Say, Wha?


Don’t you just hate it when you think you’re pretty smart, and all of a sudden you realize you’re an idiot?

Yeah.  Me too.

Especially when it happens in a room full of other teachers.  It’s a little disheartening, to say the least.

Let me give you a little glimpse into the Attack of the Killer Acronyms.

It seems that a few years ago, the federal government (the USDOE) became upset with our state education department, (the MADESE) because of its failure to help our ELLs make progress on the MCAS.  So the USDOE formed a consortium called the RETELL to make a plan. RETELL then ordered the MADESE to train all of its teachers to become SEI certified.

You with me so far?

So I signed up to earn my SEI Endorsement under RETELL. Of course, to enroll in RETELL, I had to go to the MADESE ELAR page.  And naturally, I wanted to put the SEI on my IPDP.  I did all that, and felt pretty darn good about life.  I was almost sure that the IPDP (fondly referred to by teachers as the “Ippdip”) had something to do with keeping my teaching license and I thought that “RETELL” must mean something about repeating a good joke.

When the day finally rolled around, I went to the class and greeted my colleagues. I’m pretty interested in languages and language development, and I’m eager to help my non-English speaking students.  So I was looking forward to learning more about them.  Plus, I like a good joke.

Within a half hour, though, my head was spinning, and I was feeling like a complete idiot.

The nice instructor lady was showing us slides and guiding us through the text book that went with the class. And she was moving really fast.  REALLY fast.

“OK”, she said as the class started. “So the RETELL is intended to make sure that every teacher can provide SEI to our ELLs using ESL and ELE.  They need to be helped to pass the ACCESS (which used to be the MEPA, just like the PARCC used to be the MCAS).”

Uh.  Ok…….so, SEI for ELL with ESL and ELE….got it…..ACCESS not MEPA……My mouth was getting a little dry, and I was glancing furtively around at the other teachers.  Did they understand what this was all about?  At this point, I wasn’t sure exactly what was a test, what was a kid and what was a book……

I gulped and tried to stick with the discussion. I was sure that after a while it would start to make some sense.  That was when we turned to a discussion of standards.  We heard that the WIDA was sort of the CCSS for the ELLs.   Wait, what? WIDA?

My left eye began to twitch.

I was trying to take notes, but when I tried to jot down ELL, I sometimes got mixed up and put ELE or ESL instead.


There certainly seemed to be a lot of E’s and L’s around here!

The teacher guided us into small groups where we began to read about the changes in the educational law that had lead to the current RETELL situation.  (Or was it the SEI situation? Crap. I’m not sure.) I know a little bit about education law, so I gave a small sigh of relief and started to read.

And you know I found out? That a law passed in the early 2000’s stated that “In order to provide services to an LEP, a teacher must have demonstrated ELP.”

I’m not kidding.   I didn’t want to seem stupid, but it was starting to feel like a big spilled bowl of alphabet soup.  I turned to the attractive, intelligent high school teacher beside me.  She didn’t look dazed and confused. I felt so inferior.  I decided to bluff.

“Obviously”, I said to her with what I hoped sounded like supreme confidence. “If you want to teach an LEP, you’d have to be ELP. Right? I mean, really!”  I lifted my palms up, showing how silly it would be for a non ELP to try to teach an LEP.  My colleague frowned a bit, “Well, of course, ” she agreed, “Unless the student is a FLEP.”

My jaw dropped.  As the high school smarty pants turned to talk to the instructor, both my eyelids were twitching.  I decided not to say another word. I think I might have been drooling a little.

After a few minutes of deep breathing, I tuned back into the classroom discussion.  The instructor seemed to be talking about vocabulary growth.  Hooray!  A subject I actually understood!  I sat up straighter.  I looked at the screen in the front of the room.

And I read,   “How to differentiate between BICS and CALPS in an ELL under SEI.”

My forehead hit the table as I slumped into a friendly little coma.

Glossary of terms.  Really.   No, I didn’t make these up.

ELL= English Language Learner    aka   LEP= Limited English Proficient                                                                                   ESL= English as a Second Language           ELE= English Language Education                                                                               ELP=English Language Proficient                                                                                                                                             FLEP= Formerly Limited English Language                                                                                                                                        SEI=Sheltered English Immersion   also  Sheltered English Instruction                                                                     RETELL=Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners                                                                            ACCESS for ELLS=Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners. MCAS= Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System                                                                                                 WIDA= Word Class Instruction Design and Assessment                                                                                                  BICS=Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills                                                                                                     CALPS=Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency                                                                                                 CCSS=Common Core State Standards                                              

Muscle memory= Muscle aches


Late night fun.

Late night fun.

Last night I learned something very interesting.

I learned that my body can actually remember what it felt like to be ten years old.   And I learned that the morning after it has had this wonderful memory, my body can experience what it will feel like to be ninety nine.

Last night I was one of four teachers who volunteered to host a sleepover at our school. Its part of an annual auction that the parents run to raise money for the school. Its a big job, because we arrive at work at 7 AM on Friday and we stay until 8 AM on Saturday.  It can seem like a really long night, but it can also be an absolute blast.  I have only done it once before, a few years ago, and sort of decided that I was too old to participate any more.

After all, I’m pushing sixty, and out of shape.  I figured that all the twenty and thirty somethings could handle the sleepover.  My auction donation is usually something easier, like a home made dinner or a bread baking lesson.

This year year, though, they were short one chaperone, so I let myself be talked into helping out.

It was a long week, and I was tired by the time the thirteen kids arrived at 6:30 Friday evening.  I thought I’d be able to serve the pizza and then just sort of watch everybody run around for a while.

But the kids had other ideas. They decided that it would be fabulous fun to have a big game of “capture the flag” inside the building.  Now, you have to understand that our building houses two schools with over 1,000 students. It has a huge gym, a cafeteria, two music rooms, a big sprawling library and a multi-purpose room filled with tables, sinks and ovens.  At 8 pm on a spring night, as the sun set, it was a huge challenge to play “Capture the Flag” over three floors of a giant, empty building.

The kids recruited the four adults, and we broke into teams. There were dozens of complicated rules that I don’t really understand, like “No jailbreaks!”  and “Seven minutes of captivity!”  I pretended that I understood, but mostly I just rushed around with everybody else, sneaking up the back stairs, giggling as we peeked around corners and trying to tag the guys on the other team.

At first I thought I would just trail along behind, acting like the aging observer that I see myself being. But my younger colleagues were all in, racing around the empty hallways, screaming right along with the kids.  I started to get caught up in the game, especially as the night wore on, and the darkness outside made the bright lights of the building seem cozy and safe. I started to relax and I started to run.

There were moments last night when I felt like I was in a crazy surreal dream.  At one point I found myself freed from “jail” by the tag of a little boy, who then grabbed me by the hand and yelled  “run!!!”  I could feel my sneakers pounding down the hallway, but I couldn’t believe that it was really me, running full speed down the hallway past the gym.

A little bit later in the night, I found myself creeping silently down the back stairs, hoping to find the hidden “flag”.  When I stepped into the hallway, I glanced behind me. There was a player on the other team, a beautiful grinning girl, ready to tag me. Now, I know this girl very well! She’s been in my class all year and her humor and sass and vibrant personality have made her one of my absolute favorites.

But there she was, ready to tag me and send me to jail!  My heart jumped and I let out a shriek that made us both jump. Then I took off running as hard as I could, careening around the corner to my “safe” area as if the FBI was on my tail, instead of a little girl with long silky golden hair and a glorious giggle.  As I skidded to a stop, I couldn’t contain my laughter.  We stood on opposite sides of the invisible line, my student and I, face to face and laughing like fools.  “OK, that was awkward!”, she said, “I just chased my teacher down the hall!”

There were dozens of moments like that one all night.  Moments when I found myself running around like a kid, laughing out loud, trying to play with a hula-hoop, putting on sparkly nail polish, baking cookies with a bunch of girls.  Slathering on green face mask with my pal to make the kids smile.

And what I loved was that my legs remembered how to run like a maniac. My arms remembered how to pump for extra speed.  My waist even remembered how to swing a hula-hoop, although it wasn’t very successful at recreating that particular experience! We finally wound down and went to sleep around 1 AM and I sprawled on a deflating air mattress in the music room, surrounded by my friends and the sleeping children.

I woke up at 6AM with every muscle in my body screeching in protest.  No one else was awake as I slowly eased myself to my knees and then to an upright position.  I could practically hear the sound of my joints and muscles trying to unkink as I straightened my spine.  I pulled on my fuzzy red robe and stepped gently over the mounded shapes of the kids, and made my slow way up the stairs to wash up and get changed.  I planned to make a pot of strong coffee and find the ibuprofin in my desk drawer.

As I crossed the empty lobby, I thought about how great it had felt to run full speed again, even if it was only down a short hallway.  I thought about how much pure fun it was to scream with the kids in the big echoing building.

I smiled to myself as my bare feet padded through the empty darkness of the cafeteria to my classroom.

Losing my mind games

I am really good at playing little mind games with myself.  Really good.

For example, if I know that I need to get on the elliptical, I start picturing myself in my new, buff body.  I have a ridiculously good imagination, so I can blow through my workout (ok, my “twenty minutes of slow paced panting”) by imagining myself striding along a beach in Costa Rica, my long tanned legs taking me easily through the sand.


Effective little mind game there!

So this morning I woke up feeling great about having a day off, but knowing that I had a ton of school work to do.  I’ve been trying to put together digital portfolios of my students’ work this year. I keep their documents on Google Drive and I needed to check off and quickly read 24 essays and move a ton of documents out of the kids’ folders and into my individual portfolio folders.  Get it?  Read 24 essays, check 24 shared folders and move approximately 300 documents into 24 separate portfolio folders.

Yeah.  On a sunny day off.

Because I know myself oh, so very well, I knew that I’d need a mind game to get through it all.  So I made a plan: I told myself that I would read three essays, then spend 15 minutes with the incredibly seductive mindless book that my friend AmyJo got me reading.  I figured I would get through all the essays that way. Correct: read.  Correct: read.  It was going take about six hours. Perfect!

Then I’d tackle the portfolios.

Organize one portfolio, check Facebook.  Organize one portfolio, make a snack.  You get the idea!  It would have taken me until midnight (well, I have to make dinner and have some wine, don’t I?) but I would have gotten it done.   I HAD to get it done; I have conferences all week, and we need those portfolios!

I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to begin.  Checked my battery status as I opened up the laptop.  Oh, oh, only about 48%.  Where is the charger?



OH, NO!!!!!!   MY CHARGER!!!!!  I didn’t bring it home!  I figured I could use Paul’s all weekend!!  But he took his laptop to work! Gah!!!!!!

In a complete panic, I gulped my coffee and started frantically scanning, checking off and commenting on essays. Didn’t stop to make toast. Didn’t stop to write down any notes on anyone’s work.  Didn’t look up, didn’t pee.  After about 20 minutes, I sat back: Done!!!!! The power was down to 40%.


I literally dove into the folders, one after the other. “Student number one- five homework assignments-MOVED! Two essays- MOVED!!!!” On to student number two!  I didn’t spend any time thinking critically (“Does this work accurately reflect the student’s mastery of the voice trait?”) 

Nuh, uh. I just clicked, moved, looked at the battery status, clicked,  moved, checked the status. By the third portfolio, I was in a groove. I knew which essays to move and which to skip. I was on fire!  Finally, it was done!!! It only took an hour, and it was done!  And there was still 5% power left!   I took another ten minutes to review the portfolios. Pretty sweet! They actually looked great.

Phew!  I gasped with relief. I had done it!  I shut down the computer and headed for the kitchen for some sustenance.

Ouch! What the heck did I step on?


Paul’s computer charger.

I love playing mind games, but I hate it when I lose…..!


Forgetting how to be sick.

What a completely ridiculous dilemma.   Seriously.  I am 57 years old. I remember how to ride a bike, how to build a fire, how to change a diaper.  Now that I teach fifth grade, I remember how to do long division and how to play “Rock, paper, scissors”.   I remember my age, my birth date, my social security number.

Most of the time, I remember the password that I set up two years ago to get into my bank account.

What I seem to have totally forgotten, though, is how to be sick.

Oh, before you get all huffy on me here, I know I’m not really sick.  But, see, that’s the damn problem!  If you have a fever of 106 and a confirmed diagnosis of pneumonia, you’re all set.  You get to lie in bed and moan for a few days.  You are under no legal obligation to lift one single finger. In fact, you are actively discouraged from doing so.

If you are really sick, you take a day off, and all of your coworkers scramble to cover you.  And you feel: No. Guilt.

Because you are honestly, truly, Marcus-Welby-Said-So Sick.

Lucky you.

I’m not that kind of sick, though.  I just feel really crappy.  And my throat hurts.  And I keep coughing.  And as long as I don’t move too fast or talk to loudly or breathe too deeply, I am sort of almost OK.

But I’m still sick.

And I don’t really seem to remember how to just be sick, you know?

When I was a little kid, being sick with a croupy cough and achy bones meant that you got to sleep really late. You got to stay in bed after everyone else got up and ate breakfast and brushed their teeth and put on their coats and walked the two miles to school.

You got to curl up on the couch in your PJs, with a pillow behind your back and a whole box of nice clean tissues at your side.  You got to eat pastina with butter, or saltines with peanut butter and jelly.  Your mom made you pots of Vicks vaporub to inhale.  You got to lie there like a big fat slug while the day slowly unfurled around you.

When I was a kid, we were allowed to wallow.  And it was awesome.

Now that I am a responsible adult, thought, things have surely changed.

I stayed home sick yesterday.  My chest hurt, my voice was raspy, every cough made me feel as if I was inhaling shards of glass.  I had the chills.  My eyeballs burned and my tonsils ached and my spleen felt kinda funny.

So I called in sick from school. I slept late, if 6:30 is late.  Then I got up, checked my email, read my students’ online essays and wrote comments, walked the dogs, did two loads of laundry, created a math lesson, vaccuumed the house, made some soup, swept the front steps, put away Halloween decorations and made a nice dinner.

At no point did I curl up like a shrimp and refuse to move.  At no time did I demand a bowl of Maltex.  I didn’t sleep or drop tissues on the floor or eat a pile of candy.  I didn’t call the doctor or mix up a secret remedy or even make myself some nice buttery pastina in honor of my Nana.


I just went through a nice normal day, acting as if I didn’t feel even a little bit sick. Trying to act as if all was well.  It really actually wasn’t.

And so tonight I am sitting here on my couch, wearing my fuzzy PJ’s. My head hurts and my throat hurts and when I talk, I sound a whole lot like the neighborhood bullfrog.  I have taken tomorrow off.

I plan to stay in my jammies, watch really bad TV, eat some Maltex and maybe some canned soup, and do absolutely nothing remotely productive.

I need to remember how to be sick!  I need to remember how to let my poor old body just heal itself and get better. I need to remember that I just teach fifth grade; I don’t hold the secret code to world peace.  I need to remember that if I don’t show up, all will actually still be well.

Wish me luck!  I’m off to boil me up some pastina.

So Good.


Some days you are just running on empty.  Done. Spent. All hollowed out.

Some days you just have nothing left.  Nix. Nada. Nothin’


Today was a day like that.

I blame Big Papi and those bearded bad boys of Boston. Way too many late nights around Beantown this month. Way too many.  Last night I stayed up for every last pitch, every beard pull, every champagne shower.

So good, so good, so good!!!

But you know what I’m gonna say, right?  This morning was not. So. Good.

I was in a deep, deep sleep when I began to be aware of distant bells.  Lyrical and sweet, they seemed to be calling me to some lovely place where I could rest.  I was enjoying them, right up until the moment when I realized that they were coming from my iPod alarm, and that it was 5:30 AM.


I hauled myself out of bed and into the shower, then headed for the espresso machine. Twenty minutes later, I found myself on the front steps, in the pitch black morning, with my work bag and purse on one arm and a bag of extra clothes in the other.  My witch hat was balanced precariously on my head, and my cape was dragging. A coffee cup wobbled in one hand.

“Grrrooooof”.  Something BIG whuffed in the woods right next to my car.

What the HELL!

As I tried to tell myself that it was just an owl, about a hundred branches came crashing down, and whatever it was out there gave another big “grrroooof”.   I squeaked like a terrified mouse and frantically shoved everything into the back seat. My heart was going about a billion miles an hour.  In 4 seconds flat I had vaulted into the car and hit the lock button.

As I sat there gasping for breath, and hysterically trying to peer through the foggy darkness, one hopeful thought burbled to the surface.  “Well, at least I’m awake now!”

I drove to work with my knees shaking, and got ready to start a day of Halloween festivities. With 24 fifth graders.  With a head ache.  On 4 hours of sleep. Woohoo.

I gobbled down some ibuprofin, took my pulse, tried to put the Groofer out of my mind, and quickly threw together a big black beard to go with my witch costume.  I organized my desk, turned on the computer and suddenly remembered that I had a morning parent conference. With a Mom I had never met.  I looked up just as she entered the classroom.  “Hi!”, I chirped, trying to recover my equilibrium.  “Come on in!”

Ever cool in the face of disaster, I swept my cape gracefully around my shoulders and pulled out the student’s folder.  “Have a seat!”, I offered in my best hostess voice, which for some odd reason sounded muffled and sort of fuzzy. Realizing that the young mother in front of my was staring at my chin, and realizing at the same moment that beard fuzz was flying up my nose, I hastily pulled off the beard, and the conference began.

Considering my costume and the 52 sneezes that exploded out of me, I think the conference went pretty well.  Sort of.  Ish.

Enter the 24 hyper kids. “Did you see the game?!” “I love your beard!”  “When can we eat candy?” “Where are my fangs!?” “Do we have homework?” “Can you guess what I am?”  They were all talking so loud and so fast that I started to miss the Groofer. I briefly considered taking more ibuprofin, but my liver started to melt, so I decided to just go for another cup of coffee instead.

It’s now 8pm.  I’m still in the black skirt and orange sweater, the pointy hat and pumpkin spangled socks. The beard is gone, but the headache persists. Over the past 12 hours I have served cupcakes, pretzels and lemonade, danced to “Rock Lobster” and the “Monster Mash”, cleaned up feathers and beard fuzz, corralled and lined up the whole crowd five times, had another conference and attended two professional meetings. Then I drove in the rain through rush hour traffic to give out three bags of candy to the kids in my mom’s neighborhood.  All while dressed as a witch. On four hours of sleep. With the fear of the Groofer in my soul.

But every time I start to complain, I remember Big Papi, sweeping Koji into his big arms.  And I have to smile.

I may be spent, and I may be destined to become a Groofer snack, but at least I got to see another Red Sox championship.

So.  Good.

I’m not that woman

School is about to start.

The boxes have been unpacked, the desks are all clean and shiny, the pencils are sharpened and ready for use.

I’m always a little nervous at this time of year.  Will the kids like me? Will they be fun?  Will they be curious and energetic? Will I reach them all? Will I understand them and be patient with all of them?

And at this time of year, I’m always a little worried about the new curriculum and new regulations and new testing. I am an old dog, and its hard for me to learn new tricks!

This year I have an extra fear, though.  An extra layer of nerves as I prepare to greet my new group of students.

I’m afraid that I am not Antionette Tuff.

Antoinette Tuff

Antoinette Tuff,who talked a shooter into putting down his weapons.

The fear of a gunman coming into my school has rocketed from the highly improbable to the possible in my mind. Newtown made schools a target, I think.  It seems that angry, disenfranchised young men who want to make a statement are pretty likely to take aim at a school.

And if it happens in our building, I don’t think that I would have the courage or the self-control to be Antionette, who kept her cool and talked a gunman out of his weapons in her Georgia elementary school.

I am sure that I wouldn’t be that woman, as much as I might want to be.

I’m not sure that anyone I know could be that woman.  And that scares me and makes me sad.

I hope that the Moms and Dads who trust me with their babies are not expecting me to be that woman.  I fear that the public will come to believe that I can be a hero like Antoinette.

I fear that instead of working to limit the guns, the public will turn to training average people like me, expecting us to look death in the eye and convince it to go away.

I am not that woman.

I just pray that I will never have to be.

Good bye.

The end of the school year is such a mixed bag of emotions.

I am so tired.  My knees hurt. My back hurts.  My brain is literally leaking out my nose at this point.

I can’t manage on more checkmark on one more checklist.  I can barely put one foot in front of the other.

Next fall, my classroom will be moving to a new location in our school.  This means that every book, folder, file, video, science unit, puzzle, stapler, paper clip and thumb tack has been packed and boxed up.

I want to be all done.

I NEED to be all done!

But I don’t want to be all done with these kids.   I want to take a nice vacation, recharge my badly flagging batteries, sleep for about a week, reintroduce myself to my elliptical machine, read a trashy novel, and then come back.

To these kids.

You see, I have thought about these 25 children every day for the past ten months.  I have woken up at night worried about their math skills.  I have spent Sunday afternoons finding interesting history sites with them in mind.  I’ve read books that they have  recommended, and then talked with them over lunch about the authors and the characters. I’ve played games with them, and learned games from them. I’ve yelled at them, laughed with them, hugged them and scolded them.

For the past ten months, they’ve been my closest companions.  Truly.

My own children are grown and gone.  I see my husband in the evening, but only for a few hours before I fall asleep.   I have friends who I see twice a month, siblings who I see more rarely.  I visit my Mom every Thursday, and my children visit me less than I would like.

I spend five days a week with my students.

I don’t know how sad it is to say this, but the people who I laugh with the most are those 25 kids who come into my classroom every day.  We tell each other stories about our lives. We kid each other about our fashion choices, our silly mistakes and our lunches.  We form little private jokes, and we make up our own quirky rituals.

For ten months, I was the facilitator of a group that supported each member, grew together, shared joys and sorrows and victories and losses.  As is true every year, for ten months my heart and soul and nearly all of my energy went into creating, sustaining and enjoying the little community of our classroom.

But every year June comes around, and suddenly, there is no more class.  Our little group has been dissolved, and we are no longer that happy community who laughed at the rutabaga math problem last September.  We are, instead, a group of individuals, each heading off in a different direction.

And my heart is just so heavy.

I am happy for my vacation.  I am pleased with a job well done.  I am excited for my students, knowing that they are headed off to sixth grade with a solid grounding and a good set of skills.

But I am so incredibly sad to realize that in only two more school days, I will no longer have a place in their lives, and I will no longer be the one who shares their jokes and stories.

Good bye, fifth graders!  I am surely going to miss you.

Warmth and the loss of language

Years ago I studied language development. In college I majored in the Russian language, and became an interpreter for a few years.  I went to graduate school to learn more about how languages develop, how they are learned, how they evolve.  I studied linguistics, language acquisition, developmental syntax and the history of language.  I got a Master’s Degree in Speech/language Pathology and spent the next twenty five years teaching children with language disorders.

So you would think that I’d have a pretty good grasp of how people hear, understand and use spoken language.  Right?

You’d be wrong.

And that’s because there is an annual phenomenon that I simply cannot explain.  It happens without fail every spring. It is a linguistic anomaly which is as predictable as the blossoming of the daffodils or the calling of the peepers.  It is not hard to describe.  It goes like this:

The weather warms up, the snow goes away, the state tests are completed and the entire fifth grade loses its ability to understand the English language.  Or any other oral language emanating from the mouth of an adult in a classroom.

The kids still look the same; adorable, sweet faced, smiling.  They still sit in their usual seats (most of the time) and they still look up at me with innocent and trusting eyes.  Its just that no matter what I say, or how clearly I say it, or how often it is repeated and rephrased, the vast majority of them hear me saying something else.

Yesterday I was desperately trying to get my class of energetic eleven year olds to complete and hand in an important writing assignment. I need to put this piece of writing into their portfolios, you see, and time is running out.

As we got ready to go to the computer lab, I got their attention and said, “You must bring your writing prompt and directions, your planning sheet and your rough draft.”  Then I said it again.  Then I said it in a different order.  Then I asked them to raise their hands “If you have your prompt and directions, your planning sheet and your rough draft.”  All 25 hands went up, and we left the room.  I got them all settled at their computers, and two hands shot up immediately.


“What were we supposed to bring with us?”

This is how it goes, all day every day in May and June in elementary school.  I know that they aren’t doing it on purpose.  They love me! They don’t actually want to see my head explode.

But I say, “Please take out your math book.”  and they hear “We’re going to the Cape tomorrow!”

I say, “Raise your hand if you know the meaning of the word ‘inertia'”.   They hear, “I feel a sweat ball running down my back.”

I try to be firm, and to make my voice louder.  They notice that I sound like a fog horn, which reminds them of Grampa’s cottage at the beach, which makes them wonder if they’ll get sparklers this year for the fourth of July.

So I try to be funny, you know? Keep them laughing.  Reel them in.  They burst into gales and peals of hilarity which immediately gets them into sleepover mode which I can’t get them out of no matter what I say.

I say, “Here is your homework.”  they hear, “Let’s just all go home.”

I say, “HIstory lesson.”, they hear “mmmm. S’mores”

There is no known linguistic or psychological explanation for this annual phenomenon, but I can name you 75 teachers who will attest to its reality.

Maybe next week I can gather some data.  I’ll say, “It’s too hot. Let’s just go outside and play.”  

I bet they’ll understand that!

My aching valentine heart.


I’m sitting here on my couch, sipping the day’s first coffee.  Outside of my bay window, a few lazy snow flakes drift down like tiny angel feathers. Everything is covered in a soft, new snowfall. The trees look like they have been frosted for a party.

Its the first morning of my February vacation. Its very quiet.

I woke up on Valentine’s morning with an ache in my heart, and I wasn’t sure why.  As I moved around the kitchen getting ready for work, though, I knew why I was sad.

I missed the old Valentine breakfasts, when the kids were small. I missed the heart shaped pancakes and the heart shaped chocolate cake that would have been waiting to be frosted for dinner.  I missed the little cards with glued on sparkly decorations and those awful candy “message hearts”.  My empty nest was just too empty.

Sometimes in spite of my best efforts, the finality of the kids’ departures just hits me like an arrow in the heart. For some reason, this Valentine’s day I was acutely aware that I’ll never hold one of my babies again. Time has rushed on by, and those days are gone forever.

I got to school, and one of my little students came into the room.  He is a sweet, gentle, beautiful boy with sadness of his own this year, and he came in with a smile and a gift of potted daffodils.  A little pink and white heart, covered in lace and sparkles and extra glue, was stuck on the side. He had signed his name in purple marker.  I thanked him, gave him a big hug, and when he left I put my head on my desk and cried for a bit.

The day went on, and I was surrounded by kids, and laughing and snowpants and tissues.  I taught some math, checked for a fever, mediated a snowman conflict, read out loud and listened to some history presentations.  I cleaned up, corrected, sent emails, and washed out paintbrushes. I did what teachers do.

And now it is vacation, and Paul and I are straightening up and drinking our coffee and getting ready to go out for groceries.  It is vacation week.

I saw a saying the other day, although I don’t remember where.  I can’t even remember the words exactly, but the sentiment is something like this:

“Don’t be sad that it is over. Be happy that it happened in the first place.”

I’m trying.

The kids are alright!

I have noticed an interesting and somewhat depressing characteristic of adulthood. As soon as we become old enough to buy a beer, marry, and carry a gun in a far-off war, we lose our faith in the young.  We begin to believe that along with our mortgage payments and love handles we carry infinite wisdom. We believe that we are right because we have lived longer than they have.

Why is that, I wonder?

I am oh-so-guilty of this crime.  As a teacher, I have begun to believe that I know the right way  to do things.  I feel like I am responsible for every report, every paper, every reading assessment, every game.  My hand is surely the one that is needed to guide and shape and turn and insure that the final product will meet adult specifications.  I am the grown up here; you can’t trust this bunch of…….well……kids.

As a Mom, I am even worse. Which is just ridiculous.

I remember talking to my Nana once, when she wasn’t feeling well.  I suggested that she call her son, my Uncle Bob.  The Doctor.  The one who once treated Rose Freakin’ Kennedy when she was sick.  My Nana simply shook her head, and said,  “No.  I need a doctor.”  In her eyes, my Uncle the successful vascular surgeon was simply and forever, “the baby.”  I thought she was being silly.  

Until very recently.

This past weekend, my two beloved sons, aged 19 and 21, drove 15 hours to Chicago to protest against the NATO summit. I was hugely proud, almost busting my buttons, knowing that they were being brave and unselfish and were willing to stand up for what was right (as they simultaneously experienced the adventure of a lifetime and forged an unshakable bond for the rest of their lives).  I was excited!  But I was scared out of my mind, too.

I kept seeing my boys, my sweet baby boychicks, faced with the power and might of a major city’s police force.  I imagined them being suckered in by the romance of the disenfrachised masses, facing the police and taunting them into a reaction.  I imagined, with perfect 20/20 internal vision, a baton hitting the tender skulls of my best beloved.  I thought I knew best; I didn’t trust their judgment. I kept texting them advice.  “Stay safe!” “Do what the police tell you to do.”  “Don’t get arrested! Please don’t!”  I was sure that they needed my sage advice!

And then there is school.  I have given my students permission to perform a play.  I let them write it, organize it, direct it.  They are responsible for the sets and props and costume.  Go, kids; its all yours!

It sounds so good in theory, but in my head? Oh, in my head.  In there, in the dark and scary swirls of my teacher brain, I was thinking things like, “Whoah.  They think they can make a crane for the funeral scene.  Poor innocent wretches….”  I was thinking “They can’t remember all these lines…” and “How will they know how to arrange the chairs on the stage?”  I felt, I have to admit, just a wee bit smug.  I just knew  they would need me to make it work in the end.


My sons went to Chicago, marched in the streets, lent their voices to the anti-war message.  But they didn’t fall for the drama or the provocation; instead, they recognized the restraint of the police and the self-indulgent hyperbole of the entitled few who wanted to make trouble. “They think they live in a police state?”, wrote Matt.  “I think they need to learn Arabic and head to Syria for six months, and then we’ll talk police state.”  When the police told the crowd to disperse, my son told me, “We happily obliged.”

Well, gee.  They showed wisdom here.  Maturity, wisdom, restraint.

Who knew that such a thing was possible?

And as for the play in my classroom?

The kids have written a play based on a book, “Belly Up”.  They have written themselves (and me) into this murder mystery about a famous hippo named Henry.  They have included all of the major plot elements, and all of the key characters, while adding in countless pratfalls, poop jokes and crashes (they are, after all, fifth graders). The kids who “can’t write” have created the richest jokes.  The kids who are always quiet have become the directors.  The unable to focus ADD crowd have become set designers.  And you know what? Without an opinionated adult to tell them how it must be done, they have created a huge working crane. Made of cardboard.

I guess the kids are alright after all!  Maybe I need to let go and let them lead the way, huh?