This girl loves…celebrating writers.

The countless compliment cards my students received after sharing their personal narratives

The countless compliment cards my students received after sharing their personal narratives

Refreshments were purchased.

Tables and chairs were moved.

Personal narratives were printed.

Students and parents were present.

Speech in hand, I began, “Welcome to our first publishing party.” My hands were shaking, my cheeks were flaming, my heart was pounding and all I was doing was welcoming the crowd.

I wasn’t an eleven-year-old preparing to read my very personal narrative.  I wasn’t the one revealing anything about myself.  I wasn’t sitting in front of a crowd waiting for my writing to be assessed.

I was just the teacher.  I was just the one hoping for shock and awe.  I was just the one celebrating the incredible progress my sixth graders had made.

The terror eventually began to subside as my students, one-by-one, read their stories.  I sensed their nerves and sent out silent thoughts to help calm them.  I caught their eyes from the back of the room and smiled reassuringly.  They read with such confidence that I was whisked away into their world, one without fear and anxiety.

As I circulated around the room, listening to their different stores, I no longer saw them as my students, but as writers.

Here were 35 children reading with gusto, their stories slowly unfurling.  Tears pricked my eyes as I listened to the story about the birth of a baby sister.  Laughter filled my lungs as I listened to a story of being locked out of the house by a four-year-old.  Cheers silently escaped my mouth as I listened to a student recount her winning goal.

In the span of 45 minutes these students had successful told their stories, inviting us all to zoom into that one moment in their lives.

Pride.  That is what I felt today.  Pride.  It is what I feel everyday.

 

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.

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…inspiration.

My ah-ha moment!

My ah-ha moment!

Beep, beep, beep.  The alarm sounds.  I am torn from a restless sleep.  It’s Monday and I still have five more weeks until spring break.

UGH!

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love what I do.  I’m a teacher and everyday is a little different from the one before which makes for some pretty interesting stories.  It’s just that waking up on command, being “on” for a classroom of children, and no bathroom breaks get a bit tiresome when the days are so sunshiny and warm.  Talk about spring fever!  I’ve got it bad.

Or so I thought.

This morning I walked in and greeted my fellow third grade teammates.  One had recently returned from a writing conference and was full of wonderful ideas to share.  This same teammate has inspired me to read some blogs and books from a few notable professionals in the field of reading education.  I’ve found all of what I’ve read to be the boost I’ve needed in my own reading classroom.  Then, this morning she begins to talk about writing.

UGH!

Here I thought I was doing such great things with reading and now she brings up how we should be doing more writing!  Am I ever going to get it right?  First, we’re not doing enough reading so I’ve set a standard with my students where every free second they have  should be spent reading.  Don’t ask me what you can do when you’re done, I say, because the answer is READ!

I am a competitive person and when someone says we’re not doing something my first reaction is to prove them wrong.  So, I got to thinking.  I have this entire day with my students (a luxury only afforded to me on Mondays as every other day is broken up with “specials”).  I had planned to move on with our lesson on the Three Branches of the Government into the Judicial and Executive Branches but decided to scrap that and focus on some writing.

My students had participated in a discussion about how a bill becomes a law since we were studying the Legislative Branch.  They had watched the classic “School House Rock” video, the same one I watched as a kid.  They had also listed the steps on a post-it as their ticket out the door.  So, knowing all of this I figured I would have them write an informational paragraph describing the steps a bill takes in order to become a law.  I told them that they needed to “Inform, Explain, and Remind” in this paragraph.  The inform was stating a topic sentence.  The explain was explaining the different steps.  The remind was to remind the reader what they were writing about using a concluding sentence.

They all began to write.  The classroom immediately fell silent, the only sound being that of their pencils.  Before they handed in the paper I asked if they had “DOL’d” them (checked for capitals and punctuation) and then I read them.  What I found was a lot of restating of the list we had gone over the previous week.  So, I conferenced with them individually, asking them clarifying questions.  What is a veto?  Why does Congress have to vote again if they already voted on the bill?  Easily able to explain their thinking, I asked them to add it to their writing.  In doing so these students really learned how a bill becomes a law.  It wasn’t a set of steps they memorized and regurgitated for me.  They can actually explain, in writing, the process a bill takes.

Now I know we read to learn but I never thought about how we also write to learn.  I’ve been teaching for 11 years and today I finally got it.  Today was my ah-ha moment.  I love teaching for this reason alone.  I love that a tired, spring-fever-feeling teacher can come to school and feel inspired.  I really do have the best job in the world.

This girl loves…resolutions.

Making progress on my book!

Making progress on my book!

 

My brother inspired this post.  He has resolved to run a half-marathon and is actually doing it.  He has  inspired to me in his effort to set and make progress toward achieving a goal.  In one of his blog posts he wrote about his difficulty in finishing projects that he starts.  I could relate wholly.

I often begin projects, run out of steam, and quit.  It’s not a quality I particularly love in myself, but it’s part of who I am.  I am a dreamer.  I imagine myself doing all of these wonderful things and set my sights so high that it’s nearly impossible to follow through.

I started a book two summers ago.  My goal was to write a story I wanted to read.  From what I’ve read about writing a book, that is the first step-write the book you want to read.  At first the writing came quickly.  I had characters, a setting, and a basic plot.  I knew where I wanted my protagonist to go as I wrote the ending before the beginning.  I find working backwards, as when solving a mathematical problem, usually works best.

After making significant progress I lost my momentum.  I used my book as a way to escape the world and last year was so wonderful that I never felt the need to escape.  This was great for my mental health but not for my writing.  This summer I found I desperately needed an escape and the writing magically came back.  I set a goal, and for most of the summer, I made progress.

School started, I moved, and the writing stopped.  I promised myself I’d come back to it on the weekends or over the holidays but a week into the winter holidays I still hadn’t started.

Until today, that is.  I woke up, knew I had nothing planned, no place to be, and no one to report to.  I stopped thinking about everything except my book.

That is when the writing came.  All of the sudden I was writing furiously, finally finding inspiration and the rest of my story.  I’m not going to lie and say that the book will be finished anytime soon, but I will say that I am off to a promising start.  I want to finish this book.

Correction…I will finish this book.

This girl loves…writing at 5am.

The sun greets the day...

The sun greets the day…

I awoke early this morning in a bit of a start, 4am to be exact.  I blame the stress of buying a home along with being stood up by a guy I didn’t even want to date for my early start.  Luckily I am on summer vacation and can take a nap later should I feel so inclined.  Aside from a trip to the groomers for my dog, Bagel, and a tutoring session later in the day, I have nothing planned.

With this knowledge, I did try to go back to sleep but to no avail.  As I tossed back and forth, trying to get comfortable, I thought about my life-something I am sure most of you do at 4:30am when you can’t sleep.  I began thinking about England, as I often do, and how I wished so much that I was there this summer.

My summer plans do not include traveling because my plans this summer are all about buying a house.  Now, I am sure after I find the house there will be multiple pictures to take and a ton of material to write about but for now, there’s nothing.  I have put in a few offers only to be frustrated by them not working out for one reason or another.  I know that there is a purpose to all of this but it does not relieve the stress I currently feel about the unknown.  I am a planner and not knowing where I am going to live in the next few months is weighing on me a bit.  I am trying to relax and have faith but at 5am, my mind has other plans.

While traveling is not in my summer future, neither do my summer plans seem to include dating because, as I mentioned before, I was stood up.  What is most disconcerting is that I was stood up by a guy I was not even all that interested in.  I’d like to believe that something “suddenly came up” and our date just simply slipped his mind, but if I am being completely honest, I think it was from my apparent lack of interest in him that he just “forgot to call” to confirm our date.

So back to my tossing and turning session; It was during this that I  was reminded of the piece I am writing for a magazine contest.  I have entered this contest once before and did not win.  My heart was not in that piece, though so I can’t blame them for not publishing it.  This piece is very different because it is about the bravest thing I have ever done.  Can you guess what the subject of this piece is, those loyal readers of my blog?  If you guessed my trip to England, then you are spot on.

I’ve realized that the writing I do about England is probably my best.  It is the subject of the book I am working hard at finishing.  It is the subject of my most “liked” blog posts.  It is the subject of my life, pretty much.  I always find a way to come back to it and I believe it is because England has become my happy place.

When I was a kid, we had this relaxation expert come in to our school and teach us how to, you guessed it, relax.  She played soft music as she told us to lay down and think of a happy place.  I imagined a garden with flowers, a cool breeze, and birds chirping.  Little did I know that my happy place was a preclude to what my actual happy place would be: my flat in England.  It is such a comfort to know that I can conjure up that image and all is well in the world.  I won’t go into any more depth on that subject as that was the subject of my last blog post.

It comes as no surprise that writing about England would fill me with the relaxation I would need to fall back to sleep.  Maybe you will have a chance to read this finished product, published on those glossy magazine pages.  I can only hope.  So, it is with those hopeful words that I leave you.  I think I can sleep now.  Too bad it is already 6am…