Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I Wish My Teacher Knew

A few years ago, a young student told me his family was moving. I was sad to hear the news. I was going to miss his charming and somewhat mischievous personality. I contacted his mom and she explained they were moving to be closer to her family. Our school secretary gathered records to go with them and contacted the school to let them know the family was coming.

A couple of months later we got a call from a school in a different town, where my student had just enrolled. This town was about half way to their target destination and when our secretary registered surprise, the person on the other end of the line explained, “They got a flat tire.”

A flat tire—so they didn’t make it to the town where they’d have family support and they didn’t make it to any school for a couple of months. It is hard to imagine how a flat tire could determine such important decisions, like where you will live, and where your children will receive an education, but for some people, a flat tire is much more than an inconvenience.

I tell this story because we don’t always know the challenges a student faces in life and how competent their parents are in guiding them through it.

We all need this reminder occasionally and Kyle Schwartz, in her book, I WISH MY TEACHER KNEW, does this brilliantly. 

Her book was inspired by a simple classroom assignment she uses each year. She passes out Post-it notes to her students and has them complete the sentence, "I wish my teacher knew . . ."

Take a look at some of their responses:

“I wish my teacher knew that I’ve lived a hard life and I try my hardest and best to remain positive every second of the day.”

“ I wish my teacher knew that I hated to go back to the shelter every night and it was difficult to pay attention in class.”

“to not pressure kids when they don’t know what’s going on at home.”

Ms. Schwartz uses these notes as a springboard for an in-depth look at how teachers can provide support to all of their students and create a positive school culture. I know I will put some of her suggestions into practice when school starts in the fall. Her tools could be as effective as making sure every family has a sturdy car jack and a spare tire in their trunk.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Outside my window, the reed grass is shivering in the morning breeze. Some feathery stalks have a golden glow, a pale reflection of the sun, others are purple-tinged, and all move together with the wind. Nearby, a small stand of cypress trees cast their shadows across the field. The beauty of the setting comes from the contrasts: stillness and motion, stately and delicate, light and dark.

We are on summer vacation now but when our school was in session, we had plenty of contrasts around our small-town campus. Children of various skin colors, races, sizes and economical status all played together on the playground. The contrasts were beautiful.

When I think of the richness we can bring to one another with our contrasting life stories, I regret we don’t give ourselves more time to share them. Perhaps we can build that into our lives and curricula. It might create an appreciation of our differences. In the mean time, we can share various life stories through books.

I’d love to hear from others about books that might ease the racial tensions in our country. The current events have been heart breaking. Since my blog focuses on children’s literature, I’d especially love to hear of those recommendations, but all are welcome. If you have appropriate books in mind, please let me know by sharing them in the comment section.

The wind is picking up and I hear the chimes ringing outside my window—a nice contrast to the silence I enjoyed when I began this post—they ring of hope.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Playing from the Heart

One of the joys of summer vacation is more time with books—novels, nonfiction, inspirational and, of course, children’s books. I was so pleased when, during my last trip to the library, I happened to pick up Peter H. Reynolds’ Playing from the Heart. It’s a treasure, not just for children but for people of all ages.

When little Raj plucked and pushed the keys of his family’s piano, he was delighted by the sounds. By the time he was old enough to reach the sustain pedal (and had a few years of practice), his father was equally delighted. The notes flowed. Amazed at his son’s talent, his father hired a piano teacher to nurture it. When the teacher showed him how notes hung on lines, stretching across a page, they “reminded him of zoo animals peering through bars . . . wanting to escape.”

Raj became a skilled pianist and in the process, he lost the joy of creating. The more skilled he became, the more tired he grew until he quit playing altogether. However, the story doesn’t end on a hopeless note. In fact, by the end of the story, “the notes emerged whispery and sweet.”

I hope whatever you’re doing this summer, you’ll be inspired to play from the heart, or perhaps, just play, and give a fresh spark to all of your creative endeavors.

Bench time on the bluffs

A walk to the waterfall

Sharing a moment with a seal

Friday, June 24, 2016

Summer Vacation!

Walks along the river,

along the bluffs,

fresh King Salmon off Captain Laura's boat,

puttering in the garden,

harvesting fresh vegetables,

time with good books,

and lots of time to write.

Ahhhhhhhhhh . . . summer vacation!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Last Day of School!

Another school year is coming to an end. Students are bubbling with excitement as they bounce around the playground and try very hard not to bounce around their classrooms. Some are successful—some, not so much. Focus is difficult to maintain this time of year, but I managed to reign in a group of enthusiastic seven-year-olds when I pulled out a new book, A Fairy Friend, by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Claire Keane.  

A Fairy Friend

The kids were captivated by both the story and the illustrations. They listened attentively as I read the rhyming text with fairies hiding behind leaves, zipping through trees and riding on the backs of dragonflies. They especially loved the fairy house with a mossy roof and soft thistle-fluff beds. By the end of the story, the whole group had gathered close, noses just inches from each page, trying to choose their very own, forever fairy friend. Hannah had a particularly difficult time.

“I want this one, no . . . here’s my favorite, no . . . I like this one best.” Then she’d flip the page and discover a new favorite. In the end she said, “It’s too hard, I love them all.”

I couldn’t agree more. They were all magical, as was my final speech session of the year thanks to A Fairy Friend and a group of enthusiastic students who assured me they are going to spend lots of time this summer reading good books. . . right after they build a fairy house.


Friday, May 27, 2016

The Tiger Returns!

One of our speech therapists has been out due to a serious illness and I’ve been filling in for her. It‘s extra work I hadn’t anticipated but I’ve discovered a bright side.  I’m seeing some of my old students whom I haven’t seen for almost five years!  I posted about one of them back in 2011 and when I reminded him of the tiger in the speech room, his smile transformed into the one I remembered. Since my time is rather limited right now, I thought I’d share the old post with you.

The Tiger's Stripes

Late one afternoon I gathered paper and fabric scraps for a collage project I’d planned for the following day. Slivers of paper fell to the floor and I scrambled to clean up my mess. The next morning, one of my speech students found two long scraps I’d missed – one sliver of orange felt and a slip of black construction paper. His eyes went wide. He held them close to my face and whispered, “Did you have a tiger in your room?” The other children looked confused for a moment then their faces lit up as they saw the tiger in their imagination, the one that had lost his stripes. Their thoughts took off faster than the animal they’d imagined tearing around the room leaving two stripes behind. They all spoke at once and started scouring the room for the jaguar’s spots, after-all something must have been chasing the tiger. Their story grew with their excitement and so did the opportunity for learning.

Many of the content standards for education can be taught through stories, both those read to children and those they create themselves. When they learn to write or dictate their tales they’re learning correct sentence structures and grammatical forms. It was easy to remind the students that the tiger hadn’t “runned” through the room but he “ran”. And when students begin to create their own stories, they listen more closely to the structure of others and they begin to understand central ideas.

I didn’t throw out my lesson plans the day we found the tiger’s stripes but I was certainly able to expand on them. And the next time I find a couple slivers of paper on the floor, I doubt I’ll sweep them away without a thought. I hope I’ll think of the tiger that lost them.