Friday, December 30, 2011

Writing to Remember

I've been getting ready for a new year and the new semester it will surely bring during the early morning hours of this a"vacation" week.  I CERTAINLY do not have to do this; it could wait until next week.  I WANT to do this. I'm considering journal articles - old ones - and some new ones- and making choices that will best help my students understand the magnitude of their responsibility as teachers of writing.  It's a BIG responsibility because we all have so little time to read , remember and reflect as we live our busy lives.

One important point, that we often forget to share with out students, is that we write to remember.  Our written words, whether in ink or computer or phone font, are more permanent reminders of our thoughts and ideas than our verbal conversations.  As I look back at 2011 through this blog, I am reminded of  experiences (a few snow storms I forgot) and my thinking. I'm remembering the happy and sad days that make up all of our lives.

Today, I am  writing to remember a young man whose life here on earth ended in 2011 - far too early.  I didn't really know this young man personally; however, I have had his family and friends in my thoughts and prayers for the 24 hours since I found out - through "print" Internet - because he was a friend of someone I love - and thus part of my extended family here on earth. 

Our days here are indeed busy and indeed are few; thus, it is important to make the most of our moments and our  memories.  I'm off to do that now!  

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Help

I read The Help last summer and was impacted by the complex and cruel relationships of the employers towards their hired help; however, last night I saw the movie version and took away (not surprisingly) a slightly different angle on the movie.  Perhaps it was because I was watching the movie on Christmas night reflecting on the message of hope and peace of this important day in Christian calendars.  Perhaps it was because I was reflecting on the joys and challenges of "family."  Perhaps it was because I was thinking about those I love dearly who were not with me due to the joys and challenges of  of this journey through "life."  Perhaps it was because I was thinking about my nuclear family (the one of my youth) who lived not far away in Meridian, Mississippi for a short time during my adolescence. 
Whatever the reason, I am glad THIS TIME that I watched the movie as well as read the book.  While even a good movie is typically disappointing after a great book, there are times when the message needs to be heard again and again.  So in this season of hope and promise, let us not forget the potential we all have to look down on others who are not like us - for whatever reason. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Maybe Today, Perhaps Tomorrow, Let There Be Peace

I sure could use just one more day...
One day to clean, prepare, cook, wrap, share with others..
I guess I feel like this almost every year,,
I should have started earlier...baked and frozen cookies in November...
Wrapped in August...
Cleaned every week...
Or Gotten someone to help me clean...:)
I guess I (and most other people on earth)
Feel a whole lot more like Mary probably felt that first Christmas 2000+ years ago...
Not quite ready in all the little ways I might wish to be...
But ready in my heart
To give and accept the love and hope this season offers to all of us...
SO even if your presents are not all shopped for..
Even if they are not all wrapped...
Even if your cookies are burned and there is flour on the floor
Even if you can't figure out the Aerobed you just bought
Even if you are concerned about those who are hurting this season
I wish for everyone
A holy and peaceful Christmas Eve
A joyous and peace-filled Christmas Day
A season when your family, whatever it looks like
Not only tolerates
But also grows in love and understanding
And acceptance of us all as imperfect beings
With the potential for limitless love..
It's PEACE I wish for most of all
In our world
In our families
In our hearts

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A small moment in time

For 24 hours, I was "out of touch."  In all honesty, I didn't know I was out of touch for the first 12 hours because I was fast asleep (or at least as fast asleep as someone can be during these last very busy days before vacation and the big eating / present giving holiday that looms.).
I'd love to tell the whole story now, but I do not have time as I need to 1) get on that treadmill 2) wrap at least one gift!.  So, perhaps, when I need a "seed idea" for a small moment in a few weeks (during my teaching writing class!), I will return to this and expand on this kernal.
I don't want to miss the message that I feel so clearly this morning (now that I am back "in touch") becuase I got the message loud and clear: slow down and remember what this season is all about...It is not the even count on the boxes or the number of cookies in the pantry...not what needs cleaning...not what needs wrapping...not where will I put them...not even the perfect gifts for those who help us all year...slowing down to remember....the real gift this holiday season....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Words of Wisdom

"I'm having a very hard time today!" said the first grader to her teacher. 

Words of wisdom from a first grader whose crazy teacher was TRYING in vain to conduct "business as usual" on the
FIRST day of Hanukkah and the FIFTH day before Christmas.....                                                                              What in the world was that teacher thinking?
TODAY, we are going to "read" a great multilevel "how to book" from Reading A-Z called "Making Snowflakes" ......and make lots of snowflakes...

Reminder to teachers everywhere....whatever you celebrate...whatever the stressors and joys of your own families....are kids are enjoying and enduring similar and sometimes far more significant stressors......

I'm going for...
"I'm having a lot of fun in reading!"  today!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Peace or Panic

On the first day of the last week before Christmas, there was quite a buzz in the hallways about having "so much left to do" that was reinforced quickly when I hit the roads in the afternoon.  It was certainly NOT the "peace on earth" sentiment that one might associate with the impending holiday.  I really did start to get caught up in the frenzy of "still to shop for," "don't know what to get," and "only got a few days left" at the end of the day yesterday.  I took a "Lord and Taylor Friends and Family" discount card from someone who offered and I stopped by my beloved Barnes and Noble to spend far too much on some "last minute" gifts that were not clearly thought through. 
Then, my mother handed me a very small box with some very old but precious ornaments allegedly from my first Christmas tree to share with my own children as small pieces of the past.  These small glass ornaments will provide a conduit to the future that my children may not even fully understand - yet - but my mother and I talked...and spent time...and I listened....that is the gift she really needs.
While I didn't consciously think about the important change in my mindset around 6 PM yesterday, I know I left there feeling a bit more at peace with the world....and with the shopping, cleaning, cooking that defines preparation for HIS birthday next weekend. 
HOWEVER, I must have been back in that "panic" phase of a dream because I woke up this morning before the alarm with the words of the Grinch dancing in my head....

 And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! "It came without packages, boxes or bags!" And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. "Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

Friday, December 16, 2011

got kale and case studies?

These last few days of the semester are pretty stressful for students AND teachers alike.  No one could have EVER imagined that we would be THRILLED to open a package of frozen kale on a Friday night during the marathon grading of projects that closes each semester! I see evidence of hard work all semester long in these culminating makes me feel proud and frankly it feels good to read those papers.  It is just like that frozen kale...clear evidence of hard work all semester (season) long! That kale was GOOD.....and so were those projects!

Gifts that keep on gifting
This story appeared on CBS news radio yesterday when I was sitting in traffic.  You know how that works: you hear it again and again every 8 minutes and so you really think about it during the day!  I would have HOPED it would have caught my eye even if the university involved (Stony Brook) was not a family alma mater; however, it is was the source of degrees for someone near and dear to my heart!        
I've been thinking about the news clip in light of another very generous donation from one of my own mentors to one of my own alma maters which is already supporting future teachers!
I've also been thinking about that news clip in light of this holiday season of giving.
We ALL have many opportunities to "give" and "give back" in life.  While we may not have generous endowments to share, many of of have SOME financial success to share with others who need a little boost today.  It really DOES feel SO good to shop for someone who NEEDS our gifts - I know.  I did it this year.  I can NOT wait for that gift to start giving back!
We all have MANY gifts that we COULD share with others.
We could share our talents of singing bringing enjoyment and comfort to others...we can't all sing, but we all have talents. 
We could share our talent to build and fix homes, cars, and even cells phones with others..and while we can't all fix things, we can all help to fix broken hearts and souls. 
We could take someone under our wing and share our wisdom and caring........even young children know the joy this brings.
We could just listen to those who might need to share....
We could give our time......even if we don't think we have a lot of it...we have this today and this moment....use it wisely. . 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ho Ho Ho

This morning, on the the treadmill as I started my day....I listened to a few holiday classics including these lyrics:
It's the most wonderful time of the year.
With the kids jingle belling,
And everyone telling you,
"Be of good cheer,"

AND then about an hour later, I got on the interstate and was quickly back to reality.....when a slightly more jaded version danced through my head.....

It's an interesting time of the year.
With cars crashing
And everyone fussing,
"I've got to get out of here..."

AND it was 40 degrees...there was no ice....what's up with this?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Just for the record

My mother sent out all of her cards this morning after a marathon week of working on all 70 of them.  She is very happy and satisfied.  I've written 4 cards.  I feel like those students of mine who are procrastinating with their projects.  Yet, there is one important difference.  When your job is to write about your work during a semester, it is the one and only necessary means to the end (your good grade and entry into our teaching profession); however, Christmas is not measured by cards or decorations and our participation is not dependent on completion of any decorating, baking, or writing task.  Thank goodness because I do have a LOT more reading to do for those students who have NOT been procrastinating!

Those are case studies the elf is reading - just in case you were wondering!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Cards

Ho, Ho, Ho
Last week, my mother IMPLORED me to send out Christmas cards this year - in order to help save the US Postal Service!  I guess I really am partly guilty for their financial pressures as I have NOT been a regular "sender of birthday cards" or notes during the past few (many?) years. 

However, I really do enjoy getting Christmas cards and letters in the mail and until the past few years, I DID send out semi-personal notes and cards to friends and family.  In the years when my lives were filled with the likes of beach vacations, summer baseball, and college plans, it was easy to craft a note. In the past few years, it has been not so easy. It's not that my family and I did not have lots of great things to report; rather, it was just that there were so many critically important to us - but so very sad  - things that even I did not want to put on paper. 

I still enjoy getting notes and cards...even though I have noticed over the past few years that many of my friends did not send cards ...and I suspect that many of them were in the same dilemma as me!

I'd say I could make a POST into my card this year; however, it would NOT be very personal and it would NOT help the US POSTAL SERVICE.

Maybe....I could send out a few cards?

Friday, December 9, 2011

The GIft(s) of the Magi

The Gift of the MagiThere was a time when the month of December was a time to explore the rich literary heritage of inspirational holiday stories; however, in the past decade, most of us who teach in public schools have steered away from holiday stories as we walk the careful line separating "churches" and our "state.".

Yet there are tales and messages that perhaps we might consider introducing because they go beyond any religion and represent the complexity of life and relationships. 

As I lay in be last night thinking about the holiday gifts I should 1) buy this weekend; 2) wrap this weekend; and 3) mail this weekend, I was thinking about the O Henry tale of the Magi. I haven't read the story in many years; yet the story IS part of my thinking about the holiday season. I guess you could call it one of my "mentor texts!"

Amazon says of the story and it's author" O. Henry first lived a checkered life as a cowhand, bank teller, reporter, embezzler, and convict. Then, in a last-minute reversal worthy of one of his own stories, he turned to fiction, and became a celebrated author of ironic miniatures. "The Gift of the Magi" is perhaps his most famous creation. And while this exploration of love and gift-giving doesn't exactly plumb the depths of human behavior, it does leave us with the final picture of Jim (sans watch) and Della (sans hair, or most of it), which has induced even the crankiest readers to shed a tear"

The deeply in love yet penniless characters sold their most prized possessions (a comb and a pocket watch) to buy a presents for one another; yet their sacrifices meant they could not use their "gifts."   For teachers, the tale may be a reminder that some holiday stories may still have a "place" in our classrooms as we reflect on the human spirit and the power of love.  The message is that loving and caring about others has NOTHING do do with gifts at all!  This holiday season and all year through, we should remember that the TIME we make to be together is really the best gift of all.

Embracing Differences

Last night, I read my Grad Students one of my favorite books, Tacky the Penguin.  This tale have been around for a long time; however, its message is one we all need to reflect on as we move through this busy and often stressful month of "wrapping up" the semester, the holiday season. and the year 2011.

School Library Journal (from Amazon) describes this book this way:
             Tacky the Penguin is a total nonconformist who lives with a group of formal, proper  penguins. But it is Tacky who foils the plans of three critters with ``get-rich-quick plans'' that            threaten the penguins' existence. With his un-penguin-like antics, Tacky puzzles the hunters to        such an extent that they're firmly convinced they cannot be in the ``land of the pretty penguins.'' .

My own take on this story is that Tacky  is more than just an "odd" bird.  He is purposely "pitted against" friends who work hard to live up to their names and reputations, Neatly, Orderly Perfect!,; yet, these ideal penguins are unable to solve problems when life doesn't go exactly like they planned.

The messages in this modern day fable are clear reminders that perfection is not an "end" nor a solution to problems.  Perfection contributes to uniformity limiting creativity and individuality. It's possible that those of us who have struggled with being "different" or "lacking" in any way (and I suspect that is all of us) can relate to Tacky.  As teachers, it's critically important that we embrace each of our students' differences and challenges - every day.  It's a lifelong message we can model that will serve our students well no mater what they do in their lives.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reading online - different but not bad

This morning, I read a pretty fabulous ( but sad) account of the lifelong impact of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the Poughkeepsie Journal.  There were personal stories from veterans and family members who are older but still vividly remember the moment life changed.  There was also the edited-written-now infamous - speech that President Roosevelt gave to the nation...."Today is a day that will live in infamy..." THEN, I logged onto the Journal site so that I could post something about editing and SAVE a fantastic edited letter from then Pres. Roosevelt about the attack....and then I realized that the STORY was the same online...but the visuals were different....
Sadly, the image of the edited letter was not available online - who know why - perhaps restrictions from the Roosevelt Library or perhaps because it would be lost online......
HOWEVER, the online version had the audio and videotape of a veteran who was (i assume) interviewed and written about in this article.....his voice and his memories are compelling....
I am reminded AGAIN that this new online literacy is different - but offers not only hyperlinks, but also visual and auditory literacy.  
Mr. Ousterhout's voice reminded me of a message I heard this morning on the treadmill from another "download" of sorts! Yesterday, I downloaded some Christmas mixesc onto my  MP3 player to keep me going during my treadmill time in December....and so, for the first time FOR ME, I really listened to Justin Bieber singing a song whose lyrics stuck in my head:
Someday at Christmas men won't be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys

One warm December our hearts will see

A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there'll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life's really worth
There'll be peace on earth

Saturday, December 3, 2011

when kids don't want to read

I listened to many parents talk about kids who do not want to read during parent-teacher conferences.  I'd like to say that I am surprised; however, I have heard this lament for many years.

On the one hand, I COULD say it is surprising that so many are reluctant to read when our society is filled with more books than ever before in history as well as in homes filled with Mac Books and Notebooks and Ipads and Kindles and Nooks. HOWEVER, there are also more distractions and more exciting stimuli than ever before: Wiis and TVs and Gameboys and more electronic stimulation than ever imagined by our forefathers and mothers.  Plus, there are afterschool activities and playdates and families are busy with the act of living our busy hectic lives.

In school, we can show children the magic of books and the wonder of learning that is possible from print literacy in all its forms.  We can even show children that we love stories and authors and model how they have impacted our teaching and living.  We'll continue to do that in every classroom.
HOWEVER, parents are the first and ongoing teachers of their children.  Their impact is far greater and their model far more powerful.  SO, even during the times when your children are reluctant to read (and their will be times) fill your homes with print (magazines, newspapers, Kindles, Ipads, and Nooks) and make sure your kids CATCH you reading. 

When I scan the NY Times each day, electronically, I sometimes think of my dad, who at on the couch in the evening reading the newspaper.....long ago.....and of my children, who are now doing something similar.....only on their Droids, Macs and Kindles.....

Life and our reading formats may change....but reading is not going away....