This girl loves…reflecting.

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Today I sat in the ballroom of a hotel.  Twelve years ago I checked into that hotel, unpacked the contents of my previous life in Florida, and readied myself for a new life in Arizona.

Today I attended a writing conference as a middle school English Language Arts teacher.  Twelve years ago I started an office job, temporarily abandoning my education degree.

Today I thought about all the stories waiting for me to write.  Twelve years ago I was still generating those stories.

Today I felt that I could do anything.  Twelve years ago that idea evaded me.

A lot has changed in the twelve years since I moved to Arizona.  In the span of a young adult’s life I have grown just as much.  My 22-year-old self is unrecognizable to me as I look back.  That 23-year-old girl was a child, a girl with very little real-life experience.  She couldn’t command a classroom of 35.  She couldn’t speak comfortably in a group of people she didn’t know.  She couldn’t see a happy life in the desert because she simply could not see the beauty of her surroundings.

I feel confident in saying that change has come.  That girl has grown into a beautiful, independent woman.  A woman that has started to take risks, to step just outside her comfort zone.  She has learned to grow where she is planted and see the beauty that Arizona has to offer.  She has learned to be a remarkable teacher with an incredible passion for education.

As I look back I wonder: if I told 23-year-old Sara that things would get better–that she would go on to have a wonderful life–if she would believe me.

Would she believe me if I told her that she would live out her dream and move to England for a short time?  Would she believe me if I told her that being in England would change her life?  That she would never feel quite complete unless she was walking the busy streets of London, or the quiet cobblestones of Cambridge?  That the air and the food and the people would brand her soul leaving her forever bound to that country?

Would she believe me if I told her that she would teach for the next ten years, receive her master’s in English education, and begin teaching middle school?  Would she believe me if I told her that she would have students who adore and admire her?  That students from previous classes would run up to her, envelop her in a hug, and say they were so excited to have her as a teacher again?  That they would tell her about a new book they just finished or shove their stories in her face awaiting her approval?  Would she believe me if I told her she would be teaching reading, writing, and Shakespeare?  That “If music be the food of love, play on…” would roll off her students’ tongues with ease because she taught them these profound words?

Would she believe me if I told her that she would volunteer at her synagogue, mingling with groups of people she barely knew?  Would she believe me if I told her that, while making small talk was still a challenge, she would be willing to task risks and attend social groups alone?  That she would engage her peers in discussions of the places she had seen, the knowledge she had gained, and the work she loved.

Time changes a person.  You grow, you explore, you learn qualities about yourself you never thought were possible.  While change does not come easy, it is a necessary part of life and it is time to start embracing it.

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This girl loves…being inspired to write.

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The song that started it all

“Writers plan.”

“Writers use dialogue, inner thinking, and precise details.”

“Writers elaborate and add additional scenes.”

“Writers craft powerful leads and endings.”

“And most importantly, writers WRITE!”

These are the mantras I use to explain writing to my sixth grade language arts classes each day.  Maybe if I keep saying it they will eventually get the point, I think to myself.

As my students busily typed on their laptops or put pen to paper in today’s class, I watched as each of their stories unfolded.   A month ago this was not the case.  Heck, a day ago this wasn’t the case.  My students, obedient as they are, could not seem to get their ideas down on a page.  Call it writer’s block or the fear of failure, something just was not clicking for them.

Today there was a noticeable shift.  Maybe all of the writing we have been doing for the past six weeks is final paying off, I thought to myself.

Then I got to thinking about my own writing habits.

I’ve been “writing” a book for years now.  I say, “writing” but what I have been doing mostly is talking about writing.  I haven’t put pen to paper, or in my case, fingers to keys, in almost six months.  Sure, I’ve blogged here and there.  I’ve journaled occasionally.  I’ve sent countless emails.  I just haven’t really written.

Until today.

Seeing my students writing  furiously today inspired me to do the same.  I keep preaching about how writing everyday is going to build their stamina as writers but I refused to see how it was also improving my own.

In starting this writing program with my students, I’ve made a promise to myself to publish a blog once a week.  So far I’ve made good on that promise.  I’ve taken chances publishing some of my pieces.  And in the process, I’ve published some great pieces and some not-so-great pieces.  I’ve taken the advice I’ve given my students and I’ve written. 

Today that writing paid off.  I was able, with ease, to write another scene in my book.  I used the same strategies that I’ve been teaching my students–dialogue, inner thinking, precise details–and it totally worked for me.  After my furious writing, I was left with a scene I was pretty satisfied with.  My dialogue flowed and was realistic.  My inner thinking conveyed what the character’s true thoughts were.  And my precise details took me back to that exact moment in time, the day I visited Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Maybe it’s the online Shakespeare class I started only last night.  Maybe it’s the song, “Moth’s Wings” playing on shuffle every now and again.  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the writing I’ve been doing each week that gave me the confidence to go back to my book and begin writing again.  Whatever the case may be, it feels good to “write” again.

This girl loves…a bad day gone good.

Words that inspire...

Words that inspire…

Do you ever have one of those days where you just want to be somewhere else?  You wake up and you just want to crawl back into bed.  You want to drink your tea and watch Netflix or curl up with that book you just started.

Today was one of those days.  That is until I got to school.

It started with Her Story.

She had turned it in early because she was going to be out of class for a few days.  I saw her over the weekend and she asked if I had read her story yet.  I told her I hadn’t had  chance, but that it was on my desk waiting for me.  She didn’t know of my migraine on Friday or the mound of papers sitting on my desk.  Then I saw her at school today and she asked again, “Have you read my story?”  I felt like the world’s worst teacher.  It was still sitting, unread, on my desk.  So I told her, “I have a free period next hour and I promise I’ll read it then.”  Had I known that this piece would change my entire outlook on the day and reconfirm why I love being a humanities teacher, I would have fought through the pain of my migraine and put this on the top of my “to-grade” pile.

I recall this student saying she had nothing to write about during language arts last week.  I asked her to look through her chart of ideas and try to find something.  After a few failed attempts, she asked if she could write about not being able to write.  Feeling that students need to take chances as writers I said, “You can try.”  And try she did.

Throughout her I-can’t-think-of-anything-to-write story, she wrote a piece full of dialogue, inner thinking, and precise details.  (These are all strategies we are currently emphasizing in class in order to write powerful personal narratives.)  My favorite parts included the dialogue between us, particularly the part when I told her she could try.  I like to think she included this because allowing her to try was what made this beautiful piece of writing come to light.  The imagery created was one that teachers dream about, “I try to think of something to write but my mind fees like a black hole swallowing every idea.”  Brilliant!

Then, to put a cherry on top of an already inspired morning, my students surprised me with their text-to-text connections between A Snicker of Magic and The Dot.  

Today was International Dot Day and my class celebrated by reading the book The Dot and completing an art project using pointillism.  In discussing the theme of the book, three of my boys said that they thought the book was trying to tell us what our shared-reading book was trying to tell us.  That, everyone has a talent.  Making these text-to-text connections shows their deeper thinking and understanding of the stories they are reading.  What more could a teacher ask for?

To round out the day, while having dinner with my youngest brother, I told him of today’s “highs”.  He said offhandedly, “It’s so interesting to see how your profession brings out your passions.  You became a teacher because you were told you’d be good at it and, through teaching, your passions have ignited.”  I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment of today’s events.

I have known since the first day I set foot in my own classroom that I wanted to teach.  Today, and other days like today, reminded me why I still want to teach.  These are the days that keep me going.

 

This girl loves…Shakespeare.

So many resources!

So many resources!

If you have been reading my blog this summer you’ll remember that I have spent the entirety of it at home instead of traveling to far away places.  With that said, I have been far from unproductive, in fact, I’ve probably done more research this summer than any other summer prior.  It is all because of a wonderful man, William Shakespeare.

For as far back as I can remember (in my English classes, that is) I have always been intrigued by Shakespeare.  I couldn’t wait to start Romeo and Juliet as a freshmen in high school and I read  Macbeth three separate times throughout high school.  I fell in love with The Merchant of Venice as a senior finding much sympathy for the character of Shylock.  My love would go further than that as I embarked upon my journey in England four summers ago.  It was there that I was able to learn about William Shakespeare as a person.  It was there that I was able to truly understand why he wrote amazing and complex characters like Iago and Caliban as well as hilarious characters like Bottom and Puck.  I read more Shakespeare in six weeks than I had in my life thus far and I LOVED IT.

Upon graduation from my MA program I decided I needed to make Shakespeare a part of my daily life.   I thought,  what better way to do that than to integrate it into my elementary school reading program!  I was lucky to be teaching in a school that would allow for this new vision and I’ve not been disappointed by the results.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my students have fallen in love with the texts I’ve exposed them to.  They’ve analyzed sonnets that most adults have difficulty even reading.  They’ve brought characters to life as I imagine Shakespeare’s troupe of actors did hundreds of years ago.

This year I have the opportunity to really make a mark.  April 23, 2014 will mark what would have been Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.  Celebrations are occurring all over England and I wanted to be in on the action.

So all summer I have been researching Shakespearean texts, watching movies, engaging in scholarly discourse with anyone willing to listen (namely Kate, Dylan and Tyler), and making plans for a ShakesYEAR!  Tomorrow I meet with my curriculum advisor to discuss my plans for the year and I couldn’t be more excited.

I cannot wait to impart my knowledge, my passion.

My goal is that by the end of the school year each and every student at my school will know one detail about William Shakespeare.  I don’t think that is too much to hope for in a world where Shakespeare can be found most anywhere!