Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In Reflection, In Celebration

Today is the last day of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  It's been 31 days of writing.  Sometimes the words came effortlessly and sometimes the words were strained.  It's a day for reflections and a day of celebration.

In Reflection

This challenge has helped me to...

  1. identify with the writers I teach.
  2. recognize that I have a few rituals.
  3. push through the dry days to write something worth sharing.
  4. use inspiration from mentors and others.
  5. discover things about my own writing.
  6. explore new techniques and formats.
  7. gain more confidence as a writer.
  8. develop my voice and my writing style.
  9. build my stamina for writing.
  10. use my intuitive nature to write stories I didn't know existed.

In Celebration

This challenge has helped me to...
  1. Grow as a writer.
  2. Improve my practice as a writing teacher.
  3. Write, Write, Write...even when I thought the words were not there!
Thank you to everyone involved in this challenge!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Today I...

I use this format in the beginning of the year with my first grade bloggers.  I decided to use it for today's Slice since I am running out of both time and inspiration.

Today I ...
hugged my pillow a little bit tighter because I did NOT want to get out of bed.
Today I…
smelled fresh coffee brewing in the kitchen since my husband makes it before leaving for work.
Today I…
called my mom on my way to work because she's an early riser and I like checking in with her.
Today I…
missed four of my first graders because they were absent.  The room felt different without them.
Today I
laughed with my first graders because they are always very entertaining.
Today I …
talked and listened.  Hopefully, I did more listening than talking.
Today I…
was hugged, complimented, smiled at, and questioned.  Spencer enjoys asking me lots of questions.
Today I…
felt a gentle breeze move across my face as I waited with my students in the pick-up line.
Today I…
squinted at the sun's brilliance and immediately reached for my sunglasses.
Today I…
called out to a young man who I thought was my nephew, only to find out, it wasn't him.
Today I…
spent way more money at the grocery store than I originally intended.  So, what else is new?
Today I…
am writing my next to last Slice (for this challenge) while dinner is baking in the oven.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Students Need to Connect (Day 29 #SOL15)

It's true that most kids love to tell stories and share what's going on in their lives.  When one of my first graders wears a new pair of shoes, they can't wait to show me.  If they bring a new backpack to school, they can't wait to show me.  When they loose a tooth, they can't wait to show and tell me.  Each day in my first grade classroom we have a Morning Meeting.  Our morning meetings start with greetings.  A small ball is passed from child to child.  Each child greets the person on either side of them as they say, "Good Morning,(insert name)."  After the greetings, we have a lightening round.  During the lightening round you get to share news or information with the class.  The only rule is it must be quick, like lightening.  It cannot be a long, drawn out story.  Lightening is fast.  So our round of stories should move along fairly fast. Of course, you can pass if you have nothing you would like to share.  This is a favorite part of our morning meeting.  We don't hold a lightening round every day, but we always have them on Fridays and Mondays.  The lightening round gives my first graders a chance to tell the stories they can't wait to share.  Sometimes, a little one will approach me saying, "Mrs. Ruckes, guess what?  I went to..."  I will usually say, "That's great, but let's save the details for the lightening round."  They always agree because they know they'll have a bigger audience if they do so.

I have one student who loves to share stories with me about her weekend, something that happened that morning, or something that happened the night before.  These stories are very long and she tells them at a whisper.  Sometimes these stories occur during our work time and they prevent her from focusing on her activity.  I've recently resorted to giving her talking sticks.  She gets three sticks each day.  She has to use these sticks when she wants to tell me a special story.  This doesn't include questions about her work.  She can ask me as many school related questions as she needs.  The talking sticks are for those random stories that she can't wait to share.  The second day she had her taking sticks, she almost used them up within the first hour of school.  I reminded her that if she used them all, she would not be able to share any stories with me for the rest of the day.  She thought about it, and returned to her seat clenching her last talking stick.  It's been two weeks since I gave her the first set of talking sticks.  On Friday, she even had one to spare that she didn't need to use.  Now that's progress.

How do you balance your students' need to connect with you and each other and your instructional time?  Please share in the comments below.

Accepting the Bad with the Good (Day 28 of SOL15)

Since I teach first grade, I'm assigned an early childhood education para-educator.  This individual is assigned to my classroom three days a week for 45 minutes.  I don't get to choose which person is assigned to my room, however, this year I was fortunate enough to get someone I had worked with the previous year.

My para-educator is amazing!  She's been in this position for a number of years and knows exactly what to do to provide the kind of assistance that's needed in a primary classroom.  The downside is, this person has accumulated a lot of sick/personal days due to her years of service.  It seems like whenever I have big project planned where I'm counting on her support, she happens to be out of the building that day.  I've exchanged phone numbers and asked that she send me a text when she is out but that doesn't seem to work either.

Today I was considering how to best deal with this situation since her absences do affect what I can accomplish on a given day.  As I was contemplating all of this, it occurred to me that there are so many things that she does well.  Yesterday, she was catching up my stack of returned homework papers.  She was doing this on her own time and without me asking her to do so.  She works with two book club groups each week, she helps me assess my students, she's great at art projects and displays.  I could go on and on.  The thing is, I can't fault her for the time that she takes off.  When she is present, she makes up for the days that I refer to as "missing in action" and I appreciate her immensely for all of those things that she does so well.  Sometimes, you have to accept the bad (or not so good) with the good!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Don't Quit Your Daydream (Day 27 #SOL15)

This week we had a "wearing words" day to celebrate March is Reading Month.  My shirt said, Don't Quit Your Daydream.
Today I was thinking about daydreams.  In a classroom setting, daydreams have a negative connotation.  When kids are daydreaming, we see them as unfocused, not engaged, not listening, etc.  I almost didn't wear the shirt because of that thinking.  I decided that having daydreams, really should not be viewed in a negative way.  Daydreams are a good thing.  Daydreams motivate us to reach goals, make plans, and look towards the future.  I am a huge believer in dreams in general.  Hear are a few of my dreams (or daydreams).

I dream ...
that one day my daughter will become an acclaimed writer and a published author and illustrator because that is her dream.  Now, it is my dream for her.

I dream...
that one day my husband and I will retire to somewhere warm and live in in a beautiful house with a big wrap-around porch and a porch-swing where I can sip iced tea and read, read, read until my hearts content and has beautiful views that will inspire me to write.

I dream...
that one day I will be able to travel on a whim, to wherever I want and when ever I want to.

I dream...
that my first graders will, each in their own way, leave first grade with a love for learning!

I decided to ask my first graders about their dreams.  Dreams are hard to articulate when you are only six or seven years old.  Hear are a few of their dreams:

I dream...
I will be a teacher or an astronaut. S.S.

I dream...
I will go to Florida and North Carolina again.  M.B.

I dream...
I will be a pediatrician one day. K.M.

I dream...
I will go to Cedar Point and Splash Village again. E.V.

I dream...
I will be an eye doctor or an architect one day.  L.E.

I dream...
I will be a singer. A.F.

I dream...
I will be a scientist. A.W.

I dream...
I will go to Washington D.C. and I will ask the president where the pet shop is.

I dream...
I will get another cat.  T.C.

I dream...
I will write a book. H.Y.

I dream...
I will go to Florida again. J.P.

I dream...
I will be a game expert. N.C.

I dream...
I will have 3 guinea pigs.  I already have 2.

Daydreams are important.  What are your daydreams.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Top Two Patience Testers (Day 26 of SOL15)

I think you need to have a lot of patience to teach a group of first graders.  When I find myself loosing patience, I remind myself that they're only 6 years old.  Today I'm considering two things that are currently testing my patience.  I'm calling them Patience Testers.  

Patience Tester #1
This week our Physical Education Teacher started promoting the Jump Rope for Heart event.  Kids jump rope to raise money for heart disease.  In addition to raising money, they win prizes.  One of the prizes they can earn is a lanyard and plastic ducks they can attach to it.  It is one of the first prizes they can earn and extremely coveted by all first graders.  This morning a parent dropped off her little one early (about 10 minutes before the morning bell).  She wanted to deliver the pledge money for her first grader's pledge form that she forgot to attached the day before.  Shortly after, the bell rang and we started our morning.  A little bit later the mom appears in the doorway with the lanyard and the ducks.  Her son excitedly runs over to collect his prizes.  Let's forward to about an hour into our morning.  One of the ducks has fallen off the lanyard and he brings it over for me to fix. This is where my patience is tested.  I'm in the middle of teaching and the last thing I have time for is attaching ducks to the lanyard.  I calmly tell him to put the duck in his backpack and his mom can attach it when he gets home.  A little bit later the same child comes over to me again with a second duck that needs to be hooked onto the lanyard.  I repeat my earlier instructions.  Now, this duck thing is becoming a Patience Tester.  I'm happy that my first graders are raising money for a good cause, but those annoying ducks are a big distraction.  My new rule:  All ducks must remain in your backpack so they arrive home safely.

Patience Tester #2
Shoe tying!  Need I say more?  To solve the problem of having to stop what I'm doing to tie shoes throughout the day, I created a list of Shoe Tie Helpers.  It doesn't solve the problem completely because my first graders often seek shoe tying helpers at the most inconvenient times (like right in the middle of a lesson).  "Can somebody tie my shoe?!" has been a common request in our classroom.  Rarely, will I assist in tying shoes because it's a skill I encourage my first graders to learn as soon as possible.  Today, I made an exception and stopped to tie a pair of shoes for one of my first graders.  An hour later, the same child yells, "Can somebody tie my shoe?"  I couldn't believe it!  The same shoes I tied an hour earlier and with double knots.  When I questioned him about this, I found out that he had untied his shoes on purpose.  My plan:  Send home a note to parents requesting that they teach their first graders how to tie their shoes over the break.  I will no longer tie shoes for the remainder of the school year. If they can't tie their own shoes, they will have to enlist a Shoe Tie Helper.

Spring break is around the corner.  I'm sure my patience for ducks will return.  Not for tying shoes, just for ducks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Power of Laughter (SOL15 Day 25)

Today's Slice is sort of a part three to the continuing story of one of my first graders.  Two days ago I wrote about his uncooperative behavior during our guided reading lesson.  Yesterday, I wrote about how this little one had turned things around, and at the beginning of our reading lesson he admitted to having had a "bad" day the day before.

I found out today that I use the word "so" a lot.  Have you ever had someone bring something to your attention that you didn't know, but you sort of do?  This was how I felt.  I was sitting in the meeting area with my first graders.  The little one that I mentioned above said, out of the clear blue, "Mrs. Ruckes, you say 'SO' a lot."  I'm sure I had a puzzled look on my face.  "I do?" I asked with a surprised tone.  That was all I needed to hear to get me started...a little fuel to my fire.  I started saying "SO" before every statement I made and with each "SO" I would look at the little guy who brought this to my attention.  Each time I said it, he covered his face in anguish.  At one point I looked right at him and asked, "Am I annoying you yet?"  "Yes!" he replied emphatically.  "Good!" I said and I continued to repeat the word "SO" before everything I said.  The two of us began to laugh hysterically.  Finally, another first grader asked us why we were laughing.  "It's an inside joke." I replied.  I don't know which of us enjoyed this episode the most but I suspect it was me.  I love having a good laugh with my first graders.  I can't tell you how surprised I was that this particular student noticed that I use the word "SO" frequently.  Usually, he appears uninterested in what is going on around him and I spend a lot of time trying to keep him engaged in what we are doing. That's one of the reasons why he sits directly in front of me.  I think this proves that, sometimes, when he appears not to be listening...he really is!

I love this time of the year with my first graders.  They have grown so much since the beginning of the year.  I love how confident they have become.  I love that they feel comfortable enough with me, to share a personal observation about me.  I love that we can laugh together and have a bit of fun while we are learning.  I love that I'm still discovering new things about them.

I am NOT going to love letting them go in June.  This group has a special place in my heart.  I suppose, it's only fair that another teacher gets the chance to enjoy this great group of kids.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Connecting With Books

On Monday I wrote about one of my first graders who was being somewhat uncooperative during a guided reading group.  When he joined the group he was giggling, making his voice sound strange, and basically messing around.  I sent the other readers back to their reading spots because I needed to have some one-on-one time with this little guy.  If you would like to hear more about what happened yesterday with this little one, you can read about it here.  To make a long story short, I wouldn't let him off the hook and insisted that he participate in what we were doing.  What he was really doing was going through the motions (of reading).  He wasn't putting his heart or his thinking into it.  After all, reading is thinking.  When readers are engaged with the text they are making meaning, applying reading strategies, and enjoying the text.  He was reading as if he just wanted to get it over with.

Today when this first grader and I met to revisit the text.  The first thing he said to me was, "I read the book to my mom last night."  "That's great!" I responded.  Then he went on to say, "You know yesterday, I was having a bad day."  My reply was, "I'm glad that you are having a good day today!"  He agreed and then proceeded to read the entire book to me perfectly and without hesitation.

I don't know why he was uncooperative and a bit off-kilter when we met yesterday.  Today he obviously had a change of heart (or change of attitude I should say).  A few questions ran through my mind as I reflected on the situation.

  • Did he mention our encounter to his mom and had she scolded him?  
  • Did he realize that his uncooperative behavior was unnecessary?  
  • Was he simply trying to avoid the task because he thought he would not be successful?
This first grader recently completed 12 weeks of reading recovery.  He didn't successfully discontinue but he has grown a lot as a reader.  In these last few months of school I know I'll need to spend a lot of time keeping him connected to books.  My goal for him this summer is that his books will become some of his best friends.  I'll keep you posted.

How do you keep your at-risk readers engaged and connected to books during the school year and especially over the summer?  I would love to know.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sometimes We have to Redo It (SOL Day 23)

As I was reading with one of my first graders today, he was being a bit uncooperative.  Each time he would make a mistake, he would insist that he had said the word correctly.  When I would ask him to reread the page to correct his error he would become frustrated.  At one point he said, "Why do I have to start over again?"  My response was, "These are words that I know that YOU know.  Each time you read these words incorrectly, you have to go back and reread that part again."  He straightened up, took a deep breath, and reread that part again perfectly.  He continued to read the remainder of the book accurately and with confidence.  When he was finished, he smiled and I smiled back at him.

Reflecting on this moment, I'm thinking about some of the things we may have to do again in our lives.  Here are a few things that come to mind.

  • We rewrite writing pieces.
  • We reread books.
  • We replay movies and songs.
  • We reorganize our closets, offices and work spaces.
  • We reexamine our motives and priorities.
  • We reconsider our decisions.
  • We rekindle relationships.
  • We rework our plans.
  • We revise our goals.
  • We reclaim territories and positions.
  • We reacquaint with friends, family and colleagues.
  • We recharge our batteries.

What are some other things we may have to do over?  Please share.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Great Day of Learning at the 2015 MACUL Technology Conference (SOL Day 22)

Today's Slice is a reflection on my experience at the MACUL Technology Conference  in Detroit, Michigan.  MACUL is an acronym for Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning.  MACUL brings educators of all levels together to share their learning.  I attended the conference on Thursday and wrote a slice about how it was one of the best parts of my day.  Some of my fellow Slicers wanted to know what my biggest take-away was and if there were any cool ideas I could share.  Thanks to their questions,  I thought it would be a good idea to write a reflection on my conference experience.

This was a three day conference which started on Wednesday, however, I was only able to attend on Friday.  The most difficult thing about the day was deciding which sessions to attend.  I downloaded the conference app a few days before the conference and I bookmarked way more sessions than i could possibly attend.  My thinking was, if a session was full then I would have a back-up and if a session turned out not to be what I expected, I could leave it and head to another presentation.

The first session I attended was, Creating Next Generation Classrooms:  Innovative and Personalized Learning Through Technology Infusion.  Saline Area Schools' teachers and administrators shared how they redesigned learning to provide a personalized curriculum and 21st century experiences for their k-5 students.  With this approach the classrooms are called learning labs.  In these learning labs everything is happening at once.  In this environment, lessons are flipped and teachers act as facilitators/coaches.  This approach fosters collaboration and critical thinking and learning experiences that are project-based and real-world.

The second session I attended was, Inspire Innovation By Fostering Collaboration and Creativity.  This was presented by Drew and Brad from Two Guys and Some iPads.  I loved this quote from Brad, "Our job is to teach kids to love to learn."  Here are some of the cool tech tools that these two guys shared:

  • Pixel Press Floors: Draw Your Own Video Game - This is an app that uses symbols for secret messages.  It allows you to draw levels on a sketch sheet, capture it on a device, edit from the app, then design and publish it to the arcade.
  • Canva - This app allows you to create a graphic design like a pro.
  • Tinker Cad - Use this site to build 3D models.  Students create and publish for the world.  A very cool feature is that these models can be downloaded into Minecraft.
  • Structure Sensor - Is a 3D sensor that plugs into a device and allows you to scan people and objects and send them across the world.  You have the ability to pull your world into a digital form.
My third session was, Think Like a Teacherpreneur.  This session was all about making the most of the educator business world.  Marketing you materials on Teachers Pay Teachers, writing and publishing ebooks, and using social media through Twitter and Blogging.  In one word "Branding".  The biggest take-away for me was the emphasis on asking questions.  If someone is doing something that you would like to do, ask them how they did it.  That's a no brainer, right?

The last session I attended was, Coding…It's Elementary.  The presenters shared how they are introducing students to coding across their district.  There's a shortage of coders and the tech tools are free at sites like code.org.  These are student driven projects.  I loved the idea of their "Code and Tell" sessions where their students present and give feedback to their peers.  I can't wait to introduce coding to my students.  

The highlight of the day was meeting three of my Twitter friends face-to-face and for the very first time.  I feel like I've known these ladies forever, but we had never met in person until that day.  I first caught up with Shannon (@ShannonDescamps) and Amy (@allaidlaw) and later I caught up with Kristi (@KristiZoerhof).  I chat with these ladies every Sunday night during #1stchat and it was so amazing to be able to see them in person.  

Amy, me, and Shannon

Me and Kristi

The closing Keynote was delivered by Two Guys and an iPad.  I mentioned their presentation in my second session above.  You can also follow Brad (@Techbradwaid) and Drew (@TechMinoc) and @2GuyShow on Twitter.  They gave an amazing and motivating talk to a ballroom full of educators.  They shared The YOU MATTER MANIFESTO which you can read more about here.  My favorite quote of the day from their presentation was, "Michigan has some of the best educators around."  "Many people ask us, what's in the water up there?"  I have to agree.  Michigan teachers rock!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Good Friends (SOL Day 21)

Yesterday, was part two of a very long end-of-the-week.  I came home from a technology conference and I was exhausted.  Part of it was from the field trip my first graders went to on Thursday.  Part of it was all the planning I did for the sub who was to cover my class while I attended the conference.  Part of it was the hour long drive to and from the conference.

As soon as I arrived home, I had a quick snack and…crashed!  I took a very long nap and then woke up in a panic because I remembered I still needed to write my Slice.  As I was writing it, my phone starts to buzz.  I had it on vibrate because I didn't want it to ring, chime, or send alerts while I was sleeping.  I picked up the phone and noticed two missed calls from one of my friends.  I called her back and she invited me out for a drink.  At first I declined, explaining my long week, the conference, my exhaustion, and my Slice.  As we continued to talk I began to change my mind.  "Okay", I replied.  "Call me when you get there and I'll finish my Slice and meet you there as soon as I can."  I think I wrote the fastest Slice I've ever written.

I met my girlfriend at a local mexican restaurant.  We had the best time catching up and the entertainment was good, too!  I'm so glad I let her talk me into joining her, she's quite good at it.  I think I've turned the corner on my stressful week.  I would even venture to say I feel energized!  Good friends can have that effect on you.   

The Best Part of the Day (SOL Day 20)

Today's slice describes the best thing about today and the worst thing about today.  Even with a bad day we can finds something good, if we look hard enough.

The worst thing about today:
Yesterday, I wrote about a very challenging day.  I hate to say that it didn't end there.  I got four hours of sleep last night because I had a number of things to do before going to bed.  This morning I got up at 5:00 a.m. and after getting dressed and eating breakfast, I drove for an hour in horrible traffic and a congested parking situation to attend a conference.  I was so tired I could barely see straight.

The best thing about today:
Attending the MACUL Technology Conference was one of the highlights of my day.  I was exposed to some of the most innovative ways to use technology in the classroom.  My head is still spinning with all the things that I learned and want to incorporate before the school year ends.  To top off this great day of learning, I had the pleasure of meeting three of my Twitter friends face to face.  These are teachers I chat with on Sunday nights during #1stchat.  It was so much fun meeting them in person.  I feel like I've known these ladies for years, even though we've never met in person until today.  It was smiles and hugs and stories.  This was truly the best thing about today.
A Selfie with Amy and Shannon

A Selfie with Kristen

Thursday, March 19, 2015

One of Those Days

It's field trip day!
Excitement in the air.
No bus.
Schedule conflict.
Returned to the classroom for another hour of learning.
Had a 15 minute lunch.
Bus arrives.
We board.
Arrive at our destination.
Great presentation and lots of learning.
Returned to school for more learning.
School day ends.
Stayed late to write sub plans and get a few things done.
Left work and 8 p.m.
Picked up dinner.
Ate it!
To tired to think straight.
Tomorrow's another day.
Thank goodness!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Slice of Heaven

I am always amazed by what my first graders say and do.  My current group of students are some of the most thoughtful, smart, creative, funny, and entertaining group of students that I have ever had the pleasure to teach.

They enjoy...
dancing during brain breaks.  Some of these guys dance better than I do!
singing our fluency songs/poems and adding hand motions to match them.
reading books.  They enjoy both fiction and informational book.
reading, telling, and creating jokes.  One of our favorite sites is Jokes by Kids.

They are good at...
sharing their opinions during writing.
explaining their thinking in math.
engaging in books they are reading and books I'm reading to them.  Today I read aloud Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo and they loved it!

I love the way they...
help friends in need.  They notice when friends are sad or hurt and show true concern for them.
volunteer to read with a friend who needs a partner so they don't feel left out.
offer to help friends who need assistance with tying a shoe, zipping a coat, putting away materials, or with where to write an answer.

Today A.F. said, "Mrs. Ruckes I have a letter that I want to read to you."  "Yes, you may read it when we find a bit of extra time." I replied.  About an hour later, during a transition from one subject to the next, he asked me again.  "Can I read it now?  I really want to read it to you."  I agreed and he hurried to his backpack and returned with this letter.  It is made like a "cutie catcher" (I think that's what you call them.) and it has four parts.  This is how A.F. told me to read it:
Start with the part that says "first" - underneath that flap was written:  Dear Mrs. Ruckes
Next, read the part that says "second" - underneath that flap was written:  I think that you
Next, read the parted that says "third" - underneath that flap was written:  are the best
Finally, read the part that says "fourth" - underneath that flap was written:  teacher in the world! A.F.

All I could do was smile a gigantic smile (and thank him).  Then he asked me if I would take it to lunch and show it to all the other teachers and of course...I did!
My letter from A.F.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Show Me the Green!

As my first graders entered the classroom this morning, I could feel the excitement in the air.  Why?  It's  St. Patrick's Day!  Kids were wearing green shirts, green sweaters, green hoodies and the like.   Some even wore green headbands and green flowers in their hair.  Green was all around.  One of m my first graders walked into the classroom and as he took of his coat and backpack to get settled in, he must have noticed that most of his friends were wearing green.  He came over to where I was standing and announced, "Mrs. Ruckes…my mom forgot to dress me in green."  I assured him that it was o.k. that he didn't have on green.  After all, it's not like Halloween where you are expected to have a costume.  If he thought I was going to call his mom to ask her to deliver a green shirt, he was mistaken.  When I was a kid, if you didn't wear green, other kids would pinch you for the entire day until the teacher forbade them to do so.  I'm so glad that tradition is no longer popular.

As I think about St. Patrick's day, I'm considering a few things:

Next year maybe I'll purchase a few green necklaces that kids can borrow if they forget to wear something green.  It's no fun feeling left out because you didn't remember to wear green on St. Patrick's Day.

On the other hand, another first grader walked into the room wearing an enormous headpiece.  She looked like a court jester.  As she shook her head, the various pieces moved in different directions.  Before I knew it, she was surrounded by a group of admirers.  I could tell that it was going to be distracting so I instructed her to place it in her backpack where it would be safe.

First graders get very excited about everything!  That's what I love about teaching 6 and 7 year olds.  How do you include the fun stuff and not have it distract them from learning?  It can be quite a balancing act.

Monday, March 16, 2015

My Encounter With a Raccoon (SOL Day 16)

This morning my alarm woke me at 5:00 a.m.  It was time to get up and head out to the gym.  Only having had 4 hours of sleep, I was a bit startled by the beeping.  I've been trying to adjust to the time change, but my attempts have not been successful.   Every night I vow to get to bed earlier, but my body doesn't want to cooperate.  As sleepy as I was I got dressed, grabbed my keys and water bottle, then headed out the door.  As I drove down the street the usual cautiousness started to settle in.

It was really dark, and I drove slowly as my headlights illuminated the road ahead of me.  As I approached a wooded area near the end of my street, I began to look to my left and my right in case a deer or two decided to dash out of the woods and across the road.  Nervously, I proceeded without a deer in sight.  But, then I saw it…
a rather robust raccoon!  I was so startled, I screamed.  I was only seconds away from running the little guy over.  As it continued to scurry across the road, I let out a sigh of relief.  No deer in sight, but now I'm going to add pesky, robust raccoons to my lists of things I don't want to run over...or run into.

After that, I wasn't at all sleepy anymore.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I See… (SOL Day 15)

Photo was taken today at Bell Isle State Park

I see remnants of winter's ice and snow.
I see rays of sun shimmering across the river.
I see tall majestic trees along winding paths.
I see newly paved roads wide and smooth.
I see unobstructed views of the Detroit River.
I see Canadian commerce on the other side.
I see the Ambassador Bridge Looming in the distance.
I see dog walkers, hand holders, and seagull feeders.
I see summer pleasures poised for their return.

I'm holding my breath until summer.

The above photo is of Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan.  It's an Island within the city with views of the Detroit River and Canada.  In previous years it's endured a lot of wear and tear and was in many ways neglected.  However, it was recently taken over by the state and is now a State Park.  Belle Isle State Park has many amenities including a beach, zoo, green houses, gardens, aquarium, golf course, picnic areas, a giant slide, and tennis courts to name a few.  For the past two years it has undergone a transformation of sorts as it's restored to its former glory.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturdays, Sushi and Writing (SOL Day 14)

On Saturdays I love spending time with my daughter, Rachel.  Today we went to one of or favorite spots for lunch to enjoy a little sushi.  After we settled in at one of the tables, Rachel looks and me and asks, "So what's happening in Valerie's world?"  I love how considerate Rachel is.  She didn't start the conversation by telling me what was on her mind or asking me for a bit of advice.  She wanted to hear about what her mom had been up to this week.

Life gets super busy.  Even though Rachel is in college, she still lives at home and commutes to a local University.  Our paths cross briefly during the week.  She spends a lot of time on campus and when she's home she's usually studying.  I'm equally busy, spending a lot of time at school either doing things in my classroom or attending various after school meetings.

In response to Rachel's question, I immediately told her about the writing samples that I had looked over this morning and how I'm a much better writing teacher than I was earlier in my teaching career.  It's the subject that I consider to be the most difficult and time consuming to teach.  I always feel like I wish I were two people during writing time in my classroom.  However, I've worked hard to improve my teaching practices around writing.  I work with a range of writers in my first grade classroom and working with early writers can be quite challenging.

One of the things that I love about the Slice of Life Story Challenge is that it gives me an appreciation for what I put my students through.  It causes me to reflect on my teaching practices in writing.  I'm reminded of the following things:

  • Writers need writing ideas and inspiration.
  • Sometimes there are dry writing days and some days the writing flows like a river.
  • Writers need time to think.  When the writer is not putting pen (or pencil) to paper it doesn't mean  they are being defiant, they may simply be in the prewriting stage.
  • When writers have an audience it motivates them to write and may also improve their craft.
  • Writers need a writing space.  Sometime a change of venue may be needed.
Rachel, sat there listening intently as I talked about my early writers.  She is used to my students being the topic of most of my conversations.  The sushi has come and our conversations turns to food and things in Rachel's world.  I love this time we spend together.  Quality time with my 20 year old daughter, who just happens to be…a writer.  Rachel is majoring in Creative Writing with a minor in Graphic Design.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Just For You! (SOL 13)

I remember when I was in my late twenties and starting to get very depressed.  I was at that age where you start to wonder if you'll ever get married.  I think this is a girl thing because I've known other women who have felt the same way.  Yet, when it comes to boys, I don't think they feel the same pressure.  I was praying and complaining to God about how I would ever meet someone.  After all, I worked in a company that was predominantly run by females.  Males in this company were few and far between.  (I was a Director at a vocational school before I started teaching.)  I wasn't a party girl who frequented clubs on the weekends.  I wasn't in school or taking classes at the time so that was not an option in terms of somewhere I might have met someone.  I did attend church regularly, but, my church is a huge church with over 2,000 members at the time.  Meeting someone at church simply wasn't a possibility.

One evening, I was interviewing candidates for a teaching position that was available at the school.  I was notified that interviewee was waiting in the lobby and completing his application.  I decided to leave my office to pick up some materials before the interview began.  To my surprise, the person waiting was a very attractive man around my age.  Instantly, I became nervous.  I hurried back to my office to catch my breath.  How could I interview this person and maintain my composure?  I took a deep breath, and went back to the lobby to escort the candidate back to my office for the interview.  The interview went well, and I got through it without a problem.  I think I was more nervous than he was but I don't think he noticed.

That evening as I drove home.  The lord spoke to my spirit.  This is what I heard him say.  I CAN SEND ANYONE, FROM ANYWHERE, JUST FOR YOU.

That was all I needed to hear.  God had not forgotten about me.  He was working on my behalf.  All I had to do was be patient and rest in the knowledge that he really does answer prayers.

If you would like to read the story about how I met my husband, you can read it here.  By the way, it wasn't the guy I interviewed.  I did hire him to teach a class at the school though.  He was qualified and he turned out to be a really good teacher.  That fact that he was nice-looking was just a perk.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Making Your Own Choice Isn't Always Easy

Today's slice is a free verse poem that speaks to making your own choices and not allowing others to be the boss of you.

Stuck on cheeks, foreheads, and hands.
     Today's color is blue.
A small recognition for making your own choice... 
     even if its not a popular one.
Lots of cheering on one side of the room, 
from those reveling in an unnecessary victory.
     Four disappointed faces on the opposite side of the room, 
Wondering if they made the best choice.
     Sixteen votes for Chester by Melanie Watt.
     Four votes for the Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig.
One huge compliment from the teacher.
It's not easy having an opinion that's not popular.
Even opinions about books.
Thank you
for making
your own

I give my first grade students cougar paw stickers when they do an act of kindness, make good choices, stay focused on their activity when other are not, and for compliments.  It's a small token but my first graders love them.  We are not allowed to give out candy because of our nutrition policy.  Our school mascot is a cougar and that's why I use paw print stickers.  I have them in various colors; blue, yellow, orange, purple, and rainbow.  These Cougar Paws represent more than a piece of candy ever could.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Case of the Missing Brownie

We solved a mystery today in my first grade classroom.  For the last few weeks, items have gone missing from some of my students' lunch boxes.  Every day I was made aware of a new incident.  This morning another teacher was subbing in my classroom while I attended an IEP meeting for one of my students.  I returned from my meeting during our snack and story time only to witness two students arguing over a brownie.  

It seems that one of my first graders brought a brownie in their lunch.  This child's mom had cut the brownie in half so that she could enjoy half of the brownie during snack time and the other half at lunch.  This student showed the brownie to one of her first grade friends and now it was missing.  When I questioned the other child she denied it although I could see traces of chocolate around her mouth.  She insisted that she had not taken the brownie and was only eating her own snack.  "What did you have for your snack?" I questioned.  "I don't know what it was but it was something brown." she whispered reluctantly.  This was really starting to sound suspicious.  "You ate something brown but you don't know what it was?" I repeated back.  "Well, I think I'll call your mom and ask her about the "brown" thing she packed for your snack." I said sternly.  (If it was not something brown I would have the proof I needed.)

I took this child aside to privately discuss the situation further.  First she asked if she could go to the bathroom, I think this was avoidance, but I allowed her to do so.  When she returned, I told her that it was important to tell the truth.  I went on to say that I would find out the truth sooner or later but It would be better if she told me right now.  She paused for and moment...  

"Yes, I took it." she sobbed.  

I'm thankful that she finally admitted what she had done.  It took a lot of investigating, questioning, and observing to get to the truth.  I wonder if she went to the bathroom to get up the nerve to admit what she had done?  Did she think I would believe her story without investigating?  What motivated her to finally tell the truth?  Was it because I mentioned calling her mom to ask what snack she had prepared for her?  

Our brownie biter did apologize to the other child.  I also called her mom to share the situation with her.  I'm not sure how this played out when she got home today, but I'm sure she learned an important lesson.

Does your school have a character development program?  Do you use teachable moments for character development in your classroom?  Maybe its one or the other, or a bit of both.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I'm Missing

Today I was thinking about all the things and people I miss.

I'm missing...
Ice cream cones and frozen yogurt on a warm summer's night.  I know I could go to Cold Stone Creamery and grab a cone but I don't enjoy them as much on cold nights.

I'm missing...
Wearing flip flops and sandals with freshly polished toes.  Yes, I still get pedicures in the winter but I don't get to show them off!

I'm missing...
My little sister who lives in Texas.  It's been 2 years since our last face-to-face.  We talk on the phone all the time but we love spending time together.  We have so much fun staying up late and sharing memories, dancing and acting silly, cooking together, and shopping, shopping, and more shopping.

I'm missing...
My father, who passed away during my second year of college.  I would love to give him a hug and have a conversation with him.  He never got to meet my husband and our daughter and I'm sure he would love them both.

I'm missing...
My older brother, who passed away much too young for his years.  He was fun to spend time with and he never got around to teaching me to play chess.

I'm missing...
Running on the trail and surprising my daughter at how well I can keep up with her.  Those early morning in the gym are really paying off!  P.S.  I'm a warm weather girl...I Don't Run When It's Cold Out.

I am NOT missing...
Having a cold or the flu.  I haven't been sick all winter!  Last winter I spent the holidays in bed with the flu.  I guess that flu shot really did the trick this year.

Who or What are you missing today?

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Family Story

My daughter loves to hear family stories.  Stories about her grandparents, stories about me when I was a child, and stories about how I met her dad.  Yesterday, we had the pleasure of having my mom over for dinner.  After dinner I suggested that Rachel ask her grandmother to tell her a story.

"What kind of story do you want the hear, Rachel?" Her grandmother asked.  "I don't know, whatever you want."  Rachel responds.  

"Well, I think you're old enough to hear this.  I was 30 years old.  I hadn't gotten my period yet.  So I went to the doctor to see if he could give me something.  I told the doctor that I had not gotten my period and I was worried that I might be pregnant.  He asked me how many children I had and I told him I had 3.  The doctor gave me an injection.  I went home and waited but to my dismay I still didn't get my period.  I went back to the doctor a  few weeks later.  I told him that whatever he had given me did not work because I still had not gotten my period.  I was so angry, I slammed the office door.   About another month went by and I went back to see the doctor because I figured I had to pregnant.  He told me he felt so bad after I left his office angry.  I said, yes, I was angry because you could have helped me but you didn't.  That's when I found out I was pregnant with your mother."

"What?  Am I hearing this right?  You didn't want me?"  I asked my mom.  I was shocked.  I had never before heard my mom say that she really had not wanted any more children when she conceived me.  This was news to me!  

Mom went on to say, "Then your mom was born.  She had a head full of black hair and fat round cheeks.  All the neighbors wanted to know what I was feeding her because she was so fat."  This was moms way of reassuring me the I was wanted none the less.

It's always a treat to hear my mom tell one of her stories.  
     Even the ones that have an unexpected twist.

Who are the storytellers in your family?  Please share in the comment section below.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


Today's slice was inspired by a post at Learn Something New.  Yesterday, I was reading Slices and leaving comments when I discovered this clever format.  You can read that post here.  Today, I decided to write one of my own.  Thanks for the inspiration! 


Listening:  to a passing car as it disappears down the road and a busy robin atop a nearby tree.

Watching:  the robin as it leaves the tree and glides into the bush right in front of my window.

Eating:  I haven't eaten, yet.  Going to make eggs, toast, sausage, and coffee.

Wearing:  my favorite pajamas and bare feet.  What would my mom say if she were visiting?  Valerie, you need to put on some socks before you catch a cold.  Mom still wants to treat me like a little girl no matter how old I get.

Reading:  Slice of Life Stories.  They always provide some needed inspiration.

Feeling:  guilty because I didn't get up for church in time.  I'm blaming Day Light Savings Time.

Wanting:  to sit here in the sun for as long as I can and enjoy it's heat as it warms the back of my neck.  I haven't felt this sensation in such a long time.  It's been a frigid winter.  Maybe spring really is around the corner!

Needing:  to do a few chores and work on my lesson plans for the week ahead.

Thinking:  how blessed I am.

Enjoying:  this bit of time I've carved away, just for me, to write.

What are you Currently doing?  Please share in the comments below or write about it in one of your Slices.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What I Believe

I've noticed that a lot of "Slicers" are writing creeds which were inspired by the book, Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson.  Near the end of the book, Jacqueline Woodson includes her creed which she titled, "What I Believe".  I can't remember which blog I first saw this on, but that person included links to another blog site where she read someone else's creed and was inspired to write one of her own.  I would leave links to those sites if I could remember them.  Instead, I'll just say, Thank You everyone for inspiring me to write my own creed.  Thank you Jacqueline Woodson for writing an amazing book.

My creed is below:

What I Believe

I believe in God.
I believe in faith, fortitude, and forgiveness.
I believe in the power of words and the power of 
I believe in treating others the way you want to be treated.

I believe you are not born smart.  The more you learn the smarter you get.
I believe children help us to see things with 
     new eyes.
I believe it's o.k. to make mistakes especially if you learn from them.

I believe in early morning workouts and working up a good sweat.
I believe in amazing moons, spectacular sunsets, brilliant sunrises, and discovering rainbows.

I believe in apologies and taking responsibility for your actions.

I believe in trying new things and expecting good results.
I believe in stepping out of your comfort zone in order to grow.

I believe that my experiences both good and bad have made me the person I am today.

I believe in me.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Customer Service…It Isn't What It Used to Be

What has happened to good customer service?  Tonight I stopped by a local chicken joint to pick up a carry-out order.  I usually eat out or carry out on Fridays because the last thing that I want to do, after a long week, is cook.  My daughter and I picked up the order and drove back home.  As we started unpacking the items, I noticed that something was missing.  The coleslaw.

I called the establishment to explain that I had a missing item.  The first person I spoke to was uninterested in my complaint and asked if I wanted to speak to a manger.  I told him that I did and moments later the manager was on the line.  She requested the order number and then told me she would write my name down and replace the item upon my next visit.  What?  Is that it?

I expected her to apologize and tell me that she would speak to the servers about double checking orders or something similar to that.  Instead, she simply said that she was sorry and that mistakes happen.  Did I miss something?  Am I expecting too much here?  Here's the thing.  In order for me to get the missing item I have to make another trip back to this place.  No one seems to care about my frustration, time, or inconveniene.  I didn't make the mistake, they did and all they were willing to offer me in return for their mistake is what I should have gotten in the first place, the coleslaw.

The conversation ended with the manger telling me she would have the owner call me.  This was my response:  "Yes, have him call me.  However, if his is going to simply offer me something that I have already paid for then he should not bother to call and I will not bother to visit your establishment again."

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not looking for a free meal.  I'm looking for this place, that I frequent fairly often (because my daughter likes it), to show me that I'm a valued customer.  We'll see if the owner calls.   Customer service just isn't what it used to be.

What are your thought about customer service?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Amazing Sight

My car was one of the last cars to leave the school parking lot tonight.  As I drove out of the parking lot and headed down the street, It caught my eye.  Not that anyone could miss it.  This exceptionally bright moon.  This giant pearl hanging elagantly in the sky.  This amazing sight that practically took my breath away.

The sight of this moon carried my thoughts back to earlier in the day.  When I picked up my students from their music special, I noticed that three boys were sitting off to the side because they had been arguing with each other.  "I don't know what's going on." the music teacher sighed.  Maybe there's a full moon.  I chuckled.   I was really just kidding.  I had know idea we would have a full moon tonight.

Then it occurred to me...

I saw a lot of amazing things today.  

  1. Today my first graders connected with another classroom in a different state using Google Hangout.  We read a readers' theater play together and the kids were amazing.  They greeted the other class so warmly.  They read their lines fluently and with great expression.  They shared their enthusiasm by asking great questions and responding to questions in return.
  2. We had a visit from Luna the Literacy Dog and her owner (another teacher in our building) who read us a story while Luna sat and listened.  It always amazes me how animals have such a calming effect on kids.  Even my most active students were patient, calm, and gentle in their interactions with Luna.
  3. On Thursdays my student receive 30 minutes of Chinese.  This is our first year of Chinese instruction in our building.  I'm amazed at how much my first graders have learned.  Today they were finishing a project and they were counting the parts in Chinese.  Their counting was so natural and instinctive.  I can't believe how much they've learned and what they remember.
I'm sure I'll see more amazing things before the night is over.  If not, all I need to do is look up…that Amazing moon is still there.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Farewell My Friends - A Note to Fifth Graders

If you have ever stopped by this blog before, you have probably noticed that I write about my first graders often.  Today, I was thinking about Tessa.  Tessa is a 5th grader.  She’s bright, mild mannered, and tall.  I know that sounds odd, but I have a soft spot for tall girls because they remind me of my daughter and of myself.  Anyway, Tessa was in my classroom when she was in first grade.

It occurred to me that I would soon have to say goodbye to Tessa and her friends as they move on to middle school.  Each year, the teachers write notes to the 5th graders and they are arranged into memory books for each student to have as a keepsake.  I was thinking about what I would say to these kids.  This is what I would want them to know.

Thank you 5th graders for allowing me to teach you when you were in first grade.  You were the first, 1st graders that I had ever taught after having taught third graders for 10 years.  When I agreed to teach first grade, I had no idea I would enjoy it so much.  Because of you, I fell in love with teaching first graders.   I’m not going to say good-bye, so Farewell my Friends.

What does your school/building do to celebrate with your 5th graders who are moving on to middle school?  I would love to know.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ballerina Flats and Snow?

Eight of us are gathered around a long table in the corner of the room.  Excited chatter fills the air and settles around us like a warm blanket.  There are two or three conversations taking place at one time.  There’s laughter, questions, smiles, and more laughter.

Outside the snow continues to fall.  Just a few minutes earlier, we trudged through three new inches of snow amidst complaints of how some of us chose the wrong shoes this morning.  Some of us were complaining about how the salt stains were already starting to leave ugly impressions on our nice leather boots.  One person had bravely chosen and worn ballerina flats without socks.  Another of us had selected a pair of athletic shoes.  None of which was the appropriate choice for a day like today…snowy, windy, and blustery cold.

None of that really mattered now because we were enjoying the moment, an early lunch with colleagues after a morning of professional development.  We were not scarfing down food in our classrooms for a chance to get a few more things done.  We were not eating among the familiar people and surroundings of the staff lounge.  

We were enjoying a meal far away from thoughts of rubrics, checklists, and writing samples. 

Well, almost.

There was still school talk mixed in with a few other conversations.  But today, in this place, at this time…it felt different.  It felt warm…in spite of the snow.