Keeping them Honest

One of the things that scares me about group  projects is accountability.    How can I make sure they are using the class time I give them?  In the past, many groups have socialized and put their work off until the last minute, ensuring that their project was poorly done.  I’ve tried to tell myself that it is OK; they are learning natural consequences.  But it doesn’t work.  Like most teachers, nothing bothers me more than wasted class time.

So for a current project my seniors are working on, I have tried a few different ways to encourage them to be more productive.  The first is a plan.  They have to make a goal for each class period, and either meet the goal or explain why they didn’t.  Here is an example from one group.   I chose this one because they have also shown some of their thinking  at the bottom.

Evidence of Work in Progress


For individual accountability, I am requiring a daily journal entry where they explain what they accomplished, reflect on their learning and their progress, and link evidence of their work, if possible.  In this example, a student posts an image to demonstrate progress.  He also shares some of his concerns.  In  this example, it is obvious that most of the time, the student was thoughtful with his journal. He linked to a Google doc to demonstrate his progress.   Of course, these two are some of the better journals.  Some students wrote only a few lines and some skipped a day or two.  This method could be more effective if would show them examples of good journal entries.  Also, I need to write a rubric for them.  I dropped the ball on that and now I regret it.


Job Title: Doll Hair Stylist and Ear Piercer.

I spent over 90 minutes in an American Girl store today.   The Denver store is nothing like the ones in New York or Chicago. There is only one story and no cafe.  Our mission:  to have her doll’s hair styled at the Doll Salon.  Yes, for $20 you too can choose from over 100  hairstyles including a fishtail braid and an up do (tiara extra).  For an extra $5, you can have the doll’s skin polished to look like new.  Lily chose ribbons, the style of the month, and ear piercing for another $14.

The people who work there are fanatics.  While Lily was browsing, grown women approach us saying, “I like that dress, too.  I bought it for my doll Julie.”  I don’t know what I would prefer to think.  That they are lying to sell product or that these adults actually buy and collect overpriced dolls and accessories.   For those of you not familiar with this brand, a doll costs $110. Each comes with a book that explains the character’s complicated back story.  All of them have overcome adversity and learned important lessons.  Kanani works to save endangered seals in Hawaii, and helps out at her family’s shave ice stand. Kit adjusts to her family’s dwindling resources during the great depression and learns to help others. You can purchase Kit’s bed and quilt for only $94.  And the clothes. I heard a mother say in line today, “I’m spending more on a bathing suit for this doll than I did on my own.”

After 30 minutes of tortured browsing, my daughter takes shopping with her own money very seriously, it was our turn.   A young woman, who resembled a doll herself carefully put a plastic drape around the doll’s neck and strapped her into a chair.  Her hands shook while she worked and I wondered if she was hungry.  But she was positive, exited, and helpful throughout the hour it took.  And I think I could like this woman.  When Lily said she was reading Harry Potter, the woman said that that series made a reader of her.  She’s a reader.  I felt a connection when she said that she sometimes stays up all night reading.  Right now, she is working her way through all of Sherlock Homes for at least the second time.  Also, she just cut 14 inches off her hair to donate to locks of love.   She was kind and patient with my daughter, explaining how to create a similar style at home.    When my daughter picked out purple and pink ribbons, the woman said, “What a great choice.  I love how those colors look in Caroline’s hair,” and she really sounded like she meant it.

Before Picture

Before Picture

But she also talked about how many doll’s she has purchased since she started working there.   Also, she knows the back stories of all of the dolls, but perhaps that’s a job requirement. Maybe I”m just too cynical to believe that any adult would be that exited working in retail selling a children’s toy.  But it’s more than a toy.  It’s  a middle class aspirational brand like Michael Kors Handbags and  Ugg Boots.  The same doll from Target won’t have the same anymore than a JC Penny purse.

And the stories created for the dolls are positive and compelling.  It’s like they are real.  In fact, they have to take the dolls into the back room to pierce their ears.  The use a drill and that can traumatize the children.  Also, the hair stylist is not allowed to say that we could order a new head for the doll if the hair is ruined.  She spelled the word h-e-a-d and said that they are told to say “new hair” instead.   And if your expensive doll needs repairing, you can send her to the “doll hospital.”

Even with the positive message, there is still a lot of emphasis on clothing and hairstyles.  Fortunately, my mother-in-law has patterns and enjoys sewing doll clothes for Lily.  The doll wore a grandma creation to the store today.   I worried that the store might not like that, but Lily said, “i don’t care because I like it and my grandma made it. ”  I guess the kid is alright.




To the Man in the Blue Car:

Why did you stop by the curb, roll down your window and stare at my ten year old daughter while she was collecting some pine cones?  To scare her? Well, it worked.  Her instincts told her that you were dangerous and she ran all the way to her friend’s house.  You were in her thoughts last night when she was in bed.  She was to afraid to sleep.  She thought you were going to DO SOMETHING to her, though I don’t think she knows enough to imagine what that something might be.  

Today, she showed me where she was when you stopped.  She is sure of the color of your vehicle, her favorite bright blue.  But now she pictures you in an SUV with a roof rack.  You have dark hair and are about 20 years old and you might have tattoos.  She calls you “the creepy guy.”

But maybe you were just waiting to check your mail.  Though not next to the mailboxes, you were in the same general vicinity of them.  Perhaps it was something innocent like that.  But we walked the neighborhood looking for your car and didn’t see it.  Maybe you park in a garage.  You are just a neighbor who had a reason to be there that had nothing to do with stalking young girls. 

I can’t forget that the world is a scary place.  Not too long ago, Jessica Ridgeway, a ten year old girl who loved butterflies and the color purple was abducted  north of here.  She was walking to school when he saw her and decided to grab her and kill her.   You must have heard of Jessica.  She was in the news for months.  First, while they searched, and then when they found and tried her killer.  And you have brought a reminder onto our street. 

Perhaps I should thank you for making my daughter more vigilant.   She usually groans when I review stranger protocol with her.   “What if he says he has a puppy?  What if he says your dad told me to look for you?  What if…….?”  

But I’m not grateful.  I’m angry and scared and confused.  I want to think she misunderstood the interaction, and I want to honor her intuition. 

Thanks for listening.

Fading Images

I have been working on scanning old photos, and wallowing in memories.  Yesterday, I scanned pictures from Morocco in 1990   My husband and I were living and working in Turkey for two years, and one summer we traveled to Morocco for a month.  A whole month.  The cool hills of Chefchaouen,  the old markets of Fez,  the Djemaa el Fna of Marrakesh,  the windy beach Essaouira, and the medina of Casablanca.   And we only have 18 pictures. I took more during our trip today to the Denver Botanic Gardens.   One of the 18 is a photo of a pair of my husband’s shoes that he decided to abandon.


For the rest of the trip, I will have to rely mostly on memory.  Marrakesh would reach above 120 degrees every afternoon.  We would go out in the morning for a small breakfast and some sightseeing, and then return to our hotel to rest in our beds until evening, covered in damp towels because there was no air conditioning.  It was even too hot to read.  At night, the Djemaa el-Fna was writhing with peddlers and entertainers.  Snake-Charmers, Gymnasts, Story Tellers. Magicians. Entertainment that I imagine taking place since the medieval period. We supped at a booth selling freshly fried fish every night for dinner, except for the once when we tried goat’s head soup.  For dessert, a chilled chunk of coconut.


Waiting for my fish (and for the bad perm to grow out).

The heat was less of an issue in Fez, so we could go out in the day time.  The Souks were crowded on the sides of thin twisting streets, built on hills so the trash could be washed down every evening.   Skinned goats hung in the mid-day sun covered in flies.  Men bargained loudly over the shouts of sellers touting their handicrafts.  Smiling children swarmed us repeating, “Donne mois un dirham.”  Probably the only French they knew. When we turned onto the wrong street, just a block away from the souk we found ourselves alone.  We trod through silent streets of plaster buildings marked by the hand of Fatima.  We have no pictures of our time in Fez.

How reliable is a 25 year old memory?  Sometimes pictures shape memories in a way that limits them.  The picture is all we remember.  Sometimes writing does that, too.  We alter the truth for plot and imagery.  And the new story has so much power that it becomes true in our minds, superimposed over the original.  Right now, I don’t care.  I have enjoyed wandering through those old streets again tonight.




Shades of beige lined up along the curving street.

Desolate by day.   Almost post-apocalyptic in its silence.

Each house spits out a car or two in the morning only to re ingest them later. 

Harsh blues and grays from the television illuminate shadows within.

Then darkness, except for the streetlight.

A coyote stops under the lamp to scratch his ear, then trots into the  night.



 The white noise of the heater is punctuated by the dog’s claw’s clicking across the wood floor.  Fingers move rapidly across the  keyboard, pause, then start again in a burst.

The screen illuminates my face, a tired face with sun damage.   I hunch forward, shoulders almost over the wrists.  My brow furrows when the fingers rest, and relaxes when they type again.  The unforgiving light emphasizes the age of my hands.  I stretch the digits to examine the wrinkles.  “Whose hands are these,” I wonder. 

I remember pinching and stretching the loose skin on my grandmother’s hands, a topography of her life.  How could something so papery and fine feel so soft?  The hands that took care of her children, that lifted too many drinks to her mouth, that got caught in the mixer on Thanksgiving once, turning the mashed potatoes pink.   Did her hands find the first lump of the cancer that took her from us ten years later?

I tease the skin on the back of my hand into ridges and crevasses.    These hands that have dug in the sand, that have turned so many pages, that have scraped the stubble on my husband’s face, that have bathed my child.  I am writing their story now.  In the harsh light of the screen, in the quiet after everyone else is asleep. 




The Tooth Fairy

After weeks of wiggling, the tooth finally came out.  It’s been about two years since the last tooth, so it took us a while to find the tooth pillow.  It was near the bottom of the stuffed animal bin.  Lily doesn’t play with them much any more, but she isn’t ready to part with them either.   As she  inserted the tooth into the pocket, she said, “I’m putting it here in the middle so that you don’t have to reach way in to get it out.”  She said, “you.”  Does she know?  Is the tooth out of the pillow? 

Mock Confusion:  “Why are you telling me this?”

Questioning:  “Is there something you want to tell me?”

Neither answer was definitive.  Maybe we are both playing our respective roles in this game for the sake of the other.  Which is kind of sweet.  In an hour, I will raid my husband’s wallet for a couple of dollars and sneak up the stairs. Holding my breath, I will slowly turn the knob. If she doesn’t stir, I will pad gently to the pillow and replace the tooth with the bills.  Before retreating, I will stop to listen to the deep slow breathing of my child.   

In the morning, she will tell us about the gift, and I won’t know whether she is humoring me or not.