Saturday, March 31, 2012

How My Writing is Like Playing Angry Birds

Today is the last day of this writing challenge!  I can't believe it.  When I look back on it, it doesn't seem like it has been thirty one days.  I have left tonight's slice till late.  I think I put it off because I truly don't want it to be over.  I know I will slice on Tuesday's, but this month has been such a valuable experience for me and it's hard to let that go.  One thing I learned is that writing in the Slice of Life Story Challenge this month (and writing for me in general) reminded me of playing the game Angry Birds.  Here's my explanation:

  • In Angry Birds, there are different levels.  The birds have to go through obstacles to get to the pigs.  Sometimes a piece of wood or a rock will help the bird blow up the pigs. You get through a level by taking out all the pigs.  During this challenge, I have had obstacles to tackle to try to get to the next level in my writing.  Finding the time to write, a topic that mattered to me, and the self-doubt I experienced all worked to keep me from writing.  My Writer's Notebook became my piece of wood and your comments and encouragement became my rocks to help me take out those pigs!
  • The birds have different abilities and talents they use to blow up the pigs.  I was amazed at the different talents that I came across when I read the slices of others in the challenge!  There are so many wonderful writers participating and I learned something from each of the slices that I read.  These writers sparked ideas and made me stretch my thinking when deciding the structure of what I would try to write.  
  • Playing the game can be very frustrating at times!  I can't always get it right and wipe out the pigs each time I play and I leave them there smiling at me like "Ha ha!  I won!  You aren't very good at this game, are you?"  When I sat down to write each day, I didn't always get it right.  I wrote pieces that never made it to the blog and I wrote pieces that made it, but I wasn't happy with the results.  I felt I wasn't very good some days, but I continued to write just like I continue to play Angry Birds.  I will keep trying to get a little better each time I play and each time I write!

I will keep writing and I thank you all, especially Ruth and Stacey, for the opportunity to participate and be a part of this wonderful group!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Letter to You




Dear Slicers,
    Thank you so much for the support you have offered me in the month of March.  This month has been filled with so many ups and downs.  I have written every day even though I didn't always make the midnight cutoff to get it posted.  I have commented on other posts, marveled at the talent of the writers here, and been amazed at the comments that were offered on my writing and the writing of others.
     When I started this challenge, I was frightened about opening myself to the blogging world.  Even though I did not know you all personally, my heart was going to be opened for all to peek into and it was a scary prospect.  However, you put those fears aside with your kindness and support--even when I knew some of my posts weren't that great!  You all made me feel like you were with me and understood despite how well (or not so well) I expressed myself.
     You have given me the courage to write about memories, stories, people, and topics that are difficult to write about and put out there.  You have encouraged me to write from the heart and I have done that.  Thank you for nudging me to explore and come to know myself as a person, teacher, and writer!
     I will continue to write (and grow as a writer) and I will be able to help my students grow as writers as well because of you!  Thank you so much for helping me find the confidence so that I may help others find their voice.
                                                                                           Sincerely,
                                                                                           Tracy

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Reason



Yesterday, my slice was about the many blessings I have.  I was prompted to write about them because of a situation with a young man I have in my seventh grade Language Arts class.  At the end of the year last year, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.  He went through chemo over the summer before starting back to school this fall.  He was only allowed to attend a partial day so he was in my class and in my team mate's Math class.  He would leave to go home around 10:30.  His attitude was positive and he was thrilled to be here at school.  He always had a smile on his face and a kind word for his classmates.

 He was doing very well for a while and the tumor had shrunk, but he was scheduled for another round of chemo (at double the dose of the summer) after being back at school for about eight weeks.  He became very ill this time (he wasn't sick over the summer from it) and had some very negative side effects from the treatments.  He has not been able to come back to school, but he has never been out of the thoughts of his friends here or of his teachers.  Yesterday, I received this forwarded email :


And then a little later in the day a second one--




I have lost people in my life I cared very deeply about, but they were adults and older than I was.  This young man is twelve years old.  He is a blessing to all who know him.  His strength and grace and his compassion for those of us he will be leaving is truly amazing.  HE is the one trying to comfort US!  I am at a loss to describe my feelings because they are so jumbled.  If I feel like this and he is not my child, my heart aches for his parents and grandparents.   I wrote about my blessings last night because it was the only way I knew to try to step back from the emotions of the day.

If you feel so led, please say a prayer (or many) for this special child and his family.   

And hug those you love a little tighter.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I Am So Blessed



Today was one of those days you would like to start over and change reality if you could.  It's been a tough day.  I am focusing tonight on my blessings.  It's taken me a while today to get to the point that I could!

Here's my list of 10 blessings (although I have many, many more):


  •   Good health and the good health of my family and children
  •   Family
  •   Friends, including my furry ones 
  •   Job and my students
  •   Belief in a higher power
  •   Needs being met and my wants being fulfilled sometimes too
  •   Blogging friends in this community and all the support I have received here
  •   Laughter
  •   Love
  •   Being able to recognize I am blessed!

I want to thank God for so richly blessing me because I had news today that reminded me that my issues seem awfully small compared to some that people around me are facing.

Tomorrow's post will be about what happened today that compelled me to count my blessings!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Student Poets

 

  We have been attempting to write our first original poetry this week.  I love Georgia Heard's ideas in Awakening the Heart.  I like to begin with something pretty structured to scaffold those kids who don't like poetry or have a fear of the blank page.  The Six-room Image-poem fits well here.  Students divide their paper into six boxes or rooms, each containing a specific quality.  Students fill in each box and then use this graphic organizer to write their poem.  My students always surprise me with some of the lines they come up with and how poetic they can be!  Some of them will tell me they can't write poetry or they hate poetry, but decide they might give it a chance after they complete this piece of writing.
     Today, I was conferring with several students during each block about their rough draft of their Six-room Image-poem.  I lifted a few lines from some of their poetry to share with you.
   
     "With your dark cold eyes, I see you stare."  and in another line later in the poem--
 
     "You stay when the whistling wind blows." --Sam T.


     "My name being yelled...twice
      Once from my mother telling me to come in,
      Once from the waves, telling me
      Just one more!
      Just one more!  --Steven S.


     "Soft white sand kissing your feet." --Pooja T.

     "Behind the barn, the mountains rise
      with an ocean of trees trying to hold in the sunlight" --Dalton P.


     I love that some of these students are not considered to be the brightest stars in seventh grade, but they show through their poetry they have flair and imagination and deserve to be heard!  Poetry levels the playing field for my students that might not excel in other areas.  We talk about writers being hard working-- searching for that "just right" word, phrase, or line.  I am so proud of their efforts in trying to create their best work!




     

Monday, March 26, 2012

Piedmont's Killdeers

   

     For a few weeks now, there has been a Killdeer couple nesting under a picnic table outside my room.  These fiercely protective birds nest on the ground. They use the brown colors of the ground to blend in and disguise their eggs so as to protect them.  If the camouflage doesn't work, then Killdeer use a "broken wing display" to lure dangers away from the nest.  If that still doesn't do the trick, the bird will charge the danger head on to try to prevent damage to the eggs.

     Knowing how middle school students are, custodians roped off the area around the picnic table with yellow "DANGER" tape.  Students were curious about what was going on and why the tape was there and asked about the birds once the secret was out.  Since teachers have to be outside during transitions from class to class, we kept a close eye on our mascots, anxiously awaiting the baby birds.

     Friday was hatching day!  The four brown speckled eggs revealed four tiny brown birds.  Today our birds are gone. As soon as their feathers are dry, the babies can walk right out of their nest!

     I will miss this pair of parents and the feeling of being close to nature even in an area next to a school building housing over a thousand students!

Impossible to see the nest at this distance, but it's by the right front leg.
Mama or daddy sitting on the nest.








All 4 babies have hatched!
Broken wing defense in action.




Sunday, March 25, 2012

Some Questions and a Belief



My Sunday slice is short; just a few comments and questions rolling around in my head about Common Core---

     I have been reading about the Common Core on Twitter lately and I am trying to wrap my head around this idea of deconstructing text in the very intellectual way the writers of the standards expect our students to do.  I don't know if it's just me, but I'm afraid I see a clinical dissection of text that leaves scant room for the emotions of the reader and writer.  As a writer, I am passionate about what I write.  I want my reader to be passionate about it as well.  How does that passion fit into the Common Core?  How do the emotions of readers connecting with well written text work with the new standards?  I know I have a lot of work to do to better understand what my students and I are expected to know and be able to do independently at the end of a school year.   As a workshop teacher, I feel better prepared to tackle the challenges given in the Common Core for which I am thankful.  As long as I believe the individual needs of my students come first, regardless of what standards I am following, my students will be successful!

Aunt Kate

This slice should have been posted for Saturday, March 24, but I was sick with a nasty stomach bug.  I will not share the personal details, but I was not up to sitting anywhere expect in a certain "room" of my house!  Feeling a little better now so I will post two slices today.  Thanks for your understanding and I will still write each day of this challenge!
******

     My Aunt Kate was a fiery red head who had the stereotypical temper to match.  She and my Uncle Buck never had any children so all the nieces and nephews became "hers."  She took us on vacation trips to the beach and the mountains.  For me, this was the most wonderful thing in the world because with a three boisterous brothers and me, my parents did not have a lot of money for the "wants" we had.  They took care of our needs and we were very happy, but Aunt Kate was special.  She worked at Woolworth's in South Park Mall in Charlotte and I thought she was the greatest person in all the world!
     As I walked into Target this afternoon, the beautiful greens, yellows, and lavenders of the Easter season greeted me.  Colorful Easter baskets lined the aisles with their shallow basins ready to stuff with chocolates, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks, and plastic eggs filled with treats.  This time of the year always brings my Aunt Kate to mind because every year she would carefully and thoughtfully prepare Easter baskets for each niece and nephew around some theme that she knew we would love.  
     Being the only girl with two older brothers and one younger, you might assume I was spoiled rotten.  However, at the age of 7, I could not imagine anything as horrible as being in this family with my mean brothers.  They ganged up on me and constantly teased me.  (Please don't misunderstand, we were and still are a loving, close-knit family.)  I was surrounded by "boy stuff," and I wanted some to have some "girly stuff" that I could play with once in a while.
     My Aunt Kate knew that I had a tough time in the realm of sibling affairs.  She decided that year that she would whip up an extra special frilly Easter basket for me.  I think she must have bought out every color of fingernail polish at Woolworth's that year!  I had a lovely purple and pink basket with nail polish, a Barbie doll with two outfits complete with tiny plastic shoes, a tube of "grown up" lipstick (a very light pink that was Mom-approved), and some little white gloves with lace to wear with my Easter dress to church on Sunday.  Oh and enough candy and chocolate to keep a little girl's tummy happy for some time!  
     She worked at a dime store so she really didn't spend much on what she put in my basket, but she gave me so much that year.  She let me know I was special.  She gave me permission to be pretty and feminine and enjoy being a little girl in a house of rowdy boys!

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Short Slice to End the Week





A short slice to start the weekend:

     I'm looking out at my students right now during independent reading time.  Some are working on writing reading responses, some are reading from their chosen books, some are readying themselves for conferring by looking for parts in the book they want to talk about, and some are choosing books to read from my book shelves.  Every one is engaged in some type of purposeful reading or writing about their reading in some meaningful way.  Sometimes everything goes according to plan and the teacher in me is blessed!  Ending my school week with a smile!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

5K Love

People cheering
Numbers flashing by in a blur
Up the hill a blue bouncy castle lookalike finish line
Hazy evening in mid-July
Still sunny at seven o'clock
The shade trees seek the night's relief
The pounding of feet on the sidewalk
Breathing steady
Silent, concentrating on the path ahead
Will I make it?
Will I be satisfied?
Will I do this again?
Doubt
Red-faced after the 5K
Pain
Pride
Cheering
Cheering
Cheering

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Hero

     She is my hero.

     I have a daughter.
     Her name is A.
     She does not carry my blood,
     But she is mine just the same.

     Through abuse and assaults,
     emotional and physical,
     She hurt.  She cut.  She cried.

     She lost her way,
     Traveling in the dark,
     Voices telling her to vanish,
     Losing her faith.
   
     BUT SHE ENDURED.

     Finally, gaining a new family and taking control,
     accepting love, support, compassion
     just because she IS!
     Re-gaining faith.
   
     She is my hero.
   
   
 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Popcorn

     "Hey, Mom, we're outta microwave popcorn!" Lincoln disappointingly shouted from the kitchen this afternoon.  "I really was craving some popcorn."

     "I'm sorry, sweetie.  I might have some regular popcorn in the cabinet somewhere.  Why don't you try to find it?"  I replied as I walked into the kitchen.

     "Regular popcorn?  What's the difference?" he asked.

     My mouth turned up at the question.  Lincoln was born in 1996 so "regular" popcorn really wasn't a term he understood.  "Well, the popcorn kernels come in a clear plastic bag and you have to heat them in oil to make them hot enough to pop," I laughed up at him.  "It's actually cool to watch it sizzle until the first kernel pops!  We used to pop some every Sunday afternoon at your great grandma's."

     Lincoln reached into the cabinet and moved a box of Minute Rice to the left.   Cream of Mushroom soup was the next item to be pushed aside.  There behind the soup sat a bag filled with creamy golden popcorn.  He pulled the bag down onto a counter top the color of a fern frond.

     I quickly retrieved a heavy saucepan from the cabinet under the counter and put it on the stove.  Next I grabbed the canola oil.  I poured in enough to cover the bottom of the pot.  Once that was done, I measured out about a half cup of popcorn and put that in the pot.  I turned the burner on  medium and waited for the kernels to start heating up!  While I worked, Lincoln eagerly watched all the action.  Hissing and bubbling, the popcorn was almost ready to burst.  Finally, the first kernel exploded without warning and Lincoln jumped like a bullfrog hopping into the safety of his pond! I couldn't help it--I giggled at his leap.   I quickly threw the lid on the pot and started to circle the pot around on the burner.

     "Why are you doing that with the pot?"  Lincoln queried.  "It looks weird!"

     "This is the way your great grandma taught me to do it.  It helps the pot heat evenly so none of the popcorn burns while the rest of the kernels pop," I said hastily.  "Hand me a bowl--it's almost done popping." I took the pot off the heat and lifted the lid.  Lincoln's eyes bulged!

     "My gosh! Half a cup makes all that?" he asked in amazement as I poured the fluffy white stuff into the bowl.

     I turned the burner down to low.  "Yep, can you believe that?"  I walked to the fridge, took out a stick of Blue Bonnet, and opened it.  With a butter knife from the drawer, I sliced some off the end of the margarine.  I placed the pot back on the burner and slid the pale yellow chunk into the pot.  As it melted, Lincoln stood looking over my shoulder.

     "It's melted, Mom.  Can I please, please have some popcorn now?"

     Lincoln has a tough time being patient, but I have to admit the smell of the freshly popped corn plus the melting butter had my mouth watering too!

     "Your great grandma used to use a dish pan to hold all the popcorn she would make.  All your uncles and second cousins and your great uncles and aunts and I would eat it about as quickly as it would come off the stove!  This reminds me of those Sundays we all gathered as a family just to visit and talk.  Times are so busy now with everyone going in so many directions all the time, we don't get together like that anymore.  It makes me kinda wish for time to slow down a little like it was when I was your age,"  I said wistfully as I gazed at my fifteen year old.

     With a wisdom that sometimes amazes me, Lincoln put his arm around my shoulders, gave me a squeeze and said, "Mom, if that's what you want, all you've gotta do is make it happen.  You choose."

    He keeps me grounded to what's important.  I love that boy with all my heart!

Lincoln (being a goofball) and me :)


   

   
 

Monday, March 19, 2012

King Arthur

     Last May my youngest son, Lincoln, decided he wanted a kitten.  His Language Arts teacher had talked to them in class about her cat having a litter of kittens.  Of course, he talked me into it.
     We met his teacher at Pet Smart to pick up the kitty.  It was a small white male with ice blue eyes.  He was so frightened of us, but my son gently held him and whispered sweetly--soft, encouraging words that everything would be fine once we got him home.
    Returning home, we discussed what to name this squirmy bit of fluff.  Since he was Lincoln's responsibility, I felt it was his job to come up with a name.  After considering one name after another, my son settled on one that belonged to one of his favorite characters:  King Arthur.
    As the cat has steadily grown over the past year, he
continually shows why a kingly name is very appropriate!  He sits in the sunshine of his window sill, stretched out snoozing while we go about our daily chores.  If he decides to crack open his eyes, it is only to meow harshly when he doesn't get the attention he feels he rightfully deserves.  He will sneak up on silent paws to jump on an unsuspecting ankle or leg to announce his royal presence is ready to have his fur stroked.
     I don't know about the true nobility of our version of the king, but I certainly know he rules our home!

Arthur, as a kitten, sitting on the laptop keyboard.  Spoiled rotten!

Arthur, showing off his blue eyes for  us!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Two Poems




People

You wait there patiently
to be noticed; my faithful friend

You do so much for me; 
you are a resting place, 
a table, a comfy bed
a catch-all for me

You wait there patiently
to be noticed; my faithful friend

******

Ottoman

They have no idea what I go through
Always using me

Placing their smelly feet on my back
Dropping crumbs, placing bags, papers, and laptops there
Even the cat sinks his claws into me
before settling down for a nap

Do they not understand
They smother me?




Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Soothing List

With Spring Break still three weeks away for us (I'm envious that some of you are already celebrating your break), I am beginning to feel drained.  We have had no breaks (ie. no workdays) this year. I began to think this morning about some of the things that soothe my heart and help me gather my thoughts and recharge.

Here is my personal list of the things that soothe me:


  • Writing--whether its the pen in my hand flowing across the paper or the tap, tap, tapping of my fingers on the keyboard
  • Homemade vegetable soup--my grandma's favorite comfort food to cure all my hurts (physical or emotional)
  • A long, easy run--soaking in the peace of the early morning
  • A drink of water--refreshing and cool after a run
  • Time with my family--my children, my brothers and their wives, assorted nieces and nephews who remind me of who I am and all my human connections 
  • Walking on the beach--listening to the sounds of the water rhythmically touching the shore 
  • Prayer--talking to God and knowing He will take care of me no matter the circumstances
  • A good piece of chocolate--enough said :)
  • My pets--Shadow, my Golden Retriever and Arthur, my cat both of whom make me laugh
  • A great book--Wonder being the latest of fantastic reads 
  • Candles--any kind (votives, tapers, pillars); it doesn't matter as long as it's lit
  • A great cup of coffee--love the coffee of my home town coffee shop (La Vida Mocha) and the great Turkish owners
  • A leisurely Saturday morning--nothing on the agenda except enjoying the day ahead
  • Cooking--might be a strange one to some folks, but gathering, preparing, and making a meal for my family brings joy 
  • Fishing--in one of the ponds around my house, I have to practice patience, slow down, and let the fish decide what to do 
  • Laughter--from chuckles to giggles to causing-more-wrinkles-at-the corners-of-my-eyes deep belly laughs, it really performs miracles for the soul
  • Being from the South, a Moon Pie and an ice-cold Cheerwine in a glass bottle--a treat from my memories of childhood 

     Once I started thinking about this, more and more of my simple blessings came to mind.  I hope that will happen to you too.  What would your list look like?  What soothes your heart?  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sunflowers

     We are in our third day of 80 degree temperatures here in my part of North Carolina.  My brother tilled up the garden on the edge of my back yard today.  When I got home from school, I went outside to see and smell that just turned earth.  I love when it's time to start the garden each year because it reminds me so much of my daddy.
     "What are we planting this year?" I called out to my brother.
     When we were growing up, each summer brought with it the chore of helping in the garden.  My three brothers and I would plant and water and weed and harvest.  My daddy would till the soil with a hand held plow.  It was hard work for him.  He grew all sorts of vegetables, but at the end of each row, he always planted sunflowers.  As a little girl, I loved those huge, happy yellow flowers more than anything in that garden!
     Even when my daddy was getting older, that garden kept him busy; it gave him purpose.  He loved going outside and getting his hands in the soil and seeing what he could grow in the red clay of our back yard.  He was a master at coaxing life from the seeds he planted and nurturing those seedlings into piles of vegetables that mama and I canned or froze as a defense against the dark, bland days of winter.  A vibrant yellow sunflower would always come inside with the harvest--a beautiful offering of love from my daddy to my mama.
     "This year, I'm going to plant some sunflowers."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Wonder of a Book

Oh my gosh, I hope I can still post this and count it for my 15th slice!

This has been a reading day for me.  I have been reading Wonder and I could not put it down today until I finished it at 11:55!  Not only am I a writer, but I'm also a reader and I got lost in my book today.  It was worth every second!

If I don't make the cut off tonight, I still received a blessing today in the form of this awesome book!  Thank you, R.J. Palacio for a beautiful book!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Porch

On
the porch
reclining on the green swing
listening to my grandma
sitting in her rocking chair
hands always moving, working,
peeling apples, stringing beans, telling tales

Of
eloping with my grandpa
leaving her brother Thomas and her mama to milk the cows
feeling guilty still after all these years
always talking about her baby boy, my daddy,
making mischief with green persimmons and firecrackers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Twitter Teacher

     Yesterday my colleague and friend, Ronda, shared with me how to set up a Tweet Deck.  I have had a Twitter account for some time, but in the midst of everything going on at home and school, I haven't done a whole lot with it.  Having the time to explore and figure out what I needed to do to make it useful to me wasn't in the plan--until yesterday.  Ronda, who is one of the smartest people I know, uses Twitter on a daily basis to learn what's going on around the country about a myriad of educational issues.
      Not only did she help me set up my Tweet Deck, but she shared some of her favorite hashtags (I didn't have a clue what those really were either until yesterday afternoon), some of the people that she follows whose tweets and retweets she found interesting, and generally guided me through how she uses it for her own professional development as an educator.
     I am so thankful to have professionals like Ronda and the folks here at TWT!  They guide me and direct me in my growth as a teacher/writer.  Staying on top of all the changes coming our way with Common Core helps broaden my knowledge base about the standards and lessens the fear of an (at times) overwhelmed classroom teacher. Twitter is another resource to help me feel like I'm up to speed on what's expected of me as a teacher and what's expected of my students in the near future.   I need the head's up!

P.S.  I'm following quite a few of the slicing community on Twitter!

Monday, March 12, 2012

My First Baby's 20 Today!

 

 On March 5, 1992, I was being wheeled up to the 6th floor of the hospital.  I was terrified!  I was 32 weeks pregnant with my first child and I was being told I was in labor and that my baby would be born shortly.  I knew I wasn't ready just yet to be a mom!  I was taken into a room where I waited for the doctor to come in and talk to me about what was going on with this child.
    The doctor made his appearance finally.  I was leaking amniotic fluid. and was in labor.  If the labor couldn't be stopped, I would have a two and a half or three pound baby!  I was so frightened!  Nurses started an IV of medication.  They would have to take blood every few hours to be sure that the medicine they were using to stop my labor didn't build up in my bloodstream because it could have endangered me.  I received two steroid shots to try to strengthen the baby's lungs since those were underdeveloped at that stage of pregnancy.  And I worried.
    My labor stopped at last.  I stayed in the hospital for a week, had ultrasounds every day to keep an eye on the level of fluid around the baby, and started to have pain in my back.  One week to the day that I was brought up to the 6th floor and after a day and a half of back labor, on March 12, 1992, Mason was born.  He weighed in at four and a half pounds!  I was thrilled even though he was so tiny!  He was quickly taken from me and whisked to the Neonatal ICU where he spent the next six days.  After that, he was transferred over to the regular nursery and stayed there for another six days.  Finally, he was able to come home after spending twelve days in the hospital.
     I was one excited mama bringing home a four pound, tiny, dried-apple-doll of a baby!  I'm still one excited mama, but Mason is now a sophomore in college and a healthy, happy young man.  Happy 20th Birthday, my sweet son!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Top Ten(Eleven) List: Qualities of Teachers and Writers

    A principal friend on Facebook asked a question today that got me thinking.  His question was:  What personality traits does it take to be successful in life?  I have thought about this today first in the context of what it takes to be a successful teacher and then what it takes to be a successful teacher who writes.  I think there are great parallels between the two.
    Here is my list (in no particular order except I think #1 is the most important):
  1. Love kids--To continue teaching this is an essential personality trait.  I have to love children and all the wonderful "stuff" that comes with them!   To continue writing it is equally important to love kids because being a writer myself as a teacher helps me recognize the struggle they face and honor it because I have experienced how difficult writing can be.  It also gives me ideas on how to help them move forward when they get stuck because I've had to figure out what to do when I'm at a standstill too.  
  2. A sense of humor--As a teacher, this trait is so very important.  It helps me deal with the ups and downs each day and the stresses that come with teaching young people who sometimes have everything other than school on their minds!  As a writer, it helps me not take myself too seriously. It helps me deal with the ebb and flow of writing.
  3. Flexibility/Adaptability--I have to be flexible and if Plan A doesn't work, then it's on to Plan B, Plan C, etc. .  I also have to be able to adapt.  Change is a constant in education and I have to make sure that I can accept those changes and roll with them if I am to help my students be successful in the 21st century.  As a writer, I have to be flexible and adaptable too.  If what I'm writing goes in a direction that isn't what I had envisioned, I need to be able to change direction and be willing to see where the words will take me.  
  4. Effort--A teacher has to put forth a lot of effort in order to be successful.  I have to work hard so that my students grow as learners and as people.  A writer has to put forth effort to collect ideas, to find time to write, to revise, to work on the process of writing.
  5. Perseverance--I have to be determined to keep at it when my students are not "getting it" in my classroom.  I need many strategies that I can use to attack problems in learning and I have to stick with it to help my students develop the understandings they need to work in school and in this complex world.  To write, I need this same quality.  I have got to be determined to keep writing.  If the words are not coming, I have to keep at it.  Maybe I need to try another approach or another structure, but I must keep writing!
  6. Faith--This trait is one that is so important to foster in myself and in my students.  I have to believe I can reach them and I have to believe in them as learners.  I have to focus on what they can do and have faith in their ability to stretch and grow.  In order to write, I have to have faith that the words will come and that someone will read them.
  7. Compassion--Another quality that is essential is for me as a teacher to understanding my students.  Knowing their stories and why they think and work the way they do so that I can best help them is essential.  Understanding myself as a writer and treating myself with gentleness if the writing is not going well helps me want to keep going and put in that extra effort to keep at it.
  8. Passion--Teaching is not just what I do, it is who I am.  The passion it takes to teach every day and to believe what I do matters to these kids.  Writing is also a part of who I am.  I must believe that what I have to share matters .  My words and my stories are worth recording.
  9. Integrity--Honesty is a trait that I must show my students.  They need to believe in me and that what I do for them is what I honestly think is in their best interests.  They need to trust in me.  Honesty is just as important in my writing.  I must write straight from my heart about things that matter to me.  
  10. Conscientiousness--I have to be conscientious in my work with kids.  I am responsible for helping my students develop as readers and writers and as human beings.  I also have to be conscientious about working hard every day and honoring my commitment to be the best teacher I can be.  I have to be conscientious as a writer as well.   I have to be willing to write each and every day.  I need to honor the commitment I have made to be the best writer I can be.
  11. Sense of Wonder/Curiosity --Thanks to Theresa and Juliann for this one I did not include!!--As a teacher, it is essential to have a sense of wonder about the world.  Curiosity drives my lifelong learning and I must find a way to help my 7th graders (many who have lost that sense of wonder) find that inside themselves.  If I am asking them to be curious, then I must model that curiosity myself.  As a writer, I must have a sense of wonder and curiosity that makes me look at the world around me in new and interesting ways.  I try to make sense of what I see and hear and feel through writing.  I let this sense of wonder open me to new experience that keep me always writing and thinking and sharing.
Feel free to agree or disagree with these ten qualities.  Would you add anything to this list?  Take anything away?  I am curious of what you think it takes to be a successful teacher and writer.  Leave a comment if you would like.
     

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spring Surprise

     Went out walking this morning to enjoy the start of a beautiful day here in North Carolina.  I felt the peace of an unhurried morning and the budding signs of spring slowly chipping away the cares of the hectic work week that just passed.  Turning at the corner of my house to go back inside to wake my son, I noticed the blooms on my camellia bush were gone.  Faded red and white petals lay strew across the ground, a carpet of welcome to all who enter my home.
      Even though I thought the show was over, the waxy green leaves shared their surprise with me.  Nestled in the branches of the tall shrub was one last lovely star waiting to shine.  A single blossom, the last of its kind till fall, offered to me as a gift for taking the time to notice its peppermint perfection.
      Who knew writing in this challenge would bring so many lovely rewards?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hugs Needed

 

 Yesterday was such a crazy day at school.  A teacher workday on Friday along with "The Great Event" for kids who had brought in at least sixty dollars for our annual fundraiser and hat day (for a dollar donation to Relay for Life) had them acting "squirrely."  I was dealing with collecting parent surveys, field trip money (we're taking the 7th grade to see "The Hunger Games"), collecting problem solution essays, and simply trying to keep students focused.  I was feeling particularly frazzled!
     As soon as I could, I started conferring, trying to slow down the morning and unwind. I called N. to bring his Netbook and come see me.  My students complete reading responses on Google Docs.  I regularly comment back to them in the comment stream there, but I also like to meet with them face to face to discuss the strengths and needs I see in their responses and see what goals they have as readers.  Finishing up my conference with N., I opened my notebook to record some notes.  My computer "dinged" while I was writing so I knew I had an email.  I decided to check it before chatting with the next student.  I was not feeling as flustered, but still I felt tense from all the demands of the morning.
     I sometimes get these little reminders to slow down (as I've already shared in my slice from Day 2).  The email I read made me not only slow down, it made me stop what I was doing entirely! It reminded me that while all the things I had been doing that morning were necessary and a part of my life as a teacher, the most important part is listening to my students and helping them cope with some really tough life lessons sometimes.     

     Joselyn needed a hug ; everything else could wait.

   

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Freefall Part Two

     Suddenly I felt the floor begin to give way and heard the thin sheet rock cracking in two.  The last thought I had was this isn't going to hold me and I quickly fell through the floor of my attic.  On the way down, I slammed the back of my head against a rafter and knocked myself unconscious.  I was limp when I hit the cold concrete.  My head had a deep gash and was bleeding profusely even though I was completely unaware at the time.
     Waking up sometime later, I was disoriented and for some reason I thought I had been sick.  Slowly I crawled to the side door and pulled myself into the house.  If only I can go to bed and sleep for a little while, I will feel better.  As soon as I made it to my bedroom, I striped out of my bloody sweatshirt and sweat pants. I lost consciousness again.  I don't know how long I was out, but when I woke up again, I decided to call my best friend  for help.  She lived about a quarter mile away.  It was Saturday, December 7.  She did not answer and I later learned she was out Christmas shopping.  Next, I thought I would try my brother and sister-in-law who lived about a half mile from me. 
     Blurrily, I stared at the numbers on the phone.  I wasn't able to dial their number, but I did manage to find someone at home.  Problem was, I didn't know this lady.  At the time, I do remember for some reason thinking she was elderly.  After asking to speak to my brother, she replied, "You've got the wrong number."  I apologized and hung up.
     I suppose I must have hit the re-dial button because the same voice answered the phone.  She recognized my voice as well, asking, "Are you sick?"
     "Yes, sick" I whispered.
     "Who are you trying to call?" she questioned.
     "My brother, Ronnie, and my sister-in-law, Gail." I mumbled their last name as I hung up the phone and quickly passed out.
    Waking again, my sister-in-law and niece were standing over me.  "Tracy, did you fall?" Gail asked gently.
     "No," I said groggily, "I'm sick."  I did not know I had actually fallen through the attic until much later.
     "We're going to call the paramedics," my niece, Amanda, added quietly.  I was already too out of it to answer. 
     Coming around again, I heard my sister-in-law say, "The first responders are here, Tracy. Amanda's letting them in now."
     "NOOO!" I squealed.  "You have to promise me something before you let them in here." I had enough sense to realize that the first responders would be people that I go to church with each Sunday.  I didn't want them seeing me in my underwear! 
     Gail hurriedly promised to keep me covered with the bed sheet.  I couldn't stand the thought of running into them on Sunday morning knowing they had seen me in my undies!   My biggest fear exposed by a bang on the head!
     I was taken to the hospital where I spent seven days--six in ICU and one in a regular room.  I had fractured my skull, broken my left shoulder blade, and suffered multiple bruises. 
     "You need to realize your guardian angels were cushioning your fall because there are many people who don't survive a fall like that!" my doctors marveled. They could not believe I was not more seriously injured (although I was injured quite badly) from the eleven foot drop to the concrete floor.
     I am so incredibly grateful to my anonymous wrong number who decided to find my brother's name in the phone book and call until she reached my sister-in-law.  The lady told her she felt like something was wrong and that I needed help.
    Also, my wonderful school family took care of me.  I had to be out of work for four months while I healed.  My colleagues donated leave days to me.  As a result, I never had to stress over losing pay while I concentrated on getting well!
    God kept my boys happily asleep for almost the entire time I was unconscious.  Mason, my oldest son, did wake up, but my sister-in-law and niece were there by then and were able to keep him from seeing my pain and worrying about his mama!
     Now I celebrate every birthday with a smile and a prayer of thanks because I know how incredibly lucky I was to survive that December freefall!
    

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Freefall

     Jeff's left to go play golf.  Check.  The boys are down for their naps. Check.  Now's my chance!  Time to head to the attic and grab a box of Christmas  decorations.  Time to start making the tree beautiful so when the boys wake up, they see a magical surprise from the elves!  I can't wait to see their eyes light up!  
     Filled with excitement, I headed out the side door into the garage and glanced up at the pull string for the attic stairs that hung down over where my car was normally parked.  I had backed the car out earlier so that I could unfold the steps into the attic with nothing in the way.  The gray concrete floor under my thin slippers felt icy cold.
     Reaching up on tiptoes as far as I could stretch, I managed to grab the bottom of the string.  One last tug and the attic stairs came down slowly.  I unfolded them carefully.  Climbing up, memories of what those boxes in the attic contained came quickly to mind.  Ornaments from students occupied much of the space, but my most treasured pieces were homemade reindeer my four and a half year old had made in preschool.  My five month old wasn't up to making anything more than diapers that needed changing, but I knew time would pass quickly and he would be adding his contribution to the tree sooner than I could imagine!  Thoughts of my little ones waking up to the twinkling lights of the tree filled my head as I slowly moved up the narrow steps.  Reaching the top, with the upper half of my body in the attic, I surveyed the area above our two car garage.
     Boxes and bins of all shapes and sizes sat waiting to be organized into some kind of sensible order, but that would happen another day.  My eyes finally settled on a some brown cardboard labeled "Xmas" in a back left corner.  Ready to step fully into the attic space, I left the stability of the stairs heading toward the boxes and trying to choose one to carry down so I could begin the fun!  I paid no attention to where I was planting my left foot.  Suddenly I felt the floor begin to give way and heard the thin sheet rock cracking in two...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Magic


Magic happened in '96
Lincoln arrived
2nd son
Wrinkly perfection
When he got home...
Colic
Ear infections
Tubes
Divorce
School started
Speech impaired
Reluctant reader
Couldn't make sounds
Hated school
Lincoln at his high school in his ROTC uniform.  Lint brush in hand!


Magic happened in "08
Mr. N. arrived
6th grade perfection
When he got home...
Harry Potter
Hunger Games
King Arthur
Exited speech
Renaissance man
ROTC
Colorguard
Lead in "A Doll's House"
Honors English


Magic happened in '11
"High school's awesome!"




              

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mama's Biscuit Pan

"Mom, do you want to keep this beat up old pan?" my eldest son asked me when we were packing up to move four years ago.

Why is it that some objects take you back to a place in your heart where you can smell, see, and feel what your mind has forgotten?

            ******

"Time to wake up, sweetie," my mom crooned in my ear as she softly touched my shoulder.  I could smell the aroma of sizzling bacon coming from the kitchen.  Oh, please have some home-made biscuits too!

Mama's biscuits were the best!  She cooked them in an old, black biscuit pan that my grandma used.  Its surface shiny with age and wear.   When she took that pan out of the oven, my brothers and I clamored to our chairs at the table ready to devour those hot, steaming, buttery clouds!


My mama was not one to share her emotions, but her love for us was evident in those hot breakfast biscuits she made for us.  Now, as a mom myself, I realize the hard work and devotion to family it took to get up so early and cook every morning for my dad, my three brothers, and me and then go to her job and work a full day.

I lovingly took that old pan from my son cradling it against my chest as if it were made of the most delicate, fragile spun glass. "Come here, boys, I want to tell you a story about your Grandma Jean."



Sunday, March 4, 2012

Words

Today the words did not come easily.

I have had a million ideas about what I wanted to write about in my slice.  No one idea stood out as "the one,"  so I have put off writing my post hoping for inspiration.

Today the words did not come easily.

My inspiration came from going back and looking at the comments that have been made on my writing so far.  If we ever doubt the impact our words have on each other (and our students), we need to remember the absolute hopefulness we feel when someone takes the time to read and comment on what we post!  Our words were enough to connect us.

Today the words did not come easily.

But that's okay.  I know that they WILL come and I will trust in myself and this community...

Any day the words do not come easily.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Fortune


"Today I will notice the world around me and try to appreciate what I see, hear, and feel," I promised myself.

I have been reading many slices that have talked about slowing down and paying attention to what's going on around us.  I am usually in a hurry (to get somewhere to pick up one of my children more than likely) so I admit this is difficult for me, but today I started my day determined I would slow down and observe.  

After dropping my son off at a friend's house this morning, I decided to go to school to work on my grades since they are due by Friday for this six weeks.  As I slowly climbed out of my vehicle encumbered with my computer bag, purse, umbrella, and frosty Diet Coke, I was only thinking about getting in the building and getting started. My vow from the morning already forgotten.  

Turning to close the door of my truck, my purse hit the ground with a plunk; its contents spewing forth on the wet payment.  "Well, dang!" I muttered, trying to pick up the mess before the dampness could do any damage.  While I bent down gathering phone and lipstick tubes, I noticed a soaked strip of  paper lying there like it was just waiting to be discovered, read, contemplated.  My fortune...

Found my fortune in the parking lot.




If I hadn't dropped my purse, would I have remembered the promise I made to really take the time to notice?  I don't know for sure, but this writing thing is seeping into me and nourishing me just like the rain hitting the earth right outside my window.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Squirrely

Slice of Life Story Challenge
Today is one of those crazy days when my 7th graders are what we call "squirrely"!  We are having a huge line of thunderstorms blow through and it has made the twenty nine kids in my 2nd block frisky.  Something about thunderstorms causes them to change into their "child" personality.  

"What are you talking about?" you ask.  "They are children."

Well, yes, technically they are.  However, 7th graders are inhabited by two distinct personalities.  One is the "grown-up-I'm-too-cool-for-you-and-your concern" and the other is that "I'm-still-a kid-and-need-the-security-and-comfort-you-provide" child.  I love these dual personalities because there is never a day (or sometimes even a block) when you know which one you'll get!  

Ahh, the joys of middle school...


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Today is My Birthday

     I am putting my writing out there on a blog for the first time ever today--on my birthday.  The first day of not only the Slice of Life Story Challenge, but the first day of a personal challenge to write every day during the month of March no matter what else is going on in my very busy, single mom, middle school teacher life!  What have I gotten myself into here?!

     I have read many of the slices each week on Two Writing Teachers and have been thinking for a while that I would like to try to document the "stuff" of my  days. It's important because I have two strong reasons for wanting this record of my life.

     I lost my mom when I was twenty two.  I knew the inevitable was going to happen after she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer when I was a sophomore in college.  My mother was a strong, determined woman.  She lived to see me graduate with a degree in middle school education.  I believe she "willed" herself to stay alive until she was sure that I was out of school with a job and a means of supporting myself and could take care of myself.  I graduated in May and she passed away in October.  I have very little left that celebrates my mom's life. My memories of her have gradually become hazy.  I do not want my boys to wake up one day after I am gone just to realize they have nothing left of the life of their mom.

     So I am accepting this challenge to write about my days, my calling as a Language Arts teacher in the community where I grew up, my wonderful family, and the essence of who I am as a person.  I look forward to the difficulty as well the amazingly positive side of opening myself to this supportive community of wonderful people (and I know you are wonderful people because I've been reading your blogs).  A challenge of saying something worthy of being read by others, but most importantly for me, a challenge to believe that I have something worth saying. 

    Happy Birthday to me!