Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The End of the School Year

I am rapidly approaching the end of my fifteenth year of teaching in my district, the seventeenth year of teaching in public schools, and the nineteenth year of teaching in any school. In these past nineteen years I have learned something; the school year is a marathon, not a sprint. When May hits, it sometimes feels like that last few miles are up the steepest hill in the country.

May is exhausting.

The month of May always makes me realize that the summer “off” is truly needed to regain your sanity, catch up on sleep, and get your life back in order. My email inboxes are way past my normal comfort level of emails that are waiting for me. My house is a mess. My “to read” stack is growing by the day. The end of the year is upon us and I cannot keep up.

This time of year also fills me with a bit of despair. I worry that I haven’t done enough, taught enough, connected enough. I can only assume it is a bit like the feeling when your children go off to college, you wonder if they are ready. I look at the beautiful faces of my students and think of everything I haven’t done, haven’t gotten to, haven’t… I don’t take time to step back and appreciate what we have accomplished.

That’s why Tuesday was a gift. A friend who teaches up north asked if she could visit my classroom for a day and observe. Of course I said yes. When she was in my first ELA class, I asked my students to introduce themselves to her and share a title they’ve read this year and loved. My heart filled to the brim with their answers, so I had the second and third classes do the same thing.

It isn’t that they were spelling bindingly brilliant. It isn’t that they stood up and gave a beautiful five minute soliloquy about the benefits of reading, it was their quiet comments that filled me up:

  • The One and Only Ivan (mentioned too often to count) because it is beautiful.
  • See You at Harry’s because of the emotions it makes you feel.
  • The Maze Runner because it caught me with the non-stop action and twists.
  • Out of the Dust because of the way there weren’t many words, but there were the right ones.
  • Mark of the Dragonfly because of the beautiful characters.
  • All of the Answers because it was the first book I loved.


And on, and on, and on. Seventy-eight beautiful voices, seventy-eight recommendations. And what I noticed was this:

No one hesitated and couldn’t think of a book.

Many groaned that I would only select one.

Most students knew the title and author without having to reference anything. These were books that lived in their hearts.

When someone would mention a title, there would be whispers of agreement.

In each class I saw a student sneak out their reading notebook to record some titles on their “to read” list.

Each student spoke of a connection they had made that was beyond anything I can teach. It is personal and belongs to them.

Listening to my beautiful students I realized something. I might not have checked off every single thing I wanted to this year in regard to lessons, but I did teach the most important one, and I taught it all year long. My students have connected to books and authors. They have each found their own path and level of connection, but it is greater than when I met them in August. That is important to me.


As my friend was preparing to leave yesterday she paid me the highest compliment she could have, although she probably didn’t know it. As we hugged goodbye with students sprawled out around the room reading, she said she enjoyed being in my room. That the feeling was relaxed and you could see the relationship I had with each student. With that, she gave me a gift. That is all I can truly hope for in my year with my students. That they know they are loved and know that I want them in my room. So while May will continue to be crazy as I run uphill these last nine days, my load is lighter. A visitor to my classroom made me reflect on what I have truly taught this year and now I know, my year is complete.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Wizard of Oz Book Tour


I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't know about the story of Dorothy, Toto, and their journey home. It wasn't, however, through a book that I knew this story, but a movie. 

I think many people my age grew up watching The Wizard of Oz. I clearly remember being fascinated by Dorothy's shoes, the colors of the movie, and the witch's evil monkeys. There were scenes in that movie that were just breathtakingly beautiful. It is for this reason that I was so intrigued when Cider Mill Press shared this newly illustrated copy of The Wizard of Oz with me. 
This edition is huge! I took a photo next to my dog, Rosie, for reference. I loved the size. I can just imagine some of my students pouring over the illustrations, really studying them. Most of the story will be similar to the one they remember from the movie, but there are a few differences. I think it would be a fascinating discussion with some of my movie buffs in class to discuss the way the two differ. 

Several illustrations stood out to me, but two favorites would include the lion asleep in the field of poppies and one where Dorothy's group first reaches the Emerald City. They have to wear protective eye glasses because the brightness of the city will hurt their eyes. I know my students will immediately comment on the fact that their glasses give the group an almost Steampunk look.

I look forward to bringing this book into my classroom on Monday. I have a feeling that many of my Wizard of Oz fans will be clamoring to read it. 


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Celebrate This Week - Holding On To What's Important


I read Ruth's post this morning (HERE) and paused. I loved it, I really did. I had a conversation about failure with a friend recently. I don't consider failure a negative, I really don't. My failures are what I learn the most from. While sometimes they can feel like set backs, I think they are critical for growth. And this year has been full of them. 

Looking at Ruth's post, I thought of my own writing life. It has been a mess. Last year about this time I was pretty set on writing a book for teachers. I was blogging regularly. I had absolutely written more for Choice Literacy than I have this year. So what happened? 

I still love writing, but I have learned that I tend to go all in on one area of my life, and it leaves me lacking in other areas. If I am tweeting a lot and keeping up with my PLN, I'm neglecting reading. If I'm reading a lot, I'm not writing. And so on. So this school year I have worked a lot on balance. 

It began in August. After writing about 15,000 words towards a professional book, I felt like I had lost my footing. I wasn't sure what direction I was taking, but I didn't like it. Then a friend's health made me reevaluate. When I was writing, I was writing a lot. I wasn't present in my life. I began to pull back. 

When I paused, a new mindset fell into place. A book might come one day, but not today. This blog will be posted to on a less regular basis. I tweet less. I have written fewer articles. I've read a lot, but not as much as before. 

And yet, I have gained so much. I've been with my boys more. I've began to exercise regularly. I work to spend more time with people around me. To really enjoy the life I am living. 

I've lost some important people this year, and so have many in my community. The saying at the top of this post is one I now cherish. Some attribute it to Buddha, some say it is a Buddhist saying, but I really don't care where it came from. It is what I am trying so hard to live. I doubt I will care if I wrote that book when I reach the end. I'm sure the number of books that I read won't cross my mind. But those I love will. The way I lived my life will matter. And that is what I will place at the center. Everything else can fall in around that. 

As I finish this school year I realize that I'm not where I thought I would be at this time last year. Technically, I failed, and yet I have learned more about myself than I ever thought I could. What a gift it has been. 



Monday, May 11, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm thrilled to link up with Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each Monday and share our reading lives. Check out their sites for more information. 

You can tell it is the end of the school year. I managed to read one book last week. Fortunately it was amazing.


A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner doesn't come out until next fall. This is super unfortunate because when I book talked it to my three reading classes last Friday, I have a waiting list seven deep (at least) in every single class.

This book follows the story of Rip and Red as they begin fifth grade together. Red is on the autism spectrum and Rip, his best friend, knows how to calm him down when needed. Boy is it needed at the start of their school year. Many curve balls are thrown their way. They have a new teacher, Mr. Acevedo instead of Mrs. Hamburger like was planned. Mr. Acevedo has earrings, tattoos, believes in something called reading and writing workshop, and is just a bit goofy. I love him. There is so much to love about this book. Look for it next August.

As for this week and my reading plan, I really want to finish Liesl Shurtliff's amazing Jack. I loved Rump, and this one has been just as fun so far. That being said, with PARCC testing for the next three days, Open House on Thursday, and 16 school days left, I am just trying to survive. The photo below was shared on Facebook with some educator friends on Friday. I identify with it a bit strongly right now. :) 




Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day and Gardening

The Dynamic Duo. My grandma (left) and her sister, G.G.
Mother’s Day. When I think of today, many images race into my brain. Memories of growing up with my siblings; conversations with my mom; the first time I held Luke, and then, Liam. Mother’s Day fills me with joy. It also reminds me of the family members I have lost. I think of them and love seems to fill every part of me. My grandmothers, my great-aunt, and so many more. But when I hear anyone mention Mother’s Day each year, one specific conversation always comes to mind.

In the spring of 2000, Chris and I were extremely blessed to move into my grandparents’ farmhouse. My dad and my uncle had grown up there. My granddad had passed away in 1990, and my grandma had elected to move a farm over to stay with her sister and brother-in-law for company. She had kept her home, went there most days, but really didn’t stay there at night. She had offered to us that we could live there, rent free, for a year so that we could save up money for a home of our own. We quickly agreed.

Moving to the farm I decided I needed to do what people living on farms do, grow something. I asked my grandma if she would mind if I had a small garden. She knew a guy, she said, and he’d till up a small spot for me.

I still remember pulling in the drive to meet her, looking at the garage-size garden that she had created, and feeling more than a bit of trepidation of how I was going to possibly manage such a big space.
 
My garden
As she walked me around the garden, pointing out where the most sun would hit, she looked up at me, over the rim of her large red glasses, and said, “And you may not plant before Mother’s Day. People will always get in a hurry, rush to plant. There will always be a frost. Do not plant before Mother’s Day.” And that was that. Her proclamation, and I would follow it forever more.

Each year I watch in April as the flowers come out at our grocery store, window boxes filling up, gardens beginning, but I cannot do anything. For it isn’t Mother’s Day yet. And while I lost my grandma some time ago, I would feel her standing over me shaking her head in dismay if I dared to put anything in the ground before today. I miss her so, but feel love around me every time I think of her.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all. Planting season may begin.




Thursday, May 7, 2015

What Book I Am Recommending to My New Students Next Year...

I gave an assignment to my fifth graders yesterday. If they could recommend any book to all of my new students next year, what would it be? We talked a lot about possible books and then, I shared my recommendation. I had been keeping a certain ARC I had in my possession a secret until then. I wanted to see what their reaction would be to my essay. Could I persuade them to read it? Oh boy, yes. The waiting list is a bit nuts. I recommended Linda Urban's forthcoming book, Milo Speck, Accidental Agent. 

Below I wanted to share my essay that I gave my students as a mentor text. I cannot wait to see what they will recommend to my new classes. I will bind these letters and put them in our library next year for new students to peruse and find recommendations. At the end of my essay you will see the requirements I gave my students yesterday in case you want to try something similar with your class. Have fun and look for Linda's book next fall. 

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Have you ever read a book that just transported you to another place? If you have, you know what a magical experience that can be. I have recently read a book that fits this exact description and it is called Milo Speck, Accidental Agent. Milo is an amazing fantasy book written by the wonderful author, Linda Urban. There are so many reasons you should pick up this book, but today I’m going to focus on two – the author and the character of Milo.

Linda Urban is a brilliant author. She has written books such as: Crooked Kind of Perfect, Hound Dog True, and Center of Everything. Her writing amazes me every single time. She does an amazing job of keeping her books short – without any extra words – but they are the exact words you need. In this book I was impressed at Ms. Urban’s desire to stretch herself as a writer. Her other books are all written in the realistic fiction genre and are pretty serious. In Milo she explores the genre of fantasy and the element of humor. Even in a new genre and attempting to make the book funny, Ms. Urban’s writing is still superb.

In writing this new book, Ms. Urban has created the character of Milo. Milo is small for his age, his grandmother refers to him as “scrawny.” His dad travels for work and his grandmother watches over him. She is a bit grouchy. When Milo goes after a lost sock in their basement dryer, he is pulled through to a fantasy world named Ogregon. Unfortunately for Milo, Ogregon is inhabited by ogres. You would think a kid like Milo - a quiet, small, and timid kid – would freak out and become dinner the moment he was captured, but that is the beauty of this book. Through Milo we learn that all of us can be heroes. We learn that we can all be brave, in our own way. And along the way we learn with Milo a little bit about loyalty, friendship, and accomplishing the impossible. Through Milo, Ms. Urban teaches us a lot.

I hope you will pick up this book when it comes out this fall. I was impressed with Ms. Urban for trying something new to her as an author and teaching me that even authors can be brave in their choices. Also, I loved “meeting” the character of Milo, cheering him on during his quest to get home, and learning a bit about myself through him. Books can make us better people if we let them. Milo Speck, Accidental Agent certainly does that. 

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Persuasive Essay Requirements:

·      Assigned on May 6th, due by the end of the day (1:10pm) on May 13th.
  • ·      This is an essay, not a letter.

o   Do not write Dear Mrs. S or the like.
o   Do not sign it From, Susie. Your name should be at the top.
  • ·      Think of a book that every fifth grader should read. This is not necessarily your favorite book. For example, The Fault in Our Stars is a great book, but not appropriate for most fifth graders.
  • ·      Think of reasons why this book is one you would recommend to other fifth graders. How can you organize these reasons with evidence to back them up? Some reasons you might recommend a book could be:

o   Characters
o   Plot
o   Theme
o   Genre
o   Writing/ author
o   Illustrations
o   World building or setting
o   Format (Free verse/ graphic novels/ picture books/ prose/ etc.)
o   Part of a series
o   Personal connection
o   Etc.
  • ·      Your persuasive essay needs an introduction, at least two body paragraphs where you provide evidence for why someone should read this book, and a conclusion.
  • ·      When looking at your body paragraphs, make sure they are on the same topic. For example, if one of my reasons is “character”, I wouldn’t talk about setting, format, and author in that paragraph as well.
  • ·      This can be typed or handwritten. In both options, please pay attention to capitalization, spelling, and punctuation. In the handwritten option, make sure to use your best handwriting.
  • ·      I should be able to hear your voice in your writing. Talk to the incoming fifth graders. Convince them to read your book. I cannot wait to read your writing.

 
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