Friendly Competition

imageI’m taking a summer class this week.  The kind that packs a whole lot of learning into just a couple of days.  In this case, I have had two 8-hour days of class followed by a third day for working on presentations and projects.  And I’ve discovered that sixteen hours of class takes its toll in unusual ways sometimes…

In the beginning, teachers find themselves in a room with many new faces and hopefully a few friendly familiar ones.  The tables are neatly organized, and since these classes are for teacher-type people, there are baskets and bins of handouts, markers, post-it notes, scissors, baggies, and paper clips.  Before the instructor begins, we have all written our first names in big super-neat printing on name tags and organized our work spaces.  We introduce ourselves to our table mates and talk about how hard it is to get up so early again and other such teachery observations.

Class begins.  We sip at our tall beverage containers, get comfortable, and take notes.

By the time the lunch break arrives, we walk around stiffly for a bit, stretch, and find a friend to eat and chat with.  Lunch break seems to last about 5 minutes before we are back in our seats taking notes again.

By the end of the afternoon, we are drained and ready to take a brain break.  It seems impossible that we will return for another eight hours in the morning, but we leave each other with cheerful good-byes and head for the door.

Day 2.  Everyone seems slightly more familiar, and we settle in a little more quickly.  As many classes involve opportunities to participate or do an ctivity, we start taking the games a little more seriously.  Although the purpose is to learn a given game in order to teach it easily to our students, we find ourselves becoming a bit more…competitive.  Suddenly, it is a little bit more fun to keep score between one game and the next.  After sitting for another two hours,  the games are a welcome diversion from taking notes.  And it becomes more and more frustrating when the instructor moves on before you have had time to finish the whole game to completion.  So you find yourself raising your hand and actually asking how to tweak the game so there is no possiblity of a tie, because you and your partner NEED to know who won.

If you have ever been in this sort of situation, you will understand how today, in hour fifteen of class, my table found it impossible to let go of a cutthroat game of Multiplication Memory Match.  Long after the cards were supposed to be gathered up and put back in the baggie, the four of us were quietly pointing at and turning them over in a desperate attempt to finish our game.  Although the lecture continued, suddenly the only thing that mattered was outplaying each other.  We fixed innocent looks on our faces, pretending to listen, when actually we were sliding cards to each other and trying to control our reactions when we turned over a match.  Our instructor was incredibly patient with us, although she did give us the side eye a couple of times when we unsuccessfully tried to hide our laughter.  We froze when she walked near our table, kicked our neighbor when it was safe to grab a card, and generally completely lost our focus and composure.  It’s a good thing it was nearly time to leave, because soon we had to turn our attention to filling out a survey and completing an exit ticket.  We reluctantly put the cards back in the baggie, back into the basket, and packed up for the day.

But who’s to say we can’t figure out a rematch tomorrow??



Lost in Time

imageSummer break gives me the time to clean more thoroughly in my little brown house.   Cleaning isn’t my very favorite thing, although maybe it is more accurate to say that putting things away isn’t my favorite thing.  I do enjoy taking things out and making my home look lovely with holiday decorations and little touches.  I’m just not quite as efficient and getting them put away again!

Today when I looked around with a more critical eye, I found the following items:

Tiny little Easter bunny ornaments

Coats (it is 90 degrees outside)

Icy branches in a vase

A valentine frog

Did I mention I found COATS?  I am probably too embarrassed to admit that I also found a basket of mittens and gloves.

My new goal is going to have to be to at least keep up with the seasons!

Promises, Promises

imageThere are times when we take a moment to evaluate our habits, consider changes we need to make, create some sort of plan for doing so, and then resolve to really DO it and work hard to achieve that better lifestyle.

One such time is traditionally New Year’s Day.

But it also happens for me in the dentist’s chair.

“Let me just use this water pick for a bit…”  Eesh!  I promise to try harder…

“Could you tilt your head to the left so I can reach the back with my pointy sharp instrument?”  Yikes!  I promise to do better…

“Just try to relax your lower lip a little…”  OUCH!  I know, flossing is not optional!

I got a clean bill of health from the dentist, along with a new toothbrush and some floss.

But I also left with a head full of promises to myself about all the dental-ish things I could do better so maybe it wouldn’t be quite so…pointy the next time around.

There’s nothing like being captive in a chair with sharp instruments looming above you to make you reevaluate your lifestyle habits quickly and emphatically!

Here’s hoping these resolutions last a little longer than the ones I made on January 1st…




imageNow that summer is here, I have returned to one of my favorite activities–swimming laps.  I was excited to get back to the pool after a long nine months of waiting.  I packed my towel in my swim bag and headed for the water park.

It wasn’t long before I remembered how important timing is when getting to the pool.  Swim too early and the lanes are filled with little kids jumping in from the sides and splashing so wildly they seem to have ten flailing arms.  Swim too late, and the lanes are filled with teenagers who just bob up and down in place…hanging out and talking.  It’s a little bit like an obstacle course either way.

But this year there seems to be a new distraction–floaty things.  As I headed down the lane I became vaguely aware of some sort of thing that shouldn’t be there.  The closer I got, the more I speculated.  A bug?  Someone’s goggles?  A BUG??

Yesterday, it was the cap of a green dry erase marker bobbing merrily along next to me.  Today it was a little flat piece of styrofoam.  What in the world could be going on?

Then I figured it out.

Someone is CRAFTING under water.

What’s next—a floating stream of glitter?  Tomorrow will tell!

Smooth light blue waves lines and Lens Flares vector abstract background.


Clowning Around

imageIt is almost impossible to wrangle a busy class of second graders into a quiet line late in the afternoon these days for an assembly–even an assembly as exciting as “Dizzy’s All-American Reading Show” assembly.  As the kids were milling about, I almost missed my smallest boy hiding in the corner by the cupboard, tears rolling down his face.

Oh no…we are going to be late.  What is the matter THIS time?  

I didn’t have a whole lot of patience left with this situation.  My little guy was often tearful, and often without much reason.  I approached him and tried to find out why he was upset.

“Are we going to the gym to see a clown?”  Yes, we are.  “Is it the pirate clown?” Well…yes, sometimes she is a pirate clown.  And then his verdict…

“I do not like clowns!”

Oh boy.  Fortunately I didn’t need to worry long.  While I was hurriedly reminding him that Dizzy was our very own special clown in our community and that we loved her very much, two of my other boys came over and took him by the hand.

“Don’t worry…we’ll sit with you!”  I took that as a good sign and we headed out the door, my tearful little guy giving me alternating terrified glances and the stink eye all along the way.

As we got seated and I settled in a chair on the side of the gym, I whispered to a colleague about my little guy’s fears.  I wasn’t sure he was going to make it through the assembly, as I watched him sitting all folded up, almost with his head beneath his knees.  He seemed to be measuring the distance between his seat and the door as the show suddenly started with a bang.

He plugged his ears and the tears ran once again.  His two buddies put their arms around him, and soon at least they were laughing at Dizzy’s antics and jokes.  As the show continued, my little guy began to relax just a little, but he still looked very, very unhappy.

Before long, Dizzy started looking for volunteers.  When she told the kids that she was looking for kids sitting still and straight, my little fellow straightened up for a split second, then ducked down again.  Several kids dashed up to the front for a fun interactive skit.  He watched, still guarded, but a little bit more intrigued.

By the third time Dizzy needed volunteers, my little guy’s hand was raised right along with his buddies.  “He thinks is safe to raise his hand,” I whispered to the teacher next to me.  Dizzy was way over on the far side of the gym picking students to come forward.

As Dizzy continued to search for volunteers, his outstretched hand wavered a little bit.  In a couple of moments, she was almost right in front of his section of kids.  He looked her right in the eye.  He kept his hand in the air.

He was chosen.

I stared in disbelief as he shot me a very apprehensive glance but popped up from his place and headed to join the children at the front.  Dizzy explained her plan and started handing out props.  My little guy soon had a hat plopped on his head, Dizzy even squeezing it and pulling it down over his ears.  He kept staring at her, and followed her every direction.

Before long he was working his can opener prop furiously, hat on his head, and a shy but steady smile on his face.  As the audience roared with laughter and surprise, his dimples started to pop.  And by the time the skit was over, he put his arm across his middle and took a deep formal bow with the other children.  As he ran back to his seat, he shot me one last glance that seemed to say,

“Did you SEE me?  Did you see me DO THAT?”

My shy little guy has grown by leaps and bounds this year, but nothing showed his triumph more clearly than the day he kept his hand up even though he was scared–and ended up a shining star!


The Beginning of the End

imageIt was just supposed to be an extended weekend trip.  He left school two days early, due to return the following Tuesday.  My little fellow from Chicago, going home for a few days with his family to visit his Chicago family.  Five hours away by car.

I didn’t say good-bye.  He was supposed to be back.  He was supposed to spend the last few days of school with us.

His family caught a ride to the city with others.  He told me several times all their things were packed up because they were moving back to Chicago when school was out.  But this was just a visit, his mom said.

They were supposed to come back.

Maybe he was my biggest challenge this year.  I don’t think so–he was easy to love, right through his tough-guy demeanor, his distrust for those who don’t look like him (almost all of us), and his scorn for anything educational.  He learned despite his defensiveness, though.  His nose was constantly in a book and he read through the classroom library in no time at all–at least the “cool” books.

He had more left to do with us.

He was my biggest teacher this year.  He challenged me at every turn and made me work hard to earn his trust.  I was rewarded with fist bumps and giggles, shared excitement over books and whispered secrets that couldn’t be said out loud.

I couldn’t imagine our class without him.

He didn’t come back last Tuesday.  With each day that passed, his best friend asked with increasing alarm where he was.  I started running out of hopeful answers.  They couldn’t find a ride back.  They would still try to come back.

But my “trying to be realistic” side knew–he wasn’t coming back.  I regretted not taking more pictures with him alongside his friends.  I was sad every time I saw the books still sitting on his desk.  His absence left a hole in our class that we weren’t ready for.  By the end of the week I sadly told the kids that I was afraid that our boy just wasn’t going to come back after all.

The weekend came and went, and on the last Monday of this school year, I walked down to the gym to pick up the class knowing that one of my favorite little faces would not be in line.

And…he was BACK!!!

My “optimistic dreamer” self did the Happy Dance all over my “cynical realistic” self and we all rejoiced!

We only have a few days together before he really does go for good, but we are making the most of them.  We are doing some of his favorite things. We are laughing over his favorite books and writing about his favorite topics.  At first, he was so standoffish, uncomfortable with all the love thrown his way from his classmates and teacher.  But before long he was at my side as if there was Velcro, telling me about Chicago and everything happening in his world.  He knows he only has four days with us, and as glad as he will be to return to his city life he knows he was in a good place in our middle-of-Iowa classroom.  We love him, even when he didn’t want to be loved.

It’s hard to say goodbye to your class when the year is done.  Is it harder to say goodbye one at a time, or when they all dash out the door together towards their summer fun?  It’s definitely easier to say goodbye with the promise of hello again in the fall.  It’s the ones you know you won’t see again that make goodbye painful.  Having these extra, unexpected four days with my boy from the city have made this goodbye a celebration–of friendship, of trust, and the family our class became this year.


The Sweet Sound of Silence

imageI thought I might escape the Horrid Virus/Allergies/Plague thing that was attacking both the staff and students at school, but it got me.  It started last week with the sniffles and a bit of a cough, and escalated to include an eye infection and a desire to trade heads with someone else.  Anyone else.

After a doctor visit and some antibiotics, I was on the mend.  There was one more little surprise, however, that was in store.  When I woke up yesterday, I had completely lost my voice.  I couldn’t make a sound–not even a whisper.  I headed to school with some trepidation, wondering how to get through a day of teaching without being able to speak at all.

It was an unusual day, both for myself and my students.  I invented some crazy ways to get my kids’ attention and ended up giving math directions in giant font up on the white board screen.  My kids started the day with bewildered looks as they realized I couldn’t talk to them, but as the day wore on things started to change.

We only have a few days left of school as a class of second graders.  As my students realized that I couldn’t be at the helm, they stepped up.  They drove their own learning, ran their own routines.  I heard them reminding each other of directions and how to find their own answers without asking the teacher.  They took turns speaking up when it was time to clean up, line up, change rotations.  They helped each other solve problems and fix mistakes.  In short, they ran their own classroom as if I wasn’t even there.  I was so proud of them!  It was a gift to witness the way the way they took charge of their own learning and managed their own classroom.

I also learned the value of listening.  If I thought I had been a good listener before, that was nothing compared to how I had to listen when I couldn’t make a sound.  It was amazing the things I learned yesterday by listening to my students.  I heard the way they support each other and the way that they can turn on each other.  Without me to help them fix it, I heard them talk out their conflicts and walk off to start again.  I heard them encourage each other when the math seemed too hard to solve.  I heard them share ideas about writing that wouldn’t have happened with my bossy voice in the way.  It did me a world of good to be forced to do nothing but listen.

I stayed home from school today so my students could work with an adult who could actually speak to them–but I know we all learned some valuable lessons from the day that the teacher had no voice.  Just as it should be at the end of a long year learning together, it was the students who had all the voice we needed–and a teacher who did nothing but listen.