A Milestone in Triathlons

This morning I did my 25th sprint triathlon. I did my first race in May of 2008. Sprint triathlons, before you get impressed, are short. They may or may not be fast but that’s more about the triathlete than it is about the race. Typically they are a quarter mile swim, a twelve mile bike ride, and a five K run. Today’s race was about 15 miles on the bike, but otherwise was standard.


Pre and post race selfies. (I don’t look fabulous when I get up at 5 am, throw on clothes, brush my teeth, and hit the road with my bike and such. So the pre race selfie doesn’t look noticeably better than the post race selfie. It is what it is.)

I have never placed in a race. In fact, I am frequently last in my age group. In spite of doing this for a decade I do not seem to be improving. I have enough of a growth mindset to believe I could improve if I were willing to put in the time and energy. I am not. I exercise three to five times a week for thirty minutes to an hour. But that exercise routine isn’t really training for tris. I (mostly) eat healthy. When I race, which I do two or three times a year, most years, it is ugly. It is slow and it really isn’t impressive. But I keep doing it.

And, I realized today, I do it with a smile. I know this is true not because I am aware of it but because volunteers, police officers, and fellow racers remark on it. Every race multiple people say something to me about how I am smiling through it. I am not sure why this is true. There is nothing to convince me I am actually enjoying the process. I like having done triathlons, not actually doing them.

I also tend to be absurdly polite during races. Athletes and volunteers are, for the most part, some of the kindest, most encouraging people you’ll ever meet. They cheer everyone on and encourage each other. It’s a delightful community. They are still, at least some of them, pretty darn competitive. They don’t always warn you that they’re passing on the bike or the run (I am so grateful to those who do because it freaks me out when I don’t get a warning and someone flies past me) and aren’t always willing to let you pass in the pool. (Can you tell I’m better at the swim than the bike or run? It stinks that it’s the least amount of time, by a long shot, in the race.)

I warn folks if I’m passing. I thank folks who warn me. I thank the volunteers and police officers who are stopping traffic and encourage us all. I know I’m not going to win so it doesn’t really cost me anything to take a second to let others know I appreciate their efforts. Maybe I’d behave differently if I had a chance at placing…

On The Constitution and Being a Woman

Last weekend we saw What the Constitution Means to Me at the Kennedy Center. I had heard good things about it and was quite intrigued, without really knowing what to expect. That makes it feel strange to say it exceeded my expectations, but it did. By a long shot. It was an emotional roller coaster and intellectual journey. I have no interest or skill set for reviewing the show, but I will say it is definitely worth seeing if you have the opportunity.

At one point, a little beyond halfway through the show, Heidi Schreck, having told several stories of women who were abused by the men in their lives, says, “What does it mean if this document does not protect us from the violence of men?”

I grabbed a pen from my purse and, in the darkness of the theater in which I really couldn’t see what I was doing, I wrote that line down on the envelope that held our tickets. It hit me so hard and I was terrified I would forget it as the show continued. I had to hang on to it.

It had never occurred to me that I, as a woman, don’t really feel protected by the laws in our country. I had thought about this for people of color. For parents of Black boys who have to teach them how to respond to a police officer to minimize the chance that they’ll be harmed. (And for girls, but overwhelmingly for boys.) For brown folks who fear being deported. As a woman I hadn’t thought about the legal structures that harm me.

Even though I know I was raped at 16 and never reported it. (Didn’t tell anyone for nearly two years.) Why bother? It wouldn’t have resulted in anything and would have been hell for me. I’ve watched many women in my life face similar situations. Situations in which they don’t feel it is worth the trauma to try to get justice from the legal system. We see it play out in the media time and time again.

“What does it mean if this document does not protect us from the violence of men?”

Over the past couple of years I have been reading all of the books in Anne Perry‘s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series and William Monk series. Both series are set in the late 1800s in London. Both series have prominent and strong female characters. Again and again as I read these books taking place 150 years ago I am struck by how little has changed for women and people of color. We have made progress. There is no question. But it is astounding how easy it is to see how far we have to go when we look to the past. The progress has been so slow and so small.

This past week, when Cokie Roberts died, I heard a lot of tributes to her on NPR. I was struck, not surprisingly, by this quote.

We did have the right. And yet…

So. “What does it mean if this document does not protect us from the violence of men?”

Holding on to Hope

Some years ago, after ten years of teaching fourth and fifth graders I moved to teaching first graders. In my 11th year of teaching I suddenly felt like a novice. I felt incompetent. I can vividly remember thinking, “I used to be a good teacher. I got my National Board Certification. Now I suck.” It was rough. It took at least half that first year in the primary grades before I began to feel I could stand. That was significantly thanks to teammates and two teachers who co-taught with me and carried me.

This is my 22nd year of teaching. I am back to feeling like a novice, feeling incompetent. This change of school has been much, much harder than I anticipated. I am not certain I have ever worked this hard. From the time the first student walks into our classroom at 9:00 am until I drop them off at specials at 2:45 pm I am working. Seriously working. (And then I often have meetings while they are at specials and then back on when I pick them up and get them all headed home, usually by about 4:30 pm.) I officially get paid for a 7.5 hour day and I am not wasting a minute of that time.

I am really counting on starting to feel on top of things by midyear.

I taught my husband to drive a stick shift when he was 25. He complained about how he used to be a good drive and now sucked. I keep thinking about that. (It should be noted that the next car he bought was a stick shift. It gives me hope.) from Alvin Trusty’s flickr

(Before anyone contacts me with their kind and caring concern, I do love this job. I love my kids. Their families are wonderful. I am excited by the challenges of this year. At this point my husband and daughters likely need all the help anyone can offer them as I drop balls all around and am unusually cranky…)

It’s Been a Day

On Monday one of my munchkins was having a rough day. It was just one of those days when things keep going wrong. She arrived at school with a headache and a friend had been bugging her on the bus. At lunchtime her lunchbox was dripping. Something in it had leaked and her whole lunch was soaked. It was just that kind of day.

At recess I brought out Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst for her to read. She was unfamiliar with it. Sitting beside her on the bench at the playground I felt great. Her day was far from perfect, but connecting her to that book in that moment was wonderful as it definitely lifted her spirits, at least temporarily.

This job feels really hard this year. I feel as though my students need more than I am able to give them. But then there are those moments. Moments when I connect with one of these fabulous kids. In those moments I think we’ll be just fine.

Honoring Today

Today is September 11th.

My students were born in 2010 or 2011. They didn’t experience that day. They don’t know the world we knew before that day.

My students also live on a military post. They all have at least one family member serving in the military. This day likely has significant meaning to many of those family members.

Mostly our day today will be like all the others this week. My kiddos will have to take a universal screener assessment for math this afternoon. They’ll go to music and P.E. We’ll continue organizing our classroom library. We’ll debate which playground to go to for recess.

But I’ll be thinking about the date. I’ll be remembering my class of fourth graders 18 years ago. The majority of those fourth graders, like the majority of every class of kiddos I taught in the past twenty-one years, was a first- or second-generation immigrant.

For myself, for my current kiddos, and for all those kiddos I’ve taught in the past, today I’m going to read Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris. The majority of the book gives the history of the Statue of Liberty. It’s witty and quirky, as one would expect from Eggers.

The last part of the book addresses the title. The statue’s right foot is placed in movement, as if she is walking forward. As if she is so eager to greet those coming to our shores that she cannot wait for them, but must walk out to meet them.

I know I will tear up and possibly cry as I read this to my students today. I hope they understand, at least in some way, that I read it to honor what they and their families give to us. And to my former students, I read it to honor all they have done to be here and all they continue to do to make us better.

I read it today to reflect on the past and to move forward.

Exhausted AND Hopeful

This morning I received an email from a parent that brought tears to my eyes. She told me her child comes home each day and talks about how much she loves school and me. Another parent told me, on Friday, how much her son is loving school this year.

It is hard for me to describe how much these two things mean to me. I am finding the job harder this year than I have in a very long time. I adore these kiddos but I worry that I’m not able to do and be what they need. I am still worried about plenty, but knowing that kids are happy at school is huge. If they aren’t happy it is awfully hard to do much else. It is, in some ways, a low bar but it is a critical one to meet.

During our writing workshop today I read Daniel’s Good Day, a picture book about a little boy who asks all his neighbors what makes a day a good one. Their answers reflect who they are. The girl with a kite says a steady wind makes a good day. The mail deliverer says wagging tails. It’s a beautiful book.

After reading it we shared what makes days good for us. My kiddos said things like Fortnite, the pool, playing with friends, and such. Then we created a page in our writing notebook with the heading A Good Day Is…

As they added thoughts to this page, in words and/or pictures, multiple students came to show me things on their page. It was great fun and helped me get to know them better. Near the end of our time, several kiddos came to show me that they had added me to their page.

I headed home today feeling tired, like every day so far, but feeling satisfied and hopeful.

Societal Expectations around Gender

Not education related, just FYI.

I didn’t change my last name when I got married. At the time I justified it by saying that I had done quite a few harp gigs with my last name as well as subbing in my school district. I didn’t want to lose connections who might look for me with that last name. (And in the late 1990’s it wasn’t quite as easy to find someone if their name changed.) Totally reasonable things to say.

But not the real reason. Now, 20+ years later, I can admit that I just didn’t want to change my name. I felt like I needed to explain why but really, I just wanted to keep my name. My husband was fine with my decision. If he hadn’t been, that would have been a red flag for me.

More than five years later when our first child was born, we discussed the last name we would give that child. My last name doesn’t hyphenate well (Orr sounding just like or) and we also thought if people all hyphenate it gets a bit complicated for the next generation. My husband felt strongly about our children having his last name. I didn’t. They have his.

We didn’t know when we made that decision that both of our children would be daughters. Both of whom, not surprisingly, are feminists (like their parents). Both tend to use their last name and mine all the time. The fact that they don’t legally have both names doesn’t stop them. I find it both silly and heartening.

I read this article a while back and have been thinking of it ever since.

Now I can admit to something I wasn’t even aware of back then: I wanted my children to have my last name simply because I wanted it. I can feel a tinge of shame at the brazenness of this desire, but that emotion is followed quickly by a stronger one—anger.

I feel I should note that when our first daughter was a baby I explained that I had to work because we needed my salary (at the time it was equal or more than my husband’s so the argument was strong). Again, looking back, I realize if it was important to me to stay home with my baby we could have made it work. I didn’t want to stay home. But I didn’t feel I could say that.

Me and our two girls when they were young. (They are now 16 and 12.)

It never ceases to amaze me to realize how much societal expectations and norms impact my decisions and my thinking.

Conflicting Realities

The first two weeks of school were hard. They’re always hard because we’re a new community, getting to know each other and figuring things out. I just assume I’ll be ready for bed by 7 pm in the first few weeks every year.

But this start has been extra hard. Some of it is being in a new school and not really knowing my colleagues still. So there are multiple new communities of which I am a part and am trying to help build in positive ways. Being in a new school with a population of students and families who are completely new to me also adds to the exhaustion.

Both weekends since kids arrived at school I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the challenges that have arisen and on the things I feel I’ve done wrong. The images in my head continue to be the times when kids got upset (often at something I’d done) or times kids were frustrated and feeling overwhelmed at what I asked of them. (Sadly, I think this is too often a totally normal teacher thing to do.)

This morning I went through all the pictures I took last week to share them on our class website for families to enjoy. I took pictures every day of various parts of our days. I’ve got pictures of kids reading independently, pictures of kids talking to a partner, pictures of kids exploring various math tools we’ll use this year, pictures of kids playing strategy games, and more. These pictures show me third graders who are intently engaged in what they’re doing. They show me third graders with huge smiles showing their joy in what they’re doing. They show me third graders beaming with pride at something they’ve discovered or created.

These photos are at the other end of the spectrum from the images in my head.

These photos and the images in my head are both accurate. They are both realities from our past week together. Thank goodness I took these photos to help me remember all the positives. Not just the positives I see on the kids’ faces, although that’s huge, but also the reminder of all we managed to accomplish this past week. I keep thinking of how much I think we should have done and not seeing all that we did. It’s a flaw in me, I recognize that. I’m just glad I have something that counters that.

Seriously, could I question what we’ve done this week when I look at this picture and see three books open in front of this kid? (He is the one who reminds me of me – always trying to sneak in reading time. Totally respect it.)

Look at that smile. So awesome.

We will survive this five day week. I hope.

(I had a student ask me last week if we had school on Friday. I said that we did. The student then said, “But not next Friday.” I replied that we will have school next Friday. The response? “We have to do FIVE days?!?” I started to laugh. Then I realized I wasn’t sure we really can do five days…)

How to Read a Book

Last week, in our first four days of school, I read about three books each day aloud to my third graders. We started the week with Mo Willems’s The Pigeon Has to Go to School which was a great way to kick off a love of books and reading for the year. That same day we also read We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. We wrapped that day up with School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson (one of my FAVORITE illustrators). (Looking at this list now I’m a little pained by how all three books were written by white men. That isn’t meeting my goals for sharing books with my students.)

On Thursday, our last day of the week, I read them How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. It is a beautiful book, both in text and in pictures.

I was concerned that the book might not hold my students’ interest as it is a fairly sophisticated poem. The language is beautiful and I love reading it. But I’m not a third grader.

My students were rapt as I read it. (I’d like to think my read aloud skills are just so strong but I’m pretty sure Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet deserve the credit.) When the book ended some of them clapped. Of the dozen or so books we read last week, this was the only one that got applause. It has now made it on to my list of books I will return to again and again this year as mentor texts.

The Comics Code

Yesterday my husband and I took our daughters (ages 16 and 12) up to Philadelphia to see the Marvel exhibit at the Franklin Institute. In the past few years both of our girls have become serious fans of Marvel. I knew the exhibit would include a lot about the original comics and how the Marvel universe and characters have evolved through the past 80 years, so I was somewhat concerned they would not enjoy it. My worry was needless. They might have gotten bored after a bit but the exhibit moved into many of the props and costumes from recent movies. There was much oohhing and aahhing. It was totally worth the trip.

This image was at a very early point in the exhibit. I was really struck by it.

As one who has been teaching for more than twenty years and who spent time between college and teaching as a children’s specialist in a bookstore, I have often thought about how much better kids books are now than they were when I was younger. And even then I think they were better than when my parents were kids (at the time of this comics code).

Children’s books are more honest with kids now than they were in the past. Authors and publishing companies (at least to some extent) recognize the importance of not hiding difficult situations and ideas from kids. Books can help kids better understand the challenges in life.

Comics served much of this same purpose in the 40s and 50s. Superheros and crime fighters in comics introduced kids to aspects of their world that weren’t always easy to face. But having to always have the ‘good guy’ win and the ‘bad guy’ get punished (as the first statement above requires) limits some of the ways kids could gain new perspectives from books.

My first instinct when seeing this code was to laugh. So much of it seemed absurd.

As I stopped to think, however, I realized how many parents, teachers, and librarians still have similar codes driving their decisions when it comes to the books they provide to or allow kids to read.