On the Eve of Spring Break

I want to push the reset button on my life.  Reset my health and shake off this sinus infection, 

I want to remind myself who I am by doing things that I enjoy.  Reading.  Being alone.  Playing games with my daughter.  Getting a massage.  Going out with friends.  Reconnecting with my husband.

I want to catch up on my professional learning to come back exited and inspired .  Finish reading Invent to learn.  Start reading Reading in the Wild.  Look back on the Deeper Learning Mooc.

I want to purge and declutter my house in some way.  Maybe tackle scanning all of those old pictures.

I want to feel better than I do now.  Reset my attitude and regain perspective.

It helps to have goals. 



I Like to Watch

Last night I attended a performance of a small play in which my daughter appeared.  We don’t usually record her performances, but we are the rare in that regard.  We sat near the back and our line of sight was broken by the bright screens of phones and tablets held over heads or reached into the aisle.  One guy was even holding up two phones.  It used to be that those parents would stand in the back with their video cameras on tripods, excessive perhaps, but disturbing no one.  Now,  it’s a free for all.  Screens seem to take precedence over eyes that just want to watch it the first time.  Recording an activity interrupts the experience of it.  Maybe that’s what they want, some distance, some way to keep busy.  Perhaps they think it’s a requirement of parenting, to document everything for posterity and the grandparents. 

I don’t want to capture, to snare and trap, my daughter’s life, I want to share it with her. 



Suggestions for New Teachers (high school edition)

At the last school I worked, a good teacher was defined as someone who gets along with the kids, is an expert in the subject matter and doesn’t involve the administration very often.  But it’s a little more complicated than that, so I started working on a list for new teachers.

Surviving Teaching:

  • Ask for help.  You don’t have to pretend to have it all together.  None of us did when we first started. Many of us are willing to share materials with you.  But please don’t just take things from our web sites without asking.  If you have time, try to adapt lessons to fit your own needs and style.

  • Seek out a mentor:  Look around.  Who do you admire?  Who has reached out to you?  Who has a similar teaching style as you?

  • Remember why you are here.  Why did you want to become a teacher?  Try to keep that in mind every day.

  • Don’t teach to the test.

  • Don’t assign unnecessary homework.  You don’t have time to grade it and your students probably won’t benefit from it.  Think quality, not quantity.

  • Avoid teaching summer school.  You need a break.  If you need a second job, try something else.

  • Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.

  • In the summer, try to take at least one professional development class, read a book about teaching and learning, build an online professional learning community,or work on lesson planning a little.

  • Keep a file with every positive email or note that you receive from a student, parent, or anyone else.  It will be there for you when you are having a bad day.

Behavior Management:

  • Never get into a power struggle with a student.

  • If you do get into a power struggle with a student, do not lose.

  • Never punish a whole class for what only some people have done.

  • Build individual relationships and community throughout the year so that you have a way to prevent and solve problems.

  • Apologize to your students when necessary.

  • Ask for help when a class isn’t going the way you would like.  We all have classes like that from time to time and we have learned some strategies for dealing with them.

  • Be honest.  When you don’t know the answer, admit it.  Students will respond better to a person who is authentic.

  • Sending a student out to the hallway for a few minutes can help both of you calm down.

  • Don’t threaten anything you are not able or willing to follow through with.

  • Students WILL try to test the limits of every teacher, particularly the new ones. Be ready.  Have a plan.

  • If you have to yell, you have already lost the battle.


  • Be on time for everything.

  • Look around and see how your colleagues dress.  Make sure that you are not the most casual of the group.

  • Always treat the support staff respectfully.  They deserve it and they run the school.  While you are at it, treat everyone respectfully, too.

  • Don’t complain a lot.  You don’t want to be known as that person.

  • Don’t take things without asking.   We teachers are protective of what little supplies and space we have.  But please ask for what you need.

  • If your colleagues eat lunch together, make an effort to join them a few times a week.

  • If you are sick, stay home, but don’t take a lot of “mental health” days.

  • Attend IEP meetings when you are asked, particularly if you teach a core subject or anything the student is struggling in.

  • If you are sharing a classroom with another teacher, clean up before you leave.

  • Listen more than you speak during department meetings until you understand the issues.

  • Respond to emails and phone messages promptly, within 24 hours if possible.

The Leprechaun Trap

Thanks to a preschool teacher, my daughter believes in leprechauns.  More specifically, that if she makes a trap for them, they will visit, make a little mess, and leave gold chocolate coins.  I have learned that Wallgreen’s regularly stocks said coins.  The first year, I went to four different stores before I found them, only to have the dogs eat them.  So I went out again. 

Her first grade teacher induced mass hysteria with a little plastic guy called Mr. McGillicutty.  He appeared a few weeks before St. Patrick’s day.  Students would find him in a new place each morning, like an Irish Elf-On-The-Shelf.  Three of four kids even believed that they saw Mr McGillicutty move.  

Soon, I will head home to set the scene.  I will disturb her trap and spread the coins around it.  Then, I will find the green food coloring and squeeze some into one of the toilets.  I won’t do the milk this year because I just opened a new gallon.  Then, I will locate the hand print stamp and the green stamp pad I use once a year and stamp parts of the trap and the toilet paper.  Finally, I will pick Lily up from school and pretend to be surprised when we get home.  We’re not even Irish.  

I’m just wondering why?  She doesn’t have an older sibling to spoil anything for her and she is imaginative, so she still believes in Santa, The Easter Bunny, and The Tooth Fairy.  Is the world better when we believe in the possibility of magic? I think a kid her age, ten, has to sort of choose to believe.  But what about me? Do I prefer a world where kids can believe the fantastic?  Is that why I work so hard to keep it going?  Do I fight to preserve her innocence because I know that it is fleeting and precious?  But is she less prepared for the world because of it?

Fourth grade – I think the body talk is coming.  Next year, the sex talk. There isn’t much time left.   So I guess there’s no harm in playing the game a little longer.  And we both enjoy it.  

In Her Own Time

For that first year or so, we mark every milestone. First smile, first word, first step. And we compare our baby to the timetable and every other baby we know. After about the 18 months, most children have met the checkpoints, we are free to worry about other things a little less scary than, “is my baby normal?” When they are young, we are content with normal.

My daughter spent five weeks in the NICU because she was born early and underweight. Though she grew slowly, she was in step with her peers, more or less. She talked a little early and walked a little late. Now she is ten, and, except for being petite, she is like most other kids her age.

But, until today, she couldn’t ride a bike. Last summer I took it to the playground where the ground is flat, and she was too scared to ride with the training wheels on. She pedaled slowly and flinched at every bump. I tried to be patient, but she could see the frustration on my face.

Today, she rode it without training wheels. Most kids learn as a parent runs behind them, awkwardly gripping the back of the seat only to release when the wobbling stops. Not Lily. She did it herself. Yesterday, she could pedal twice without stopping. Today, while she was practicing, three of her friends cycled by. She asked, “Mama, can I ride around the block?” The four of them disappeared around the corner, and when they came around the other side, she was just another kid on a bike.

She is faster at some things and slower at others She is perfect and complete. She can do things on her own terms and in her own time. I hope she can see that in my eyes.

Harold and Leo

He’s not the smartest dog we’ve ever had. 

That was Harold, who could retrieve a specific toy, he could distinguish them and knew what we were saying.  Harold, get the bee, and he got the bee, not the hamburger or the ball.   We lost him two years ago.

No, Leo doesn’t retrieve.  He does do some tricks like jump through a hula hoop and sort of fall over when we say, “bang bang,” but only if we have a treat in our hands at the time.  So maybe he is the smart one. 

When Harold was near the end of his life, I stopped into Pet Smart to pick up some food for him and our other dog Emma (she’s more my  husband’s dog.)’ Harold kept loosing weight, though he ate anything he could find, including crayons.   The pooper-scooper duty was more interesting for a while. 

Cart full of large bags of surprisingly expensive dog food, I approached the registers, but was distracted by the dog lying in the temporary pen.  You know the ones you try not to look at so that you are not tempted to adopt them.  But there he was, about 25 pounds of black and brown sweetness.  So calm and gentle.  I squatted to see him and he leaned into the bars so that I could pet him.  I don’t really understand how it happened.  I think I was grieving Harold’s loss in advance.  When I looked into Leo’s eyes, I felt a connection.  I was compelled.  We didn’t need three dogs!  We already had one who was urinating in the basement daily, and it was a point of contention between me and my husband.  Yet I managed to convince him to adopt Leo.  “He’s so calm.  He’s already grown up.  He’ll be so easy.” I said.

When I brought Leo home two days later, he seemed calm enough, but he proved to be a challenging little beast.   He was house broken, but that’s about it.  We bought rawhide in Costco proportions to keep him from destroying things.   We learned that we had to take him to the dog park for a full hour every day if we wanted to be able to live with him and sleep through the night. 45 minutes wouldn’t do it.   And he was not always a good citizen at Hound Hill.  I had to bring a spray bottle to get him to stop barking at other dogs. 

A few months later, Harold died.  He couldn’t hear anymore, so when I got up in the morning, he was still curled up in a bony ball and I would touch him to see if he was still alive.  I wasn’t always sure whether I wanted him to be breathing still or not.   I finally took him in to be euthanized.  The  cancer had spread and he was suffering.  It was hard.  I came home to Leo who rested his chin in my lap and comforted me as I wept. 

Leo’s still pretty annoying.   He still wakes us up almost every night.  Gradually, though, we noticed we could skip a day at the dog park without losing our minds.   Rawhide became a treat rather than a necessity.  He sleeps pressed up against me every night, which probably affects my sleep.  It’s worth it.  And he made some progress in the dog training class, I think.  I tell people that he’s not really dumb; he is just more in tune  with his instincts.


When will I get used to this?

Early spring can be rough for high school teachers.  The students have registered for their classes, and the sections are decided.  Then we have the talk:  What do you want to teach next year?  How many sections?  Which off periods do you want? I”m 48 years old, but this process turns me into a defensive kid on the playground shouting, “That’s not fair,” before anyone has started playing.  What if I have 3 preps?  What if I have to take on any new preps? These are high stakes. The difference will affect how much time and energy I have left to spend with my family.   Right now I think I know what I will be teaching next year, but they have to build the schedule first to see if it works.  So I wait.  

Besides talking about schedules for next year, this week we were reminded that we were losing our desktop computers in the classroom.  We also just found out that we must surrender the Ipads they gave each one of us two years ago to make a cart for check-out.  And one more thing.  We learned this week that we will be moving to a 5/7 schedule next year from our current 6/8 schedule.  That’s a lot of change to stomach.  

After the schedules are finalized, the bloodiest battle ensues.  Classroom assignments.  We don’t have enough for each teacher to have his/her own classroom, so many people have to travel.  I traveled for my first 5 years here, and I know I am a better teacher when I can stay in one place.  And, some rooms are better than others.  Some are bigger, some are quieter, and one lacks windows.  We are like the monkeys in an overcrowded cage, hostile and violent waiting for the poop to start flying. 

My better self considers offering to give up my classroom to a new teacher, because I can probably handle it better.  Or, I could choose to take on an unwanted class or an extra prep for the same reason.  But my better self generally stays pretty quiet when it’s time to make the decisions.  

I decided to create a secular Serenity Prayer for teachers to help us during times like these.


Please grant me the serenity

     To accept the schedule I cannot control, 

     To view a lack of rooms and resources as a challenge,

     To hide my head in the sand as the political wind blows in a new direction,

Please grant me the strength:

     To teach every student in my class effectively no matter how many there are,

     To bring positive energy to my classroom every day,

     To advocate for education, my students, and myself,

And the courage to make it ’till summer.