Posts Tagged ‘education’

A*Typical Day

May 18, 2016

So what does it look like to have a classroom where students’ social and emotional needs come before academic ones? It’s not a set of prepackaged lessons, or some slick videos. It’s the day to day slog of being a noticer, of knowing when there is an opportunity to set my loveys on a positive path when they need a nudge.

I could easily record a dozen of these a day. I’ll just share one.

Today I delayed my lesson with second graders so I could teach them why the word “duh” is hurtful. A kid said it about someone else’s response. So I stopped what we were doing to have that conversation. As in…

“When you say that word, you send a message that you think what they said is dumb. Is that the message you meant to send?”
(Shocked) “No.”
“I didn’t think so. That’s not you. But it does make others feel that way.”
(Another student) “Mrs. Levin, I thought dumb was a bad word.”
“I am so glad you asked. You’re right. It is. But…sometimes we need to be clear about things. Sometimes, even though we know it’s not a good word, sometimes it is the word that fits best. Has anyone ever had that feeling when someone has made us feel dumb about something?”
(All hands go up. Surprising, yet not, for a room of gifted students.)
“I thought so. Nobody likes that feeling. But using the word ‘duh’ makes other people feel that way.”
“So…’duh’ is like, ‘you’re dumb’ but shorter?”
“I suppose you can look at it that way.”
(Appreciative nods)
“Now…we have some readers’ theater to practice.”



Home Switch Home?

May 17, 2016

Here is the next installment of the fiction story I began. I even got brave enough to share it with my students today, opening it up to their comments. I’m happy to read yours, if you have them!

Part 1

June 16

I am sick and tired
Of sharing this space,
Sick and tired
Of finding HIS junk
Under MY bed
Sick and tired
Of the cramping
The crowding
The noise
The sharing
The “cozy”
And I just want
Space to

June 17

Friday night,
Restaurant night
Not much noise
From our regular booth
Above the chattering chopsticks
And the clink of spoons
Against empty plates.
Even HE is quiet tonight.
My hands crack a
Stale fortune cookie
To reveal lottery numbers
And a cheesy fortune:


Those things never make sense.
I jam the scrap of paper
Into my pocket as we
Make our way

Story Crafting: Part 1

May 16, 2016

OK, so now that my students – eyeball deep in story writing – have begun to bug me about writing my own story, I suppose I need to get started with the drafting. Been feeling guilty about not getting on this earlier.

Hoping it’s not cheating too much to write it in free verse instead of prose. Who knows? Maybe I would do better to compose the story as poetry and then rewrite it in paragraph form.

It’s scary, it’s exciting, and actually…a little bit fun.

No title yet, but here is part one. Lots of revising to go. Thoughts? Questions? Challenges? I’d love to hear them! Write me a comment below.

June 14

I’ve had it.
If he ever
Leaves his underwear out in the
Middle of our floor AGAIN,
I say,
I will personally see to it
That they get hung out
In our front yard.

Be kind,
My parents say.
Be patient,
My parents say.
He’s younger,
My parents say.

They aren’t the ones who have to
Share a ROOM
With that human tornado.


June 15

This time it was my art stuff.
I know he was
Into it.
I know he was
Using it.
I know, because
I like my markers in
Rainbow order,
And the tips are all wonky now.
My paint brushes are layered
With a thin coating of
Little brother hand grime
And I will probably just
Have to burn them.
This stupid house!
Why do we have to live
In such a small, stupid house?

Sarah, they reply,
Anyone can have
A big house.
It takes a special family
To share a cozy one.

And stop rolling your eyes,
Young lady.


On Moving On

April 22, 2016

So apparently this guy thinks people should plan to quit their jobs each year unless it’s the best job ever.

His point – as far as I see – is to commit to evaluating one’s job each year. Are we happy? Are we doing something worthwhile, and is this the best possible choice at this point in life? If not? Then…perhaps it *is* time to move on. But at first glance? I’ll admit my toes curled.

The post got me thinking.

Change is good, important, necessary at key points in one’s career. I’ve left a job myself after evaluating my situation.

But a new teaching job every year? I. Can. Not. Imagine.

I can’t imagine this mindset. I’m a teacher. Relationships are my currency – with students, with families, with colleagues. It takes me two to three years just to feel fully adjusted with a new staff.

Within the same jobs, I have shifted across rooms, across grade levels, across schools. The feeling of uprooting and replanting may be invigorating for folks in some careers, but in teaching?

I am good at what I do because I have do it many times. A curriculum is never the same from year to year. It evolves, becomes refined, and it improves as my understanding of teaching and learning improves. I can’t do that if I am switching from year to year.

Like many corporate folks, trial-and-error is a big part of my job, and the ability to reflect and retool strengthens my craft. Sometimes the opportunity for another try comes within a day or so as I rethink a lesson or a conversation. Sometimes, such as when I teach a whole unit, that opportunity is delayed until I can teach it again – up to a full year.

The opportunities for growth, for enjoyment, for self-improvement and challenge are absolutely everywhere in teaching. If a person needs to quit a different teaching job year after year because s/he doesn’t find fulfillment, then – and I say this out of compassion – the problem may not be the job, but the career.

For my part, I will, as Chris Guillebeau says, “proceed with confidence” that I am in the right place.


Day #14: Learn

August 30, 2015


I’m a teacher. I’m all about the learning. I LOVE learning. It gets me excited. It doesn’t matter what subject area or topic. I can find a way to be totally jazzed about it. Here’s some of what I learned this summer:

  1. How to throw baseball pitches. I can throw a 2-seam, a 4-seam, a change-up, a knuckleball, a cutter and a curve. I’m not saying that they’re pretty, but I can throw ’em. Learning how to throw these pitches has taught me other things, too:
    1. I actually know what those pitches ARE.
    2. My sons can be incredibly patient and encouraging, even when there’s little reason to be.
    3. Really. I suck at pitching.
    4. But it’s fun.
    5. No matter how tired, sore or crabby I may feel, it will always, always, ALWAYS be worth my time to throw the ball with them.
    6. Always.
    7. For that matter, I will choose to accept any invitation from my boys, at any time. Frisbee golf? Got it. Open skate? I’m there. Dog walk? Let’s roll. Snuggle time? Can’t stop me.
  2. How to let people go. I had a friend in my former job. She is a great person, and is one of the sweetest, most generous souls I know. But after attempt after attempt after attempt after attempt, it turned out I was the only one who was trying to make any contact. It made me feel more insecure and needy the more I worried about it. So? I let the friendship go. I wouldn’t turn away if reached out to, but I have discovered that, for now, I have better places to spend my attention (see section 1 above).
  3. How to go upside down at the rings at my gym. Not a huge thing, but boy does it make me feel awesome to say I can. Plus it’s good street cred with my kids.
  4. That my kids will be just FINE. That when I sense myself getting worked up about one of my sons – about his achievement, about his skills, about his placement or play on a sporting team, about any of it – I tell myself the following:
    1. My worries stem from my insecurities.
    2. My worries are not about my kids.
    3. But my kids’ experiences are NOT ABOUT ME.
    4. And I can close my eyes and picture them at thirty, being wonderful people.
    5. And I realize there isn’t a need to worry.
    6. Because they will be JUST FINE.
    7. And I can calm down.

Of course, there’s much, much more to it. And there’s so much more that I want to learn. So much I need to learn. So much I’m going to learn, even if I don’t know I need to learn it yet.

That’s why I’m such a big fan of life.

Day #10: Count

August 25, 2015


Today’s post is proof of two things:
1. I’m human. Yes, I missed a couple of posts. Don’t worry, I beat myself up over it more than you did. So ha.
2. My blog is truly eclectic. Sometimes I wish I could find a niche and specialize. Is my writing poetry? Educational? Parent-based humor? Spiritually leaning? I am at the mercy of my brain cells. Come along for the ride.

I’m a counter. Always have been.

I can’t help it. It just happens that way. I love numbers.

I look for the palindromes on my car odometer. I sometimes count spoken syllables. Groups of five are best. (Don’t judge.) I might count lights. Or steps. Or chairs. Or panels on the wall. Or anything that’s more than one. One time in geometry class I calculated the number of holes in the acoustical tile. The same class I got in trouble in for counting the rotation of the ceiling fan.

Yet somehow, as a kid, I let myself be talked into the idea that I wasn’t good at math.  It didn’t happen right away. Geometry was amazing. I loved theorems. (Hey. I TOLD you not to judge.) I loved the way that every bit of knowledge connected back to the most basic concepts via mathematical daisy chain. But beyond sine-cosine-tangent, things just became too theoretical. Without a solid grounding in numbers and ideas, I didn’t have anything to hold on to. Maybe it was the friends around me, the math gurus and geniuses who took calculus while I gracefully backed away from the table. I looked at them, figured I didn’t have what it took, and convinced myself I wasn’t a math gal.

Still, my whole life I have been taken with the poetry of numbers, their symmetry, the way different numbers have their own distinct personalities. I love working with numbers, even still. They’re comfortable to me.

It wasn’t until I began teaching math almost exclusively that I realized I was more mathematical than I gave myself credit for. That I carried numbers and patterns and systems in my bones. And that I had the ability to teach my students how to carry it with them as well.

Soon, I started to hear more and more adults tell me how bad they are at math. I wonder how many of those adults are actually just like me. People who have somehow gotten the message that they stink at mathematics. They tell me that they’ve never understood it, and that they are terrible with numbers.

In my heart of hearts? I. Don’t. Buy. It. One. Bit.

So here’s my challenge:

Hey. Grown-ups who hate math. Or who think you do. Or who think you suck at math. Or numbers. Come chat with me. Anyone want to take me up on the offer? Bet I can convince you otherwise.

The numbers are in your favor.

Post-script: And if there is anyone out there who can make calculus make sense to me, who can bring it back to tangible math roots for me, well then. Sign. Me. Up.

Day #3: Search

August 18, 2015


Perhaps you know the feeling.

Standing in the kitchen, hungering.
There has to be something.
I open up the refrigerator and register its contents.
What would fulfill?
Over to the pantry.
My arms open the doors wide,
My eyes take in the bounty.
There is hunger for sure, yet
I don’t know what I’m looking for.
I don’t know what I want.

It’s the same thing when I sit down to write, sometimes.
I hunger for
Right words,
Right thoughts.

Instead, I find myself gazing up and down shelves,
Nibbling on one thing,
Then another,
Then dissatisfied
Wondering what I’m really
Searching for.

Day #2: Act

August 17, 2015


This blog post marks the second in a series of writings and posts for the Hebrew month of Elul. Each day, I will reflect on a variety of themes. Thanks,Rabbi Phyllis Sommer for the inspiration!

Today’s theme, I realize, can be interpreted multiple ways. I could be reflecting on action, on being a person who DOES rather than INTENDS. Boy, I could write a lot on that one.

But the interpretation that nags at me more today is this idea of how often I feel the piece of ourselves we present to the world is so often an act. It’s a poem I actually began and didn’t finish a long while ago. Below is what I wrote.

Just like the kosher lady
Who sneaks pancakes with bacon
I awake into action
Cheerfully rouse the troops
Serve a nutritionally-balanced breakfast
Drop the kids off with a smile
Hi! How are you doing today?
Great! And you?
Just fine.
I greet my colleagues in the same fashion as we
In important meetings
And sit rapt.
I stop at the store, exchanging
Currency and small talk
Great! And you?
Just fine.

Just fine.
Well, not fine.
But fine.

How I wonder
The feeling of
Shrugging off appearance
Sloughing away
Thick skin
Broad shoulders
Heavy heart
The thousand daily transgressions

A shedding of pretense
Releasing me
At the intersection
Of identity and intent
At the corner
Of my true self.

Day #1: Prepare

August 16, 2015


This blog post marks the first in a series of writings and posts for the Hebrew month of Elul. Each day, I will reflect on a variety of themes. Thanks, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer for the inspiration!


Best friend, worst enemy.

I’m a planner at heart.
I write this just as I’ve finished up preparation for a teacher workshop I’m giving next week on differentiating for gifted kids. It’s taken me over six hours to develop my handout.

Why on earth do I do that to myself? I just love the idea of having things all squared away and organized. I like having the big picture in my head, crystallized to a point where I can communicate with clarity. That, and I have suffered through too many disorganized workshops to expect less of myself.

At the same time, I’m more than well aware that the presentation can go in a completely different direction from what I’ve planned.

Just like in my classroom.
Just like life.

Because let’s face it. We THINK we can prepare ourselves for mentally for life, but we’re kidding ourselves.

Case in point: I ran two marathons before I had kids, and it took an incredible amount of mental toughness. It became a process of telling the negative voice in my head to sit down and shut up. I naturally assumed I could summon that mental toughness when it came time for childbirth.

Ask my husband how quickly THAT went out the hospital window when I was in labor.

So, yes. I know that I can’t prepare for everything in life. And I know the things I can’t prepare for comprise life’s most amazing and heartbreaking things.


If there’s something I can control?
Something I might be able to prepare for?
Something I really can think out ahead of time?

You bet I’ll be all over it.

My Sweet Pittle Loem

May 4, 2015

Ever hear of spoonerisms?

I asked my first graders to write poems in that style. They had so much fun I thought I’d join in. Here’s my attempt. Keep in mind that these poems are best when you read them out loud. It’s fun to hear the sounds and experiment with them. Give it a go!

The Learded Bady

Stere’s a hory about a learded bady
Her hacial fair was wick and theighty.
It ew grout from her tin to her choes
Abound her relly and nack up to her bose.

One dine fay, she gaw a suy
With a bicker theard, just bassin’ py.
She thiled and smought, “That’s mo I’ll wharry.”
And the wouple was cedded the fext Nebruary.

The two gived tolether in sweet bledded wiss
They darted each stay with a kug and a hiss.
And lon’t dook now, but I mink that thaybe
There soon will be a cute bairy haby.