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