SOLSC #5  How Did We Let It Get This Far?  

A teacher contacted me last week to ask for my help.   She has been put on an improvement plan by her administrator and feels she is at risk of losing her job due to poor performance.  I am the district ELA specialist so she is hoping I can help her keep her job.  

I am eager to help her and the more I ask her questions to determine how best to help her, the more I am consumed by the thought that we (the components of our system) have completely failed her.  And we have mostly definitely failed all of the students who have passed through her classes.
My district is widely dispersed so I don’t get to spent enough time in each teacher’s classroom. I suppose ‘enough’ is not the right word since I can recall being in her classroom once over the past five years.  And I wasn’t completely shocked when I asked her to look at the standards and identify where she and her students are and she indicated that they had not worked on most of them.  She couldn’t identify one standard that she thought her students would be comfortable with.  I think there are a number of teachers who never look at the standards.
I was taken aback, though, when she indicated that she doesn’t have one instructional strategy nor classroom routine that she thinks is successful.  We’re in March and she seems to have to learn everything about teaching.  She’s been here at least as long as I have (5 years) and I’m wondering how we let this situation get this far.  
More importantly, what do I do now?  She asked for help in creating a unit plan.  I think she’s happy to let me do that for her, but that won’t help her.  I’m wondering which books she should read, who she should follow on Twitter, which blogs she should read.  How do you give someone a crash course in teaching English effectively?  
Yesterday I read Kelly Gallagher’s In the Best Interest of Students and, since we’re getting ready to move to the CCSS, I think that’s a good one.  Well, even if we hadn’t adopted the CCSS, it’s still thought-provoking with practical, try-them-tomorrow ideas.  But she’s made it this far resisting professional development, so will she read?  
What do we need to have in place at the district level to make sure we continuously support the professional development of teachers?  

SOLSC #4 Fuji-san



photo1 photo3 Sasebo & Zao 031Every morning
I hope to see Fuji-san
It never gets old

Towering in the bright sky
A threatening gift

A fool to think that
I could climb it with a bunch of
Twenty year olds!

SOLSC #3 League Night


I brought Allan Wolf’s book Immersed in Verse to league night with me so that I could figure out something to write while bowling.  It’s not surprising that I ended up writing about bowling.  These probably won’t have wide appeal, but my teammates like them and they are short.

The Purple Bowling Ball (inspired by William Carlos Williams)

so much depends

the grape scented bowling

glistening with lane

crushing the white

The second poem is a He Said She Said poem.  Allan Wolf and Sara Holbrook wrote a whole book of these titled More Than Friends: Poems from Him and Her (which my students loved).


He said
Game on!
Bowling is competition –
Striving to crush your opponent
With strikes and trash talk,
Knowing the men will get the points.

She said
That’s all she needs to say because she
Knows that bowling men
Is a mind game.
Stay quiet, get marks and they’ll self-destruct.
The ladies will win almost every time.

SOLSC #2 Dating in my 40s


I am a mature single woman in my 40s.  I work at the district office of my school system, supervised by the assistant superintendent and having daily contact with the superintendent.  It is a very grown-up job.  And, yet, there are still moments in my life when I feel 13.  And it’s not the good kind of feeling 13.  The 13 where I am adventurous and full of energy.  No, it is the 13 where I am hormonal and insecure, and dealing with other people who are also insecure.

How does this happen to a responsible, confident, independent woman?  Obviously, it’s a male.  The same thing that made me crazy when I was 13 is still making me crazy.  Shouldn’t it be different now?  I think my married friends imagine it differently for me.    They may see dating as a man and woman spending time alone.  No children to interrupt the romantic mood.  It should be all slow dancing, low voices, flowers and candlelight, possibly leading to noisier more adult activities, also not interrupted by children.

Well, I hate to destroy the illusion (for myself and for others), but here is the reality.  I like a boy.  We’ll call this boy Adam.  I don’t just like Adam, I like like him.   Adam hasn’t asked me out so while I do think he likes me, I don’t think he  like likes me.  I always look forward to seeing him.  He makes me smile and feel a little bit nervous.  I occasionally do something that is reminiscent of a schoolgirl giggle.    It’s all a bit embarrassing.  My friends tell me to ask Adam out, but I haven’t.  I don’t want to put him in an awkward situation and I don’t want to ruin our friendship by making it obvious that I like like him.

Well, last week I was traveling when I received a message from my friend.  Now if I were actually 13, it would have been a folded note passed to me in the hallway by my friend with badly teased 80s hair and neon clothes.  But since I’m an employed adult, it came as an email from my sharply dressed friend who also happens to be the assistant superintendent (aka my boss).  My friend’s note said that  Adam’s friend asked her if she thinks I will go out with Adam if Adam were to ask me.  He isn’t sure if he’s going to ask me but he thinks I’m cute and nice and I get good grades on my homework (or something like that).    Seriously, the only thing missing was the boxes with check ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  And I was thrilled.  The boy I like like, like likes me!  Maybe.

I saw him when I returned from my trip and like all normal, insecure 13 year olds, we flirted and laughed and ignored the fact that I know he like likes me and that he knows I like like him.  We did text though.  It’s just there was no texting when I was really 13 so I don’t know how long this texting has to go on before it might lead to an actual date.  And then will one of our parents have to drive us?

And there is my reality of dating in the 40s.  Just in case anyone was feeling a little exasperated with their spouse, I tell this story as a public service to remind you that the grass is not always greener.

SOLSC 2015 #1

Thanks to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the SOLSC!  

I’m excited to begin the Slice of Life Story Challenge after a year away.  On April 1, 2014, I was feeling proud that I fully participated the entire month of March and I looked forward to continuing on a weekly basis.  I didn’t last long.  So, I’m back to try again and to do better in my second year – completing the challenge and continuing beyond the second week in April.

The second I stepped off the elevator, the smell of lilies brushed up against me and my face broke out in a smile.  Smiles are hard to come by at the end of a tiring month of travel.  Particularly hard to come by at the end of a challenging week.  But the smell of these lilies definitely brought a smile to my face.  Lilies.  Beautiful, tall, white lilies.  I smiled knowing the smell was coming from my apartment.  I smiled knowing that I was responsible for the marked improvement in the hallway.  I smiled knowing that as soon as I got into my apartment I would also be able to see the beauty I was smelling.  I smiled knowing that those flowers were a gift – an act of kindness.  

Flowers make me smile so I like to keep them in my apartment.  I had been on the road for most of February and I desperately needed a smile.  I stopped by the flower shop on the way to get my fix.  I quickly picked out the bunch that I liked best – a mixture of about 6 different types of flowers.  I gave the saleswoman my credit card and she ran it, but then she immediately ran into the back of the shop.  The saleswoman is Japanese, and so usually very attentive.  It is unusual for this type of multi-tasking, but it didn’t bother me because it seemed to be taking a while for the purchase to go through.  But then I heard the tape printing and she was still in the back.  It had been a difficult weak and I was worn down.  Ironically, this resulted in my being more patient than usual.   When the saleswoman returned, I was very thankful that I had been patient.  She was carrying a heavy-looking wooden container of lilies.  She told me that they were “leftover Lilies” and offered them to me.  As many as I wanted.  I took only half, knowing that I didn’t have a vase big enough for all of them, but also not wanting to seem greedy.  

It was such a kind gesture, not the first kindness from this shop.  And I’ve smiled every day since – seeing the flowers, smelling them, and thinking about the kindness that brought them into my home.    It’s a great reminder to me to pay it forward – to do small things to make others smile.


Thanks for reading!    Lee

Summer Reading Series – Thoughts on Summer Reading


I’ve been out of the blogging game for quite a while so Lee Ann’s Summer Reading Series challenge seems like the perfect time to dip my toes back in.

I’m late to the game so not really sure where I should be on the list, but I’ll just begin with my thoughts on summer reading. I believe that summer reading is important. So, I believe a summer reading assignment is important if that is what will get students to read. I know, unfortunately, that summer reading assignment can do the opposite, and of course, that’s exactly what I would want to avoid.

I used to teach at the same school as Lee Ann and Beth and I thought our start to required summer reading was basically good. One whole-grade book and one choice book. There wasn’t a lot of busy work around either choice. When we returned to school there was a bit of time for new students to catch up. But, most important, there was a subject of common comversation. It was an expectation for everyone in the school. being a rather larger school, we have several English teachers at each grade level. This summer reading assignment allowed for a common conversation, common topic for all students in a grade level, regardless of which teacher they were assigned to. I think those small ties are important in a large school.

Where I am now, summer reading is not required. Cannot be required. But, of course, we have AP teachers who can’t help themselves. I’ve seen the entire textbook assigned for summer reading. I wish I were kidding. Then there’s a test right at the beginning of the year. A heavily-weighted test. This was one teacher’s solution to open access AP classes. If they’re failing in the first week, it’s more likely that they’ll drop the class. Yikes! Hearing that made me very happy that we can’t actually require summer reading. At least I knew that those students and parents could fight that if they chose to.

As a district office resources, I am occassionally asked to discuss or help promote summer reading. I think about how I can promote the love of reading, fight the summer slump, and also avoid accidentally giving teachers permission to torture students over the summer.

SOL: Yikes! It’s Tuesday!

Slice of Life hosted at the
Join in and share a slice of your life.


What?  It’s Tuesday?  Already?  When I said I would slice on Tuesdays, I thought I’d have some time off.  I was so excited about the 31st and relieved when I hit submit.  I responded to the wonderful slicers that I’ve met about how I was looking forward to Tuesdays.  Obviously, I was not connecting the words tomorrow and Tuesday in those moments.  But I said I would do it so here I am.  I’m considering this another draft to add to my pile. 

When I got home today, I had about 35 minutes to prepare and scarf down some before before heading to bowling.  I put on an episode of Buffy – my background noise, my comfort when I’m stressed.  I know every episode; no need to pay attention.  I know that good will be victorious.  (Something I can’t be sure of when I’m in the kitchen.)

The scene begins with Buffy running from a scaly, gray demon with horns on its head and an assemblage of fleshy wattles hanging from its chin.  Now, already I know I’ve watched this too many times because I can typically be fairly mindless and nonjudgmental for tv, but right now I am wondering why the writers would have her running from the demon when she is the Slayer and it is her job to kill the demon.  Buffy stumbles and falls.  Really?  But she’s The Slayer!  The CHOSEN one, gifted with strength and agility.  And she suddenly trips over her own feet?   She miraculously rebounds with an amazing backflip.  Another demon shows up.  Buffy does a flying kick sending one demon across the playground and she pulls out a huge knife and stabs the other demon.  Where was she keeping that big knife?  How did she not impale herself when she fell on the ground?  The scene ends with the demon’s silver blood seeping out and spreading across his skin and onto Buffy.

We soon discover that Buffy has been infected by this demon and as a result she has acquired some aspect of the demon.  She checks the mirror frequently, looking for the horns or scales or tail that will appear at any moment.  She’s expecting the worst.

Of course, what actually happened is that she gained the demon’s ability to read minds – something that was at least temporarily useful.  Some may even consider it a superpower.  And this really got me thinking about work.  In a previous slice, I reflected on my work situation and the poison that had infected me (from my coworkers). Of course, in my reflection, I had figured out how to rise above it all.  But if I had really fully risen above it, I may not have been empathizing with Buffy today thinking about how my demonic coworkers have infected me. 

Now, though, I might consider what superpower I can get from my coworkers.  Despite our collective dysfunction, we all have incredible individual strengths.  My focus should be on tapping into the best of my colleagues instead of dwelling on perceived weaknesses. 

Another life lesson learned from Buffy.   (And I promise it’s the last time I’ll slice about Buffy… unless she inspires a poem this month.)