Friday, November 30, 2007

hasta luego, nanowrimo

I'll try the novel again.  Someday.  I'll keep writing - isn't it exhilarating?!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


... is Esme Raji Codell, author and certified readiologist - trust me, I wouldn't reveal my previously carefully hidden identity for anyone less than truly inspirational. This picture shows us at her conference today. I sat in the audience, completely awestruck, with these thoughts:

1. I love being a teacher! Esme was a classroom teacher in Chicago and is still a school librarian there, in addition to her titles above. Her stories about the chapters of her reading life were funny and reminded me why I want to be a teacher.

2. I have so much to do still! First of all, I have to read aloud to my students MUCH more than before. Read Esme's blog page for more information about good read aloud books. Second, there are so many excellent children and young adult literature that I've yet to read! Again, check her blog page for titles.

3. There's hope for me and you! Esme wrote books, starting with her journals (which became published book - Educating Esme: Diary of a First Year Teacher), then a professional book (How to Get Your Child to Love Reading), then children/young adult literature (such as Sahara Special and Vive La Paris). So there's hope for me, you, all of us that call ourselves WRITERS.

PS - who needs to stand in line for an autograph in her book (yeah, she gave us all copies of Sahara Special, a la Oprah - how cool is that?!) when I can ask her to take a picture with me on my camera phone?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

hard work

Today my students took a quiz, read their novel silently and took notes, and browsed books and stationary at our school book fair during the 41 minute period.  Tomorrow I will attend a local reading conference, and the guidance counselor will lead an activity in my classes.  I think about the rest of the week - graphic novel lesson (continued from 2 weeks ago) Thursday, then nonfiction SSR (sustained silent reading) Friday - and the week's done.

I feel twinges of guilt that I'm not working harder this week.  Then I think, why should I work harder?  I'm not the one trying to pass 7th grade.  You teachers know what I'm talking about - something's WRONG when the teacher works harder than the student.

Teaching my curriculum is not hard work.  It's engaging, creative, challenging, trying, rewarding, worrisome, etc.  But it's not hard work.  Helping kids make friends is hard work.  That's been gnawing away at the back of my mind ever since last week's parent conferences.  We all know what to say and do when students have academic struggles - organize, work harder, study, encourage, reward, consequence, blah blah blah.  But what do we adults do when students have trouble making friends?  And I don't mean "the right crowd" - I mean FRIENDS.

There are over 1300 students in my school - grades 6, 7, and 8.  I think a quarter of them pass through my hallway each day.  I teach 97 students (added a new student today!) each day, for 41 minutes each, in groups of about 20.  The average 7th grader attends 6 or 7 different classes each day.

The New York State Learning Standards for English Language Arts includes "reading, writing, listening, and speaking for social interaction".  That's why my subject is crazy and wonderful at the same time.  I should and I can and I do create opportunities for students to make friends, but so far, it's the hardest part of my job.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

a thanksgiving exchange

As part of staff development day, we 7th and 8th grade English teachers met with district high school English teachers for an hour this morning. (Please comment: have you experienced similar conversations with colleagues who teach at higher or lower grade levels?)

The main topic, overt or not, was "what DO you teach at the middle school?" since many HS teachers hear "no, we didn't learn THAT" from their students. Isn't that a lovely way to start a 7:25am meeting on the day before Thanksgiving?

Regardless, we made the best of the situation, explained what we teach without being too defensive (IMHO) and provided sample lessons/worksheets/assignments/assessments.

I shared these thoughts out loud to my colleagues:
a) Students don't know what knowledge they have, even if they have it. Metacognition is hard for adolescents.
b) Students use ignorance as self-preservation strategy.
c) Re-teaching, aka judicious review, is good.

Then, to make the meeting SEEM more like an exchange of information and less an interrogation, HS colleagues showed us example year-end portfolios, upon our request. We're piloting a portfolio system this year (7th grade) that will replace the final exam.

There was one "old friend" HS colleague with whom we reconnected, and we made one "new friend" HS colleague who just wrote and published a novel.

Oops, I said novel. I confess, I've NOT been working on my novel. Can you tell?

The beautiful irises in the picture were sent to us by my husband's aunt/uncle/cousins who live in Fort Myers, Florida. The odd-shaped paper on the table next to the vase is a "pilgrim turkey" that my daughter made. Gobble, gobble, everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2007

thank you!

The surgery went very well, according to the neurosurgeon! My father-in-law was in surgery for about 2 hours midday today. By 4pm, the family had visited with him briefly. Thank you all for your kind thoughts and regards!

I can now breathe easier and tell you that his neurosurgeon was McDreamy! Well, not the Seattle Grace one, but with even longer curls peeking out from his surgical cap. OK, I'm only relaying this description second hand.

At school, I attended a presentation on using graphic novels in middle/high school curriculum. Our local/regional public library system received a grant from the NYS Education Department to develop and promote curriculum using graphic novels. I've been a proponent of using GN's in ELA curriculum for the past few years and encourage students to try them for independent reading, but I've yet to truly incorporate into my curriculum. So stay tuned as we (my department chair and I ) hope to purchase some new classroom books, such as Maus I & II for the 8th grade Holocaust unit. I'm fairly passionate on this topic, as I've discussed this with teachers who ask if GN's "dumb down" ELA curriculum. But I'll save it for another post (or comment if you have questions/comments).

One gem I learned today: graphic novels constitute a MEDIUM, not a literary GENRE. In other words, film and illustrations and photography and graphic novels are all media, but fantasy and science fiction are genres.

Parent conferences after the graphic novel presentation. They were okay.


Please send positive thoughts and intentions here. It's the view outside the window of the visitor waiting room on the hospital floor where my father-in-law has been staying the past week. He has brain tumor surgery sometime Monday in this hospital.

Many thanks for your kind words and thoughts.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

greeting the season

I wrote a little poem for me, my family, and friends, but I offer these words to you, too, regardless of whether you're ready to greet the "holiday season", or whether cold winter weather concerns you in the least, because we're human, we have problems, and life really is good. (That's a peppermint mocha, in case you're interested.)

"mind over matter"

fill warmth into empty coldness

pour sugar over bitterness
paint colors through the gray landscape
sprinkle love to infect the heart, mind, and soul

Friday, November 16, 2007

current reads #3

Confession - I gave up The Book Thief at page 130. I've learned to swear in German.

New read - Story Time by Edward Bloor (who wrote Tangerine, both young adult novels). I like the "mother/daughter conflict" better than the "mystery magnet school satire of standardized/high stakes testing". The characters are interesting - precocious 13 year old Kate who's smart and smart-mouthed, Kate's timid mother, Kate's 11 year old freaky genius uncle George, Kate's clogging grandparents who live next door in a side-by-side double (yes, I said clogging). Kate and George are both accepted into a special magnet school recognized for superior standardized test scores. Already the subject of testing wears me out, even though it drew me to the book in the first place, even in a purported satire.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This is the birch tree in front of our home. We now live with my husband's parents who are elderly and have been in poor health.

I'm exhausted. 2 days before a week long break from teaching. This year, the first in anyone's memory, the 3 days before Thanksgiving are staff development and parent conference days. Seriously. My principal told my teaching partner (who told me) that our interim superintendent (just prior to current superintendent) came from a district where hunting was so popular that this was their traditional schedule. Okey doke.

My father-in-law was admitted in the hospital Monday, after a weekend of feeling very ill, and then diagnosed with 2 brain tumors. The family has a meeting scheduled tomorrow with "the team" of doctors to hear their prognosis, treatment plan, etc. So that's really why I'm exhausted. My mother-in-law has mid-stage Alzheimer's. I don't think she's had much sleep the last 2 nights. She keeps asking, at night and early morning, despite having spent days visiting at the hospital, "Where's Dad?" Basically, everything is crappy right now.

I took yesterday off work to be at the hospital. I'm trying to save my sick days (family and personal) for when I'm really needed in the upcoming days/weeks/months, so I won't attend tomorrow's meeting, even though I want to be there.

As for NaNoWriMo, what can I say? I won't stop writing, but I have no idea where the novel is going.

Small moments move me along, like my friend's poem, the classical music radio station, my daughter's comment that she likes that music because it's "romantic" (I ask her, what does romantic mean? She replies, I mean beautiful), and mostly, mostly, right now, human kindness.

Monday, November 12, 2007

long weekend

Day 12 - word count 3354. I'm slow, but I'm not giving up.

I watched "The Darjeeling Limited" Saturday night - loved it. Awesome soundtrack. Tiny spoiler alert - there's a writer in the story who protested too much "the characters are fictional".

I offer a poem on loan from my friend.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

reading and writing, again

Day 7 - nada.
Day 8 - word count 3012. Not much, but it's there.

I attended the conference "Facing the Challenge of Reading Problems: Focus for Educators", sponsored by the Western New York chapter of the International Dyslexia Association. It was spectacular - super inspiring. Their "keynote" speaker was Rob "Sparktop" Langston, motivational speaker from Atlanta, Georgia who claimed to be "learning disabled" but prevailed through elementary, middle, high school and college, through hard work and the advocacy of his mother, himself, and his teachers. His talk truly affirmed the importance of acknowledging and building upon the student's existing strengths, and the ultimate goal of helping students become productive members of society. He pointed out that reading and writing and math are man-made tools needed to succeed in our society, and we teachers are the gatekeepers. He compared reading and writing skills to surgery - what do you say to the child who isn't born with those skills? You say, you can learn, you're smart, work hard, and be a productive member of society. He started the talk with a story about speaking to juveniles who were serving hard prison time due to the severity of the crimes, and given the high percentage (he claimed 80) of prisoners who had learning disabilities, he challenged educators to keep these kids in school and out of the penal system.

I'm tired. I'll continue this discussion another time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

First snowfall

I didn't take any snow pics yet - just this fall foliage pic of pre-snowfall right outside our home. It snowed all day outside my classroom window, with occasional lightning and thunder. Little accumulation on the ground - mostly slush. Slow commute home on the highway.

Snow during the school day is an interesting creature. I'm glad to be warm and dry inside the building, but I worry about my commute home. Snow is a good blog topic, though. Stay tuned.

Day 6 word count - 2749.

Monday, November 5, 2007

close call, and the substitute teacher question

I was a tiny bit inclined to just ... not write the novel because ... it's hard when I'm not writing to stop doing anything else. Then when I'm writing, it's fun and rewarding and yadda yadda good stuff. The truth - I didn't want to tell any of you that I wasn't writing the novel, and I'm not giving up blogging, so...

Day 4 - I didn't write. Nope.

Day 5 - I recovered! Word count: 2267.

Part of me doesn't want to blog about anything except the novel. The other part says, I'm going to a conference this Thursday on the topic of helping students with reading problems, sponsored by the local chapter of the International Dyslexia Association. You know what that means - preparing lessons and materials and students for a substitute teacher! I'm completely, unapologetically neurotic about my lessons for a substitute and my students' behavior in my absence. I absolutely positively HATE reading a note the next day saying students were poorly behaved. Is this normal? Is this justified? Should I just get a grip?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

nanowrimo update #1

Word count: 1853

Everyone's first question is: what are you writing about? I decided to not tell anyone. I'm not even telling them why I'm not telling them, but I'll tell you why - I'm not sure what I'm writing about. I'm writing, for sure. I'm enjoying writing, and I'm proud of that word count, behind as I am. I've been writing every day, and I'm no longer insisting that I'm writing 50,000 words by November 30, but I plan to keep writing. I don't know what the writing will turn out to be, what it's really about, so I just don't want to answer that question.

This is really fun. Writing is what I love to do, what I'm meant to do, what I've always wanted to do. So I'm doing it. I'm thankful to Tricia for giving me the NaNoWriMo info, to NaNoWriMo people for this brilliant challenge, and to anyone and anything that's ever inspired me to write.

Day 1 - I wrote at home, 45 minutes, after I got home from being a "guest speaker" at my friend's Differentiated Instruction college course and before I went to bed, instead of watching recorded "Grey's Anatomy".

Day 2 - I wrote in my classroom, with that "diarrhea of the mouth" class, during SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) time, for 20 minutes. I set up my MacBook on a desk right in front of them, said "no, I'm not telling you what it's about", and showed them (well, mainly the kid sitting right in front of me) the word count feature on Word.

Day 3 - I wrote in a coffee shop near home, sitting on a comfy armchair with the computer on my lap (had to place carrying case between my lap and the computer because, as Apple store Genius told me, it's NOT called a laptop because it gets too hot from the processor to be placed directly on a lap), sipping pumpkin spice latte and dipping chocolate covered biscotti, for an hour.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

nanowrimo, baby!

That sounds like a variation of "nanu nanu" a la Mork, or perhaps "hasta la vista" a la Terminator.

I'm fully aware that it's November 1 and I'm supposed to be writing an average of 1,666.7 (rounded, thanks) words per DAY for my novel. (NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month) Yep. I had fun explaining this to one class - well, I told them I'm supposed to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November, and they screamed, WHAT?! They were quite concerned about my ability to accomplish this, and they said I should get started right away. They helped me do the math (average words per day, average pages per day, etc.), and - here's the cutest and funniest part and why I love 7th graders - one girl asked "Do you have a study hall?" because a study hall helps them complete homework so it could help me, too. This is my worst-behaved class, the class that has, as I told them, diarrhea of the mouth. They loved the discussion because they once again distracted me from "making them work".

I'm inspired by Carl Hiassen's novel Hoot - I want to write something with fast-paced action, about a young person who is a lot smarter than (he? she?) appears, who tackles a tough problem the best (he/she) knows how, without expecting adults to hand (him/her) the solution.

Gotta go.

Update at 10:58 pm - I wrote 458 words. Hasta manana, amigos.