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The best parent-teacher conference opener

22 Oct

“Hello, Ms. Gillespie,” my student’s father said, reaching out to shake my hand. “It is so nice to meet. And I noticed we have the same hair.”

It was true. The tall man from the Indian subcontinent and I had pretty much the same haircut. Because if its nature, my hair does best either very long or very short, so I have kept my hair short for many years and love it. Long hair is too much work.

I knew the dad meant his words kindly, so I smiled and said, “We do, but mine is a lot greyer than yours.”

He laughed and pointed at his head and said, “This is henna!”.

His wife slapped his arm and joined in the laughter. Their daughter, my student, looked mortified.

Few students came in to their conference smiling. I sometimes think that, for some students, parent-teacher conferences feel like some sort of cosmic collision of worlds. When I ask, many claim they have no idea what I am going to say, so I have a series of things I ask them during their conference:

Have you ever had a bad conference?

What’s been the best thing so far about 6th grade?

What’s been the best toughest thing so far about 6th grade?

Which math class are you in? Is it a good fit?

When do you do your homework? How much time do you spend on it?

Who do you eat lunch with?

I teach in a program for the gifted. Some students put a lot of pressure on themselves.  Some students have a lot of pressure put on them by their parents, especially when it comes to Math. These questions usually lead to most of the things I want to say to parents and mostly help put kids at ease.

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Who are the people in your neighborhood?

15 Oct

“Can I help you find an address?” I shouted to the woman across the street.

That’s not a car of one of the residents, I thought when I saw her minivan pull into the parking lot of the small apartment complex across the street.I was walking Lucy. Or rather, I was standing outside with Lucy. I might have said I was walking Lucy, but, at 13, she now tends to walk for short distances then stand, looking around at the world.

We were in a standing phase when the car pulled up. I’d seen the woman get out of her car, walk to one of the apartments, get back in her car, back up, repark, get out again. When she came back to the parking area, Lucy and I had moved enough for me to see she had a parcel in her hands. She looked up at the sign on the building and back at the package. That’s when I figured she might need help.

It turns out, the package was destined for my side of the street.

Delivery people often make mistakes in my neighborhood. The streets go from 30th Ave, to 30th Place, to 31st Ave. Deliveries meant for people on my street, 31st, often get delivered to 30th Place because people assume the street after 30th is 31st. Once, I had a package containing jewelry delivered to my house, even though it was destined for my equivalent on 30th Place. The residents were stunned when I showed up at the door, but thankful. My neighbors all know this to be true and more than once I’ve encountered one while walking (or standing with) Lucy, on their way to or from a delivery snafu. Fixing these delivery issues is a little inconvenient, but neighborly.

Lucy watched as the woman crossed the road and went up the front steps of our condominium complex. Then she followed. The package was delivered by the time we reached our door. Missions accomplished.

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Like flies to manure

7 Oct

As soon as the instructor started placing materials on the tables, I knew she wasn’t joking about it being a hands on workshop. The class was entitled “Breed Specific Knitting” and before lay yarn from ten different breeds of sheep. As she unpacked, the air filled with the smell of farm and lanolin. I was itching to reach out and touch. So were the other people in my class. We were drawn to the fleece like flies to manure – and there was manure.

It was my first day at Knit City, who’s motto is “A modern fibre event”. The event might be modern but this class was old school and wonderful.

We learned about the importance of the length of each fibre and how crimped it is. We stretched fibres, pulled them apart, and snapped them by our ears to hear ow easily they broke. We got dried manure on our hands.

“Don’t worry,” said our instructor, “I brought wipes!”

By the end of the workshop, the white tablecloths were speckled with dried manure, but we all knew a lot more about which fibres work best for which knitted items.

 

Hammer time

24 Sep

Week four and the hammer falls.

We have spent the last three weeks in training – learning when and when not to go to their lockers, what to bring to each class, when to go to the bathroom. The first two weeks were friendly reminders. Last week’s reminders were a little more serious.

“If you do that next week, you’ll have lunch detention.”

Lunch detention is hardly a hardship. Students sit in silence, eating their lunch and reading a book. In a school of 1600, where over 500 6th graders eat at the same time, lunch detention can seem like a respite, but at this point in the year, the 6th graders don’t know that yet.

I had an idea of who my first detainees might be. So, imagine my surprise when one of the sweetest, most responsible boys in class confessed he had left his writer’s notebook in his locker. They students had just taken their seats to begin generating ideas for personal narratives around first times, last times, and times they learned something. This young man, because he was sweet and honest, didn’t just get some notebook paper, he confessed.

I don’t make a big deal out of lunch detention when it happens. Most kids are worried the first time, and ask funny questions like “Are you going to tell my mom?” or “Will this go on my permanent record?”.

The student came back to class with a worried look on his face, so I tried to alleviate his worry with some humor.

“Maybe you could write about “The first time I got lunch detention,” I suggested, grinning.

He smiled back at me, opened his notebook, and got to work.

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The Big Five-0

3 Sep

I started school on the Tuesday after Labour Day in 1969.

I’ve been going to school for 50 years!

I was four years old, a December baby, and it was the days when the kindergarten cut-off was December 31st.

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My kindergarten school picture – dress sewn by Mom 

I was super excited about school and insisted Mom teach me how to write my name before we started because I thought that was something I was already supposed to know.

I only found out many years later that, because I was such a shy and introverted child, my parents had considered keeping me home an extra year to mature. They sent me to school that first day with my twin sister, hoping I’d be OK. Fortunately, it worked out and I thrived at school.

So, here I am, 50 years later, still excited about the first day of school. I hope everyone who comes into my class thrives the way I did in Miss Belyea’s class. I know some kids won’t be quite as excited, and that some parents might be worried, like my parents were. I will do my best to be as good for them as Miss Belyea was for me.

Back in style

27 Aug

Many people have back to school traditions. Some people take a yearly photo. Some people have breakfast traditions. For the last few years, I’ve knit socks.

This year, I had my 2019 back to school socks ready for the first day of inservice week.

These are knit in a colorway called Patience. It seemed appropriate.

My 2018 socks were knit in No. 2 Pencil.

The 2017 school year started shortly after the eclipse. Naturally, this colorway was called Total Eclipse of the Sun.

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In 2016, I used this yarn, Fall for Barrie, for another project, but had enough left over for a pair of shortie socks.

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Hand knit socks aren’t cheap, but it makes me happy knowing my feet are sheathed in something made by my own hands.

 

My secret strategy

6 Aug

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The only thing that keeps me going back to my local supermarket is its proximity to the pet store where I buy dog food. Over the last two years, following a buy-out from a national corporation, the local chain has transformed – and not in a way I like. My secret strategy is to park my car in a spot near the park that separates the grocery store from the dog food store, walk to get the dog food, then do my groceries.

Yesterday, my secret strategy played out. As I walked back to my car with the dog food, I saw a silver sedan pull into the shady spot beside my car. Imagine my surprise as I saw who emerged: an 8th grade teacher from my school who will be joining us in 6th grade in September. Apparently, he uses the same secret strategy.

We chatted at the cars for a while, discussing our violation of parking prohibitions. Before too long, he was picking my brain about 6th grade. Instead of getting his cat food then groceries, he decided to get his groceries first so we could carry on our discussion. Eventually we parted, me to the Vitamin section, him to produce, each saying something like “See you in a few weeks”.

As I exited the grocery store wheeling the cart to my car, I saw him again, coming from the direction of the pet food store. We laughed and said “See you in a few weeks” once more.

 

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