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Saturday, March 31, 2012

SLICE #31/31- A RECAP

Slice #31!
I did it!
Jumped off the high dive!
Touched the bottom at the twelve foot mark!
Swam all the way across the deep end!
Wrote 31 days in a row!
Woot! Woot! Woot!

My slices this year seemed to divide into several categories.
First, and maybe most important,
were the "How We Became a Family Slices."
I started writing those
after several other posters
wrote memories of days that they had babies
and then a few folks picked up on that theme
and wrote about their gotcha days.
My oldest son is graduating this year
(At least I hope he is, please keep him in your prayers!)
And I thought it would be kind of special
to write a book of slices
to give to him
as a graduation present.
He's come so far…

There were a few other family slices
One about the kindness of a stranger
who unknowingly bought us pizza for my birthday
One about Isaiah unloading groceries
Then finally a slice about our typical day
Which is not nearly as pleasant
As what some readers
seem to think. 


Next there was the "me as a teacher" category.
I did some classroom slices.
Two about the process of saying goodbye to my students,
One "character" sketch
One about the John Henry craze that has overtaken my classroom,
One about running into a former student at the post office,
(I ran into another student from that same group at a shopping center today).
Three about my job hunt
and it's eventual end (phew!)
And my favorite, about the time one of our students who has autism
rubbed the principal's head.


Then there were a few kind of miscellaneous slices
One about lessons from cooking class
(my book club friends decided that we had had  so much fun at the last one
that we should do it again in May!)
Two of my Sunday posts had to do with church and the Sabbath
 (it was interesting that I had a really similar Sabbath post last year,
it made me wonder why that crazy busi-ness is always such a theme in my life)
and one about a peanut butter sandwich message given by my pastor
that I am still thinking about pretty much every day.
I wrote two posts about my "family of origin"
 one about my sister's wedding,
and one about how my grandmother shaped me as a reader.
And then I wrote two slices about my venture into March Poetry Madness-
one a set of really bad limericks
and one about my process of trying to write a poem
which lost in the first round!
And then there was, of course, a poem about my dogs. 

I loved slicing
as much,
or maybe more
than I did last year.
I loved reconnecting with slicers
I had "met" last March
then followed on Tuesdays
throughout the year.
I loved making new friends
from all over the world.
I loved seeing all the different formats people tried
prose, lists, poems, acrostics, limericks, plays, photo essays.
I loved, loved, loved
reading comments that people made about my writing.
And I made a super conscious effort
to comment on other people's writing.
Most days I think I did at least ten
Although I didn't really keep count.

I spent some time last night
reading last year's slices.
And I really think I was writing better-
more details, better dialogue-
last year than I am now.
I wonder why---
maybe just too much on my mind-
son issues, graduation issues, job issues.

But at least I did it.
I sliced
for 31 days
in a row!

A huge thank you to Ruth and Stacey for pulling
the Slice of Life
Writing Community together!

Friday, March 30, 2012

SLICE #30- A WAY MORE TYPICAL SLICE OF LIFE

For those of you who think my family is somewhere close to sainthood, thought I would give you a typical slice from our life. This is one from last night and this morning.

Last night, my book club went to see Hunger Games, then for a bite to eat afterwards. After a terrific evening- great movie, great conversation, lots of laughter- I got home about ten. When I walked in the door, I could hear water running. The bathroom door was shut, so I assumed one of the boys was in the bathroom. A few minutes later, Kadeem walks out of his bedroom.

"I'm going to bed. Good night," he says, in one of those, you didn't do a good job mothering me/you should have been home cooking dinner" designed to induce mommy guilt voices.

"Where's the water running?" I say.

"Toilet," says Kadeem, shutting his door with a little more intensity than I thought necessary.

I resume my running water detective work, knocking softly on the bathroom door. "Isaiah?" I say, in my most pleasant mother/detective voice.

Isaiah doesn't answer. The door is ajar so I push it open just a little. No one is in there, but the toilet is, in fact, running like crazy. I take off the lid, preparing to move from detective to plumber role. I think that the floater valve is probably just hung up.  I know how to fix those.

Unfortunately, the floater valve does not seem to be the problem. I jiggle around all the jiggle-able parts I can see, then try flushing it again. I leave for a few minutes and go downstairs, hoping I have fixed the problem.  I haven't. The water continues to run.

I review my problem solving strategies. My next option is to turn off the water and call the plumber. I find the little valve behind the toilet (after saying some very unmotherlike words about my boys' housecleaning abilities!) and turn it off. I put a sign on the toilet DO NOT USE! and go to bed.

This morning, I got up and called the plumber. Because I am such a valued customer (plumber's code for someone is always breaking something, or putting something somewhere that it should not go),  I have a special valued customer account. April (yes, I really am on a first name basis with the plumber's dispatcher) tells me someone can come out between 12 and 2). I wade into the boys' bathroom and spend an hour scrubbing. (They usually clean their own bathroom, then I do my best to ignore it, but when someone, even the plumber, is coming over, a little elbow grease is usually in order). I discover that the drain in the sink also needs some work, and call April back. She says that will be no problem.  Somewhere during that hour I take a brief intermission because Kadeem insists he needs a shower. I resist the urge to say something unpleasant and unmotherlike about the boys' bathroom cleaning skills.

At about 11:50, the phone rings. April wants me to know that the plumber is on the way. Great. In the meantime, Isaiah comes out of his bedroom, goes into the bathroom, and slams the door.  I tap (Ok, maybe I banged a little) on the bathroom door and tell him he needs to get out of the bathroom because
A) the toilet doesn't work and B) the plumber is on his way up to the door. I tell him he should use my bathroom instead. He comes out of the bathroom and goes back into his bedroom, shutting the door with a lot more force than necessary, and saying, "I'm not an idiot," in a less than pleasant voice.

The plumber arrives at the door. "Hi, I'm Paul," he says. "You're having a problem with your hot water heater?"

"My hot water heater?"

Paul smiles and nods.

"No, I'm not having a problem with my hot water heater. I'm having a problem with my toilet and with the sink not draining."

"You're sure you're not having a problem with your hot water heater?"says Paul.

"No, my hot water heater is fine." I'm not too concerned by what seems like a mixup, because I have worked with this company for several years, and they have always done a great job.  I take him into the boys' bathroom to show him the toilet and sink.

"We usually have special drain guys," says Paul, "but I'll take a look at it."I comment that April had said that the drain would not be a problem. Paul looks at me like he's not sure I'm telling the truth, runs the water in the sink (I think to check if there really is hot water), looks at the drain, and then gets on the phone to call April.

"There's not a problem with the hot water heater," he says. "She has a problem with her toilet." Paul evidently has the phone on speaker because I can hear every word April says. "There's no problem with the hot water heater?" she says.

"No," says Paul. She says that no one is available this afternoon to do the drain, but that they can send someone tomorrow. Inwardly, I groan at one more day of my rapidly disappearing spring break being taken up waiting for a plumber, but I really need the work to be done, so I agree.

Paul rolls up his sleeves and starts to work. I stand in the doorway, waiting for his assessment of the toilet situation. "So how old are your boys?" he says conversationally.

"Sixteen and eighteen," I reply. "Do you have kids?" He does, an eight-year-old boy and a baby.

"Where does your eight-year-old go to school?" I ask.

"In the mountains. He lives up in the mountains with his mom."

This seems like it could be heading toward one of those foot-in-mouth conversations, so I change the subject. "How long have you worked for **** Plumbing Company?"

I have moved away from the bathroom and can't quite hear his answer. I move back to the door.

"I've worked for them for a year," he says, "but it's not **** Plumbing Company. I work for **** (another plumbing company)."

I am a little confused. I wonder if **** Plumbing Company, the one I use, is subcontracting work to this other company.

I must look confused, because Paul points to his shirt. "I work for *** Plumbing Company."

"But that's not the company that's supposed to be coming," I say, hoping for some clarification.

"Isn't this 2557 G Street?" says Paul.

"No," I say, "This is 2577."

"Well that explains the water heater issues," says Paul. "I'm supposed to be repairing a water heater at 2557 G Street." He picks up his materials and I escort him to the door, pointing him two doors down, to where my neighbor is evidently waiting to have her hot water heater repaired.

My plumber shows up ten minutes later, and charges me about $300 to fix the sink and toilet. He laughs when I tell him about my new friend, Paul.

I write the plumber a check and he leaves. I go to let the dogs in and discover that Isaiah has climbed out his bedroom window and  is out in the backyard. The basketball hoop has somehow made its way up onto the wooden deck. A large board on the deck is now broken in half, leaving a hole in the middle of the deck.

"How did that happen?" I ask.

"Basketball hoop," says Isaiah. I sigh wondering where the money will come from to fix that.

"And your stupid dog bit a hole in my basketball," Isaiah continues.

"Did you leave it where he could get it?" I say.

"It's a basketball. It's supposed to be by the hoop," says Isaiah.

I resist the urge to respond.

And this, my friends, is a probably more accurate slice of our life today…

POETRY FRIDAY- THE OTHER MARCH MADNESS

Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but besides being a book-loving, poem-eating, word- hungry teacher, I'm also a huge sports lover. I grew up with a dad who had lettered in football, basketball, and baseball in high school and college. We had only girls in our family, and somebody had to become his sports-watching pal. Some of my happiest memories of my dad involve sitting in front of the television on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, cheering our favorite teams, with chip and dip, or popcorn, or occasionally shrimp, provided by my mom (who also watched a lot of sports!).


I have loved Ed DeCaria's Poetry March Madness. I've read all of the poems, and voted, and shared a lot with my fourth graders. It's been a blast to read all the beautiful/funny poems from the talented people I follow every Friday all year long.


I have also loved the OTHER March Madness- you know, the Basketball one? Is anyone else following that? It seems only appropriate, then, to highlight one of my favorite sports poets, Charles R. Smith, Jr.  Smith is a poet/photographer/sports lover. He has five books of basketball poetry, RIMSHOTS (my favorite), SHORT TAKES, HOOP KINGS, HOOP QUEENS, and TALL TALES. All of Smith's books, or at least all of them that I know, are illustrated with his gorgeous sports photographs.  His book, MY PEOPLE, won the Coretta Scott King award in 2010 and his biography of Muhammed Ali, 12 ROUNDS TO GLORY was a Coretta Scott King Honor winner in 2008.




"Allow Me to Introduce Myself"
Charles R. Smith, Jr.


They call me the show stopper
the dime dropper
the spin-move-to-the-left reverse jam poppa.
The high flier on the high wire.
The intense rim-rattin’noise amplifier.
The net-shaker
Back board breaker
Creator of the funky dunk hip-shaker
The man Sir Slam
The Legend
I Be.
Those are a few
Of the names
They call me.
To get the full effect, you really need to bounce over to Smith's website and listen to him read his poems here.  They are absolutely perfect for introducing performance to your sports lovers!


Heidi Mordhorst is hosting Poetry Friday at my juicy little universe.


Happy Spring! Happy March Madness! Happy almost National Poetry Month!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

SLICE #29- THE DAYS OF NOT ENOUGH

The first weekend, or maybe the second, I take Isaiah to Colorado Springs to meet my family. It was Mother's Day, and my family had reservations for lunch. The pictures of that day show Isaiah, a stocky little guy in a brown and gold plaid shirt and khaki pants, clutching my hand, as I introduce him to my mom,  sister Betsy and her husband, Paul, my high school aged niece and nephew- Greg and Megan, and my other sister, Nancy, and her partner, Dee.

I remember only snippets from that day. I do remember, though, helping Isaiah order from the children's menu. The menu, as I remember it, was a typical kids' menu- hamburgers, grilled cheese, and chicken nuggets. Isaiah asked for pepperoni pizza.

The waiter brought the pizza to the table. It wasn't anything fancy, a kids' pizza on a  dinner plate, with a fruit garnish. Isaiah, however, was totally enthralled. When the waiter set the pizza down in front of him, he looked at it, then looked at me.

"Is this all for me?" he asked. "I get to eat all of this?"

In fact, eating was a theme that was threaded throughout that entire first summer. There had been signs for several years that the boys were not getting enough to it. Isaiah would always go back for seconds and thirds in the school cafeteria. His second grade teacher sent him to the office more than once for hiding food in his desk. Kadeem was a skinny, wiry little guy. I did not even begin to understand the severity of their hunger.

Shortly after the boys came to live with me, I took them to dinner at their favorite restaurant, a buffet. They had never eaten in restaurants and I was trying to ease them into a few niceties of life. We ate at this particular buffet every couple of weeks because there was a wide variety of food and an ice cream machine that served as a perfect incentive for doing a good job during the meal. The buffet thing meant that the boys didn't have to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time.

This particular night, we were driving to the restaurant. Kadeem commented that he was really hungry, and I assured him that we would be eating in just a few minutes. He turned to Isaiah and said, "Do you remember how sometimes at Teresa's (previous foster mom, not her real name) we would get so hungry that we would shake?"

Isaiah said he remembered. Kadeem continued, "Do you remember your legs would just shake and shake and you would feel like you were going to fall down?"

My heart broke then, as it would many more times, for my sweet, sweet boys.

Despite my continuous reassurances, the boys seemed unable to believe that there would always be plenty to eat at our house. I have never been a great cook, and breakfast at our house was usually pretty simple-- cereal, bagels, toast, etc. Those first few months, Kadeem's choice was always microwave pancakes.

He didn't, however, eat one or two servings of pancakes. Instead, my skinny little seven-year-old would sit with his fork in one hand, knife in the other, and consume an entire box of microwave pancakes. Every. single. morning. I did not understand until much later that the boys thought that they needed to eat a lot at breakfast because there might not be food later on in the day.

Even now, after nine years of plenty of food, the boys, and especially Kadeem, get nervous if our cupboards start to look a little bare. "Don't you need to go to the store?" Kadeem will say. My boys remember, all too well, the days of not enough.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SLICE #28- SALVAGEABLE?



The boys have lived with me about a month when their social worker 
(who shall remain nameless)
comes to visit.
We discuss the boys' adjustment, 
review summer plans,
and sign the monthly paperwork.
The appointment is almost over, 
when the social worker asks a question.
"So," she says conversationally, 
"Do you think they are salvageable?"

I am socked-in-the-stomach-stunned 
by her choice of words.
Salvageable is a word used to described
Overcooked casseroles, 
wrecked cars,
and ships that have sunk 
to the bottom of the ocean.
Salvageable is not a word 
that should ever be used to describe children. 


I think I manage to stammer
something to the effect ,
that of course they are salvageable.
They are children,
yes children, who have been through very hard times
and have the life bumps and bruises 
to show for it
but of course they are salvageable.
I would not be doing this
if I did not think that they were salvageable.




After thinking about it  for nine years, 
I think I might say, 

"When you talk about my children,
please feel free to use words like…
adorable, 
enjoyable,
 malleable,
valuable
and
perhaps a little unpredictable.

You can use words like 
quotable
and remarkable
if you like. 

Hopefully someday you will describe my boys as
responsible,
respectable,
charitable
admirable,

and of course, by then 
remarkable
will definitely apply.

If you want to,
we can talk about a system,
Or maybe a society,
That allows children 
to suffer
As irresponsible
inconceivable,
or reprehensible.

But please,
don’t ever ask again
if my children
or any others 
in my care

are salvageable.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SLICE #27- COMING HOME


I bring Isaiah home for the first time on a Friday night. It is pouring rain, super unusual for our very dry state. Kadeem has not gone to school that entire week, and the social workers have decided that until he goes back to school, he will not be allowed to come on weekend visits either.

Isaiah and I make a stop first at the foster care agency that is doing my training. The agency is anxious to place the boys quickly and have created a ramped up schedule of classes for me to complete.  Every night, I do a module, then meet with my social worker to discuss it  and turn it in. Tonight, Isaiah watches videos in a crowded office, while we meet. He does not interrupt once, except to ask for a bathroom, for the entire hour.

When I am done, Isaiah and I head for home. My home, an 80-year-old thousand square foot bungalow, is much smaller and much less fashionably decorated than the boys' previous foster home. Isaiah, I think, is a little disappointed in his new home.

Ramsey, my hundred pound golden retriever, and Mattie, the exuberant yellow lab who will soon assume the role of therapy dog, greet us at the door, the same way they have done every night for many years. Isaiah is a little taken aback by their size. "Don't worry, Isaiah, they are kid friendly," I assure him. He pats the dogs tentatively and they follow us happily from room to room, as I give him a tour of the house. By the time we are done, it is nine o'clock, and we are both tired. We watch a little tv, and then I tuck my son in for the night.

The next morning, Saturday, we have much to do. Isaiah came with the clothes on his back and not much more. The soles of his tennis shoes are flapping. My dear friend, Deb, has purchased underwear for that first weekend. One of Isaiah's friends has given us a bag of hand-me-down clothes. It is clear that we need to go shopping. We start at Target, where we pick out shorts, t-shirts, and a pair of khakis and a collared shirt for him to wear to meet my family the next day.

We then move on to Famous Footwear. Isaiah is thrilled at the prospect of picking out brand new tennis shoes and his grin stretches from ear to ear. When I tell him he needs to pick out a second pair of shoes, one that he can wear for dress up, he is incredulous. "I never had two sets of shoes," he declares in complete disbelief.  "These are beauts…" says Isaiah, as he models the second pair. I think of the 10 or 15 pair of shoes in my closet at home.

The rest of the morning becomes, in my mind, a metaphor for what will become our life together- me trying to pretend that I can do the mom thing and the work thing equally well, that there will be no difference between the life I have known and the one I am about to assume. . I am in charge of a parent appreciation breakfast at the school the following week. There is a mile long list of things that need to be purchased, picked up, and created. We pick up thank you presents at two different Pier Ones,  tablecloths and paperware at Party City, thank you notes at Hallmark store, and groceries at King Soopers. Isaiah is a trouper the entire morning. At every stop, the car gets fuller and fuller, and he squeezes into a smaller and smaller space. Finally I ask him if he is used to running errands with his foster mom. "Yes," he says, "but usually Kadeem and me sit in the car and wait."

By the time we get through the grocery store, Isaiah is totally spent and I am beginning to realize that the busy, crazy running around life I have always known may need to change a little…

Monday, March 26, 2012

SLICE #26- THE LONG GOODBYE

I am at a school that is closing at the end of this school year. Actually, the primary wing closed last year, and reopened this fall as a charter school. The intermediate wing will close in May, and then reopen in August as part of the same charter school. Most of my fourth graders will attend the charter school, which is their neighborhood school, next year.

I have only been at the school one year, so it's not nearly as heart wrenching for me as it is for teachers who have been there ten or fifteen years. One of the fifth grade teachers, for example, sent her own children, who are now in their thirties to our school, then she became a paraprofessional, and then went back to school to become a teacher. She has never taught anywhere else.

Even though I have only been at the school for about eight months, I have a feeling that the next seven weeks are going to be one long goodbye. Have I mentioned that I absolutely hate goodbyes?

Last Thursday, for example, Uriel and his best friend, Juan, were talking about Barbara O'Connor. Uriel had just finished THE FANTASTIC SECRET OF OWEN JESTER. He had moved on to GREETINGS FROM NOWHERE and passed OWEN JESTER along to Juan. As we were wrapping up Readers' Workshop that day, Uriel said to me, "Are you going to get Barbara O'Connor's next book?"

I responded that I was sure I would, because she is one of my favorite authors and I have bought all of her books.

Paris, who is one of the strongest readers in my class and read OWEN last fall, while I was reading HOT TO STEAL A DOG to the class, overhead the conversation, "It's the one about the pigeon, right? But it's not coming out until Fall, is it?"

"I think I read that it is coming out in October," I say.

"We won't be in fourth grade, then?" asks Juan, not quite sure of the time frame.

"No, we'll be in fifth grade," says Paris.

"In fifth grade," said Uriel. "But you won't be with us in fifth grade, right, Ms. Wilcox? You will be at the school where they speak Spanish and English. "

"That's right, Uriel," I say.

"Well then, how will we get the book? How will we get to read Barbara O'Connor's pigeon book?" says Uriel.

I have to think fast on this one. "We are a reading family," I say. "And reading families stick together. The day Barbara O'Connor's new book comes out, I will go and buy four copies. I will keep one copy to read myself. And then I will come back to visit you. I will give one copy to each of the fifth grade classrooms, so that all of us who love Barbara O'Connor will get to read her next book. You can read it and email me and tell me what you think."

The boys seem ok with this solution. They will get to read their favorite author's newest book. We will see each other. We will talk about our reading. Just like we do every day.

And me?

I'm absolutely hating all this goodbye stuff.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

SLICE #25: ANOTHER CONVERSATION, THIS ONE WELL-REMEMBERED

So I kinda started out chronologically on my story of our gotcha time, but this story is too good not to be told, and it happened six months and a million stories or slices later…

We are at Kadeem's end of year football "banquet." A football banquet, for those of you who don't know, is an end of year celebration, where coaches reflect on the season and everyone gets a trophy.  With younger kids, the banquets were usually held at a fun venue- an arcade, a bowling alley, a race track.  This particular event was held at Boondocks, which featured an outside race track, lots of video games, all with their own bells and whistles, and laser tag.

Kadeem, Isaiah, and I are waiting in line to play laser tag. One of Kadeem's teammates is standing in line in front of us. After a brief conversation with Kadeem, he turns around and looks at me, then turns back around. Soon, I can feel his eyes on me again. And again. After several turns, he finally speaks.

Teammate: So. You're Kadeem's mom?

Me: Yeah, I am.

Kadeem, Isaiah, and I have been a family for about six months and I am prepared for what is coming next. I am ready to give my speech about how families are the people who love and take care of you, that  not all families look alike, that I always wanted to be a mom, and the boys needed a mom, and that we are a family, yada, yada, yada…

Kadeem's teammate saves me the trouble. He wrinkles up his nose, then says, "Aren't you kind of old to be a mom?"

Yes, sweetie.

Yes, I am.

I am kind of old to be a mom.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

SLICE #24: TWO CONVERSATIONS: VAGUELY REMEMBERED

Back to writing about our "gotcha month," at least for today…

The boys were at the Crisis Center for about two weeks. The social worker allowed me to pick them up every morning about 7, take them to school, then feed them dinner and take them back to the Crisis Center about 5. The Crisis Center, on the west side of town, was about 45 minutes away from school, which was on the far east side of town.

That first week, someone at the Crisis Center told the boys they had a choice about whether or not they went to school. Isaiah chose to go, Kadeem chose not to go. (Some things never change: He would still much rather stay home and play video games than go to school). These first conversations, then, involve only Isaiah.

Conversation #1, the first day I pick Isaiah up for school:

Isaiah: So we are going to come and live with you?

Me: Yes.

Isaiah: When?

Me: As soon as we can get all of the paperwork finished. There are a lot of rules about bringing kids home to live at your house.

Isaiah: But we are going to stay at your house?

Me: Yes, you are going to live with me. We are going to be a family.

Isaiah: Can I play on a football team?

Me (who is still trying to get her head around buying toothbrushes and underwear, and knows ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about youth football): Would you like to play on a football team?

Isaiah: Yes. E (an older brother who no longer lives with the boys) got to play on a team and he was really good. He got a trophy. Can I play on a team?

Me (wondering how in the world you set a kid up to play on a youth football team): Sure, buddy, we will find you a team.

For people who don't know my boys, and especially Isaiah, football basically defines him as a human being. He has played football every year since I adopted the boys, and was captain both his junior and senior years. This fall, he is supposed to go to Phoenix and play at a junior college, although that's still a little up in the air. The football field is the one place in the world where he is happy and confident. It is his place to shine

*****************

Conversation #2 (also that first week, maybe even the same day)

Isaiah: Will people think you are our mom?

Me (I'm pretty sure I know where is going): What do you mean?

Isaiah: Cuz we don't look like you.

Me: We will just tell them families are the people that love and take care of each other. And even if we don't look alike, we will love and take care of each other, so we are a family.

I am not sure Isaiah is totally convinced.  A little later in the conversation, I know he is not.

Isaiah: So you don't have a husband?

Me: No sweetie, I have never been married.

Isaiah: But do you have a boyfriend?

Me: No, I don't have a boyfriend.

Isaiah: Well maybe you could get a boyfriend who is black. People would think he is our dad.

Me: That would be nice, but that might not happen. Boyfriends are hard to find. Families are made in people's hearts, not in the color of their skin. We are a family because we love and take care of each other.

At some point, maybe I will write some more about the issue of race and our family, but today, well, today, I gotta go grocery shopping, or my fellas are going to start eating the cupboards!

Friday, March 23, 2012

POETRY FRIDAY- DAFFODILS


Like many of you, I have so loved reading the March madness poems at Think, Kid, Think this week. Many of my favorites, like one by Laura Salas and two by Mary Lee (our host for today's Poetry Friday roundup) had to do with the coming of spring. These poems reminded me of another one of my favorite poems, "Daffodils," by Ralph Fletcher. Ralph's poem first appeared in his book, ORDINARY THINGS: POEMS FROM A WALK IN EARLY SPRING. I was really surprised to discover that this book was published in 1997,  I would have said it was about five years old. I guess then, that it's an oldie but a goodie, but it's definitely worth adding to any poetry collection for kids.

"Daffodils"

They put on
a little show
simply by being
so yellow.

Their stems
darkly green
against the
faded brown barn.

Ralph Fletcher
from Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring

SLICE OF LIFE #23- AT THE MUSEUM

Yesterday, as the culminating activity for a unit on ecosystems,  the entire fourth grade went to the Museum of Nature and Science. I teach in an urban area and many of my kids had never been to the museum before. We had an absolutely wonderful day exploring ecosystems, experimenting with the hands-on activities in the Solar System exhibit, picnicking in the park, and riding escalators. 

As a teacher in an urban setting, these trips are always kind of bittersweet. I love, love, love taking them places and exposing them to experiences they have never had. At the same time, I'm always sad that the experiences so many kids take for granted are such a treat for my babies… Here are a series of vignettes from our day…


"At the museum"

As the docent manipulates
the model of the solar system,
Alex whispers a question,
"Why do you think
Jupiter is so hot
When it's farther from the sun than Earth?"
I actually am not even sure
That Jupiter really is hotter than Earth.
"I'm gonna ask him," whispers Alex.
When the presentation is over
he approaches the elderly gentleman.
Balding gray head and gel-spiked black
Bend over the model.
A few minutes later,
my junior scientist returns.
"it's because of the internal pressure,"
he says knowingly.

Sweet shy M,
drags me across the room
"Look, Miss Wilcox,
Feel this.
This is what a deer's antlers feel like."
Holds up deer ears.
"Look, Miss Wilcox,
Try these.
This is what it sounds like to be a deer."
Rubs my fingers
across a deer's summer coat.
Then the winter one. "Feel this.
Miss Wilcox, can you feel it?
This one is thicker. It's for winter."

I lose Maria
in the Arctic exhibit
I find her 
kneeling in front of 
a polar bear exhibit
completely engrossed
in copying facts 
 onto index cards.
"I need these for
my ecosystem powerpoint,"
she says, 
when I ask her what she is doing

At the snake and lizard exhibit.
My kids marvel over
a red spitting cobra,
an enormous python,
a bumpy skinned iguana
We see sixty kinds of snakes and lizards
 wait in a long line for gecko bracelets. 
Assemble a snake skeleton.
Stand in front of a green screen
to have our pictures taken
wrestling a cobra.

Finally, Darius leads the way as we mount the stairs,
To the third floor atrium
An all glass wall
Panoramic view of the lake at City Park.
Collected intake of breath,
"I never knew 
there was anything 
this beautiful,"
says Alijah-na.
We stand there a long time
maybe 15 minutes
before I must break the spell
and herd my students
back onto the bus
to their reality. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

SLICE #22- GETTING TO GOTCHA

As weird as it sounds, I do not truly remember the exact moment I made the conscious decision to bring the boys home.  I just remember that sometime over the course of that Easter weekend, I knew, in the deepest part of my being, that the boys were supposed to come home with me. That I was supposed to become their mother. That we were supposed to become a family.

The boys were taken to the Crisis Center, a kind of holding tank, for kids in the foster care system.  That weekend, I talked to my boss and dear friend, Deb, who also does foster care (who is the closest person to Mother Teresa/sainthood that I know).  I told her I was thinking about bringing the boys home. She didn't say I should, or I shouldn't. She just said, "Well you know I will be there if you decide to do it."

I talked to my mom. She was, to put it mildly, a little surprised. You are thinking about adopting? Two boys? Two African American boys? From the foster care system? "Well, you know I will be here if you decide to do it."

I talked to a circle of my closest friends, the women who now refer to themselves as "the Book Club Aunties." More surprises. But again, "Well you know we will be here if you decide to do it."

By that Monday, I had decided. If the boys were available, I was going to do it. On Monday morning, I called the social worker  to find out whether the boys had been returned to their previous foster home. They hadn't. What was going to happen to them? Uncertain. Parental rights had been terminated. They would go to another foster home, but they were having trouble finding a dual placement. They were considering splitting the boys up and placing them separately.  I got a huge lump in my throat. Every single snapshot I could bring to mind involved both boys. Not one. They were always, and I mean always, together. All they had was each other.

"I'll take them," I said to the social worker. "They can come home with me.  Both of them. Together."

Because I had occasionally taken care of Deb's foster son, I was licensed as a respite home. That meant the boys could immediately come home for weekends. Before we could make it a permanent deal, I needed some additional training-- Foster Care 101, First Aid/CPR. I needed a home visit. And I needed to fill out a daunting, inch-thick stack of paperwork, which involved using a million other pieces of paper- everything from tax returns to my college transcripts, to my dogs' licensing papers. That alone shook this disorganizational goddess to the core of her very being.

I called Human Services on Monday. On Tuesday evening, the first of several home visits occurred. The social worker, a single mom with two kids of her own, grilled me mercilessly, for almost two hours . Where I had grown up? What was my nuclear family like? Had I ever been married?  Had my parents ever hit me? Was I in a serious relationship? How did I feel about corporal punishment? Could I support the boys financially? What would I do if the boys got sick and had to stay home from school?  Where would the boys sleep? Were my dogs friendly? Had they ever bitten anyone? Was I really serious about taking the boys permanently? Did I understand the commitment involved?  Many of the questions had to do with race-- how was I, a single white woman, prepared to raise two African American boys? By the time the social worker left, I was exhausted. But aside from needing to drain the hot tub in the backyard (foster homes are not allowed to have trampolines or hot tubs) and put up a hand rail on the stairs to the unfinished basement,  I had been approved.

I set to draining the hot tub and dissembling my study.  I lived in a relatively small two bedroom, one bathroom bungalow. The tiny second bedroom had always been my study/tv room. Now it needed to become a bedroom for the boys. Over the course of that week, friends helped me move the furniture out of the study. The television and bookcase went into an already full living room. The sleeper couch went to the garage. My sister and her partner went with me to buy a set of l-shaped bunk beds and dressers. I bought two navy and red plaid comforters, thick and warm. New towels for the bathroom. Friends gave me books and legos and balls and puzzles.

Within five days, the bedroom was ready. It was time for my boys to come home…



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SLICE 21- OUR JOURNEY TO GOTCHA

I have loved reading everyone else's birth and "gotcha" day stories this month. Decided that I would try to write one of my own. I'd really like to write a whole book (not a long book, but maybe 15 or 20) of them to give to my son for his graduation. Maybe…

Our "gotcha" (as people in the adoption world call the day that they brought home their children), was not an actual day, it was more like a journey, over the course of several months, or maybe even over many years.

Early April 2003. I am driving home from work. . I am just returned from an annual spring break vacation in the Grand Cayman with my mom, my sisters, my brother-in-law, and my niece and nephew.  After twenty years of singleness, I am really good at being alone. I have a job that I love, a busy full life as an assistant principal, an adjunct professorship at the university, a great book club, a church family, lots of friends, etc. Even so, I struggle sometimes with being alone. And the times that are hardest for me are the times when I have just been with lots of people, like after the vacation with my family. It is then that the longing for connectedness and family are the hardest to bear.

On this day, I am driving home from work. I am in rush hour on I-70. It is one of those days where the loneliness seems especially big and especially unbearable. I cannot stand another solitary frozen dinner, another night of talking only to my dogs, another night of walking the dogs, followed by school work, and background noise from the tv and bed alone. I cry out to God, "I can't do this any more." I beg Him, as I have a hundred, or maybe a million, times before, to bring someone into my life. I think I am praying for a husband. A few weeks later, my prayers are answered. The answer, however, is very different than anything I could have ever dreamed…

There are two little boys at our school. Brothers. The oldest one, in third grade, has been at the school since the school opened when he was in first grade. His brother is a year younger.We have worried about the boys for years.  The kids are often brought to school early. Left standing on a corner until very late. They are dirty. Wear the same clothes for days on end. Ask for extra food in the cafeteria. We have contacted the authorities on several occasions. The home checks out. We still worry.

One day an incident occurs. We contact the social worker yet again. This time, she says something must be done. It is the Friday before Easter and the third graders are making Easter baskets in their classroom. The older brother brings his basket with him when he is called to the office. When the social worker tells the boys that they will be leaving with her, the older brother cries, because he wants to go to the class Easter party. The third grade teacher, a quiet, orderly, raised on a farm country kind of gal, brings bags of candy and fills the older boy's basket to the top. When she turns around, I can see she is crying.

The two boys go out the door with the social worker, leaving only a trail of jelly beans and Easter grass. I think about them all weekend…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

SLICE #20- THE READING SEED

I am sure my mom and dad read to me. If I reach deep, I can pull up vague recollections of THE POKEY LITTLE PUPPY, THE STORY OF PING, and KIKI DANCES. And my mom was definitely a reader- I can't remember a night when she didn't read before she went to sleep. If I had to pick one person, however, that was my "book mama," It would definitely be my mom's mom, my Grandma Grace.

My Grandma Grace was a librarian for the Chicago Public Libraries. We lived in Colorado Springs and every summer, our family would make the journey across the hot, hot plains of Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa to visit my grandmother in Illinois . I did not mind being squashed between my two sisters, my legs glued to the sticky plastic seats of our non- air conditioned station wagon for those many miles. I knew that at the end of the trip, my grandma would have a pile of books waiting. I would climb joyfully into her large white armchair and lose myself for days at a time.

My grandma was also a giver of books. I think I was about eight when she sent the first book in Laura Ingalls Wilder's LITTLE HOUSE series. Every birthday and every Christmas, she would send another book in that series. I made an rule that I couldn't read a LITTLE HOUSE book until my grandmother sent it to me. I think it took me about four years to read the entire series. Somewhere, maybe from my other grandmother, I had seen someone sign a book, so I carefully printed To: Grammy, From: Carol in childish handwriting in the front of the book. My grandma must have seen that and after that she always signed the books herself.

My grandmother sent other books as well. When I was about six, she sent a yellow and white striped Betty Crocker children's cookbook. I remember sitting in bed on my birthday morning, leafing through to find recipes I could cook. She sent FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER the year it won the Newbery (I still tell kids about how I skipped the prologue, and didn't understand until the end of the book that it was super important to understanding the whole book). Those two books sit next to the thick brown volume of THE BORROWERS (the original, BORROWERS ALOFT, BORROWERS AFLOAT, and BORROWERS AFIELD).

Interestingly, I don't remember receiving books from my grandmother, once I got into middle school It didn't really matter, because she had already planted the reading seed in my life. And that's a seed that has rooted deeply in my life for many years.

Monday, March 19, 2012

SLICE #19- AND THE SEARCH IS OVER


It's official! The wait is over! I have a new job!

Starting in August, I will be a literacy coach at a K-8 school in Northeast Denver. I'm excited to have a job, and even more excited about some new challenges and opportunities for growth and learning. First,
the school employs a dual immersion model for its English language learners. Their goal is that students graduate from eighth grade bilingual and bi-literate. This is very different from the transitional model used in most Denver (Colorado?) schools, where students are supposed to transition from Spanish to English in three years. And I'm excited that I will have the opportunity to work on my Spanish. I speak and read some, but definitely have a ways to go before I could be considered fluent.

Secondly, I will be working with three new grade levels (sixth, seventh, and eighth). I cannot wait to share some of the professional books and YA literature I have enjoyed in the past couple of years.

I had my initial interview for this job at the job fair about ten days ago. I thought the job sounded great, but to be really honest, I didn't think I had much of a chance, simply because I'm not bilingual. When the principal called to schedule a second interview,  she told me that I was going to need to speak and write Spanish at the interview. "You have a couple of days to practice," she said. That night I dragged out my Spanish books and carted them around for a few days.

More than half of my students are English Language learners, so I practiced with them.  They were fascinated by my Spanish "workbook," several of the girls even borrowed it for a couple of recesses and set up Spanish lessons, not to be confused, but closely related to "spinach" lessons advertised on the poster in one corner of our room.

Despite my practice, I wasn't feeling very confident when I left school for the interview. When I told my fourth graders I was leaving while they were at specials, one of my girls said, in total innocence, "Don't forget to take that book with you. Maybe you can look stuff up while you're talking." It didn't help that the highway was totally backed up, and a ride that should have taken 28 minutes (according to map quest) took 55. Thank heaven I had left school plenty early.

The interview went well, and I wrote in Spanish, at least kind of anyway.  I still didn't think I would get the job. I knew of at least one other literacy coach that had applied, not only is she a great coach, but she speaks Spanish fluently. I was absolutely thrilled, then, a few hours later, to hear that I had gotten the job, pending a check of references. Today I got the official district email that my transfer has been approved. And I am so, so thankful that my Abba Father has provided a new job. And so, so, so, so, so grateful for all your prayers and kind words. Those have carried me through a couple of rally hard weeks. So thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

There is a kind of bittersweet side to my job search, however. I work with some really, really nice people. And some really good teachers. So far, only four of us have new jobs for next year. There are about ten more folks on my staff that are still looking. I am so glad that my search is over, but I know that those people are in the same place I was in a week ago. And it's no fun. So I'm praying. And writing reference letters. And sending emails. Hoping that they will get good news soon. I'm so glad my search is over…

Sunday, March 18, 2012

SLICE #18- PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES

Just back from church. 
My pastor is doing a series about grace.
Today he told a story that I think will stick me for a long time.
"There was once a man who dreamed of going on a cruise 
for many, many years, but he never had the money.
Finally, a friend who knew about the man's dream
purchased a ticket for him.
The man packed his clothes, and his swim suit, 
but he also packed something very strange-- 
seven days' worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
When he got to the ship, he unpacked his suitcase,
and put his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the little refrigerator. 
For the first few days of the cruise,
the man enjoyed the view, and the pools, and the activities.
At meal time, though, he would pass up the beautiful buffets-
the steak and eggs, the peeled shrimp, the gorgeous desserts,
and head back to his room 
to eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 
Finally, after three days, he was tired of sandwiches.
He went to the maitre'd and said,
"What does it cost to eat in the dining room?"
The maitre'd said, 
"It doesn't cost anything. 
It's included in the price of your ticket."
I cried during the final hymn 
as I wondered how many times I had settled for peanut butter
when God intended for me 
to eat from a beautiful buffet.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

SLICE #17- LESSONS FROM COOKING CLASS

Today I took a cooking class. A fish and seafood class to be precise.  I learned how to cook five different dishes, including sautĂ©ed tilapia with citrus-mustard sauce and roasted pecans, oven roasted salmon with miso glaze, grilled mako with tamarind vinaigrette, nut-crusted mahi mahi with browned butter, and jamaican jerk shrimp with minted barbados flambĂ©.

People who know me well would be a little surprised that I took the class.  I am famous for my pan-burned spaghetti sauce.  During football season, Son #2 suggested that we ask one of the other player's moms, who is a really good cook, to cater food in for us every night. (If I was rich, I so would have considered it).  I would much rather eat at a restaurant than cook. I am not, and probably never will be, the kind of gal that flames shrimp at my dining room table.

But my book club decided several months ago that we needed to take a cooking class. So while they were cooking away, I was thinking about how much Chef Dan knew about teaching, starting with the structure of the class. He started with an introduction, kind of a mini-lesson, then went to a workshop, where everyone was cooking, then ended with a wrap up.

Here are some other things Chef Dan knew about teaching:
  • Have a welcoming and supportive environment. The second I walked into the class, I was struck by the learning environment. It was clean and visually attractive. A cooking school employee greeted me at the door, and pointed to toward the aprons, and the registration table across the room.  There was fresh coffee waiting. Everything said, "We are glad you are here. We want you to have a good time."
  • Have clearly established rituals and routines.  Chef Dan was very clear about his rituals and routines. "Tell people when you are walking behind them. Put hot dishes in one place, dirty dishes in another, and sharp dirty things in yet another.  Use tasting spoons one time, then throw them out." He gave frequent reminders and retaught routines as needed. 
  • If you want good fish, go to an expert. Chef Dan does not buy his fish at the local grocery store. He goes to the natural grocers or to a meat market, or a wholesale fish dealer. Or in the case of teaching reading, an independent bookseller, who really knows kids' books and authors.
  • Let people use the real tools, but teach them to use them  properly. Chef Dan had very sharp knives (they actually kind of made me a little nervous). He spent ten minutes showing us how to carry a knife, how to hold the knife, how to hold on to what you were slicing, and then how to cut correctly (there is actually a whole class on knife skills, which, if I was going to become a cook, I would kind of like to take). I thought of how often we ask kids to read fake books, e.g. decodable texts, or "practice" skills in a workbook. 
  • Expose people to new tools. At the very beginning of the class, Chef Dan held up a fancy spatula. "This is a fish spatula," he said. "If you are going to cook fish, you need a fish spatula. They cost (Ok, so I forgot how much they cost, but he did tell us). He also told us about a place that was going out of business and selling them for 30% off. I was thinking about the connection between spatulas and books. My most important tool, as a teacher of reading, is great books, and lots of them. I not only need to tell kids about the books, however, I need to tell them where they can find them (one week, as a kind of after thought, I included the hours for the two libraries closest to my school, in a parent newsletter. I was really surprised that week as kid after kid after kid told me that they had been to the public library). 
  • Use a variety of sensory modalities. Chef Dan taught us several really cool tricks. One had to do with putting different fingers together, then poking the side of your hand to know whether the fish was done enough. Another had to do with watching for a plume of smoke to know the oil was hot enough. Still another had to do with the sound of the oil in the pan. There was pretty much something for everyone. 
  • Differentiate. After the introduction, Chef Dan asked who had already taken other classes and grouped us accordingly. My book club got oven roasted salmon with miso glaze, (which was very, very yummy), and which I will definitely be making at home. The people who had taken several classes set the shrimp on fire (I wonder if he knew that the fire department had visited my house on not one, but two occasions when I was cooking hamburgers). 
  • Approximation is fine. At the beginning of the class, Dan said asked how many people had ever undercooked fish. Everyone raised their hand. Then he asked how many people had ever overcooked fish and dried it out. Again, pretty much everyone raised their hand. He then told us that his goal was to narrow the margin of error, that unless we were going out and paying a lot of money, we didn't need to expect the fish to be perfect. Throughout the course, he made us laugh, again and again, at our need for precision. "Just throw a little in," he would say. "This isn't a pastry class. It doesn't have to be that precise."
  • Provide extra support/scaffolding as needed. At one point, Chef Dan was trying to show people how to hold onto something you were trying to chop. He had everyone hold up their hand and pretend they were holding an onion. I didn't do it correctly, so he handed me an orange, and told me to hold onto that. I still wasn't doing it right (I told you I was domestically challenged!), so he took my fingers and placed them on the orange the way that he wanted me to hold them. 
  • Let people practice, but provide support. Chef Dan gave everyone a dish they could accomplish, then he stepped away and said, "Go to work."Dan rotated from station to station, offering advice and lending help as needed.
  • Teach new skills as needed. Chef Dan stopped the whole class several times to make an announcement, or show us something he thought might be helpful. Once, for example, he showed us how to skin off of a fish. That wasn't a skill I needed right at that time, but I filed it away for future reference (probably after I take the knife class!) One man who had already taken the knife class tried it, pretty successfully, right away.
  • Celebrate your learner's accomplishments in small doses.  Our class made five different dishes. Chef Dan had the pacing down to a  science. Each dish finished at a different time. Every time someone finished, we would sit down for a few minutes and savor that dish, then get right back up and go back to work. 
Even though I don't like to cook, I had a really nice morning.  Chef Dan made me feel like I truly was a member of the fish cooking club, like I could easily make one of these dishes at home, and it would taste ok. I hope my fourth graders have that same feeling every day.


Friday, March 16, 2012

SLICE #16- ON THE WRITING OF POETRY


         
Several weeks ago, my friend Mary Lee emailed me. There was going to be this crazy contest. March Madness. But not THE March Madness. Nope. This was a poetry March Madness. Sixty-four people were going to sign up to write poems. The sixty-four people were going to be placed in brackets. They would have 36 (I think) hours to write a poem. The poems would be posted online and people could vote for them. The winners would move forward. And write another poem. And if they won. Another. And then another. And finally the 64 poems would be reduced to one winner. 

When Mary Lee emailed me, it sounded like a good idea. Sure. I could write a poem. I could help get this fledgling poetry contest off the ground. Why not? I wandered over to Ed's blog, THINK KID THINK! and signed up for the contest. And kind of forget about it. A couple of weeks later, I got an email from Ed. He needed some additional information for a biography. I happened to look at the list of poets  on the sidebar- and saw that there were lots of poets that I recognized- Jane Yolen. Laura Purdie Salas, Heidi Mordhorst, Greg Pincus, Kenn Nesbitt, The only problem was-- these folks were REAL poets, not garden variety amateurs like myself. HOLY COW!

I emailed Mary Lee. Have you looked at the list of people participating in the contest? Are you serious?? Do I really want to do this? Mary Lee, a pretty mean poet in her own right,  reminded me that we were just in to help the contest get started. And  for the fun of it. 
Oh yeah. To get the contest off the ground. And for the fun of it.  I remember.

And then this week came. The week of the contest. And it has been a crazy one. We are wrapping up state testing. My school is closing and I am right smack in the middle of a job search. One of the jobs, a literacy coach position at a K-8 Dual Immersion (English/Spanish) school wanted a second interview, but they wanted me to interview, and to be prepared to read and write in Spanish, which I speak only marginally at best.  I have an "unscheduled" visit from a district peer observer coming up sometime in the next six days. Both of my sons have been sick. And I've been trying to participate in the SLICE OF LIFE CHALLENGE, which includes writing a post every day, and also commenting on other people's posts. YIKES!

On Sunday night, the brackets were announced. I was a #11 seed, paired against Kathryn Apel, an Australian poet who actually published a book of poetry in 2009. And we were in the second flight, which meant that our poems would appear on the second day of the contest. Mary Lee, the friend who had led me down the primrose path, was in the first flight. Her word was "whacked." Whacked??  A poem with the word whacked? Good luck, my friend!

So Mary Lee actually wrote a really clever poem, which you can read on her blog today.
And then it was my turn. And I couldn't even figure out how to find my word on Ed's website, let alone write a poem about it (please note: this is a comment on the chaotic state of my life this week, as opposed to Ed's wonderfully organized website, with a pull-down menu devoted exclusively to the poetry contest!). Mary Lee and my CYBILS friend Jone had to help me. Finally, I found my word--allegedly, and allegedly I was going to write a poem.

That night, I sat down on my couch, allegedly to write a poem, or study Spanish, or make lesson plans, or write my Slice for that day. First I couldn't think of anything. And then I wrote five bad limericks for my Daily Slice. I posted those. And tried again. Looked up allegedly in the dictionary. Messed around with allegedly. Ledge. Sledge. Wedge. Pledge. Allegedly I took a pledge. A pledge to do what? Allegedly. This poem could drive a wedge, between two former friends (one who shall remain unnamed in this paragraph anyway). Allegedly, I took a sledge hammer… 
Oh wait, no violence, we don't do poems with violence.

That night, no poems were coming. I gave up and went to bed. Only to wake up at 1:30 in the morning, to get up and write my "poem." Allegedly.  And somewhere between 1:30 and 5 yesterday morning, I messed around and mucked in an online rhyming dictionary and thesaurus. and allegedly, I wrote a poem. So here, allegedly, it is. I haven't shared it with my students yet,
but I'm thinking I am going to give it a try today. 

  “The Deed”

Supposedly, ostensibly, allegedly,
I did it.
Dreadfully, recklessly, uncaringly,
            I hid it.
Unconscionably, emphatically, unceasingly,
            I denied it.
Unthinkably, regretfully, and sadly,
            I lied.
Carol Wilcox

Joking aside, you really need to go over to Ed's website, THINK KID THINK and read some really wonderful poetry. And then head to TWO WRITING TEACHERS to taste the almost 200 folks participating in SLICE OF LIFE. Finally stop off at Greg Pincus' GOTTA BOOK site to see what's in store for National Poetry Month in April! Greg's 30 poets in 30 days feature has been a huge favorite of mine for the last three years.

Happy March Madness! Go CU!
Happy Poetry Friday!
Happy Slice of Life!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

SLICE #15- THE JOHN HENRY CRAZE

My class has been overtaken by a John Henry craze.

And I wish I could explain it.

It all started about two weeks ago. With, of all things,  a test prep passage.

Now I should probably back up, at this point, and say I am not really big on test prep. In fact I do very little of it. I believe the best test prep is great reading and writing instruction. Every. single. day.

A few weeks back, however, I decided we probably should do a little test prep. Just kind of dip our toes in the genre. And there happened to be some test prep books left in a closet from a ghost of teachers past. So I got them out.

And we read a story about John Henry.

And my kids were fascinated.

They pelted me with questions. Was that story really true? Who was John Henry? Did that story really happen? Was John Henry alive when I was a little girl? Did he really beat a train? Questions and questions and questions…

And to be really honest, I didn't know all that much about John Henry. He's just never been especially high on my list of things I wonder about.

But my kids persisted. And I remembered that I had a book, AIN'T NOTHING BUT A MAN, by Scott Nelson. Nelson is a historian who has spent his life researching, of all things, John Henry. AIN'T NOTHNG BUT A MAN chronicles his search to unravel the mystery of John Henry, using songs, and post cards and old photographs and all kinds of other artifacts. I read the book a couple of years ago, when it was nominated for a CYBILS nonfiction award.  I found it fascinating, but I wasn't sure  elementary kids would follow or appreciate the historical research puzzle.

But my fourth graders definitely did. I brought AINT NOTHING BUT A MAN into school and put it in the rocking chair, intending to show the kids a few photographs, then make the book available to anyone who might be interested.

Well, it seems they were all interested. Adamant in fact. They wanted me to read it aloud. One chapter at a time. And don't miss any of the photographs or captions or sidebars. So I did. And they loved it. They are still loving it, actually. Every single day, that book makes the rounds of the classroom. And interestingly, it's my struggling readers who love this fairly difficult book most of all.

Last Friday night, I was working late, and found Julian Lester and Jerry Pinkney's Caldecott winner, JOHN HENRY in our folktale bucket. And again, I put it on the rocking chair, thinking that perhaps someone would want to read it.

Someone did. Everyone did. Or actually they wanted ME to read it. Aloud. Again. And again. . And so I read that version of JOHN HENRY aloud. And again the kids loved it. And now that one is making the rounds in our classroom. The kids are especially fascinated by an image of a rainbow that appears in many of the pictures. They have decided that the rainbow actually appears in ALL of the pictures. And they have taken a "Where's Waldo?" approach to finding the rainbow in every illustration. I'm not sure that the rainbow actually exists in every picture, or that that's what Lester and Pinkney intended, but hey, if it makes the crew happy…

John Henry has also provoked a number of writing projects. R is writing to Lester and Pinkney, to ask about the rainbow. Today, when we were talking about favorite authors, several students mentioned Jerry Pinkney, although I haven't really shared much of his work with the kids. Other kids have written about John Henry as someone they wanted to meet. Or someone who is a hero. Today J wrote a terrific little acrostic poem that really captured the essence of this character.

And me? I'm just the teacher. Sitting back watching. Fascinated by this crazy John Henry craze…

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SLICE 14- A DAY IN (BAD) LIMERICKS


A teacher named Carol did stumble
To school with her head in a jumble.
The math skills she'd taught
were so easily forgot,
Down the toilet the test scores could go.


A mother named Carol did go
To the kitchen to whip up some dinner
Those tangy fries and frozen gourmet fish sticks
Made her sons do some pretty awesome lip licks
Too bad the ketchup cache was just  drips!


A school in Carol's district did call
A literacy coach they'll be needing this fall
If only her Spanish,
Did not so easily vanish,
Tomorrow's interview might  be a ball.


There once was a fool named Carol
To a poetry contest she did barrel
And now she's sitting her panicked
and a little bit frantic
Cuz her poetry bones just won't go. 


Procrastinator Carol was trying
To learn Spanish with poetry flying,
Her lesson plans weren't done
And her teenagers weren't fun
She felt like she oughta start crying!