More On My Issues

I went in to my new school today to check out my new classroom space. A new classroom space is equally exciting and terrifying. Determining how best to arrange the space is a challenge (even knowing that the kids and I will change it throughout the year).

I walked in today and found this: all of my issues waiting for me.

All of my stuff. I owe those poor custodians something fabulous for having to move all of that into this room. But boy did it overwhelm me to see it all there.

It got slightly better when I realized there are close to 30 desks in the room, most of which I will get rid off. (I will likely keep 3-5 as places students can work completely independently but mostly we’ll have tables.) There was also a teacher desk, which will go as I don’t use one. As well as a kidney table (a teacher favorite but not a table I like as it is huge) and a rectangular table – neither of which I want. So it was reassuring to realize that some of this will leave the room.

I spent my morning moving boxes out of the way so that I could begin to really get a sense of our classroom space. There’s still plenty to do but I feel like I have some thoughts. So much about being at a new school is unknown, it feels good to begin getting a handle on something, even if it’s something small.

Still Working on the Backlog

Okay, after three posts so far I think I’m about halfway through everything I’ve saved in my Instapaper for the past several months. I know how important it is to me to have routines and I let this routine crash for a while. It is tough to get it back but I’ll be glad when I’m on track again. There are so many brilliant folks out there sharing generously.

The idea of consent is one that i believe in strongly. It is also a place in which I fail daily. I spend my days around young children, my students and my own daughters (although as they’re teens/tweens, young children is probably not the right term for them). I know I touch them, a hand on a shoulder, a hug, or a hand on the back guiding them in some direction, without consent all the time. It’s something I am trying to change. I have gotten far better at asking children if I can give them a hug, or more often, if they would like a hug. It’s not a habit for me yet but it is a goal. As well as helping children see that they should do the same and get consent from their peers before physical contact. This piece, Conditions of Consent: Teaching Children Bodily Autonomy, by Jenn Jackson, was a great to help me clarify my own thoughts on this idea. I think it matters a lot, long term.

Fundamentally, these instances are about our collective avoidance of consent and the rape culture that overlooks its importance. Because of this culture, children in elementary school, especially girls, are socialized into non-consensual touching, unwanted physical intimacy, and deeply misogynistic notions of bodily autonomy.

Jenn Jackson really gets at why we need to be sure children understand that they are the ones in control of their bodies. And that requires we fight against messages they hear again and again.

On a totally different note, Tim Stahmer wrote about homework. I have strong feelings about homework as well. Even before my own daughters were in school I had begun moving away from homework. I realized I was assigning it to my fourth graders because it was something teachers did. I hated going over the homework and would often quietly recycle it rather than spend my time with it. Once I realized that I knew it didn’t make much sense. I send home books with kids every night so they can read. Other than that I hope their afternoons and evenings are spent in ways that they (and their families) choose, not ways I choose for them. As a parent this has been strongly reinforced for me. Homework causes serious stress for my own children at times and certainly interferes with things we want to do as a family. Tim’s references, his thoughts, and his questions are worth reading if you assign homework or not.

I’m not suggesting that every teacher should eliminate homework from their practice.

Only that every teacher should take a long, hard look at what they are asking students to do at home and why. Does the work really benefit the kids? Are those assignments valuable to their learning?

Today is Gary Stager‘s birthday so I love that one of his pieces showed up in my list. The Subtlety of Prompt Setting addresses language and how much it matters. He explores a prompt given to a bunch of teachers at a workshop and the wording one participant used when describing it. Gary explains why the prompt was worded in the way it was originally. I love seeing the thought process behind something, especially something that seems as simple as a prompt. Having thoughtful educators lay out their processes helps me grow in ways that might not even have been on my radar. In this instance, thinking about the language I use with students has been on my radar. I spend a surprising amount of time thinking through how to word questions so as to give students the flexibility, freedom, and range to respond rather than to set it up in ways that suggest a specific idea or strategy.

Why quarrel over such subtle differences in wording?

  • Words matter
  • My prompt was an invitation to embark on a playful learning adventure complete with various sizes of candy eggs and a seasonal theme. Posing the activity as a problem/solution raises the stakes needlessly and implies assessment.

Words matter. I think that gets ignored far too often.

Apparently I can’t write one of the collections without a piece from Sherri Spelic. In this one she reflects on a conference she attended and at which she presented. I fear anything I write is going to take away from her beautifully written piece so suffice it to say that she reflects on this conference, the good and bad, with such clear eyes and thoughtfulness that it gave me new thoughts on how to make reflections more meaningful in the future. (I believe strongly in the importance of reflecting and am always trying to do so in ways that are more useful.)

I struggled with an internal need to defend my right to be present as a real live teacher without a leadership title. And yet I persisted.

It’s a challenge to balance praise and criticism of an event when both are necessary.

Three months ago this piece from Kyle Korver of the Utah Jazz was all over my social media. (This piece is still his pinned tweet suggesting it is still important to him.) It’s not a short piece but it is another of those by a white person working on how to be in our society in a way that does not harm others. It requires effort for white folks to be anti-racist as our society is built on racism. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s worth the time.

What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color….. I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice — I’m granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.

Coming at this from a different direction is this piece from Kelly Wickham Hurst. The title is Racial Identity and a Certain Looking White Woman. White women are in the interesting place of being women, and therefore at a disadvantage in our society in many ways, and being white, and therefore having power in our society in many ways. This often results, I think, in white women feeling they need to save BIPOC. Kelly writes about how quickly she can identify a “Certain Looking White Woman”.

I share this part of my identity work because there are far too many white women who assume they’re safe for me. Many are shocked when I identify them as the source of my fear and anxiety. Often, they’ve never considered the danger they pose to me. Some will ask, once I’ve told this part of my story, “Do I look like a Certain Looking White Woman? Is it me?”

If you, like me, are a white woman, you have likely been that woman before. I am certain I have been (although without any confrontation because I’m too wimpy for that – just the looks and ‘concern’). Not being that woman and raising my daughters to not be is the goal. Learning from BIPOC, especially women, is what I am doing to reach that goal.

On the whole I share these pieces in the order in which I read them. It is fascinating to me to look back over what I collected. What did I choose to curate to share? Whose writing did I save? Sharing these helps me reflect on the reading I am doing. Time is finite and I want to know I am spending it well.

It’s the Systemic Issues, Stupid

When I talk about my teaching career I often mention that I have always taught at Title I schools. I’ve considered it important because I’ve always seen teaching at such schools as being more difficult than teaching elsewhere. But I haven’t really stopped to think about why I believe this.

The assumption, I think, is often that it is more challenging because the students are more challenging. I’m certain I thought that earlier in my career. Now, I don’t buy it. That is not my belief. The students I have had the opportunity to teach for the past twenty-one years have been all kinds of kiddos. There have been challenging students, yes. (Although, I often think that is more about me than it is about them.) There have also been brilliant kiddos. There have been creative kids and thoughtful kids and mischievous kids and introverted and extroverted kids and dramatic kids and generous kids and all kinds of kids. Like there would be at any school.

The thing about teaching in Title I schools that I think is important isn’t really about the kids. It’s about systemic issues. Schools become Title I because of the percentage of students who are receiving free or reduced price meals at school. It is a measure of children living in difficult financial situations. Having money troubles doesn’t make a kid challenging to teach. Any more than not having money troubles makes a kid easy to teach.

Teaching in Title I schools is difficult because the students and their families are facing so many systemic challenges in their lives. For the students I have taught, the great majority of whom were English Language Learners and recent immigrants to this country, racism and nativism impact their lives on a daily basis. Even if those impacts aren’t as glaringly obvious as a racist tweet or yelled slur. Those impacts are insidious.

Not having enough money makes everything harder as well. If you can’t afford a car you rely on public transportation, something that is a serious challenge in the suburbs where I teach. If you are not making enough money at your job you may have multiple jobs, especially if the jobs are part-time ones. If you don’t have health insurance (because employers are only offering part-time jobs to avoid providing it) you end up sick with no options or at an emergency room. Even the societal structures we put in place to help people are difficult and time consuming to navigate. Have you ever seen the paperwork to apply for free or reduced price meals for children? Pages and pages.

It’s not the kids that make the job a challenge. It’s all that those kids and their families are facing that does. It’s systemic. Helping the children is important and makes a difference. But changing the systemic problems is critical. It feels a bit like the boy with his fingers in the dike. We’re holding back the water for our students, but at some point we need to fix the dike in a way that holds back the water permanently.

from Wikipedia

(Next month I’ll begin teaching at a new school. It is not a Title I school.)

 

Not Even Close to Caught Up

from Nigel Gibson’s flickr

Every April (just in case it wasn’t clear how far behind I still am…) Ralph Fletcher shares some of his poems for Poetry Month. This one has long been one of my favorites.

I teach in a huge school district. Huge. We have about 190,000 students. So we also have a lot of teachers. Sometimes I don’t realize someone I read online is actually in my district. This was true for a while about Katie Eustis. She’s another (like Christie Nold) white person helping me see how to better do the work of serving all kids and working against systemic racism. In this piece she’s reflecting on how she got started on that path.

When I think about the work that POC do everyday to bring white people to this work, and how without them, I wouldn’t be here, it truly breaks my heart. They are expending so much emotional energy (TRAUMA)  justifying why their lives matter, why what’s happening in communities of color isn’t because of “poor life choices” but systemic issues that really have left people with not many choices for how to survive, and how completely fed up they are with white moderates who claim colorblindness and that all a person has to do in this life is “be nice.”

More on the systemic issues are in this piece from Sherri Spelic. In it she reflects on reading Inequality in the Promised Land: Race, Resources, and Suburban Schooling.

Lewis-McCoy talks about “concerted cultivation” of children that commonly happens in White middle class families. He describes the ways in which those same families throw their political weight around by being particularly vocal in making demands on school officials to insure the best resources and opportunities for their own children by resisting efforts that specifically seek to address racial disparities in both opportunities and outcomes.

On a completely different note, if you enjoy photography you should be following Tom Woodward because he shares the most amazing photos. (He also shares lots of strategies in coding that I don’t understand at all but read just for the fabulous footnotes.)

This piece, from Scott McLeod, struck me for a couple of reasons. One, it begins to get at something that frequently irritates me in education, which is how often we think we are giving students choice but it is really so limited as to be almost nonexistent. He also addresses something that struck me with my own daughters. I can remember a conversation we had about what to do when feeling stressed or frustrated at school and we brainstormed strategies. Unfortunately, most of the things they would want to do to calm down (take a walk, listen to music, do some writing) would not be an option in a classroom. They wouldn’t be able to just get up and go do one of those things if they felt they needed to. I’m taking the punchline of Scott’s piece and sharing it, but I can’t help it. It’s perfect. The piece is short and definitely worth a read.

Want to know who has true agency in a school? See who has the ability to say no.

As I’m still going back to pieces from April, here’s another one about poetry. Kevin Hodgson writes poems regularly throughout the month of April. Bud Hunt shares images each day to prompt writing from others. This is a poem Kevin wrote after seeing one of the images Bud shared. Not only do I love the poem, but I love the online collaboration (one in Massachusetts and one in Colorado).

I’ve said before that one of my favorite blogs is One Good Thing. Rebecka Peterson writes most regularly there and I wish my own daughters could have her as a teacher. This post beautifully captures why I feel that way.

I Have Issues (as my daughters will attest)

Next month I’ll kick off the 19-20 school year at a new school. This will be my 22nd year of classroom teaching and this will be my 3rd school. (I spent 16 years at the first school in which I taught. Then five years at my last school.) Changing schools is stressful for so many reasons. One of those reasons, that is a really big one for me, is moving everything from one building to another. In 21 years of teaching I have accumulated a lot. Many, many, many books. Several tables. Floor lamps. Stools and chairs of varying sorts. Some bookcases. A couch. I knew it was a lot but didn’t truly get it until we packed it up in a truck.

My wonderful husband took the day off to help. Our poor daughters just have to, regardless of their feelings about it.

We filled a 10 foot truck. And had to leave some behind for a second trip. (I believe if we were professional movers we could have made it fit. My husband does not agree.) In case this wasn’t enough to shame me for my classroom excesses, we had to go through the gate at the army base on which I’ll be teaching in the fall and the guard was properly shocked by this when we opened the truck. He was, of course, exceedingly polite and respectful. But you could tell this didn’t really fit into his understanding of elementary schools.

I have come to realize that I own a classroom. Not the physical space, but everything I could possibly need for that space. There were things we left behind in my previous classroom (bookcases, tables, chairs, easel) but it was a shockingly empty space when we were finished.

Just in case this isn’t really clear yet. Here is all of my stuff in the hallways at my new school. (I fear the custodians will hate me before they get to know me.)

In a month I hope this will all look totally reasonable when it is in the physical classroom, awaiting children.

 

Hurting

This evening my youngest and I arrived home after several hours at the pool with friends and I scanned through the mail my husband had brought in. The first thing I saw was an envelope that had been returned to me. My first thought was surprise that a Christmas card was arriving this late. I know I tend to send holiday cards far after other folks do and it can take a while for those that can’t be delivered to be returned, but July still seemed excessive. I picked up the envelope and I felt as though I’d been hit. It wasn’t a Christmas card.

About two months ago my aunt, we call her GAB (great-aunt Betty – she was Aunt Betty when I was young but when my girls were born she became GAB), went on hospice. That is, of course, concerning. But GAB was on hospice a decade ago and things got bad enough that my sister and I flew to Texas one weekend to be with her. We spent the weekend reminiscing, laughing, and helping her decide what to do with all of her stuff (she had a lot of stuff as she loved to buy things – for herself and even more for others). The result of that hospice run was a move into independent living.

This time hospice didn’t go quite the same way. My mom, GAB’s younger sister, flew in. She knew immediately (she was a nurse for many years) that the end was near. She and their youngest sister were both there with GAB.

Aunt Betty, as she had been for the majority of my life, is the only one of my parents’ siblings to have never married (my mom has four siblings and my dad has three). We lived in Texas when I was young and Aunt Betty was a frequent part of our lives. She spoiled me and my younger sister. She took us to movies and amusement parks. When we moved to Virginia she sent random, fun gifts often. We adored her.

In more recent years we didn’t see her very often. Last year I decided I wanted to go and visit because I didn’t want to miss the chance to see her. I thought I’d take a long weekend, maybe meet my sister there. I was surprised when my daughters told me, quite fiercely, that they wanted to go too. They wanted time with GAB. They hadn’t spent nearly as much time with her as I have done, but they loved her greatly. We went at spring break and met my parents there. GAB tired easily so we spent some time with her but did lots of other things as well to give her a break. It was wonderful and it was hard. I am so glad we went.

Tonight, that card I found, was to GAB. For the past few years I wrote a card to her every month. Sometimes I sent pictures of my daughters. The reminder to write shows up on my to do list every month (as the reminder to send a postcard to Grumpy shows up weekly). I can’t bring myself to delete these reminders. The last card I sent her didn’t get to her quickly because she had moved from independent living into the nursing home area of the facility. The card was forwarded but didn’t get there before she was gone. Now, more than a month later, it has made its way back to me. It now joins all the other cards I’ve sent her as my mom collected those and returned them to me.

GAB’s death happened in the last few weeks of the school year and I was barely treading water for many reasons. I did not have the time to process her loss. We haven’t had any service or gathering to mark her passing. I haven’t seen my mother since then, and likely won’t for many months still. My sister and I had some time together and did talk about GAB.

But holding that envelope in my hand tonight really hurt. A lot. In the last year and a half we’ve lost three family members, from three different generations. Part of my pain is on behalf of my daughters, in their short lives they faced so much loss. (This may relate to how few people I lost in the first twenty years of my life.)

I love my nephew and miss him all the time. I love Grumpy and think of him frequently. I love GAB and feel a hole in my life with her loss.

my youngest on our visit to GAB last year

More Catching Up

I have somehow been blessed with a lack of anxiety or stress, as a general rule. I don’t tend to feel those emotions often (which means when I do it really freaks my husband out) and I am grateful. I also feel like an anomaly in many ways as people around me seem to face plenty of anxiety, stress, depression, and more. The Bloggess is one of my favorite writers because she is so open about herself, her struggles, and her life. She is amazing. And funny, which is such a gift. This post is a conversation between her and her tween/teen (I can’t remember for sure) daughter about mental health and suicide. She’s advocating for having these sorts of discussions with kids. I couldn’t agree more.

Having a talk with your kids about sex doesn’t make them have sex.  Having a talk about llamas doesn’t make them llamas.  Having a talk with your kids about suicide won’t make them suicidal.  Having a talk with your kids about mental illness doesn’t give them mental illness.  It does, however, give them tools to help recognize things that might otherwise confuse or terrify them.  It may help them to recognize things in themselves or in their friends.  And that can save a life.

Our two daughters are just older and just younger than her daughter. I’ve watched them and their friends and peers and I am more certain every day of the need for such conversations.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Sherri Spelic can write. Seriously write. This post, What Silence is For, is one of the most powerful, poetic pieces I’ve read lately. I’m not pulling out a quote because it wouldn’t do it justice. Please go read it and think about how silence can be a cage and a barrier. (I’m currently reading Austin Channing Brown’s book, I’m Still Here Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. I wasn’t reading it when I first read Sherri’s post, but rereading it today I am finding so many connections.)

It is important to me that I’m reading the words of people of color and others whose lived experiences can be so different from my own. It is the only way I can gain any understanding. In addition, I am grateful to the white folks who are doing the same and sharing their journeys with us. I struggle with how to be white in this society and not harm others. I appreciate mentors, others who are white who are working for racial justice. They help me determine a path to do better. Christie Nold is one of those mentors. This piece, for Teaching While White, address both her own journey and the work she is doing with students. Both are invaluable to me.

This story has made me think more deeply about the “equity lens” metaphor. I am struck by the realization that adding a new lens to my pre-existing way of thinking has the overall effect of simply tinting my way of seeing the world. While this new “tint” might move me closer to equitable ways of being, it’s not enough for the level of change our society, and my classroom, requires. It enables an intellectual understanding of the issues related to equity and justice in society and schools, but it can keep us at an emotional distance. It is for this reason that, instead of just “adding a lens,” I think more about shifting my worldview and perspective entirely. I’m trying to develop a much deeper cultural fluency.

(If you aren’t reading Teaching While White, I highly recommend it.)

Jose Vilson is another one I link to often because he can write and he has things to say. (These math teachers, like Jose, and P.E. teachers, like Sherri, who can write my socks off really challenge my preconceived notions about content area teachers.) I’ve never taught in a district that had choice in the way NYC does so understanding the high school application and testing process is challenging for me. Recognizing the ways such a process holds back students of color is not a challenge at all. Jose has written quite a bit about it and this piece really pulls it all together.

Liberation means not having to choose between test prep and meals to get into a school that loves you back.

(I wanted to pull a different line for the sheer poetry of it, but this one is more to the point. And also poetic.)

My 3rd graders probably didn’t all play Fortnite last year, but they definitely all knew about it. Kevin Hodgson wrote about Fortnite from a perspective I hadn’t considered. I don’t know enough about the game (I mostly know about the dances I see regularly!) to see the positives and negatives. Kevin probes some of the negatives here in a way that helped me.

All the things one may worry about — bullying, peer pressure, profanity, etc. — now seem to play out in the Fortnite battlefields, and sometimes spill over into the school day.

It’s important to note, if you aren’t familiar with Kevin, that he is in no way anti-gaming.  It makes his take here even more weighty for me.

One of the books I started to read as soon as I got it was Cornelius Minor‘s We Got This.

We Got This.

I gave up because the book is so dense, in the best possible way, that I decided I needed brain space for it. I put it aside for summer. I’ve started it again just recently and am taking it slowly. I need it to sink in. I need to mull it over. Reflect as I read. A few months ago Angela Watson talked with Mister Minor about this book and even this is something that shouldn’t be read quickly or lightly.

Jefferson began to ask the question, who could we be if we were more inclusive? I think that’s a really powerful question. He began to theorize that if we want to move away from a monarchy and to have a democracy, one of the things that a democracy needs are strong public schools. That if people are to vote on the issues of the day, those people need to be educated. I think that that’s a pretty radical idea because basically, Thomas Jefferson was positing that a strong public education is our greatest defense against tyranny. And, for me, that’s huge. That means that the work that we do as educators is hugely disruptive. It keeps us free.

Rereading all of these pieces is a bit overwhelming. In the best possible way.

Playing Catch Up

Thanks to Tim Stahmer I’ve managed to keep my tabs somewhat under control by keeping all the posts I want to remember to share in Instapaper. That’s a good thing, but it also means they are out of sight and easier for me to ignore. (I’ve also just been trying to keep my head above water as school ended – and then took a vacation – so I’m working on some catching up.)

That means I’m going back a ways to share some things I’ve saved. First up, Science Goddess always pushes my thinking about data – how we collect it, how we use it, what we can learn from it. And this post is no different. She’s taken an Amazon IoT button and programmed it to collect information. What information? That’s up to the user. The concept is amazing. Brilliant. I haven’t given it a try yet (shocking, I know, given that it’s taken me months to even write about it) but I think I’ll order a button to force myself to prioritize this during the summer. She makes it seem doable…

You can configure each button to communicate over wifi. It can receive and transmit data related to a single, double, or long click. Slip one in your pocket. What are the kinds of things you might like to track? How many minutes in a class period the teacher is talking…or how many boys, girls, or non-binary students s/he calls on? What if you gave one to a student and asked him/her to push a button every time an adult in the building greeted him or her by name? We could even go bigger. What if you put a set in the office with a different question each week and asked visitors to respond?

So many possibilities.

Peter Anderson hasn’t been writing as often since his daughter was born (a far better excuse than any I currently have) but when he writes I’m ready to read. This post is titled, Be Curious, Not Furious and explores how we respond to kids and why we do so. I was really struck by his thinking around all the options we have for supporting students in schools today and why all those supports and tools might actually be a challenge for us.

In a way, the availability of these resources can make it harder to respond to a child with compassion. You can have a million different hammers, but you’re still out of luck if you have to do anything other than push in a nail. And with students like James and Kelly, it’s obvious there’s more there than a kid simply choosing to ignore their studies.

I hadn’t considered the idea that we turn to the tools and options we have and implement them without realizing that we may be solving a problem that doesn’t exist and ignoring the one that does.

I saved a few tweets that spoke to me (something I don’t do too often but might be worth doing – I’ll have to think more about this because tweets often hit me in the moment and then are gone and I don’t hold on to them in the same way as I do blog posts and articles).

Matt Kay is one of my favorite people on twitter because he is brilliant, thoughtful, and genuine. This tweet totally captures something I do often, when I’m lucky. When I’m not lucky I chastise the kid without realizing they were actually doing something great. Sigh.

Another tweet is from Yamil Baez. Yes to all of this tweet, but I think it really struck me because of the “It is up to us to become more informed…” I have been thinking about that a lot lately as I try to read books and articles from people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community and as I try to follow such folks online. People are out there doing the work of teaching us white folks and it is on us to learn and do that work. “It is up to us to become more informed…” That is a mantra I think we need these days.

In college I was an RA for a couple of years. Senior year the head of our building (and my direct boss, of sorts) sat down one-on-one with each RA once a month. She wanted to check in with us and it was great. She always asked how we were doing with the job, school, and our social lives. All three mattered and she wanted to help us balance, if we needed it. I can remember telling her school was not going as well as the rest and she was shocked. Apparently I presented as a strong student with great grades, regardless of the reality. It took me a while to realize that I did really well in college when I was invested (my education classes mostly). Otherwise I felt I was learning as much or more through things I was doing outside of the classroom. (A bit ironic that education classes preparing me to be in a classroom were going well but otherwise I was focused outside of the classroom…) So this tweet from Michael Doyle struck me.

One last tweet came from Franki Sibberson. Franki is such a role model for me. She is a classroom teacher who has written professional books and articles and is now the president of NCTE. When I think I can’t do things because I’m ‘just a classroom teacher’, I remember Franki. Her tweet got me thinking about one of the reasons I love hosting pre-service teachers in my classroom. Having someone else there, watching me, learning about being a teacher from me, pushes me to be the best version of myself. I like this idea that we can imitate that best version and it will help us.

A few years ago, at NCTE’s annual conference, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo was on the opening panel. I was not familiar with her but immediately wanted to read her books and learn more. I’ve done so and am even more awed and amazed by her since then. This post, for Nerdy Book Club, was written when her book Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution was coming out.

A few weeks ago my novel Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution, the sequel to the Stonewall Winning Fat Angie, released. A word that came up in an online review was “uncomfortable.” There is a negative connotation often associated with the idea of being uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable is not necessarily a bad thing. Rarely, do we grow from a place of comfort. As much as this book, like my others, are about humor and hope, they are also about those moments that make us uncomfortable, and what we do with them.

I don’t like being uncomfortable but I am learning the importance of it. My husband, a college professor, says he wants his students to be “uncomfortable, but not paralyzed.” That’s where the learning happens. When we’re comfortable we can’t grow. I am so grateful for e.E. Charlton-Trujillo for her words, in books and elsewhere, as she can make readers uncomfortable while being too engaged to walk away. And so the learning happens.

There are at least three more posts worth of items saved in my Instapaper. The goal is to get caught up in the next week. Fingers crossed.

 

Wrapping Up a Year with Families

Two and half weeks ago, during the last week of school, we invited our families one last time to our classroom. (We tried to invite them once a month and managed six out of the ten months. Not the best year I’ve done when it comes to this.) For our June event we invited families in the evening. (We try to vary the times in order to accommodate as many families’ schedules as possible.) I ordered fourteen pizzas to feed us all and families brought juice boxes and desserts.

It was, I think, the best family event I’ve ever done. The goal was to share our writing with families and we did that. However, I realized a few weeks before the event that I had a lot of photos to give families. Throughout the year I’ve been ordering 100 photos every month because Snapfish offered me a deal if I downloaded their app. For a year I would get 100 photos each month for the cost of shipping. I’ve been ordering photos and passing them on to families. But I hadn’t done so in a while so I had a lot of photos piled up.

So I ordered some photo corners. When kids and families arrived I gave them their pile of photos, some card stock, and lots of photo corners. Together they created scrapbook pages to keep.

Pioneer PCR-1 Photo Corners Self Adhesive, Clear, 250-Pack

I really wasn’t sure how this would go. I ordered two boxes of photo corners, figuring I’d save whatever we didn’t use for a future project. I set it up for the pizza to arrive about half an hour after families were due. If they didn’t get into creating their scrapbook pages, plan B was that they could share their writing first thing.

I needn’t have worried. Kids kept asking for more photo corners. At the end of the evening I might have had 25 photo corners left. Looking back at the pictures later I am convinced this was brilliant (if brilliant by chance). Siblings worked with my students. Parents got involved. Our classroom was full and lots of stories were being shared from our year together. I now know I’m going to have to keep ordering photos and hosting an event like this every year.

Such focus. Such collaboration. Such an amazing way to end our year together.

Missing My Grandfather

This is my first Father’s Day without a grandfather. I am 45 years old so I do realize what a gift I was given. Interestingly enough, I never knew my maternal grandfather. He died when my mother was pregnant with me. I grew up surrounded by women. My mother had three sisters and one brother. My father has two sisters and one brother. My mother’s grandmother was around for much of my childhood as were both of my dad’s grandmothers and his step-grandmother. His grandfathers were as well. So there were men, but they were far outnumbered.

My paternal grandfather was only in his mid-40s when I was born. My father was my grandparents’ oldest child and they were both 19 when he was born. So they were my age when I was born. That’s amazing for me to consider. My dad’s youngest sister was in high school so my grandparents were not only grandparents but were still parenting full time.

My grandfather was a petroleum engineer in west Texas and he had his own small plane to travel from oil rig site to oil rig site. He would also fly to Austin or Dallas (wherever we lived at the time) and pick up me (and later my younger sister as well) for a visit with them. I recognize that isn’t a common childhood memory! (He actually had two small planes. He crashed them both. After the second time I think my grandmother put her foot down and the plane was not replaced.)

My own daughters have many memories of visiting my grandparents, their great-grandparents, in the mountains of New Mexico where they retired years ago. Our oldest describes New Mexico as her happy place. The closest airport is an hour from my grandparents and the airports we might actually use (as they have more than four flights a day) are three hours away. And yet we’ve visited on an almost annual basis during my daughters’ lives. Our oldest’s first flight was to New Mexico for Christmas when she was four months old. (She was the first great-grandchild so it was a special holiday.)

This picture was taken on our visit almost a year ago. My grandfather, Grumpy as we call him, is sitting on the patio he rebuilt just a few years ago. He was at least in his late 80s when he laid new sand and then bricks to rebuild this patio, my grandmother’s favorite place to sit. We (me, my daughters, my dad) helped some but he did the great majority of the work. And no one was surprised by that.

Last summer Grumpy taught my youngest how to make peanut brittle. He had perfected making peanut brittle at altitude (the town in which they live is at 6,920 feet) and in the microwave!

Here are the three generations of fathers in my life. Grumpy had an impressive train room in the last couple of years of his life and my dad (as well as my uncle) helped with it for the last year. When we visited my husband was enlisted to help solve some electrical challenges.

I am truly grateful for 45 years with my grandfather. I’m also greedy and I would have loved more years.