Thankful Thursday #18

This week I’m thankful for…

  • the NCAA basketball tournament because I love watching the underdog win
  • my friends who made me lemon blueberry cake just because I requested it
  • my teacher friend who is retiring and bequeathing all of her writing resource books to younger teachers
  • the patch of blue sky that peeked out Saturday reminding me that winter won’t last forever
  • riding on the river trail when the river is so high that the water laps at the trail, even flooding it in places
  • riding with newbie cyclists who are excited to ride ‘long distances’ like 15-16 miles
  • remembering when 6 miles was a long way to ride my bike
  • the fact that my class is too young for state testing.  Yes and amen.
  • waking up early and reading a good book before heading off to work

Thankful Thursday #17

This week I’m thankful for…

  • the scent of rain on warm asphalt
  • the attitude of my little one who accidentally poked himself in the eye with a fork at lunch.  He was completely fine and when I asked him how it happened, he shrugged and replied “I aimed for the peas and missed.”  I’ll say.
  • meals with friends
  • the book of Esther
  • a fresh haircut
  • bike rides so challenging that I’m left stripped bare at the end, knowing I gave everything I had, and by some miracle, it was enough
  • hearing Dr. Maya Angelou speak.  It was a night I’ll treasure always.  And because I will never look at rainbows the same again.  And because you weren’t able to join me that night.  And because you deserve a little more poetry in your life, here she is.  I thought of giving you just a morsel to chew on, but who am I to be so selfish.  So click on the picture below and while it takes you to the site starts loading, get yourself a cup of tea, throw a blanket around your shoulders and get ready to enjoy this 42 minute master class with Maya Angelou.  Don’t tell me you don’t have that kind of time.  Make the time.  I assure you, her words will speak to the most joyful and the most tender places in your heart.

Giving Voice

It all started with a bike ride a few years ago.  Successful heart surgery compelled me to pay the gift of health forward.  I joined Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  In exchange for $2100 in donations I would have the privilege of riding 100 miles around Lake Tahoe.  I’d never ridden more than 6 miles, even then I had to stop for a snack half way through.  I didn’t even own a road bike.  And I’d never raised money for anything before.

My husband bought me a road bike and I started cycling around town.  Pretty soon I was riding to the far corners of our county and then some.  A few weeks in, I still had no idea how to raise $2100.  So I did the only thing I could think of.  I wrote.  I wrote letters to my family and friends asking for their support.  A few hundred dollars arrived in the mail.  I still had a long way to go and so a month into training, I e-mailed everyone I knew and told them all about my month of cycling.

I wrote about my first crash.  I wrote about accidentally swallowing flies.  I wrote about riding along the riverbank at sunset.  I wrote about my adventures and misadventures alike.  And at the end of the e-mail I begged for donations reminded people how to make a donation on my behalf.  Donations steadily found their way to my mailbox.  And so the next month I sent out more tales from the bike.  I met my donation goal, surpassed it even, but to my surprise my friends kept asking for more stories from the bike.  And so I continued writing.

Then one day a colleague caught me in the lunchroom and said “Hey, I’ve been reading your bike e-mails.  You can write!  You should apply to the Writing Project Summer Institute.”

I responded with an eloquent “Huh?  What’s the Writing Project?”

That summer I got my answer.  I was accepted into the Summer Institute where I spent three weeks with a roomful of colleagues, reading cutting edge research and grappling with what authentic writing looks like within the walls of our classrooms.  I listened to my colleagues present lessons.  I gleaned ideas from college professors and kindergarten teachers alike, finding innovative and meaningful ways to teach my own young writers.  The studying, reading, and presentations were invaluable, but the most important time for me during the institute was time spent writing.  After all, the best writing teachers are writers themselves.

We began each day with writing.  I learned to face the terror of the blank page.  I experienced the beautiful rhythm of writing as a daily practice.  I learned to cut through the fat of what I thought writing was supposed to sound like and instead I wrote honest, sinewy stories of students who faced overwhelming circumstances with measures of bravery I can’t begin to possess.  Their stories broke my heart all over again as I put them to paper.  I wrote about children who made me laugh.  I wrote about the tender-hearted little girl who rubbed circles on my back when I returned to school after the death of my father.  I wrote the gritty and inspiring details of their stories and in doing so I found my voice.

Last weekend I was riding my bike in terrible conditions.  Icy rain pelted my face and the winds whipped around me at a mild 35 miles per hour.  The wind was so loud that I couldn’t even hear the music in my earbud.  I was left alone with my thoughts for the better part of 30 miles.  My thoughts turned to the current round of budget cuts that will eliminate the National Writing Project.  I thought about my classroom writers workshop and how so many of my young writers are finding their own voices, scratching out the stories of their lives in the silvery lead of #2 pencils.

I thought of my solemn little one who writes about her baby sister, her sister who died a year and half ago.  My little one wrote about the feel her sister’s feather soft cheeks against the palm of her hand.  When I asked her if she wanted to change the word ‘feel’ to past tense, she explained that she wanted to leave it as written because she can still feel her sister’s skin in her memories.  She’s learning that writing allows us retain what is dear, even when we can’t hold it in our hands.

I thought of my little boy, recently transplanted from Maui.  He’s a whirling dervish of a kid, who only sits still when he’s writing in his notebook.  He tells me he’s not a writer, but dazzles me with phrases like “I have brown eyes, coconut eyes.”  He’s a writer.  I know it and soon I’ll have him convinced, too.

I thought of my little girl who wrote this about her mom, “She is pretty like white, shiny milk.  She is so beautiful, I can’t believe it.  It knocks me down how much I love her.”  Her mom spent a good part of the year wrapped in bandages, recovering from brain surgery.  This little girl is learning the healing power of words.

Out there pedaling my bike into the unforgiving wind, I realized that everything I do with my young writers springs directly from the lessons I learned from my time in the Writing Project.  It crushes me to think that budget cuts will prevent other teachers from experiencing the same thing.  Surely teachers researching together, writing together, standing together cannot be seen as non-essential at a time like this.  That kind of work must be the foundation on which we build schools where we hope our children will do the same.

I find myself at a bit of a loss on how to effectively convince the President to rescind his proposed cuts.  Once again I find myself doing the only thing I can think of.  I’m returning to the blank page and filling it with my story and the stories of my students.  In sharing our stories, I give voice to the critical work of The Writing Project.

In the same way I asked friends and family to take a stand against cancer, I’m asking you to stand with me for education.  Please consider writing a letter in support of the National Writing Project.  Click here to read sample letters and to learn more about the NWP.  Your voice matters.  It’s time to speak up for writing as an essential part of every child’s education.  It’s time to tell your story.

Thankful Thursday #16

This week I’m thankful for…

  • bike rides with friends
  • my new little one who wrote this in his notebook “I’m thankful for my home.”  Makes me wonder if there is a place for Thankful Thursdays in my classroom.  Hmmm…
  • my little one who wrote this about her mom “She is pretty like white, shiny milk.  She is so beautiful, I can’t believe it.  It knocks me down how much I love her.”  Her mom recently had brain surgery.  I’m pretty sure those are the kinds of words that lend speed to recovery.
  • the parents of my little ones who took time at our parent teacher conferences to thank me and tell me how much their children love being a part of our class.  Those words sink down deep and warm my heart.
  • my little girl who told me in a moment of quiet exclaimed “I love math!  No, wait-I love reading!  No, wait-I love writing!”
  • outside recess
  • outside recess.  I know I mentioned it twice.  Trust me, this week I was doubly thankful for it.
  • my husband who offered to make me dinner after a particularly rough day
  • books that are so good, I can’t put them down.  If only I could force myself to stay awake a little longer at night to read them!
  • my little one who brought in $10 of her own money to donate to our change drive for the local rescue mission.  Her mother, touched her daughter’s generosity, matched it dollar for dollar.

My Oak Tree

Saturday morning I pedaled to school to co-facilitate a writing session for teachers.  We always begin with a quick write and Saturday’s prompt went something like this: If you weren’t here, what would you like to be doing instead?

My answer was obvious.  Saturday mornings are for bike rides.  In fact I’d pedaled to class and scheduled a bike ride for the afternoon, too.  There is something peaceful about pedaling out of town.  Away from piles of laundry.  Away from my job.  Away from the noise.  Away from everything except my legs turning the cranks and my heart keeping time.

My favorite place to ride is out to Millville Plains, where the wind whips through the tall grasses in the Fall and the wildflowers paint the fields in the Spring.  Some days, the hands of the wind press against my back and lift me up the hills.  Other days the wind rushes against my face and I am strong enough to climb the crest despite the wind’s advances.

There is an oak tree, a lone oak tree, standing atop the plains.  She is impervious to the wind, snow, sun and anything else nature throws at her.  Oak trees can live to be 200 years old.  In fact the oldest oak tree is 400 years old!  I don’t know how old my tree is, but surely she is the matriarch of the plains.  She’s been there as long as I can remember, the umbrella of her crown a favorite resting place for cows.  In the summer the shadow of her crown provides respite from the harsh sun and in the winter her branches are shelter from the rain.

I ride by the tree, pushing uphill, keeping her trunk in my line of sight.  I think of how I want to be like that tree, impervious to things at work that press against me, threatening to uproot me.  I think about standing tall for the things I believe are best.  Best for children.  Best for teachers.  Best for the world I live in.  When I ride Millville Plains, I can’t help but think of that tree all the way home.

I’ve yet to see my tree this season and still she comes to mind.  As Congress cuts funding for education, I think of my tree and square my shoulders as I type out letters to my elected officials.  They need to hear about how class sizes bursting at the seams create little space for relationships with students.  They need to hear how important the NWP is in creating teacher leaders who empower their students to carve out their own voices on canvases of blank pages.  They need to hear about how the NWP rooted me deep in practices that translate into a beautiful writing community in my classroom, in my school, in my city.

I’m blessed that my oak tree is just a bike ride away.  When I need to be reminded to be strong, to stand up for my beliefs, I visit my tree.  She is always standing proud and tall over the plains.  She compels me to do the same.