Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Writerly Wednesday: Scribbling at Recess

I'm back in the swing of things, and my novel-writing class started last week. You know what that means, right? It means I paid for the class, and so come hell or high water, I'm going to write. 

Of course, I'm out of practice. So, what happens is that I sit there with my giant Google document open, and every single word I type physically pains me.  

I say to myself, "Oh quit complaining. Just write for three minutes. "

Then, I look up at the right corner of my screen where the clock is, and it's, like, shocking that no minutes have gone by. I can basically write only 100 words at a time. I took my little notebook out with me for recess duty and made myself scratch out another hundred because the daily total has to start inching back up, lest I have nothing to share with my class and teacher.

One thing that makes me feel okay about this distressing state of affairs is that I saw Anna Quindlen speak last week. I fell in love with her when I read One True Thing when I was in college. 

Have you read that? 

It's heartbreaking and stunning. 

And then, shortly after I read that novel, and much to my delight, Anna Quindlen became the back-page columnist in Newsweek magazine. Her columns were delivered to my home in my early years of teaching.  The long and the short of it is, Anna Quindlen is a writer with range whom I deeply admire.  

And guess what she said about writing last week when I saw her at Pen Pals lecture series?

She said that writing is excruciating for her. Every sentence is a struggle. At the end of every writing day, she quits in the middle of a sentence because she can't bear to start a new chapter or a new paragraph in the morning. 

But, she can always finish a sentence.  Okay, Anna. I'm with you. I'm going to finish a sentence or two or three. Let's do this.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

It's Happening

In my goal-setting meeting, which I mentioned last time, I told my bosses about The Book. By which I mean the novel I'm writing. #NovelSnip. You know. 

"How do you do it all?" one of the bosses asked.

"Well," I said. "I quit violin and I'm in less good shape than I used to be." 

The boss seemed a little sad for me that I'd quit violin, but I've accepted it. She seemed okay with my slovenliness, interestingly enough. "You can't have too many hobbies," I told her, sensibly. I know I'm right about that one. If I told my family, pictured above, that I planned to write a book AND play violin in concerts with twelve year-olds AND run a marathon or two, all in addition to my regular, super-demanding job, I think... Well, I know they'd stare at me like, WHAT?!

One thing I'll never quit is this blog. It might seem like I've quit it this month, but I haven't. It's just the crush of back to school. This happens to most of us. I've really been marveling that no matter what I try or how experienced I get, back to school is just like this. For instance, I'm starting a day of work right now, all just for the express purpose of being ready for the kids to arrive back in Room 111 tomorrow.

I'm in less good shape, but the work is getting done. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Annals of Fall: Goals

I'm goal-oriented (to a fault?) anyway, but it's the official goal-setting time at work. I've got a meeting today with the bosses to discuss what I plan to accomplish this year. I've got some personal goals like, "Stop Being Such a Sloth and Exercise Once in Awhile," and "Continue to Explore Natural Remedies for My Unsightly Skin Disorder." 

Somehow I don't think they'll want to discuss these.

Instead, I plan to talk about improving my one-to-one and small-group student conferencing skills.  Good news: I feel like I've already started to do this, AND I have some nice little record-keeping systems in place to keep track of what the heck I say in these impromptu convos. 

I'm thinking the plan might be to carry around a little sheet of paper on my clipboard with good conference language suggestions. I did this with community-building language, and it worked really well. Now, I just say the good stuff naturally.  

Obviously, I'm all for the cheat sheet. Just take a pause, look at your clipboard, and decide what to say next to foster a collaborative and respectful relationship with your students. When they noticed it, I just told the kids I'd read a great book about running better discussions, and I'd made notes for myself until I learned the tips by heart. 

Most of us know that language is really important, but some in the field may need extra help. For instance, I read an article about a teacher who got suspended for saying some not-so-nice things to her kids.  As an example, she told one, "Why don't you lick me where I fart?" What?! Who even says that? Also, she greeted another one by saying, "You look like a frumpy old lady." This is not how I speak to my students. Geez. Generally, I smile at the kids and tell them how happy I am to see them. I never tell them I don't like their clothes. Let's start there.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Timelines

In order to get through the back to school crush, I've been putting tasks aside until certain dates.

Like, I shelved my fiction writing project on August 2nd - the last day of my summer online writing course. I decided I wouldn't open it up again until September 15th.

Sure enough, I clicked on the Google doc yesterday.

I didn't anything to it while it was open, and to be honest, I felt a little wave of panic as I scanned the paragraphs about Isobel at the English Department meeting. Luckily, I have a path forward. All I really have to do is consider looking at the words.

Next week, I start class again and my teacher will tell me just what to do.

Another task I've shelved is exercising. I just can't. I can only walk the dog and teach. By October 1st, I'll be ready. That's the drop date, and I might start doing barre class, or at the very least, the 7-minute workout.

When will I start getting the Weekly(ish) out Weekly(ish)? I think soon. There will probably be one this weekend. It'll probably be enjoyable to read, or at least not riddled with grammatical errors.

Yesterday a kid in my 7th grade class asked me how he knew he could trust me on questions of grammar, usage, and mechanics.

Kid, this isn't my first rodeo. I've been thinking about subject-verb agreement for 20+ years.

Grammar Camp

Project Land vs Grammar Instruction

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Building Community

making friends, guitar, drums, artists, community

This is fun: I've made a friend at Mac's guitar lesson. She's the gal who takes drums with Mac's teacher right after Mac is finished.  I think she must be about 27ish, and she's taking drums because she wants to, which I think is rad.

I really like chatting with this person. Like today, when she got to the music place, she greeted me with jazz hands. I obviously loved this. We had about five minutes to catch up.

"What's new?" I asked. "Any more concerts for your friends?" Last time I'd talked with her, she'd played drums in public for the first time, for a few peeps at her apartment.

"Oh no," she said. "I'm done with that. But, one of my friends is taking guitar, and we've been playing together."

"You're a band!" I exclaimed.

"Yes," she confirmed, "but we only play at home."

"That's still a band," I said, definitive.

"We've been writing songs," she told me.

"That's fantastic!" I exclaimed. Of course, I had a lot of follow up questions about writing songs, writing together, and how to to do that.  She answered them. I'm pretty sure I can't write songs. I gave a little synopsis of Just Kids by Patti Smith, which I think this gal should read.

Then I told her about teaching my seventh graders to write fiction, which has been an absolute trip.

"Are you a poet?" she asked me.

"No," I said, "but I'm writing a book."

She was thrilled by this news, which pleased me.  She inquired about the process. Then, I learned that she's an illustrator and a wildlife rehabber, and that she's just scored a contract for her first children's book. This led to more questions - do you have an agent? Do you work for yourself?

When Mac and his teacher appeared, I felt I had to explain why his next student and I were engaged in intense and enthusiastic conversation.  "We've made friends," I said, smiling.

"That's great!" Jason the guitar teacher indulged.

"We're making community here," I explained.

"We're all artists," drum girl said.  She was serious, which I loved. I don't even know her name. I should probably clear that up.

Making Hockey Mom Friends, Across Perceived Difference.

Not Making Friends with Millennials

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Annals of Fall: Status Report

scenes in fiction, anchor chart, back to school

Teaching, like the actual instruction: This is excellent. I'm cooking with gas.  Well-prepared, confident, and cruising. I flat-out love this part of my job, the in-the-classroom, with-the-students, meat-and-potatoes of it. Do I sound braggy? I don't even care. Feeling like you sometimes know what you're doing is the best.

Dietary Choices: Hit-and-miss. The end-of-the-night mini corndogs were a miss. The peanut butter energy balls I made yesterday were a hit. You see what I mean about the hit-and-miss quality of my dietary choices?

Reading: Slow going, but I can feel it the rhythm coming back. Can I lesson plan fast, so I can get back to Before the Fall by Noah Hawley? That's my fondest wish. But to be honest, the lesson planning takes as long as it ever did. Which is all day long. Can I take the dog for an extra walk, so I can near-the-end of Just Kids by Patti Smith on Audible? All I can do is wait and hope.

Book Writing: I'm scheduled to get back into it this coming week. I'm hopeful. I need to see those characters and reconnect with my teacher. Have I said publicly that the goal is to finish the draft by the end of next summer? That's the goal. Let's do this.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Teaching Life

back-to-school, English teacher, catch your breath

I feel like I've cleared the last hurdle, and I'm coming through the final meters of the Back-to-School sprinting obstacle course.

How's that metaphor working? It's like Olympic Track and Field and Ninja Warrior in one. In this case, the last hurdle was Back-to-School night, and the sprinting Ninja course was the first few weeks of school. Speaking of, did I mention I went to Ninja Warrior Class with Mac? The resulting muscle soreness was extreme, but I did the class in the name of risk-taking and #lifelonglearning.

Anyway, last year, I gave advice about how to behave at your child's back-to-school night.  The tips would have assuaged my nervousness if you were in my audience. This year, I didn't even get nervous. I just gave the talks. After a while, it seems like you know how to do your job and to convey to others that you know how to do your job.  Turns out for me, it only took seventeen years to reach this point.

Now it's Thursday, and I have two days left this week before I have a reprieve to dig out of the grading hole (metaphor!) and to catch my breath (which I've lost from the sprinting Ninja course, obviously). I'm going to pace myself and fortify with coffee. I'll keep you posted.

Mom Probs: A nonstop Saturday in February 2013.

Hit Babies. A Word Savvy Classic.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Annals of Fall: Back to the Routine

brothers, wedding, back to school

Good news: My sister Mary got married. She married a fantastic guy named Shea. He's funny and smart and he seems to like us okay. During the ceremony, Mac and Shef walked down the aisle while pulling a wagon filled with their much younger cousins. Neither of those little kids tried to get out of the wagon during the trip.  Later at the reception, I gave a Matron of Honor toast. People laughed in the right places during my speech, and I think I conveyed my deep and abiding love for my sister.  I do love her so much.

And now, I can continue on with life. It's been a crazy back-to-school. Do I always say that? I think pretty much. It's just always crazy, and sometimes there are other important events added in at the same time like the Wedding of the Year.

Lucky for me, I can handle it. I can handle it all.