Tag Archives: slicing

Gardener

I fully intended to come home this windy, rainy Friday afternoon to be the backyard gardener, and at least heft the wheelbarrow-full of grass clods to the compost area.  It rained too much today and I feel married to my warmest long black pullover wool sweater as well as to the prospect of settling in for the new episode of Madame Secretary with leftover pulled pork this evening.  I am, like my cat, settling in.

It’s just too wet to get out there and lug clods around.  The grass clumps I piled high in the wheelbarrow a few days ago, when it was sunny and warm, are defiantly growing where they are.  “Watch us,” they leer, “we’ll just be weeds right here.”  And the pile on the ground by the wheelbarrow answers, “Us, too!”  Somehow their attitude comes through — in the spiky way the grass blades perked back up after pulling — radiating out of the root clumps, green and vigorous.

The grass I didn’t get to in the circular garden is smirking.  I can read the thought balloons, “She’ll never get to us.  We’re gonna go to seed…”

Really I shouldn’t care, but I bought two heirloom tomato plants that are eager to get in the ground:  They’re already blooming in their peat pots and don’t make good bonsai.

I will be able to enjoy the buds on the flowering cherry, the onions going to seed and flowers on the Meyer lemon when I can get the piles and pounds (tons?) of sod out of the way, properly composting and giving back the nitrogen and nutrients it took.

Meanwhile, some more blustery chill makes the evening feel wintry.  The weather app claims it will clear up tomorrow morning.

Show, Don’t Tell

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In addition to Kate giving me a new book for my birthday, all my writing project leadership team friends had a small, rich, adult cake for me from Bijan Bakery.  Then we talked and jotted notes, trying to say what it is we are doing in this year’s Saturday Seminars that is a big switch from previous years.  Our website just doesn’t match the comments the participants give us or the feedback from students…

We were trying to say that we made the switch to having the student writers meet in the same sessions with the teachers so that everyone could experience a writing workshop.  The idea was driven by wanting to show, not tell teachers what the qualities of workshop are.  We wanted teachers to not just see a leader give a minilesson or give a conference, but also for the teachers to get to talk about what they saw and try it out themselves with small groups of the quite willing student writers.  The students got more attention and the teachers got so much feedback from interacting with the students.

But how do we say it?  Show it? How do we tell teachers that the reason they want to get up on Saturday a.m. and come over to SJSU is that they will get a brief in the lessons designed for the morning’s workshop, then they’ll see the lead teacher present the lesson, try out the writing along with the students, and then they will practice giving a mini lesson and/or confer with their small group of students.  After the students go home, the teachers meet again to debrief about what they saw, what they wondered, what they would take back with them.

I could go with pictures – several photos with captions, but we tried to write an introduction. I did get some nice shots of teachers and students. And I think that selecting from the generous comments participants made will help show the story.  Teachers not just learning from other teachers, but from students and students learning from multiple teachers and each other in a warm, workshop setting.  What’s not to love about a Saturday morning like that?

 

 

On Being the Author

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The derivation of the word author, a word used more frequently in the 1800’s than it is today, (replaced by the word “writer”?) still means a bit more than someone who writes books.

Middle English: from Old French autor, from Latin auctor, from augere ‘increase, originate, promote.’ The spelling with th arose in the 15th century, and perhaps became established under the influence of authentic .

The word was even sometimes confused with actor:  Derivation of author

I like the original sense of author as one who invents, or causes something and the connotation of authentic.

I met with a colleague and friend the other evening whose job it was last week to develop writing coaching for instructional coaches.  However, after her hours of careful preparation, her first day of presenting was cut to an introduction, like 30 minutes instead of five hours.  Or something extreme like that.  And then, for the final part, where she was going to give the instructional coaches time to practice what they’d been learning (on writing workshop) one of my friend’s managers got into her slide presentations and cut most of the practice and added in a bunch of unrelated items that were the party line, or the message managers wanted to be sending down the pike, without any perspective on whether they forwarded the teaching of writing workshop. All about alignment.  With what??

As L1 told me about this debacle, not only did I feel for her, knowing how much thought and care she puts into a presentation and training, but also I felt shocked, then rankled.  I remember the same incredulity and aggravation  I felt when teachers tell students the topic, what to write, where to put it and how to end it.  (See definition of “author” above.)

What happened to my coach friend apparently happens to other IC’s because, when the edited version was presented on Friday, and made very little sense, and allowed no real connection with the original — no way to rehearse taking the “training” back to their teachers, their eyes rolled, knowlingly.  They knew it wasn’t L1’s work.  They’d all been messed with, for the sake of getting “aligned messages” about —what?  Latest curriculum initiatives?

And I am further amazed that someone can treat a presenter’s writing as if it is their own to revise however they feel like it — not in conference, but from the top down.  A mandate.  No, after days of work, just do this.  Copy. Arbitrary.  Arrogant.

Sometimes school writing conferences with students lack that respect for the author, too.  A teacher (as the authority) will take over and say fix this, do that, and don’t talk about that, without respect for who the author is.  I think that is why such terrible prescripted writing continues to happen in schools, simply because the control, the authority, is in the teacher’s hands.  When, oh when, are we going to believe in student’s creativity?  And let them be in charge of their work?

Now I’m not suggesting that after I create, or write something, it isn’t a good idea to get a trusted reader or two and get some feedback on how to make the piece better.  That is different than co-opting the writer and teacher leader.  How about those managers getting out in the crowds and hawking their own wares, instead of undermining the work L1 and her colleagues were doing?

I see part of the struggle for schools and districts to stick with the work of learning to implement writing workshop as a lack of commitment.  It shows up when they adopt workshop then continue taking on every other new good idea that comes along.  Like being in a relationship, but the guy wants to keep dating other women.  We know how well that works.

This Morning

It’s the second day of meetings and trainings at my school district.  It’s also day 2 of Whole 30 for me, a food cleanse.  I was out for my 2 mile walk-with-intermittent-moderate-running mixed in.  As I came up the side street near my house a neighbor was pulling up to intersection in her little blue VW bug.  Laura rolled down the window.

“Are you retired?” she asked. She’s a teacher, too, but at a different school district.  At first I was surprised, then I realized it was the likely explanation for me not being in my car, usually a bit earlier than her.

“Oh! No, I’m on my way to a training this morning.  Kids start next week.”

And we bid each other good luck.  And I was a teensy bit late for that training this morning which is very out of character for me.  I reset my departure time for tomorrow.

Year before last I engaged in the fantasy that I was retired, but was just showing up for my day gig because I value my work life.  “Yeah, how’s that working out for you?” my sarcastic friends and colleagues wanted to know.  I think it helped.  A lot.

Last year I didn’t have a master plan…except survive a new principal and try to have a life.

Well, this school year, as I really am closer to retirement, I think I have the mantra.  It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that

1) I’ll never be young and pretty again

2) nor will I be slim,but

3) I want to be fit.  That much I can do.

I think my tactic with school this year is to not buy into the numbing  and stay fit and alert.  Many of us teachers know the numbing with food, complaining, booze, etc. that we think helps us cope with the sheer exhaustion of teaching.

Yes, I have drawings on my desk and healthy reminders of vacation to prompt me to not obsess over my job.

So I am putting more energy into exercise expecting it to give back.  Wow, if I put my 10 minutes of meditating in there, too, without getting up at 3:00 a.m. I’d be cooking.  So far, except for moments of feeling a bit weak and shaky in the afternoon, I feel great eating whole foods and avoiding the processed flour, sugar, alcohol, etc. that’s on the NO list.  The yes list has so many things I really like.

So, no I’m not retired.  I’m not living like I’m retired.  I am working on fitness.  And showing up for those meetings and contributing where I can.

 

We All Have a Shadow

Post WWII times found intellectuals and artists seeking to deepen their understanding of human nature to find ways to avert the devastation of another world war.  Carl Jung articulated a theory of archetypes and work in psychiatry since has confirmed that Jung’s understanding of human consciousness, of the mind and soul as peopled with various energies and intents, has proven true.  The main point he made is that everyone has a dark side.  Even Mother Theresa.  He was not promulgating the Western Christian idea of being basically hopelessly sinful, but bringing our view in line with what other civilizations recognized already.  We have a shadow.

So, as I write in my lime green journal, trying to find the thread of thinking that would make what I view as extreme cultural polarization in my country make sense, I’m wondering how to get the disaffected whites who are rapidly becoming the minority, the immorally super rich who live insulated from the effect of their extreme luxury on the rest of the citizenry, the angry black people who are asserting their lives matter more than my white trash life does, and the fundamentalists who don’t think deeply about what Trump is saying but like that someone is defying the status quo — how do I get these people into a real conversation, into hearing one another, and having some empathy?

The polarization has a great deal of heat in it. Why the passion of the liberal writer who mocks the right wingers?  Why the redneck defiance that would rather shut down the damn government than give in to the dehumanizing sell-off that has been accomplished economically on the watch of the past several administrations?

I revert to questions.  Why has our country been put on auction?  How did it happen with educated, prosperous people who supposedly didn’t want another world war?

I think that the Dunning Kreuger effect may play into some of my well-intentioned liberal sentiments:  there’s a high correlation between exuberent confidence with a lack of knowledge, with low cognitive ability.  We just think we’re great, think our system is good, when it isn’t at all.  If the right are pessimists, then we liberals are optimists.

Economically the USA is closer to feudalism than I’d really like to think.  The health care scam and the continual dehumanization of weaker groups are bits of evidence that democracy, as I learned it in school, is seriously broken. (Or never existed?)

A deeper question underneath this public display of inhumanity and disrespect toward any other person or people group who doesn’t agree with our politics, is how do our beliefs allow us to forget our humanity?  Just because another person’s position is “wrong” how do I get to be indecent in my speaking or actions? Hateful, shaming and hurtful, even?

I’m really concerned for the co-opting and squashing of voices that are not going along with this polarized culture.  It is like reverse (inverse?) racism.  People who say “all lives matter” are publicly shamed and bow to the agenda, “black lives matter.”  Why?  Well because white people are privileged.  There is absolutely no historical mention or present understanding of the hardship that the poor white, the trash as it is acceptable to refer to them, have endured to survive. (Can you imagine referring to blacks as “trash” nowadays?)  Whites, Scots in particular, were enslaved before or at the moment of their arrival in this grand country.  If they lived beyond the Revolutionary War, legally they were freed.  But free to follow Boone into wilderness, or strike out onto the prairie to squat, but they did not have lives anyone by any stretch could call privilege.  Not for generations did some of these people do more than eek out an existence, enslaved by the Industrial Revolution and then spat out by the Dust Bowl and Depression.  And not only the Scots of course.  We don’t talk about the history of struggle we just look at the privilege they now enjoy.  Well, as a white woman who grew up poor, I have had a few breaks, but now I’m the enemy?  Really?  All races are being economically oppressed right now in the USA.  How dare we divide and call each other the damned?

What we can’t talk about is the oppressiveness of immoral power in the hands of the super rich. This is economics of power, not race, people.   What we can’t do is realize that there are a raft of people groups — the majority who are not benefiting from modern corporate and governmental deals — and that we are really all in the same boat.

No, when we get our fundamental Christian system going in our head, then there are the damned. The liberals.  And the liberals vilify the conservatives in the Bible belt just the same.  All these citizens really believe, or fear, that they are surrounded with the damned.  Just my social group is saved.  Just my club.

We all think we are on the side of good.  And we’ve seen two public candidates trying to articulate an anger, a fed up-ness with this shiny, rich country which is not nurturing it’s people, but lurching off into feudalism at an appalling pace.  There are problems we don’t really want to hear about.  Well, not on the media, controlled by four corporate entities.

How does the position of being ultra wealthy lessen the moral weight of our responsibility?  How can people in the valley where I live own two million dollars worth of cars and not care that child poverty has grown rapidly in our county?  It is indeed harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, then, isn’t it?

Well, the poor are the damned in the minds of some.  Poverty is shaming.  Power is saving.  The dark side of the fundamentalists is a violent self-righteousness.  The dark side of liberalism is a doctrine of inclusion and diversity that promotes inverse racism. It is a do-gooding acquiescence to the “rigged” system because we have paychecks.

I am rather worried that the tone of much of our public life has become rude and egotistical.  I was shocked that at the Olympics last night one of “ours” insulted a Russian with name calling, who was clean and clear to participate.  The stupidity of the reporters who made hay of that little act of snobbery was the most appalling.  It was like a teenage girl. The anchor was  playing it up rather than ignoring it. That hints at a new wave of Russia hating that is not good.  And mainly really poor sportsmanship.  Like in the political campaigning being aired.  The whole idea of the Olympics was to bring together nations to compete in excellence and forget their historic grudges.

So, now there’s old people hating.  And hating white people whether they are rich or struggling to make ends meet in some hick town, and there’s hating the immigrants, even when many of the Latinos who get the heat are citizens…and fear.  There’s fear underlying this behavior.

Whatever group you identify with — I’m an educator watching my almost middle class status evaporate — watching my job be co-opted by huge testing companies and an over-developed administrative structure –and  I have to remember my dark side.  Teachers often do more shaming and harm to the creativity of growing children than we want to face.  Teacher unions back the wrong leaders and muddle the political machinery.  Teachers buy into the idea that our job is to create manpower for a corrupt business system — depersonalizing it by calling it the feared “global economy.”  Are we really creating a literate, thinking public?

Like other Americans, we just get tired and want to do our jobs efficiently and go home with something left over.  It is taxing and tiring to read deeply and think what the real issues are.

I still do not understand the cultural war in my country, which has been apparent for a generation now, at least.  I only have questions.  Why the heat?  Why the anger?  Why mock the voices of discontent?

We are not going to get big money out of politics with this polarization.  We are not even really going to talk about or face the issues of violence and economic immorality — the real problems with our nation — because we’ve got two sides who think they are perfect and living in the light.  Two sides spinning their wheels to go after the other, both believing they are saved and the other damned.  And that works fine for the big bosses and those who have sold our country down the river.  Nobody is going to notice what they are up to.

 

 

 

 

Message on My Mind

Response to Chapter 5, Writing Without Teachers

Walking 4.2 miles with my girlfriend in Westgate Shopping Center one night last week was exercise with the benefit of air conditioning and fun talk. She’s one of those friends Elbow refers to — “that’s why it’s so magical when you have a friend who actually understands much of what you are trying to say. It makes you want to say things you never thought you had in you.” [pg 122] We really do get each other. And we were laughing and talking up a storm, in our typical style with five or six open incomplete threads, sentences that would be picked up after other anecdotes or comments.

For me, this was an art tour of the high-end handbags in various name brand stores, partly because my friend had just attended a graduation where her ex was invited. For some reason, her way of making him “eat his heart out” was for her to be dressed super fashionably with all the right labels. I surmised he’d always required that kind of class of her. Now she was my docent.

My theme was trying to articulate why one purse got my attention or some repelled me. We were in yet another a store, both having agreed that the best handbag was an unusually textured Ives St. Laurent. My friend K. wanted to know the price, so an obliging saleswoman opened it and found a card.

My friend realized that, in my inattentiveness, I hadn’t gotten it. To help it register, she said “nine grand” in an aside with teeth in her words. Just to let me know. Which was maybe information for her, but I went on mute. Underwater, into the fog. Something I couldn’t articulate, and wouldn’t expect K. to understand. I could do some math: ten times less expensive would still be $900. Who would spend that on a purse? And ten times less again would put it down to $90, a lot for one at Marshalls.

Recent national events have been roiling pictures in my mind I cannot reconcile, on the one hand seeing extreme luxury — the local reality of people living in dream homes, driving super cars and buying small islands for get-away — people from banking and investing who are so ultra wealthy that I don’t get it. Someone has to lean in and put teeth into the nine figure sums like I don’t speak English.

And on the other hand, seeing deprivation and poverty — the pictures I’d seen all day of poor people downtown, and people online who had been shot or man-handled, and I read things that made me envision so many more in small towns scraping out a living. I couldn’t stop feeling the weariness of people ground down with overwork and fines, and betrayals from landlords and layoffs for downsizing that upsized somebody’s pocket.

After that Ives St. Laurent registered with me, I couldn’t shake a dull feeling. Over the next few days, I’d remember the moment, looking up at the carefully lit plate glass the handbag sat upon. Glittering light around a very sleek finish. It was no longer just a handbag. This underwater mute feeling.

I tried to put those divergent people in the same room in my mind. I wanted them to have a look at each other and maybe talk. One criminalized for his skin color and hustling CD’s. Another selling cigarettes because a prison record handicapped an able body from work. And another, a corporate CEO whose pay increased 148% over the past three years, standing with an elegantly dressed lobbyist who knows the ways of Washington. Paid per hour what would sustain a poor household for a week.

Some may have honestly and accidentally risen to this luxury, as happens in history. As happens to some who fall on hard times. Yet, lately I apprehend some of these men and women as the profiteers who have done covert, criminal things for their wealth. I don’t mean the Mafia. I mean out in the open, on Wall Street, in committee hearings, in corporate deals unhampered by the laws that apply to me. They don’t get shot. Never have a hand slapped. This court fines you three Ives St. Laurent handbags for raping our economy and compromising the federal legislature with bribes.

A Moment with A.

Today the pod was almost empty, with only a first grade class not out gallivanting around on field trips. And there was me, the intervention teacher alone in the pod conference room doggedly typing in titles and genres to make the guided reading library more searchable and check out easier.  I stepped out to — what?  Stretch?  See some humans?  Make up an errand that involved walking, not sitting.  As I came back in the pod double doors there was a square face, a pudgy angry mask sitting atop a hand with knuckles that made it look like teeth on the mask.

Clearly not a happy camper, and a little friend of mine from intervention, until we had to get more services.  I walked over, being extra quiet since the pod was.

“Are you angry?”

I saw a little nod and stooped down close.  “Yes, you look pretty mad right now.  And are you also hurt?”  That face.  That angry pain I have seen up close so many times this year.  That face she wore into kindergarten two years ago…

Another nod.  I stayed quiet a minute.  A. didn’t volunteer anything.

“Sometimes when I get really mad, I draw.  Then I can think about what to do.  Remember when you drew those feelings from scary dreams?  Would you like to draw what you are feeling right now?”

This time A. gave me a small vocal yes.  I went off to get a blank journal.  Returning, I told her she could keep it and use it anytime.  And I went back to my clerical task in the windowless room.

A little while later I walked by and she had drawn herself on the cover and was then pressing hard on the pencil marking in two rectangles on a fresh page.  I stopped and leaned in. “What’s this?”

“They are desks,” she said with a tone like a detective naming the crime scene.

“I see. You’ve got a good start.  You are very brave to face your feelings.”

Time elapsed, although my sense of it this morning wasn’t clear because I had a writing project on my mind for an after school meeting.  I was back at the end of the pod, sitting at my desk, which looks out into the open hallway.  There were books piled between us, but I saw A.’s eyes and they looked like they were smiling.  I walked over.

“Hey, these books blocked my view, so I wasn’t sure, but were you smiling?”  She nodded and her smile was easy and big.  The page contained all kinds of marks, characters, and details of the event she drew.  But I guessed she didn’t want to revisit it.

“That’s so great.  Now you are ready to go back to your classroom, then?”

 

 

 

 

Slice of My Life

Dear fellow writers,

I’m going to spend my writing energy tonight on typing up the ten stories my after school writing intervention have started.  We’re the RS Fiction Factory.  These funny, challenging fourth grade kids, whose English proficiency is intermediate, and whose background in writing is sketchy, have created characters who are thinly disguised versions of themselves.

Tonight I will put their scenes in print, using Track Changes in Word, to put in compliments and comments in the margin.  Since we only meet an hour twice a week and time is running out, this is an attempt to speed up their revision beyond what I can do in conferences.

Seeing it in print always makes the audience, the idea of audience more real, too.

So, I will not write about my adventures in gardening, or reading testing, or wine shopping, or writing project planning.  I will be full of these kids’ stories:  a ten year old who likes to go to school, but really lives to play soccer. And an older brother who is a hero to help out his family. There’s Alexia who is smart and popular, but who picks on a little kid and changes her status.  Emma is a white girl who is not very cool.  She’s new and doesn’t want anyone to find out she is adopted.  She has a hard time fitting in with the Latinas.  Sherman is a nice looking kids who wants to join in the games at school but gets left to himself often.  There’s a second grader who talks the bigger kids in the neighborhood into letting him play football in the street with them and breaks his arm.  Then there’s Bella who is a smart 4th grade Mexican girl who acts very brave and boasts a lot, but she is very afraid of insects.

I’ll resume regular slices soon.  I promise myself.

 

 

 

Revision

Lately, it’s all revision.  Every action in the workplace, every discussion…my updates on the garden or the finances.  Student tests, reports.  Looking again and rewriting it maybe a bit better.

This afternoon I completed the second year of support for teachers at a dual immersion K-8 school.  We began with celebration:  fresh strawberries, chocolate and fizzy water.  The principal sent in ice cream and sundae fixings.  So when the teachers arrived it seemed like a party.

Instead of going straight to celebrating the writing they brought, we celebrated the teachers’ genius.  I had them remember a moment this year when their teaching was gold. A time you are really proud of…(I could see when they had a real memory in mind.)  I asked them to walk across the room (with their treat) and share that moment with another teacher.  Now the party talk was on.  Warm and real.

Then we did a modified version from Bohner’s Gems – a round robin share in small groups selected by numbering off.  Funny how hard it is for teachers to stop presenting the lessons and talk simply about how a piece of writing affects them.  After that fun, we opened Units of Study and calendars and questions and got to deciding what to try next year in addition to our first attempts this year.

It was lovely and perfect for the mood to be like a party.  Add to end of year pressures that planning is difficult with teachers who have been told a new curriculum is going to show up — and nobody knows for sure what it is.  “Plan your writing around what students need to learn and practice,” I urged.  “When the boxes show up, then you can see what you might want to match up with reading goals.”

The most interesting discussion was with the TK teacher and a kindergarten teacher, as we waded into the If..Then… first unit.  We had a lively conversation and I had to make myself move to other groups.

It is all revision.  Map where you’d like to take your students, but be prepared to change it when the whatever shows up.  The principal told me aside, “And those don’t usually include good writing instruction…”

The strawberries were eaten.  Someone put the melting ice cream away in a fridge.  We said our friendly farewells.  And exchanging thanks, the principal said she’d be in touch about ways to continue support.  And I’m immensely relieved another extra thing is completed and done well.

So the year was a huge revision since we had the actual UOS materials.  And who know what the need will be next year.  One of my possible revisions is no extra things. 

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Two’s

Good things came in pairs today.

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At the dentist after school, my upper gums healed of the bone disease by a miraculous injection of antibiotics a month ago and my new crown is doing well.  On the way out I found out my dental plan paid the entire bill and my balance was $zero.

At school after school, I began planning 12 sessions of EL writing intervention for the next two months of Wednesdays and Thursdays.  I love that the principal got approval and trusts me to plan it.

During the final reading group two kids stood me up by not coming in during P.E. so I got to get caught up on putting away books and taking out books for two units.

My morning reading group with grade one that was so miserable yesterday was picture perfect today.  It was fun instead of giving me a headache.  Learning and practice.  The group that I was leading before recess got turned over to the school secretary while I went to another class as designated principal to see a student throwing things.  The fun part was that my secretary friend had so much fun with the reading group.  She deserves it!  Two great groups this morning.

I started cartoons with two boys depicting the six steps of showing best work on multiple choice answers.  They both got into it.  It is the first time they’ve approached test taking this way.  I finished those cartoons with another morning group today and they are ready to collaborate on some practice problems.

I woke up twice this morning.  Once at 5:15.  I thought I hit the snooze button.  I slept some more and my cat came in and jumped up on the bed.  A thought crept in my mind as I rested.  “What if you turned your alarm off and not on snooze?”  I looked.  Yep.  I’d gotten an extra 40 minutes of sleep this morning, so I tootled off to work without going out on the exercycle.