One Perfect Paragraph

The power of anecdotes, that’s the writing mini-lesson coming up this week. Oh, I’m a fan of that short, pointed “storylet” that packs a punch when done well. It’s useful in argument as elaboration for a claim, voice-full for an informational text, and the substance of great economic poetry. We’re starting a personal writing project now that our most basic procedural routines have been established—I know, I know, maintaining routines is eternal, but I’m optimistic—so, the anecdote…

While we’ve got our goals, and our shared learning objectives as per Kahn Academy’s SMART introduction, and Fisher, Frey, and Hattie’s The Distance Learning Playbook, we have yet to peer confer about our “pieces.” At an inspiring webinar on digital literacy offered by my alma mater Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, Dr. Boling discussed a simple acronym she espouses for peer interactions around writing: PQP; Praise,Question,Polish. Simple is my mantra, and this works for me! But we need a text to work with, another pair of p’s: practice paragraph. Hence: the anecdote.

I am using Meg Medina’s short story, “Sol Painting, Inc.” from the wonderful collection, Flying Lessons,” loaded with anecdotal examples, for the introduction to noticing and naming. Medina’s story is particularly great because she uses the Tell-Show combo with such great skill. But I always try to do, and share, Gallagher and Kittle as my guides, whatever my students are doing. All this professional preamble for my anecdote, and here it is.

“Just yesterday as I was collecting the mail from the box, mostly junk, I caught sight of a real letter. Its putty-colored envelope had a New Orleans return address, one I know well, my son’s. A thrill pulsed through my fingers, but I waited until I was inside to open it, anticipation building. The envelope lay heavy in my hands, the handwriting on its face my son’s. I turned it over, gently opened the flap and lifted out a simple, classy card. It was an “official invitation” to his wedding, the small his-and-her-immediate-family-only event that had to replace the celebration that they had  originally planned. He had drawn two boxes, one “yes,” the other “heck [hell] yes” and beneath those the date and time. Then he added the line with the address of the Airbnb he and his bride-to-be had found in the woods, where the ceremony will take place on a deck surrounded by tall trees. They will be married at 1865 JOY ROAD. Tears. That’s exactly what I wish for them, a road filled with joy.”

Early to Bed; Early to Rise

I’m asleep in the recliner when my husband rouses me with a gentle,” Hey, babe, don’t you think you better go to bed?” Despite the obvious—I am after all, sound asleep—it’s only 7:30 p.m. and for most of my fellow Oregonians, bedtime is hours away.

“Man, someday soon I’m going to get through an entire PBS NewsHour,” I mumble as I rise and stumble to the bedroom.

“Probably not while you’re living on East Coast time,” he murmurs, and he’s right. Since I’ve started teaching in New Jersey, I am newly familiar with “shift work,” my stint beginning at 5:15 a.m. PST ( well, PDT until November 1st) and ending at 9:50 (gotta love school schedules)—unless I have to assist kids from 11:00-12:00 pm. Is this making you dizzy?

When my former principal called me about the job, she admitted, “We wouldn’t have considered it—except you’ve always been such an early riser!” My co-teacher and still-close-friend in NJ chuckled when we were discussing the offer in a later call. “You were crazy about all that grading, and reading. You can’t still be getting up at 4 a.m.?” Truthfully, 5 a.m. is my normal, no-alarm-necessary wake-up, and when I’m awake, I’m UP! So this new job hasn’t demanded that much of an adjustment for me. Except…

I had forgotten about those back-to-school nerves, that pit-of-my-stomach ache about the uncertainty of a day in front of my students. Sleeplessness is part of that, has always been, so rather than stress, and toss and turn, I get out of bed at 3 am and get to work, knowing that this will get, not easier, but more familiar.

Seth Godin published this great post on September 20th about how when we say, “I’d better get to work,” we equate that with the drudgery of routine, of “the measurable grind.” He suggests that our framing has significant power. “Maybe we’d be better off saying,” ‘I need to get back to making magic.'” I love that because that’s how I feel about my work, that “dancing with possibility” I embrace even with sleep in my eyes.

Let this year be one of magic-making for us all!

A New Dawn

It was another Tuesday when I wrote this about the mixed emotions I felt, the difficulty in confronting my decision not to return to the classroom as a substitute this year. My worry was about finding purpose. Well…

Yesterday I was hired by my former employer as a virtual teacher for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade English Language Arts learners who, in accordance with New Jersey’s options, have chosen all-remote learning. I have relocated to the West Coast since my retirement three years ago, but as my-former-now-current vice-principal quipped when he suggested it to my good friend and former-now-current teaching partner, “She’s up at 4:30 a.m. anyway, so…” (The truth is, I have taken to sleeping in until 5, sometimes even 5:30, but all that is about to change.)

I’m writing this because as I do, the commitment becomes ever more real. I already spent some hours caught between sleep and awake last night. I imagine that is not 100% over either. My husband has said, “Approach this with professionalism.” He knows my passion for my profession. He also knows that I can get swept away with it.

But I am not who I was; my experience as a substitute will help me keep perspective— that so much exists beyond my control despite my worthiest intentions. And the pandemic has been an exacting and enlightening educator.

I still believe that teaching is one way to make a difference in this world. I will do what I can.