Category Archives: Life Lessons

Celebrating #1 and #2

Today is Father’s Day – a  day we celebrate our dads and those who’ve acted as dads in some capacity. We miss the dads who are no longer with us, we mourn the loss of dads through troubled relationships, we post pictures, and we all proclaim we have the “Best Dad in the World.”

I am fortunate enough to have two dads.  I have my #1 Dad, who I see on a regular basis because he lives 4 miles from me, and I have my #2 Dad, my step-dad, who I don’t see nearly as often (400+ miles), although he’s been a father-figure since I was 7 years old.  IMG_0966

dennisHow lucky am I to have two men who have taken the time over the years to help me, teach me, and raise me?  I know they love me, and they love my kids, and would do anything for me.  It doesn’t matter that one came before or after the other. If I didn’t have my step dad, he wouldn’t have me.  I am sure he is ok with being #2.  I have two dads to celebrate. Happy Father’s Day, Dad and Dennis!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Now it’s time to move on to the next big celebration of the day.

This is “potentially the biggest day of my life so far”, or so Ian told me this morning, as he struggled to eat breakfast because of his nerves.

Today could possibly be the day that Ohioans have been waiting on for over 50 years.

Tonight the Cleveland Cavaliers will face the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

Tonight the Cavs could bring home a championship.

This is probably not news to many of you.  Not if you live in my state anyway, especially if you live with a sports nut like Ian.  I am a mom that knows and cares far more about the NBA than I ever thought I would.

All In

If you’ve grown up in Ohio, you know of the Cleveland Curse, and if you’re on Facebook, you’ve read these comments more than once after a Cleveland loss:

  • “Cleveland never comes through for us.”
  • “I’m never watching Cleveland sports again.”
  • “It stinks to be a Cleveland fan.”
  • “Another disappointment.”
  • “Why do I even bother watching?”
  • “I’m done.”

I hear it from my son….who loves to win and supports his Cleveland teams, but always feels that same letdown.

Until a few nights ago…when every thing changed in Game 5, and winning became a very real possibility.  But now, it’s strangely hard to be this close and know that we could still lose.

With some luck, Ian’s dad was able to get two tickets to the Watch Party in Cleveland tonight, and they are already up there with thousands of others waiting to get into the Q. 

Ian told me, “It’s going to be insane in the Q if we win, but it’s going to be even worse if we lose.”

“Yes, disappointing,”I tell him. “But you are going to the NBA FINALS WATCH PARTY…the closest you can get without hopping on a plane. You COULD see history being made tonight.”

I am sure statistically the odds are in one team’s favor, but haven’t we beaten the odds already?

Isn’t there still a chance?

Isn’t there room for a miraCLE?

Trying to remain optimistic, but preparing him for the worst, I reminded Ian of a quote he had shared with me from Tuesdays with Morrie not too long ago. Tuesdays was a required reading for his 7th grade Enrichment Language Arts class this year, and while it seems somewhat mature in content, Ian said it was one of his favorite books ever, and he cited this specific line in one of his essays.  He wasn’t exactly happy to have me throw this quote back at him.

#2

Ian seems to think that Cleveland fans will hate the Cavs if they can’t win this tonight. That “the rest of the season won’t even matter.”

“How can you say that?” I argue with him. “How can anyone hate the Cavs for doing almost the absolute best they could do? There can only be one winner. What’s wrong with being number two?”

For the last two years we’ve seen improvement in the Cavs. They’ve gone one step further than last year. Who says they can’t take it another step further this year?

And even if they fail, I think the fans in Cleveland, and my son, should be pretty darn proud of the effort, the excitement, and the hope that has transpired in our area.

Please, if we lose, don’t be the person who quits, who says, “I’m done.”  Don’t hate on the Cavs. Be proud of them.  While being #1 is going to be amazing, what’s wrong with being #2?

 

 

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Summer TIME

Today is the first official day that my kids and I have been home together since school got out last Thursday.

I had two days of teacher in-service following their last day, and they were also with their dad for a few days.

So today is OUR first day of summer.

This is OUR time.

How nice is it to be able to sit and talk and relax and have no cares about tomorrow.

No rushing, no scrambling, no giant To Do list. Just time.

Will we go get groceries today? Probably not.

Will I let my new licensed driver go pick up our favorite pizza? More than likely.

Will someone say they are bored? Already happened.

Will I let my son stay up to watch Game 3 of the NBA Finals? Absolutely.

Will I fall asleep while reading? Every night.

Will I sleep in tomorrow? Ask my dog.

Will I blog again soon? Only time will tell.

Mini Unit: Go, Fight, Win!

As the year begins, one of my co-workers has been assigned a “Plus” class, where she will provide reading instruction to a small group of students who will benefit from an additional period of language arts.

She came to ask me for some ideas, and together we figured out a good starting point.

I figured as we developed the lessons, I could share them here as Mini-Units.

The resource I gave her was from Achieve the Core. (Click here to go to the Fluency Packet for the 6th-8th Grade Band.) The passages are going to be used to work on fluency, but also as a springboard/mentor text for the week’s plans.

We are starting with the first text selection which is a speech by Muhammad Ali called I am Still the Greatest. For an audio, click here.

This is a good starting point for the year because it sends a great message about not giving up.

We liked the Achieve the Core resources because each of the passages comes with  a few extended response questions and some vocabulary to teach, as well.

I then showed her this video, which I was already planning to use on the 2nd day of school.

I just love Mr. Humphrey’s energy, delivery, and message.

At the end of the video he says, “That is what defines who.. .you… are.”

…A perfect lead-in to some positive self-affirmations (an idea I stole from my blogger friend, Miss AuburnChick) and our bulletin board entitled “I Am…” where students will post their affirmations.

Finally, we talked about adding some current music, and I immediately thought of “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten and all of the figurative language. Plus it’s just a great song.

Other ideas:

  • Speaking and Listening: Performance Fridays
  • Possible Research Topics: Muhammad Ali, Olympics, Parkinson’s Disease
  • Language skills are hidden throughout the passage for use with mentor sentences
  • Text-to-Media connections

As we come up with more ideas, I’ll add them here.  As always, if you have a great idea to add, share it in the comments!! 

Back-to-School Love

For some reason, our district is a week behind everyone else in the area so we still have a few days left of summer vacation. However, seeing all the Back-to-School pics on Facebook, makes me a little excited for the big day.

So, last night I bought poster board at the Dollar Tree (5 Sheets for $1) and broke out the Sharpies. I could easily buy posters at the teacher store, but there is just something special about making my own.

This is going to go on my closet door, and each student will write about their dreams and goals.

This is going to go on my closet door, and each student will write about their dreams and goals.

This year’s theme is all about believing in your self, going after dreams, and loving your life…no matter where you are.  Wonder where I got that inspiration!?

I am so excited to talk to my 8th graders and share the exciting news of my first book.  I know that they will be proud of me, and I hope that it will serve as an inspiration and a reminder of how much I love them!

This will go in the center of my bulletin board above my desk, surrounded by photos of my family and pets.

This will go in the center of my bulletin board above my desk, surrounded by photos of my family and pets.

What’s your theme for this year?
Do you make your own posters and decorations?
What would YOU attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
Share some Back-To-School love in the comments!

Loved to Pieces

Ian has a teddy bear named “Rattle-ly.” (Once pronounced “Lattle-Ree”)  He’s had him for almost 12 years; my substitute bought him as a gift for Ian when he was born.

Last weekend I had to do some surgery on the little fellow.  This wasn’t his first time on the operating table, but this was definitely the most involved surgery to date. His right leg was shortened, his left arm and leg were patched, and he got some mending on left his side and over his heart.

 

 

I wonder how long this little guy can hang on? I guess this is what it means to be “loved to pieces.”

*Let’s cherish every moment we have been given…The time is passing by*

I had Miss Taylor for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade, and we had a special connection.  She had beautiful blond hair and a quiet disposition. She was shy and very nervous when we first met. She remained quiet, but she was always sweet. She made so much progress and “grew” in so many ways.  She will always be one of my favorites.

I am now friends with both her and her mother on Facebook, and I see regularly that she has grown up to be a beautiful person both inside and out.

Our bond was confirmed when I recently received this message:

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 8.14.07 PM

The picture that made the shoebox?

Ian Kristopher - only a few days old

Ian Kristopher – only a few days old

 

This picture dates back to 2003, when I ended the school year on maternity leave. After 13 weeks of bed rest, I came in to see my class with my baby boy. I had given each student a tiny 2×3 photograph of him.  Obviously, it meant a lot to Taylor. And it must have also meant a lot to her mother ~ to share this moment with me.

Looking at this photo, I am amazed it has been almost 12 years, and that Taylor is 21.  This is just a reminder that we should cherish every moment, because the time is passing by… so very quickly.

*Title from the lyrics of Kool & the Gang’s “Cherish” which, oddly enough, I played for the kids two nights ago after dinner. Earlier that day they had gone to the Skate Place, a childhood hangout of mine, and I was reminded of this song.  They didn’t appreciate it so much, but I sang my heart out. 

 

Total Admiration

I have such admiration for the twenty-one students in my class.

~These students who quietly and apprehensively entered the room, followed my directions, and politely helped themselves to the pumpkin muffins I had made.

~These students who dressed up for this very special day and the students who talked non-stop about Rick D. Niece during homeroom that morning.

~The young man who entered the room and confidently went up to our guest, stuck out his hand for a firm handshake and said, “Hi Mr. Niece. My name is C. It’s nice to meet you.” I wish his mother could have seen how grown up he was at that moment.

~The boy who knew the answers to Rick’s questions, but was just too shy to answer. But finally, with some gentle coaxing, got the courage to raise his hand, clear his throat, and answer in a complete sentence. I am so glad he could leave class that day with no regrets.

~The star-struck girls who raised their hands for every question, who knew every little detail, and remembered things I didn’t even remember.

~The 13 and 14-year old boys with nervous, cracking voices, who showed the maturity and compassion I always knew was deep down inside. They were not afraid to ask questions and share their feelings.

~Those boys who were too shy to speak, but were respectful listeners, and still had a one-on-one conversation with Rick during the book signing.

~The very bravest ones who confidently stood and read one of Rick’s poems out loud to him.

~These students, many who struggle with reading, who stood and read a poem called “Small Towns” in unison and brought tears to my eyes.

I have such admiration for this man, Mr. Rick D. Niece, who let my students call him “Rick” or “Rickie, my boy!”

~ The man who met my students at their level, but never talked down to them.

~ The man who answered every question – even “What’s your favorite color?”

~ The man whose favorite color on this particular day was green.

~ The man who quickly learned their names and praised them for their questions and thoughts.

~The man who spoke personally with each student as he autographed each book and took pictures.

~The man who asked my spunky girl, “What do you want to do with your life?” (Does he know how important that made her feel?)

~The man who spent a few extra minutes with the little girl who had lost her book, but finally found it in time for an autograph.

~The man who fought back tears when my students read his poem “Small Towns” in unison.

~The man who told my class, “You guys couldn’t give me a better gift.”

Taking in every bit of advice from "that man" after our amazing class discussion.

Taking in every bit of advice from Rick D. Niece – as an author, teacher, and friend.

Preparation is Key

Last week we spent a lot of time talking about the discussion we will have with the author of our book when he comes to visit us. Haven’t heard about that YET??? Click here for more details.

For Wednesday’s Bell Ringer the directions on the SMART board said:

Rick Niece will be here in exactly one week.  Write down three appropriate questions you might ask him while he is here.

Of course, many students asked if they could write more than three.

Of course, I said yes.

With this visit, I have three particular learning targets:

  1. I can prepare for and plan for a class discussion.  I can follow agreed-upon rules for class discussions.  I can ask questions to respond to others.
  2. I can use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  3. I can adapt my speech to a variety of tasks and contexts. I can demonstrate a command of formal English when appropriate.

After they had time to write their questions, I collected them all, mixed them up, and randomly read them.  I had the students evaluate each question and determine if it would be a good question or not, and explain why.

Here is a sampling of the questions from my 7th graders:

Have you ever written any other books before?
Do you go see Bernie Jones a lot?
Do you have any kids?
Was Side-Yard SuperHero your first book?
How many states have you traveled to?
Is there a movie for this book…or do you think there will be someday?
Did you enjoy going to Ohio State University?
How long did it take you to write this book?
Did you read this book to Bernie Jones?
What year did you meet Bernie?

My 8th graders had similar questions:

Are you married? 
Do you miss Duke and Fern?
Why did they make the parking lot bigger for the box factory?
Do you ever miss your hometown?
Have you ever written any other books?
How did you feel when you said all your goodbyes on the paper route?
Have you ever been back to DeGraff?
How did you feel when Joyce broke up with you?
Do you have any kids? If so, have you ever told them about Bernie?
Do you inspire others to help people and be friends with them?
Did you want to take Bernie with you?
Do you wish you still lived in DeGraff?
Is Bernie still alive? If he is, do you still talk to him?
Can I get an autograph?
Did you become a teacher like Mr. Bethel told you to?
How did you remember all of these details?
Are you still in contact with people?
Have you visited with anyone from the book?

Many of the questions we could already answer based on our reading, which students were quick to point out.

Other students answered the questions themselves.  For example, when I read, “Did you become a teacher like Mr. Bethel told you to?”  One 7th grader said, “I already know he did. I googled him!” :::::::Insert heart swell:::::::

I am so glad we did this prior to the visit.  I feel like the preparation will be well worth it and we can easily fill the time with no awkward silence.

If not, we do have a back-up question.

One of my boys wrote, “What is your favorite color?”

The whole class sort of groaned, but one excited girl piped up,”Wait! Put it in the emergency pile….in case we run out of things to ask him!”

 

“This Will Never Get Old”

We are wrapping up the book Side-Yard Superhero this week, and my heart has been filled to the brim with love for both the book and for my students.

Tomorrow we will read Ch. 21, “A Promise Finally Kept,” and I know it will be a difficult read.

I’ve read the ending of this book at least a dozen times.

I am not exaggerating.

I don’t know how or why I would read the ending of a book this many times. There are only a handful of books I have even ever read twice.

There is just something so special in these pages.

Yesterday, one of my quiet 8th grade girls came to me and whispered, “I finished the book. It was soooooo good….and I cried.” 

Today, another of my 8th grade girls, a slightly feisty one, came to me right away, “I’m gonna cry when you read Ch. 21 to us. I’m just sayin’. I finished the whole book last night and my dad was like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why are you crying? I told him he didn’t understand how good it was.'” 

No. Words.

Just a few days ago, during a class discussion, I heard her say, “I could totally write a book like this.  I’m gonna write an automythography, too.”

Today, as we read Ch. 20 and searched for evidence that supports the theme of friendship, the feisty girl smiled and shook her head, “This will never get old.”

I hope she will read the ending of this book over and over.

I hope she never forgets the lessons she has learned or what it feels like to truly connect with and appreciate a good book.

 

Coming Soon: Big Moment in a Small Classroom

Sorry to leave you all hanging about my big news.

I am still not sure if I want to post this now, or wait until Oct. 9th – which very well may be the day after the most exciting day of my teaching career.

Oh, where do I begin?

Let me set this up for you. As I posted here about a month ago, my class is reading the book Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher by Rick Niece.

Back in the second week of school, when we were just three chapters into the book, I received an email from a coworker involved in the One Book, One Community program in our county.

Two days later, I stood on my drive-way on a blazing hot Friday afternoon, August 29th, to be exact.  I was so nervous and so excited, but also determined.

I paced back and forth on the hot pavement. I took some deep breaths. I cleared my throat half a dozen times. I practiced what I had rehearsed I was going to say.

And then I dialed the number.

With some luck, I gained a much-needed moment to gain my composure when his wife answered, and then she promptly got Mr. Niece on the phone.

Mr. Rick Niece, the author of the book my students are reading…..On. The. Phone.

With. Me.

There I was, standing on my drive-way on a blazing hot Friday afternoon, August 29th, to be exact, and I had a conversation with Rick Niece.

I have replayed the conversation in my mind a million times and I cannot explain all of the feelings I was feeling as he asked me questions about my class and my teaching career. He applauded me for 19 years as a special education teacher.

He asked me if I liked to write, and he shared that he preferred writing what he knew over fiction, and I told him how fiction simply eludes me. He told me about his career in education and his background with special education programs at the university level.

He told me he typically spoke with creative writing classes, but before we hung up, we had a plan in place.

Mr. Niece will be coming to visit MY students in MY classroom.

True. Story.

My Resource Room students, who are unable to read at grade level, who do not like to read…..are going to meet not only the author of this book, but a CHARACTER from this book.

Coined an “automythography,” the book is the story of Rickie’s life growing up in a small town and the friendship he had with one special boy.

My students are going to meet a man who knew every single one of the characters in this book. He knew them, he talked to them, he helped them, and he learned from them.

These “characters,” who made such an impact on his life, are now part of our daily lives.

My students may ask about shy Miss Lizzie Moore, her pumpkin bread, and the unopened letters on her table.

My students may ask about eccentric Fern Burdette and faithful Duke.(I just know one of them will!)

My students may ask to hear the tale of Frank Tully eating all those hamburgers.

My students may ask about dear, old Mary Waite or firefly-a-phobic Danny Coonzy.

My students can ask all the questions they’ve been dying to ask about Bernie Jones.

Or maybe they’ll ask about one of the characters we haven’t even met yet. We are only on Ch. 15!

Since the day I shared the initial email with my class, this story and these characters have come to life.

And soon we will finish the book. I can only imagine how that might go.

Mr. Niece’s one request was that we finish the book before he came to visit; he felt it was important.

I said I would try my best. (You know I will!)

I am beyond excited for this unexpected and unprecedented event that is going to happen in the lives of 21 students I care a great deal about.

To be able to share this experience with them, to be able to remind them every single day that we have a goal to meet, that we must finish this book,  picture these scenes, connect with these characters, and prepare for a very special guest, it brings me so much joy.

To see them reading, to hear them making connections, to know they are anticipating….

October 8th will be a big moment in a small classroom, and as a teacher, an avid reader, and a wannabe writer, it will be a day I will never forget.

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