Comforts from an Old Clock

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Today I want to tell the “clock” story.  The chimes fill our house every fifteen minutes or quarter hour and then the finale is the ringing of the hour when it completes the cycle.  The mantel clock has a special spot sitting atop a wardrobe in our master bedroom now.  We don’t have a mantle in our home, but when I was younger I did.  In my parents’ home, we had a beautiful eight foot mantel above a brick fireplace.  It was literally the heart of the home with the clock front and center.

I remember when we brought the clock home back when I was around nine years old.  Mom and Dad had spotted it in a little junkyard shop window in a small town called Chaffee.  The next step was a clock mechanic, you know, someone that can fix old clocks.  It took almost one month, but I remember the day we brought the clock home.  It was similar to the experience of bringing home a new baby from the hospital.  We set it in its special place and ooohhhhed and ahhhhhed as my mom dusted it off.

It had an actual pendulum that you had to start and a special key that you put in each special hole in its face to wind up.  I remember mom and dad twisting the key twice a week like “clockwork” so to speak.  Then the way it could talk and sing was so special.  It filled up the family room every fifteen minutes.  Every minutes the melody would last a little longer and each hour could be figured out from any room in the house….you just had to count out each time.  That first night it kept waking me up, but soon after it didn’t.  I grew to love that old clock even more. 

Now I hope my children remember the traditions of the old clock.  My husband has taken over the duty of winding it up each week in our new home.  As I hear it and see its face every morning, it takes me back to another time of my life and reminds of the special times of the present.  It is a comfort to have it still today. 

Twenty-One Days to Make Something a Habit

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Well, I am given myself permission write a slice of life about slicing on this 21st day of the first year of my own personal Slice of Life Challenge.  Believe or not, last night on the twentieth day of the challenge, I had to make a choice between sleep and writing.  Sleep prevailed and now I am kicking myself this morning as I sit here in front of my computer, coffee in my favorite mug and excitement for a new day, a new approach.  I have decided to attempt my writing in the early morning.  I noticed several early birds already posted this a.m.

I teach at a Leader in Me School where we use the vocabulary of the seven habits.  One piece of advice from the late Stephen Covey, “It takes 21 days to develop a habit.”  I always add to my students that there are good, bad, and better habits.  I think it is so ironic that I skipped writing my slice on the twentieth day of the challenge.  I ask myself this morning, “Does this mean it will take twenty-one more days to make it a habit again?”  My thinking is to mix it up by writing in the morning for a few days rather late at night.  Congratulations to me and all the other slicers…you have made it to the twenty-first day.  Celebrate those good habits.

“Making Your Day Good Enough”

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The best slice ideas have come from my strolls down our elementary hallways.  I usually meet a few younger students on my way to lunch.  My routine is escorting my class to lunch, grabbing my lunch and walking down a long stretch of hallway.  I enjoy greeting the younger students that I meet.  Today I approached a young boy, I suspect a second grader.  He was wearing a smile and his spirit day t-shirt with pride.  I said hello and asked him, “How is your day?”  He quickly replied, “Good.”   As he passed me, he mumbled, “Not good enough.”  I had to keep on walking, so I would have time to eat in my mere twenty minute break.  I did reply, “Some days are like that.”  I even thought at that second, that is a moment worth slicing.

“Not good enough, ”  I thought to myself.  I wonder what he meant, I wish I had asked him at that moment.  It was an interesting remark.  I pondered what he might mean by that.  Does it mean he really was having a good day, but not great?  Could it mean he wished it was more exciting or he had made a mistake?  Maybe he had a higher expectation set for the day or was he comparing himself to a friend or classmate? 

Expectations surround us each day.  We have expectations or goals for ourselves.  We have the ten commandments from the bible, highway rules, manners, classroom rules, and don’t forget rules of thumb. “Hmmmmm, not sure what rules of thumb means, oh well, tuck that away for another day,”  thinking out loud. That second grader got me thinking more about expectations and the thought of not being good enough.  It triggered my memory of yesterday when students were bringing their science investigations for family night.  I had one mother say, “We weren’t sure if this was good enough.  “You see, ”  the mother commented, “we saw Annie’s on facebook, her mother posted a picture. ”  The mother went on to say it was on a bigger display board with fancy stickers and bright pictures!  “That is o.k.!”  I exclaimed.  “She did alot of extra work.  Students can always do more if they wish.  This mini-investigation was supposed to be a fun learning experience.  The expectation was to do it on the file folder, but you can always do more and be creative.”

The past few days has me thinking about expectations with assignments and always asking more of students.  Sky’s the limit is what came to mind.  We always need scoring guides and monitoring techniques to gauge where we measure up.  But as parents and teachers we need to remember it is about growing as an individual, not always comparing to another person.  As teachers, it is important to push students to be the best they can be in everything they do.

So the next time you catch yourself or someone else saying I’m not good enough or my day is not good enough.  Think about the expecation you have set for yourself and remember “the sky’s the limit.”  Keep reaching as much as you can and ask yourself what needs to be done to make it good enough for you!

 

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You Can…If You Think You Can

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Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like the little engine?  It has been so uphill for me today.  I sit here writing with tears and tiredness. Giving 100% to teaching, motherhood and marriage is so much.  So many great moments, along with some trying.  I am a positive person and I do tell myself as I sit here, “I think I can, I think I can!”  Uphill moments,,,everyone has them and you must have them to enjoy all those slides, turns and thrills of life.

What made my day uphill?  It wasn’t just one moment.  For me, it was having a full day that made me run out of steam.  From an early morning wake-up called Bailey (our one year old schnoodle) to teaching three blocks of writing/grammar (opinion essay conferences with me and writing partners) to co-worker’s baby shower to visiting my 82 year old mother to home.  In the midst of all, I did attend a parent meeting on my prep time and made two parent contacts by phone.  The moment that brought tears was when I started to have a relaxing slice writing time, then my 13 year-old and 17 year-old decide to fight over t.v. control.  I murmured to myself, “Give mom a break and work it out.”  So, I shut the door and started to write.  I need to re-charge and know tomorrow is another ride.  Right now, I just want to get off the train for a while.

Book Blessings

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Teachers have so much power and influence if they choose to use it.  One way I like to use my position for positive influence is with book blessings.  Book blessings can come in so many forms: recommendations in the basket, my favorites book basket,  the seven habits display on the shelf, and sticky notes on the books.   This slice is about the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to bless books…sticky notes on the cover.

I always put a few sticky note book recommendations on one or two books every few weeks.  I write a quick few sentences with my name and stick them to the cover of the book in our classroom library.  The last book I stuck with a note was “Zach’s Lie” and it was in the action/adventure basket.  It took a few days, but I noticed a boy in our classroom grab it and take it back to his seat.  As I walked by his desk later in the day I whispered, “I’m glad you found that book.  I know you will like it.” 

The sticky note only contained a few sentences, but they are so much more important than the picture on the cover or the summary on the back.  When someone knows someone else they care about enjoyed the story, they are more interested.  I had written on the note, this book is sure to please you, it has action, adventure and suspense.  You will not want to put it down once you start.  The same boy is about halfway through the book now.  It came up to me today and said, “I really like the book.  You were right about the suspense.”  Sometimes our students just need a little encouragement to take a step to try something new.  Book blessings give that needed courage to try.

 

Don’t You Love a Rainy Sunday Every Once in a While?

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Sunday morning, raindrops pattering on the bedroom window and the local weather forecaster  just said all day rain.  Part of me longed for another warm, sunshine-filled glorious day like yesterday, but there is just something special about a rainy Sunday.  I know I needed a day to recharge my body and brain.  A rainy Sunday means finishing up a few cleaning jobs from yesterday, catching up with the school papers, maybe a movie and/or nap under a blanket and that book I am wanting to finish.

Lots of choices and some rainy days you just need a day of no plans.  You just call it as you see it and what strikes your fancy.  I am thinking that is what I need today.  I write this slice with that last delicious cup of coffee, as my husband finishes up a delicious breakfast of eggs, potatoes and bacon.  My children are in religion class and soon will be bustling in the kitchen looking for the source of the delicious smells.  They, too, enjoy rainy Sundays every once in a while.  What lies ahead for them…my son plans to catch up on Minecraft, building legos and maybe a book. (fingers crossed behind my back); my daughter plans to catch up on school homework, a nap under the blanket and maybe a re-run of our favorite show, “Matlock.”  Hope you enjoy your Sunday as much as we plan to.  Let the festivities begin inside!

A Change of Heart

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Hearts don’t change…that is what I believe. Yes, hearts can grow bigger or smaller.  Your mind can be changed, but not your heart. Decisions have to be made with your mind and heart.  One of the hardest decisions I have made was back in 2007.  I was pondering the thought of changing school districts. I went back through my teaching journals and found the entry dated July 2010 and there was a folded article taped onto the page that read across the top “practicing our beliefs.” and then in my handwriting, “this is how I felt when I changed schools.” 

Have you ever seen the old children’s toy where you have to turn the three-dimensional pieces to get them to fit through a shaped hole and then they fall into a plastic container?  Some pieces don’t fit through some of the openings and some don’t fit unless they are turned every which way.  That toy comes to mind when I was contemplating a change.  My heart did not match the teaching beliefs at my current school at the time.  My experience tells me hearts don’t change. 

The decision-making process started in January when I called an old high school friend about some curriculum questions.  She told me at the end of the conversation, there was an opening at her school.  They were doing balanced literacy,small guided groups and the principal was willing to try new things.  After I hung up the phone, I sat there thinking about the possiblity.  I thought to myself, ” I like to try new things, just in a cautious way.  I want to teach with the balanced literacy mind-set, and I want to do small group instruction with conferencing.  The conversation that night planted a seed that maybe I needed a change of heart.  My heart belonged to my current school, my school where I started as a student in kindergarten and became a graduate of twelve years later.  I had close friends there, they had witnessed my wedding with me, two pregnancies, my father’s death and watched me grow from a first year teacher to a more experienced one.  There was a little piece of me started to wonder over the last year if I was teaching in the right school.  Over the last five years, the curriculum had shifted.  Our math curriculum was based on a teaching script and that did not allow creativity or flexibility.  The reading curriculum was a textbook (basal) driven approach.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that curriculum is wrong..it just does not fit with my core beliefs.  I felt like I had grown enough in my ability to assess, diagnose and deliver tailored instruction that I knew I could do better.

Choices in decisions can be empowering.  Over the next weeks, I found myself with three questions to choose from: (1) Am I able to practice my beliefs?  If the answer is yes, smile and enjoy the feeling that comes when you know where you are belong. (2) If the answer is maybe, examine a bit farther to see what you can do to influence decisions in your school and/or classroom.  (3) If the answer is no, you have a few choices.  You can elect to stay and choose to be positive while practicing a vision someone else has for you; you can stay and become one of the negative people that taints the school; you can stay and work to influence the decisions regarding assessment and instruction; or you can start looking for a place that matches your beliefs.  Over the next few months, it seemed like I was leaning towards looking for a place that matched my beliefs.  I think the place found me the night I called my friend.

The decision-making process from February to May was life-changing.  My problem solving process haunted me usually between the hours of 9:30 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. each night.  I would lay in bed and think and think and think.  It became a visualizing exercise of sorts or maybe dreams or maybe even nightmares at times.  I was a 39 year old woman wanted to change jobs.  Was I crazy?  I would lay there covers up to my neck and think to myself, “pretend you are still teaching at your current school-how does it feel?  O,k., safe and comfortable, but something wasn’t right. Now switch gears, imagine how it feels to be teaching at the new school?  Scary, new, uncomfortable, but something felt right.  AAAHHHH, decisions, choices, changes are so hard!”. as I willed myself to some kind of peaceful sleep.

Well, I finally did make a decision to go to the interview and tour the new school.  It was exciting to meet a principal full of possiblities, a different environment and the thought of teaching where the philosophy of the school matched my beliefs.  I kept telling myself I didn’t have to decide until they offered me a job.  I was older teacher, many schools wanted younger teachers with lower beginning salaries.  I received a call and then I made a decision, “Yes, I would love to become a part of a new team.”  It would be a change for my heart, and not a change of heart.  It was a journey and I was ready to embark.

Article came from the The Two Sisters tip of the week-July 10, 2009. 

The Power of a Read-Aloud

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Room 29 had a special visitor today, his name was Mark and he peeked into our open doorway and asked, “Do you have time for another reader?”  I responded, “Class, do we have time for another reader, he is football player from SEMO (our local university just a few miles up the road)?”  “Yessssss, pleazzzzzzze!!! they all exclaimed.  Our plan throughout the day was to drop everything when our special readers arrived at the door.  Pencils went down as everyone starred at the 6 foot 3 defensive lineman with a boyish smile. He wore his red, white and black football uniform   “Who would like to introduce our surprise visitor?”  I asked  as a young boy named Ken stretched his hand as high up as he could.  Well, Ken played football everyday at recess break and he had a dream of playing on a school team.  I called on Ken as soon as I could get the words out of my mouth.  Ken seemed to float right up to Mark and introduced him to the class.

Next decision-what kind of book should Mark read to us?  I asked the class, “Would you like Mark to read our class read-aloud or a picture book?”  It was unanimous, all hands went up for the class read-aloud.  We were reading “Bud, Not Buddy” and it only had two chapters left.  Mark, the football player embraced it, and we hung on to his every word.  He slowed down and sped up at all the right places, made his voice sound like the characters, and he changed the volume of his voice.  It was so good to hear him sounding out a few of the more difficult words like copius.

It was so wonderful to sit back and observe them interacting with the read-aloud book.  I had selected a good book and they were really getting into the story.  It acknowledged my view on how powerful and important read-aloud time is to every school day.  Students were enjoying a novel, predicting and thinking about the characters.  As the chapter drew to a close, I asked Mark to share a little advice to the class.  Mark stood up very tall, cleared his throat and said, “Study hard, keep reading, respect each other, and treat other people the way you want to be treated.”  Good advice and we are cheered for our new favorite football player.  Before I knew it, the kids scrambled to find scaps of paper, pencils and pens; then, they politely formed a line in the aisle between the desks in front of Mark.  “Wow, we do have a celebrity!”  I thought to myself.  Students lined up for gym and moved into the hallway. There was one last student at his desk.  Before I know it, Cody drifted by me and whispered, “I’m really not a football fan, but I might as well get his autograph, too.”  As he lined up for gym, he reached out towards me with a small white wrinkled piece of paper and said, “Here, I thought you might want one.”  Shocked at the gesture, I said, “Thanks.”  As I walked the class to gym, I was still in awe in what just happened in the last ten minutes.  There were a alot of powerful moments; the read-aloud of course, the football player, the way the class responded and most of all…the special gift from Cody.

Picnic on the Maroon La Sabre’ Hood

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Summer picnics with blankets, baskets, sandwiches, chips and watermelon…those are special times with family.  When I look back to my favorite picnic, I imagine some things a little different.  My first picnic  on the maroon La Sabre hood occurred when I was around six years old.  You see, my dad was a farmer in southeast Missouri and when it is corn picking time, you have to do it when it is ready and the weather is willing. 

Mom would call out, “Laura, your dad needs supper brought to him, do you want a picnic?”  “Sure, ” I would reply.  I was just six with red hair braided in the back, freckles and two front teeth missing.  I loved having a picnic, but at the time I didn’t know it  would turn out to be on the hood of our family car.  The  car was a maroon 1972 La Sabre’ Buick with a white roof.  All the pick-ups were in use because dad had two hired hands helping out during the busy harvest season.

I would go fetch the green plastic carrying piece from the basement that would become a makeshift picnic basket.  That first picnic supper consisted of cube steak fixed in the skillet, tomatoes and bread, canned green beans, mayonnaise slaw and peach cobbler.  It was a meal fixed good enough for a king.  Well, my dad ranked higher to a king to me.  He was a gentle giant to me, almost six feet tall; blue coveralls and a International cap was the standard dress code every day.  He wore lace work boots and always carried a tuff-nuff pocket knife from Buckners, a pen in his front pocket for figuring and plenty of loose change.  I couldn’t wait to visit him in the corn fields where they were busy combining.  Sometimes, I even persuaded dad to give my a couple of rounds in the field before I had to return home for bed.

Mom would spread out a plastic tablecloth on the hood of the car, mom and dad would lean against the car and I got the best seat in the house-right on top of the hood.  We would always start with the “God is Great’ prayer, enjoy the delicious supper, and the fellowship of being together.  Dad would give me a hug good night as mom packed away all the empty Tupperware containers.  Mom and I  headed home, as the sun was setting in the west.

As I look back to the first family picnic in the field…I wondered, was it the food, the family, or the field that made this tradition an extraordinary experience?  I know it was the combination of all three, but mostly the love of my parents working hard for each other to survive the hardships of farming.  Oh, I wish I could go back to the field one more time with my parents and enjoy a picnic on the hood of that old car. 

 

Writing Audience…Who is Yours?

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Everyone needs a writing audience, otherwise known as your encourager, cheerleader, friend and a good listener.  My audience has been my thirteen year-old son.  It sometimes sounds like this, “Alex, can you you listen to my post today?”  “I guess, Mom” he answers.  Somedays it goes like this, “Mom, what did you write about today?”  yelled Alex from the family room while I am typing in the office across the hallway.  I love those days and say, “Here, let me read it.”

Alex always tells me something positive, yet honest.  It has helped us make a special connection.  It has been good for him to hear stories from when I was growing up, hear my struggles and most of all, realize I am human being with feelings, worries, and celebrations just like him.  Maybe all this talk about writing has inspired him.  Two days ago, I asked him the daily question, “do you have any homework?”  He replied, “Oh, we have to write a poem.”  I didn’t think anymore about it until an hour later.  Alex walked into the family room with a smile on his face and a piece of paper in his hand.  Smiles and homework especially writing homework usually don’t go together with my son.

“Can I read you my poem?”  Alex asked.  Yes, I was expecting one of those roses are red, violets are blue poems with a few more lines tagged on to the end.  The next few minutes almost brought tears to my eyes.  Alex wrote four beautiful stanzas, a slice of his life you could say.  He has been listening to me for the past twelve days and learning right along beside me.  He wrote about the day a blizzard came to our house.  With his permission, I would love to share my son’s poem with you which is actually a very important slice of my life.

The Day a Blizzard Came!

by Alex

The sun went down, 

I then frowned.

That’s when the

snow came around.

 

As it fell down, I decided

to sit down, I had summer

at the edge of my feet,

but the snow came faster.

 

I played with my black

dog in the snowy fog,

My dog tried to leap,

but the snows too deep.

 

The winters cold

and frightening, but

I’d rather have the

summers, wind and lightning.

Thank you Alex for being my audience and I will be yours.  Thanks for sharing your slice of life.