The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Here Comes the Brinks Truck...And It's Loaded With Staples

          Just when you think you are having a tough time, you hear from someone who has it worse...

         This weekend I went to a Gateway Writing Project retreat.  Gateway is part of the National Writing Project.  If you're a teacher---whether it is PE or Science or Social Studies, and no matter what level---you should check out the closest National Writing Project site.  (They're all over the country.)  It is all about teachers teaching teachers, as they work to help their students develop into better thinkers.

        I was feeling overwhelmed.  Rushing out of work on Friday afternoon (just dumping piles of papers into a huge tub---my Tub O' Fun, I fondly call it---so I could grade them later in the weekend so I could prepare mid-quarter progress reports at an even later hour), my friend and I drove to the retreat.  My friend needed coffee.  I needed chocolate.  We both needed sleep.

        Not wanting to whine (there was no cheese and crackers to go along with it), I would reply, "They're going," when colleagues asked, "How are things going?"  However, I soon realized how fortunate I am, at least in a small way.

        One of the teachers read a hilarious piece (funny in a black, bleak way).  She was miffed because one of her dry erase markers had been stolen.  Not a big deal, she could just request another one to replace it.  Except that she had just gotten the marker from the school's office manager, who said there were only 4 more left, and they had to last the rest of the school year. Were all the teachers in the school---20 or 30 or 40 or whatever---going to knife each other to get one of those markers?  

         This same teacher, when she needs staples, does not get a whole box of staples. Instead, she gets a "sleeve" of staples. Packaged up nice and neat in an envelope (probably so her colleagues do not see what she's holding as she walks down the hall--if they saw she had some staples, she might get mugged!)

photo by grace_tee

         When you see a Brinks truck barreling down the street, don't assume it's carrying money. It might be loaded up with dry erase markers and staples... 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Seven Signs of an Overwhelmed Teacher

1.  Bringing hot dogs to school to heat up for lunch...not enough time to snag anything else in the morning, and they were still in their packaging.  (Chicken dogs take forever to cook in the microwave.)

2.  Looking forward to watching certain TV shows.  In the evening.  On your television in your classroom. While you're still at work.

3.  Taking a cloth grocery bag back and forth, from work to home, back to work and back home, sometimes 3 times a week.  The bag is so full of papers to grade, you worry that it'll bust open, and cover the neighborhood with a three-inch layer of worksheets.  Sometimes you don't even take the bag out of your car when you get home.  But it waits for you every day, patiently...

4.  Eating microwaved popcorn for dinner.  Or yogurt.  In the evening.  In your classroom.

5.  Noticing that every time test scores are mentioned, your left eye twitches uncontrollably for 8 minutes weeks.

photo by burnitblue
6.  During a choking incident, your teaching partner has to perform the heimlich manuever on you in the teacher's lounge because you wolfed down your lunch (see #1) in 12 minutes so you would have time to go back to...(drum roll, please) your classroom to grade papers.

7.  This school year you have not worn makeup once.  You took your makeup bag out of your purse when cleaning it out, put the makeup bag somewhere (at long red lights is when it's applied, usually), and do not have the energy/time to look for it.  (So now your school has a genuine "Scared Straight" program; just one look at Mrs. R without any makeup will cause trembling and paralysis.)

What is a sign that you are overworked or overwhelmed? (As a teacher? As a writer? As a parent?)

I Want to Steal That Line!

          This afternoon we took up some of our math time to continue writing, since we go to recess from 11:00-11:20, have writing from 11:20-11:50, then lunch from 11:50-12:20.  Drinks of water and bathroom trips have to be squeezed in somehow and somewhere.

          The students have worked on beginning drafts of their memoirs.  At the third grade, their beginnings are not always engaging.  Some Most of them are not experienced story-tellers, so they think, "This story is about a time when I was excited," is a great opening line.

         Today I told a story about when I broke my arm.  I told the story in just a couple of sentences:  "When I was 12 I fell off the high diving board.  Part of me went into the water and part of me landed on the concrete."

          I then asked if they had any questions---questions that were not answered by that kernel of a story.  They had many questions.  Did I have to see a nurse or doctor? Did I cry? What part of me landed on the concrete? (They probably thought it was surely my head that hit the cement!) Did I cry?  Did I get into trouble? What made me fall?

          I then chose one of the questions that interested me the most, and used it as a springboard for a new story beginning.  I chose the "Did you cry?" question.

          I didn't cry when it happened.  I didn't cry when everyone at the pool was talking about me.  I didn't cry as I walked home.  I didn't even cry when I got home and my mom asked why I was back from the pool so early---I just slipped into my room.  But I did finally cry when, no longer able to hide my arm, I admitted to my mom that something was wrong.  Something terrible had happened at the pool, and now my arm couldn't even hold a towel...

        That day began like any other summer day. I went...

        The students saw that they can begin in the middle, and flash back in time.  A really cool thing that writers do is keep the reader in suspense for a bit.  The author does not have to tell what the story is about in the first sentence. Let the reader be intrigued.  Let them hunger for more...

         Following are a few beginnings the kids wrote:

     Yes, I did cry.
     I cried when my mom put me on her back. I cried when I got in the car. I cried when I got in the house. My mom told me to stop crying.  I did not stop.
     She got some alcohol.  It was cold. She put it on my knee and she told me to stop crying and I stopped crying.  She put a bandaid on it and went to my gran's house.


     Yes, I was scared. When I had opened the door he was getting closer to me, so I went to the back of my closet and I stayed there.
     My heart was beating so fast.  The closet was so dark in there, I was scared even more so.

(That story is about an older brother who scared her when he put on a mask.)


      When it happened, everyone cried 'til they dropped to their knees. Everyone begged for him to come alive.
      But the doctor said he was dead.

( I love the image of family members dropping to their knees.  I told this student I wanted to steal that line and use it in a story of my own.)


     I never forgave my aunt. 
     When I see her at holidays, I think of what she had done. Sometimes when I see her I walk away from her.  Sometimes I even get in trouble with her, and we start to argue, so then I go to my grandma's room because my aunt infuriates me.
     I'm still mad at her to this day...

(This student had a pet dog, and the aunt sold the dog at a yard sale---without the family's permission.)

photo by anthonyasael

           Hopefully I will have more promising beginnings tomorrow.  (Most of the class took them home to work on them.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Meet the Child Who Will Someday Be in Charge of My Bedpan

             I am worried about today's youth...

             Too many parents today enable their children.  They get bent out of shape over inconsequential things (candy taken away by a teacher, the school enforcing the rules) and aren't aggressive advocates when they should be, like when their son or daughter is reading below grade level, or when their child has difficulties managing their anger or when their kids are not learning responsible work habits.

             If children live their childhood being considered the "exception" and thus do not have to follow the rules and and can regularly overstep the parameters, what kind of adult will they become? Are the rules always going to bend for them?  I doubt it...

             These children will grow up to become our leaders. Our business owners.  Our caregivers.

photo by le silly

              I am definitely worried about today's youth...


Monday, September 6, 2010

It Was a Dark and Stormy Spirit...

          For those writers who are discouraged, for those who still (like me) dream of someday having a book of theirs in bookstores, please check out Rumjhum Biswas' blog.  She has included an anecdote from a writing magazine that is sure to strengthen your spirit and keep the flame of hope burning...

photo by krazykrayons

          Check out her posting from today (9/6/10).  Her posts are wicked cool; unfortunately, I think I have to sign up for a wordpress blog in order to post a comment.  Since I've gone blog-beserk enough with just one, I cannot afford to double the madness.

          So, if any wordpress bloggers are out there and read this, please relay to Rumjhum Biswas that I just found her yesterday, on my blog I have a link to her blog, I would be a follower but alas, cannot, and I loved her poem about how she wanted to be remembered...

Whose Head is Harder?

        This past Friday, my teaching partner Holly and I had--what will be---our monthly "auction."

         The incentive plan we devised to use this year involves "dollars."  The students earn a dollar if they come to school on time and stay all day, one for good behavior in class, one for doing their homework, one for appropriate hall behavior, and a dollar for good behavior in their reading class.  There are extra ways to earn money as well---if they have a classroom job that week, wearing a uniform, and so on.

         We are thinking that a trickle of economic knowledge will flow into our students'  brains.  We also wanted to get away from the punishing, the "taking away" syndrome.  Students earn the bucks, or they don't.

           Our auction was a chance for the students to spend their earnings.  Some of the things we auctioned off were: mechanical pencils, Jonas Brothers backpacks (yuck!), still-in-their-wrappers McDonalds toys, new Pound Puppies, and other assorted junk.  Since they are in 3rd grade, they shrieked and hooped and hollered with every item that we held up during the pre-show.

        Both Holly and I had warned the class, for several days, that since this was a private sale, we have the right to refuse service to anyone.  Just because they had money did not mean they would be able to bid.  I used this example:  If you go into a store and act foolish and disruptive, they will escort you out of the store. It doesn't matter if you have $100 in your pocket; they don't want you there.  Some of us are acting silly and disruptive in the class; we are going to refuse your business.

          Before the bidding began, we let each potential bidder know how many dollars they had to spend.  Those who were not going to be able to bid were told so, and I did not even bother to total up their dollars.

           The students who were excluded from the sale are being disruptive and disrespectful on a daily, countless-times-a-day basis.  They don't earn free-choice at recess and instead, have to run/walk the track. (Some of them are becoming quite the runners, since they do it every day.)  They did not earn our twice-monthly fun activity.

           I think some of them think I am going to soften.  They believe that eventually, I will give in, that I will grow tired and allow them to do whatever they please (like some of their parents).  They're wrong.

photo by godalwayshungry

          After all, my parents could attest to how stubborn and persistent and hard-headed I am...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Blogging...Cheaper Than Therapy

        I spent yesterday evening with my daughter, my granddaughter, and her mother-in-law.  It was delightful; all three of those girls are warm and engaging and intriguing...

       Riley's grandma (I'm grammy) was not sure what a blog was.  Why blog?  What was I getting out of it?

       I began this blog over the summer, when I had some time off.  I wasn't having my voice heard, for a variety of reasons, so I started tapping away on my laptop. 

        It's opened up a whole new world.  There is someone from India whose writing I found and enjoy, thanks to blogging.

       There are a number of writers who are encouraging me and cheering me along, thanks to blogging.

        There are a bunch of teachers who "get it" when we each complain/commiserate about our backs that are breaking yet our spirits have not, thanks to blogging.

        By the way, teachers as well as other writers who have not discovered Robert Brault, check him out. (However, I guess over 60,000 have found him, so I was in the minority until this morning.)  You will laugh, instead of cry.  I have a suspicion he is channeling Aaron Sorkin and Robin Williams and Mark Twain and a whole lot of other brilliant writers/comedians---all that great stuff could not come from one person---but I don't care what the source/inspiration is. It hits the spot.

       Here is one his quotes to end with:

"I was the architect of my dreams but forgot to contract a builder."
                                      ---Robert Brault


25 Words or Less

       Becky Povich, a blogger who has the coveted "Blogger Blackberry" (It instantly alerts her to new postings on the hundreds of blogs she follows; it sends out a high-pitched alarm that only Becky can hear, and allows her to--within seconds of a new post--comment on the post. I'm serious. I'm going to have to get one of those.) put out information on several contests on her blog.  

       I actually entered one yesterday.  Okay, I admit, it was easy because 1) the entry had to be 25 words or less and 2) I could use a joke that I regularly use with my husband as the basis for the story.

      Try it out.  Go to  Gotham's site (you have to page down, and the contest is right under the "Another Student Success Story" section---there's a photo of a pretty young woman with it) to find the "Hint Fiction" contest guidelines.  It's challenging condensing a story down til it's that succinct, it's fun to write a title that helps tell the story (and the title does not count as far as the 25 words), and already I have received a note of acceptance.  (Well, they said they have received my electronic submission, so I guess they are "accepting" the transmission.)

photo by becca.elpy

       Paring down a story to that extremely short length is a great stretch for a writer. Word choice is crucial, apostrophes are our friends (because you can combine two words into one via contractions) and hinting at something much larger is the ultimate in "show, don't tell."