Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Walking, Just Keep Moving

Over the past few years, things from time to time have been tricky.  A motto that I have chosen in times of difficulty or controversy is to just keep on remembering what my purpose is and just keep on doing that.  It has been a difficult few years in school.  However, my focus stayed on one thing (or 22 to 23 things depending on the year):  my students.  They are my main focus and why I arrive at school every morning at 6:40 a.m. and why I work often to 10 at night.  I love to teach and it is with that purpose that I just keep on teaching.  I have refused to get involved in the controversies because I wanted to keep my focus on what matters the most to me:  the students.  So, if you are a new parent in my room, please know that my purpose is to make sure that your child has the best possible year.  I want them to own the learning, I want them to be excited by learning, and I want them to know that they are my number one focus.

After the end of the school year, I was discussing this with one of my friends on the staff.  She labeled the strategy, that she also used, as the “Just Keep Swimming” strategy.  I was unfamiliar with this line that came from the movie

“Finding Nemo”.  She suggested that I look it up and see that part of the movie.  And sure enough, on You Tube, I found the clip.  At about the 20th second, Dory says to Nemo, “when life gets you down, you know what you need to keep on doing?  Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”  I thought this was an awesome clip and thought this was exactly the mantra that we had both been following,  “When life gets you down, just keep swimming”, however in our case, it was just keep teaching.

Over this past year, I made a decision to train for a marathon.  When I was younger, I was a competitive runner, but after four surgeries on my shins, I needed to give it up.  However, one of my strategies over the past year was “quarter to four, out the door,” where I would leave school and take a walk.  This strategy was awesome for several reasons:  it gave me a good chance to reflect on the classroom or life, and two, it got me back in shape.  So, while I couldn’t run any longer, I could walk.  And after I did a half marathon last November, I decided why not train for a marathon?  So, on my 53rd birthday, I signed up to do the Maine Marathon on October 6th.  I selected that marathon because it seemed really walker friendly and was advertised as being relatively flat to downhill.

But as life often goes, things can change quickly and unexpectedly.  Some bridge on the course was closed, so they needed to reroute the course, which resulted in it now being called a moderately hilly course.  I could

path

forget it, but instead, I have added more hills to my training routes and kept on walking.  When thrown a curve ball, you need to adjust your strategy and keep on moving towards your goal or purpose.

So, imagine to my surprise one morning when I was on a 12 mile walk.  I went out early because this was during the really hot stretch of weather.  Part of the walk involved Great Meadows.  As I turned the corner and headed down the path between the two impoundments, I noticed lots of objects on the path.  Upon getting closer, I noticed these objects were Canada Geese.  Lots of Canada Geese.  I started walking towards them, yelling out “Move goose, move goose!”  That didn’t really work. I wondered to myself, should I turn around and go back the other way?  But I really didn’t want to do that.  So, I get on going straight.   Luckily the first bunch was just two geese so I could easily go around them.  But then right ahead of me was the next pack of geese.  This time there were about 25 geese.  Some were nesting, there were several new babies, and then there were the guard geese.  Again, I started yelling out for them to move, which again had no effect.  I noticed a bunch of birders out on the board walk and I yelled out to them, do you know how to get these geese to move?  And one of the birders replied, “You just keep walking.”  So, walk I did.  The geese were hissing at me as I passed.  I know geese can bite (hence the verb “goosed”)  So, I quickly walked through, talking to the geese that I wasn’t going to hurt them.  I managed to get through the 25 geese pack uneventfully and then happened upon the next group.  Again, I chose to just keep walking.  I liked the birders’ advice, it was just like the “Just Keep Swimming” line.

Geese at Great Meadows

Geese at Great Meadows

So, this past Sunday, I headed out on a 16 mile walk.  Again the walk took me through Great Meadows.  And again, there were the geese.  “Just keep walking, just keep walking,” rang through my head as I traversed around the obstacles in my walk.  But I had my goal, my purpose, and kept on walking.  I talked to them as I had several weeks back and this time there was no hissing involved.  Perhaps I was more confident heading into this week’s encounter with water fowl.   Perhaps I knew it was an obstacle and if I focused on the task on hand, I knew I could make it around them successfully.  Whatever the case, I kept on moving and had an awesome 16 mile walk.

My other big thing that I have accomplished this summer was applying to a Doctorate program.  I have long been thinking about this for me as a learner, and I found what I think is the perfect program for me.  When one of my teacher friends found out about this, she sent me a lovely message that contained a passage from a newsletter that she had received from Shady Hill.  It said “”There is no room for complacency in our view of the school’s future. Shady Hill has been a pioneer, but pioneers have a tendency to become settlers, letting a new wave of pioneers roll over them to an even more promising future. To maintain vitality will require new vision and new methods.”  She likened my applying to this program as my new adventure and that I was a pioneer that kept on moving, that I wasn’t content to “settle.”   This was the utmost compliment and showed that she gets me as someone who wants to keep on moving, keep on walking, keep on swimming, and just keep on moving.

So, it is August 1st, and the new school year is now not that far away.  I will keep on moving, keep on walking, keep on swimming, keep on my path.

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The Lazy Hazy Days of Summer: Cattails, Mail Delivery, and My Own Staring Contest

I’ve been seeing some of my former students blogging about their summers so far.  It’s been great that they want to keep their blogs going even though they are headed off to middle school.  So, I guess turnabout is fair play.  I should catch you all up on what I’ve been up to since I last saw you on the 19th (and the 23rd and the 29th for some of you).

I will be truthful, I am loving this summer.  For all of those critics who say that teachers have the summer off, it is so needed.  After basically working most of last summer between packing, moving, un-packing, arranging, re-arranging, learning new curriculum, reviewing some old curriculum, I was feeling somewhat burned out to start the school year off.  And even though I had the same students, every night was learning something new to teach the next day.  I was exhausted both physically and emotionally by June 19th.  I needed to recharge, refuel, relax.

Dwell in Possibility exhibit at the Emily Dickinson house

And for the most part, I have done a lot of heavy duty relaxing.  I did have three days of curriculum work the week after school let out and I am getting ready for a busy stretch the next 7 days, but in-between, I have found a lot of time to sit out in my yard under the shade of a red maple tree and read or write or just zone out.  I have found a lot of time to walk, to explore new paths.  I have found a lot of time to attend to my garden.  I have found a lot of time to explore places like the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, the Pilgrimage Exhibit at the Concord Museum, and Stage Fort Park in Gloucester.  I have sat on the banks of the Charles River and listened to the Boston Pops on the 3rd of July.  I have

Glouceter

sat on the porch of our cottage in New Hampshire and admired a loon sailing across the smooth lake.  I have found time to play with my new camera and see what it can do.   And I have found the time to cherish the little things in life that I don’t often get the chance to appreciate during the hectic pace of the school year.

The last 24 hours have been full of what most people would find not very interesting but to me, they were awesome.  Yesterday, a friend and I set off to find cattails that I need for my graduate course on Thursday.  I’m not sure what I was thinking to not have my waders with me, but I put on my Bogs and headed into a boggy area.  After a few minutes of traversing through high reeds, I reached a patch.  Cutting one, and then realizing with a little muscle power, I could pull them out, roots and all, I enjoyed the experience for being outside and doing something unique for my students.  I admired the cattails when I brought them home.  They are really a resilient plant, that adapts to all types of situations.  They don’t live in the best of areas, but they make the best of it.   I think they will be a good teacher on Thursday.

I’ve been derelict in getting out thank you notes for end of the year gifts.  I decided to write each of the 23 students a handwritten note, so this has taken me a bit longer to accomplish.  But, I had also forgotten to give out pictures, certificates, and a Watershed WISE journal.  Since I needed to pay for postage myself, I decided to get creative.  I created a walking loop where I could hand deliver about half of them.  So, this morning, at 7:30 a.m., off I set on my journey.  Quietly, I put them on porch stoops and headed to the next destination.  In the early morning nice temperature, I passed cornfields and swamps, rivers and trains.  Unfortunately, I did not run into any students, but I did see one parent who spied me coming down her street.  4.5 miles later, I was back home, where I then delivered some in my auto and brought the others to the post office.  It was nice to see where my students lived, to see the hill and trees that they described in their writing, to see their soccer nets and bikes.

Town Forest Frog

To end my morning, I needed to head to the Town Forest to collect some duckweed and soil samples for my class tomorrow.  The beauty of summer is that there is no watch on my wrist.  After 180 days of being tied to the clock; I need to do math at noon until 1:05, library is at 10:00, etc., I love the freedom of not being tied to a schedule.  So after collecting a bag of soil from the top of the hill, I traveled back to the pond’s edge, where I spied a rather large frog just hanging out.  I took out my camera and sat down.  The frog stared at me and I stared at it.     I would shoot a few pictures and then stop and look.  It really was a magnificent frog.   Its large back legs were stretched out behind it just like it was on a float at the beach.  Its big yellow eyes seemed to trust me and it was content at looking at me and I was content at looking at it.  Finally after about 10 minutes, it decided it had enough and dove down into the water.  While some folks might think that 10 minutes spent staring at a frog might not be the best use of time, I think it was an awesome use of time and need to figure out a way to incorporate this type of time into the day once school resumes.

So, the lazy, hazy days of summer have been good to me.  My nails are no longer blue, the color of June, they are orange as a reminder to find joy in each day.  I am hoping that you all are finding joy in your days, that you are enjoying not wearing a watch, and you are taking the time to do all the things you like to do.

A Day Off

Storm Drain Bubbles

Towards the end of last week, I was pretty cranky.  I had actually got mad at my students on Wednesday, I was unusually outspoken on several matters, and in the middle of correcting assessments and open responses on Friday, I had officially reached my tipping point.  My eyes were killing me and I knew I needed a break.  A line of showers had come through earlier in the day, so I asked my storm drain girls if they wanted to go out and check out the storm drain, which they enthusiastically did.  We collected our gear and headed down to the storm drain.  Out in the cool air cooled my head a bit as we traversed through the garlic mustard down towards the running storm drain.  This has been a fascinating project and Friday’s trip just added to our mystery (but that’s another story).  This story is how did I manage to get to my “tipping point”?

Teaching is an all consuming job in a normal year.  However, since I had been in one grade level for seven straight years, I did not remember how hard it to change grade level.  Every night you are learning new material.  Even with a good teaching partner, it is still up to me to review and learn new material every night.  Coupled with moving to a new classroom, where I still don’t know where I put everything, just about everything is new.  (except for the majority of my students but as they are becoming pre-adolescents, this is a new behavior that I need to figure out) .  I had worked all summer, packing up my room, moving my room, setting up my new room, learning a new curriculum.  It was not a restful summer and I was very mindful that I started the school year off tired.  And in mid-March, I was now very tired.

Two hawks circle a brilliant blue sky

For most of my teaching career, I have tried to take one day off during the weekend from school work.  The exception to this rule is the seven weekends in the fall when I teach graduate students at Regis.  I had picked up teaching another grad class on-line this winter, along with doing an after school club this year.  So, there were a few other things on my plate.   I often blog about the importance of looking around you and appreciate the small things in life.   I love walking in the woods, armed with my camera.  Whenever I am doing this, I make a mental vow to do this more often.  But over the past month, I totally forgot all of my promises.  I forgot my routines.  I forgot the importance of trying to find the balance in life.

So, that brings me to last week.  I did manage to get out two afternoons and take a walk.  That was a good thing.  But in the season of providing quick feedback on open responses and correcting assessments, my nights were intense.  Friday afternoon came and I had “tea” with two former students.  Initially, I wanted to just go home, but after they arrived, I relaxed and enjoyed watching the nice young women that they were turning into.  After fixing a colleague’s turtle pump, meeting with another colleague to plan out an upcoming event, I headed home, tired.  Walking into the house, I looked at the calendar to determine how many weeks I had worked without a break.  I thought it was two.  I was wrong.

Starting at the end of the school vacation week (around Thursday), I had worked every day.  No break.  After working

Buds are a blooming

yesterday, that was day number 24, which is not okay.  So today, was a day off.  I slept until 9:10 a.m., walked with a dear friend, finally had the time to go and get new sunglasses.  I raked out some garden beds, shoveled dog poop, and enjoyed lunch and dinner with my husband and son.   I sat on my back stoop and read the paper, I enjoyed a Dunkin Donut iced tea, and I had time to blog.  Nothing that exciting, but it was liberating to just do mundane tasks and feel like I could enjoy them.  I didn’t feel guilty that I didn’t look at my e-mail.  I didn’t feel guilty that perhaps I am not as up to speed on the Committee of Correspondence that I should be.  As I head back into what is going to be a very busy school week, I am a little less tired.  But, I need to take better steps to ensure that I do not go through a stretch like that again this year.  I need to carefully plan out my summer so that the majority of it involves real down time.  I need to walk my walk, not just talk my walk.  I need to walk more, read more for fun, take more pictures, hang out with my family and friends more, and appreciate everything around me more.  I am done with working this many days in a row.  This day off was what I needed as I head into the last third of the school year.

 

“Happy Turtle in the Mud”

I’d Rather Be a Happy Turtle (Chinese) from “3 Timeless Parables For Regaining Perspective” (http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=4871&fb_source=message)

Assabet River June 2011

Zhuang Zi was a brilliant philosopher and strategist who lived in ancient China. His abilities were many and several rulers sought his services. One of them, King Wei, sent his courtiers out to Zhuang Zi’s pastoral home to invite him to come to Wei’s court and be the leader’s chief counselor. They found him there fishing by the river bank.

Seeing his poor situation, they thought Zhuang Zi would jump at the chance for status and reward. Yet when they made their proposal to him, he said, “Once upon a time there was a sacred turtle, which was happy living his life in the mud. Yet, because he was sacred, the king’s men found him, took him to the royal palace, killed him and used his shell to foresee the future. Now tell me, would that turtle prefer to have given up his life to be honored at the palace, or would he rather be alive and enjoying himself in the mud?”

The courtiers responded that, of course, the turtle would be happier in the mud.

To which Zhuang Zi replied, “And so you have my answer. Go home and let me be a happy turtle here in the mud.”

A friend sent me this parable a week ago.  It’s been a very hard month for me and this parable really spoke to me.  But, 23 progress reports to write, numerous assessments to correct, a new graduate course to teach, a paper to write for a course I am in, three after-school meetings, and two broken hearts to soothe, put this blog on the back burner.  But I promised myself when I finished my progress reports, that this post would be my reward.  So, instead of researching the Colonial America unit, checking grad student responses, or working on foundation stuff, I need to respond to this parable.

Storm Drain Behind Our School 1/27/2012

For the past two weeks, I have spent a lot of time in storm drain areas.  The key to getting water samples from these outfalls is that you need to be out there when it is precipitating.   So, myself and three students have done just that.  We have been out in rain, snow, and sun.  I’ve also spent some time before the sun comes up gathering samples from other locations for the students to analyze.  To some, this may not seem like a good time, but for me and my three students, it has been exhilarating.  The students also blogged about this:

My most memorable experience was going down to the Storm Drain when it was freezing cold and raining. This probably doesn’t sound like much fun, but we got to see and take samples of what it looks like when the water comes out of the drain, and where it goes.”

 

 Reflecting back, even though I learned a lot every time we conducted experiments or visited the river, there was one time that really stood out that I learned the most from. The time that we visited the storm drain when it was raining really increased my understanding of my group, the other factors of the SuAsCo Watershed. When we marched down there, the storm drain was full of mucky water and there was a streams of polluted water heading towards the river. This raised my understanding of my group because before that, I thought of a pollutant as a simple fluid or solid or gas that makes it harder for plants and/or animals to grow. But here I was staring down at this filthy water that contains all of the town’s contaminants sitting in an area of ground with absolutely nothing alive. Now I knew what pollutants we were dealing with more than ever.”

The most memorable experience I have had so far is going down to the river for the first time to get samples when it

Following the Path of the Storm Drain 1/27/2012

was pouring rain. We went outside and there was snow and ice and we were expecting only a few drops of water to be coming out of the storm drain but we got there and found a huge pool with water rushing out of the pipe and a fast moving stream of runoff leading into the river. We were all cold and soaking wet while taking the samples but when we got inside the things that we found were definitely worth the trip.”

 

Standing in a pool of water, watching the water rush out of the rusty outfall pipe has been an incredible experience.  I have been going down to the river for six years behind our school, but I am now looking at it with an entirely different lens.  But even more than a different lens, it has reinforced my belief that I am like Zhuang Zi:  I’d rather be a happy turtle in the mud than just about anything else.  And the funny thing is that some of my students are also becoming happy turtles in the mud as well.

 

Moore's Swamp June 2011

Over the past year, I have had the privilege to watch Blanding’s turtle hatchlings hatch, release two turtles back into a swamp, track nesting female turtles, look for released head-starts, and sink a six-foot PVC gauge into the middle of a vernal pool three (soon to be four) times.  Each of these experiences have provided me with a huge rush.  Like standing in the pouring rain collecting samples from numerous storm drains, to feeling the cool water in a swamp, to sitting on the banks of the Assabet River, this teacher is totally happy when participating in these types of experiences.  For me, there is something liberating, something that really makes me feel alive when I’m mucking around out in the natural world.  There is something joyful and soulful while I am involved in these experiences.  One of my students wrote about sinking the vernal pool gauge for the second time:  My memorable experience during the project was sinking the gauges. Even though this was due to the fact that it got stolen, it was still fun to go trudging in the mud and sink a gauge. It was just exciting to go in water/mud that was about a 2 feet tall and sink a gauge. Now don’t ask me why it was fun it just was.

One of my favorite songs from the show “Glee” is “Singing in the Rain”

I’m singin’ in the rain

Just singin’ in the rain

What a glorious feeling

And I’m happy again

I’m laughing at clouds

So dark, up above

I’m singin’, singin’ in the rain.

 

Great Meadows July 2011

This parable came from a blog entitled “3 Timeless Parables to Regain Perspective”.  Standing in the middle of a downpour yesterday in a stream created by the storm water helps me regain the perspective of what is important.  This allows me to appreciate that life is glorious, that simple things like being out in a driving rainstorm can make me happy.  The greatest gift that I can give to my students is to also pass on that it is not the status or reward that Zhuang Zi passed up, but it is the simple things in life; the ability to appreciate things like storm drains and catch basins and muddy vernal pools, the joyfulness of standing in the pouring rain, the ability to be a happy turtle in the mud is the only status that truly matters.

12 Hours: 3 Blogsays that Capture This Day

Striking Out or Batting 1000?

An interesting shot from the day

To many people, my morning would have been considered a complete bust.  Leaving my house at 6:30 a.m, before the sun started to rise., I quickly got across town to CCHS where I would be picking up a vernal pool gauge to replace the one that was stolen from our vernal pool site.  The streets were mostly quiet, as was the parking lot at the high school when I pulled in.  A few stray students carrying poster boards quickly scooted across the lot into the quiet school.  Heading down to find S-1, I thought about how quiet it was.  Finding the door, I tried to open the door and it was locked.  I turned the corner and tried the other door.  Locked.  No custodian in site.  I turned and headed back to my car, thinking of a Plan B to get the gauge.  6:45 a.m and I needed to be at Ripley at 7:30 a.m. to give the accountant some money to pay for our turtle crossing signs.

45 minutes to kill.  What was I going to do?  I’ve wanted to do a blog about the TOT box.  So, I headed back to Concord Center, where I headed to Main Street Café.  I thought a cup of hot tea, a muffin, and 45 minutes of free time to write my blog would be great.  And it was.  A steaming cup of Bombay Chai tea and a delicious raspberry mocha muffin in a quiet café were just a delightful treat.  Sitting at a window seat, I started to type up the blog that has been in my head for about five days.

35 minutes later, I decided I ought to head over to Ripley to both deliver my transcript and to deliver the cash for the signs.  Again, a quiet building awaited me.  Sitting down at the circular table in the waiting area, I started to leaf through a wonderful collection of student writing.  Folks started to trickle in, looking at me puzzled to why I was sitting at Ripley on a weekday morning.  So, I told my story to the first two colleagues.  Then Diana walked in.  “So good to see you, what are you doing here,” she inquired.  I told her my story once again and she said for me to give her the money, that she would deliver it to the accountant so I wouldn’t be “wasting my time.”  I thanked her and headed out the door pondering that line, “wasting my time.”

As I headed back to Thoreau, unfashionably late for me, I came across a wonderful scene of old farm equipment laying in a frosty field.  Yes, I should have stopped and photographed it.  But that seemed much too decadent on an already laid back morning.  The morning to most would be a bust.  I didn’t get my gauge, I didn’t give the money to the person I was looking for.  I did manage to give my transcript to HR.  (but that could have been ponied over).  But maybe it wasn’t a bust.  Being able to sit and write a post, enjoy a cup of tea and a muffin, read some wonderful student writing, observe some beautiful scenery gave me an almost Zen start to the school day.  Maybe I didn’t strike out.  Maybe I gained a quiet hour of time to just sit back and relax.  Maybe a waste of time is what we all need to do from time to time.

As I sit here typing this, a mere 15 minutes before the students arrive, I again feel slightly guilty that I should be doing more.  But, perhaps this waste of time, this quiet, is what the doctor would order during this crazy season.

This is next the blog that I wrote during my 35 minutes of down time:

TOT Box

Totally Off Topic Box (TOT)

Totally Off Topic, TOT.  I don’t really remember how we got this saying, but this fall, a student will raise their hand, and preface their comment by saying, “This is totally off topic but…”. I am also guilty of the same offense, mainly due to my 50+ year old’s brain not being able to recall what I need to tell them five minutes later.  Sometimes I can answer their totally off topic comment, sometimes I need to keep talking about what I am teaching at that moment and I can’t answer that question.

So, several weeks ago, one of my students raised her hand and said “Can we have a box for our totally off topic questions?”.   Our TOT box was born.  A student volunteered to decorate a box, I pledged that at the end of each day to do “TOT” time, and a great idea was born.

The next day, a beautiful red and white striped TOT box appeared with the student.  We placed little note pads at each table group.  At the end of that school day, we held our first TOT time.  The range of questions is quite wide from what is Kyla’s favorite cheese (Kyla is my dog) to why do students learn different ways of doing math than I did to why is kidnapping known as kidnapping when it’s not always a kid who is taken.  I never know what to expect when I pull out a slip of paper other than the question intrigued one student enough to write it, so it will be interesting to see what they wrote.

So, why do the students love TOT time?  I asked them about what they like.  “There’s the ability to ask questions that don’t necessarily fit into a subject area’, “It’s fun”,  “We can have fun and learn at the same time”, “It lets us be more social”, “we can expand subjects to learn even more things that we want to know”, :It gives us time to hear the teacher’s opinion on unrelated topics”,  “It’s a great way to end the day”, “Some of the information could be useful later in life”,  “It gives us a way on suggesting how to improve our class.”

The last time I used a box in class, it was a problem box.  I had one class that loved to fill that up with sometimes really trivial problems.  The TOT box has been such a positive addition to the class, and the students initiated it all.   TOT – sometimes it’s great to let ourselves go totally off topic!

And the last blog of the day:

A Delightful Day Continued…..

So, my hour of “free time” this morning was a completely wonderful way to start my day.  And the wonderful day continued once the students arrived.  If any of you have seen Jerry Maguire, you might remember his manifesto about sports management.  Not all the words apply, but some of these words do ring true:

  • “You and I are blessed, he said, “we do something that we love.”
  • “And to those young agents who never met him, Dicky Fox always said the same thing when asked for his secret. “The secret to this job,” he said, “is personal relationships.”
  • “Love the job. Be the job”

Today, I had the opportunity to live all three parts of that manifesto.  Today was what I envision education to look like and feel like.  Today was DPC Day in the class.  Time to take advantage of the snow-free ground and run some real life experiments.  Not experiments in a box but real experiments created by the students.  Questions that they formed.  Questions that they care about.  Questions that led to more questions.

Before we started though, we had a real treat with an author/illustrator Brian Lies during our library time.  I got to come during the last part of it and was struck by his message.  “Practice makes better”, “pick something that you really enjoy and pursue it.”  All great messages for young people to hear.

So, a little after 11:00 a.m., we set off to the Great Outdoors.  Meeting under the gazebo, the expert groups gathered their equipment and set off to start their tasks.  One group tallied the amount of students that ran up and down the hill during all the recesses during the day.  In addition, they measured the rate of water as it ran down the steep eroded hill.  They started doing some outreach with the younger students about erosion and started to graph their data.   Another surveyed all the invasive species on campus, pulled garlic mustard (why is this stuff still so green?) and ran soil pH tests.  The River Experts calculated the flow on the river, analyzed the temperatures and pHs of the water and evaluated the types of rocks on the river’s bed.  The Path and Stone dust Experts completed very thorough experiments, conducted pH tests and created wonderful visuals to their results.  Finally, the storm drain experts “unearthed” a lot of debris from the storm drain pipe, tracked the path of the water as it flows to the river, ran pH tests on soil and water, and came up with a slew of new questions. Watching my students take charge of their learning, be totally engaged and interested in their learning was mesmerizing.  I continue to marvel at their growth, their confidence, their enthusiasm.  It was a wonderful day that integrated all that I feel good teaching and learning should encompass.

Twelve hours later, the sun is well down and I am back in a quiet house.   I have an inbox full of vokis and blogs to review.  But for now, I am allowing myself the luxury once again to finish writing, to pursue something I love to do (blog) and to reflect on how much I love what I do in life.  This day was one where I was batting 1000 for sure!

 

48 Cents

48 Cents

As the sun started to set behind the dusty gray skies, I headed to my car to head home.  I needed to get an article written to submit by Thursday and start correcting my Regis papers.  Sitting down in the driver’s seat, I noticed the letter that I needed to mail today to get it into Framingham State University in time for a course.  So, instead of heading west on 62 to go home, I headed towards West Concord Center.  As luck would have it, a train was coming through and the traffic was backing up Church Street, so I swung into the parking lot by the cleaners instead.  Patiently, I waited for the train gates to come up so that I could cut through the Minuteman Press building to get to the post office.  I walked on the sidewalk towards the post office, where a very cute dog with soulful eyes sat tied around the lamppost.  An elderly woman and myself approached the dog, which was extremely friendly.  Heading towards the post office door, I held the door open for the woman and commented on what a cute dog he was.  We both asked an elderly gentleman who was leaving if it was his dog.  “No,” he replied, “but his owner is right up at the counter.”  I got in line to mail my letter while the woman was fumbling for some change for her postage.  “You’re going to kill me but all I have is a twenty-dollar bill for this.  I know it’s only 48 cents, but I don’t have anything else.”  Remembering the movie, “Pay It Forward”, I stepped forward and offered to pay the 48 cents.  Unzippering the wallet part of my purse, the woman said, “Really, you will pay this?”  “

“It’s not a big deal, I want to do it for you,” I replied, pulling out a quarter, two dimes, and three pennies.

“These are my deceased daughter’s estate papers,” she said, “no mother should have to bury her child.”

Nodding emphatically at her, I said “I know, I lost my youngest sister at a young age.”

“How old was your sister?” the stranger in the post office asked.

“Thirty-two, one week short of her 33rd birthday,” I quietly told her.

“My daughter was just 33.  You are my thanksgiving.  Thank you so much for doing this.”

It’s amazing how a simple act of kindness can do for someone.  As she headed out, she turned and said, “What’s your name?”

“Susan,” I answered.

“Mine’s Suzanne, we were meant to be friends.”  Turning, she disappeared out the door.  I finished my transaction, speaking with a former parent in my room, coincidentally also named Susan.

As I headed outside, I looked for Suzanne and her soulful dog.  But she had vanished into this warm November darkness.  But not before leaving a huge mark on my soul.

So, how can I turn this story into a lesson for the classroom?  There are a lot of conversations at school on how to best maintain an environment that reflects our core values.  But my question is how can we inspire children to act towards one another kindly and respectfully?  You never know how a random act of kindness can help someone get through a tough time.  You might make a new friend.  You might give someone a glimmer of the best of human spirit.  With the statewide initiative on anti-bullying, how can we instead make a model of how to pay it forward with our students?

Going on-line after starting to write this, I found that Benjamin Franklin wrote about this concept many years ago.  He said: “I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.”  There is also a Pay It Forward Day http://payitforwardday.com/

48 Cents.

Of Photographs and Filet of Fish

Sometimes, the days go by and by and by.  There’s meetings to attend, conferences to conduct, curriculum to learn, and work to correct.  Suddenly, we are on the 52nd day of school.  This fall has been a blur and sometimes it is hard to slow down and find the joy in ordinary moments.  This week, although short, has been full of that joy that comes with this job.

Yesterday, we headed down to the river’s edge.  We went back to our journals and took digital cameras along instead of our iPads.  The minute we arrived down at the bank, I heard one of my students exclaim, “this is so relaxing down here.”  She was propped up against a tree, snug in her warm down parka, as she surveyed the white clouds dancing on the teal blue, slow-moving water.    Since we now go to the vernal pool once a month as well, we only get down to the river once a month.  With no offense intended to the vernal pool, the river is much more a magical place for us all.  I don’t know if it is the soothing river water, the empty bare branches, the leaf that floats along on its journey, or the remains of the asters.  Something about this place just mesmerizes us all and brings out the best in us.  So after they had done their observations, they took a digital camera and recorded their observations through the camera’s lens.

Today, we took those cameras to the lab and imported them to iPhoto.  Some of the students played with the effects, some of them re-exported them the way they were, but all of the students were equal in their compliments about everyone’s photos.  I printed some out, and the students were moved to see their work on paper.  Since we have a photo gallery in our room, we discussed how we could hang more up in the classroom.  Watching their pride in their work as they worked on these photographs reminded me of the continued importance in allowing that inner artist flourish in many different manners.  Photos, movies, comic strips, Scratch, and SAM animation are all ways for the students to show their artistic side and it doesn’t involve having to draw.  As someone who also loves to take photographs, I could totally relate to their pride.

Since today was a long day Tuesday, we sometimes have specials in the afternoon and today we had gym from 1:45 to 2:25.  I had planned on having the students work on some social studies when they arrived back.  However, there was a little kink in that plan as one of my colleagues attempted to play a joke on me.  She wasn’t quick enough to pull it off, so it left me to explain to the students about our history of playing jokes on one another.  This led into a discussion, not about the Spice Trade, but a “payback” joke.  I don’t want to play my hand but let’s say by 3:05 p.m. , we were all singing “Give me that filet of fish, give me that fish.”  We were all quite animated when leaving and as one of our parents, who was there to pick up here child said, “wow, you all look really excited about something.”

While this discussion and singing was going on, I felt some momentarily twangs of guilt that we weren’t doing social studies.  But, everyone was totally engaged in the discussion.  I let go of my guilt.  My students work really hard all of the time while they are in class.  There really isn’t much down time.  I have seen things really change over my 13 years of teaching, and there seems to be less time to do things like the river.  Recently, one of my former students contacted me about a Native American cooking experience and luncheon that we had while he was in 5th grade.   I did not remember that we had actually cooked things in school.  Now a freshman at Boston College, he is a member of the Native American club there and he invited me to a cook off that they are holding.  Obviously the cooking we did in fifth grade stayed with him for all of these years.  So, it was okay to let go and have some fun.  Sometimes, it’s those lesson that aren’t part of the curriculum frameworks that are the true learning experience.  So, we sang and danced our way out to the buses and it was joyful.

Picture taken by my son while he was in Prifti's class

About an hour later, I heard a piece of news that reaffirmed my choice in letting go.  The beloved CCHS photography teacher, Dave Prifti, had died after a two and a half year battle with pancreatic cancer.  Dave blogged about his illness throughout this time period.  He was an inspiration to us all in that through his illness, he reminded all of us how to live, to treasure those small moments, that bite of a cookie, the beauty of nature, and the importance of friends, families, and even random strangers.  Dave wrote his last blog post about three weeks ago.  He thanked everyone for supporting him and his family throughout his illness.  Little did he know how much his words inspired us all.  Reading the 240 plus comments posted after that post contained so many joyful moments from his students and colleagues.     It was pretty clear that they moments they treasured were those fun times, the times that they laughed together, the times that Dave encouraged them to find their own paths.

So to Dave, thank you for inspiring so many students, including my own sons, to find the beauty in everyday moments.

And my colleague best be on alert.