Remind Me

Remind me that I feel better when I do this.

Remind me that everything is improved with a trip outside.

Remind me that the world is more bright and lovely midday when I step into the grass rather than tuck my toes under on the couch.

Remind me that all I have to do – ALL I have to do – is to get out of the way. To be silent and wonder. To ask the question and wait. To not turn my somersaults of confusion and anxiety trying to twist myself into already knowing what I do not yet know. To not justify my every action when they are all wrong because the only right one is to listen.

Remind me that it cannot all be mine, but look at what is.

Remind me that I would be overwhelmed with more anyway.

Remind me that it is the space between: the cool air, the ghost outline of a mostly round moon in the afternoon, the pine needles oddly tinkling like the sound of icicles in the spring breeze, the new baby-green buds born on the old dogwood branches.

Remind me that those trees in my yard have been there long before my comings and goings, my doings and not-doings, and they’ll be there, watching, long after. They are neither joyed nor dismayed by the antics of people in their yard, just observant.

Remind me to be observant, too.

Remind me to rest my face in a half-smile so as not to frown as I concentrate. I want to smile at what I’m considering, because if I’m going to frown, I want to do it on purpose.

Remind me to ask people questions about their lives.

Remind me to not interrupt.

Remind me that the world is spinning, and the ozone, and gravity, and revolution, and isn’t that all amazing when I remember to not take it for granted?

Remind me to stop avoiding what is difficult, because hiding it behind my back just makes it harder to hold.

Remind me to be careful.

Remind me to be purposeful, because so often I am not, and I allow myself the ease of being carried on the momentum of how-things-happen, forgetting that I have options: agency or complacency.

Remind me that “one day” backwards is “day one”.

Remind me that my parents are proud of the adult I’ve become. Remind me that I don’t have to act childlike for them.

Remind me that there is no rush. But also remind me to do a little every day.

Remind me to spend some time cleaning out the dusty old notes, files, boxes, and unused things. Remind me to unclutter my head, too.

Remind me that I want to learn to garden. But that I can start with something familiar like lavender or forsythia, and wait to tackle vegetables another year.

Remind me to keep the pen moving.

Remind me I’ll miss it all when I’m gone: the quiet classroom, the chaos when it’s full. The young minds shooting thoughts out in every unorganized direction like fireworks. Too loud, too scary, too much, and my responsibility to reign all that flash and fire in and make it into a timed, bright show, on schedule and in order.

But I already know that when I look back, I’ll first remember all that color and light and beauty, and I’ll need to be reminded of the slog.


April 11: Jump


Past snow days, made up

With slides that bounce into spring:

Saturday School


A to Z Challenge: This month, I will be writing a haiku (sometimes a senryu – same syllables, not marveling at nature) each day save Sundays for the 26 letters of the alphabet as part of the blogosphere’s A to Z Challenge.

April 9: Heartbreaking


He hangs his head low.

“You are not an ‘F’ student.”

He says, “Yes, I am.”

A to Z Challenge: This month, I will be writing a haiku (sometimes a senryu – same syllables, not marveling at nature) each day save Sundays for the 26 letters of the alphabet as part of the blogosphere’s A to Z Challenge.


My student teacher started today. I am so grateful.

I was talking with him yesterday about his plans for the week, and he was so full of energy, life, creativity, and ideas. My first reaction was to beat myself up for not bringing that kind of passion lately. Though I don’t think I have been slack or doing a poor job, he is just so full-to-the-brim with vitality and verve.


Then I realized that I am so grateful that he is here right now to bring that idealism and that creativity to our classroom. I am here to help funnel that energy into productive lessons. He is bringing the newness; I am bringing the experience. It’s a good balance. And one that I need so badly right now.

Maya comes with me to work on the weekends
Maya comes with me to work on the weekends

This is a time for major transition for me, and that’s okay. Spending my outside “free” time working on new ideas for school is just not my truth today. It has been, and maybe it will be again, but it’s not right now. This experience with hosting a student teacher has granted me time: time to take care of all of the necessary, logistical, and professional things that are required of me. The gift of not having to use my outside time to take care of nuts and bolts, which must come before creativity, but often does not!

And if I get those things taken care of, then maybe I can use some of these gifted days to find my creative thought again, though they may be less of the teaching variety and more geared toward the new version of my life. One with two kids, no day job, new ventures, a possible new home.

It’s time to put my creative energy toward this new portrait, and also toward my own writing – in a journal, on the blog, in some stories. Our story is changing and I am so ready and so excited.


I would like to remember how I built some of my favorite lessons and apply those habits and skills to my new writing life. I have felt proud, energized, and successful in those moments of inspired teaching and planning, and I would like to continue to experience the joy of that kind of satisfaction and productivity.

Inspired by Khaled Hosseini - I wrote a lesson plan on the back of my book mark for "And the Mountains Echoed"
Inspired by Khaled Hosseini – I wrote a lesson plan on the back of my book mark for “And the Mountains Echoed”

I will have about a month of teaching left after my student teacher wraps up his tenure here, and I have no doubt that in these meantime weeks, I will find my most favorite, most cared for, most loved, most thoughtful lessons to share with my classes before I officially exit this building.

View when I leave work in the winter
My view when I leave work
View when I leave work in the spring


Who knows exactly what’s next, but I embrace this changing chapter.


Our Words Shape their Worlds

Often, I find myself saying, “Wow, Maya, you are so smart!” because she astounds me. The things she knows, the things she can do. I quip that I don’t know where she got it – as far as I know, neither Sean nor I were baby geniuses, the way she appears to be.

But what I am seeing is the learning process: the growth of which all humans are capable. It is one of the many joys of parenthood – to bear witness to this “miracle” of the human brain.

But by praising Maya in this way – to tell her that she is “smart”, I am implying that intelligence is a fixed asset – she is either born with it or without it – as fixed as her eye color; when in reality, intelligence is as malleable as any other muscle. I need to watch what I say to her.

Muscle training
Muscle training

When students/kids are learning, if we were to focus all of our praise on the process of learning: on the risk-taking, the trying, the failing, the trying again, then our kids would be come more resilient and begin to see struggle as a necessary part of growing and achieving success.

My view right now
One place of learning

If we establish the belief that success is reachable, but only through hard work and trial and error, then there’s nothing our kids couldn’t do. Falling down, or not knowing the answer right away, wouldn’t cause them to quit. Making mistakes and learning from them IS how we grow. Trying is how we stretch.

Another learning environment
Another learning environment

Here is a TED talk that illustrates some research in this idea.

Writing the Curriculum, ahem, Writing. Writing the Writing.

And here we are. The beginning of another school year. I get so nervous the night before, I can hardly sleep. Eight years into teaching and still…

But this year there is something new: I am “teaching” a Creative Writing class. I put ‘teaching’ in quotes just there because it is not the same as other classes. I am dancing (dueling?) back and forth between freedom and structure, and I am in the middle: an emotional wreck.

You wouldn’t know it in class – I seem (I think) to have it all planned out, to have a vision, but really I am sticking a toe in, withdrawing; tasting, testing, spitting it out. Questioning myself a lot.

Prompts, genres, lessons, free writing, feedback. It seems against creativity to put a framework to it, a schedule to it, but I also know that’s a lie. Discipline, learning, trying things outside of our natural tendencies – these are all good for creativity. So is a bottle of wine and some jazz on low in the evening light – but I won’t bring that into class. Ha.

I’ve brought flowers in and am putting pictures on the wall:

Ryan Sheffield Art

Maybe some beanbags? A tea station has been requested…

But how do we warm this cold, cinder-block-public-school-room with words? I’ll keep looking…


Lessons and Themes

Lesson Six: Find yourself through the stories

I think in themes.  It’s a hazard (benefit?) of my literary analysis training and day to day routine with students.  I cannot hear, read, watch or see anything without finding the theme of the incident, story, piece, etc.

When we are in elementary school, we are taught that the theme is the moral of the story.  This is not incorrect, and when students are stuck, I direct them to start again at this basic step.  But now, in my advanced literature classes (sounds fancy, right? Well, remember, it’s still only high school!), we talk about theme in terms of the universal human truth. The thing about the story that relates to being human.  The underlying current of understanding and connection. It leads to discussions about archetype and culture and basic humanity.  Theme is the language of my every day work life.

Teacher Rae
Teacher Rae

And I tend to apply it to the “real” world as well.  I have a narrative mind that turns each and every situation into a fictional story – which means that it must have been built with all of the nuts, bolts, stylistic choices and literary tools and devices authors use. I do not give enough credit to random coincidence or purposeless happenings.  Some might call it a faith in a higher power – some puppet master/story writer of our fates – that everything happens for a reason, but it really could just be my English teacher default 11th-grade-lit-analysis brain setting.

Whatever it is, I like it.  I feel better thinking that there is a lesson or purpose behind everything and that my life has some significant meaning.  (Students of mine will be very familiar with this vernacular of mine: significant moments, meaning, universal human truth…)

I recently read that a “successful blog” should have a theme.  And I have struggled with this – I do not want to have a separate blogs each  for my education musings,  my mommy blogging, and yet another for  my writing practice. Maybe those are genres, categories, not themes, but still – what is my theme here?

I started off my posts with “Lessons” and I kind of trailed off from that because it seemed a little kitschy, but it is the truth of my perspective and how my brain works.  I am writing this blog to make my own life lessons apparent to myself.

think haiku

To teach myself how to look, notice, appreciate, be grateful.

write haiku

To teach myself to write regularly.

So whether my readership is just me or if there are countless of you out there, that is my purpose here.  You may notice motifs arise and threads of themes begin to weave from post to post, whether they are tagged parenting or teaching, and my aim is to make that more purposeful.

Truth be told, this is a challenging time for me.  I am grabbing my story by the reigns and making purposeful notes to change it.  Don’t get me wrong: I have everything I need to be happy – the most wonderful family,  a good job, great friends, a sturdy home – and I am happy, but I am also unsettled and uncomfortable. I am at a crossroads (is it my age? The mid-30s?) and I am going to write until this path is clear.

Who is Rae?
Who is Rae?

Thank you for all of your support and guidance, friends, readers, universe, story writer in the sky. I am looking closely at the beautiful things in my life and I am listening and I am writing.

So, theme?  Universal human truth?

How about self-discovery?



One must know oneself to be happy. This is my bildungsroman* (just started a little later in life than Scout Finch or Holden Caulfield).

*German, a novel about the main character’s moral, psychological, or spiritual growth.

What are we Really Testing?

Lesson three: I gotta stand up for the real learning

Very Pregnant Teacher Rae
Very Pregnant Teacher Rae 2012

A student I taught last year, Jose, came to me at lunch the other day flustered and confused.  He had gone to the library to get his school e-mail address (yes, I’m aware it seems a little odd to be giving these out in February, 5 months into the year).  They were distributed by grade level, so Jose went on the day the 11th graders were getting them.  He was told that he was not listed as a junior, but rather as a sophomore, and he should go and see his counselor.

His counselor was unaware that his status was as a second time sophomore and told him to check with me – apparently he had failed English and the system had automatically held him back in 10th grade.

I was shocked to hear this – while I didn’t remember his grades exactly, I definitely knew that he had not failed my class!

I cannot tell you exactly when Jose arrived in the U.S., how long he has been in North Carolina, or his legal status, but I can tell you that he is not yet completely fluent in English.  He can hold a conversation and make himself understood through writing, but while a student can become conversational in two or three years, it can take seven or more years for a student to test well if English is not his/her native language.

I dug out my gradebook from last year and found that Jose had ‘B’s and ‘C’s for his quarter grades.

I taught Jose in a collaborative English 2: World Literature/English as a Second Language class and he worked his butt off!  Rarely do we encounter kids who are so hard working, so eager, so determined, so respectful and so sweet.  Many students become frustrated – especially ones with extra challenges, but not Jose.  He attended after school tutoring three times a week, turned things in early so that he could re-draft before the final deadline, and would come at lunch for extra help. When not with a teacher, Jose was in the library or stairwells diligently working.

I checked with the counselor and an administrator – how could it be that a kid that worked so hard and earned achievement grades that reflected his efforts and progress was marked as a failure?

They couldn’t give me a definite answer.  The suggestion was made that perhaps he failed his EOC (End of Course State Test) and that kept him from being promoted to the 11th grade. Is that fair? I just can’t get behind that.

So yeah, Jose failed his EOC, but check out this sample from last year’s released prep materials:

by Jenette Purcell

City night sky
gives itself to me again
when I have so little left to receive it.
I am dark, crumbling
5 and you are rivers and trees away
searching your own night sky for a sign.
The strong gates of your heart
are wide open to me always, but,
if only.
10 So I wait, as seasons before, decades before,
fathers and mothers before me still inside
watch and listen.
bamboo, bones, fiber, fences,
15 water, glistening koi,*

all the tiny rooms,
paths and places I hold your memories
in audible, reverent wonder
20 at the fullness forming
on this horizon’s edge.

*koi: colorful fish that symbolize love and friendship

S1 Which line from the poem describes the speaker’s feelings about loving someone?
A “when I have so little left to receive it”
B “are wide open to me always, but”
C “paths and places I hold your memories”
D “at the fullness forming”

S2 Which word could replace reverent in line 19 of the poem?
A amazed
B respectful
C redundant
D significant

I tell you what: I could make a pretty good case for each of the options in sample question #1. And for me, teaching students how to make an assertion and support it seems so much more important than trying to get them to figure out the “best” answer out of these options.  What does this prove that they have learned?

My classroom work
My classroom work


The qualities that Jose exhibits every day in the classroom and in his own learning journey is so inspiring and he deserves to be celebrated for his accomplishments.  His confidence and future should not hang on the balance of such convoluted questions.

I am not sure of my options, but I am going to look into overruling Jose’s grade from last year and changing it to something that better reflects the effort, process, growth and performance that he displayed in my classroom.  Fingers crossed that learning will trump testing in the end of this story!

If any of you want to take a stab at the answers to the EOC questions or are just curious, just leave me a comment and I will get back to you!