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Wednesday, May 23, 2012


word of the day: lesson \le-sən\ a piece of instruction; something learned by study or experience
It always surprises me how quickly summer vacation arrives.  Monday night I was up until Midnight grading research papers; this morning I slept in until 9:00.  It always catches me a little off guard. 

In order to ease that transition, the first thing I feel compelled to do, on this beautiful morning is write.  A task that is therapeutic to me in more ways than one because with writing comes reflecting.  And reflecting always seems to help me move forward.

As teachers, we are no strangers to lessons.  We plan them daily.  We create anticipatory sets in an attempt to get students excited about the learning ahead.  We carefully balance group work and independent practice so that students are able to have multiple approaches to mastery.  We let students see inside our minds as we model certain processes to thinking.  We are acutely aware of when a lesson is tanking and spend the four minutes in between classes scrambling to make it better.  We do everything we can to make sure learning happens on a daily basis, and many teachers will tell you that the most rewarding part of the job is the “aha moment.”  That instance where you hear a kid say, “Ohh. I get it.”

I’ve always (somewhat facetiously) thought of teaching as my superpower.  Now that I really think about it, I think it’s the learning.  It’s the acquisition of new knowledge that keeps us moving forward—that motivates us to be better at what we do. 

It’s not just student learning though.  As I sit here and reflect on all that was this past school year, I wonder who really learned more lessons. I might give those students a run for their money.

Since August, I have learned that 9th graders are really very funny.  They surprised me with their creativity this year.  I saw the whirlpool monster Charybdis depicted as a toilet.  I heard a barbershop quartet (or something like it) sing a summary of Odysseus’ run in with the Cyclops.  I saw said Cyclops devouring men (Ken dolls) through the make-shift construction paper mouth that really served a perfect purpose.  I laughed a lot this year and was thankful for the reminder that, when given the opportunity, most students will rise and accept the challenge to create great things.

I have also learned that personal growth comes when you least expect it.  It comes when you’re thrust into something you’re not ready for or when you’re met with a task you don’t feel qualified for.  It happens slowly, and when you’re on the other end, you wonder, “Haven’t I always been this way?”

I have learned that encouragement goes a long way.  That some days, it makes all the difference.  I have a card from my mom that hangs above my desk with this Chuck Swindoll quote:
Encouragement is awesome.  It has the capacity...to breathe fresh fire into the fading embers of smoldering dreams, to actually change the course of another human being's day, week or life. 
I lived on the receiving end of this many times this year—the smiles in the hallway, the email first thing in the morning, or the sticky note reminders that I matter—and I don’t know what I would have done without those people who were clearly placed in my life for a reason.

I have learned that people innately carry their struggle with them.  The student who acts out is most likely dealing with something difficult outside the walls of my classroom.  In those cases, it’s not just my responsibility to teach.  It’s also my responsibility to understand and care. 

I’m thankful for all that transpired between August and May.  I’m thankful for the students who walked in my classroom on a daily basis and for the people whose lives intersected mine just as often.  Because of the mistakes and the laughter and the tears and the celebrations, I am better.  I have learned, and I have grown.  And really, what more can you ask for? 

Saturday, May 5, 2012


word of the day: sister \sis-tər\ a female who has one or both parents in common with another

It’s funny how memories slip away.

Things that seem so significant at the time and then, years later, are only snapshots and still frames in your mind.  Sometimes I’m not even sure if I actually have a memory of something or if I’ve just put enough photographs together to make myself really believe I remember that moment in time. 

I don’t remember much from my childhood.  I wonder if it’s because I existed inside my head for much of it.  As a kid, I spent a great deal of my time alone with my imagination.  I contrived elaborate storylines and play acted all the roles with nary a spoken word.  If my bedroom door was closed, chances are I was pretending to be a servant girl who just so happened to be the long lost sister of the princess.  I was an only child.

For eight years, that is.  Then something significant happened: I became a big sister.  I wish I could say I remembered the day clearly.  That I remember walking up the steps to the attorney’s office.  That I remember sitting in the lobby picking at my fingers awaiting her arrival.  That I remember being caught speechless when my mom placed her in my arms for the first time.

I don’t really remember any of those things—there’s an oversized chair in my memory and a slight feeling of nervousness, but other than that, all I’ve got are the photo albums and verbal retellings.

I was thinking about it today and feeling badly that my memory is so fuzzy.  I was a third grader after all.  Isn’t that when you start remembering important things?

Here’s my theory: Hannah has just always been.  I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t my sister, and I totally prefer it that way. 
I don’t remember a time before her big, brown eyes entered the picture, and when I stop to think about it, I suddenly remember all the things that have become the still frames of my memory.

There are the times I treated her like a doll and dressed her up in all sorts of ensembles.  There are the times I forced her to sit in the basement with my chalkboard and jar of pipe cleaners trying to get her to write her name.  There are the times we tried our own version of Morse Code on the walls as we laid in bed at night.
I’ve been realizing lately that my baby sister isn’t a baby any more.  But some things never change.  She continues to be full of energy and her big, brown eyes can still melt your heart.  She continues to love people with a kindness I admire, and her loyalty is one of her best traits.  She can still beat me in a foot race because, let’s face it, I don’t know that there was ever any alternative.
It’s funny how memories slip away.  No matter how significant a moment of time is, as the years pass, little pieces of it chip away.  They come and go, but the picture is never as clear.

The solace is that the past is never as important as the right now.  And the truth of the right now is that I’ve never been so proud to be a big sister.