Tuesday, September 11, 2018

For Carolyn

A few weeks ago I heard something on a radio commercial that I have been thinking a lot about.

"People don't remember the days, they remember the moments."

While most people know exactly where they were on September 11, 2001, I wonder if they remember everything about that day. For me, I remember many of the day's moments. During my fifth year of teaching, I was a third grade teacher in a small rural town and had three students celebrating their birthday that day. It was also the day that I was getting my leg cast off after a long three months. I worked a partial day, and as I was leaving, my principal and I watched the horrific events that were unfolding on the tv in his office. And I remember the car accidents on my drive to my doctor in Ann Arbor. There were so many. People were distracted. They had just heard the news. But I don't remember getting my cast off. There was a bigger moment that overshadowed it.

Another moment that I strongly remember was when the Space Challenger blew up. Mrs. Moran, my sixth grade teacher, had just wheeled the tv into her classroom so we could watch this historic event. I remember the brown tv and the squeeky wheels. I remember the excitement as the Challenger took off and the silence as it exploded in mid air. But that was it. I don't have any other memories from that day.


And this really had me thinking. These moments were tragic. So tragic that they have stuck with me. But what about the happy moments? And I started to reflect on my 21 year teaching career.

I remember Shannon from my first class that I used to call Grandma because she was loving, nurturing, and calm. She was seven.

I remember Kameah's journal entry when she wrote about how proud she was of all the A's that she received on her report card. I kept that entry for years before I mailed it to her when she was an adult.

I remember Jasmine who used to read inside her desk, very sneakily, while I was teaching.

I remember Aaron whose mother was so proud of him. She introduced me to her entire family as "his teacher."

I remember Zehlin, as a first grader, walking home from school because he was the oldest and could do it. I would keep an eye on him from my classroom window even though he only lived four houses away.

I remember Kelsi's life size metal Albert Einstein, complete with a wig that I would tell to go sit back in his seat because it looked so realistic.

And I remember Carolyn. A third grader that I had. She was smart as a whip but rushed through everything. I showed up at her house one day after school with a "magic" mechanical pencil. Anyone who used this pencil would automatically write neatly. And it worked for her.

There were so many days when I worried that I was not getting through the curriculum at the pace I needed to be. I was stressed for years at the demands I placed on myself. But when you really think about it, what are your students going to remember from your teaching ten years down the road?

Although I remember many moments from my years, I wondered what, if any,  my students remembered from having me as a teacher.

So I reached out to them.

This is what they had to say:

Kayla: "A love of learning. You made learning fun, and helped us get excited about learning new things. I was just talking to someone yesterday about the Living Museum project we did in your class. Fourteen years later and I still think about your class and use your creativity to help me with my path to becoming a teacher."

Madisen: "I have decent posture because of you."

Stephanie: "You taught me that there is no "right" way to learn. More-so, breaking the mold of textbook reading and doing something interactive/creative to reinforce topics like no test can."

Sarah: "I first think of the multiplication master. I remember you were on maternity leave and when you came back, the first thing you did was congratulate me...I remember feeling special. And I remember once you had your baby, you let the whole class take turns holding him."

Kelsi: "I have so many memories of being in your class that stand out, it's hard to pick. One random silly one that always makes me think of you is I was doodling in class one day and you showed me how to draw a rope, like vertically with the letter "s." And I still draw it that way and every time I do it, I think of you. Probably more important than drawing rope, I credit a massive amount of my writing skills through the rest of my education to you. I learned so much about creative writing from you. I also felt that you were one of the few teachers who challenged everyone in class, no matter how well they did."

Charlotte: "I wanted to tell you that you are one of the reasons I became a teacher. I can remember the golden plunger and countless other things I did as your student. One thing I know for sure is how supportive and kind you were to my mom while she was going through getting her degree and you always believed in our family. You always had the highest expectation for us and made us truly feel like more than just your students. I still carry with me how much of an impact an educator can have when they truly care and accept what a family is going through, and I do everything I can to be that kind of mentor/advocate for each and every child and family I encounter. I believe in the power of people and I have no doubt you played a part in that."

And Carolyn: "A sense of responsibility and ownership. And a love of writing that I carry with me to this day. And I still use the same kind of mechanical pencil  because of the "magical" one you gave me."


In this teaching age of testing, testing, and more testing, take some time to make moments that your students will remember long after they have left your classroom.






Sunday, August 19, 2018

Unicorn Feed and Supply

If you have a child at home between the ages of six and ten, chances are unicorns have taken over your life.  They have in ours. Because, well, I have an eight year old. She lives in a world of unicorns, glitter, rainbows, and all things happy. She has already started planning for her next Entrepreneur Night at school. Her table will be decorated with unicorn cards, unicorn tears, unicorn skin, and anything else unicorn that she can think of. It isn't until February.

I recently came across a friend's post on facebook. She had visited a store in downtown Ypsilanti called Unicorn Feed and Supply. I showed it to my unicorn obsessed daughter and right then we decided to start planning for a special trip to visit this place.

And last Wednesday we went. Adorned in their unicorn garb, my two daughters (the younger more unicorn obsessed than the older) were more than excited to visit this magical place. My son, not so much, but he didn't really have a choice. After having lunch with my father and step mom at one of the best places I have eaten in a while (Beezy's Cafe), we made the two block trek to a store that is every unicorn lovers dream.

When you first enter, you are greeted by this large white unicorn that has yet to be named. Then, you look around. Unicorns, unicorns, unicorns. Unicorn pencils and markers and lights and decorations and this and that. The store is a modest size and the owner, Jen, has done a nice job with the space. There is a little something for everyone. Funny little cards for adults, metal art, facial supplies, little trinkets, Mrs. Grossman's stickers. It was these stickers that brought me back to my childhood. I had found my happy place. You could even purchase them by the sheet!

Since we were the only ones in the store at that time, I talked with the owner. I asked her how this store came to be. She quickly reached under the counter and pulled out her sticker book from her past. It was almost identical to the one I had. She opened it up and there I saw the puffy stickers I had saved my money to buy, the smelly ones that  never lost their scent, and the gel type ones that I so badly wanted but was never able to purchase. I was instantly jealous of that sticker book. What a reminder of my youth.

Jen continued to talk and told me that this sticker book was the only thing she had saved from her childhood and questioned herself why. She remembered buying Mrs. Grossman's stickers by the sheet and wanted that for other children. So the idea of this store came to be and she put her idea into action. The rest is history.

I only find it fitting that as I type up this blog post my two daughters are outside riding scooters in the rain looking for rainbows because that is what happens when the sun is shining and rain falls out of the sky. And they, are happy.

Unicorns Galore in Downtown Ypsilanti

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Power of Asking Questions

I spent the last two days at new teacher training with my new district. This is not my first year teaching. In fact, this is year 22 for me. And I was so appreciative for having the opportunity to come together with all the other new teachers, some truly new to teaching, because I had a lot of questions.

And I wasn't afraid to ask them.

Growing up I never asked questions, especially in school.  I didn't want to appear as though I had no idea about what was going on with the lesson. I listened and tried hard to understand the content, but I just didn't get it. And this became routine. In each class, I sat trying to make sense of what my teachers were teaching me. It didn't work. No one bothered me though because I was quiet and well behaved. I was good at looking the part of a confident high school student, but inside, I was a ball of confusion.

Eventually, I fell through the cracks.

Almost.

Good grades and test scores did not get me into college but rather a recommendation letter written by my high school math teacher. I know this because I asked the admission's counselor during my visit to Albion why I was accepted.  This was the  start of my question asking. For so long I had remained silent and decided that day I wanted to hear my voice. So I asked another question: May I read the letter? In my mind the worst thing he could tell me was no, and no really wasn't that bad. He showed it to me. My high school math teacher saw me for who I truly was. Fierce, competitive, and extremely hard working.

Today, I am a go getter, doer, maker, writer, and athlete. I continue to be hard working. and I ask questions.  A lot.

I ask questions because sometimes I am confused.

I ask questions because there are a lot of things I don't know how to do.

I ask questions because I need help.

I ask questions because I want to grow as a person.

I ask questions because I need to know what is going on in the lives of my children.

I ask questions because if I didn't, then I wouldn't be the teacher I am today.







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.

They:

  • 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