Expectations

As a literacy coach and intervention team facilitator, I am tasked with communicating expectations of my administration and the district to my colleagues. It’s a tricky position (correction: these are tricky positions. Plural. Sometimes I feel like Bartholomew Cubbins, wearing 500 hats). At present, my fellow educators are, in the wake of COVID, undergoing state-mandated Science of Reading training while adjusting to new curriculum and new leadership. It all comes with new expectations.

Truth be told, however, many of these expectations aren’t new: Problem-solving as a professional community, finding what we need as educators to give the students what they need. Bridging gaps. Collaborative planning. Collective responsibility. None of these are new; they just feel new if they’ve not been done effectively before…the bottom line being the determination of this is what the kids really need; how do we make it happen?

It’s formidable challenge, in a time where there are many needs, and when educational philosophies, beliefs, and mindsets clash. I recently wrote about endurance (from a spiritual point of view). This new school year follows one of extreme exhaustion. We will not endure without leaning on one another. We will not build our strength in isolation. We will not succeed without stamina. Or vision. Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Grappling with expectations is, well, expected. Everything, everything, everything rests on one of two beliefs: it can be done or it can’t.

I believe it can.

Yesterday my granddaughter visited. The hummingbird feeder rings I ordered for us had just arrived. Perfect timing. We took them out of the package, washed them, made a tiny batch of sugar water, and filled them. Off to the yard we trotted to stand with our arms resting on the fence near one of my two feeders where a handful of hummingbirds compete for their nectar throughout the day.

You can see for yourself, in the photo, my granddaughter thinking I don’t know about this…yet there’s a layer of hope and fear in her expression: Will the hummingbirds actually come drink from my ring? Will I be scared?

After a while: How long is this going to take?

The secret, my love, is patience and persistence. If it doesn’t work the first time, we will try again, and again. Hummingbirds have come to drink from the rings of other people in other places; they will eventually do so with us. Keep trying. Believe. I will stand with you until it does.

Oh, right.

I started off talking about teaching, didn’t I.

Expression of uncertain expectation. After she left, I went out again when the hummers were more active. A couple of them hovered nearby, considering me and my outstretched, ringed hand (hummingbirds are highly intelligent and curious). If they come to me…they will come to my granddaughter. I will see if can make it happen for her.

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

The way of it

On the first required workday
before school begins
I drive the familiar backroads
once again

dew-drenched pastures
and old weatherboard barns
defy time
they are
their own world

then to my delight
a patch of tangled sunflowers
on the right
must have been growing here
all summer
I didn’t know
I think of Van Gogh
walking the rustic village
of Arles

up ahead, the pond
I scan it quickly
for the great blue heron
and there it is
at water’s edge
nearest the road
big and gray-blue
like a watercolor rendition
so perfect a pose

I feel light
like these are signs
that all will go well
with the work
lying before me

peace becomes strength
in my spirit
in my bones

on the second workday
I see it all again
even the heron

I can always face
the day ahead
whenever I see
the heron

I am so light
I could soar

then on the third day
without warning
orange signs on white gates
say the road is closed

I must detour

no passing the pond
no seeing heron
standing with elegiac grace
in the still water

although I know
it’s there

so on I fly
day after day
going out of my way
to get to where
I need to be

for now at least
I have the sunflowers

Vincent would say
it’s enough

keep painting the day
and the required work
beautiful
around the barriers
until they are gone

that is
the way of it

Coming home; the pond is just ahead but I can’t see it

Filling the bucket

Bucket of Sunshine. gfpeck. CC BY-ND 2.0.

Dandelions represent the return of life, the rebirth of growth and green after a harsh winter, and a display of abundant strength and power.  – Lena Struwe, Director of the Chrysler Herbarium

At my school this year, every staff member is writing notes of encouragement and gratitude for each other. We are calling this “filling each other’s bucket” – everyone has a colorful designated bag for receiving the written messages.

I couldn’t think of better symbolism than this bucket of dandelions. Or the quote.

All too often, we never realize the collective abundant strength and power we have.

It is in the giving that we begin to experience it.

Charged

The first gathering
before regular workdays
even begin
is a Leadership meeting
called by new admin
to set the vision
for the year ahead
where lingering clouds
so widespread
start dissipating.
The atmosphere is changed
from June, when we left
depleted and drained:
All my colleagues’ faces,
all their voices and words,
shaking off residual traces
of drenching despair
in this positive charge
electrifying the air.

It can be done.
We have begun.

Explosion of positive energy. Łukasz StrachanowskiCC BY-NC 2.0.

Last day

What can I say about the last day of school?

Most students rejoiced. Not all. Some will miss their friends. Some will not return. They said their sad goodbyes. One little boy who just got here and who knows no English asked for a translator for this very reason. Some teachers will not return. Not necessarily a bad or good thing…there’s just no need to be flummoxed by flux. I think of the ocean. A sense that tides are turning…I stayed late to help interview teachers for next year. They radiate positivity. The grass is NOT greener, they say…one lovely candidate wearing a string of pearls posed this profound question: How do you feel about the people you work with? So much begins and ends with this, does it not? With the adults in the building?

And this was the last day.

Forgive fragmented brain-play with anagrams:

At sadly
last day
lad, stay

day salt
sly data
lady sat

sadly, ta

Seems fitting for the strange pieces of this year.

Peace…

Kid playing football.Wallboat. CC0 1.0.


Ceremony


We gathered together
moms, dads, grandparents
lots of baby siblings
to honor
our kindergarteners
with pomp and circumstance

a milestone
of accomplishment

here we are,
a normal crowd
cheering, applauding
babies adding their
newfound voices


then giving an ovation
for the second graders
who were present
and assisting
because their ceremony

didn’t happen
in the spring
of 2020


little morning faces
shining with pride
as their families stand
honoring, rejoicing
celebrating

all of our
living through

The funnies

I bought Sunday’s paper, first time in years. As in an actual paper paper. Saw it on the rack while checking out groceries, a giant headline about the state’s plans for moving forward with education in light of pandemic setbacks. As educators themselves (particularly those in the trenches in actual schools) are often the last to know, I thought perhaps I should read it…

Opened it up in the car only to have my attention captured by the comics.

How could I have forgotten?

All those childhood Sundays of sifting through the heftiness of sections and fliers to pull them out, that colorful layer beckoning amid the grayness of the world’s ponderous deeds and opinions.

The poring over every one, the laughter, the ink-smell… a preschool recollection of my grandmother showing me how to flatten Silly Putty over a panel to peel it up and find the image lifted, then stretching poor Charlie Brown’s round head every which way…understanding later, in school, what “newsprint” paper really was when blank sheets were distributed for drawing… often sketching pretty good replications of Snoopy and especially Woodstock in margins of random notebook pages… a fleeting recollection of two strips I cut out and taped to my bedroom door (one, I think, was Shoe and the other eludes me now; I can only remember loving it for its hilarious rhyme).

All this in one nostalgic flash, just finding the funnies in my hands again after so long.

For just that moment, I am child again, and everything is all right.

*Update: Finally remembered the other strip taped to my bedroom door: The Briny Deep.

All in for the kids

In the interview
the candidate said
we don’t get credit
for all we’ve endured
on behalf of kids
in these past two years

and apologized
for the sudden tears

every one of which
surfaces from depths

immeasurable
a soul subjected
to intense pressure
somehow withstanding
high temperatures
beyond describing

the weight of the world
in every teardrop

salt-worth far beyond
the rarest diamond

culminating crown
of love resounding
courage rebounding
in five wondrous words:
“I still want to teach”

Eye Don’t Cry. corner of art. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Out of balance: a lesson

At a kindergarten soccer game this weekend, I noted how the coaches let the kids keep kicking the ball even when it goes out of bounds. This is probably because the ball is so often out of bounds; the kids might never get sustained playing time otherwise.

At one point, the ball rolled over to where my family was sitting. A little boy—the littlest, in fact—came running after his teammates, yelling: “Out of balance! Out of balance!”

We spectators giggled amongst ourselves: “Out of balance. So cute.”

The tiny guy stopped to look at us in all earnestness: “Out of balance means the ball is not on the court.” And he took off across the field after his kindergarten teammates, who’d managed to get the ball back in bounds, momentarily.

As we wiped the mirth streaming from our eyes, I thought about something a former mentor told me years ago about accepting approximations. It’s clear this little boy knows what he’s talking about. The ball was beyond the boundaries of the playing field. Never mind there wasn’t actually a court…basketball has a court, tennis has a court…he is learning. He’s in kindergarten. He will soon learn the word is bounds and that soccer is played on a field.

Certainly he will need to know the right terminology. But for now, let him develop some stamina and skills. Let him learn to be a team player. Let him love the game.

Truth is, in order to grow, sometimes things need to be kicked out of balance.

Soccer. Ashelia. CC BY-NC 2.0.

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Scientific method poem

For Day 25 of VerseLove on Ethical ELA, Linda Mitchell inspires teacher-poets with the scientific method. Linda says: “The scientific process reminds me of poetry. For me, poetry is about observing, questioning and predicting–which are vital, although not the total, of the scientific process.” She challenges poets to incorporate part of the scientific method in a poem: Make an observation; ask a question; form a hypothesis or testable explanation; make a prediction based on the hypothesis; test the prediction; and iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

My poem is dedicated to students, with a question I find myself asking too often. I left the area of referral out on purpose; could be behavior, academics…

Graphic Failure

Dear Student, I see you’ve been referred.

Why have you been referred?

Maybe it’s because your teacher
is afraid.

Not of you. Not really. 

You see, in the scheme of things, 
you should be the tip of 
a hypothetical pyramid,
with all the systemic structures
supporting you—in other words,
your needs should drive
everything else

your teacher, see, 
is the next closest layer
to you

and when this pyramid is
upside down
with the ponderous weight
of systems all at the top,
by the time it reaches
your teacher, 
the pressure
is immense
(research tells me this used to be
a form of execution in ancient times,
crushing, i.e., the adding of more
and more stones)

which means that if
this colossal pyramid
is inverted
there you are
the tip at the bottom
the whole system’s 
supposed
raison d’etre
bearing it all
like Atlas

no wonder
you have been referred

it is all too much

Climb (France through my eyes) docoverachieverCC BY 2.0