Archive | March, 2017

Tools of the trade

11 Mar

When I was in teachers college, they told me I would build a toolbox over time. They talked about management and engagement strategies I could add. They talked about books and songs and stories. They never said I needed to add real tools.

For years, I kept an allen wrench in my desk for those occasions when a student’s desk suddenly collapsed on one side, a leg giving out. I had jewelers tools to replace the screws that fell out of glasses and reattached arms.  My 4th graders thought I was a rockstar.

In my new school, my repair work is more mundane. I replaced the latch I’d torn off  the only locking cabinet the day I forgot my keys.

Yesterday, I tackled an annoying problem that has been growing: failing laminate.

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I looked in my teacher toolkit and found just the right tools

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The repair was made in about five minutes. It will sit over the weekend and, when I return to school on Monday, I will remove the tape.

Mission accomplished.

The Classroom Cold…A Haiku Series

10 Mar

Last week…

I laughed out loud at

the face the girl made when her

neighbor sneezed on her

Monday…

The classroom, normally

so full of chatter, is now

full of coughs and sneezes

Wednesday…

Pain in my cheeks, right

above my back teeth tells me

I’m the next victim

Thursday…

Digging through the cupboard

for prescription decongestants

life is good again

Friday…

Medicine coursing

through my veins – Who put this

goldfish bowl on my head?

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My Day With Donalyn Miller

9 Mar

As soon as I heard that all middle school Humanities teachers would get to hear Donalyn Miller present on “Creating An Engaging Reading Culture” I was giddy with excitement. I had read The Book Whisperer  and  bought my own copy. I’d borrowed Reading in the Wild from the library and found it inspiring, too. But to see her in person…that was taking things to a whole new level.

I won’t transcribe my notes for you, just let me say, I was not disappointed. She was really funny – teaching middle school tends to give you a great sense of humor – and very practical. Every thing she talked about was eminently doable. She also provided some talking points for a difficult decision I made recently.

We are a one-to-one school. Every student has been issued a Chromebook. This was more an issue of physical space than access to technology. We are bursting at the seams and gave up our computer labs this year to add more classrooms. To compensate for this loss, the school district made us a one-to -one school. It has been a blessing in many ways, but it presents dilemmas as well.

Right from the start of the year, I have let students read on their Chromebooks. For the most part, there have been no problems. Yes, a few kids play games, or do homework when they are supposed to be reading, but at this point in the year, I know those who are most likely to do so and keep a close eye on them. My biggest concern has been the amount of screen time students are getting. I’ve stewed about this and last week I announced my plan to the kids: when we return from Spring Break, all independent reading will require a print book. Surprisingly, few kids complained.

In my gut, I knew this to be a good decision, but I lacked the research to back it up. Today, I got it. According to Donalyn Miller, multiple studies has shown that students in one to one programs read less. YIKES! There is a flow to reading a print text that does not happen when reading on a laptop –  people read differently online, skimming and scanning, rather than reading for deeper understanding.

That information alone would have  been enough to make the day great, and it came in the first part of the morning and more good stuff was yet to come. I am going back to school this morning energized and excited to tell my students about the great day I had and begin applying some of what I learned.

 

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A cleaning disaster

8 Mar

Despite the raised voices of all the people, save The Queen, at the Royal wedding, God did not  save my Solar Queen.

It wasn’t the windowless room that killed her, though it kept her from being as cheery as she’d been in the room at my old school that was windowed along one side. No, it was my own carelessness. I have a meeting tomorrow and I was cleaning my desk in preparation for my sub. I guess I was a little over zealous and I knocked her to the floor, where she fell to pieces.

I was heartbroken because the yellow Solar Queen is the Royal Wedding edition. Perhaps you saw the lovely yellow dress in the video. There are a lot of blue & pink Solar Queens, but fewer yellow, as you can see in this video, that highlights the charm of the Solar Queen.

The one good thing I can say is that none of my basset hound tchotchkes were damaged in my cleaning frenzy.  I will be more careful next time I clean. Better yet, maybe I will just give up cleaning altogether. I don’t really like to do it, and, clearly, I am not very good at it.

 

The Best Brownies Ever

7 Mar

My source for Girl Scout cookies has dried up. She has aged out of Girl Scouts and I have changed schools, so now, I get buy them where and whenever I find them. I have found that the local Fred Meyer grocery stores are excellent sources. And yet, I haven’t timed to right this year. Until Sunday.

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After I left my last Yarn Crawl shop, still floating on the joy of having finished, I went to Freddies to do my groceries. And there they were in the entrance way, just setting up. Could this day get any better? Apparently it could.  The girls asked me if I wanted cookies and I told them I’d catch them on the way out. They were giddy with excitement.

After getting my groceries, as promised, I stopped at the table on my way out of the store. I looked more closely at these girls, They were very young – Brownies, probably. One little girl was helping one customer, her mom hovering behind ready to step in if necessary, but not necessarily stepping in. Her partner, a cute little blonde girl came up to me very confidently.

“I want to buy a lot,” I told her. “I  like to send some to my sister.”

Her eyes grew bigger and bigger as I told her what I wanted. Her little arms filled quickly and I wasn’t done.

“Do you want me to hold them?” I asked. Her mom, standing back, laughed a little.

When I finally had all the boxes I needed (needed?) she was practically jumping. This is when Mom stepped in. She took the boxes and helped her little Brownie count by fives to figure out how much I owed. In the little Brownie’s excitement, she kept going past the number of boxes I had. Mom helped her count again.

“That’ll be  25 dollars,” she announced confidently.

“Do you have change?” I asked, offering her two twenties.

She took them and Mom again helped her count by fives to figure out my change. Again, excited, she went al little past her goal as she counted by fives. Mom helped her count again.  Then, they helped me add the boxes to my shopping bag. I thanked them and walked away.

“Thank you!” called a little voice behind me. It was my Brownie’s partner.

“You’re welcome,” I replied smiling as I turned to walk away. She kept coming.

“Thank you for supporting the Girl Scouts,” she stuttered, the words almost too big for her tiny mouth.

She waved at me and kept her hand in the air so I offered her a high five. She giggled, so I gave her another high five. I turned, grinning and walked to my car, my heart full of joy.

 

2017 Rose City Yarn Crawl

6 Mar

For the first time in more than four years, I finished the Rose City yarn Crawl.

img_0603That grin on my face is the real thing. I can’t even begin to tell you how proud and excited I felt when  go the last stamp, lucky #13, on my 2017 RCYC passport.

A Yarn Crawl is an organized event focused on exploring the yarn shops of an area over a specific time period. The Rose City Yarn Crawl is a four-day event for fiber enthusiasts (knitters, crocheters, spinners, and felters) to explore the many shops in and around Portland, Oregon.

The RCYC began on Thursday. It is hard for me to get to many before the weekend, but I was determined to get a few stamps in my passport before Saturday. Although  was tempted to leave school early on Thursday, I left at my regular time and got my first stamp at the shop closest to my school and more or less on the way home.

As I drove to work Friday, I planned to visit the two other shops west of Portland, but as the day passed, I began to doubt my master strategy. As I drove out of the school parking lot Friday afternoon, I made my final decision: I would visit the two in North Portland, so I could concentrate on the downtown and outlying shops.

Friday night, I mapped out my route and I was ready to go by 9 a.m Saturday morning. Overall, the day was excellent. I had two down times. Once, I got turned around approaching a shop from the opposite direction I usually do. I retraced my route and got myself oriented the way I usually do and got to the shop just fine. The second down time was, about halfway through, when I was feeling hungry and the rain was pelting sideways. I almost gave up and went home, but I persevered. By the time I arrived at my destination the rain had stopped and when I left the shop, the sun was shining. I was raring to go again.

I left the last two shops for Sunday and told everyone in the final shop that I;d just finished, I was that giddy.

I spent more than I had planned, but that is all right because I wanted to get some yarn for myself and for the items I plan to make as Christmas gifts. Here’s my RCYC stash:

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 If idle hands are the devil’s workshop, I’m safe for a while.

Lucy’s Guardian Angel

5 Mar

There is a rumor in the basset hound world that every basset has a heart-shaped spot somewhere on their body. Basset slaves proudly post pictures of these hearts on the Daily Drool Facebook page and get lots of reactions.

I set out one day to find Lucy’s heart. For those of you who haven’t met her yet, this is Lucy:

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She is now 10 and I have had her for 7 years. In fact, we just celebrated her 7th Gotcha Day on January 16th. (A Gotcha Day, in case you didn’t know, is the day a rescue dog is adopted.)

In any case, I set out to find her heart, but was having no luck. I was feeling rather glum and took a seat on the sofa to contemplate the deeper meaning of her lack of a heart-shaped spot, when I saw it. it wasn’t a heart. It was something even better.

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Lucy had an angel!

Billy Collins wrote a poem entitled “Questions About Angels“. Here is a poem, inspired by that poem, about Lucy’s angel

Lucy’s Angel (with apologies to Billy Colllins) 

Of all the questions you might want to ask
an angel, the only one you ever hear
a basset ask is about his furever home.
Like babies, dogs see angels
and know better than to rush in
where angels fear to tread.
God might have made man
a little lower than the angels
but Lucy’s angel hovers at her side.
Human metaphysics might question
the existence of angels, and philosophers
debate how many dance on the head of a pin,
But Lucy knows her angel is with her
both now and forever,
and to the ages of ages. Arooo!

The Lowest Sort of Vermin

4 Mar

After several weeks of hard work, we held our Information Book celebration on Thursday. I have two classes, one before lunch and one after,  which means two celebrations. My teaching partner and I open the wall between our rooms for celebrations so students can see what the kids in her class did. We have forms on which they can write positive feedback and they like to see the work of their friends in other classes.   We added a new feature this celebration, author interviews modeled after Portland’s Wordstock. We set up two stages and it was a hit.

The morning celebration went off without a hitch. Two students were absent and only one did not have his book finished. My team & I had just had a meeting with his mom and he’s been playing her about his homework. He knew he’s have lunch detention to work on it until it was finished. I went to lunch feeling pretty happy. As Core 2 came in after lunch, it felt as if I was inundated with students saying they hadn’t finished. I was ticked.

All of our students have a Chromebook. If they don;t have internet access at home, we have ways of getting it for them. No printer? No problem! There are printing stations in the library. They’d been given lots of class time to work on their finished product. I felt I had a right to be grumpy, so before the celebration began, I let these EIGHT students know that, beginning the next day, they’d have lunch detention until it was finished. If, however, they turned it in to me before their first class, there would be no detention.

The next morning, most of the work was turned in. I have plan first period and I was puttering around the classroom when one of the girls with  a missing book came in sobbing. It was that sort of cry where you stutter as you inhale. Like deep profound grief.

Today was her birthday and I was giving her lunch detention. No wonder she was distraught.  My Mom once told me that if you cried on your birthday, you cried all year.I felt like the lowest sort of vermin.

She is a kid who has been struggling. We’ve had her parents in, too. She’s been trying really hard, but she just can’t seem to get it together. She promised me she would serve detention next week if only she could not have it today. So I asked her, “Would you be willing to do two detentions next week if I let you off today?” She nodded and  I told I wanted to think it over and to check with me after first period. I don’t know why I didn’t agree just then.

After the student left, I talked to my teaching partner about this. She asked if anyone had decorated her locker. Many girls in our school decorate their friend’s lockers on birthdays, but no one had decorated this girl’s. My heart sank.

When she returned, I told her I agreed and that she really had until Tuesday because I was going to be absent on Monday.

“I’m sorry I made you cry on your birthday,” I told her. Then I handed her a little bag of Hershey’s kisses I had in my desk. “I hope this helps sweeten your day.”

She left a little happier. I don’t know that I’ve solved the burden of school work she seems to be under, but maybe I’ve given her a little time to figure things out.

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The Scary Letter

3 Mar

I noticed it as Lucy and I mounted the steps from the street. A white envelope lay on the stoop. Weird, I thought, Maybe it is the misdelivered mail I meant to drop in a mailbox yesterday then, couldn’t find. As I picked it up I knew I was mistaken. This envelope was much thinner, and it bore my name and address, not the mistaken one. Another misdelivered letter, I assumed, wondering why my neighbor placed on my stoop and not through my mailbox slot. I looked more carefully at the envelope. The return address  and logo made my heart stop: The IRS!

Crap!

I filed my taxes the first week in February. I’d received my State refund already, but I’ve been checking daily for my Federal refund. I bet they want to audit me, I muttered as I nervously tore open the envelope. As I read I relaxed a bit. They weren’t asking to audit me. They wanted me to verify my identity before processing my refund.

My habit, when Lucy and I return, is to change quickly into my school clothes and leave for school right away. Some days, Lucy is anxious in the morning when I leave, so I try to make it quick and business-like. My computer is shut down and my school bag packed before we set off for her morning constitutional. I knew I would have to wait until I got to school to do anything. I grabbed the items I’d need for the phone call and quickly stuffed them in my new school bag, thanking my father for teaching me to keep tidy income tax files.

I worried the entire 30 minute drive to work. Is this letter a scam? Can I Ask the IRS to prove that they are the IRS?  Once I arrived at school, I booted up my computer to do a little research about this letter before calling anyone, (you can’t be too careful these days) and I learned that this is a real thing. They send different letters for different purposes and my letter was legit. So I called.

Say what you will about the IRS, I got the most charming woman on the phone. We had a lovely chat and got everything taken care of in a few minutes. Then she said the words that gave me pause, “Your refund should be processed with in nine weeks.” And she told me what to do it I hadn’t received it by then.

Dang! I’d hoped to have the refund sooner, but I suppose I should be happy that the IRS is taking additional steps to prevent identity theft. I still feel a little worried that this might have been the slickest fraud job ever. I won’t truly relax about it until I receive my refund. This is going to be a long nine weeks.

 

 

Think Pink

2 Mar

Long before we wore pink ribbons or kitty hats, I had a group of 4th grade girls who wore pink every Wednesday.

The class was small by 21st century American public school standards: under 25 students. But this class had personality. Not too much, because classes with too much personality can exhaust you. Not too little, because they exhaust you in a completely different way. This class had just the right amount of personality because they energized me.

It didn’t surprise me when I saw the girls wearing pink. Elementary girls wear a lot of pink, though by 4th grade other hues start taking over. First purple, then baby blue, lime green, sunshine yellow…. and on it goes. The girls in this class, however, still loved pink.

One day, I noticed a significant amount of pink and said something funny about it. That is when they told me they wore pink every Wednesday. I thought about that for a while, puzzled . Why had I only noticed it today? There was no particular reason for it, they explained, except that they liked pink. And that’s when it happened. I decided there and then that I would wear pink next Wednesday.

I  didn’t tell them, of course. Where’s the fun in that? You can probably imagine how surprised and pleased they looked the following Wednesday, when I, too, was wearing pink.

I did so every Wednesday that year. Yes, the boys thought we were all weird, but I think wearing pink helped me build a stronger classroom community with everyone.

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Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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