Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

The Important Thing

December 20, 2016

First, a poem I wrote:

The important thing about silence is that it is quiet.
It comes in many shapes
And sizes
And moods
And it might frighten you
Or distance you from others
It might fold around you in comfort and protection.
It is a generous listener,
Or the house at night,
Or the almost-no-sound
Of a pencil scratching,
Or children breathing in their sleep,
Or the hum of the earth.
But the important thing about silence is that it is quiet.

Next, the back story.

Have any of you ever read The Important Book? It’s an incredibly charming book by Margaret Wise Brown (think: Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny). I shared it with my fourth graders a while back as part of a collaborative project with some colleagues.

Each page begins and ends with the sentence,
“The important thing about ________ is __________.”
We also noticed that the truly important things often were articulated in the remaining text, not in those sentences.

My students then created their own “Important Thing” poems and had a great time.

Today, wouldn’t you know it…the conversation led right back to that book. We were talking about Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and how both words and silence seem to be important in different ways. Which gave me an idea.

We all took out our notebooks, and I wrote the following on the board:
“The important thing about silence is…”

Then we got cooking. I have nothing but admiration and awe for the words of my students. Their writing blew me away and made my day.

The important thing about students is that they amaze me.

(a poem, perhaps, for another day)

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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
Breathe.

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:

“YOU CAN STAY IN ONE PLACE AND STILL GROW.”

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

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.

 

Snip Snap Snout…

May 6, 2016

Where are my words? Feels like I’ve used more than my quota for today.

This morning, I was a teller at Jackson Storyfest, one of my favorite places on the planet. Tellers are brought in to share stories with over 13,000 students over a three-day period.

In prior years, kids would be bussed into downtown Jackson. The whole downtown area would be flooded with kids hopping from place to place to hear different tellers. Recently, school budget cuts have changed the format of the festival – but not its spirit. Now, tellers bring their stories directly to schools.

Each year that I come, I go through the same pattern:

2-4 weeks before Storyfest: Get excited, cobble together new stories, polish off old ones
1 week: Tell anyone who will listen how excited I am
2 days: Develop my set list and freak out about what I’ll wear
1 day: Throw everything in the suitcase and hope for the best, drive to Michigan and gear up for a great time.

Each year, the kids are both different and the same. Each school has its own culture. But they all respond to and appreciate storytelling in the same ways.

How amazing it is to see these kids growing up on story. What a charge it is to share their energy, and to bring them experiences and ideas they might not have exposure to otherwise.

As for me, I am proud to be a part of it.

Snip, snap, snout…
This tale’s all told out.

Once a Lovey…

April 29, 2016

Always a lovey.

Today I wrote a letter to the fifth graders, who will be graduating in June. It’s always so difficult to capture what I really want to say to them after watching them grow and mature over the years. I settled on a poem I wrote a while back.

From time to time, a student will contact me out of the blue, and I always get the same question – “Do you remember me?” As if I could possibly forget! This poem is for those loveys, and my loveys yet to come.

“Do You Remember Me?”

You…
You, with that faded bonnet,
The microscopic handwriting,
The comics you drew me,
The moldy mess we excavated from your desk,
The orange sweatshirt you always wore,
The April Fool’s joke you played on the class,

How you didn’t speak until February,
How your grandma was your rock,
How you asked question after question after question,
How I worried about the sadness I sometimes saw in you
How I carried so much of you with me:
Your essays, your homework, your worries…

…You.

You, who I sent out like ripples
Wondering,
Awaiting your return
Like a present
I get to keep opening.

Scenes from a School Day

April 27, 2016


That moment I catch
The shy, silent one
Gleefully bouncing on a balance ball
Before her partners settle her down to work

The stifled snickers
Of children pretending to nap
So they can fool their late-coming classmates

The layers of clutter on the wall
Advertising the work
Of young hands, hearts
Minds

The smiles of my writers who now
Finally get
How to do what they do,
Only better

The girl who returns at dismissal
Just because it’s good
To have an extra hug
For the road

Make thegrading
theplanning
thepolitics
themeetings
thephonecalls
theworkshops
theweekends
thelatenights
theearlymornings

Worth
The price of
Admission.

Adventures in (gulp) Fiction

April 26, 2016

  

  
Those of you who know me are aware that I don’t like asking my students to do anything that I am not willing to do. So this time around, when I asked my students to write a piece of fiction that is driven by theme and not by plot, I felt the obligation to take the plunge with them. 

I have to confess that it’s rather scary​. I like writing poetry, and personal narrative comes pretty naturally to me. Find me a soapbox issue and I am all over it! 

But fiction? I will hide in a corner. 

Still, I have decided that it is time to be brave. I completed my character analysis sheet, just like they did. I put my story board together, just like they are doing. I suppose it’s all over now but the writing. 

Time to roll up my sleeves, dig in, and step up to the challenge. Above is a picture of the storyboard I drew. Yes, the art is stinky, but that’s because no one but me needs to understand the pictures. That, and I enjoy drawing people as much as I do writing fiction. 

Check back for my progress on drafting the story.  Wish me luck!

The Night the Toothpaste Went Rogue

April 25, 2016

 

 

The Night the Toothpaste Went Rogue

For E., who cheerfully gave me the poem he wrote…and graciously waited too long for me to write one back.
-By Mrs. Levin © 2016

 

The strangest thing just happened
When I brushed my teeth this time.
My new toothpaste had gone rogue
And started fighting grime.

It sludged into my bedroom
Where my clothes were on the floor
And oozed them to the hamper
(Where they should have been before.)

Next it slid down to the kitchen
To last night’s dinner mess.
The toothpaste did all our dishes
And put them away, no less.

So now our house is sparkling clean
And I cannot complain,
I think I’ll brush my teeth tonight
With my rogue toothpaste again.

 

 

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.