Marley’s Jam

imageMy phone alarms go off all day.

It’s an intricate system of reminders that the students and I know by heart after this first month of school…almost.

When the alarm rings at 10:15, we pick up the room and head to gym, music, or art.  When it rings at 1:10 we know math rotations are over and it is time for recess.  At 2:30 a sigh of happiness goes up because after a long day of work, it is FINALLY time for writing, which is our favorite.  Each time we respond promptly so that our routine has become second nature.

Except at 2:20.  When the alarm goes off on my phone at 2:20, I usually absentmindedly send a student to press STOP and go on with my small group lesson. It doesn’t even really occur to anyone that something needs to happen at 2:20.  We are engrossed in different group activities and aren’t really paying attention.  We just turn it off automatically and soldier on.  Maybe we are too accustomed at the sound of the familiar signal.  Maybe we subconsiously know that it isn’t “for us”.  But whatever the reason, that alarm has not been registering in our collective awareness.

And then the teacher comes to the door.  “Where’s Marley?”


I forget EVERY DAY to send Marley.  Even with the alarm going off at just the right time.  It’s so embarrassing.

So today we made a small adjustment.  For this special alarm and only this one, I chose a new ringtone tune that was different and catchy.  And it worked.

Today when my phone alarm went off at 2:20, the whole class looked up, startled, and then started chair-dancing silently at their seats, raising the roof with their hands to the new jingle.  And someone said, “That’s Marley’s jam!”

And Marley bounced right out the door, exactly on time.

Now we’ve got this schedule thing back under control.  And every day we are going to take just a moment to dance Marley out the door.


Say Cheese!

imageAs soon as you walk through the school door in the morning, you can tell it’s Picture Day.  Never mind the bright lights and and backdrop screen in the hallway, all you need to see are the girls and boys walking around carefully with stiff hair and fancy clothes and you know what’s up.

For teachers, the hardest hour of the day is the hour before pictures are taken–protecting careful curls, keeping sweaters smooth, and trying not to excite anyone too much for any reason.  Not to mention answering “When do we go for our pictures?” at least forty-five times.

Finally the moment arrives and we line up with envelopes in hand.  As we make our way down the hallway to the camera, here’s who is in line…

A boy who is loudly insisting that he can’t have his picture taken because his mom didn’t send an envelope.  (Despite many gentle reminders that we all have our picture taken this time because everyone gets a free class picture to keep and we want YOU in it.)

A girl walking stiffly with her arms held out at her sides, her curls teased out and sprayed into a perfect hairdo…completely afraid to move at all until The Picture is taken.

Two boys with half a bottle of hair gel holding their never-before-spiked hair into tall sharp spikes that fascinate them to the point that they keep touching the spikes, thereby sort of drooping most of them.

A girl who arrived with a perfect braid to the side and bobby pins holding back her bangs and who has pulled the bobby pins and the braid out completely three times trying to “fix” it, and now looks like she is auditioning for “Annie”.

A boy with comfortable shorts and tennis shoes on the bottom and a dress shirt with a tie on the top.

Two kids who forgot it was Picture Day and are dismayed by the perfectly cute little outfits they are wearing by coincidence anyway.

A little girl tottering slowly in high heels that she insisted on wearing for pictures that will not show anything close to her feet.

And a slightly rumpled girl in a starchy dress who threw caution to the wind and ran around before school anyway, resulting in an extreme case of fuzzy, frizzy hair.

No matter what, we try to fix unruly hair with fingers and encourage them to stand up straight on the line of tape on the floor in front of the screen.  We cross our fingers that their parents won’t be appalled at the condition of their child’s clothes and hair in the photo they eventually see after sending them to school so carefully.

And then they smile their nicest smiles (and sometimes break into giggles) with their tooth holes showing and their eyes twinkling.  They stand as tall as they can, almost jumping with energy.  Somehow, even when they arrive with strange hair and starchy clothes, their personalities shine through in their funny little school pictures in a way that captures their spirit frozen in that moment in time.  They are precious and perfect.

And if disaster prevails…there is always Retake Day when we can try the whole thing again.

Truth in Words

imageWhat do you do when you can’t find the words to say exactly how you feel?

Make something up!

Last weekend my niece, nephew, and I tried to decide how we felt about a visit to their Great-Grandma (and my Grandma) in her assisted-living home.  They haven’t visited her very often there, and they are trying to get used to her new environment.

It makes them sad that she isn’t at “Grandma’s house” any more.

But it makes them happy to see her, hug her, and steal rides on her motorized wheelchair.  It’s fun to follow their baby sister as she chugs down the hallway towards Great-Grandma’s door.

So what to call that joyful–strange–tinged with sorrow feeling?

We decided it was a mixture of “sad” and “happy”, so it should sound like a mixture of “sad” and “happy”…

Had-sappy?  Sap-happy? Hap-saddy?

Then we got it…we were SAP-HADDY!!  A little bit of sap, a touch of sad, remembering what we had, and a share of happy all mixed together.  It makes your mouth feel a bit sad at the beginning but bounces at the end.  And since that moment we found several other occasions to say that we were feeling sap-haddy.  It’s our own new word that belongs to the three of us to explain exactly how it feels when you feel just a little bit sad and a little bit happy all at the same time.

And fortunately we found that our visit with Great-Grandma was all-the-way-happy after all.  ❤️


Sweeties and Sweets

imageSchool has started with the rush of new kids in the hallway, new families to meet, and new faces in my classroom.  It’s a thrilling, busy, frantic, exhilarating time!

In the afternoon on our first day together, I faced my group of eight-year-olds and described the activity they would do in teams.  It involved building towers using only dry spaghetti pieces, tape, string, and a marshmallow.  It was almost nearly impossible to do, but they would learn a whole lot about teamwork, grit, and starting again during the process.  As I described the task and took their items out of a sack, their eyes lit up when they saw the marshmallows.

“Ooooh…can we eat those?”

I knew that question was coming, and I thought I was ready for it.  I reminded them that they would be building with the one marshmallow that their team received and that it would be pretty grimy when they were finished with it.

They were undeterred.

“What about the REST OF THE BAG?” they pointed out, their eyes greedy with anticipation.

One of my boys piped up suddenly and asked about the ingredients.  I knew he had some dietary restrictions, but I hadn’t anticipated any issues with marshmallows.  I checked the ingredients and read them out loud—and sure enough, he announced that he wouldn’t be sharing any with us.

Before I had time say another word, one of my other boys shrugged and said matter-of-factly, “Well…if R can’t have one then we all aren’t having any.”

And that was that.  Not one of them said another word about eating marshmallows and they went off to build their sticky, fragile towers together.

And that moment right there, as I sat still holding the mostly full bag of marshmallows, was the moment that I knew–these kids already have the answers about how people work together.  They know all about acceptance, and caring for each other.  They are unafraid of “different” and embrace the beautiful diversity of their classmates and friends.  They are going to lead the way for the adults who haven’t learned these lessons yet.

They have won my heart, right from the very beginning.


It’s a Puzzle

imageI finished a beautiful puzzle last night.  (In all honesty, my mother put together 90% of it and I just finished the sky and trees.). I am fussy about jigsaw puzzles.  I enjoy doing them, but if I’m not careful they stress me out more than providing relief from stress, which is not the point of putting together a puzzle!  I have criteria for the puzzles I choose.  I like them to have lots of tiny little details that are distinctive so I can recognize them in the pieces.  I like them to have less sky, and trees, and grass, and more buildings and “stuff” in the picture.  And I dearly love having puzzles that go along with seasons and holidays.  I look forward to taking them out at certain times of the year.

This puzzle was a Fourth of July puzzle, complete with fireworks and sparklers.  It was a delight to put together, with all kinds of tiny details.  I (ok, ok,…my mom) sorted the pieces and put the outer border together first.  Then the tiny details give clues to putting together the inside of the puzzle,  Finally, I was left with a pile of blue and green pieces to finish the picture.  And that was when I employed my own method.  I separated the greens and the blues and then methodically lined them up in very straight rows, all facing in the same direction. Then I systematically try to match them to the holes in the puzzle according to any color clues and lots of shape clues.  I’m not sure if this is normal or not!  It makes my brain happy, though, so that’s what I do.

Putting my classroom together has been a little bit like working a jigsaw puzzle.  I’m using any clues I have about the kids who are coming next week to figure out how to organize them.  I’m hoping that when we are all together, we will fit together neatly and make a beautiful class together.  But I do know that it isn’t that easy.  We are more likely to be a jumble of personalities that need to learn to work together over time.  I’m not going to line everybody up in super-straight lines and scrutinize them like my final blue and green puzzle pieces–and I know that some of them will be turned and turned for a long time before finding that spot where they best fit.  But most importantly, I want my class to end up just like that beautiful puzzle.  My wish is that each little human that comes through the door ends up finding a place that fits them well, friends that fall into place together, and hearts that reach out to each other no matter which way they turn.  That’s a year-long goal for these little puzzle-piece kids, and one that I am anxious to get started with solving.  I love doing jigsaw puzzles.  And I love solving classroom puzzles.  We have a lot of living, learning, and growing to do this year and in a few short days it will be time to find out how we will fit together.  I can’t wait to find out what sort of picture we will make.  (I bet it will have lots of fireworks and sparklers, just like my puzzle at home…)


Remember This…

imageI was a first grader in 1979.  I can picture my classroom, with its wooden desks strictly lined in rows and columns.  I remember what my reader looked like, as well as my workbooks where I lovingly wrote word after word neatly on the line.  I remember my classmates and how we clapped erasers, hung upside down from the monkey bars, and skipped rope at recess.  I remember that year well.

At least, I think I do.

As people talk more and more about the upcoming solar eclipse, it brings to mind a vague memory I have of being in first grade and being told that something special was going to happen with the sun.  I remember we were told quite sternly that it was extremely dangerous to look at what was about to happen–so sternly that I did not dare even sneak a peek.  I didn’t want my eyeballs to be burned out!  In my memories, we used a piece of paper or maybe cardboard and a pinhole to somehow watch the eclipse happen in our hands.  I can even remember being outside with my classmates, excited and nervous that I might accidentally have a wild impulse to look upwards and lose my eyeballs altogether.

I wasn’t sure if any of this really happened, or if I was confusing my memories with another story about classrooms of children going out to see the sun.  But today I saw a short video of a newscast about the last solar eclipse we had–in 1979!  The dates match up with my first grade year, so I have a little more faith in my memory of experiencing the solar eclipse with my classmates.

Now if I can just figure out that cardboard–pinhole–thing…


Extra Baggage

imagePart of the delicious anticipation of holiday celebrations is wondering what surprises were in the packages with my name on them.  I held onto Christmas Magic for as long as I could—refusing to give in to any impluses or gentle nudges to “grow up”.  I wasn’t about to stop hoping for something special to play with under the tree!  Until the year I opened the big box and found…


LUGGAGE!  Wait–I was a KID!  There must be some mistake.  Kids didn’t open big giant presents and find LUGGAGE inside!  What was luggage anyway…just empty zip-up containers of air.  WHAT??

Of course, I smiled and thanked the gift givers.  My mom sensed my underlying alarm and reminded me that I was growing up and would appreciate having such a nice set of luggage one day.  And of course, she was right.  Gulp.

Since that Christmas, that luggage has crossed the ocean twice.  It’s been tossed onto trains and sent on the conveyor belts of several planes.  It’s been thrown in a pile underneath a bus every day for two weeks during a college choir tour across the US.  It’s been unpacked and repacked in Wales, North Carolina, Charlottetown PEI, and Transylvania.  The biggest suitcase has been carefully packed with clothes and personal items to last for a term of study abroad, and its sides have bulged with as many souvenirs as I could stuff in on the way home.  It’s the kind of luggage that has wheels but no handle except a leather string to pull.  It’s the kind of luggage that tips over every time you try to pull it.  It’s the kind of luggage that looks as good now as it did the day I got it because it is so sturdy and reliable.

That luggage has accompanied me on my toughest challenges and greatest adventures.

Today I dropped my grown-up gift, holder of memories, wobbly-wheeled luggage off at Goodwill.  It is more than 30 years old and I will never travel with it again.  I have sturdier suitcases that stand upright and roll straight with a metal handle that folds into no space at all.  It makes no sense to keep and store an old set of luggage that has no purpose.  Perhaps someone else will take it on a new adventure.

But it was really, really hard to leave it behind there anyway.  I think that luggage was a pretty amazing gift after all.