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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kites

I am back to try and participate in the weekly Slices.  I got sick at the end of March and couldn't keep up with the month-long challenge.  I miss the writing and the community.

The power lines ran North to South above the Western fence line of the hay field.  My parents found our kites in the pantry that acted as our "all around" storage location.  They fussed over the strings, tails and put back together our kites.  I felt a nervous excitement.  My father and perhaps my mother although that isn't clear in my mind, emphasized the importance of staying away from the power lines.  I was scared of the power of the kite, that something so beautiful and awe inspiring could kill me if it strayed too far to the West.  I guess this is true of many potentially deadly accidents.

It was spring, the wind was blowing and the tough stalks of alfalfa crunched under our feet and then popped back up scraping against our pants.  On wet years the ground would be soft under foot and in dry, compact and cement-like steeled against the dry winds.  We walked East away from the power lines until that magic spot where our parents were no longer afraid and could feel comfortable.  With eyes on the power lines and the help of mom and dad, the kites would soar up into the sky.  The wind pulling them Eastward.  My dad, as always was teaching.  "Let out some string but not too much."  "Quick, give it a tug."  We had his voice in our ears gently giving advice.  He wanted the experience as much as we did.  He yearned to see the joy in our eyes and want to cultivate that joy never happy with just the experience itself.



As with most memories, my own child triggered this one last weekend.  At school our science teacher flew kites with the students and I went outside with them to see the awe in their eyes and the pride that they were flying.  They might as well have been on the kite.  As the day progressed, sadness crept in.  My father's voice was there and I realized that I hadn't ever flown kites with my daughter.

"$1.05 at the Dollar Store by Gold's Gym," one of our students reported.  After school I was at the cash register buying kites including an extra just in case.  We went out to the soccer field the next day, not nearly the same as the hay field but it did just fine.  We put together the sticks so that Elsa and Anna, the pictures on the kite, could fly and with no effort up they went in the air.  My daughter was speechless, a feat not easily reached, and stared up at her kite.  Initially, she messed with it but by the end simply rested her whole body on the soft grass and watched.  Her eyes fixed on the majesty of flight.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What I saw at PARCC testing.

I am a teacher in Colorado.  We are experiencing first year PARCC madness right now.  Within the classroom I've opted to let good teaching work rather than test preparation.  I've encouraged my students to show what they know and to take pride knowing that they have done their best.

When I signed on the dotted line a couple weeks ago I said that I wouldn't share any items from PARCC.  I promised I wouldn't take pictures -- PARCC you do not get to use up any memory on my phone-- and I wouldn't read or look at test items.  I promised to not take any notes or coach kids.  I promised to just keep kids in line while they took the test.  While I walked around as a PARCC security guard today watching my students put forth an AMAZING effort I did look at what I could and this is a list of what I saw:
  • Students trying their best filled with pride that they did.
  • Students intently reading and writing for multiple hours to show the world what they know and can do.
  • Students who against all odds are showing up with a positive attitude that is infectious.
  • Students who worked up until the last minute to edit and revise their work to make it the best that they can.
I also saw:
  • Lots and lots and lots of dirty kleenexes from several stuffy noses.
  • A kiddo crouched on his chair literally vibrating trying to keep his energy under wraps while his peers finished.
  • A boy making scary evil rabbit faces at his screen.  His front teeth pushed over his bottom lip and his brow furrowed.
  • A student highlighting every other word in a different color.
  • Lots of fidgeting and a concerted effort to talk down their energy.
I didn't know what to expect or how I would feel at the end of the day.  I don't know what their scores will look like but I do know that most of my students left it all on the PARCC court.  I'm proud of who they are, the prideful people they are growing into.

Monday, March 16, 2015

PEDAL!!!

When I was a little girl my dad was determined to teach us to love the sports that he loved, biking and x-country skiing.  He would coach us along until we finally would whine enough that he would stop and just let us experiment on our own.

Learning to ride bikes was definitely one of my dad's jobs.  We had two hand-me-down bikes but the only one I remember was a yellow banana seat bike that we inherited from my cousin Sonia who is five years my senior.  The bike weighed a ton.  This was the bike that we learned to ride on.  A lot of the memories are hazy.  I don't remember if it had training wheels and I don't remember what type of brakes it had.  What I do remember is how my dad taught us to ride without any balancing aids.

I need to preface this story with some basic facts about where I learned to ride.  I grew up on a ranch in Western Colorado.  Our ranch house was tucked away from any and all neighbors up a three quarters of a mile private gravel road.  To us it was a road but to most it was a four wheel drive road and indeed during certain months of the year drivers either need four wheel drive or a lot of speed to get up to the house.  In front of the house there was a 40 yard straight and flat section of gravel road that separated the house and yard from the garden.  Gravel for that long of a driveway is expensive so really the road was dirt with a mixture of large and small rock.  The large rocks for catching the tires and the small rocks for lodging in our knees.

My dad would get us lined up at one end of the straight stretch with his hand on the back of the banana seat.  Taking a firm grip he would push us and help us start pedaling and then run behind us.  With one final shove he would send us off to try and maneuver the gravel road on a bike we didn't know how to ride yelling "pedal, Pedal, PEDAL!"  Inevitably several of these ended up in crashes onto the gravel road.  My knees tells this story to this day.  They are full of scars behind many of them you can hear, "PEDAL".

My dad was successful.  I love both of the sports that he loves plus many more.  It wasn't until he was pretty sick from cancer treatments that I could even begin to keep up with him.  As I was watching my seven year old ride her new bike last weekend I could feel dad around smiling that his Tiger-lily was loving to ride as much as he loved to.  Thankfully we weren't picking any gravel out of her knees in the process!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Not Broken

SOL#15
I never write poetry and am not much of a poet but in the spirit of trying. . . her is my slice from today.  From those poets out there I'd love some very HONEST feedback.


The worry gets held inside
like a cake of yarn.  Rolled up neatly
freshly off the ball winder
but some days it unwinds.

My love rode ahead.  Out of my
sight.
The cake unraveled
just a bit.  My mind twisted the handle
rolled it back together, neatly.

The conversation lulled and
the unraveling began
again.
Consciously rolling it back up.
The adults are with her.

With each step and bend
more unraveling.

Will they send a kid back to tell
me?
Will they race to get
me
so that
I
can comfort and quell the pain?
Surely.  Wind it back neatly.
Each piece tucked next to the rest.

There they are.  Under the overhanging tree.
Playing.  I don't see her.
Surely she isn't too close to the river.
Where is she?

Tucked up next to. . .
A daredevil you say?
Tears -- baby why?  You fell
from there? From up above?

C'mere baby.  It's OK
Sore.
Not broken.
You caught her head.  Thank God. Thank you.

Mama needs to quit using the ball winder
her hands will do.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Rationalizing

Today I went to a locally owned bike shop and spent a decent about of money on a bike for my seven year old.  I have had a bit of buyers remorse because of the price tag but her smile has made up for it.  As I sit and reflect upon the day I am entertained by how natural it was to rationalize such a purpose.

The whole "new bike idea" started with a spring break camping trip.  Her bike, purchased used last spring, is too little to fit on our existing bike racks on the top of the car.  In order to get a bike rack to fit on the back of my car we have to not only buy the rack but install a trailer hitch.  The act of bringing her bike was going to cost at least $600.  We realized that it would be cheaper to buy her a new, bigger, better bike that would fit on the rack we already owned.  (Reason #1)

Mike husband loves to ride his mountain bike and I love the idea of them riding together.  We also want her to enjoy it so we want a bike that is going to work well so she walks away from the experience with a smile on her face.  Consequently, we had to buy a good mountain bike.  Let's just face it, we are kind of gear snobs. (Reason #2)

I brought her to the bike shop that the husband of a teacher at my school owns.  My daughter plays soccer with their daughter so I thought it would be a good place to start.  We were NOT going to buy anything.  We were just going to look.  I was thinking about going to REI in Denver at the beginning of break to save $75 or so.  Once we were in the store and we had tried out the bike I started realizing how much of a pain it would be to get to the REI with both kids, by myself, to get the bike so I decided we would buy the bike here. (Reason #3)

My husband is very happy with the decisions I make.  He doesn't need to be troubled with this bike or that.  He doesn't care about the color and most kids bikes are the same anyway.  So if I went home without the bike we would just need to come back the next day so I might as well buy it today, Mike wouldn't care and the bikes are virtually the same shop to shop.  (Reasons 4 & 5)

If we got the bike today we could ride it two days in a row to give her time to figure it out a bunch before we go camping.  We could even ride right after purchasing it.  (Reason 6)

Sealing the deal was the look on her face.  She is such a good kid.  Great grades, dedicated to school, kind and loving to her sister, good natured about our adventures or non adventures.  I'm constantly scrimping and saving.  I'm always saying "No our family doesn't just buy presents or treats."  It would feel so good to just buy it for her because she loves it.  (Best reason of all).

Now we have a beautiful pink bike that she has already ridden and washed parked in the garage waiting for tomorrow's ride.
















Thursday, March 12, 2015

Reflections on 6th Grade ELA --2014-2015

The 2014-2015 school year is/was (May 20th will be here soon!) my 14th year of teaching and as I reflect upon my growth as a teacher, it was probably the most formative year.  Three factors were in place to create the opportunity for transformation.  First, we were charged with implementing a new and much more rigorous curriculum but the anchor text, Ender's Game was challenged and so the curriculum became quite a saga.  Second, I took a class through our district entitled "The Craft of Teaching Writing".  Third, I grow easily tired with the norm and I like to play with new ideas.  The three, my own personality plus the class and wacky curriculum roll out created a perfect storm to try a lot of new strategies and teaching moves.  I find that I am invigorated by the year and am excited by what I have learned and the potention for future growth.

Focused academic talk within collaborative experiences and partnerships has been a pivotal.  I've overcome my own hesitancies and insecurities as a classroom manager to grow students' abilities to talk with each other.  They are great at talking about friends, crushes, food, etc.  Much like adults.  We have a lot of practice at that basic conversational language but little practice with academic.  It has been fun to see them sit up straight and try.  They feel so mature and accomplished.  They are serious about their learning.

Participating in a class with excellent teachers raises the level of expectations that I have for myself. I continue to be motivated to be a better teacher of writing and thanks to the opportunity via The Slice of Life, I understand that I need to be a better writer and in order to do that I need to WRITE!  I find myself checking out books on writing from the library, following new blogs, dreaming of my next writing project.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire book about tipping points.  This year has been my tipping point as a writer and a teacher of writing.   I have a long ways to go but I am enjoying the journey.

Paying Back the Universe

When I first saw my husband Mike, we were at a Wilderness Study Group meeting at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  It was a student group that we were both interested in.  I was an eager and nervous freshman but he was a curious individual.  He sat in the back of the room with an unruly mop of hair on the top of his head.  He wore pants that had been unevenly cut off above the knees and was skinny.  Almost shockingly skinny for a man as tall as he is.  His gaunt torso was draped with a worn t-shirt.  The kind that you never want to get rid of because it is irreplaceably soft and comfortable.  Taped to his arm was an IV.  He sat and listened and when he did speak, it was intelligent and well-informed.  He was mysterious and I wanted to know his story.  I wanted to know the story of the IV.

Over the course of that year we saw each other on and off at different meetings or events.  I figured out pretty quick that he was older than me and I remained cautious and nervous.  I never had the courage to ask the question that my nosey nature wanted to know.  Summer came and went and when I went back to school in the fall he had left school and moved to Southern Colorado to do environmental work.  Once when he was back in Boulder visiting he and a friend came to my house for dinner.  After we finished our dinner.  A college kid special, spaghetti, I started hearing a ticking sound.  I could not get rid of  it and it was driving me crazy.  I started scanning the room.  Did we get a new clock?  No.  Is it coming from outside?  No, definitely inside.  Finally, I couldn't take the noise anymore and I said, "What is the annoying ticking noise?"  To my incredible embarassment, Mike responded "my heart".  While I sat there mortified he told me that story.  In April of 1995 he was rushed to the ER because he thought he had pneumonia.  He was actually in congestive heart failure because an infection, exaserbated by his murmur, had eaten away not one but two heart valves.  With two separate surgeries he had had two of his heart valves replaced with mechanical valves.  He was ticking. It was the sound of life, ticking along.

Those surgeries were twenty years ago next month.  We have spent the last eighteen years by each others' sides and have a beautiful little family.   He credits the nurses at the cardiovascular ICU with saving him and I credit them with blessing me with Mike and the girls with their Dada.  They were the ones who told the doctors, "he won't make it another night".  The nurses cared and worked their magic to keep him with us in body and mind.

Today he started his first shift out of nursing school as a cardiovascular ICU nurse.  Paying back the universe in some way.  I said that to him as he left this morning.  His response was, "I hadn't thought of that.  But maybe."  I know.