Saturday, March 31, 2012

Writing --- a Joyful Experience

I have taught for thirty eight years.  I have writings from my students that date back to 1976.  Why did I keep them?  It is simple those pieces were pieces of the children I worked with, encouraged, and yes, loved.

I shared my writing with my students.  I found it easy to read what I wrote...but if I posted it --- I felt shy and nervous.  Each year, of course, I wrote a welcome letter...doesn't everybody?  But at the end of the year, I wrote them a letter sharing what I hope they received and what I received from them.

Now I am teaching future teachers!  I find that to be a rewarding, challenging, and weighty responsibility.  I wish each student that earns his or her degree and certification will teach well and in caring ways. So at the end of each semester, I write them a letter.  I stand up in front of the class and read it out loud and then hand each one a copy that includes a personal note.  This is what I say:

It is the end of the semester and ahead of you is a well deserved break from the educational grind.  It amazes me how quickly time has flown.  Looking back on this semester and the course, Writing in Education, it seems that we accomplished a great deal.   To be honest, there is a lot more I would like to share with you about writing.  Each of you has an opinion about your personal writing; and I hope that from this class you feel better about your own writing and more committed to helping your students become confident writers.  Each of you will be someone who will impact your students’ feelings about their written expression.  Please encourage, support, and prod them to do their best!!!  Developing individuals who feel at ease with sharing their thoughts in writing is a goal I feel each educator should have.

During my teaching career at the end of the school year, I would write a letter to my students letting them know what I hoped they had gained from being in my classroom.  This letter is my way of sharing what I hope you have gained from this class. I realize the reason you took this class was to work on your portfolio, and I wish you continued success in your endeavor.  I trust that the task of completing a professional portfolio seems attainable even though the work has truly just begun.  I would urge you to review and work on it often.  To me that wasn’t the most important aspect of the class.  Being confident and willing to share your ideas in writing is imperative and I hope each of you has grown in these areas.  I also shared ideas that I hope you can develop and use one day with your class.  It would be wonderful if you have gained a desire to make writing important to your students.  That would make a positive impact on your students.         

I hope, though more than anything, that I expressed to each of you what an important task that you have ahead of you.  You will teach… a career that is of utmost importance.  Enjoy it!!  Motivate your students to inquire and explore the world around them.  Please encourage their writing skills so they can learn more about themselves and that they are able to communicate effectively their ideas to others. 

I love teaching!!  I hope you will too.  Remember work hard, be consistent, laugh often, and embrace the energy of the children you will meet.    

And so I end day 31 of slicing...

Dear Slicers,

Thank you Stacey and Ruth and all fellow slicers for allowing me to share my thoughts and ideas through writing.  I am a better person and teacher for participating in this opportunity.   Thank  you all for the inspiration and desire to write!  Something I have "preached" for thirty-eight years and celebrated in others but didn't always do (except all that writing that was required).  This has been writing for me! 

This isn't goodbye though...I will continue slicing on Tuesdays.  

Friday, March 30, 2012 is marching.

This month has marched by.
Is it because I have been slicing?
Is it because there have been two family members with birthdays?
Is it because they are getting older and then so am I?
Is it because my youngest son got a job with benefits and so his wings are spreading?
Is it because I had spring break?
Is it because my work LOAD has gotten to be really heavy?
Is it because the March work is spilling over to April?
Is it because the weather is beautiful?
Is it because my allergies are acting up?
Is it because of our St. Patrick's Day celebration?
Is it because I have tried to spend as much time as I can with my grandkids (only when invited though)?
Is it because KU is in the Final Four and I love basketball and soon it will be over for another season?
Is it because my husband and I have been running and walking every chance we can get?
I don't know but I can say...
This month has marched by...and it is good to have met some slicers along the way!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Book and A Signature

A textbook...a textbook that my grandmother used in 1899 (copyright 1889 - a year after her birth).  I remember as a small child looking at the cover and running my fingers over the rivers and the mountains that were indented and raised on the map.

This had been my grandmother's book in 6th grade.  I would look at the pictures and read the text inside.  On. pages 86 and 87 at the top of the pages she wrote in pencil "Hurrah! for McKinley.  Bryan is an old cabbage head."   I would always laugh at the term "cabbage head" and be amazed that she thought about politics because as my grandmother, I never saw her as having an interest in politics.  She always seemed interested in me!   I would imagine her as a sixth grader and wonder would we have been friends.

And then I would look at the front cover page and notice her beautiful signature and my attempt to write like she did.   And then I smile once more...because when I look at that signature I remember that my grandmother was the sixth of six children.  She was given the name Avo without a middle name.  She told me that she felt her name was too short and so added Mildred for length.

And I smile again because children of a certain age (12 or so) need to exert their independence and this is a glimpse of my grandmother's individuality that I loved.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Rock

This rock sits in my house as part of the decor.  Strange maybe to those visiting but then I have found that the items in our house are memories.  To be honest when looking at the books this rock rests on memories come back to me.  The two top books are from family members and the one on the bottom is one I bought when I first began teaching.

But back to the rock.  It was found on a beach in Wales on the Irish Sea.  My son and I were traveling with his soccer team.  We were spending two weeks in Wales and England as he had played soccer.  On the day we found this rock, we were on the beach.  We were with two other soccer players and their parents and the boys were having so much fun.  Running into the cold water, chasing each other, and of course, burying each other in the sand.  Their energy was boundless.   When hunger finally set in and we were ready to go, my son brought me this rock.  It was very dark from the moisture it held and cold.  We both agreed it was a find that we must take home.  To be honest, I loved it more than he did.  When we got home I took it to school and set it on the edge of my desk.  My students loved it.  I had several that would go and touch it, rub it and comment and it.

When sharing Mem Fox's Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge with my students, I always used that as an example of "something precious" to me.  When I retired and began teaching in college, the rock always makes a visit when I share Fox's book.  The lesson is similar...we must share our stories...but now I want my college students to know that to teach writing well you must write and share along with the students.  To me if  teachers ask students to write they must be willing to write and share their stories.   This seems scary to them....why share their stories?  Aren't they suppose to "just' teach?  And I remind them to teach well, you must practice what you teach.

And so my rock that was found on the beach of the Irish Sea lives on to tell its tale through my eyes.  (I feel a little guilty maybe I should have left it their for others).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Day in a College Classroom

Today in the Writing in Education course I teach students had to share their ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc. about a journal article.  The article discusses ways to validate students lived realities in schools.  The article reminds the readers that many students' lives do not mirror their teachers' lives.  When a student writes, draws, or talks about a subject that isn't part of the teacher's lived reality there a student may be faced with silence.  Silence, not to be cruel, but because the teacher is not sure or prepared on a way to respond.  When my students have read this article in the past, they are always horrified that the teacher doesn't acknowledge a child's response.  I know that each student in my class would meet the student's response with silence since he or she would not know how to respond.  This article has always produced rich discussion but I wanted them to get more out of it.  

Then last semester I asked them to express their thoughts, impressions, connections in any form they wish.  I do give them a list of possible ways but encourage them to do the "expression" in any way they wish.  We spent the whole class sharing what they did.  Every student did the activity and everyone willingly shared.  And after every presentation there was applause.  There were even those times during the sharing that you saw heads nods or comments of agreements.

Some of their expressions were in:

Original Art
A comparison with The Great Gabsy and The Hunger Games
A Poster
A letter to the author
A letter to a school librarian requesting this journal article be shared with all teachers
A paper about how this article was nothing like her life and yet, it was ok to be different but there should be understanding
A paper about a girl that related to the broken relationships in the article
A poem from the teacher and from the child met with silence
A prediction before reading - a reflection during reading - an analysis after reading
Pictures draw on a legal size envelope during the reading of the article
A Mobile
A book jacket
A song to the tune "House of the Rising Sun" sung to us as he was playing guitar

Afterwards we discussed how their learning was deeper and richer.  We talked about how some of the ways they expressed themselves were not expected.  One woman shook visibly when she read her poem and her personality usually is very self-assured.  The guy that sung was the last to volunteer and is always the quietest participant in the class.  And yet after he sang the applause was loud and someone asked if he would sing it again so they could record it.   He quietly began his song again.

And then I reminded them one day they would teach and they MUST look for ways to make the learning richer, deeper, more engaging.  And of course, when a student says, writes, draws, etc. something that is not part of their lived realities do not meet him or her with silence.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Appreciation of Spring

This year spring has arrived early it seems all over the United States.  To me, each spring leaves me amazed.  I am amazed because spring is a wonder to me.  I always pause and am amazed how spring appears.

My childhood was plagued with allergies.  The type of allergies that restricted my eating, my playing outside, my health.  During the spring I was indoor all the times.  During my kindergarten through second grade years, I rarely made it through a full day of school and many spring weekends my parents found themselves taking me to the hospital.  I know at the time it would have been rough on me but to be honest it is all a faded memory except when the leaves begin to appear on the trees.

When the buds come out on the trees and the leaves begin to grow and unfold, I stop and pause.  I am thrilled to see this happen.  It amazes me that not all trees bloom the same way and that so many have color first before the leaves come out.  During my childhood springs, I was too ill to see the unfolding in front of me.  Once everything had bloomed, I would feel better and be allowed to play outside once again.  I have told friends about how the blossoming of spring amazes me and I can tell it is hard for them to understand.

Do I feel sad because I missed this part of my childhood or do I feel special because it is one thing I still meet with childhood wonder?  I must admit I feel special because I am filled with awe at the splendor of a new season!   (And yes, the allergies still are a nuisance but are controllable)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Gorgeous Day in More than One Way!

Today has been about family.  
My daughter called and asked if we wanted to meet her and the kids at the pond.  
How could we say no?  Even if our list of things to do seems to get longer and longer.  After all tomorrow is another work day.
And so what did we do?  
We fed the ducks and shooed the geese.  We crawled and walked around the green grass.  We smelled flowers.  We looked for frogs and found one hiding.  We saw millions of tadpoles.  We discovered a snake that we just quickly peered at.  We sat on rocks. We threw rocks. We dangled our feet. 
We ate peanut and jelly sandwiches. We drank water.  
We wandered and wandered and wandered.  We sat and hugged.  We sat and talked.
We savored the outdoors and each others' company.
We each went to our own homes --- richer, happier...and yes, with the list that will be waiting for another day.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

One is Roots - The Other Wings

Yesterday a dear friend posted on Facebook that her twin boys had driven to school together for the first time. She expressed her happiness and her sadness.  Her boys were becoming more self sufficient.  Her post reminded me of a saying that has kept me going through my years of parenting:

There are two lasting gifts we can give to our children
One is roots
The other wings

This saying sat in my laundry room for years, and as I would be working I would reflect upon its meaning at that particular time in my children's lives.

I now have grandchildren and one day my daughter called me up.  As soon as she said, "Mom," I could hear the tears in her voice.  Her daughter was near a year and a half and had been in the process of weaning herself  and that day wasn't interested at all in her mother's milk.  My daughter was crushed.  She and I had talked about the saying I had  many times and so I quietly said it to her.  She said, "Oh Mom, I don't want my daughter to even have a feather."

I smiled to myself with the tears coming for both us now ---  thinking first we help our children put down roots so that eventually they can fly away.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Out for a Run

This week has been a very busy week at work for me.  Along with the work schedule has been the rain.  It began raining Monday and continued throughout this week.  At the end of my day on Thursday it had quit for a brief period of time.  When I came home my husband and I decided to get a run in before the rain started again.  We enjoy running together and hadn't been able to all week long.

We headed out on one of our favorite routes in an old neighborhood.  This run is one that the people that live in the neighborhood are use to seeing us.  People wave, dogs sniff at us warmly, some people call us by name.  "Hey guys!"  "Hi kids."  "Great to see you." "Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Hennessy." etc.  We have become a fixture in their everyday lives.

Today on our run as we passed one house and a man was standing in the street with a shirt wearing a shirt for a tree service.  We had never met but he must have thought we were part of the landscape.  He said, "Man, this tree is going to be tough to take out."  We stopped, turned, and looked up.  Sure enough there was a very tall thick tree without any buds.  He proceeded to tell us it had been hit by lightning.  It appeared to be standing alright but he said the bark was easy for him to remove and he could tell it hurt inside.  Then he commented on how it would be nice if a crane could come in but the electrical wires were to close. As we stood looking at the tree it seemed so majestic close between two homes and yes,  close to the wires.   He thought he might have to get 10-15 men to stand in a line and carry out pieces as it was cut down.  He continued saying he was worried about the danger to a man cutting it down.  Cottonwoods were dangerous trees.  The trunk was very thick and yet it could crack easily in the weak spots on the branches. He said more men lost their lives cutting down this type of tree.

I never want a tree cut down.  I imagine how long they must have stood there and I wonder what the land was like and how the houses and neighborhood grew around it.  And then I thought of the older woman that lived in the house with the cottonwood.  If it fell, it could do real damage to her home.  As we stood there with the man talking and me thinking about the demise of the tree, raindrops began to fall.  We stopped talking and went our ways.  We continued our run, and he got in his truck and drove off.  I love our runs for the exercise and for the opportunities to converse with those we meet along the way.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Spine Poem

Today as I sat at my computer getting ready for the day.  I looked up and some books grabbed my attention.  All ones I have reviewed but not all I have engulfed myself in...and when planning for my Writing in Education course today, I know I must find ways to help them teach the writing process (no matter grade or content) and tie it to standards.  AND MAKE IT WORTHWHILE AND ENGAGING FOR THEIR STUDENTS!

And so my spine poem...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Program Coordination

One of the titles I have at work is Program Coordinator for Elementary, Middle, and Secondary Education.  This title is long in my mind and since beginning this job this academic year, I have decided the length means more duties can simply be added to what I am to do.  One of my responsibilities is to hire and evaluate adjunct instructors teaching our online courses.

Those wishing to teach will submit their vitae, transcripts, recommendations, and any additional information they wish to have evaluated.  It is then my task to wade through it to see if they are qualified on paper.  It seems odd to me that I don't meet them.  When I think about it, I would review all paperwork first prior to an interview for an adjunct professor to teach a face-to-face class.  The part I do find odd is that some that apply have no knowledge or skills in the field they wish to teach.  For example a veterinarian applied to teach a law and ethics class dealing with schools.  I think that when someone applies and doesn't have the experience it is easier to do when they know they will never meet in person that will hire them.  A colleague and I have set up basic qualifications that all instructors must have to apply and then have specifics for different courses.  Such as the one dealing with law and ethics.  We want someone that has experience in the field of law and/or school administration.  I am feeling more positive in the direction we are if someone would just screen the applicants before hitting my desk.

Then our online adjunct instructors are evaluated once in five terms of teaching a particular course.  Our online courses are eight weeks in length and we have five terms each academic year.  I am notified of the instructors to be evaluated and am to review their knowledge of content in the online classroom.  There is another person that evaluates the facilitation of the course and she observes the course during two consecutive weeks.  I feel this to be an invasion because as a teacher and now as an instructor when I was or am observed there was a planned time for an administrator to do the evaluation.  For me the online observations are time consuming and challenging.  I feel that our online courses are well developed but the content and format are set.  An instructor can't change the course content or format.  So I must find ways the instructor expands and adds to the students' learning of the course content.

A new eight week term is beginning and so I have begun once again to ponder  how to do this in a fair and meaningful way.  And to be honest, this post today is because I need to write some of my thoughts down in hopes to figure this out.  This part of my job isn't something I love but I do want to do it in the best way to benefit students and the adjunct instructors.  So today I am thinking about this task.  Wednesdays aren't teaching days for me and so then I can catch up or think about my program coordinator responsibilities.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A New Experience

Today at the university I teach at, I was asked to do a Q & A for the International Officers visiting the army post near the university.  I had "taught" all day and then volunteered my time for the question and answer session on the American educational system with the International Officers.   I was nervous when I walked into the conference room.  I looked around and there were four females on the panel and all asking questions were male.  The majority were from African nations (about 40), a few from the Middle East, fifteen from Asia,  and a table of ten from Europe.  

Most of the questions came from the men from Africa.  It was interesting because even though the questions were about our education system, they all related to how our children are raised.  One asked, "We have parents that work and we have parents that don't have jobs.  If a parent doesn't have a job we ask that he or she works in our schools.  It seems to me that in the states many feel that the parents aren't involved why don't you have them volunteer or work in the schools? "  Hmmmm... to me that was an excellent question.

Then one of the U. S army officers stated that the parents in the U. S didn't do the job that they should.  He went on and on about the problems with families in the U. S.  I boiled, steamed, simmered, and almost exploded.  How could he say that it was a "parent" problem?  I do not think anyone educating students should BLAME a specific group.  If I, as a teacher, blames parents doesn't that open me up to be blamed by parents if their child wasn't succeeding in school?  Granted I am opinionated but I have many years of experience and I wasn't going to allow this group of individuals think it was one group's fault.  So I spoke up...I explained my views and watched this conference room packed with men look at me and try to process what I was saying. 

Another International Officer asked, "Do you think those from the United States are better educated than international students?" Again, an interesting but I thought biased question.  All these men had "international" experiences!

And then, "What do you think of the standards that are to be met in the U. S. compared to the job of learning?"...again a hmmmm question.

And at the end of the question and answer session the International Officers presented us with a plague and other gifts, snapped pictures and thanked us for our time.  A new experience!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mirrors vs Windows

Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester.  The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.  
-Sydney J. Harris, journalist and author (1917-1986)

I have been sitting in my office all morning working, working, working and the whole time feeling hemmed in.  I felt like my work was going nowhere and inside I was trying to reach my inner creativity.  The weather has been muggy this morning and so the open window was providing little relief.  Then there was some thunder and soon I heard rain outside.  I felt fresh air come into my window.

I looked at the bottom of my computer monitor and saw the above quote taped there.  I had been a mirror this morning.  My emotions and moods were all pinned inside me; and I wasn't able to think and create for my classes tomorrow.

Once I felt the fresh air, I had an idea that I can't wait to "dig" into for tomorrow.  I am now a window and I am hopeful that tomorrow I will bring light to the students that enter my classroom.

(I had tried to write three times this morning for the slice challenge and had nothing...until now...may not be the best, but it is my thoughts---hope all are having a good day slicing and doing the rest of their day's work)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Letter Writing

For seventy-three years my mom has written round robin letters with a bunch of girls.  There were sixteen girls in the original bunch and they met and became friends at seven in 1928.  At eighteen they all began going off in their own directions, some married, some went to college, but life became different for them all.  One of the group decided they should stay in contact writing letters.  One of the bunch would start with a letter and send it on.  As it made the rounds a new letter would be added until finally there were sixteen letters in an envelope.  Then the letters would be removed and a new round of letter writing would begin again.

Now there are four girls left.  They still write but it seems that it takes a little longer for the letters to circulate since the girls don't think there is much news to send.  One girl is on the east coast, one in the midwest, and two on the west coast.  And to think they grew up in Webster City, Iowa.

The last letter came from the east coast and it had in it a black and white picture of the girls at sixteen poised in front of corn stalks.  The girl that took it had been interested in photography and would take the girls around different locations to pose for her pictures.  My mom told me she could remember climbing over a fence to pose among the corn stalks.

One time I told my mom I wish I could have read the letters sent.  She looked at me with shock.  How could I even think those letters could or should be shared with others?  But to me those letters held the lives of those women, their families, their hopes and disappointments.  But to my mom those letters were the continuation of their friendships and private to them.

I do understand and respect her opinion and yet I am jealous.  I never have had the support, love , and friendship with a bunch of girls that lasted a lifetime.  Cheers to the sixteen and cheers to the remaining four!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

The corn beef is cooking and soon the house will smell of days long gone.  I married into an Irish family.  My husband's father's parents came from Ireland.  They were hard working, fun loving people.  A portrait of John Hennessy hangs in our living room smiling at us.  I never met him but I did have the pleasure of knowing my husband's parents well.

They owned a small grocery town that supported them and the community well for many years.  The older they got, the older and more depressed the area the grocery store was in became.  Many of the original customers depended on them for their groceries.  They would call in their orders and have them delivered to their homes or apartments.  One couple was blind and their delivery was laid out in distinct piles so they could put their own groceries away in the cabinets.  Each customer was treated with respect and by name.

Each St. Patrick's Day they worked (unless it was Sunday) just as they did every day.  They did wear their green and wish everyone a lovely St. Patrick's Day.  After work they would go home and we would bring our children over and eat a delicious meal of corn beef, cabbage, and new potatoes.  Their small kitchen was warm and the stories of the days when they were young were told.

 To us St. Patrick's Day is a day to celebrate the family we have and the family that came before us.  Today we will do the same.  We will have family and friends over and eat corn beef, cabbage, and new potatoes and celebrate our present, future, and be thankful for our past.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Abigail Adams

Today I am wrestling with a topic.  I scanned the lists of one liners for others' posts this morning.  I noticed Tara's comments about multitasking and she mentioned Women's History Month.  And so thanks, Tara for helping me get an idea.

A story told to me by my mother...
One day I came home from the second grade in tears.  My mom asked what was wrong and I told her that Abigail Adams wasn't able to see her son, John Quincy Adams, become president because she had died before he was elected.  My mom was relieved but a little confused by my reaction but for me, that started an interest in the life of Abigail Adams.  

Since that day,  I read any book that is published about her or her husband, John Adams.  I love to read the letters she wrote to her husband and various famous Americans such as Thomas Jefferson.   I admire her intelligence, her opinions, her ability to run a farm, and raise a family.  And isn't it wonderful?   My interest started one day when a teacher shared with her second graders about a famous woman, Abigail Adams.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Another Generation Communicating!

qqwieweoriuemwenrbjnmjodel---a text my three year granddaughter sent on my daughter's phone...with the translation from my daughter, "Dear Granma, I love you a whole lot with my tummy."

The other day I wrote about how my children communicate with me and  now I have a note from the next generation.  I was gone for two days and this is the text I got when coming back home.  It made me feel so good --- even in my tummy.

When my granddaughter was just learning to talk we spent a lot of time using sign language with the word she wanted to say.  The signing intrigued me since I had not done it with my children.  For my granddaughter the verbal with the sign made her world and ours explore.  She is always talking and loves to watch me on the computer, on my cell, etc.  And now she is reaching out to me with texts.  Amazing and so much fun for me!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Slice of Life Challenge

The Slice of Life Challenge has provided me with an opportunity.  One that I should have taken and could have taken but never did.  An opportunity to write...but then my internal critic would ask about what---and--- why--- and---who would care.  But once I started on March 1,  I have found I am able to come up with ideas.  I love people reading my posts, but I have found this experience is truly for me.  I am loving it!

I have spent most of my adult life encouraging, prodding, expecting my students from first grade through college to express themselves in writing.  Presently with my college students, I expose them to research, I have them read articles about the writing process and articles on how writing impacts students' lives, I have them read a textbook that they must react to while writing their children's book, I make them write a story to be published, I make them read their story and do an activity to engage their peers in their story.  I make them write, write, write; and I insist they write stories that matter to them.

And yet until now, I haven't taken the time to write for myself.  I write A LOT but not for myself.  I usually say at some point and time in the semester in a whispered tone, "I am going to start writing each day in a journal."  I haven't gotten that done.  But this March I started writing taking on the Slice of Life Challenge.  And what a rush it has been for me!

The benefits to me are endless.  I am enjoying thinking, writing, reading, thinking, writing, reading, etc.  I also find that my college students are benefiting.  And why shouldn't they?  It is proven that those that "do" can teach better and with more understanding.  Again something I have said over and over to my college students and now when I say it I have more credibility.

The Slice of Life Challenge is getting close to the halfway mark...I can't imagine the loneliness I will feel once this experience ends.  So I choose not to imagine it but to continue to enjoy!  Thanks for the platform.  This is a great experience for me!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Communicating with My Children

I was cleaning out some drawers yesterday and ran into several treasures.  Some that are most precious to me our notes and cards my children have given to me.  And those notes and cards made me stop and think of all the ways they have communicated with me over the years.  By far my favorites are those in writing.  I tend to keep each scrap of paper that has one of their messages.

But then I  stopped and thought of how we have communicated over the last few years.  Of course cell phones have been a big part of our communication.  I remember that each morning for a month or so my daughter would call me on my cell phone as I was setting my classroom up for the day and tell me all the latest on her job hunt.  Each detail was important and needed to be shared, and I would wander around my room listening while  going about getting my classroom ready.

I also remember when my middle son was in Europe and we emailed and had the occasional phone call.  This was about six years ago and when we were on the phone there was always a delay in hearing what was said and being able to talk.  We did email a great deal; and I copied each email.  After he had been back for some time and living on his own in California, I gave him all the emails in a notebook.  He read them on a flight back to California and called when he arrived home telling me how much they meant to him.  I remember when the youngest was in Europe last year and we would Skype.  It amazed me how we saw him at the college he was attending, at Starbucks, and even sharing a Thanksgiving dinner with friends from France.

Of course besides phone calls, there are now text messages and even Facebook messages.  My son in California posted old front pages of our hometown newspaper with college basketball headlines.  He did it to make me remember the good times when "my" basketball team didn't loose like it did this weekend.

All these to me are ways we stay in touch and it means so much.  I just wish all of them were of the kind that I could keep so when I open an old drawer the memories are there for me to see and touch again.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Young Man and a Mouse

My first full year of teaching was a treat and one I remember clearly.  I co-taught with a new teacher and we had a class of first through fifth grade children that received special education services.  The students and the activities we did are pleasant memories, not like my one semester teaching in the same room as Mrs. Ryan.

I had one young man that began school right after the holiday break that touched me in many ways, but I will only share one today.  He was ten years old, lived with his mom, wore old ragged clothes, was a poor reader, had minimal math skills, and was a wonderful artist.  And I found out a caring individual.

One morning when he arrived at school, he came up to my desk with his hands in his coat pockets and said, "Miss Seney, I couldn't leave her alone at home."  Out came this rodent, twitching whiskers, pointy nose, and long tail.  This was my very first meeting of a live rodent.  In my mind it was huge but in this young man's mind it was something he took care of.  He went on to tell me that it was going to have babies.  Now when I looked at it, I couldn't tell it was even pregnant.  He stood there in front of me cradling this mouse.  I knew I couldn't let him down.  I said, "Let's take him to the janitor.  I am sure there are some things to make a nest for him so he can be comfortable. You can leave him in the janitor's room since it will be quiet in there and of course, go visit him anytime you wish."  (Note:  I used a male pronoun to refer to this creature.  I guess I just couldn't imagine a mouse could be anything but male.  I apologize to my readers but my young student never corrected me.)  The janitor did allow the mouse to stay in a box for the day.  My young man did go visit the mouse frequently.  At the end of the day  the mouse left in its box and had the babies that night.  It was the weekend and when the young man came back on Monday, he said the mouse and babies were fine.

I look at the incident know and think could I have handled it better.  At the time I was just trying not to scream.  I did react calmly and did find a way for the young man to take care of his charge that day without interfering with our class's routine.  I did realize that day that my lived reality was different than his.  He was taking care of something that lived in his home that he had become attached to and important to him.  He helped me to be a more understanding and caring teacher.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My First Day of Teaching

I earned my teaching degree a semester early, graduating in December.  I  had received a degree in elementary education and special education.  I was offered three jobs in special education and settled on one in a rural community near my college town.  I was to have the primary students in Mrs. Ryan's class.  She had first through sixth graders and the state would pay for an "extra" teacher.  So I graduated in December and began teaching in January.

Mrs. Ryan welcomed me in her own way.  She allowed me to call her Mrs. Ryan while the students called her Aunt Ruth.  She allowed me to use the back fourth of the classroom with the coats, extra clothes for anyone in the school that might need them, a bed, old basal readers that I would have had in the first grade and yet, I was thrilled.  I was a teacher!

The first day was finally here and I would meet my students.  The school started six days after it should have because of the snow that would not allow the buses to pick up the kids in the rural community.  I remember little of the morning but my memory is clear beginning with lunch.

The students are lined up to walk down to the cafeteria.  Mrs.  Ryan is the lead and I am at the end, but am elated.  Teachers eat in the teacher's workroom and once lunch is over we go back to the cafeteria to pick up our students.  Mrs. Ryan is in the lead and I am at the end.  The principal comes up to me and hands me a note that is folded in half.  I unfold it and  read, "Walk the children out of the school, cross the street to the bus barn, get on a bus.  There has been a bomb threat."  I quietly and quickly walk to the front of the line and hand the folded note to Mrs. Ryan.  She opens it, reads it, and states, "Not until we have had our hot chocolate."  At this point I notice all the children have a carton of milk in their hands.

We enter the room and the students stand in line by the hot plate with a pan on it and Mrs. Ryan takes each container opens it and pours the milk into the pan.  She adds cocoa and we wait for it to warm.  The children get up from their desks and come back with their cartons. She pours the hot chocolate back into their carton They sit down and enjoy their hot chocolate.  This whole time I am amazed, scared, appalled, baffled, and feeling like a true novice with no power.

As they finish their hot chocolate I ask them to stand in line by the classroom door.  This time I am at the head of the line although, I am not sure where the bus barn is but I am determined to get them out of the building safely.  I also am thinking this is either my last day on earth or I will be fired for not doing what the principal instructed me to do.

We are the last class to get on a bus and then we sit of it two hours. We are let off once the day is over and it is determined that a student called in a bomb threat to extend the start of school.   I was not fired nor was I ever questioned.  I realized the principal understood the power of Mrs. Ryan.  And so began my thirty years of teaching.  Fortunately I spent only a semester working with Mrs. Ryan, a woman that taught me quite a bit!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

No Alarm Clock

Today is a no alarm clock morning.  A rarity for me...a once in six months type of experience.  When I climbed into bed last night, I anticipated the "no alarm clock" beginning of the day.  I was thrilled.

My night's sleep was okay, waking up twice and yet knowing that nothing would disturb my morning's slumber.  I knew I would wake slowly with the sun high in the sky and the birds chirping happily.

Then it seemed out of nowhere,  a noise began arousing me out of peaceful slumber.  I awoke wondering what the foreign noise was.  The sun was up but barely and as the fog lifted from my sleepy head, I realized it was a cell phone ringing, I knew I must answer it.  It could be important and so I did.

It was a wrong number.

Oh well, I got up, fixed coffee, and began reading the paper.  There will be another "no alarm clock" morning one of these days.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Bell to Hold

One day my dad handed me a bell, a school bell.  It had been his dad's school bell.  Someone I had become fond of, had been intrigued by, and had always wished I would have met.  My grandfather died before I was born, before my father was even married.   As I grew up my dad would tell me stories that his dad had told him and stories my dad remembered about his father.  The stories made him come alive for me.

One day after I had been teaching for several years and had a family of my own, my dad gave me his dad's school bell.  He told me that his dad, as the superintendent,  wrung the bell when the students came to his rural Iowan school each morning.  He told me his dad called each student by name and prided himself in knowing each student's name and something about each.

I took the bell in my hand.  The brass was no longer shining but it was beautiful.  The ring it made was clear and strong.  The handle was slender and black and yet, where my grandfather's hand had held it the black covering had worn off.  I held that bell in my hand as I thought he would.  I was touching something that was his.  Each time I hold that bell I imagine his hand on top of mine.  And at the beginning of each school year and on the first day,  I learn each student's name and something about each in honor of a man who rang a school bell.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

So How Did You Like Our Books?

"So how did you like our books?"  This was the greeting I received this morning as I entered my Writing in Education course.  Yesterday for My Slice of Life post,  I shared a letter I was going to read to my students about being proud of their willingness to take the challenge and share a piece of themselves.

When asked that question I thought what a great opening to what I wished to share with them.  I had to have them look over their books first making sure that the order was correct and then had a student take the books to the education office to have them shipped to the publisher.  This was the first priority and so after doing that I began, "S. asked as she came in, 'So how did you like our books?' "  

"And that is a question I wish to answer. After finishing the review of your books,  I choice to write a letter to you"...

and then I began to read my letter to them...In the first paragraph I use the word proud and ask is that something an instructor should be and do college students even care if the instructor is proud.  I was greeted with giggles which is what I wanted...I wanted them to do that embarrassed giggle thing...thinking to themselves this professor is a weirdo.

and then began...I learned--

I should treasure...
I should pass on...
I should look to...
I should realize that...
I should remember those...
I should remember a family doesn't...
I need to remember to...
I must remember not to always...
I must remember my past...
I need to support...
I need to remember that...
I need to remember to share...
I need to look
I must always remember...

Yes, I am proud.

During the reading when I read a statement, I looked at the individual that I felt had helped me learn that "something" from his or her writing.  Some would look directly at me, so would lower their eyes, but all felt the power of what I was sharing.  All knew the impact the written word had.  There was no laughter, there were some smiles, and even some misty eyes...and all left richer and more informed how their words impacted someone who read, connected, and learned from them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Still Learning

Dear Spring 12 College Students,

I stand before you amazed, encouraged, inspired,  and proud.  Proud …hmm is that an odd word for a college instructor to use when referring to college students?  Do I have the right to be proud?  Do you care if I am proud of your work?  Should pride be something that even crosses my mind?  Isn’t my job to expose you to ideas and allow you to let those fester and grow within you and see what sticks as your career unfolds?  But I cannot think of a better or more appropriate word than Proud

I recall before this semester began and one of my past students that had been in this course told me about running into one of my new students.  That student was sharing that the writing of a book was causing them stress even before the class started.  I secretly chuckled to myself and yet I hoped I would convince, encourage, and inspire each of you to complete the task.

 Now I come to the PROUD moment.

All completed their story and all shared their thoughts…and I was able to sit down and be immersed in those stories and…

 I learned---

I should treasure the time I spend with my love ones---a dog, a dad, an uncle, grandparent, great-grandparent, best friend

I should pass on the stories told to me before from those dear to me

I should look to the mystery in life---I might be able to help a spirit

I should realize that when I struggle others have struggled before and I should look for the good in myself and others

I should remember those that enter my life especially the most innocent, children, may have secrets they hold that may hurt so bad that they can’t think of the studies set in front of them

I should remember a family doesn’t always pass along the best but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn to be better and yet love my family dearly

I need to remember anticipation is part of the excitement for children and also for things such as a storm

I must remember not to always think of myself but to others I might be able to help…my life will be richer

I must remember my past and allow it to connect with my present

I need to support the stinkers in my life and encourage them to enjoy and do the right things

I need to remember that not everyone sees things the same and the world would really be better with more color

I need to remember to share because usually things come back to those that do

I need to look at the world and realize that math is all around and even I can understand and appreciate the world of math

I must always remember my past and support those that are new to the year, school, etc and remember it is the climate I build that will make the difference for the students  that will enter my classroom

Yes, I am proud.  Each of you took the challenge.  Each of you have demonstrated you have the potential  to impact students with your written word…make sure to use your written word along with the words your students will hear from you and the feelings they will receive from your body language.

Thank you,
Your proud instructor

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

March a Month of Promise

March a month of promise to me.  I have had two sons born during the month of March and birth always brings promise.  One son is far away or so it seems.  His life has taken a different path than I could have imagined; but it is a path that he has found peace and love.  A path that I have accepted and embraced.  A path though, that is different than what I envisioned all those many years ago when I held him in my arms, when I read him stories, when I took him to school, when I went to his sporting events, when I went to visit him in Europe, when I...thought about his future.  Do I grieve because it is different than what I dreamed?  No, I celebrate.  I admire him, respect him, and love him.  I do miss him though.  Life is different than I envisioned.

Monday, March 5, 2012

For a reason I can't explain but embarrasses me, I have been scared to write my whole life.  As a teacher for 35 years in grades 1st-college, one would think I would not have this fear.  I should be overconfident in my ability and skills.  I have also spent most of those 35 years encouraging others to express themselves through writing.  I used writing notebooks each day in my class writing along side my students.  I used writing workshops to allow my students the experience of joy and growth of writing and sharing.  I developed a college course solely around the idea of examining one's own writing and closely looking at how to encourage a writing community.
 Now I am writing  a blog and each day I wonder will someone read what I have written.  As I begin writing today, I think of my son.  He is 23 years old and for the last year and a half has written everyday in a journal. As a parent and a teacher, I am amazed and filled with pride.  There have been times he has read an idea or entry to me from his journal but it is infrequent.    As it rests on the dining room table, I have looked at it with wonder and awe...but I never peek inside.  He is writing in a bound book that one day someone from a younger generation will pick up and read his thoughts, dreams, and ideas.  I know he is not doing that for the purpose of having some future generation read it but to me that is what he is doing leaving his legacy---his most precious thoughts...I wonder will my blog posts be a legacy...I am beginning to think on April 1 I should follow my son's path...write in a journal each day.  But I must remember it is for me and not as a legacy.  It is the legacy part that is scary and I think has held me back!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Why Seney...

Today when I opened up my blog to write, I noticed the name Seney.  Seney was my maiden name.  One that I haven't officially used for over thirty years but one I love to hear and see.  It reminds me of my youth and my parents.  It reminds me that I was called Seney through school since it seemed to fit me better than Gail.  AND I liked it much better than Gail.  I still have friends from college that call me Seney and I love to hear it.  When I hear it I also always picture my dad.  He supported and inspired me when I was young and I feel his presence now even though he is no longer alive.   And so the day I set up my blog, my first blog, the blog for the 31 days of the slice of life challenge, I used it on an impulse.

My father would be proud and interested in this challenge.  I would have shared this experience with him and he would have listened.  To me he always truly listened to what I had to say and to me, this experience is allowing me to listen to me.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Today is ahead of me and the anticipation of it is waiting for me. It is Saturday and it holds a different rhythm for me than Monday through Friday. Coffee this morning with my husband will be slower. No rushing to fill up my cup one more time before heading out the door. I will read the newspaper although I will fill some emptiness since I will find little value or substance in the words it holds. I will check the news sources on my phone once I finish the paper, even checking Facebook for news of those that wish to post "their" status. I will go outside and run today, a run that is more leisurely since I am not trying to fit it in after work and before the rest the day's events. Because it is March and the month of March Madness, I will watch as many college basketball games as I can squeeze in --- watching and cheering on my favorite teams. My husband and I will go out with old college friends tonight. Friends we were close with many years ago and then family and jobs came along and we drifted apart. The children have grown up and all are working (within the last couple of months) and we have re-connected. The time we spend together is rich and enjoyable. And then the day will be done...a day with a different rhythm, a different feel, a day I count on to fit with all the other days of my week. I love the rhythm of my life!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Slice of Life # 2 Giggles

This morning I am thinking about giggles.  As an adult I spend a lot of time each day smiling.  Smiling to greet someone, smiling at what someone says in the classroom, smiling at my family and friends and hopefully laughing some each day, but rarely giggling.  My three year old granddaughter makes me remember giggles.  The type of giggles that sound so amazing and the type that after awhile hurts.  There are times when my granddaughter will ask me to tickle her and when I do I am transported back to a time when I can recall the belly laughs that made me giggle.  I cherish the memory of those giggles and I relish in the sound of her giggles.  I remember and celebrate.  Maybe I will have an opportunity to giggle a little today.  If not, I think a visit to my granddaughter will be a part of my day.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Slice of Life #1

As I pondered whether to attempt something I have encouraged students to do for thirty years, I thought back to my writing. No one truly ever encouraged me or discouraged me in writing and yet, each day I teach I encourage others to express themselves.  I am passionate about writing and yet, I do not write each day.  Well, that is not true...I do write each day but not for me --- not to listen to my voice.  

Presently I teach a writing course for pre-service teachers and I try to encourage them to listen and look for their voice in what they write. But my main goal for each class, each semester, each year is to allow the pre-service teachers to discover how important it is to think of their future students and ways to "see" and "hear" what each will share. I do not think that those that teach really have an opportunity to discover the power of the written word...and each teacher...early childhood, elementary, middle, science, math, social studies, etc. should be committed to help others express themselves through writing. I believe everyone should raise their voices and write so they and others can "see" and "hear" them.

So today is day ONE to allow my voice to be seen and heard.  I am both excited and scared.  How about you?