Sometimes I remind myself of my kids when they were toddlers.  Each would get so tired, going and going, that we’d have “the pre-crash crazies” – a burst of child exuberance — quickly followed by the crankiness of being over tired.  Fussy and hard to settle into bed.

This morning, I pushed myself to get up early, do yoga, meditate, get ready for school, drive in and begin the day.  I saw a reading group dominated by one second grade character who has issues, and then I figured out which color system in Fountas & Pinnell has enough books for take home at the new group levels, and I mixed and matched where there were holes.  I insured that the support materials were all in files and placed in easy grasp.  I finally finished putting away the zillion materials from the previous intervention.  I actually enjoy getting projects done and being driven.

I should have felt really good that it was organized and ready.  I made a few changes, confirming schedules, and I should have felt great that I can resume meeting with groups.  I went to the staff room, cut up an avocado and veggies and ate lunch.  The teacher talk mostly floated over and around me.  I was in neutral gear.

I went back to my room, the downpour now making the covered hallways slick,  with a sickening amount of worms who’ve left the compacted lawn to try to escape drowning. They have not escaped the feet of many students.

At my desk, I sat and took stock.  Lunch had made me feel poorly, not refreshed.  My hands and mind felt leaden.  I remembered the bloody mucus that came out of my nose this morning.  My throat sore and sinuses achy.  Then the self-diagnosis registered.  It began to all add up to a zero total of energy.  Being driven was going to have a different meaning today.

I got my purse, put away the laptop and walked to the office.  “Please sign me out, I’m not feeling well.”  The secretary looked at me and nodded. I drove myself home in a torrential rain, with everything grey.  Streets, sky, my mood.

When I got home I crawled under blankets feeling chilled to the bone and fell into a hard sleep.  A couple hours later, I awoke because Mom was laughing on the phone.  It pulled me out of a weird dream in which I was working and it was raining and I was working and it was raining even in the office rooms.  Strange.

So, now I’m sitting up in bed after making mom and me tofu with ginger and broth.  I’m going to stay in the garage of rest and recovery.  Get a recharge.




A Bit More Birthday

You know you have too much going on during a birthday week when you forget to go over to a friend’s house after work for port and cheese.  That was last week, so I got a do-over and went today after school.

Since the after school writing club had celebrated publishing their stories and poems, and since I’ve chipped away at some of my recent work load, it was good to visit, taste port and swap news.

It was humbling, which means good for me, that my friend had gifts — thoughtful, fashionable things, like a bag, a scarf and a wallet purse…all with a travel theme…and tasteful and lovely.  Some people would return the gifts if you forgot to go to their house.

I’m reminded that the most important thing is to love and to be grateful for the people in my life who love me.  And, I really like cheese.


Why Teach Writing?

I got home from work late today, stopping at FedEx to have the writing club’s stories bound into booklets.  Somebody walked with the comb binding machine at my school, I guess.  There are ten stories, so ten booklets — some very shaky first efforts and some short pieces that the young writers crafted and revised.

And, after hastily stir frying some tofu for Mom and me, I noticed I had a parent email to answer for the summer writing program I direct at SJSU.  This is turning into a pen pal, since it is a parent who is also a teacher.

Instead of blogging I wrote him, supplying the daily schedule, the link to the offerings — the choices of workshops student will have — and tried to address his concern about his son needing to be better able to write a main idea with supporting detail.

I wrote:  When you mention that your son needs to give a main idea and supporting details, I’ll have to ask you if any of the writers you read, say, — the NYTimes Op section, or your favorite nonfiction writers — do they do that?  This formula for school writing is intended to be a support, a short scaffold to help students understand the idea of having a central thread and saying enough about a topic to engage the reader with the idea.  Main idea and supporting details is in general how a paragraph might go, but it is not writing instruction.  Writing instruction gives students many strategies and they find the ones they can use to move their writing along as they are developing it.  These skills transfer from one genre to another.

I wonder if that helped.  And out of the corner of my eye, as I’ve kept some parent feedback I want to address on Blog for Writing Workshop at SJSU 

She wrote:  My child likes to write.  I’d like to learn how to encourage her to cotinue to be creative when otherwise the teaching of writing in schools is very prescriptive (and dry).  I’d love to learn great principles of writing that she can use, but that I can also use for myself (as I support her).

I really want to write blog posts to some of the parent feedback.  It is late.  Tomorrow my writing club will review strategies we tried out.  I’ll be charting them, as a support for them giving meaningful feedback.  The writers will nibble string cheese and fancy cookies and sip limeade, while they read around the table, signing their post-it notes.

Lofty title I started with.  Did not quite answer that huge question, but I think that there’s writing instruction and then there’s writing instruction.


Sudden Spring

It was only 40 degrees (California, the south SF Bay area) this morning, so I layered up with a sweater and jacket over my utility shirt and headed for school.

By morning recess, since I subbed I was on yard duty, I was peeling off the jacket.  Teaching kids how to play Four Square.  Games really aren’t fun if you don’t know the rules.  The sun was drying up any evidence of the recent days of chilly rain we’ve had and kids were running out on the field.  The grass was up to some knees.  And more kids were joining the game, once it was a game.  I love Four Square.

By lunch I had parked my sweater on the back of my chair, too, and went to the staff building to heat up leftovers with sleeves rolled up.  It was 70.  By the time I went home, I put the top down on the Miata and enjoyed a 74 degree late afternoon.

Tomorrow is the official first day of spring and I’m grateful to note there’s a 70% chance of rain — about a quarter of an inch — predicted for San Jose.  I’m not in a hurry for summer heat, and I’m not in a hurry for the change in the students once the sap rises.  Spring is so short in California, sometimes.

When much is going on in my mind, I take the Midwestern default.  Talk about the weather.



Miss My Cat

Slowly the reminders fade.  The sound of the kitchen mats sliding to place my yoga mat on them, while the tea steeps.  I remember a furry friend who loved to stay on the mat while I toed it over to the middle of the floor.  And, who, loving routines, became very adept at knowing where on the yoga mat he could lie under curled paws and when he’d need to move.

I still get a tweaky feeling as I notice I’m watching for the black and white fur as my car approaches the driveway, not only looking out for him, but expecting my welcome.  My house front wears a different expression now.

I thought I’d post a couple photos, only a few of the collection, and write my ode or to whatever memory.

My backyard was mainly concrete and weeds when I moved in.  I repurposed the extra driveway by having it jack-hammered and using the blocks to build a round, raised garden.  The only thing to do with the clay packed dirt was ground cover, to mulch it with “gorilla hair” as they call shredded redwood bark.  It fit because there’s a redwood tree.  (I know, who would plant one downtown in a city?) And it was affordable.  And Mickey found it wonderful bedding.

In several seasons the gorilla hair was breaking down and some tough ornamental grass seed was coming up in places.  I let it grow in clumps because it made Mickey a lair.

Every gardening move was supervised by this watchful cat.  Even when I put a gravel pathway in the front, it had to be tested.


Now my front porch is just a porch, with chairs, a swing and some plants.  It used to be a look out.


I realize writing this that, even when I was viewing the house, Mickey was in every photo, because he followed me around monitoring what I was doing on his turf.  And I realize that as I went through all the repairs and renovations, some of which I hired out and some I did myself, I always had my feline supervisor.

He was good company.

Why do we think less of a graphic novel?

Why did we have to dignify comics with the term “graphic novels?” And even picture books are not as valued as chapter books, it seems. What is this idea about academics being superior to and excluding art?

As far as writing goes, drawing is writing, and it preceded written literature.

In a world where most news is being presented live on site or by a video, wouldn’t school teachers do well to ensure their students are visually literate and can produce visual content?

The expressive ability of young students is sometimes stifled by insisting on correct sentences in paragraphs rather than using drawing with writing.

The social justice power in many current graphic novels for YA is going to be overlooked if every middle and high school English section is going to read the same text only literature.

I’m so grateful for teachers who are exploring graphic novelists.

But I’m noticing that some people still think it’s second class reading material.


morning sky 2

I was asked to sub for the morning in a 5th grade classroom whose teacher has been out all week, so I was one in a string of people stepping into their world.  Have to feel for those kids.  Fifth grade was my main assignment when I was in a self-contained classroom and there are many reasons why I appreciate people that age.  They want independence and to think for themselves, even if swayed a great deal by peer opinion.

They’d been on a steady diet of worksheets and math pages, but, during the week, we had held an assembly for peace in memory of the students who have been murdered in public shootings.  My verb.  I notice the media doesn’t call it murder.

To get outside the classroom this morning, on a chilly rainy day, I invited the fifth graders to form a line to make an “opinion continuum” on the walk under the eaves.  I modeled the number line idea: Be at this end if you’re positive, in the middle if you’re neutral, and at the other end if you’re taking a negative position.  I had to word the prompt on the fly – I’ve done this with groups taking their position on how they handle conflict — so I asked them to place themselves, on a the scale of how important is peace to them.  I qualified it by making it local.  In our school, how important is peace to you? [I now think I should have stayed with “world peace” or peace in our nation.”] Find your position by checking in and sharing your reasons for taking a spot on the line. Try out your place with conversations with others around you.  Some tried and some just played around.

Of course in any experiment, I got to learn more than they did.  Many simply enjoyed getting out in the air and talking.  So stretch break/brain break accomplished.  Quite a few were clumped at the front of the line, and I tried to get them to sort by who has a stronger reason.

Of course there were students who took to the end with a couple friends, placing themselves by distance — wanting to be separate.  In the middle, a few shared their reason for the neutral position was that they thought school was good as it was and they didn’t want quiet.

“Ah hah, you equate “peace” with meaning be quiet!”  I clarified for the group and said that peace meant something like being able to be expressive and take care of one another.  To be able to work and learn with those around you, but that I think conversations and talking are very important to peace — not quiet.  I realized the boys in the middle weren’t really neutral, they were saying there’s not a need for change.

Instead of moving them, for the sake of time and their attention span, I asked for some at the negative end of the line to share why they were there.  “I don’t know.” was one challenging response. The girl next to her said, “I don’t care.”  I got it.  Technically, if they could justify it, this was the neutral position.  Except not in tone. It wasn’t a “I can take it or leave it, detachment. I read a hint of defiance mixed with I don’t want to care.

But I realized that many of the student had sorted themselves into an attitude continuum about school in general, and those that agreed with nods with the girl who said, “I don’t care,” could say that because they don’t think anyone cares.  So, it’s the tough position.  Not caring.  Keeping a shell around you.

And I realized that the students who were on the positive quadrant of this continuum not only had strong opinions, but were vested in the idea that we ought to treat one another kindly and let everyone have a voice.  They valued what they understood as peace, but maybe it said more about what they care about at school.

Instead of a measure of how important they thought the [somewhat abstract, big idea of] peace was, I saw that I got an opinion continuum of where they were at with school.  At the end of a long week, missing their teacher and their routines.

If caring and knowing that others care, if kindness and mutual respect for others is a foundation for peace – in a classroom community, a school, or a neighborhood, I got a snapshot of how a one group of students saw it.

I thanked them for the insights they gave me.  I was beginning to understand how difficult it is to view a concept.  And to wonder, “Why would it matter to them?  Why work for peace?”

Another leader took over the class, and I went back to my intervention post.

Writing Club

I brought home a satchel full of writing journals from the “Finding My Voice” club, journals with each writer’s project, somewhat revised.  My task is to keep their syntax as EL students, and type their stories in a nice format with spelling corrected so that I can make an anthology, copied for each of them.  Then, Wednesday we’ll have a read around and comment on each others writing, with a reception.  Nice treats, of course.

We had little time, but I know they’re proud of what they did. They owned those topics that chose them.  Today we brainstormed titles in partnerships and then went round the table.  It was fun.  Some writers are using pseudonyms.

The projects include:

Brother’s Final Cup  (about the competitiveness between author and younger brother)

A Bedtime Story (the night mother told son her immigration experience)

My First Friend (being lonely and excluded until….)

Losing Grandpa  (honoring him)

Elena, My Role Model (death of beloved aunt)

Love That Tom (ode to his dog based on Love the Dog)

Oreo Love (hamster death)

And two more are coming in tomorrow, just under the wire.  My phone bedtime alarm is already reminding me to wind down.  I’ll just say that I’m a big fan of student choice in projects, and they take time.

Writing takes time to develop.  And learning to write, Peter Elbow so elegantly explains, is “a slow, underground process.”





I Should Be…

The blog daily practice should seem more established on day 14, one would think.  However, every day is unique, and I seem not the same person who gets to the writing desk in the evening.

I’m Ms. Should-be at the moment.  I should be working on the sheets for Saturday’s cartoon jam workshops.  I should be reading my book club selection.  I should be horizontal after 24 hours of dark chocolate and eclair exposure.  I should be cleaning up the kitchen sink and I should be…

What a tiring person I am when I’m a little off my sleep and sugar level.

I could be Ms. What-I-Didn’t-Say, as I was re-reading some of my recent posts.  Nice descriptions, but skipping over a rough patch or leaving out something intentionally.  Ms. What-I’m-Not-Writing always shows up when I have a writing club going and I’m modeling ways to find what to write about.  So many memories come up for me, and I find some buoyant, although I push them down — submerge them, only to find them popping back up.

But finally, breathing and taking long swigs on my water bottle, I am becoming Ms. Relaxed.  Noticing.  I have a lovely mason jar full of bright flowers and yellow roses on my desk.  From my writing partner.  They are cheerful and it is good to remember my long-lost writing partner.  We get to meet two Saturdays from now.

And I have a low ceramic bowl full of old marbles, mostly cat eyes.  Why I always keep a bowl of marbles around I do not know.  I used to keep them in a pint-sized fruit basket, but now they’re in the ceramic Ikebana bowl.  Sometime I think it reminds me of play, and sometimes a statement about having not lost my marbles, yet.

Actually, once I get here, I notice how pleasant my desk is.  How compatible it is with sitting and writing.  There are journals lined up on the left hand side of the desk.  On the windowsill, well, why not add a snapshot here? Taking it from the lower left to right…

IMG_2201 2

The two bunnies are from one of my long time friends whose nickname, like mine, is also Bunny.  The little ceramic pot next to the bunnies is a Dream Keeper given to me by another friend who is like a sister.  I have breathed a few dreams into it, but really don’t know how it works.  There is a dodecahedron crystal made of acrylic that is a reminder to look for the gems in writing.  The little photo collection has moms with their first born.  My mother is holding me, I am snuggling next to my first daughter, and she has her son over her shoulder.  It gives me a feeling of continuity.

Behind the photos is a print of an early photo I made back when I had a “real” lens film camera, maybe in 1080. It looks monochromatic, but it is a color shot taken in the SF Conservatory.  On the back left, teh fan was a gift from some teachers visiting from Japan who observed some of my writing lessons.  I have always been attracted to that style of printmaking.

The Japanese Lantern bush that mostly screens the window is in winter mode, but there are flowers.  Small birds, like chickadees, come hang on the flower stems and hummingbirds feed, too.  It is delightful for a bird to flit right by the window.

So books and folders and a couple stacks of post-it notes await me working on the comic jam, but not tonight.  I am giving myself permission to post, read some other blogs and give some comment love then head off to sleep early.


Laura & Lorena: Inspiring Teachers to Write