Archive for category Teachers Write!

Teachers Write! Anchors Away

Teachers Write 2013 ButtonI know people say this, but it’s for real:  I’ve been waiting for Teachers Write for a whole year. A whole blessed year! Last year when Kate, Gae, Jen, Jo, etal started this deal, I was gung-ho. I read everything they posted, and I wrote every single day.

Then life happened.

My dad got sick. My mother’s Alzheimer’s got worse. Hospital after hospital after hospital. I quit my life for a while, and, of course, writing quit, too.

It’s been a year of stress and pain and struggle. A perfect storm of grief and fear and longing. Funny–no one’s died. Yet. But the rain keeps coming, and soon the road will wash out with just one phone call.

In the meantime, I will write. I will think about the things I want to say, be it professional or otherwise, and I will figure out how to make the words create the meaning that bubbles up in my heart and mind. I need to write to clear my head. No, really, I need to write to make some sense of the paradox that’s become my life.

I’ll use this blog as my buoy, my life vest, but if something fairly good springs from my calloused fingers as I grasp onto this keyboard, I’ll be posting that at Three Teachers Talk–the blog I share with the amazing @heathercato.


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Life Really Can Get in the Way

I started with a flourish and ended in a fail.

At the beginning of the summer, I thrilled with the idea of joining hundreds of other teachers as we practiced writing. I read the prompts and joined in questions and answers, and I penned more thoughts, feelings, and ideas than I had in months. Then, like the old cliche’, “Life got in the way.”

I tried to back out gracefully, telling others that things had gotten too difficult. Many sent good wishes. Some with good intentions said, “Write anyway. 10 minutes can make all the difference.” Yes, maybe that’s true. For some.

I’ve heard that writing can be cathartic. I even believe it. I’ve used that line with students.

But here’s the thing– writing takes energy. Energy that I quite simply could not muster. Mine was all being used keeping emotions in check and family moving forward.

Nothing prepares you for the decline of aged parents. Nothing prepares you for the cruelties of Alzheimer’s.

Even when I had 10 minutes, I could not write. I could barely think. How could I create characters or outline plots or string sentences together in a way that made any kind of meaning?

Emotions can rock you and drag you under. Life really can get in the way.

And now I know how Maggie felt when her parents divorced in the middle of the year. I know how Nicole felt when her grandfather died, and she couldn’t write that essay I assigned. I know why Amy couldn’t think or work or complete anything when her beloved dog died. I understand why Marcos needed more time to “get his act together” when his feet flew out from under him.

It’s not that I didn’t want to understand. I did. Mostly. I’ve always tried to err on the side of the kid– whatever the excuse or conflict. But now I really “get it.”

And getting it — when it comes to due dates and deadlines and excuses — will make all the difference when I relate to the people I call students.

So when it comes to Teachers Write and the plans I had for writing this summer? I failed.

But really, isn’t life much more about the people than the plans?

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An Outline Means I Have to Think–Oh, My!

So, here’s the Teachers Write! assignment for the week. It comes from Sally Wilkins, writer and researcher.

Assignment for this week:

If your project is at the idea stage, do a brain-dump, jotting down all the random bits and pieces. Begin to sort them into logical groups. Create a rough outline (or timeline, or map, or flow chart) from these groups.

If you already have a work in progress draft, create an outline from the text. Look for gaps and bulges in the outline. Think about (and jot down) how you can smooth and balance those problem areas in the next draft.

And a note from Kate…

If you don’t have one major project for the summer but you want to practice outlining and see how it all works, try creating an outline of one of your favorite books. When I was writing EYE OF THE STORM, I really wanted to make it fast-paced for kids who love action. Before I started writing my thriller, I sat down and studied the pacing in a book I admired for its pacing, THE HUNGER GAMES. I made a chapter-by-chapter outline and learned a lot about why we can’t put that book down. It’s a fun exercise!

I am sure that creating an outline is a good idea. I teach my students to do this prior to any kind of writing activity. “You need to think and plan before you write. It will save you time.”

But, here’s the thing:  This morning when I read the assignment, I knew that there weren’t enough thoughts in my head about what I want to write to think and plan anything. Then, I thought:  I am my students. That’s why they either skip the outline or create a skimpy one.

Now I am thinking:  How can I get my students to think about writing when they don’t really know what they think about anything–other than boys and girls and who’s hot and who’s not and other 14-yea-old phenomena? How can I get my students to think about organizing their writing when they don’t realize they have any thoughts that need saying on paper?

Somehow I have to get my students to see that knowing how they think and what they think about matters. Then maybe I can get them to think that their voices matter. Then maybe I can get them to want to share their thoughts and voices. And then maybe I can get them to organize their thoughts into a plan that will make their messages clear.

Oh, my! That’s a lot of maybes. And I have a lot of work to do. I better get organized.

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Teachers Write: Humbled and Renewed

I’ve taught AP Language & Comp for the past four years, and I’ve assigned my student to write a lot. In the process of all that assigning, I knew I needed to model if I had any chance at all of becoming a good writing teacher. That’s when I created a blog. Then I got my students to create their own blogs– to use as online portfolios of their work, with a hope of getting them to build a readership other than me. My love of language grew, but the time I had to write was minimal with all that reading of student work, among other teacher and life duties. I’d make the time every once in a while to write a snippet I could use as a mentor text, or to write a quick pedagogy piece, but I’d forgotten the WORK it takes to write. The taunting of the blank page, the words that pour out different than the thinking, the reading and re-reading just to get the sound right. And the revisions. Tortuous revisions. This week, in virtual writing camp, has been a beautiful hardship. I am humbled and renewed as a writer and as a teacher of writing.

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     I tighten my grip on the backpack and push my way through the double doors into the library. I’d
shout “Sanctuary!” if I didn’t think everyone would notice. Being noticed is something I try to avoid. I
it’s not that I don’t like people. It’s more that when people inch their way into my life, someone always
gets hurt.
      I shake the hair out of my eyes and move toward the rear. I know I’ll find what I’m looking for.
I always do. Kate leans against the Romance shelf with a book in her hand. She’s supposed to be
re-shelving. It’s her job as the 5th period aid, but she’d rather read than work. Just another thing
that makes us so different.
      “Kate, you need to take this from me,” I say as I hand her the backpack. Her eyes flicker just
for an instant before she aims those green accusations at me.
     “Not again, Ben. You promised.”
It  had been three years since I’d found trouble. Three years since we’d had to run, lie and cheat just
to stay alive. No wonder my sister was angry.



I Like Quiet

I am not a morning person. I kind of always hated morning people. You know the type: bounce out of bed and have all too much to say too early in the day. I like quiet.

Actually, I like quiet at any time of the day, but mostly, I like quiet mornings in my front room. The sun whispers in the windows and warms the wooden floor. The sofa hugs my stiffness as dust dances fairy-like in the morning light. I read: books, magazines, Twitter. Scripture. I relax and renew. I learn and linger. All too often, the clock awakens me from my musings.

Upstairs I hear my sons rise and clomp toward the computer and the bathroom. Footsteps that used to tread tenderly with their cuteness, now thunder in their size 13’s. Back when they were 1 and 2 and 7. I yearned for quiet and found it when they were tucked away for the night.

Now I find it in the mornings. Time for me to think, ponder and pray. Pray for myself, my heart and my health. Pray for my family, my husband and my kids. Quiet mornings when I hear the Spirit whisper, “Come, sit awhile. How about this gorgeous day?”

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Apples and Twisted Ribbon

My mother loved apples. She decorated with shiny red ones in crystal bowls. She made sure the dish towels sported ruby red appliqué, and she papered uniformed round ones to dance high above the kitchen. Funny how I never saw my mother eat an apple, although she would eat apple pie on the rare occasion that she made one, usually for my brother Craig’s birthday.

I still remember watching my mother make pie dough. She’d carefully measure the Crisco, the flour, the salt. She’d lay out the waxed paper, mash the dough inside, and begin to press and roll with the old wooden rolling pin. She’d carefully place the dough in the tin and often let me cut the edges around the rim. Since the recipe made two crusts, mother would gently flute the edges of one while she directed me in decorating the other. Mother’s flutes were always perfect two-fingered imprints with spacing that would rival a ruler. Mine were less elegant, obviously the work of a child. “Make it pretty,” my mom would say. And I would try.

Mother constantly reminded me of the beauty in little things and taught me how to nurture that beauty in myself. She taught me how to stand up straight and make the perfect bow. She taught me how to set a table and twist floral tape into the perfect corsage. My mother’s soft warm hands taught me to see the beauty in every child as she held my face and whispered, “It’s those who are the hardest to love who need it the most.”

I miss my mother.

Now days I enter her kitchen. The apples are gone, as are the warm scents of baked goods or browning meat. My mother’s not gone though, but her mind is going. Alzheimer’s is poisoning what I hold most dear. Like the fruit in the hand of the wicked queen, this disease with its jealousy and rage will take what is not hers–memories that are my mother’s. And mine.

I hate this rotten apple.


Top 10 Things I Learned from My Darling Mother:

1. Stand up tall. You are a daughter of God.

2. Remember, you are part of a family that loves and honors you. Do nothing to dishonor it.

3. Say your prayers on bended knee.

4. Love one another, even when it’s difficult.

5. Serve. Always.

6. Lay the pattern carefully so you cut the fabric correctly.

7. Set a pretty table for every meal.

8. Support your mate–loving, caring, giving– every day of your life

9. Decorate for Christmas. Lots of lights and ornaments!

10. Twist the ribbon just right, and you’ll make the perfect bow every time.

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