Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You've Got Mail

A fed ex package from New York arrived for my daughter on Saturday.  Luckily the driver waited for us to get home. The chances of him being able to actually deliver it to my door on the weekend are slim to none.

We opened a small package from my aunt in New York. She is the only one of five children left on my father's side.  She mailed us her great-grandmother's ring and a picture of my grandmother at age 20 with the ring on her finger.  I guess this makes it my great-great-grandmother's ring and my daughter's great great great grandmother's ring.  It was a welcome surprise since my dad passed away when I was 21 and I haven't been to see that part of my family since my daughter was little.  We exchange cards. They send Christmas cards and I send Happy Spring cards.

What I've learned in the years that have passed is that sometimes when someone in your family dies, you just don't lose that person, you lose part of your family too.  The struggle is to rebuild it in a way that makes sense.   It was nice, however, to recapture a small bit in the mail this weekend. A thank you note is on its way.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ruminating on my Saturday

I got be a part of many wonderfuls this weekend, but the most wonderous was my afternoon spent with teen writers and a former grad student in the Teen Zone at the UCF Book Festival. Seventeen teens from all over the Central Florida region varying from grades 6th-12th gave up their spring afternoon to spend indoors on their craft.  They brought their pieces for feedback and were treated to Kristen Simmons' discussion of her writerly life and a question and answer session. Time flew.

What stood out to me listening to Simmons was how long it actually took for her to go from writing a book to actually getting one published. It took her ten years.  Her continued effort reminded me of the ten thousand hour expert rule shared in Gladwell's Outliers. She wrote over four books in that time and endured 200 rejections.  What a story for these teens to hear. They got it.  They walked away understanding the tenacity and practice it took for her to accomplish her dream, of holding her published book in her hand. Many of them not sure that was what they could do, write every day and endure the rejection, but most left happy to have their writing heard and  advice to think about as aspiring writers.

I left with some unanswered questions know that writing is a solitary activity, but you must have some kind of community to share.  I wondered what that looked like for her. She also shared that now with a one year old daughter she writes during naps.  Again confirming that what you value, you will find time to do. If you want to be a writer, then write every day.  Just like the SOLSC in March pushes one too.  How do you carry on after that?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

One Little Word: April Focus

April kicks off the next chapter of my one little word action.  The word being, well.  The intent being well-balanced.  It is a continuation of my focus last month on being well-ordered.  Last year I seriously derailed at this time.  Perhaps it was the non-stop proctoring.  The third job. I am not sure.  My goal this month is to continue to focus on maintaining a work life-balance, especially amping up my cardio, focusing on my food and water, and lowering my blood glucose levels while cultivating my writing life.This slice makes 32 days in a row.  It's time, however, to shift a little energy toward my fitness. I was much better at blogging this past month than completing my My Fitness Pal and reaching my daily goals.

I took my first step toward being well-balanced last night.  I was able to mostly run and a little walk a half mile in 6 minutes, a super big deal to me since I haven't been able to run like that since May 31st, 2013. Last night I came in last, really far last, some might describe it as, earmuffs please, DFL, but I finished.  Random people in the park cheered me.  It was embarrassingly nice.  Not really an attention I wanted, but one that made me smile. Someone in our Camp Gladiator workout team actually came back and ran with me the end with me. When someone is behind, no one gets left behind.  My CG family cheered me when I finished. I didn't elect to do it the second time, I chose a personal dispensation knowing that adrenal will sometimes mask the forthcoming pain.  My knee felt great today. It was the right thing for me to do.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Slice 31 and Done (for today)

This is my last slice, last slice, last slice for March. You know it is funny---a song resonated through my head this morning as I began to think about my last slice even before I went to the Two Writing Teacher's page and noticed that Stacey had a song in her head this morning.  My song was Donna Summer's Last Dance.

My first official dance class, at age 3.
Writing is like dancing. We all can dance. We can all write. Granted some dance or write better, but I would wager that they have spent more time practicing.  Practice is what it takes to do most everything better. What we deliberately practice, we get good at. We only read books like Gladwell's Outliers, Coyle's Talent Code and Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers to understand about the power of deliberate practice.   Practice is at the heart of growing as a writer or a dancer and growing our students as writers. That is what the SOLSC challenge is for me, daily deliberate practice at writing, practice that is not always easy or fun, but most definitely deliberate.

I often say that I prefer reading over writing.  It's true.  For me, it is easier and an escape. I love sci-fi and fantasy.  Writing is hard work. Writing every day is harder.  I've noticed, however, a changed writer self through my participation in the SOLSC over the past three years.  I used to anguish over about what to write each day and wanted it to be meaningful and powerful.  I used to worry that I wouldn't get my blog posted each day.  This year I wrote with a confidence that I would get my writing done each day. I knew it wouldn't always be meaningful or power, sometimes it would just be done.  My two years of practice helped me with develop that confidence.

I am also confident that all of us are able to carve out time to do what we point our eye toward.  In the past I've been exhausted trying to post at the end of each challenge and not been able to muster the energy to write. I don't feel that this time. My practice over the past two years built that.   As I posted earlier this month, the third time's a charm.

I want to thank my friends, the readers I know, the readers who only know me through my blog, and the readers who comment during the month-long Slice of Life Writing Challenge.    Your life is busy and there are many distractions and much work to do. Thanks for taking time out of your day to read my words.

I want to thank Stacey and her team for putting in the time to do, craft a space to cultivate teachers as digital writers and students as digital writers.  I wouldn't have understood how digital writing matters for students without the opportunity to do it myself and deliberately practice.  I still dance, but I don't practice.  After this month is over, I will, however, keep writing and practicing since those are the moves that I am still aiming to perfect as a writer and a teacher of writers.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Break Blues

Although spring break is over officially at 5:00 am tomorrow, I did reach some of my short term goals.   I almost finished my taxes. I read and wrote every day. I almost exercised each day.  My daughter did clean out her room over the course of two days without my help.  I did paint my toenails, sleep in, and hang out with friends.  I didn't develop a model lesson plan, set up my tumbler, scan old photos, or make an infographic. Despite not achieving some of my spring break goals, I did accomplish the important things such as spending time with my family.  I discovered that I am still the queen of the hoops despite my knee injury and age.  Yesterday we had tornadic rainstorms and so went my day at the beach, but it would have been my second day at the beach this week.  There is always a slight let-down going back to work, but I know that I am a better caretaker of myself when I work.  An order to my life exists in the frenetic energy of work. I work out more and eat better.  Even so, I will be sad to leave the best part of Florida weather, the spring, behind. Work beckons once again.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in!I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Join us weekly!

7.  Hanging out at the beach with Lee Ann, her son, & my daughter.
6.  Multiple spring break lunch/dinner dates with old friends, family, and new friends.
5. Family time in St. Augustine
4. My daughter cleaned her room by herself although it took two days. She didn't want my help.
3. Me time for cut, color, massage, reading and hanging out with friends.
2. Sleeping in, definitely not overrated.
1. A life I love.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Testing: A Slice of American School Life

Testing season is upon many of us when we come back to school after spring break for the final nine weeks. The reality, however, is that testing season has evolved into a year-round venture in the American public school system. Sure, students have been taking tests in schools since education's inception, but high-stakes tests have radically evolved in the last few years. The sheer number and the use of the results are two major components derailing the American public education system.

In February at last count for my high school, 17,643 benchmark tests, end-of-course exams (EOC) and reading retake exams were administered. This number averages to about 5.9 per student  I double-checked my math.  This number indicates that a little over a week of instructional time was lost, was devoted to high-stakes testing or the preparation of high stakes testing via a test, not actual instruction.  Some of these exams were state-mandated and some were district-mandated. District-mandated tests here are given over 2 days each nine weeks for biology, algebra I, and geometry to monitor students' progress toward the EOC that they will actually take in May. The 17,643 tests administered at my school does not include common assessments that are learning community mandated and are created\ used by the professional learning community to monitor students' progress, probably the most useful part of the testing machine since they are teacher-made in most cases.  I also haven't included the reading progress monitoring tests such as the state-mandated FAIR and district mandated SRI and lexile sets.  I just haven't finished counting.  

In Florida, SB 736 mandates that every student including those in kindergarten starting next year will be tested in every single subject including their once-a-week media center class if a certified instructor is teaching it. This law is part of the revised teacher evaluation system. I am afraid to begin counting the cumulative number of tests that a child entering Florida public schools in fall 2014 will encounter. 

In the upcoming weeks, every single student, 2,990 at my school, will take one or more high-stakes test as we truly dive into what was formally known as the fourth nine weeks. Most students, depending on their schedule, will lose more than a week of instruction to testing this year.  The most school-dependent such as my English language learners in tenth grade have already lost 5 weeks of instruction due to testing.  As an educator, I cannot rely on unions to do right by my students. As a parent, I cannot rely on the school system to do right by my child. As a citizen, I cannot rely on the legislators to do right by the American school system. I can use my words.  I must use my words.  What will you do?