I knew him from the prespective of my childhood.  However, I never really knew him as an Adult.  He was ill from the time I graduated high school, up until the time that he passed away, which was my sophmore year of college, when I was 20 years old.  I have so many things that I would love to tell him, so many questions that I would love to ask him, and so many hugs that I would love to give him.  I sometimes talk to him even though he is not here.  He is in heaven and I take comfort in the idea that he hears me, even though he can't respond back.  "Daddy, I love you.  I know I haven't told you lately, but I do."

Who are the three people you would invite to lunch?

Friday, March 9, 2012

(SOLS 9) I Remember...

I remember walking barefoot with sand squishing between my toes.

I remember the warmth of the sun on my face, arms, and feet.

I remember Turtle Sundaes on warm evenings.

I remember the morning melodies of the birds singing their sweet songs.

I remember the fog settling over the creek and then disappearing before my eyes.

I remember open windows, fresh air, and the gentle breeze of the day.

I remember fresh corn, green beans, and tomatoes.

I remember picnics, cookouts, and festivals.

I remember long walks, short runs, and just right bike rides.

I remember..... SUMMER!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rachel's Passion - SOLS 8

My daughter, Rachel, is an artist.  Art is Rachel's passion.  Her love for art started when she was very small.  In elementary school she fell in love with drawing.  As a first grader her drawings were very detailed to include buttons on shirts, knobs on dresser drawers, and the twists of her braids. 

By middle school, Rachel was writing and illustrating her stories.  She'd spend hours after school, writing and drawing.  When she was in 7th grade, she contacted a publisher to inquire about how to get one of her stories published.  Imagine my surprise when the publisher returned her call, wanting to talk to us about the book she had written.

Rachel is in high school now.  She still enjoys writing and illustrating her work.  But, what she enjoys most of all is sketching.  She has even created an Art Blog to showcase some of her art.  This week, our school district is holding an art show.  In each building, in grades K-12, the art teachers choose pieces to display in the show.  One of Rachel's drawings was selected again this year.  Rachel is passionate about her drawings.  When Rachel is creating a piece of art, she is her happiest.  What's your passion?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Early Morning Workout: SOLSC #7

The alarm goes off, it's 5:00 a.m.
    Already, feels like I just went to bed.

Wearily, I slip out of bed and tip-toe into the bathroom.
     Okay, I just need to open my eyes.

I change into my workout clothes, grab my bag, and head out the door.
     This isn't so bad,

The roads are quiet, the traffic is light.
     I should be there in 10 minutes.

I park, walk in and up the stairs.
     Wow, I like this.  There's barely anyone here.

I sign-in, put away my coat and bag.
     Where should I start first?

I hop on the treadmill, lift a few weights, and I'm done.
     I need some water.

I grab my coat and purse.
     What time is it?

Out the door I go.
     I should be home in 10 minutes.

It's 6:30 a.m. and I'm home again...ready to begin the rest of my day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wait Your Turn! (SOLSC 6 of 31)

My sister, Kathy is two years younger than myself, but in many ways she has been like an older sister to me.  I make this claim, because she often experiences things before I do.  There have been times when I've wanted to just say, "WAIT YOUR TURN!" 

When we were children, my family attended church faithfully.  We went to a church in our town where my uncle was the minister.  Everyone in my family had a job in the church.  My sister and I sang in the choir.  My father was a deacon, and my mother did all the things that needed to be done behind the scenes.  For several weeks, I had been trying to get up the nerve to get baptised.  One Sunday, as I was contemplating what to do, Kathy walked past me and headed to the alter.  I couldn't believe it!  Instead of saying, "Wait Your Turn!" I marched right down the aisle behind her.  I wasn't going to let my little sister get baptised before I did.  Needless to say, we were both baptised a few weeks later. 

Many years later, when we became young adults, Kathy announced that she was getting married.  My family liked the guy she had been dating, but even I didn't realize that things had gotten so serious, and in my opinion a bit too quickly.  Can you guess what I was thinking?  Well this time I said it to her directly, "WAIT YOUR TURN!"  "Don't you know the older sister is supposed to marry before the younger one does?" .... and her response was, "I can't wait for you."  What could I say to that.  She was right.  How could she wait for me?  I had no desire to marry in the near future and who knew when I would be ready.

Happily, Kathy did marry the following year.  A few months after that she relocated to another state because of her husband's job.  My sister and my best friend ended up living a thousand miles away.  A year or so later they had their first child, my niece.  What about me you ask?  It would be seven years later until I married.  By that time, Kathy would be pregnant with their second child, my nephew.  As it turns out, I would have my only daughter, a couple of years after that. 

Yes, Kathy is my sister, but she is also my friend.  She prayed with me when I finally decided I was ready to meet someone and get married.  She encouraged me when I thought I would never meet that special guy.  After I had my daughter, she advised me when I didn't no what to do.  Although she is my younger sister, she tends to experience milestones before I do.  I cherish her wisdom and her advice.  I no longer needed to say "Wait Your Turn!" but instead she would often reassure me that everything was going to be okay, by reminding me, "Now It's Your Turn."  I love Kathy.  She is my sister, she is my prayer partner, and she is my friend.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Drive-In Delight-Slice 2012: 5 of 31

I spent most of the weekend watching The Godfather Saga on cable.  I must have seen those movies a thousand times.  None the less, whenever I catch it on again, I'm captivated.  I love the story telling and the dialogue.  It's funny how people, including me, quote their favorite lines from the movie.  You have to be a Godfather buff to "get it" when a quote or line from the movie is used.  Some of my favorite lines are, "Going to the mattresses" and "He sleeps with the fishes" and of course, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse".  That line always comes with a change in voice that's low and scratchy.

As a result of all of my "Godfather" watching, I started thinking about Drive-In movies.  When I was little, about 9 or 10 years old, my parents would take my younger sister and I to a Drive-In movie, on a Saturday evening.  Mom, would pop a container of popcorn.  No microwave stuff either, she popped it on top of the stove, in a large pot.  Oh, how I enjoyed watching those kernels explode, puffing up and leaving the lid slightly ajar.  We would load into the car with our pillows, popcorn, and favorite cans of pop.

I'm a huge movie buff.  I really love a good movie.  My favorite thing to do is read a great book and see it translated on the big screen.  Some of my favorites have been, Water For Elephants, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and of course, The Tale of Despereaux.  I'm anxiously awaiting, The Hunger Games.  After reading all three in the series, I can hardly contain my excitement.

My love for books (and movies) are among the things that give me pleasure.  There is nothing like getting lost in a good book.  I love when I continue to think about the characters, long after finishing the book.  This is how I felt about each book in the Hunger Games series. After I finished the first book, I couldn't wait to get to the bookstore to purchase the next.  I read lots of children's books too.  One of my favorites to read aloud is The Tale of Despereaux.  I love changing my voice to fit the characters, like for Despereaux's mother, Antoinette, who is a French mouse.  I really get into the characters. I secretly want to be an actress when I grow up.  I know when my students are hooked on the books I'm reading aloud because, on library day, there's a mad rush to check-out a extra copies.  I want my students to find pleasure and joy in reading find that one book that "Hooks" them to the point of no return.  That's the moment when you know you are a reader and there is nothing that will separate you from a good book.

I've already shared my favorite quotes from, The Godfather.  Below are some quotes from some famous people you may know:

  • There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island. -Walt Disney
  • Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers. -Harry S. Truman
  • A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance. -Lyndon Baines Johnson
  • The whole world opened up to me when I learned to read. -Mary McLeod Bethune
  • The more you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you'll go. -Dr. Seuss

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Holding Hands

When my husband and I first met we held hands a lot.  When my daughter came along we both held her hands, with her in the middle of the two of us.  I still enjoy those moments when we're walking side by side and he slips his hand in mine.  So subtly, so gently, and so unexpectedly.

When my daughter was learning to walk we held her hands to support those first steps.  Later, we would hold her hands to reassure her and ourselves that she was safe.  Even though she's a teenager, we often hold hands in the car.  She IS after all, my Best Big Girl.  Believe me, you won't see this happen in public.  Just between you and me, I don't think she wants anyone to know

When I'm walking with my students in the hallway, a little hand often slips in mine.  This is usually the little one in the front of the line.  Then another decides they want in on the action, and sometimes another.  Once I had a whole group trying to hold my hand at one time.

When my first graders are learning to read, I hold their hands through the process and then I gently let go.  I let go to allow them to try the strategies on their own.  When I read aloud to my students, I'm holding their hands as I model what fluent reading sounds like.  Holding their hands through the reading process is not a crutch, it's a support.

When my students are working on their writing, they hold the hands of other writers through the mentor texts that we use to inspire our writing.  The writers of these texts model organizational choices, inspire ideas, and demonstrate craft moves that we attempt in our own writing.  These writers hold our hands through their books.  It's not a crutch, it's a support. 

Holding hands is such an important gesture.  It provides a scaffold for life and learning.  It's not a crutch, It's a support.  It's often done subtly, gently, and unexpectedly.  How many hands did you hold today?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Gum Balls and Candy Necklaces: Triggering Memories From Childhood

It looks like there's hundreds of them.  Pretty little prizes in cute, little, clear containers. I put in my quarter, and down one goes.  I open the slot and take out my prize.  I start ripping it open, I can hardly wait to see what's inside. I hope it's a ring, I hope, I hope, I hope.   Yes! It's a beautiful, shiny ring.  Just what I was hoping for.

Remember those gumball and prize machines from our childhood?  I remember asking my mom for quarters to get a prize and the thrill of finding  a ring inside of the tiny plastic container.  You would have thought those rings were valuable jewels. So funny... childhood memories.  I wrote this for my Facebook status this morning.  My phone was handy and my computer was at home.  My plan was to use this as the theme for my Slice Of Life Story.

A friend commented, "We won't talk about the candy rings and the candy necklaces..."

My response was, " I loved those candy necklaces!"

A second friend commented, "I remember wearing my candy necklace to bed and waking up with it stuck to me and having candy bead stains all around my neck!"

A third friend commented, "Those machines are how I convinced my daughter that she really should actually do her 3rd grade MEAP tests.  After 1 day of her sitting and not picking up a pencil for 45 minutes and then going home "sick", I told her I'd give her lots of quarters and  drive her around to her favorite "machines" to buy prizes if she actually did the rest of the MEAP tests.  She loved those valuable jewels too, Val!  I was grateful for those machines during her MEAP weeks  that year!"

My response was, "That would have motivated me too.  Ha ha.  We should get Chris (Chris is a teacher in our building who buys pencil machines loaded with holiday pencils that the kiddos love to purchase.) to buy some prize machines for the school.  Our students would love it!"

My daughter loves to hear stories about my childhood.  Sometimes new ones are difficult to conjure up.  Usually, something else triggers one of these stories.  She had asked me about the first boy I liked.  I told her he was in my 3rd grade classroom and had given me one of those rings you get from a gum ball machine.  That's all it took to trigger those childhood memories of those amazingly enticing machines.

I'm starting to get a sense of how difficult it is for my students to conjure up ideas for new stories.  Perhaps they need a trigger too.  We've been using our Topic Grids to effectively come up with new stories.  Yet, it's amazing how one story often triggers another, and another.  Providing students with the opportunity to share their stories with peers is a vital component of our writing community and one I will not take for granted.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Today's Highs and Lows of Teaching

Today I struggled with what to write about for my Slice of Life story.  As I reflected on the day, it occurred to me that I had two stand-out moments that I could write about.  I'm calling them "stand-out" moments because they are the two most memorable moments of my day.

The first moment occurred during math workshop.  I was working with a small group of students on the floor, and periodically checking-in on the other three rotation groups.  Suddenly I hear, "Mrs. Ruckes, you're a good teacher."  Wow! That really made my heart smile.  It was so unexpected, and it came out of nowhere.  It's moments like this that make teaching so wonderful.

The second moment wasn't as pleasant.  It involves making a phone call to a parent regarding a behavior issue.  This is my least favorite thing to do, but also very necessary.  In my building, we have a school wide behavior program.  Students are allowed three reminders in the morning, and three reminders in the afternoon.  With the fourth reminder, they are given a Student Learning Form which is sent home to inform parents of the behavior.  Once a student gets four Student Learning Forms, the teacher is required to make a phone call to the child's home to discuss the situation with the parents.  I dread making these calls.  I  struggle with the fact that too often a parent is called regarding negative behavior, yet are seldom called regarding positive behavior.  Needless to say, I made the call and stated the facts.  The parent was understanding and supportive, yet it's not an enjoyable thing to have to do.

So my Slice of Life is reflecting on Today's Highs and Lows.  I suppose it goes with the territory.  Teaching is a combination of lots of highs and a fair share of lows.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Today I...

Today I…

Today I hugged my teenage daughter before she left for school.

Today I prayed.

Today I laughed with colleagues.

Today I taught children.

Today I tried to make copies in a hurry- which never happens.

Today I was gifted with a bowl of homemade soup for lunch.

Today I was surprised with a kiss on the cheek by one of my first graders.

Today I danced with my kiddos for a brain break.

Today I listened to my daughter share her day.

Today I carried-out dinner without feeling guilty.

Today I hope to get to bed early.