Sunday, March 29, 2015

Coming Home, Part One

I've a somewhat grim task to take care of this week of spring vacation.  I have to find and pack up the bequests of a dear aunt.  So, yesterday I found myself heading North on an East Coast Highway towards the small town that is my family's home.  Snow pelted the car while child #2, who decided to accompany me at the last moment, bemoaned the fact that everyone else in North America seemed to be headed South. Upon waking this morning, the temperature of 4 degrees Fahrenheit encouraged us to return to the cocoon of our beds for a few more minutes until the house warmed up.  

Coming back home, no matter how long I have been gone, is a relaxing and re-centering experiencing - although it does take some time to adjust. Some of this comes from leaving the relative anonymity of my suburban home and acclimating again to the very small community in which both of my parents grew up. Our adjustment began in church this morning, in which we four were a large percentage of the people sitting in the pews.  With the sun streaming in the windows labeled with names of families who had donated them (our family included), I was incredibly awed at the sense of belonging within this small parish, myself included.  

Friday, March 27, 2015


Could the words Spring Break mean anymore than they do on the Friday before it begins?  Today, as I waved goodbye to the students aboard the cheery yellow school buses, I could feel my level of anticipation rise.

Like most days as an Assistant Principal in a middle school, today I was fully engrossed in the reactive mode, dealing with every problem that was tossed my way, and there were quite a few:  missing children, videos of my youngsters slap fighting in a bathroom, finding enough rooms for next year's head was spinning, as was the door to my office.

But, at 2:30, I began to feel hopeful that the endless day would end and that I might leave school slightly earlier than usual.  As I waved the buses on, and turned back to the school building a weight lifted from my shoulders and I practically skipped inside.

I love the students at Jefferson - truly - and I look forward to seeing them again in ten days or so...but for right now, I'm delighted to have a little time on my own!  Enjoy yours too!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Writing Help From My Mini-Me

Your daughter looks just like you," said my colleague, watching child #2 head toward the bus stop! "In fact, she could be your Mini-Me!  Ha!  That made me laugh, but I am continually amazed at how grown up she is - and what a help she can be.

"You need to complete your personal challenge, Mom," nagged my daughter.  I was whining about feeling tired, having a head cold, and not having any idea what to write about on my blog entry.  "But," I whimpered, "I'm blocked."

"Use your writing techniques, Mom. Clear your mind of everything, then, when you let it all come back, the first thing should be an inspiration!" she replied, gently.  She makes it sound so easy!

"It's not easy - but my teacher tells us, write can turn it into something.  Here give me the laptop, let me write," she persuades.

The fifteen year-old starts typing..."I am so uninspired today, I blame it on my head cold. Part of my problem is I don't want to make a choice,"  Ellen (my mother) complains. 

"Mom, here is some inspiration:  
life will throw everything at you, 
some good, some bad. 
You will end the day relieved it's over, 
but worried it's going by too fast. 
Savor every moment, cherish what you have, 
look forward for what's to come, 
even when you have a head cold."

Love the inspiration!  Thanks Babe!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Riddle

What gives you a sore rear, an aching head and empathy for many of your students?

I attended a professional development for administrators today on implementing Professional Learning Communities and Response to Intervention.  Honestly - the presenter was fabulous.  He had a no nonsense but real way of sharing why PLCs and RTI are important; and he made a clear case for why what we used to do isn't working for today's students.  However, like many of you, I hardly sit for 30 minutes at a time during the day.  So sitting for 7 hours was brutal.  We did have a couple of breaks and lunch - and the presenter built in time for us to talk with our shoulder partner or school team.

But, I'm exhausted.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Feeling a Little Lonely

I love a road trip.  Give me a hot cup of coffee, any 80's radio station, my two kids in the back seat, and the open road...I'm in heaven. Usually the kids and I head out to visit family during spring break.  I'm sure the hubby looks forward to these bachelor days, unencumbered by having to cook for his family - he eats what and whenever he wants and completes projects that may have lingered over the long winter.

This spring break, however, I'm headed out on the road by myself.  I have some business that I have to take care of 10 hours north of here.  Both kids have plans, none of which include a really long road trip with mom.   

Part of the joy of a road trip is seeing how the trip has changed since the last time.  There are so many things the kids and I look for along the way - like the Delaware Memorial Bridge - we often hit this bridge right at sunrise, and it couldn't be more beautiful.  We check for cruise ships in the harbor at Baltimore; we look for signs of The Big Apple as we take the Garden State Parkway north; and heading into New York State we watch the terrain become rockier and rockier.  

Go ahead and get gas on the New Jersey Turnpike - it'll feel like you are a captive audience, and you are, but it's still cheaper than any gas on the New York State Thruway, and they will pump it for you!  My kids always loved that.

As we get closer to "The Homestead" we look for more local signs, the Hudson river...which we cross numerous times; the hospital in the big city that I was born in; getting off the Northway and heading into the small Adirondack villages that are home; and how about the pig statue in front of the Oscar's Smokehouse Meat and Cheese Store!  

With the kids along I tried to make the trip part of the vacation.  We stopped in fun places along the road and explored some different restaurants; I can probably still tell you where the best McDonald Play Places are! Now my kids are of the age in which they sleep all the way into New York State - and I'm stuck eating homemade peanut butter sandwiches to tide myself over until they wake up.  

I'll mark these miles this spring break without my little buddies in the car with me, and I can't help feeling a little sad.  Wanna go?   

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Purposeful Sunday

Laundry - you complete me!  Well, maybe that's going a little far, but I can count this Sunday a success because I have washed and folded an unbelievable amount of laundry - and I'm ready to renew my closet. In fact, my outfits this last week became either more outlandish or more formal, as my "regular use" clothes remained untouched in the dirty laundry basket. Almost got to the point of pulling out a suit, but thankfully I found a pair of black pants at the back that were just a little tight...they worked for a day.

Tomorrow, back into my clean "regular use" clothes!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

500 Interviews in One Day

Is your cup half empty or half full?
How would you respond to a child who doesn't have a pencil?
What happens to your interactions with students and staff when you get tired or stressed?
What do you really believe about students and their varied needs for learning?

I couldn't ask any of these questions today.  "Stick to the script," we were told when we entered the job fair. I was assigned to the "speed dating" round of interviews.  In these brief interviews I asked three questions, one about planning, one about differentiation, and one about culturally responsive teaching.  After listening to the answers and gathering credentials, I then made a decision either to send this person forward for another, more in depth interview or thank the person and make sure they understand the process for applying.  In order to be fair, I really had to stick to the script.  But I truly wanted to hone in on what type of attitude you might have; how you build relationships with students; and perhaps how you respond to stress.

Because, the reality is I can support you in developing the craft of being a teacher - lesson planning, differentiating instruction, and creating assessments that align with standards and teaching.  But, I can't teach you to love your students, every one of them.  I can't make you believe that every student can be successful, if you don't.  I can't demand you to persist in believing in kids even in the face of certain failure.

Those traits, however, often make the difference for the children that we worry most about.  I can only accept what you have to show me during our 10 minute speed dating interview.

How can you show me who are you going to be for our students?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Twenty Four Years is a Long Time

Do you rehearse what you are going to write for a blog entry?  I haven't been thrilled with my last few posts (too listy), therefore I've been expending much mental energy thinking about my next post.  This morning my thinking happened as I hopped into the car to head to a meeting.  Shifting into drive, a particular topic floated by, and I gasped (not that one!); mentally I chastised myself.  At some point I am going to have to write about this topic, and perhaps that writing will help with my thinking. But, do I want to put the topic down? I'm going to have a hard time "saying" it out loud - it will seem so final.  Here goes...

It is time for me to look for another job.

I love my school.  I started teaching here in 1991 - a young, fresh-out-of-school transplant to the state of Virginia. Teachers were a dime a dozen back then, so when a crazy part-time reading/part-time ESL drama teacher came open in this middle school, I practically camped at the principal's office with copies of my resume'.  I think she liked the fact that I had been a tour bus driver!  I got the job.

The following year I was moved to a position on a new "team," part of the implementation of the Middle School Model by the National Middle School Association.  Although I was elementary trained, I loved middle school students, seventh graders in particular.  Strange, right?  I was thrilled to be working with an interdisciplinary team of teachers - we learned so much from each other those first few years and we were so committed to our students and our teaching.  

Over the years I have held a few other positions, different grade levels of English instruction, program coordinator for a school-wide project, and most recently I was so fortunate to be hired as an Assistant Principal in this school.

So, why am I considering leaving after 24 years?  Being "raised" here has been awesome.  I have grown as a teacher, a leader, and a human being because of the wonderful colleagues (who became friends, who became family) that have mentored and supported me. People here have seen me through milestones and masters' degrees; breast pumps and graduations (well, in June) and the inevitable birthdays and passing of some of our Jefferson family members. I tremble to think of not being here in the fall, and the rituals and traditions that will continue on without me here. But, like my young son who is stretching his wings toward independence, perhaps it is time for me to stretch my wings, gather some new experiences, meet new people, and discover the way another school works.

This is good - really - this is the right time to consider this change.  But, it does make me gulp and tear up just a little bit.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Perfect Sliced Up Life?

Today was an interesting day - perhaps a perfect day for a slice of my here it is in short form:
  • VA SoL test, part two was today.  No one threw up during testing!  Really - the kids worked so hard and my temporary job of hall and bathroom monitor was much more rewarding than Assistant Principal!  :)
  • District Middle School Cheer/Dance competition. Music malfunction - but great performance.  These guys performed incredibly under challenging circumstances - and stood out as excellent!
  • Virginia Retirement System presentation - got a long way to go.  Well - not retiring any time soon - but it makes sense to knock off your spouse - as accidental death gets you four times their salary!  JK!
  • Child #1 accepted to all colleges that he applied to - and offered some money...Wow!  I cried.  It's not that I didn't believe he could do it...but it feels amazing to know that he can and that others appreciate his work.
  • Child #2 still working on homework many hours after school ended, and singing along to the music being pumped through her headphones.  So, no chance of a singing career - good thing she's got quite a few talents!  
Gotta watch Empire - peace out! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Entered the Twitter Chat World...

Personalized professional Learning on Twitter. Exhausted, but intrigued. #Fastmoving! Lots of ideas gently tossed around @you  J

Monday, March 16, 2015

Worth Waiting For?

I'm not sure exactly how I feel about the instantaneous tv shows and movies that are at our fingertips through programs like Netflix and Hulu.  To be honest, I occasionally hearken back to those times when my sisters and I waited and waited for the next episode of The Muppets, or The Dukes of Hazard to come round.  A week could take forever back then.

Now at the click of a button, we have instant access to all sorts of great shows and movies.  In fact, we hardly watch traditional tv at all; sports, maybe - but not much else.  My daughter has introduced me to the show called Psych on Netflix, and we might watch two episodes in an evening, if not more.

Talk about instant gratification!  Weren't some things worth waiting for?

Sunday, March 15, 2015


I spent yesterday by myself surrounded by 3000 teachers from all over the world. It was not a bad feeling as there is camaraderie among teachers, especially when they have come together, by choice, for invigorating professional development.  So while I was not with friends, I was not feeling lonely:  a shared laugh after a presenter's quip; an emphatic shake of the head with the table in disgust at a story shared; a lovely discussion while standing in the book signing line, these experiences are connecting.

I'd like to create this sense of "connectedness" for our students.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Inspiration in every presentation!

More take-aways from the Teaching and Learning Conference 2015:

  • How do you define liberty?  Freedom to....or Freedom from?  Dr. James McPherson and Martin Luther King III did an awesome job reminding us that we have come a long way - but we have a long way to go. 
  • What does the word discipline mean to you?  To many it means loss of instructional time through out of school suspension.  Aren't we educators?  Isn't our job to create learning experiences for our students?  Don't we learn from our mistakes?  Shouldn't we help students learn from their mistakes?  Even behavioral mistakes?  
  • Who is your hero?  Are your students able to identify their heroes?  Who do they want to be in the future?   Many don't have a clue - or they select rap or pop stars or amazing athletes.  Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA President has written a book about Rabble Rousers, ordinary people who have done heroic things. I got to meet one today:  Dalia Ziada is an inspiration!
Thought-provoking two days - I feel so lucky to have been able to go.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Day out of School

Spent the day today at the Teaching and Learning 2015 conference in Washington DC. There were a number of "take-aways" for me:
Morning at the Chinatown Gate - DC

  • Riding the metro train and walking to a location in the city is totally awesome on beautiful days like today! 
  • Registration for a conference with 3000 attendees is crazy - and the s-z line moved really, really slow.
  • Arne Duncan is continuing to support teachers in our quest to both remain in the classroom and lead in the field of education.  
  • 1.5 million new teachers over the next five years, that's a lot of students having first year teachers.  We need to prepare those new teachers much better than I was prepared, for the kids sake.  We can't risk a lost year.
    Secretary Duncan T&L 2015
  • Attendance statistics often show up on a graph in a U shape - high in Pre-K and early elementary, lower in those middle grades, and then higher again in late middle and high school.  We need to examine our attendance data, including those excused absences and determine how many students are missing 10% or more.
Were you there?  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Pi-Full Night.

Pi Day is officially Saturday, (3/14/15) in honor of that awesome infinite number that never repeats in any sort of a pattern. We celebrated at school this evening with our second annual Math Family Fun Night.

Tonight's Pi Celebration began with family dinner - Pizza pies for all - as well as 10 real pies of all different varieties that our awesome Family and Consumer Science Classes had made.  Once dinner was eaten, families headed into grade level classrooms in which they played math games and generally had a great time. Teachers had planned engaging activities that were fun and easy for students to do inside or outside of school.  Cheers could be heard around the building as kids won or lost different games.

Our evening culminated in four lucky winners having the chance to "Pi" a staff member with a plate full of whipped cream.  Our first winner was the student who had memorized 135 numbers of Pi in order!  He was delighted; the others had their number drawn from a hat.  This years' lucky winners however, learned valuable lessons from each other - and the proportion of "plate smashed against face" time increased with each of our winners.  I was "Pi" eater #3 - my "Pi-er" added a nice circular motion to his plate on my face, and the whipped cream went all the way to my ears.

How do you define success for an evening like this? Certainly we collected data on the number of students who attended, pizza's eaten, and parents attending.  But, how do you measure the roar of approval from students when each staff member was "Pi-ed"?  Or, the chanting of the principal's name when they were trying to get her to take one?  Or the videos and pictures that are flying around snapchat and instagram tonight of school staff "taking one for the team"?

For me, success is the scent of warm whipped cream that won't go away because I forgot to close my nose. Success is the high five from the young man who "Pi-ed" me in the face!  Success is the awesome feeling of a community coming together to celebrate learning.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Be able to laugh at yourself

After the department meeting ended around 4:00 I raced into the AP office suite, dropped my computer onto the table in the common area and griped to the office in general, "I haven't even had time to go to the bathroom today!"  As a response was not necessary from either our finance officer or the other Assistant Principal, I raced out of the suite and jigged toward the restroom.

I admit, I was distracted as I was leaving the stall, picking up my radio, making sure my phone didn't fall from my pocket into the toilet, grabbing the pencil behind my ear as it slid to the floor, and listening to a teacher share with me her students' progress.  I washed my hands as we chatted and followed the teacher out into the hallway.

Encouraging the teacher to head home after a long day, I returned to the AP suite to wrap up one last challenging parent phone call.  I noticed a young man seated in my AP colleague's office with whom I had spent the better part of an hour earlier creating a behavior plan and contract.  "N...What are you doing here?" I growled as I walked into the doorway of the office.  "You were what?  Sent out of your after school class? Really?" And I glared down at him, hands on my hips.

I then continued to encourage, nag, bolster, and bluster, for a good five minutes - at which point the other AP said to me, "I think we can let him go now, don't you?"  And N. ran for the door.

Then, with a slight blush rising from his neck, my AP colleague said to me, "Ms. Smith, I know you were in a rush to get to the bathroom, but...?" and he gestured towards me.  I glanced down and realized that my wide black belt with the silver buckle was dangling completely open.

Poor N. - I'm not sure what was more traumatizing, the nagging from me or the sight of me with my belt buckle completely undone.  I was mortified, true - but soon my office mates and I were hysterical with laughter.  What an incredible release of tension.  I needed a good laugh; all the better that it was at my expense.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cranky, Crankmeister, all means the same thing...

In general - this was a crappy day.  After hearing a chorus of "Yeah, it was crappy for me too," I'm ready to blame it all on Daylight Savings Time.  (I can hear friend Tracey agreeing!)

It could be very true - as many reported that we had a hard time falling asleep, and/or hadn't slept well, so the unexpectedly high report of crappy days could be correlated to symptoms of DST. I'm hoping that by Wednesday our bodies have adjusted.  I imagine that mine will - but I'm a little worried about the hormone-laden group of eighth graders' capability to respond quickly to such a challenging shift in their sleep schedule. So far it hasn't been a good adjustment.

We are all a little cranky.  You?  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Opposites Continue to Attract

As I walked in the door I hollered "Hello" to the house in general - listening for the voices of my family hollering, or in some cases grunting (teenage boy), back; kind of our own Marco Polo game for the end of the day. It's a reassuring check that my family is all home safe.   

I was surprised to see my husband when he popped into the kitchen excitedly.  "Look at this map...What do you notice?"  Sadly my tired brain was not responsive.  "Look at all of the yellow lines," he said.  "Do you notice a pattern?"  

No pattern appeared to me - but I could tell that he was very enthusiastic about what he had found.  I sat down to look a little closer, and he described the impact of a planned traffic change on our neighborhood - and truly I was impressed by his analysis.  

While I have known that he has the ability to analyze a particular situation and bring clarity to any thinking around it, I have begun to appreciate his skill more and more.  Especially as he is often very helpful in supporting me and my emotion-laden thinking to become more clear and evidence-based (I know, very cliche - but the phrase works!).  

Bottom line, it is fascinating to have been in a partnership with another person for a long time and watch that person continue stretch, grow, and share their gifts with others.   

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A vivid memory

Today I got the opportunity to go to the Workhouse Cabaret for their April performance celebrating Women's History Month.  All of the music centered on strong women characters or songs sung by women with strong positive messages. Sitting at a small  round table in the mostly dark theater, I was transported back in time by the first singer's performance.

The piano keys tinkled through the introduction tripping a vague niggling at the back of my mind.  As the singer gently began with "The hills are alive," I became again a nine year-old girl, sitting on the piano bench next to my eight year-old sister; our legs pumping just as fast as they could go, singing at the top of our lungs, "with the sound of music!"

My grandparents owned a player piano and my sibs and I would race into their house when we visited hoping to be the first to select a fragile roll and load it into the front of the upright.  The rolls were old, so we had to be very careful to attach the loop of our selected music to the lower roll without ripping the browned edges and destroying the whole thing.  Once it was attached, we began to pump the over-sized pedals that operated the mechanism that "played" the roll that we had selected.

As the beautiful notes wafted through the air, my nine year-old self could feel my fingers pulling against the underside of the keyboard, providing enough leverage for our legs to push the pedals hard enough.  The machinery made a wheezing noise, as background to the piano music, and as we got faster and faster with the pumps they would hit when our feet released them, adding a strange clunking rhythm to the music.  

Gradually, the roll of music began to unroll and re-roll onto the bar below, and the holes in the paper told the mechanism what piano keys to play.  The ivory keys would depress, ghost-like, and soon all the keys were jumping up and down in time with the music.  After the introductory notes played, the song lyrics would appear printed neatly between the holes in the paper, timed just perfectly so we could sing along with the music.  "I go to the hills," we would squawk, panting in between lines, "when my heart is lonely."

As the end of the song got close, the lyrics and the holes disappeared - and our legs slowed.  Flipping a switch would reverse the direction of the rolls and the paper would rewind back onto the original roll.  This was a workout.  Feet pumping, hands braced under the keyboard we rocked back and forth with the effort - until suddenly the roll would finish rewinding and flap frenetically until we stopped pumping.

And then we would begin again.  My grand parents had a lovely collection of rolls of music - but my sisters and I loved two:  The Sound of Music and Scott Joplin's The Entertainer.  Wish I knew where that piano was today!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Another Perspective

Gaggles of girls, dressed in green, gathered around the cars.  The St. Patrick's Day parade was about to begin.  Despite the snow on the ground, the roads were pretty dry so the Irish dance shoes wouldn't get too torn up dancing on wet asphalt for the mile and a half through Old Town.

Usually I'm on the "watching" side of the parade - standing on the sidewalk, pushing through throngs of people dressed in crazy GREEN outfits, chasing the dancers down the street so that I can be at the end when my dancer is done. It is exhilarating and exhausting.

This year, I was handed a set of keys and asked to drive one of the parade cars.  What a unique perspective. Waving at the crowd, winking at the little kids, making sure that I didn't hit the youngest dancers right in front of me.  Fortunately, speed wasn't an issue; I just had to keep an eye out for dancers who stopped in the road with shoe fails, wig fails, and just plain old tired feet.

The bonus of seeing the parade this way was that I got to watch the people enjoying the parade!  Smiling faces, waving arms, and scores of youngsters watching the dancers in awe - the parade view was wonderful from the driver's seat.  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Ch Ch Ch Changes!*

As the date for Child #1's high school graduation creeps closer and closer, with Child #2 not far behind him and chomping at the bit for freedom, I find I'm feeling less worried about the kids' future and slightly more worried about my future.  

You know when you have had to participate in any sort of cultural awareness professional development, often one of the icebreaker activities is to "label" or "define" yourself.  One of those labels I have listed for myself, and often close to the top of the list, is mother. Not Earth Mother - you understand; I would have to have been far more careful about the number of times I fed my kids at McDonalds, but rather Working Mother - the mom like you - trying to do it all well (knowing the other moms, driving to sports and club activities, monitoring homework, checking in on grades, communicating with teachers, arranging playdates, raising fantastic children...) and working at an all-consuming job - teaching. 

That label clearly identifies a vital part of my definition of myself - who I am and what I do: I'm a mother who works outside the home.  As the kids have grown older my job with them has changed - from head diaper cleaner and bath giver to head homework monitor and grade checker.  Now that they are both nearing the end of high school, they are gently suggesting (hmm, sometimes not that gently) that their grades are their responsibility, they will check them, and yes, they have their homework done, and ... MOM! BACK OFF!  

Here's what I'm dreadfully worried about:  I won't have anything to do!  I'm going to feel lost without my kiddos!  I know I can always read books, I have a huge list of must-reads, but in reality I haven't fostered any other hobbies in myself.  I'm concerned that I will replace the time I used to spend with the kids with more work at school.  It'd be easy for me to stay an extra hour or two at the office, the job is never done.

So I guess when #1 goes to school in the fall, I'll have two years to begin to broaden my horizons so that when #2 heads out I'm not totally lost.

How have you handled this?    

*Apologies to David Bowie

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Escape in its purest form!

I have had the most wonderful day ever!  When the snow finally began at 8:00 this morning, I grabbed a big comfy robe and headed downstairs with my thick novel.  After opening the curtains so I could watch the accumulation, I hunkered down on the couch with my cup of coffee and The Haj by Leon Uris.  With short breaks to shower, shovel, and walk the dog, I have spent the whole day reading about life in the heat and wartime struggle of Jerusalem and Jericho, all the while glancing at the fuzzy white stuff falling gently outside
the picture window.

I'm hoping for weather, soon, that falls somewhere in between the two extremes that I've lived in today!   In the meantime, I'm enjoying the opportunity to escape to other places through my favorite, albeit neglected hobby - Reading!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

It's hard to help kids through bad decisions

I could hear a low chatter on the radio.  But I was in a classroom observing a social studies class who were re-teaching each other the causes of WWI using a variety of political cartoons.  I dialed the volume knob a little lower knowing that in the afternoon there was often chatter about end of the day activities, etc. However, at the last minute I heard my name.  "Does anyone know where Ms. E. Smith it?" harrumphed a gravely voice.

"I'm in a classroom, doing an observation," I whispered into the handheld radio.

"You are needed in your office."  the voice replied intensely.  Rarely would a staff member pull me out of an observation - those visits are sacrosanct.  However, this sounded serious.  I packed up the laptop, nodded apologetically to the teacher, and headed back to the office.

When I arrived, the three young men sitting in the chairs outside the office looked up at me with grim faces.  "What is the problem?" I asked grimly.

The other Assistant Principal motioned me into his office, "These three were caught vaping in the boys bathroom."

"What the heck is vaping?"  I whispered.

"Smoking e-cigarettes - look at this!" and he handed me a 6 inch purple metallic tube with a glass capsule, filled with a purple liquid.  "The good news is they admitted it immediately - and were very honest."

Point is - kids make mistakes - and the most important thing for me to do is provide them access to the most up-to-date information about the impact of drugs (any drug really) on their brains and body, and help them recover from this mistake and move forward.  Small side bonus - I am kept in the loop about the crazy, stupid, and heart-wrenching things that kids can potentially do - and this I can use to help others make better decisions.  Lesson coming up on e-cigs - what they are (cause they didn't know) and how they can damage the adolescent brain.

Sad day.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Not in My Job Description?!

When I tried on my costume this weekend, I was not excited.  The red "onsie" was made of a very thin polyester and the extra large-that fit me in some places-was way too big in my curves quite the challenge. Static electricity which is always a problem for this time of year, caused the onsie to cling all the way up each leg.  My 15 year-old insisted on "helping me" perfect the costume, so she added a belt and a sparkly white bow.  "Mom," she insisted, "you have to look like a girl Thing One!"

This morning, after a rather serious parent conference, I donned that red onsie reluctantly, and joined the Cat, the Professor, and my partner in crime, Thing 2, to share our love of reading and Dr. Seuss with our students.  As our entertaining group walked into the first classroom of sixth graders, the students looked at us incredulously - stunned, even.  I handed out Seuss bookmarks, and the Professor (our principal) read a segment from The Places You'll Go.  The kids truly didn't know how to react to us!  We moved from one sixth grade classroom to another leaving hesitant giggles and smiles in our wake.

Heading into seventh and eighth grade classrooms I was heartened to see cameras come out, hear laughter and good-natured call-outs from kids, and, best of all, spontaneous applause as we left their classes. Watching these adolescents listen to the story, their eyes on the "Professor" and lips turned up in smiles, reminded me just how important it is for our middle schoolers to be read to and to be allowed, even encouraged, to be kids.

I was happy, thrilled really, to take the red "Thing One" costume off after bus duty this afternoon. As I did remove it, I realized that Dr. Seuss had taught me another important lesson today - taking a risk as an adult and doing something silly for and with kids, is totally worth the mental energy. The number of kids who high-fived me on the way to the bus and said, "Awesome costume, Ms. E. Smith" made it totally worth it.  Like neurons making pathways in the brain, risk-taking on my part formed a little connection with a child, that over time will become stronger.  And, that is what this job is all about.       

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Few Extra Minutes

I could sense it was still dark when my cell phone pinged. Ugh, a text. I kept my head pressed into the pillow and my eyes tightly shut.  When it pinged again it dawned on me that this was really early for a text from anybody I knew; my heartbeat quickened, it might be a message about school! Eyes still closed I groped the night table next to the bed, grabbed the charging cord, and pulled the Iphone close to my face.  I could see a text was there, but I couldn't read it.  Darn aging eyes - I pushed the phone further away (an arm's length, to be honest) until I could read the still somewhat blurry text.  "Closed" was all I had to see; I slammed the phone back down on the night table and returned to joyous slumber.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Perfect Beginnings, Again

Sleet taps on the roof and windows.  The slate gray sky spits the occasional snowflake out among the icy pellets. With the family beagle snoring by my side, I sit down to begin the Slice of Life Challenge.  

There is something very comfortable about joining this community of writers again.  I look forward to getting a glimpse into the lives of the people who participate, reading about pets and family members, life's challenges and joys.  I have giggled hysterically at your stories, and cried with you at some of the life twists you experience.  I have learned from each of you.

Every year I take a few minutes to go back and read some of my past Slices, and I reflect on how things in my life have changed...and just how many times I write during this Challenge about similar topics. Irish dancing dominates much of my life most of the year, but it is an especially large part of my life and my posts during the month of March - as I spend most of my free time driving child #2 to St. Patrick's Day performances, parades and extra classes, observing her drive and commitment. Another theme that resonates through past posts is "the challenge of parenting".  I've written plenty about being a mother, spouse and working parent.  This year I imagine those posts that address this theme may have a poignancy, as I prepare to send child #1, incredibly smart, introverted and strongly opinionated, to college in the fall. 

So, during this year's slices I am going to strive to focus on the positive as well as seeking an authentic voice in my writing. There are some slices that I've written in which that voice comes easily - and sounds like me - others I truly struggle with - and these posts sound more forced when I reread.

Looking forward to it...