If You Really Loved Me, You Would

I live in Maine, and on Friday our state released the color coding system for reopening schools: Red means schools should only conduct remote learning. Yellow means schools should adopt a hybrid method of in-person and remote learning. Green means schools may return to in-person learning if specific guidelines set by the state can be implemented. Somehow ALL counties were classified Green! 

Our district has already been planning for a hybrid method and I think a lot of people were stunned that we were given a greenlight, but those specific guidelines that must be met will make in-person learning unrecognizable to most students, teachers, and families:

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Yet:

  • Our classrooms were built to the smallest size allowed by law.
  • We have 1 bathroom/sink in most rooms.
  • We have kids dropped off visibly sick at school each day.
  • We have a severe sub shortage to cover sick teachers’ classrooms every-single-day (pre-COVID).
  • We have parents who are anti-maskers and many students who are not compliant with classroom rules.

meme1In “normal times” these were challenges for teachers. During a pandemic they could be life-threatening.

For years teachers have felt the pressure to take on more and more responsibilities for raising our nation’s children. Because we love them, we willingly and passionately do it. We spend our own money, our own time, our own emotional and physical health sometimes to care for these kiddos.

For awhile this spring we actually felt valued by society as it became glaringly apparent how much schools and teachers do for the children of this country every single day when we were suddenly cut off from them. Parents, politicians, and the public were praising teachers…for awhile.

But the pandemic rages on, and public opinion is shifting. Memories are fading. Gratitude is fleeting. From one of the biggest voices on down we hear cries of,

“Schools need to open.”  “Kids need to be in school.”  “If schools don’t open, we defund them.” “That’s their job, they need to do it.

And while I agree in normal times that that is the normal thing to do, we are NOT in Screen Shot 2020-08-02 at 10.22.34 AMnormal times. Teachers are retiring and resigning. Teachers are scrambling to get their affairs in order, to strip classrooms, and to prepare for the scariest days of their careers ahead of them.

We know kids need to be in school, but do people realize that schools will not be what kids have known. It is not hyperbole to say they will resemble correctional institutions with the restrictions and protocols being implemented. Emphasis on isolating, distancing, and safety precautions will take priority. All the engaging learning techniques we implement to connect with and reach our students are no longer appropriate or safe.

I’m wondering, how will…

  • 5 year olds who can’t keep shoes on and constantly chew their clothes be wearing masks all day?
  • primary students who crave reassuring hugs stay 6 feet away?
  • students sit in desks, in rows, with no personal items all day long?
  • dysregulated students respond to even more rules and regulations?
  • schools find substitutes willing to expose themselves to dozens of potentially deadly virus carriers each day?
  • teachers know if they are safe, or if they are bringing COVID home along with their lessons plans and piles of grading?

And yet the pressure is on to move forward. The implication: If you really love your students, you’ll just do it.

And my heart breaks because there is no good solution and we really do love our students…

Another Good Read…

Screen Shot 2020-08-02 at 10.35.22 AMAMERICAN AS PANEER PIE by Suprikya Kelkar
I dare you to read this book without your mouth watering at all of the delicious Indian food being described! I also dare your heart not to melt a bit at the vulnerability and angst felt by 11 year old Lehka, born in Michigan of immigrant parents, who seems to live two lives: a home life filled with tradition and a school life where she is teased for her culture. Then a new neighbor moves in, Avantika and her family, who are new immigrants from India. Lehka worries that Avantika will be a victim of the xenophobia in her community, but is amazed at how Avantika isn’t afraid to stick up for herself. There are overt racist issues (hate crimes and the election of a xenophobic far-right senator) but there are a myriad of micro-aggressions that the girls endure as well, even from ‘nice people’. Even Lehka and Avantika realize their need to work on their own issues with colorism, tolerance, and how to be an ally. Slowly Lehka finds her own voice and realizes our society’s problems aren’t going away quickly, but that we can still make a positive impact one person at a time. I would have loved a glossary to help me with unfamiliar terms and language, but Kelkar does a pretty good job of using context to help the reader along. Another wonderful selection for #WeNeedDiverseBooks in our classrooms to promote understanding, tolerance, and appreciation for all people and to expand our definitions of being American.

 

The Learning Space

Regular visitors to my blog may have noticed that there hasn’t been a lot of activity. The shift to remote learning (emergency teaching) was a shift that threw a lot of us into uncharted waters and we were just trying to stay afloat.

In addition to joining over 45 Facebook classrooms,  participating in dozens of Zoom classes, and coaching teachers privately over Zoom, I accepted an invitation from the Maine Dept. of Education and Educate Maine to create original video lessons for 3rd-5th grade students that would air on Maine Public television in a series called THE LEARNING SPACE. This was one way to reach our students who did not have internet access or who were looking for some engaging and fun learning beyond our virtual classrooms.

I was nervous about accepting. Who was I? What lessons could I create that would be meaningful? The usual doubts and imposter syndrome crept in. But I remember so much of Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, including:

“your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous, and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re still here.”

 

So I dove in. I wanted kids to understand the importance of the moment that they were living through and its historic implications. I also am on a mission to expand our definitions of writing to include non-alphabetic elements that allows more seats at the writing table.  As a result  I created a lesson on multi-modal documentary writing.

I realized that wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be and so I combined my LOVE of nature and notebooking to create a lesson to encourage students to start a nature notebook. I took them with me on my daily walk and showed them how I create entries in my own nature notebook.

Heck, now I was on a roll. What else do I LOVE that I would like to share with students and spark their own creative passions?  Poetry! I know this can be intimidating for kids (and grown ups) so I wanted to show them some fun ways to use REMIX to create new poems from found sources of writing, to build on the work of others to create original pieces of work: Poetry Remix!

And finally, I LOVE to connect with kidlit authors. They create the content that our students love, so I know I can learn so much from them. (and they are some of the most compassionate, caring, and sometimes comical people I know!) I asked two Maine authors to help me create a lesson called Writing With Writers. Lynn Plourde has penned dozens of amazing picture books, a nonfiction graphic novel, and a poignant middle grade novel. She’s brilliant. Tamra Wight has authored one of my all time favorite series: Cooper and Packrat Mysteries set in Maine. She is also one of the best nature photographers I know!

 

If you think any of these would interest or inspire your students, please feel free to use and share. I’d also encourage teachers out there to think about creating some lessons that reflect YOUR passion for life and learning and share those with the world, too!

Another Good Read…

Screen Shot 2020-06-18 at 10.25.45 AMSTAMPED: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

This is a book I wish everyone, absolutely everyone, would read or listen to. I alternated listening to Jason Reynolds powerful reading on Audible and then going back to reread the words myself to let sections sink in and sit with me. As he writes, “I hope after reading this NOT HISTORY book, you’re left with some answers. I hope it’s clear how the construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, whether financially or politically. How it has always been used to create dynamics that separate us to keep us quiet.
The institutional racism that exists in our world will not just go away without conscious anti-racist policies and people who embrace them. This book will open your eyes to the pervasive laws, policies, and norms that perpetuate racism in ways that may not seem obvious and transparent. Reynolds and Kendi share and explain racism throughout history to young people in a way that makes it accessible and powerful for all people. Reynolds builds on Kendi’ original book “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” and creates and engaging and fast-paced narrative remix that you can’t put down. PLEASE get yourself a copy of this book. PLEASE share it with others. PLEASE learn about and live an anti-racist life. Racism hurts EVERYONE. This book will help EVERYONE.

April Cruels!

It’s National Poetry Month. Something to celebrate in a bleak spring. I think my poem-ish piece reflects the hopes and realities of our world community right now.

April Cruels

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I think we all woke

with the wish,

with the hope

that a joke

was being played 

on us all.

But our dreams gave way

to the news

of the day,

the new normal

still casting

its pall.

#SOL20 Day 31 “Take-Aways”

SOL20This March I have been participating in the Old Friend from Far Awaymonth-long Slice of Life Challenge. Each day I  posted a ‘slice’ from my life. This year I used Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir to provide my sparks for memoir writing. Each post was a quick write using one of Natalie’s exercises.

WE DID IT! A MONTH OF WRITING AND SHARING, OF SUPPORTING AND CONNECTING. HERE IS MY LAST SLICE OF LIFE FOR 2020–MY TIME FOR REFLECTING!

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What has your slicing taught you about your writing process this month? What are the take-aways you will draw from this challenge and this community  going forward?

Thank you to everyone who participated this month. You’ve all made me a better writer! (and I believe a better person)

#SOL20 Day 30 “What?”

SOL20This March I will be participating in the montOld Friend from Far Awayh-long Slice of Life Challenge. Each day I will be posting a ‘slice’ from my life. This year I am using Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir to provide my sparks for memoir writing. Each post will be a quick write using one of Natalie’s exercises to practice the skill of noticing and remembering.

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I think we learn all kinds of lessons from our parents. Often they aren’t the ones that they preach, but the ones that they embody and live. I try to think about what lessons my own children will learn from me, and ultimately that will be in their hands, not my own. What lessons did you learn from your father (or mother) that have lifted or inspired you in life?  Does he/she know that?

#SOL20 Day 29 “Series”

SOL20This March I will be participating in the montOld Friend from Far Awayh-long Slice of Life Challenge. Each day I will be posting a ‘slice’ from my life. This year I am using Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir to provide my sparks for memoir writing. Each post will be a quick write using one of Natalie’s exercises to practice the skill of noticing and remembering.

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Once I started I thought about dozens of alternative ‘entry points’ into this exercise as well as how deep or varied each card could be. Knowing in a postcard it is “just the basics” I tried to capture that format, without small moment details and description. We were in Paris when Notre Dame burned and it was one of the most surreal moments of my life (until this coronavirus pandemic). If I were to revise this I would have focused more on those days in Paris and not enter with our first day of the trip. And that is why revision is such a lovely thing!

Who would you write to? Where would you be? what would you like to say?

#SOL20 Day 28 “Radio”

SOL20This March I will be participating in the montOld Friend from Far Awayh-long Slice of Life Challenge. Each day I will be posting a ‘slice’ from my life. This year I am using Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir to provide my sparks for memoir writing. Each post will be a quick write using one of Natalie’s exercises to practice the skill of noticing and remembering.

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I’m not sure RADIO has as prominent a role in people’s lives these days. With streaming services, podcasts, and on-demand audio many of us may only encounter radio in our cars as we commute. I’d love to hear about your memories of radio.

#SOL20 Day 27 “Hot”

SOL20This March I will be participating in the montOld Friend from Far Awayh-long Slice of Life Challenge. Each day I will be posting a ‘slice’ from my life. This year I am using Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir to provide my sparks for memoir writing. Each post will be a quick write using one of Natalie’s exercises to practice the skill of noticing and remembering.

HOT

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When I was a young teen, one of the few jobs we could legally be hired for was on a farm. So for several weeks each summer, my siblings and I would work on a detasseling crew.  Our job was to walk rows of  corn and pull off the tassels in all but the pollinating row so they could create hybrid seed corn. If you’ve never heard of this, you probably aren’t from the Midwest. Anyone who has done it can attest to the excruciating work conditions. I couldn’t wait to turn 16 so I could get hired for an air-conditioned job! The irony wasn’t lost on me that child labor laws meant to protect us, only allowed us to work some of the hardest (and hottest) jobs on the planet!

#SOL20 Day 26 “Doing Something”

SOL20This March I will be participating in the month-long Slice of Life Challenge. Each day I am posting a ‘slice’ from my life. I have been using prompts from  Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir to explore memories. But today I had to write about a small moment that brought me joy. I haven’t seen students in over 8 days and I’m worrying that it will be months before we get back to teaching. So I volunteered to help distribute lunches to children and families in our town and was able to see dozens of kids as they pulled up to get food. They looked so happy to see teachers and a few even wrote cards for us to give to their teachers. My heart melted. I won’t share a photo of any families out of respect for their privacy, but this is my colleague Cheryl (on right) and a city councilman (on left) and my principal Teresa took the photo. Today I finally felt like I was “doing something”. WIN!Lunch Pick Ups

When the cars pulled up

and the windows rolled down

grins burst forth

from all of our faces.

“Hi!! I miss you!”

a simultaneous… ‘jinx’

from both sides of the window.

A desire to rush up

and wrap our arms around them

was shelved for now.

With 6 foot social distancing,

we showered them with smiles.

as they scooped up the food

and talked about life.

“How is your sister?”

“Have you read some good books?”

“Did you play in the snow?”

Before driving off

we tucked in much love

with waving hands.

“See you soon!”

“Be well!”

“Bye!”

for now…