It’s all in how you look at it.


When I was a little girl, my sister and I watched a Disney movie called “Polyanna”.  In the movie, a little girl (played by Hayley Mills, how’s that for a good memory?) comes to live with a grumpy old lady.  I don’t remember much about the story, except that there was a scene where Polyanna notices a prism hanging in the old lady’s window, and makes a big deal of the beautiful rainbow and all the colors.  The old lady notices the beauty for the first time, and the two of them take apart all of her lamps and hang prisms all around the house.

Not the most subtle of metaphors, but it stuck with me.

This morning I woke up to yet another school cancellation day. I have nothing to do, having prepared my lessons and done my corrections yesterday.  I have baked brownies, made meatballs and sauce, walked the dogs, done laundry, read a kids book for the class.  I am bored. And cold. And crabby.

I want sun!  I want warm breezes!  I want to barbecue, but the grill is buried in four feet of snow.

I look out my living room window, and see nothing but white.  I’m sick of watching snow fall; its making me dizzy.  The garden fence is almost buried.  My walk is only a foot wide, with five foot walls on either side.

The window is filled with icicles, handing down from every inch of the gutter.  Sharp, jagged, icy teeth, making me shiver just looking at them.

I decided to lie down on the sofa so I could fully indulge in my misery.  I wanted to look at the icicles, those threatening, terrifying blades clustered together, reminding me that I am falling farther and farther behind in the curriculum, and that the kids will be distracted little cyclones tomorrow.  I wanted to use the image of the ever growing ice daggers to help me enhance my total crabbiness.

But guess what? When I laid myself back on the pillow and looked out the window, I found myself looking through the beautiful fused glass wind-chime that my son and his girlfriend gave me for Christmas.  All of a sudden, the icicles were shining through the brilliant colors of the glass, and the little bit of sunlight that was leaking through made them gleam like rainbows.

My plan was thwarted; my crankiness went away.

I felt like Pollyanna!


An angry teacher


I am home from school today, trying desperately to beat back my annual cold/laryngitis.  Not an unusual teacher malady; after all, we do talk for a living! We also prompt, encourage, nudge, praise, clarify, remind, control, consult, collaborate, plan, and confer.  Our voices feel the strain.

But you know what? It isn’t the vocal strain that is making teaching impossible.

It is the emotional strain.  It is the never ending insanity around testing, retesting, scoring, rubrics and so called “accountability”.  It is the ongoing realization that what we are being forced to do to our students in unethical, immoral and damaging.  It is the knowledge, every waking moment, that we are being forced (even in a progressive, supportive, well funded district like the one in which I teach) to violate our own beliefs in order to check off all the boxes.

I want to share a link to a very good blog written by a young colleague. A smart, activist young woman who isn’t afraid to teach with her heart.

Please read it. Please share it.  If you are a parent, please consider keeping your child out of the standardized tests in your district.

An Angry Teacher Speaks

Also, please consider spending some time on these sites:

Opt Out National

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.

Can’t see the forest

Wow. That's a lotta trees.

Wow. That’s a lotta trees.

I am a teacher. It’s my job to encourage children.  It’s my job to show them how exciting it can be to ask great questions, to formulate solutions, to work with other students in order to find a new way to solve a problem.

I am a teacher.

An aging, out of fashion, “so-how-many-years-do-you-have-left” teacher.

It’s my job to encourage the big ideas.  Its my job, as far as I can tell, to foster creativity in my students.  You know, to help them to look for the big picture, to “think outside of the box”, to come to the meaningful conclusion. To find the creative solution.

To be “Twenty first century thinkers”, in the jargon of the day.

But I am really having trouble doing that.


You see, current practice in teaching has us breaking every skill down into its tiniest, most discrete parts, and assigning a value and a competency score to each.

Reading used to be about enjoying a novel, thinking about the characters, talking about the plot, and then moving on to the next good book.

Now reading is all about breaking every sentence into its component grammatical parts. It is about finding a personal connection to every character, every event, every conclusion.  Reading now requires that the student stop every page or two to write out a sticky note in which he explains how this sentence from this book relates to the conversation that he had with his grandma three weeks ago.  Or how it reminds him of the book that his Uncle Billy read to him last winter.   All tree, no forest.

Writing used to mean taking a pen and a notebook and scribbling a fabulous six chapter mystery story, filled with villains and bad dialogue and misspelled place names.

Now “writing”means filling out a “graphic organizer” that will carefully script each idea so that it fits the definition of writing that has been set out by the test makers. The format is scripted (Topic Sentence, Supporting Details, Conclusion) and the structure is predetermined.  Pity the poor writer who tries to be original, for he shall score poorly on the rubric.  Tree, tree, tree.  No forest in sight.

Math used to be about developing a sense of how numbers work. It used to be about understanding the relationships between numbers.  Math used to ask kids to solve problems.   Now it is about place value and memorizing algorithms and learning multiplication as a completely separate entity from division.  More trees.

Everything in the world of education seems to me to have been broken down into its tiniest component parts.  We are teaching phonemes, not reading.  We are teaching grammar, not writing.  I feel like we are teaching numbers, not math sense.

We measure their spelling level, their reading comprehension level, their math level.  We weigh every word, every syllable, every addend, every product.

We have become a land of trees and trees and trees.  But we seem to have completely lost sight of the forest.

Wow.  So sad.

I love the first day of school.

photoI love the first day of the school year. I do! I love being back in the place where I feel competent and useful.

I love the first day because I get to see all of my friends again.  After a long summer of time to myself, it feels both comforting and empowering to be a part of a team once again.  I get to spend my day with people who are smart, caring, familiar and supportive.  I am a small cog in a fine, efficient machine. I have a place.

I love the first day because last year’s kids are so deliriously happy to see me.  They haven’t yet met and connected with this year’s teacher and class, so they hold onto the memories of our time together.  They greet me with grins, and hugs and a rush of words.  “How was your summer? How are your dogs?  Do you remember when we…..?”   They want to know that I miss them, that I remember them, that they made a lasting impression.

I do, and they did, so the first day is filled with joyful and loving reunions.

I love the first day because I get to meet my new kids.  They come into the classroom with hesitation and hope.  They come with bright eyes and sweaty palms. They want to know one thing, and one thing only: will I be “nice” and will I love them?  They don’t come right out and ask, but their every move tells me that they need that reassurance.

I know myself well enough to know that I am pretty “nice”, and that I will absolutely without-a-doubt love them.  I love watching as the first day unfolds, and they slowly come to realize that they are in a safe place.

I love the first day of school because it is simply and purely a new beginning.  It is a chance to start fresh, to make things right, to undo the mistakes of the past.

I love the first day of school because the bright and beautiful faces before me show me that life is full of hope and the future is ours to grasp.

Happy first day of school to every teacher and student out there.