Tuesday, July 3, 2018

One Last Gift

There is something about camp friends that is different from your everyday friends, the ones that you see on a daily basis for most of the year. If you've ever been to a sleep away summer camp, you know what I am talking about.

Maybe it's because you live and see one another for 24 hours a day for up to ten weeks. 

Or maybe it's because you are immersed in nature, a calming safe place that seems to clarify the mind. 

Or it could be because you need to cooperate and learn from one another. 

Whatever the reason, camp friends are just different. You can go years without talking and pick up right where you left off. The memories you shared are more vivid and don't seem as far away as the years indicate. 

I went to many camps as a kid. Day camps, sports camps, and sleep away camp. When I was 17, I started working at day camps as my summer job. And when I was in college, I worked at two different sleep away camps that have impacted my life greatly. 

Crystalaire (and later Camp Lookout) is an independently owned co-ed summer camp that helped me to come out of my shell and let me see my potential as a leader.  I gained so much from the experiences I had there and the people I met. Years later, I would meet my husband, for a second time, at Camp Lookout, ten days after my mother had passed away. If anything, I saw that as a sign from my mother. She always knew how important camp and nature were in my eyes. This was her last gift to me. 

The other camp that had a huge impact on me was Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha, which is located on the outskirts of Traverse City. This camp is an all girls trip camp run by all women. I enjoyed being part of the staff because I felt as though I were a strong role model for many girls. I loved showing them that confidence is built from within. 

As each summer came to a close, I would count down the days until next summer. After my first year of teaching, I went and worked at camp. That was my last summer as a staff member. It was just too much for me. I started the school year off exhausted, and I knew that I couldn't continue down that road. 

So I started taking my students to camp. Of the 21 years that I have taught, I have taken 19 classes to various camps ranging form three days to a week. Upon return to school after camp, the students view you differently. There is a closeness that wasn't there before you left. Camp just does that. 

This past Saturday we dropped my daughter off  at Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha for two weeks. This isn't her first experience with sleep away camp, but it is with this one and for this long. To say she was excited would be an understatement. 

Kate is a camp kid. She loves being outside and the independence of being on her own. She finds joy in the traditions of camp and the relationships that she builds with campers and counselors. She was quick to set up her bunk and make it her own. 

Although I miss her, I know she is in good hands. And I know that when she returns, she will have many stories to tell. About the activities, her experiences, and her new camp friends. 

Kate at Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Cardboard, Duct Tape, and Opportunities

My daughter Kate turns 10 tomorrow and for her birthday she would like an arcade theme. You see, my kids get to pick what they want to do on their day and choose how they want the dining room decorated. Then I do my best to make their vision a reality.

Kate is a maker. She can create anything out of nothing. Her current love is cardboard and duct tape. Her room is lined with games that she has made complete with a ticket dispenser and prize area. Games cost tokens that she will gladly give you as long as you spend time there.

Kate gets her creativity from me. And I get it from my father.  My father is a retired architect with a knack for drawing. I was an art major in college who loved all things color. I can always see the end product, and I know how to get to it. I didn't choose to be an art major because I thought I was going to be a great artist one day. I chose it because I liked art and frankly, I didn't think I was smart enough for any other field.

I didn't want to be an art teacher though. I wanted to be in the classroom teaching all subjects while incorporating art into my curriculum.

And I did.

For 21 years.

Some years I was able to include more art than others, but I still loved being in that type of classroom setting. The one where I was teaching students everything. I taught second grade for two years in Detroit. My first teaching home and one that helped mold the teacher I am today. I then moved onto  a small rural school in Leslie. I called White Pine  home for 13 years. White Pine gave me the flexibility to develop into the the teacher I knew I wanted to be. I cried when I left. After that, I spent six years as a fifth grade teacher in Bath at a school that would ultimately bring me full circle to the teacher I knew I was capable of being.

But things have changed since I started teaching 21 years ago and lately, I have been finding myself ready to go into the field of teaching I never imagined I would be.

This past May an opportunity presented itself to me. I spent a lot of time standing on the end of a diving board thinking. Wondering. Is this what I want to do? Is it the right time? What about my school? My team? The families that I have grown to love?

And after a while, I jumped.

This fall I will be creating my fourth home during my 22nd year of teaching. I will be teaching K-1 STEAM in Haslett, a job that I feel was made for me.

My mother would call this an opportunity. And she would be proud if she were here today. If anything, she taught me to never let opportunities pass you by. Opportunities, she would say, lead to growth. And growth allows you to be the person you were meant to be.

Kate's Birthday Arcade Game Creation

My Vision for Kate

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Twenty Positives for Twenty Negatives

Today was a hard day.

It was a day that culminated 20 negatives.

Today was the 20th anniversary of my mother's death. A day I never thought would get here and one I never wanted to see.

Twenty years without my mother. Twenty years of questions only she could answer. But instead of dwelling on all the things I wish I could have had with her, I focused on 20 positives. Because that is what my mother would have wanted. That is how I was raised.

So in honor of my late mother, here are twenty positives that I found while reading my writing students' reflective letters of our year together.

  1. "The entry I'm most proud of is the Best Part of Me because we got to talk about the best part of ourselves."
  2. "I feel good when I write because it expresses me a lot. It calms me. I used to hate writing       because it was hard but now writing is easy and fun."
  3. "I am really good at thinking of really random things to form a story."
  4. "I have grown as a writer because I don't write in grocery list writing anymore."
  5. "The biggest challenge for me as a writer is to not hurry stories. Instead I need to let the plot develop a bit first."
  6. "I used to think writing was a side subject, but this year I have liked it more and now I think it is a true subject."
  7. "I have grown so far as a writer this year by showing how I feel in my head, to putting it down on my paper."
  8. "The piece of writing that I am most proud of are the reflections because I got to answer questions about my own writing."
  9. "I love to write because you can express your feelings and it's really fun to just write about your everyday life. Like Slice of Life. You can just write about your day."
  10. "My writing goal is to keep all my writing things that I've learned in my head. I will never, ever try to lose this information to improve as a writer in the future."
  11. "I have grown as a writer sensationally." 
  12. "I am most proud of my argumentative essay on chocolate milk. I like this the most because I did great on it and it was fun. What made my entry the best is the time I put into it."
  13. "Throughout the year you have taught us that the sign of a good writer is that you make mistakes and put in effort." 
  14. "I feel like this year in writing made me want to make books and I do like to entertain people, so I think that is what I want to do. Truly, I've grown to be a writer."
  15. "I feel confident about writing and hope to continue in the future."
  16. "I am most proud of my Alexander Hamilton obituary. I just feel like it has the most detail, and I definitely enjoyed writing it the most. Also, it was about Alexander Hamilton, of course I loved it."
  17. "What I feel about writing is a good feeling because I think it will take me a long ways."
  18. "At first I hated writing. It had so many rules and no fun to it but now I love it and I know there are ways to experiment, and I like it more because of you."
  19. "I've grown as a writer because now I know how to argue better."
  20. "The writing I am most proud of is when we did sacred writing and I wrote about being a goalie. I am most proud of this because you told me that it gave you goose bumps when you read it." 

Reflective Letters From Fifth Graders

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Stars Aligned

Last week I was asked what my greatest teaching moment has been in my career thus far. You would think that after 21 years I would need to really think about it. Twenty-one years of students in urban and rural settings. Twenty-one years of students ranging from second graders to fifth. So many years of learning. So many fun projects. But I didn't really need to think about it. Not that long anyway. Because there was this one school year, where all the stars seemed aligned, and my proudest moment came from a little seed I planted, and the fourth graders I had nurtured it into a tree.

It was the fall of 2011. My students were participating in Disney's Planet Challenge, an environmental contest. I knew I wanted my students to run a 5K but that was about it. So one fall afternoon I pulled up a list of road races on a local website. As I was scrolling through, one race caught our eye: Aubrey's Butterfly 5K for EB. Immediately the questions came: Who is Aubrey and what is EB? So we delved deeper. Aubrey was a little girl who died at the young age of  six weeks from EB. And EB stands for Epidermolysis Bullosa, a genetic condition that causes the skin to be extremely fragile and blister easily.

This little girl sparked motivation in everyone. Over the course of the next seven months, my students  achieved more than I could ever have imagined.


  • trained for a 5K (during the school day with me)
  • educated themselves on the importance of being healthy
  • raised and donated $550 to finding a cure for EB
  • drank more water
  • wrote a grant (and received it) for pedometers and water bottles
  • learned about the effects of plastic and the importance of recycling after watching a video about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
  • created posters to encourage people to recycle
  • learned the names of the seven different types of plastic and what they can be recycled into
  • wrote and published a digital story called Plastic: Things You May Not Know
  • held an assembly for the school to teach them about recycling and plastic
  • gave out donated usable water bottles to all students in the school
  • built a compost bin to experiment with the decomposing of bananas using various types of material
  • ran a 5K and gave away reusable water bottles in hopes there would be less plastic in the world
  • gathered data at the race about single use plastic 
  • illustrated and wrote a children's book called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
  • held a book signing and sale of their book at the local library and sold out
  • raised and donated over $700 to the Plastic Pollution Coalition
  • started a recycling center at the school for families 

I appreciated being asked that question, because above anything else, it allowed me to reflect on all I have done as a teacher. Teachers do so much more than just teach. We show the future what they are capable of through the lessons that are learned in our classrooms. 

A poster of our published book

Saturday, March 31, 2018

An Unexpected Event

I didn't expect it. A phone call, twice, from my husband, John, today while I was grocery shopping.  I was in the checkout line and have this thing about talking on the phone while in public places. So I didn't answer it.

Then, came a text. "Call me ASAP."

Well as you can expect, I started to panic a little. Did something happen to one of my kids? Father? Mother-in-law?

As soon as the checkout lady gave me my receipt, I called John. Apparently, there was a shooting that had turned sour. And the suspect was on foot within a mile of my neighborhood. Police were all over the place, on the ground and in the air.

My husband called me because he wanted to make sure I was safe and to let him know when I was home, so he could walk me in the house.

At home, the shades were drawn and the kids were in the basement as John and I listened to the scanner. They had an eye on the suspect. He was hiding in an empty lumber yard 13 blocks from my house. I had the utmost confidence in the officers.

I live in the city. There are good pockets and not so good ones. Crime happens. I walk my neighborhood and take my kids to the park. I feel safe where I live. But today, it was a little too close to home.

While I sat in my home,  I thought about all those students I have and have had, who live this on a daily basis. The idea of not feeling safe whether it is from wondering when the next meal will come or where they might be moving to next, is something I am unable to fathom.

I began my teaching career 21 years ago. I started out in Detroit and loved it. It was a place that I wanted to be.  But at the same time, I saw things that I never knew imaginable. Kids who only ate during their free breakfast and  lunch at school. A second grader who watched his father kill his mother with a single shot right in front of him. A boy who called 911 because his mother collapsed then held her in his arms because EMS took 45 minutes to get to his house. He was 11, and she died. I remember how proud she was of her son at his first violin concert and how honored I felt when she  introduced me to her parents as her son's teacher. He was such a GREAT kid, and I wonder how he is doing today.

And these stories are only from my first two years of teaching. There are so many more.

This unexpected event that happened to me today, so close to home, was done in a bit over an hour.

But what about those students who live with this fear on a daily basis? And there is no end in sight?

Today I reflected on myself as a teacher. Do I listen enough? Do I hear what my students are telling me when they don't say anything? Am I picking up on subtle hints when they are trying to reach out?

I only hope that when they enter my classroom they always feel safe and know that I only want the best of what they can give me.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Little Plastic Bins

I am pretty sure that I am borderline OCD. I have this thing about things being neat. All the time.

I am unable to go to sleep if the kitchen is dirty or there are dishes in the sink. And we don't have a dishwasher.

I am unable to work in my classroom if I don't have everything set up for the next school day. Even if it is on the weekend.

I am unable to teach if there are things on the floor such as paper or pencils. It drives me nuts, and I find volunteers to pick these things up so I can move on with my lesson.

I often find myself cleaning out my cupboards at school multiple times a year, even though almost everything is in little plastic bins. Labeled.

I am just one of those people. I used to be worse. My husband has helped me realize that things don't need to be perfectly neat and organized all the time.

But today.

My first day of spring break.

I found myself helping all three of my kids as they cleaned their rooms. Really clean. Move and go through everything type of clean. After four hours. Yes, four hours and three large trash bags of garbage, we have one very calm mother.

Because I don't think I would have been able to relax until it was done.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Break Tired

Today I am tired.

Not tired because I stayed up too late or tired because one kid had a nightmare in the middle of the night, and I found her little body wedged between my husband and me.

Not tired because I was working another job last night or thought about the limited amount of time I have left with my group of students.

Not tired because I coached my daughters' lacrosse team and am trying to learn the names and behaviors of 16 first through fourth grade girls.

Not tired because I think of the loads of laundry that need to get done, the furniture that needs to be dusted, the floors that need to washed, and carpets that need to be vacuumed.

But I am break tired.

Emotionally drained and spent from teaching since January 2nd. Listening and solving problems, finding new ways to reach my students, bring them higher and push them to places academically they didn't think they could go. Working long hours, late into the night, to keep myself caught up with papers and planning, and emails and all the other things that go with being a teacher.

It only happens three times a year because it is only these times that I allow myself to completely relax.

It is much needed.

This rest that is about to come.

Because as of today, at 3:45 p.m., I am on spring break!