Teaching and Living in the Middle

A National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist Teacher . . . in the Middle of My Teaching Career . . . in the Middle of Life . . .
and Life in the Middle is a wonderful place to be!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Cornucopia by Lezley Davidson on DeviantArt available under a Creative Commons Attribution license 3.0 at http://lezleydavidson.deviantart.com/art/Cornucopia-320269817

Feeling Thankful

I saw a post on Two Writing Teachers about expressing gratitude to teachers and other education professionals who have been your mentors.  I thought to myself, "What a wonderful idea!"  I have a fairly long list - in my 20th year of teaching I have had the opportunity to have some wonderful mentors!

Cindy Knott-Guillaume - My "Mentor Teacher" twenty (gasp!) years ago.  The finest teacher ever.  Wow!  Was I ever lucky to get her!  She taught me so much about how to manage a classroom, and about how to be a teacher - foundational skills.

Lorinda Brown - One of the very best principals I ever worked for.  My lesson plans were on her desk by Friday - or I didn't go home!  It didn't matter that this school was in the projects and 100% of the students were on free and reduced lunch.  "Her kids" deserved a good education.  She was awesome!  Moving from the private school system to a public school setting was different, and she supported my steps along the way.

Julie Little Goodman - I have learned so much about reading, and the development of the reading process.  She gave me books to read, and took time to discuss "case studies."  I still go to her when I have kiddos who get "stuck."

Kaaren Salminen - In our conversations she reminds me about where kids begin - and it helps me not to take anything for granted.  This is especially important when you have 5th Graders who are so very far behind.  She gives me perspective - truly a gift.

Pranee Pogeline - I wanted to be a teacher of writing, but I didn't really know how.  I read all the books; I tried the practices in my classroom - but I needed a coach.  Pranee coached me.  She wasn't even a teacher in my own district - she did it because she is the "pro" in professional.

Kelly Boland Hohne - She taught my 5th Grade Reading Workshop Group at Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project.  I learned more in 1 week about how to teach Reading than I think I have probably learned in my whole career!  What an amazing experience!

Angie Snapp, Kelly Slagle, and Julie Gill - My three student teachers.  There is nothing like having to be a mentor teacher yourself that forces you to reflect on your practice, to think about every step and instructional move you make.  What a great opportunity!

Keith Collins - One of the finest, most dedicated principals I have ever had the pleasure to work for.  He always made time to listen, and I felt valued and supported as a teacher.  He mentored me through the jump from special ed to general ed.  Under his leadership, my instructional skills really began to grow, because he found my area of interest and provided opportunities for growth and development.

Jan Cornelsen - I had absolutely no idea how to teach Math - and Jan took me under her wing.  She spent her own time coaching me - reviewing my teaching videos with me; finding the positives and coaching me through the rough spots.  She is an amazing lady!

Carmen Avila - A good chunk of the great ELL strategies I learned were from Carmen in my TESOL Program.  I still use them - on a daily basis.

Ramona Slagle - Another great inspiration and source of strategies and support for my English Language Learners.  I learned some of my best Vocabulary Strategies from Ramona.

Tracie Coskie, Michele Hornoff, and the Teachers at the Northwest Teachers Writing Collective - What an awesome group of professionals to learn alongside of!  We have done action research projects, book studies, case studies - and I have never failed to learn something new every time we met.

I know there are many more I haven't listed - these are just the ones off of the top of my head.  Some of my greatest teachers though, have been my students.  That is another list . . .

I am thankful for all of them.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My poor sad little blog . . .  It seems that it has gotten tossed aside while life has just rolled on by.  I expected as much.  Such is the life of a teacher, about the time that October rolls around.  The reality of the school year has hit, and the pressure is on!

I am beginning to learn who the little people in my classroom really are.  There are 24 amazing young people who share my space every day - 10, 11 and almost 11 year olds.  They have all of this shining halo of hope and future around them.  Mostly, I just love basking in their light.

I love the joy of learning that they bring to my day - the sense of wonder they have in everything about them.  It seems as though the moments we share are just flying by.  I will cherish every single one, because I know they will end all too soon.

I love teaching.  And I love teaching 5th Grade.  It's a great place to be.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Slice of Life is a weekly blog hosted by a couple of wonderful writing teachers.  Click on Two Writing Teachers to learn about this wonderful writing community, and how to use it to build a community of writers in your classroom!

If She Only Knew Me by Jeff Gray and Heather Thomas

If she only knew that I had to watch my little brother last night while mom was at the park with her friends, she wouldn’t have punished me for not getting my homework done.”

I read aloud this book in my classroom on the first day of school - every year for the past few years or so, since I discovered it.  I can always tell the kids who know exactly how the little boy feels on this page – the one who has been sentenced to stand in the corner of the classroom with his face to the wall, for his transgression.  I watch their faces dip just a bit lower when he talks about taking that extra box of cereal at breakfast, because he didn’t get anything to eat for dinner the night before. 

And I see the spark of fight in their eyes at the end of the book when he talks about all the things he does know in his neighborhood – the kinds of things that his teacher doesn’t appreciate – like which Laundromat to go to so that your clothes don’t get stolen. 

I hand out an index card to each student at the end of the read aloud.  I say, “What is it that you wish I knew about you?  You don’t have to write anything that is uncomfortable for you – you can tell me something you are good at.  Sometimes teachers don’t always see what their students’ interests are here at school.  You can tell me something you think I need to know – something that is difficult for you.  You can also tell me about something that you are really interested in learning about.  It’s your choice – tell me what you need to tell me.”

I collect the cards, face down, when they are finished.  And I save reading them for the end of the day – when my classroom is quiet.  I read them when everyone else has gone, and when I won’t be disturbed.  I want to give their words honor.  I have watched them struggle and labor to write them, hands cupped around the edges - brows furrowed as pencils move stiltedly over the lines.  I feel as though they deserve at least that much in return.

And I read them with reverence  - If you only knew . . . I just love basketball . . . my baby brother almost died . . . I really want to learn about Egypt . . . my parents got divorced and I miss my dad . . . It’s hard for me to concentrate at school . . . I love Math . . . Math is hard for me . . . My mom has cancer and I am afraid . . .

I have to remind myself that they are only ten years old.  They are only ten years old, yet some of them carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.  What I know now will forever change the way I teach.  That book will always be a part of every first day, because it must be.  I am wondering at all that I was completely unaware of, before I had the impetus to ask.  I pray for grace for my ignorance before I found this book – for all I didn’t know.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Slice of Life is a weekly blog hosted by a couple of wonderful writing teachers.  Click on Two Writing Teachers to learn about this wonderful writing community, and how to use it to build a community of writers in your classroom!

I look at my empty classroom:  the school-wide movie theme is evident, attractive border has been placed around doors and windows, book tubs are cleaned and ready in the classroom library, and other than a few assorted odds and ends – we are ready for “Go Time.”  I have made choices about desk placement, first day activities, and classroom routines.  I hope they are good choices.  I am hoping that I have made this an inviting kid-friendly place to be. 

There are so many pressures on teachers now, so many things we don’t have a choice in; the politics of teaching, the curriculum, sometimes even in the subjects we teach, the places we teach, or the philosophy of instruction where we teach.  Ultimately though, none of that really matters when those students walk through the door.  They don’t want to be seen as a test score on a school or teacher report card, or an FTE on a school roster – they just want to feel like they matter.  They wonder, “Will my teacher like me?  Will the kids in my class be nice to me?  Will I feel safe?  Will school be fun this year?  I would like to think that they also wonder if they are going to learn amazing things – and I am hoping that one is on the list too – okay, I know it’s pretty far down there sometimes – but I hope it’s on there.

No, I can’t control all of that other stuff – it isn’t in my power to do so.  But I do have the power to control what happens when they walk inside that classroom door.  By the very tilt of my head and tone of my voice, I set the stage of what is to be for the next 9 months or so.  That doesn’t seem like such a very long time – but in the life of a child it can seem like forever. 

And come next spring when it is all over, all of that daily contact will have resulted in little pieces of me walking back out the door.  This will be my twentieth year of teaching, and the one thing I have learned is that I want the pieces that they carry with them to be good pieces.  I want them to take into their futures those pieces of me that are the best that I have to give - a passion for learning, the love of reading, the power to persevere when the going gets tough, and the capacity to see hope and light even when the corners are dark and the path is unsteady.

So, on that first day – I will be there with my “A Game” – with the best that I have to give, because that is all I have control over.  That is where I have the power to make a difference.  That is why I am here.   That is why they call me “Teacher.”


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Slice of Life is a weekly blog hosted by a couple of wonderful writing teachers.  Click on Two Writing Teachers to learn about this wonderful writing community, and how to use it to build a community of writers in your classroom!

I remember looking across the crowded room, noticing that there wasn’t an empty seat.  I didn’t know most of the people who came there that day – doctors, nurses, and various staff at the hospital where my mother had worked for over twenty-five years.  There were at least several hundred people there.

There were so many flowers, so many cards and expressions of love.  It was clear that she was someone who was cherished, someone who would be missed.  And I know that this would have surprised my mother greatly.  A sudden and unexpected heart attack had taken her life at the age of sixty-three, and we were there that day to say our goodbyes.

I am reminded of that day today, and of her life because of the sudden passing of Robin Williams.  As I scroll through my facebook page, and watch the news; I wonder if he too would be surprised by the outpouring of love and grief.  I suspect he would be.  That’s what depression does.

That’s what depression does.  It is such an insidious disease.  It builds a wall of illusion between the person who is suffering and the people around them, so that the love and caring can’t get in.  I know the many times I tried, and failed to scale that wall with my own mother.  And the many times she also tried to take her own life.

As with many people who suffer from depression, my mother’s life was one of continuous struggle.  She had to fight to stay here, and when she became so weary that she could no longer hang on, she resorted to the unthinkable act to end her pain.  Fortunately, although she came close a few times, she was never successful.  I do believe though that she died of a broken heart – that’s what depression does.  It breaks the hearts and lives of the person who is afflicted, and those around them.

I pray that someday depression will lose its stigma, so that we can unlock the mystery of this terrible illness – because that’s what depression is.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Slice of Life is a weekly blog hosted by a couple of wonderful writing teachers.  Click on Two Writing Teachers to learn about this wonderful writing community, and how to use it to build a community of writers in your classroom!

I think I am back to reality - making my own coffee, and counting those calories.  I am no longer feasting on gourmet Italian food, stuffing my face with cannoli, and returning each evening to a freshly made bed and clean towels.  My evenings of gazing across the Hudson at the beautiful New York City skyline's magnificent towers and twinkling lights have faded off into the distance.  There are some things though, I will keep with me - always.

Yes, it is good to be home.  I missed my family and my routine.  However, the opportunity to be pampered, honored, and yes - valued at the Mickelson Exxon Mobil Teacher's Academy (MEMTA), is one I will never forget.  It wasn't just that they (Exxon Mobil, the National Science Teacher's Association, and Math Solutions) wined and dined us, and provided the most amazing accommodations at the Hyatt Regency, Jersey City Hotel, and the Liberty Science Center - it was that they kept telling us over and over, "You are great teachers.  We value you.  You are important and that is why we are doing this."  I can't recall every feeling so appreciated and respected in my entire teaching career, and next year will be my twentieth year.

They valued and respected me enough as a teacher to provide state of the art professional development.  They invested in me.  That is such a key word for me.  The five days of outstanding training that was provided sent a message that said, "We respect you and your abilities enough to put our money on you.  We know you will take this and use it to serve kids."  I see far too much requirement in my teaching, and little or no investment. Perhaps this is what made this experience stand out.  

Finally, I met some of the most amazing, intelligent, and friendly people.  To top it off - they were just plain kind.  There was no professional jealousy (at least that I could see), no one-upmanship, and no snarky or negative comments.  These were top-notch teachers at the top of their game, and they acted like the professionals that they are.  We were there to support each other's learning.  And that is exactly what we did.  I have met some people that I hope I can maintain contact with, and always call "friend."

I wish that every teacher could have this experience, particularly our young ones.  I believe it would give them hope for the future.  We need more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) training like this, more investment in our teachers, and more kindness towards each other and our individual journeys.   It is my profound hope for our students, and the profession that I love, that we will one day get there.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014


This little red folder is ready to go into my carry on!

     Getting so excited for the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teacher's Academy.  Today we had a webinar with 151 participants where we learned about the National Science Teacher's Association Learning Center.  It is an amazing resource full of content learning, lesson ideas, journal articles, professional development, and a whole learning community of teachers.  The options for teachers who want to learn to be better instructors of Science are endless.  

     Tomorrow I will begin the task of not only packing my own bags, but making preparations for my developmentally disabled son for the week I will be gone.  This includes medication prep for 7 days, a medical power of attorney, emergency contact numbers, and a week's worth of "sub-plans."  I think I am going to be napping on the plane!

     I can hardly wait though for the exciting week of learning ahead.  Jersey City, here I come!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Slice of Life is a weekly blog hosted by a couple of wonderful writing teachers.  Click on Two Writing Teachers to learn about this wonderful writing community, and how to use it to build a community of writers in your classroom!

Slice of Life

     Today wasn’t a bad day  - I went to a great writing workshop with a couple of colleagues and really enjoyed it.  But yikes I was tired when I got home.  The dogs needed to go out and be fed, I had to run to the store, it was hot outside, I had a headache – yada – yada – yada. 
     So I decided to sit down with a nice cold glass of chardonnay and do something mindless – like look at Pinterest.  I happened upon a post my sister-in-law had pinned.  I call her my BSILF (Best Sister In Law Forever).  Well, she is actually the only sister-in-law in my life at this point – but she is still the best.  She makes me laugh. 
     So today her pin was on a board that she had titled “Stuff That Makes Me Smile.”  I decided I needed a smile day, so I took a trip on over to her board.  I can’t repeat some of the stuff she pinned – suffice it to say I laughed so hard I had tears coming out of my eyes.
     There were irreverent posts about annoying things that husbands and co-workers do, things to do with leftover cake molds that were only appropriate for risqué bachelorette parties, silly memes, the inane, the peculiar, and the downright that-is-so-damn-funny where did you find it? posts.  
     Time to go cook dinner, and to be thankful for humor, and laughter and the joy it brings to a summer afternoon.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Mickelson Exxon/Mobil Teacher's Academy

 Friday, June 27, 2014

 Let the countdown begin!  I will be leaving for Jersey City on July 19th and returning on July 25th.  If the facebook posts from the participants of the other academies around the country are any indicator, I am headed for some amazing experiences!  I can hardly wait to share them with you.

     I have already received an email that I will be attending a Learning Center Web Seminar on July 16th.  I am also being asked to bring 2 lessons with me that incorporate Math that I will enhance through my experiences. I can tell we will not have a single moment of down time - just the way I like it!

Better Lesson Master Teacher Project - Oh My!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

     Met with my coach yesterday.  Yep, for the very first time - ever - I get my very own coach.  I can't tell you how exciting that is!  I have two deadlines.  First, I have to complete a workplan that lists the number of units and lessons I will create throughout this year.  I need to create somewhere between 90-100 lessons.  This workplan has to be finished by Monday, July 14th.  Second, I have to create the first lesson of my first unit and have it submitted by Sunday, July 13th.  Oh boy . . . I guess I had better get busy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

     Oh boy - just a few short weeks ago, I learned how to take a "selfie" on my iphone.  I have now had 3 days of intensive training from the folks at Better Lesson.  I now have Dropbox downloaded to all of my devices (and as you can see above - have figured out how to use it with my new "selfie" skills), have discovered search functions for Google that I never even knew existed, and have learned about a whole 'nother world of technology and applications that will (?) make my life easier.  Yes, I know they will!  The real challenge is . . . can I remember all of the passwords?

Um . . . I guess I should have deleted some of the cell phone photos before I clicked the Dropbox icon.  I have a little work ahead of me - deleting about 600 pictures.  Ugh!

For my teacher peeps - here is the link with a video on how to read the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  I think we are going to need to refer to this one a lot!


Sunday, June 29, 2014

     Ten years ago if you would have asked me what it was like to attend a virtual meeting  (webinar) with 55+ people from across the country, I probably wouldn't have had any words to describe it.  Cool - it's way cool!  This webinar begins my experiences as a Master Science Teacher with the Master Teacher Project at Better Lesson.  

     I learned that the 65 Master Science Teachers have 683 years of combined teaching experience, and come from 24 states and every geographic region of the U.S.  That is a lot of brain power!

     I will be training via self study materials using the Google platform, and will then be working with 4 other teachers and a coach to begin developing the unit and lesson plans that I will then carefully craft, work with the folks at Better Lesson to videotape, and then post for my colleagues to access from across the country.

     What an amazing opportunity to publish a body of work that will allow me to reach out and touch the future!


Slice of Life

A Slice of Life is a weekly blog hosted by a couple of wonderful writing teachers.  Click on Two Writing Teachers to learn about this wonderful writing community, and how to use it to build a community of writers in your classroom!

Um. . . so new to blogging that I thought I could just create a separate page for these.  Guess that isn't going to work!  A big thanks to JenniferM for the heads up. Oh boy do I need to take that blogging class that they cancelled.  I hope I have time to take it when it is rescheduled in the fall . . .

My Slice for Tuesday, July 8, 2014

     As I stir the silky golden mixture, I feel it push back against my wooden spoon.  Sure enough, I lift the spoon and drizzle a small amount across the surface and see it trace, the shimmering lines that signal that this mixture of benign and caustic elements are beginning to transform into something entirely new and beautiful - soap. 

     I open the bottle of essential oil of lavender, and its scent wafts upward, mingling with the warm breeze flowing in from the window above the sink where I work.  I measure out the exact amount, and pour in the pre-measured oatmeal and dried lavender, working quickly before the mixture begins to seize.
     “Ma, watcha doin’ Ma?”  Zach hovers nearby.  He knows not to come too close when I am making soap – heeding my many warnings about the dangerousness of the lye mixture I work with. 
     “I’m just making some soap Zachy boy.”
     “I’m not a boy, I’m a man.” The last word lilts upward as it exits his mouth, enunciated into the air with pride.  Shoulders lift, along with his hands . . . and those graceful fingers that make conversation in the air.  He punctuates his sentences with them – decidedly an exclamation mark for this one.    Zach has a separate language, a grammar and set of conventions that are all his own.
     I scrape the last of the mixture into the mold, tapping the containers on the counter to release the air bubbles.  “Can you hand me the plastic wrap, please?”
     “Oh yes, mother dearest,” he says with a giggle.  He knows I hate it when he calls me mother dearest.   It’s my punishment for calling him a boy.
     “Zach, are you trying to yank my chain?”  And all I hear is a mumbled reply.  Our teasing interlude is over now.  Something outside the window has caught his attention.  I look out and see nothing there.  And for perhaps the zillionth time, I wonder what he sees, what he is thinking.  I wonder at the mystery of this boy, this man who is my son.  That there is so much more inside of him than autism will ever let us see, I have no doubt. 
     After thirty years though, I am no longer saddened by these thoughts.  Acceptance has given me the luxury of wondering what is, without the sting of wondering what could have been.  I am much like the soap I now craft in my kitchen sink.  The disparate elements that characterized the expectations and fears I held as a young mother, and then the young mother of a severely disabled child, have made their peace.   Hopes and fears have joined together to create something of profound beauty.  And like my soap, tracings of the person he is are there as well – luminous ribbons woven into the fabric of my life. 

My Slice for Tuesday, July 1, 2014

     I hear the door creaking as he opens it ever so slightly, a sharp squeak in the silent morning air.  "Ma, Ma, are you up Ma?"  His question floats out of the crack between the door and the molding.  
     Only when I say, "Yes Zach, I'm up," does the door open.  Zach unfolds himself out from behind the door.  That's really what it is - an unfolding.  His six foot tall frame slides out a section at a time, first the neck, then bony shoulders, followed by those long fingered hands.  Wings really.  Zach's hands are more like the wings of some great bird, a heron perhaps.  They flap in excitement, buzz with anxiety, and hover with uncertainty - a barometer to Zach's inner world.  They are also the first outward sign, the first clue to his Fragile X-ness.  Fragile X - that strange genetic quirk unfolding in my DNA, then Zach's DNA and all across the landscape of our lives.
     We have our morning routine, Zach and I.  I put on the tea kettle as he empties the packet of instant oatmeal into the bowl.  He reaches into the cupboard for the bag of brown sugar.  I eye the bag, wondering if he remembered to close it yesterday - and if I remembered to check it.  Guess not.  One too many times of forgetting, and the sugar has hardened into a lump.  The microwave door clicks shut.  It hums steadily as I heat the sugar, and the tea kettle begins to whistle.  Leaning over, Zach stops to sniff my hair on the way to the silverware drawer.  The coffeemaker hisses.  I pour the boiling water from the teakettle into the bowl of oatmeal, add the sugar, and splash in a little milk to cool it off.  I give it a quick stir, and set it on the table. 
     "Where's my princess?" Zach chirps.  And right on cue, Schnitzel, his adoring miniature dachshund, sits on the floor next to him.  She is waiting for that scrap of food that usually isn't far behind when Zach and mealtimes coincide.  I pour a cup of coffee for myself, look out the window, and smile in contentment at the sun that has risen on a beautiful new day.