Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reflections on Slicing...Lessons for writers and teachers of writers

Slicing this month has been a little bit stressful, but mostly an exciting challenge. There are loads of lessons that I can take from the experience of blogging, daily, for a month - but three top the list for me:

1. I had no idea how important writing for an audience is (well, I knew intellectually, but...), knowing that you guys are out there on the other end of the blog world was terrifying at first, because I had no idea who you were and how you were going to respond to my writing and ideas. Later, after I began to feel a part of this unique community, I realized that I was writing with you in mind. This leads me to consider our classrooms - especially classrooms in which the teacher is the only audience for student will have a hard time thinking of the teacher as a person who is interested in what they have to say and how they say it. I thought carefully about my words and ideas with you in mind. What a great way to emphasize thinking about language.

2. I get the sense that writing is much like taking pictures...out of many, many pictures you may have one or two pearls (except for a few of you who manage to post beautiful pics daily). In re-reading my writing, there are a couple of "golden lines" that I think are very well-written, but the real beauty is in the daily practice of the craft: think, write, revise, write, revise, write, revise, publish when ready. Pushing that Publish button was often difficult, but taking a risk is part of learning.

3. Most rewarding was the opportunity to reflect on life as I am living it on a daily basis. There were only a couple of days that I felt really pressed to find a topic to write about - kids provide lots of fodder for the blog - and I love that I have a record of what was going on in my mind and my life during the month of March. It is often the minutia in our lives that reminds us where we are going and why... I enjoyed sharing and processing those things with you!

So - thanks for being a wonderful audience for my tentative foray into blog writing; and, thank you all so much for sharing amazing slices of your life and world with me! I learned so much.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Today, when I went to school to clean out 20 year of files, the doors were locked and I could see only a layer of plastic covering the inside of the lobby. We have been under construction, but I hadn't seen this coming. Fortunately, I ran into one of the people in charge - and they let me know that my section of the building was closed for asbestos abatement. I wasn't going to work today - or any other day this week.

I drove away from school with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I had planned this day of spring break as a work day at school - a day to get caught up on things that I don't seem able to do during the normal school work-day. I was totally bummed not to be able to accomplish what I had set out to do. On the other hand, I had a day that I had intentionally filled with school - that was now completely unencumbered - what were the possibilities?

Returning home to examine my to do list, reality slapped me silly. Of course I should go shopping! So, I shopped - not for me, though. I shopped for Rebecca - with Rebecca. We went all over the Northern Virginia region looking for shorts and tops that would be appropriate to wear on her school exchange trip to Costa Rica. "Look nice," the pamphlet said, "nicer than normal American kids in school." So we headed out to the Lands End store at our local Sears.

"Nice clothes, Rebecca," I said, "not as nice as church, but nice." In minutes we ran through the embarrassingly skimpy selection at Lands End. Drawn by the closely packed racks and bright colors, Rebecca quickly moved out of Lands End and into the regular kids' section.

"How about this, Mom?" she called, holding up a thin t-shirt with bold graphics proclaiming that she was a "Love Princess." "And shorts. I need a few of these," Rebecca added, thrusting a glittering, pink pair of booty shorts at me.

Ugh, I couldn't even bring myself to really dig through the racks. The outfits were so grown-up, almost sleazy - I taught Rebecca this word today, much to my dismay.

I just want to send Rebecca to stay in another country, with a family she doesn't know, looking nice, clean and neat. No frills, or lace; no glittery graphics; no suggestive language spread across her chest or plastered to her rear. Where can I find these kinds of good, sturdy clothes for my pre-teen daughter? Does it seem like clothes for girls are going off the deep end?

Perhaps I should take up sewing; now that has possibility!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Last night the kids and I went to a different church for Palm Sunday services. We went, really, because this church offered a Sunday night mass that was more convenient for our schedule than Sunday morning; what was interesting was the kids reaction to this change...and I knew this about them, it just drove the point home. They really didn't like it, especially Rebecca. On the way home, I commented that it was nice to see another church's traditions and recognize the similarities that thread throughout Catholic Church services everywhere. Rebecca, kind of out of the blue, said, "I don't want to go there ever again. I only want to go to our church." I was kind of aghast - but in asking her more questions, she was able to clearly say that she liked seeing people she knew and people who knew her when she was in church. For her, going to church is about being a part of a community, after all, this is the church that she has grown up in. I appreciate that. For all of my struggles with the Catholic Church, there is a part of me that wants to raise my children in the Church and be a more active member myself. For me, too, this has more to do with belonging to a community than it does agreeing with the doctrine that is set forth. Nothing too deep here - just ruminating on a thought.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Travel Envy...

My baby girl is going to Costa Rica in 2 weeks. I can't believe my 10 year-old is heading off with a group of her schoolmates and explore the unique environment and culture of Costa Rica without me! I must admit, I am very excited for her. However, as the date draws near, her jitters, and mine, get a little more serious. What about the plane ride? Will she get lost? How will she entertain herself? What about her manners? Will they stand the test of another person's house? Bathing? Will she? Aagh - there are so many unknowns. But, I guess that is the beauty of going off on an adventure by herself...she gets to figure the answer to all of these questions by herself. Growing up - hard for us, exciting for her.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Today, I

Today, I
woke without an alarm
brushed my teeth
and climbed back into bed.

Today, I
finished a book
that I started yesterday
and began another one.

Today, I
ate eggs for breakfast
washed all the dishes
and finally showered at 11:00 a.m.!

Today, I
finished a paper
not due until Monday
and submitted it early!

Today, I
read the paper
national news through style
and took a nap.

Today, I
totally enjoyed
the beginning of
Spring Break!

Friday, March 26, 2010

It is never easy to hear that a former student has died. On the few occasions that it has happened, I find myself contemplating the young person as a middle school student and reflecting on how much hope and potential each had when they were with us. Unfortunately, all of the kids I can remember who have died struggled academically in middle school, and usually that was symptomatic of other life situations that they dealt with.

This particular child was a gifted runner - he might have had the possibility to be a great runner - and he was a terrific challenge in the classroom. The last time I saw him he was working at a grocery store in my neighborhood, in the fruit and vegetable section. We glanced up at each other, probably over the apples, and I glanced shyly back down at the bin. I never think they will remember me. When I looked back up he was smiling at me, "Didn't you?" he asked.

"Teach at Jefferson Middle School? Yep, I still do!" I completed his unfinished thought. "Wow, how are you?"

"I'm great," he said, "working here until I find something else. Maybe I'll go to school." An irrepressible smile shone from his twenty-something, youthful face.

"It is great to see you," and as I always say, selfishly, I guess, "come back and see us at TJ, sometime. There are plenty of people who would love to see you! Good luck."

"I'll see you," he replied, and grinned, looking more and more like the seventh grader who had run circles around me.

Wish I remembered more. Devastated to hear about the loss. Wondering, what I could have done differently.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I miss teaching, a lot. This afternoon I thought the lesson was going to bomb, for sure. Take 30 eighth graders, after school, the Thursday before spring break begins, and toss in a lesson on characteristics of confidence (part of the leadership lessons that I try to do once a month with the National Junior Honor Society); it sounded like a recipe for "lesson failure!" But, it wasn't, and I am so delighted. The kids were engaged, asked questions, made thoughtful comments to each other and the large group...and set a goal for themselves - to work for the month on a particular element of confidence that they consider a weakness. I guess, more than the teaching, I miss the relationships that develop in the classroom; how precious those relationships are, as they form the tenuous bond that is the foundation for learning.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I had an interesting conversation with my workout buddy at 6:00 this morning. She was feeling guilty because her 3rd grader hadn't turned in his homework yesterday, in fact had left it at home, and the teacher had stopped by and let her know. She was struggling with something I struggle with both at school and at home: parental guilt.

In talking through this issue this morning, while our physical selves were crawling up hills and over dales, we tossed around how parenting really changes - must change - at some point in elementary school. Parents go from being a child's total advocate, supporting everything and making sure all gets done, to helping the child begin to take responsibility for their learning. This includes, ensuring that the child hears from the teacher that something is missing and comes home to tell his or her parent. This seems to be such an important developmental step for children. If we (as parents) are too quick to call the teacher or get mad and blame the teacher for a low grade or missing assignment, the child doesn't need to care about or take responsibility for his or her actions.

My seventh grader (those who read regularly, know) is struggling with getting work in this year - as he has never struggled, to my knowledge, before. Part of this is appropriate, developmentally - he is testing the boundries of his reality. Part of it may be that it has been fairly easy for him to stay on top of things, and now he is experiencing more serious consequences for the choices he makes...most often in the abstract form of grades.

My walking buddy and I commiserated when we realized that she is at the beginning stages of letting her young one experience consequences (both positive and negative) on his own. I didn't tell her that this seems to be a stage that we haven't left yet - and we are four years further on than she. That would have just been unkind. Our exercising session ended with both of us confident that we will have support from each other to get through these years!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

All I could hear running through my mind was Bill Cosby saying, "Because he is brain-damaged!" There can be no other reason why my otherwise smart son informs me today that he didn't do the French project (that was due today) because he forgot! Last week I began to ease up on checking his assignment notebook and verifying his assignments on the school web - and to my dismay, he has slipped again - now, during the last week of the grading period!

My husband sent me an article yesterday from and Science Magazine - and the whole point of the article was that the adolescent's brain truly has a different chemical make-up; it is set up to function in a way that would make sense to early mankind - under stress. There are many synapses functioning in order to increase the early (read: neanderthal) teenager's chance of survival; in fact the article goes on to say, as we mature, our brain kills off these extra synapses, allowing us to focus on matters needing more deep thought.

So, my son is fully prepared to be running across the grasslands seeking food and avoiding being eaten himself - the stress of those situations will utilize his brain power appropriately. However, due to this, his brain doesn't function so well in the traditional classroom situation. This fight or flight mentality applied to homework means "I forgot I had to do it!"

I guess I'll keep waiting for the synapses to die off. Shouldn't be long now. Maybe i'll send him out to hunt for dinner. That ought to use those extra synapses!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Story of Stuff!

Considering that we are almost in April - it is time to think about how (and if) we celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd. In researching along these lines, I came upon a disturbing, yet incredible video called The Story of Stuff. In this video, Annie Leonard shares her research about humans, and Americans in particular, and our struggle with over-consumption of goods. She does an excellent job explaining the process of turning raw materials into consumables and the impact of this process on the environment. Then, she explores how the consumables move into the stores, our homes, and into landfills everywhere. One of the most shocking facts she shared was that after six months the items that we consumers have purchased have all (except 1%) been trashed!

Another eye-opening piece of information (for this naive person) that Annie emphasized was the idea that "big brother" has been encouraging and sending us messages about consumerism and value. Intellectually, I know this. I have taught advertising techniques and supported students as they analyze the messages that television and magazines regularly send - however, I truly did not consider the insidiousness of this. Leonard reminds us that our US government is hand in hand with big business in America. The agenda that Big Business supports is consumerism... Then she shared the example of President Bush telling us in early post 9-11 days that what Americans could do to help recover from this tragedy was SHOP! I get it, jump start the economy - but at what cost?

Leonard discusses the cost in a straightforward, engaging way. I couldn't turn it off. I know I am a consumer - and yet, I am bothered by the must-have attitude of our society. Thinking about the pervasiveness of the consumeristic messages in our society, I cannot help but reflect on my children...they need to hear the message - they need to hear The Story of Stuff.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

We are having a fire in the chimnea - the first outdoor fire of the 2010 season! The night is dark and somewhat cloudy, but the temperature is a mild 68. There is something about the first fire that gets the whole family excited: Rebecca put marshmallows on the shopping list; Matt gathered firewood; and Patrick volunteered to put out any sparks that might be a fire hazard. The snap and crackle of last year's wood are a lovely symphony when combined with the low drone of cars on Route 50. The glow of the fire flickers on the floor of the porch while eager flames reach out of the top of the chimnea for the sky. There is something so mesmerizing about the flames in a campfire. In an instant I am on Skyline Drive - or just much closer to nature than we live every day!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Green Thumb?

I am not a gardener; in fact, I am most adept at killing plants, any plants - house plants, easy to maintain plants, philadendron (the manager of the garden department at the local Home Depot insisted that even I couldn't kill the Phil!) Really it's a matter of neglect, and I know this about myself. So, why, in the spring, do my fingers itch to dig in the dirt? I see flats of pansies at the local grocery store, and they call my name. I come home with two...flats, that is. There is something about the act of planting that speaks to me, perhaps my genetic code hearkens back to the days that my Irish ancestors scrabbled in the peat attempting to grow food.

While I love the initial digging and planting, I can't be bothered to nurture plants once they are in the ground. At that point I develop a mentality about plants and growing that reflects a "do it yourself attitude" surprisingly different from my attitude about teaching. My grandfathers (both of whom had large, lovely gardens in upstate New York) must be rolling over in their graves at the lack of plant instinct and waste. And so, because this attitude is deadly for plants and results in many guilt-ridden glances at the planter boxes and garden beds for myself, I vow this spring not to purchase plants that will only die...rather, I will spend time at Home Depot helping my husband pick out plants that HE would like to take care of!

Friday, March 19, 2010

To sleep,
to read,
to enjoy a glass of wine,
to spend time with friends...
this is what a Friday night is for.
That and
laughing with the kids at
Home Improvement re-runs...


The best relaxation in the world.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Starting Fresh, Tomorrow!

Whoohoo - it is almost Thursday and a most incredibly busy three weeks is close to over. I am delighted. Tomorrow, my primary task is to work in my classroom to clear the clutter - both the mental clutter and the physical clutter. First - my desk is a disaster. I have papers from units, IB documents, teacher ideas, and student work strewn all over the top, with additional papers tucked away on the floor under the desk. I knew it was time to clear the clutter when I had to dig out my keyboard from under a mass and perch it on top of a precarious pile of papers. Second - my head is a mess; it's time to clear out some of the things that circle continuously around in there by putting them on a list - a master to-do list. I am not sleeping well because I wake around 4:00 a.m. worrying about things I might have forgotten...and worrying about things that I have already done. Tomorrow will be the day; I will de-clutter my desk and my brain! I can't wait!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Matt and I meet the most interesting people when we are out and about together. For some reason we seem to draw or be drawn into conversations with total strangers (most often people running the cash register), and when we finish the conversation or transaction we are left with a feeling that our lives have been touched by an interesting person.

It happened again to me today. This time I was out by myself and had to go to Fedex to mail some documents. First of all - every exchange I had with a Fedex employee was lovely - and then I met Hai. Hai was in charge of international packaging and while he was completing the mailing form he said, "Jefferson? I went to T.C. Williams." He is totally young looking, so I responded, asking him if he went to school in the new building.

"No," he replied, "I graduated from high school in 1979 and then went to Catholic University. I took a lot of A.P. classes, though."

"Hmm, yeah, that's good," I mumbled, thinking about getting back to school for the staff meeting.

"I was helicoptered out of Saigon in 1975," he continued. Whoa, this caught my attention and I looked at him again. My dad had been in Vietnam in the late 60's and early 70's and I had always held a somewhat glamorized image of his life there.

"You lived in Vietnam during the war?" I asked. "T.C. Williams High School must have been very different when you got here."

"It wasn't that bad," he said. "I was learning English and French in high school. High school is much easier here." I didn't doubt that he found the educational system here somewhat lacking. "I think it is better here, though," he said, his eyes moving between the package he was labelling and my face. "Teachers here are more supportive of their students. In Vietnam, schooling was very competitive. In many Asian countries, students commit suicide because their grades aren't good enough and they have dishonored their family name."

All of the sudden I was feeling a little over my head. "In fact," he stopped scanning the package and looked off into the air above my head, "most of the Kamikaze pilots in the war with Japan had failed their families and chose to become those pilots so they could win their family's honor back by committing suicide. You know Vietnam was taken over by the Japanese before the war?"

I nodded in understanding, thinking of the book which my seventh graders and I had read called "So Far From the Bamboo Grove," written by a lovely Japanese woman whose family had been stationed in Vietnam.

"Did you know that the Vietnamese people are really Chinese? My name, Hai, is a Chinese name, like Shanghai. Hai means water; Shanghai means tall waters." He paused for a second, "OK. You are all done. Your packages will arrive on March 22nd."

And, all of a sudden, we were finished, and he was moving on to another customer. "Goodbye, Hai," I said, sad that the opportunity to interact with and learn about this interesting person was over, but glad to have had the interaction, just the same. I walked out of the store considering how lucky I am to have these opportunities to meet people and consider other perspectives.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The last Irish Dance parade of the year occured tonight - in preparation for St. Patrick's Day tomorrow. Rebecca and her dance classmates gamely gathered in the beautiful evening light to share their love of Irish Dance with whomever could come out and watch. Fortunately it was a gorgeous night, especially when compared with the rainy weather she danced through on Sunday. 55 degrees and a slow sunset encouraged families with children to gather curbside to watch the festivities.

The police always go first, I've learned. They set the tone for the parade with their roaring motorcycle motors and the intricate passing and acceleration moves they make. Tonight's parade, the police were followed by four Ancient Hibernians. They loooked pretty spry to me - in their cream-colored Irish sweaters holding up the US flag and the flag of Ireland. Originally, they were to be followed by the mounted police...until the fearless dance teacher raised an eyebrow and pointed at the girls' soft leather shoes. The horses were held, and the girls were waved out of their staging area.

At this point, Matt, Patrick and I were going to head to the end of the parade to catch the sights and Rebecca when she was done. However, Mrs. James caught my eye. Waving the banner towards me she called, "Parents, parents! I need some volunteers to carry the Irish Dance School Banner." I ducked my head, but not quick enough. The round end of the banner pole was thrust in my hand, and Mrs. James' quick smile persuaded me not to argue. Marching in the parade hadn't been part of my plan. Another parent was volunteered to hold the other end of the banner, and the two of us realized that we were both dressed in green...

So, after the Ancient Hibernians marched two middle-aged mothers carrying the banner for the School of Irish Dance. Behind us came the car blasting the girls' Irish dance music - and then the girls and Mrs. James. Because we were the very beginning of the parade and it was beginning to get dark, many people seemed to glance quizzically at us - and then cheer for the girls. A few people snapped photos, and I couldn't help but wonder why. Fortunately, the parade was only 6 blocks long - so after 15 minutes we were hour and thirty minutes waiting for a 15 minute parade. I'm not complaining, though. It was awesome to be first and done so quickly! So, I can cross another thing off my "Life's To Do List," I have marched in a parade, and it was fun! Erin Go Bragh!

Monday, March 15, 2010

I can't wait to have personal time...alone time...whatever you call it, it is time doing what I love to do.

Today one of my colleagues, who has been slammed with additional responsibilities for the last couple of weeks remarked, "I stayed in bed the whole weekend. I don't think I even got out of bed on Saturday until 5:00 and that was only to pick up the food I'd had delivered!" I was green with envy, and I began to contemplate what that kind of a weekend might look like for me. So, here goes:

  • A really good, really long book that I can't (and don't have to) put down...I am open to suggestions, anyone.
  • Watching morning cartoons with my kids in our PJs - cartoons do seem to go all day these days. I have to admit, Spongebob will not be one I sit through!
  • Popcorn and a great tear-jerker movie like Love Actually. I so adore that movie!
  • U2 blasting from the stereo while I sing along...I was meant to be back up for Bono!
  • Shopping at my favorite store: Upscale Resale...a consignment store for furniture. Who knew that whole sets of zebra-striped, overstuffed furniture had been purchased by someone in the first place?
  • Playing Mahjohng or Rummicube as a family. We giggle and scheme and have a great time.
  • Thai Food! Delivered. I could eat drunken noodles until, well, forever.
  • Good friends around the table and a glass of Smoking Loon. Mmmmm.
  • Sitting on the point ( either at the lake in the Adirondaks or the San Juan Islands) watching the sun set, listening to the fish slap and the boats motor by.

Most of all - there will be no mental obligations (homework, work etc.) that distract me from enjoying this very special time or renewal. I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I need a vacation from my weekend! I am more exhausted now than I was at the end of the work week, but, it's a good exhausted. This evening, as part of our week's-beginning ritual, the kids and I went over the coming week's schedule, noting games, practices and general family must-do's. Both kids commented that this week looked pretty calm as compared to our previous couple...but they were looking forward to spring break, just two weeks away.

"What do you want to do?" I asked. We don't have any big trips planned for this spring break; they might enjoy picking someplace that they wanted to drive to, I thought.

"Hmm," Patrick thought, "Mom, nothing really. I want to hang out here."

"I agree," responded Rebecca. "Let's stay here."

Wow! That was not what I expected. However, due to how busy we all have felt - and how busy the next couple of months looks (a wedding in Alabama, a school trip to Costa Rica, a college graduation here in Virginia,) I think that is a great idea.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Great Time Was Had By All!

I don't enjoy entertaing all that much - mostly because I don't feel very sophisticated, but tonight's bridal shower was one event that I truly enjoyed hosting. Costco is an amazing resource, bringing to us regular folk some of the delicacies that we don't often enjoy. But, for this evening's events, we hired a caterer to provide the bulk of the food, and a couple of people to serve drinks and food. Wow - what a feeling of being pampered. Alphonso was a delightful server, and he spent the first 3o minutes of the evening making sure he understood the connections between family members. He was extremely solicitous and conscientious, and his response to most everything was, "Perfecto." The food was delicious; hands down the favorite were the petite lamb chops. After such a tremendous team effort, the glamorous bridal shower was a huge success. My future sister-in-law enjoyed a wonderful time with family - and the pink martini theme was delicious. Perfecto!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Fabulous Friday

In the preparation for a crazy weekend, I had a wonderful Friday afternoon with Rebecca. We went shopping and it was fascinating to see this interesting young girl share her excitement (and mine) about crafts, clothes, and shoes!

We began the evening at our local craft store, Michael's, a veritable feast of crafty items located around the interior walls of the store, while bunches of silk roses adorn the center of the store. First stop, the feather boa section, to select a deep pink boa for my future sister-in-law's bridal shower tomorrow. Rebecca carefully analyzed the different types of had many more feathers...and she selected the mulberry colored boa after much agonizing. Moving on, we encountered the wedding section, and Rebecca recommened to me that we stay away from the T-shirts with "Bride" printed in diamond-like sequins, but the one labeled "Flower Girl" might be okay for her own use. Finally, we ended up near the check out and we came upon caps made of felt that represent different animals...Rebecca, who had been so serious, grabbed the donkey cap and said, "Mom, we can't give the cousins this hat. They might see it and say the word, A S S!"

Next we moved on to the local clothing store. "Oh, Mom," she said, "there are some great things in here." And Rebecca proceeded to select items for me to think about wearing that were sometimes silly, and sometimes serious. The long purple evening gown with the silver bodice (really a silver bra attached to a purple skirt) was hysterical and both of us enjoyed a big giggle in the dressing room. The clothes that she selected for me were very well coordinated. I was surprised and excited for her...maybe she would enjoy clothes more than I do.

Best of all was the knowledge that Rebecca and I had had some time to spend together that we truly enjoyed. As we got back into the car to head home she said, "Mom, this was a really great evening. Let's do it again."

"I'd love to," I said, "soon!"

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Needed a Good Cry!

To the people who know me, this will come as no surpise. My tear ducts leak on a fairly regular basis. The sappiest commercials - from Hallmark to Oreo (you know the one - the dad and son dipping their oreo cookies in milk, awww!) can cause me to tear up! Most often, though, I cry in situations of stress. This evening, the pent up worry about work, school, parenting, being a friend and a sibling, all overflowed in a torrent of words and tears. Fortunately, my husband was home and a willing listener, otherwise you might be getting a different slice. Recovering, I got to thinking about how I often feel so much more relaxed after I have had the cathartic cry. There is a physical (maybe chemical) release that the tears trigger, and afterward I feel able to handle the challenges that face me. All this to remind myself, that keeping things inside, wrapped up tight, is no way to handle stress - it has got to get out...talking about it is one way - crying about it, another. Trader Joe's chocolate covered rasberry sticks work pretty well, too!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Skimming the Surface

I am already running out of topics for my slice of life entries! I feel just like my students who say, "I don't have anything to write about!" Truth is, I have a plethora of things I could write about, but I don't want to. I am cranky and don't feel deeply connected to any of my potential topics. Here is a rundown of a few:

I just hollered at the kids. I got home and their dad hadn't put them to bed. It's already 9:40 and they aren't anywhere close! 6:30 is going to be so painful for all of us, especially if Jillian Michaels has already kicked my butt for the day. Why do I always have to be the bad guy?

Cooking utensils, small china bowls, whisks, salad choppers, polka dotted wine glasses...I love this stuff, and yet, I don't cook. Pampered Chef products get me every time - I can spend a fortune on my cooking paraphernalia and it won't make a lick of difference in my cooking ability.

Wedding showers for future sister-in-laws, aagh, I am giving one on Saturday! Due to the above...we are having it catered, thank goodness. I haven't ever welcomed another girl into our divine "YaYa" group. She is gaining four sisters, poor thing; she's an only child, she's marrying my only brother, and she's moving into the neighborhood. Talk about a baptism of fire!

Speaking of family, we have some really bad nicknames in my family that have been with us since the beginning of time. Had a funny conversation with both of my kids, and I was absolutely tickled when they didn't know the given names of two of my sisters: Goober and Nubs. One got real bright and said: Nubbette?

Knotted stomach muscles, twinges in the neck, shoulders that ache when I'm sitting still - not exercise-related at all - but stress. I was thankful to work with students today; it is important to remember the reason why.

So, nothing in depth tonight...maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On Becoming an Administrator

"Know thyself," she said, "that is the key to being a successful administrator." Wow - I can't think of more powerful words to describe the foundation necessary to be an excellent administrator, and yet, it caused me to pause. Do I know myself? Am I, would I be ready to be an assistant principal or principal?

There are some things that I know about myself and students. First, I believe that school should be a safe, happy place for students, no matter what is going on in the rest of their world. While most would agree that this should be true for an elementary school, I believe that it is even more important to create this safe, happy place for middle school students. Second, I believe that students should be supported in mastering the skills associated with being a good student. Recording homework, doing homework, being organized, studying for tests, writing to learn, reading to learn, thinking, andresearching, these are skills that are not typically taught in elementary school that must be taught in middle school. In my opinion, these skills are even more vital than the content that many departments and teachers consider to be our priority. Finally, middle school students should be given the opportunity to recover and learn from mistakes. How else do we learn but from our mistakes? In these high stakes testing times, often students get (and many teachers and parents give) the message that they cannot make mistakes. I think this destroys our fundamental mission, to build life-long learners.

I am less comfortable establishing what I believe about working with staff....although, having said that, don't I want staff to feel safe and happy in the school in which they work? Don't I want to support staff in making sure they are prepared with the skills associated with excellent teaching and learning? Don't I want to create an environment that supports life-long learning in my teachers and growth in teaching skills? I do.

I don't know myself as an educational leader yet. I imagine that the most powerful learning experience will come on-the-job. But I appreciate the principal that sat before the class this evening and reminded us that the job of an administrator depends on one's foundational beliefs - that, and an incredible work ethic will help you be successful.

How does one do this and have a family? Haven't figured that one out yet. Anyone?

Monday, March 8, 2010

It Hurts!

I loathe Jillian Michaels. Every morning at 5:45 she tells me what I've got to do, and all I want to do is yell at her. I know it's good for me; I know that it will pay off in the long run; but right now...I hate her. This hatred is not unusual for me. I have hated Jane Fonda, Pilates, and the Tae Bo guy over the last 20 years.

Today, Jillian got me with the deep knee sits while lifting the weights up in front of me, straight arms out...muscles screaming; and Jillian had the gall to say, "Work through the burn. I know it hurts now, but it will feel good later." Really? Everytime I reached to write on the chalkboard, it hurt. Every time I walked up and down the stairs during the day, it hurt. My eighth graders laughed when I bent over and groaned pushing my body back hurt!

But, she's right. I love it, when i'm done.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Becoming Operational?

Can we talk about laundry? I have a love/hate relationship with laundry. I don't have time to do it during the week - so I usually do it on Sunday. Today I did seven loads of laundry, and it is a very complex process. My husband occasionally grouses at me, because the laundry chains me to the house. "Why is it such a big deal?" he asks. "It should be easy to implement and get done - you should have laundry in the operational phase of project development," (as opposed to an earlier stage of project development.)

Here is the deal. I feel very proud of my laundry "operation." It varies slightly on a weekly basis, depending on the amount of laundry that the family has produced (and the dominant colors), but typically it is about seven loads that need to get sorted, washed, dried, and folded. Delivery is up to the individual laundry owners. If I am home, the washing and drying stages are simple...if I leave the house things slip, the wash doesn't get transferred to the dryer, and the whole system comes to a complete halt.

There have been years in which my husband has offered to help. Gladly, I have accepted the offer - only to find the LARGEST pile of laundry in the middle of the couch waiting to be folded. I have set a high standard for folding - and now Matt refuses to fold because I have communicated that his folding doesn't meet my standards. Ok, so my father was in the military and I learned to fold his t-shirts with exquisite precision. You, who have worked in clothing sales, know what I mean. Sorry to brag but, I don't have to use a folding board to get the same size and shape folded t-shirt!

I admit, the piles of clean and folded laundry have come to reflect how productive I feel about my weekend. This weekend, the round coffee table is piled high with laundry, drawer-ready! And, there are no baskets sitting downstairs haunting me, waiting to be folded. Laundry, what a silly thing to post about, and yet, it is the seemingly silly things like lack of clean laundry that create chaos in the operations of family life.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Who Are You? Ooh Ohh, I Really Want To Know!

Not many people have fond memories of their time in middle school (or junior high if you're more my age!) I certainly don't love my memories of that time. Life was stressful. I had god-awful braces, my hair didn't curl/flip right most of the time (despite long periods of time in the bathroom with a curling iron), and I was unhappy with almost everything that my parents said to me. Let's not even talk about grades.

So, it is especially difficult to watch my oldest child struggle through the middle school rite of passage that we call adolescence. The great being, in whom we place our trust that everything will turn out ok, continues to provide us hints of the wonderful being that Patrick will be, while teasing us with glimpses of the young, charming boy that he was. What has become interesting is observing how easy it is to return to the insecure, young adolescent that I thought I had banished years and years ago.

Patrick has been struggling academically, not because he is not smart, but because he is testing the boundries of what he must do to be successful. For the first couple quarters of seventh grade we allowed Patrick to "handle" things like homework, when and where it got done, and how it was turned in. After the "not-to-his-potential" second quarter (similar to the first), Mom and Dad got a little more hands on. After all, both of us have quite a bit of experience in middle school, it would be appropriate to apply it to our child who obviously needs the support.

Here is where my former middle school self interferes. In having discussions with Patrick about being successful, working hard, doing your homework, taking advantages of doors that open in your direction - I found myself kind of tongue-tied and teary. I was right back in the hot seat explaining to my dad why I hadn't done my homework, struggling to find words other than, "I don't know," and "I didn't know!" And - warning: danger zone is being breached - I found myself really getting defensive to my I hadn't done my job as teacher/mom well enough and now we were experiencing the consequences.

I realize, having written that, that there are a lot of little issues wrapped up in that sentence. But the point for this post is that the middle school child we each once was - stays wrapped up inside - and reappears at some reminder of our most challenging times. Watching Patrick struggle to explain was heartwrenching. However, he is incredibly stronger than I. The next morning on the way to work and school he said, "Mom, thanks for listening last night. Is there any way that you could check my homework every night, just to help keep me honest?" Wow, my grown up person admires this middle school one.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Happy Friday!

There is nothing more peaceful to me than a Friday evening. I am very careful not to plan much, if anything, after school ends - and I am delighted to let my children come home from school and tune into the t.v. or wii. Our weekends are remarkably busy; between basketball games, Irish Dance parades, birthday parties and religious ed there is not much time left over for just hanging out. So, Friday has become the evening that we all hang out.

The perfect Friday follows a very specific format - on our way home from school the kids and I stop to pick up a frozen pizza, the kind doesn't matter much. Once home we grab snacks and head for our current relaxation vehicle. Their relaxation is electronic (Zack and Cody vs Mario Cart) while mine is more escapist reading!

I remember coming home one cold Friday afternoon, pouring a glass of red wine, grabbing my book and cocooning myself on the couch. I didn't move until someone begged me for food. Because on that day there are few external demands on my time, on Friday I can immerse myself in the context of my reading - and I actively resist leaving that comfy space.

The Friday night coming home ritual has become an important part of recentering myself, removing the vestiges of the school week, and allowing myself to really refocus on home. I know that I have an intense commitment to my work, and at times I have to coach myself to provide my family with the attention that they need and deserve. Coming home on Friday afternoon to a glass of wine, a comfortable couch, and a good book gives me the space and time to decompress from the week, so that Saturday morning I can jump into the weekend's activities with total focus.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tender Moments

Man - just when you think that you have everything under control - something crazy happens, beneath your very nose. My mistake was making the assumption that I had it under control. My solution? Keep laughing.

After being excused from class early due to the professor's still-healing cataract surgery, we were able to have a lovely family dinner tonight. The grilled tuna was delicious, but most delightful was the laughing family conversation around the table. I am dreadfully sad to see my two growing up so quickly, especially since this pre-teen and adolescent period can be very fun! After dinner my ten year-old daughter headed upstairs for her semi-daily shower... and I finished dishes and homework with my thirteen year-old son. As he was wrapping up his algebra problems and I was checking email, I realized that we hadn't seen Rebecca since she headed upstairs.

"Rebecca," I yelled, "what are you doing?"

"I'm almost done," she called back from the misty sounding depths of the bathroom.

Millions of unanswered emails beckoned and I lost myself in evites, replies and facebook chatter. Fifteen minutes later, when I was pulled up for air by my son's thankful, "I'm done!" I realized that we still hadn't seen Rebecca, clean and dressed for bed.

Annoyed now, I hollered, "Rebecca, get down here! This instant!" Sheepishly she trudged down the stairs wrapped, sarong-style, in her bath towel, wet hair hanging down her back, glistening eyelashes blinking innocently. "What have you been doing?" I asked.

"Shaving, Mom," she replied, pulling up the towel to reveal a clean shaven ten year-old leg, bruises and scabs smoothly exposed. Shaving is new to Rebecca - and she seems to enjoy it, despite my exhortations that the more you shave the faster it grows. (Am I contributing to the passing on of an urban myth?)

Big brown eyes looked into mine, and I admired the beautiful eyebrows that framed them. What a lovely girl I have, I thought to myself. She is so mature for her age - really, growing up so fast. What am I going to do? This is going by so quickly.

Then Rebecca said to me, "Hey mom, I also shaved the hair off my arms - they are so smooth!"

All I could think was, ARM STUBBLE???! All I could do was laugh.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Professional Dilemma

What does it mean to be a professional? This is one of the terms that gets tossed around by teachers and other adults ... regularly. But, what exactly does it mean?

Recently, in my ethics for school administrator's class, we were posed this question and given the answer that the principle of professionalism is characterized by accountability. Hmm, that led me to thinking. Does accountability include things like turning paperwork in on time? Attending meetings? What do those things have to do with our day to day job of teaching? Can you be a professional teacher - and not do those things?

In my current role I am classified as a teacher, but I have responsibilities that are similar to those of an administrator. In beginning an intense evaluation process for our school I have asked teachers to complete a survey about our program. When only 30 out of 60 surveys had been returned, I contemplated what my role was in collecting the anonymous survey...somewhat fearfully. Do I demand? Pull my hair out? Assert my authority (such as it is)?

I sent a nice email...that didn't work.

Ultimately, I resorted to using the guilt factor. Face to face, people have a hard time saying "I'm not going to do that." As a teacher/colleague I have no power. I am T-Scale, just like everyone else. Hearkening back to my playground days, if anyone had said "You can't make me do the survey," I would (will?) be sunk. But, is a professional responsible for turning paperwork in on time? Does the act of not turning paperwork in, undermine your role as a professional teacher?

How do we agree on what it means to be a professional?

When it comes right down to it, I think your actions in the classroom are what establish you as a professional in education. However, it is true that teachers are often judged on actions peripheral to the classroom. Would this be true for other occupations that are considered professional? Surgeons? Lawyers? Would this even be a discussion?

What about the fact that many of us have a strict "no late work" policy for which we hold our students accountable? Would we meet the standards that we establish (and hold without bending) for our students? Is this training to prepare students to be professional?

Bottom line...I have paperwork from you that I want. How can I get it, professionally?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Safe Haven?

The hum of the air conditioning seemed so loud in the almost empty building. A rhythm reverberated, created by the ancient piece of machinery that we rely on still to heat and cool our building. Occasionally a door shuts down the hall and I remember that I am not alone in the school. The hallway lights flicker and go dark as the custodial staff complete my section of the building and move on. I am warm and safe, the school at night a cocoon, protecting me from the harsh elements. I wonder if my students feel this safe during the day?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Alone at Last

After walking Rebecca into Irish Dance class, I practically ran back out the door. All I could think was that I would have my life to myself for the next hour and 30 minutes. As I turned the key in the ignition, my heart swelled and the bonds of motherhood and responsibility were temporarily released. I shifted the van into reverse, cranked up MY favorite radio station, and roared out of the Knights of Columbus parking lot.

Turning left, I contemplated my options. Where was I going to spend these precious 90 minutes? There was a Starbucks on Harrison that I could stop at for a coffee - although, better make it a decaf. Any caffeine after five and I would be writing my first SoL entry until the wee hours. How about the Panera on Route 7? That is comfortable for writers - free wi fi... hence there isn't much pressure to leave. And, guiltily, it occurred to me that there was a Safeway close - this thought the consequence of the weekend's postponed shopping trip - and lack of peanut butter for lunches. However, I was reluctant to get out of the car.

Obeying the 25 miles per hour speed limit, usually so hard because we're often cutting it close, was easy this afternoon. Alone, with no one expecting me anywhere soon, driving slowly was part of the joy. I found myself looking more closely at the houses I was passing, admiring the varied architecture - steep roofs, brick walls, lovely large windows and wrap-around porches. Lovely homes were marred only by the remaining snirt piles (some snow, mostly dirt) that mound the curbs and stark branches traumatically wrenched from solid trunks and dragged to the curb for pick up.

Pulling out of the residential neighborhood, a neon red and white Safeway sign glowers at me - reminding me of my responsibilities and pulling me from my thoughts of driving away. I swerve into the parking lot and turn down the music. "What did they want for dinner?" I ask myself. Surrounded again by my family (Patrick wanted Hot Pockets, Rebecca - bubbly water), I immerse myself in the shopping routine and anticipate the pick up and family dinner. The few minutes of peace were delightful - rejuvenating - but I am excited to return to the K of C to pick up my girl.