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.


-Mark

Advertisement

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.

Blockhead

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.

Thorns

A winding, muddy creek and small woods separates our backyard from a lush green meadow. Along the creek lies an old fence- bent barbed wire hiding amongst the leaves, branches, bramble, weeds, thorns, and the like. It’s a mess. We had some Spring-like weather this past weekend, so my wife decided it was time to try and clean up the tangled mess.

We worked together- I pulled back the massive weeds, long branches, and thorny vines, and my wife snipped the annoying vegetation near its base. At one point I grabbed a thick section of the mess, pulled tightly on it so my wife could clip it, and screamed loudly. Through my work gloves a centimeter-long thorn had pierced my index finger. Immediately I threw off the glove and inspected my bloody finger. More painful than the actual size of the cut and the amount of blood, I still cursed the thorn. I then looked at my glove and found the prickly pest embedded in the fabric of my glove- black and pointy, sharp as a tack.

Later that night I thought about the necessity and purpose of those thorns.

If I feel threatened or get “attacked”, I show my “thorns”. I lash out if I get offended. I defend myself if someone thinks I’ve done something wrong. When someone misunderstands me on Facebook, I rush to explain myself and clarify. I have been known to lay on my horn when someone cuts me off on the highway.

I should watch how my thorny responses can painfully prick those around me.

Sharing is Caring

I’m usually the first up in our house. The four-year old is normally second up, and this morning was no different. As I’ve posted before sometimes we read his favorite books and other times we play “birthday party” with his stuffed animals.

 “Wanna play a game instead this morning?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s do it, Daddy.”

“Ooh, this is a good one. We haven’t played it in a while. Do you remember how to play? Remember, you flip the cards over and you try to match them up? We take turns, and if you make a match you keep that pair and get to go again?”

“Oooh, I love matching the mommy and daddy animals with their baby animals!”

“OK. You can start… No, no, bud, you flip over two cards at a time, bud. Not three or four. And if you don’t make a match, it’s my turn. Ooh, and try to remember what you see. Here let’s flip yours over. And remember ‘bunny’ there, ‘bluebird’ there, and ‘lion’ there. K?”

“Ooh, Daddy, you got the kitty! Cute kitty kitty.”

“Ahh, I got ‘kitty’ there and ‘monkey’ here.”

We proceed to play a few more rounds. Excitedly he makes his first match. I notice some possible matches, but keep flipping over random ones, calling out the animals names each time.

“Look, I have owl, owl, fox, fox, and cow, cow. I have six cards. Your turn.”

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. I have eight cards! Here’s cat, and… kitten! Here, Daddy, you can have these two.”

“No, no, Sweetie. You found that pair. No, it’s yours.”

“It’s okay, Daddy. Here. Here you go.”

“Oh. Oh. Huh. You’re too sweet little boy. You don’t have to share them with me.”

“Here, these are for you.”

“Ahh. Thanks. You’re the best.

With both a ten and twelve-year old sibling and with our family’s viewing of many sports competitions, our four-year old surely knows of the concepts of winning and losing. But at this moment, he must have realized we were just playing and that we should both just have fun. Man, what a sweet age to be!

The Right Call

It was a tight match. We won the first set, they won the second set. We were down a couple of points in a close third set tiebreaker. My partner had a “gimme” put away volley. The ball jumped off his strings. He hit a bit of a swinging volley. It came off really fast and was really close to the line. None of the three other players (including me) saw it. I told them it was too quick and a bad angle for me to see, and I couldn’t make a definitive call.

Technically it was our opponents call, and technically if they didn’t see it, they’re supposed to call it “in”. My honest partner saw it the whole way and told them, “Yeah, it was out.” Our opponents thanked him for his honesty and asked if he was sure. He was sure, he admitted he missed it, and we moved on to the next point.

What if we all were as honest with our mistakes, weren’t embarrassed by them, accepted them, and took the responsibility that came with them?

We still ended up winning the match 13-11 in a tiebreaker. Either way I was glad he made the right call.

Motivated

We don’t give much homework at my school. We ask third graders to read for 20 minutes and to work on math facts (division/multiplication) for about ten minutes.

It was a short moment, maybe a minute as we wrapped up to transition to Performing Arts, but it spread like wildfire. “Can I finish this at home?” one student started. “Ooh, ooh, can I take this home, also?” another pleaded. “Yeah, me, too?” a third student requested.

“You all know you don’t have to? I’m going to give you another 30 minutes tomorrow to finish up.” That period I had pushed them to finish up their final drafts, but I didn’t want it to seem like I was pressuring them to complete it. We had two more days before we were going to give these persuasive speeches.

“We know. We want to though!”

“Okay, I want to work on this at home, too!”

“Well, if you’re gonna take it home, I’ll give you a special folder to put your drafts and the final draft paper in.” I passed out five simple manila folders to these excited writers. They thought they were really cool, special folders.

Eight children had already finished their final drafts, and five of the remaining six asked to take it home. They were proud of their drafts and wanted the satisfaction of completing their final draft that day.

I was beaming inside. I was smiling on the outside. I, too, felt proud that I had created a moment where my students wanted to take their learning outside of my classroom. I told them, “You all are awesome.”

Meriwether’s Garden

The sun warmed us all so that we barely needed a jacket. A colleague had just impressively remarked how skilled and knowledgeable the fourth graders seemed to be playing a fast-paced basketball game. I rang the obnoxious bell to signal the end of recess. Just like I always do on our “E” day morning recesses.

We go to our line up spots, and I walk by the same spot every day. Sometimes I walk by it twice a day. Many times I’m chatting with a student as we find our spots after recess. Other times I’m yelling over to some kids to stop shooting the basketball and come line up. But we all pass by this small little garden on our playground at the end of recess. Today I was on my own for that fraction of a second as I passed it.

I glance at the small stone marker in the garden. It’s fairly simple, but pretty. It reads “Meriwether’s Garden” and some dates. I do some quick mental math and realize she was just six years old. My nose started to sting a bit. My eyes watered slightly. And I let out a deep breath.

She was in kindergarten (I believe) when she and her family perished in a small plane accident. Our third child is in pre-K now. She was six. He’s a few months shy of five.

That brief moment came and went. I closed my eyes for a moment, then joined my class, and we headed back in the building. But that night I hugged all three of our kids a bit harder and remembered Meriwether and her garden.

Quality Time

Yesterday we returned from Spring Break. The class brimmed with excited hugs, “hellos,” and “how are yous”.  They were quite lively at 7:55am despite the time change.

Before the Break I had asked them to share who they would be spending time with over the ten days. So at Morning Meeting yesterday I repeated the question and added how it made them feel.

“I got to spend time with my mom, and it felt good because I don’t get to do it that much.” “I was with my grandma and grandpa, and I felt happy because I don’t get to see them that often.” “My cousins came to town, and I felt excited because I only see them twice a year.” “My sisters and I just played and hung out, and I felt happy because we are always doing other things.” …and similar refrains from the majority of students.

Two things I take away from this. One is that children relish that time with their loved ones. They yearn for it. They’re wanting that connection. The other is that these kids don’t necessarily need the Disney World, Harry Potter, St. Thomas trips that I hear about. As parents, we may feel like we need that “outside” entertainment. But I think some quality time with people who love them matters more.