Tiny-to-me stars flood the big sky
I sit timeless in the big time
Gazing at passing satellites built by big minds
I feel small when I lie under the stars in the moonless summer desert night. Other sites are nonexistent at night–it’s just the big sky full of stars. The sounds are hushed. The animals have burrowed for the night. The birds are roosting. The wind holds its breath.
Time seems to stop, but passes quickly without fanfare. Every ninety minutes that same satellite passes overhead with the same blinking light. I don’t understand it. I feel small with my brain that couldn’t keep a satellite up in the sky.
Occasionally a meteor bursts across the canvas, burning up and leaving a trail of light for my viewing pleasure. Then I don’t feel so small. I feel nurtured and loved.
I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic
Today: I was purging and deleting from my blog post DRAFTS, dozens inadvertently abandoned over the years. I found something, though, that I stopped to read. It was last edited November 13, 2011, but I thought this one still deserves attention. Did we change anything in the form of grading in those last ten years? The importance of student voice has been emphasized more lately, but do grades continue to get in the way of our young people being able to fully use their voices? The questions at the end are still apt today. Here is the post I wrote then:
November 2011: Another one of those “ah ha” moments occurred this week when I gave a writing assignment– a “This I Believe” essay.
I gave a mini lesson on VOICE–the ability to connect emotionally with the reader, to put one’s special mark on the writing. Papers with great voice will sound like the author really is.
We talked of ways to help their voice come out in this piece: speaking in the first person, telling a specific story that illustrates a belief they have, and keeping the writing in the present–not about dreams they believe will happen in the future.
We listened to lots of examples and got started writing. The only thing I would be grading on this assignment, I explained, was the writing trait of VOICE.
When I read the first drafts, I was amazed at the range of success in writing with voice in this assignment. Some were rich and personal, authentic and fresh. Others were banal and bland.
I know it’s not easy for any of us to open ourselves and share our beliefs, so I didn’t have great expectations for our first attempt. However, what surprised me is, in general, is that the best VOICE papers were by the students who don’t typically get the best grades. Are they more willing to take risks?
The opposite was true for the typically “A” students. Many of those who care most about doing well grade-wise were the ones who played it safe, struggling to express themselves with a personal story so they could convince the reader they really believed anything. Theirs were well-written and organized, with meticulous conventions, but so lacking in VOICE, passion, heart.
Just another reason why my heart breaks when we have to give grades.
Are we snuffing out the creativity of our students who feel a need to get it “right”?
How can we reach students who seem overly-enamored with getting A’s?
We had just been married a few weeks. Keith was on a camping trip with the youth group. On Friday morning, my only day off of the campout, I drove the two-hour trip to enjoy the day with them at the state park.
It had rained the night before, and everything was damp. We spent part of the day dealing with wet camping gear, but also swimming, hiking and other fun.
When dinner time approached, my husband tried to start a campfire for the hotdogs and s’mores. He had a metal can of Kingsford Charcoal Lighter Fluid, the kind you squeeze onto the wood. He tried to start a fire with this damp wood and kindling, throwing matches on that would not fully catch on fire. He doused it some more, then threw another match.
The lit match-squirt pattern continued until finally the fire took hold and shot up during the squirt phase. Our previously non-existent fire leapt from the ground up to become a flame thrower’s masterpiece–a flaming river flowing up from the ground. He instinctively threw the flaming bottle up and out of his hand. “We’re all gonna die!” he yelled. In that split second he pictured the metal can had sucked the fire into the fuel and became a bomb ready to explode (as we had seen on recent news warnings).
Being the brave fool I was, I grabbed not a handful of dirt, but someone’s sleeping bag that had been drying on a makeshift clothesline. I smothered the fire, which had spread out of the fire ring.
I don’t recall where or if it was spreading really; it was damp there in this forest and obviously not a fire tinder box ready to create a forest fire. Fortunately the charcoal fluid bomb fizzled, but the scorched and ruined sleeping bag now needed to be replaced. So, instead of sitting around the campfire, I drove to Target in the nearest town and bought a new sleeping bag so the teenager could sleep that night.
Fast forward 38 years. Last week was our anniversary, and we reminisced about some early memories, this one included. At the time he yelled “We’re all gonna die!” I wondered what I had gotten myself into. He may have wondered about me too.
Today Keith is known in meetings and groups as the non-anxious presence–a wise leader, looked to for surety and strength.
It’s good to not look too soon for the final person another will become–this wisdom is not just for children, but for partners, as well. Thanks be to God that we have hung onto each other through all kinds of exposing behaviors, and I am so grateful.
Collaboration has become easier this year than in previous years. For one thing, at our school teachers used to be in our own classrooms. We sometimes could be there all day with children coming and going, but very little time to see or collaborate with peers. This year, the pandemic required a different arrangement for the classrooms. The children were divided into small groups of 8-10 and each had their own space. The students stayed in their classroom all day; the teachers would move into the rooms when it was their turn to teach them.
For the teachers, since we didn’t have our own room, each department was assigned a room. After five years of being in our own rooms and traveling up or down stairs and through the hallways to be able to talk to each other, this was a delightful new development. It was a breeze to get consensus on something or to teach each other new little technology insights we figured out in our Google Classroom and Zoom programs, which were new for us this year. That set-up really improved collaboration for us.
In addition, having meetings became so easy from home or school, with Zoom. It didn’t matter where people were working. It was simple to attend or call a meeting. I noticed people tended to be more on time and there are fewer disruptions in Zoom meetings.
Of course, I miss the maskless laughter, dates, chocolates and Arabic coffee from in person meetings!
This post is week 1 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. Starting this week, we will reflect on the unusual nature of the last school year. The challenge is a way to share our reflections, debrief a difficult year. As Penny wrote: “Let’s share the experiences that many of us struggled with and triumphed over. Let’s consider what to retain from this year and what to let go together!”
This week’s prompt is to describe relationships with those you taught this year.
I had an unusual year in more ways than one. Besides the pandemic, I did not have a contract last year, but I was still part of my school. I taught the first quarter for the person who would eventually take my place, but was stuck in the U.S. due to Covid. I was a long-term sub for a sociology class. I screened children in three grades with the DIBELS assessment. I had small groups of children on Zoom practicing (and hopefully having fun with) phonological awareness and phonics.
I continued to be with the same department, helping and encouraging them through difficult times when I could do something. They had the Ministry of Education come for their every three year evaluation, this time looking at how we were coping with “special circumstances.” I was there for finding things and remembering how we’ve done it in the past, since I was the English coordinator for the past five years.
My teammates are amazing, and I have great relationships with them. It has been weird though. When they were stressed out and feeling over the edge, I was not. I have tried to help my old department, but at the end of the day, I did not have the myriad of stressors that happen when you are a full time teacher. Much less also add that it was happening through a pandemic, with virtual and blended learning, the Ministry visit, and all the other crazy!
Most of my work this year, though, was under the direction of the learning inclusion department. I went to those department meetings and worked under the LI coordinator. It was very rewarding because added to the small department of two teachers were two volunteers–myself and a parent who is trained in special education. We made a great team. There was so much more we were able to do, especially helping the struggling students who not part of the special needs program.
We also had time to work with the gifted students. We held a virtual spelling bee, which was a great success, and some of the children who needed more challenge did a semester-long genius hour project.
The relationships with my colleagues at school are precious to me, and this year was such a nice way to leave gradually. My husband’s contract ends in December, so I will once again volunteer for the first term next year. Then I will have to say good-bye to them.