Soccer Lesson

The sun shined bright, and our sweatshirts and jackets warmed us from the brisk air.  It wasn’t too cold though, especially if you were a four or five-year old running around chasing a soccer ball. I had about ten of them on my mini-field. Parents lined the sidelines to help keep the ball in play. They were on two different teams, but the other coach and I were “coaching up” all ten of them regardless of Royal Blue or Navy Blue team.

The players constantly surrounded the ball like they would the ice cream truck on a steamy summer evening. Some of them tripped over their own feet. Some of them tripped each other. Some of them lasted a minute on the field, then ran over to Mom or Dad too shy to play or worried or anxious. Some scored goals. Some stayed clear of the ball confusion, wary of being toppled.

Parents and coaches called out things like, “Nice shot. Good job. Okay, okay, let’s help her up. Go Navy Blue. Good hustle. Just keep playing. Try to pass. Go Royal Blue. Nice block.”

Basically, we all offered lots of encouragement. There was no concern about score- score wasn’t even kept. There was no concern about winning. We were just wanting everyone to be involved, get exercise, and have some fun.

During my best teaching this also happens. There is no pressure to perform, just encouragement, letting them explore/discover, and acknowledging what they are doing. The key to the soccer success was probably low expectations, high hopes for a positive experience, nice weather, time to focus on their positives, and knowing there would be time in their future for other stressful parts to learning soccer. I should remember this when teaching.


Like father, like son

As I’m reading through slices early this morning, I hear singing. I know it’s the four-year old. He is always the second awake in our house. I listen a bit more closely. He’s singing and rapping “You’re Welcome” from Moana. His ten-year old brother has been singing this song for the past week, as he prepares for a quasi-audition for a summer camp production.

Nothing gets by the four-year old. He’s always listening to us. He’s imitating us. In so many ways he is his own little self and, of course, has his own character. But his gestures, his facial expressions, his humor are all modeled after his older brother.

I have an older brother, too. I also have an older sister. My sister and I are numbers two and three of the four Raffinan children. For so many years in high school, in college, and post-college, I modeled myself and tried to emulate my older sister. I wanted the tight group of female and male friends she always had. I tried to balance working and studying hard with having fun and enjoying things like she did. In high school and college, I was a solid, obedient student and could be mischievous like her.

Now, my sister and I live about 2.5 hours apart. We have our own families, our own careers, our own hobbies, our own cities, etc. And I still look up to her, just like our four-year old does to his older brother.

Unexpected Joy

You know those weeks where there’s something different going on each day or there’s something big looming at the end of the week? This week felt like two weeks. By the time Friday rolled around I was simply happy to see it.

Well, the last twenty minutes of my reading class brought me unexpected joy.

I had plans for that last twenty minutes, but they were so into this group spelling game I used to play on high school road trips. Actually, they were struggling as individuals with the game, so I pivoted and had them pair/trio up. This was a game changer. They excitedly whispered suggestions to their partners. They happily cheered each other on. They listened intently to the other groups, so they could strategize. They thought about suffixes, long/short vowels, and plural ending changes, even though they knew the objective of the game was simply to not spell a word.  

I ended up pairing up with a boy, who just half an hour prior gave me smart retort after smart retort and I sent him to take a break in a colleague’s room for a few minutes. In the game, he and I listened intently. We strategized. We even created contingency plans if the players before us said something we didn’t expect. He smiled wide when we avoided being the team who took a point (you didn’t want points in this game).

The teamwork, the learning, the connection I made with this boy, and the way they floated out of my classroom felt uplifting after a long week.

What have you done to me?!

Dear Two Writing Teachers,

What have you done with the Facebook-checking, ESPN-score-monitoring, video-scrolling mornings I used to have? This time of year I’m normally poring over my bracket, analyzing “what if” scenarios in others’ brackets, and seeing if I’m at least ahead of the teachers who haven’t watched a minute of basketball this season.

Now I’m busy reading other people’s posts intrigued by their lives, their stories, their style of writing. Now I’m commenting on them, re-reading my comment before hitting post, and revising my comment. Now I’m thinking about that incident yesterday or that thing that happened last year in class and seeing if I can turn it into a slice. Now I’m wishing I could “slice” earlier in the day instead of at 9pm when all the kids are in bed. I even turned off the NCAA tournament last night because I wanted to really concentrate on my writing! What are you doing to me?

You’re making me a better writing teacher, or at least making me hope to be a better writing teacher more than I ever had. Thank you.


Writing Block Empathy

The first time I passed by him on the rug, a blank page stared back at him and his eyes wandered around the classroom. Give him some time. Today is a different day. He can do it.

I moved on to “conference” with others who excitedly wrote the stories they had just shared aloud in the circle. Seemingly the others couldn’t move their pencils fast enough to catch up with their ideas. Okay, don’t go back over there. Stay over here by the ones writing at the round table. Don’t even look over at him. He’ll get going. He’ll get something down.

I couldn’t resist. I edged closer to him and others who were writing on the rug. I glanced. I couldn’t help myself. It had been about ten minutes AND HIS PAGE WAS STILL BLANK. Stay cool. Relax. Don’t get frustrated.

“Hey, Ford, how’s it going?” Shrug. “What happened to the small moment you just told the class?” Mumble. “Just write what you just told us about you and your brothers doing that TinkerCrate.” Nothing. Walk away. You asked. You nudged. You practically told him what to write! Why is this SO DIFFICULT?! JUST WRITE IT ALREADY!!!

I tried to leave him be. But it seemed like he was just being difficult. He was a very capable kid-  he excelled in math, loved learning history, knew all kinds of vocabulary, and had impeccable spelling. He didn’t have any fine motor issues. WHY WASN’T HE WRITING YET?

I snapped at him. “Ford, oh my goodness. Just write down that you and your brothers loved making the TinkerCrate your aunt got you all! Write it, buddy. Come on!”

He was stunned. Wide-eyed and maybe a little concerned about his teacher’s outburst, he wrote something. I can’t even remember what exactly he ended up writing, but he did get something on paper.

Yesterday I posted about my struggles “slicing”. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any ideas. I had some. I just didn’t really like any of them. I didn’t feel like writing about any of them. I was fully capable of putting fingers to keyboard- no fine motor difficulties. I just didn’t write anything I felt truly interested in writing.

I wish I had had yesterday’s frustrating experience last year when Ford stared at his blank paper and I fumed over his “defiance to write”. I wish I had thought to think that maybe he just didn’t like the idea of the TinkerCrate story. I wish I had empathized with the pressure he might have been feeling to just “get something down on paper.”

Turns out Ford truly enjoyed writing some other genres- later in the year he began his own third grade newspaper full of book reviews, current events. Turns out he loved working on his adapted fairy tale and infusing it with his corny humor. Turns out he could write better when it was what he wanted to write, what he wanted to say.


What am I supposed to write!?

I have no thoughts.

I have no interesting ideas to share.

I have no shining moments to highlight and relate to life.

I have no lows to grumble about and learn a new life lesson.

I’m not feeling inspired by anything in particular.

I surely don’t have a story to tell. To unfold. To tell bit-by-bit. To play that movie in my mind. To show, not tell.

I think I’m preoccupied with so many other things and barely focusing on that present moment. I’m not really present. Not really aware. Not really paying close attention. I’m multi-tasking (so I think) and not really concentrating.

I hope tomorrow I live more like a writer.

Early Riser Who Can’t Get Up

I slowly sneak out of bed. I try not to move the covers/blankets and wake my wife. She lets out a small breath like she recognizes that I’m out of bed. But she doesn’t wake. I sneak out of our bedroom. I tiptoe past the youngest’s room. He whines but stays asleep. I gently twist the handle on our daughter’s door and silently close her door. Annoying soft clicks that make more noise at 5:00am than needed. She doesn’t wake either. I creak down the stairs. Knees pop. I decide to step both feet on each stair. Finally downstairs I wonder if someone left a light on. Goodness, it’s just the bright almost full moon shining on the hall wall. I slide into the bathroom where I’ve laid out my basketball clothes, car keys, and toothbrush. I change and hop into my freezing car that has to be outside, so the obnoxious garage door doesn’t rouse the middle child. I’m on my way to 6am basketball where how much I’m able to get up in the air pales in comparison to how early I rise in my quiet house.