Happy, not sad, Mother’s Day

I didn’t submit a pitch for a Mother’s Day storytelling show because too many memories of my mom are from near the end of her life, and I thought that they were all sad. I didn’t want to tell a sad story. 

But when we went to the show yesterday, one of the stories really touched me. The teller related how he had read to his mother in the last months of her life, and how they were able to connect through the stories.  

It brought me back to when my mother was recovering from strokes. Her ability to come back was astounding; her will to get out of assisted living and back home profoundly impacted my family and I. It still inspires me. 

When she got back home, she needed help with her reading and writing. I would visit after school, and for a while Mom was my student. We worked on reading brief passages, and I would have her answer questions about them. Learning to write again was arduous for her, but she was committed and showed great improvement.  

For fun, we would play cards. We had played Rummy here and there throughout the years, so that’s the game we chose. We had to play with the cards face up; Mom couldn’t consistently remember how to group the cards to score points. Over time she got better at this. Finally, one day she beat me without my help! I was so proud of her, and it was even fun to lose! 

I guess what I learned is that even within the often difficult and painful times of those years, there were also meaningful and happy moments of connection between mother and son.  I hope that those types of memories will continue to emerge as the years go on. 

The Laughers

Giggling begins. It starts with one student, but it spreads like a yawn. The laughers lose control, their bodies shaking and the sound taking on the edge of mania. Some put their heads down on their arms, shoulders pulsing even as they muffle the sound.  

I remember teenage emotions. The laughter, the heartache, the love, the tears. How much emotional intensity is due to newness, the personal inexperience with life, with feelings?  

Experience is a wonderful teacher, but it also wears down the extremes. Though I’m glad I no longer feel the intensity of hurt that came with the disappointments and tragedies of youth, experience also takes away some of that perfect joy.  

I still feel the edges of it sometimes. The laughter will linger, approaching that barrier, but there is too much control now. Is it about learning to let go, or remembering how to? 

Teaching young people does keep you young, partly because it reminds you of what being young is like. But while most experiences build our capacities, observing youth reminds you of how much is taken away by the years.  

The Death of Snow Days?

I began this poem in December of 2020:

Covid year took away so much 

It even took away nothing. 

Gave “No School” the virus 

Changed snow days to work days.

This is all I wrote the first time that a snow day was replaced by a remote teaching day. At the time, I thought snow days were over for good. Since then, Connecticut has ruled that remote learning cannot replace snow days. 

I wasn’t feeling bad for myself, really. I got to sleep in, I was home, didn’t have to make two 45-minute commutes. And though I didn’t have the day off, I also knew we wouldn’t have to make up any days at the end of the school year. I can delay my gratification. 

I really felt bad for the kids. Snow days are the most exciting things when you are little. A day off from school, a chance to go outside and play in the snow. (And yes, a lot of kids still like to be outside.) To do … whatever. Or nothing. A taste of freedom. 

In those strange, upside-down pandemic days, I thought this would be taken away forever. As I sit here on a snow day, flakes falling outside, (working on grades because most teachers take advantage of any time that you can correct without new work coming in) I am happy. Throughout Connecticut, kids are building snowmen, hurling snowballs, running and shrieking and giggling. And that’s what I would have missed the most if snow days were gone for good.  

Teacher Talk Tuesday

Short one today because this teacher is overwhelmed. It took me a while to realize this, but kids are really motivated by stickers as a reward for their work. You can purchase a pretty cheap pack on Amazon that the kids really love. And yes, non-teachers, we really do spend a lot of our own money on supplies, even if we live in a reasonable wealthy town.

Teaching Tuesday – The Outsiders

How does the book The Outsiders, published in the 1960’s, still work for students all these years later? 

I think teen culture is essentially the same. Listening to music, hanging out with friends, dealing with the stresses of family and school are similar experiences today.  

Even more, it is a story about fitting in and rebelling. I remember the tension I felt as a teen, wanting to fit in on one level, but then feeling rejected by mainstream society. My rebellion, admittedly, was based as a response to my sense of being an outsider. But it became part of my young identity, and the attitudes of being an “outcast” still are with me today, for the good or the bad. 

But being honest, I think it’s the violence that puts it over the top. The crisis faced by Ponyboy and Johnny, the gang rivalry, even the sibling infighting all contribute to the drama of this story. 

As a teacher, I’m just happy it still works. And it’s fun to hear stories about kids who tell their parents about what they’re reading, and the response is “I read that when I was your age!”  

Teacher Talk Tuesday

One of the pitfalls of being a teacher or any kind of educator is forgetting that the humans we’re teaching are still kids.  

There are so many reasons that happens. All the pressure that is brought on teachers and administrators to demand more of our students, to push them, and often pull them, to improvement and success. The danger of looking of students as a data point that must be moved up levels. The emphasis on test scores. 

Then there’s just running a classroom. When you have 24 kids in front of you, it’s not easy to judge on the fly what is just a minor behavior and what is something that needs to be addressed as a discipline issue. But not every issue has equal weight or needs the same level of response.  

Continue reading