Monday, December 31, 2012

Buh-Bye 2012!

So I'm just about T-minus seven hours away from the official start of 2013 and I feel compelled to write some sort of reflective genius about the year.  Hopefully you are reading this post with a drink in hand.  I definitely sound much more brilliant if you've been drinking.  True story.

You guys, 2012 was rough.  ROUGH!  While you know I have a flair for the drama, the highs and lows of 2012 put my natural tendencies to seek out drama to shame.  I didn't have to seek it out, it found me, slapped me in the face and then laughed about it while calling me fat.  For real.  Both professionally and personally, I am keeping my fingers crossed for a much more even keeled 2013.

If you've been reading for awhile, you know that I have basically been involved in a five year quest for professional Zen.  Much of my struggle to find said Zen stems from the daily ridiculousness that goes down each and every day in our public schools as well as my public-school-teacher-ingrained- manner of being perpetually unable to strike anything related to a personal/professional balance.  (Did you guys know that you are actually supposed to go to the gym?  Evidently it's not enough to carry that little thingy around on your key chain.  Who knew?) 

Some personal struggles this year forced me to have a new perspective on my life as a slave to education.  Without actually saying "Don't sweat the small stuff" (because that sort of phrase makes me want to pour salt on an open paper cut), I learned to stay cognizant of what really matters.  My family, my own philosophy of what it means to be a good teacher, and those projects that truly make me happy. Yes, I still engage in hours of paperwork and other miscellaneous bullshit that is a complete waste of my time, but I try not to focus on it as much.  Very Jedi mind trick, very Zen. 

With this attitude in hand, I gratefully will say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013.  May 2013 bring joy and professional happiness to us all.  (Spoiler alert: Mrs. Mimi is going to be getting her Happiness Project on and I hope you all will join me!)  For me, that definitely means more time over here on the blog.  This will only be my 20th post this year and although much of this year was too dark for me to even contemplate looking at a keyboard, I have missed you.

Without further ado, here are the top five viewed and commented on posts of the year.  In other words, the posts that totally kicked ass/struck a chord with all you lovelies out there.

Number 5: Heroes

Number 4: Just Another Manic Wednesday

Number 3:   Where Do I Begin?

Number 2: I Went Running.  What Did I See?

Number 1:  You Put Your Whole Self In, You Put Your Whole Self Out...

Happy New Year!  I raise a glass to each and every one of you. 

Mrs. Mimi

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I am sitting here in front of a blank computer screen attempting to write curriculum, to focus on the Common Core, to be mindful of my looooooming deadlines.  But then...

My mind drifts back to the recent tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.  As a mommy, a teacher and a CT-girl, I just cannot wrap my head around what took place on Friday.  And yet, I can't think about anything else. 

Although I am horrified and write this with tears streaming down my face, I have never been more convinced than I am right now that teachers are heroes.  We are heroes.  Those men and women working at Sandy Hook Elementary were and are heroes.  I joke about Super Colleagues zipping through the hallways with capes on their backs as they go about changing the lives of the children they touch each and every day, but these people, Vicky Soto, they are truly heroes.  With or without the cape.

If I struggle to process what has happened, I am not sure how those most closely involved can even begin.  I have read that when Fred Rogers was a boy and would see scary things on the news, his mother would say to him, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." 

So for today, I am going to focus on the helpers and the heroes. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nerd Out: Stand Up And Wave Your Nerd Flag

My Teacher Bag is a thing of mythic proportions.  It is big.  It is heavy.  It is strategically packed.  It is a thing of beauty.  Over the years I have refined my Teacher Bag so that it is no longer something that mocks me from the corners of my living room ("Why haven't you opened me and graded all these assessments yet?  Grey's Anatomy Shrey's Anatomy...I'm watching yoooooouuuuu.") but is something with which I can effectively finish up remains of the day, tweak my plans for the next and, in all honesty, probably Macguyver you a new alarm clock.  I'm just sayin'. 

One day, before a looooooooonnnnnggg field trip which required an even loooooonnnger (think epic like red sea epic) bus ride, one of my friends glanced in my bag and gasped in surprise. 

"Mrs. Mimi, what's that?!" he said increduously.

Panicked I glanced over, mentally steeling myself for a conversation about tampons when I discovered that my friend was pointing at my book.  Not my math manual or the tome of tests I had yet to grade, but my personal reading book.  (Yes, I always have a book with me.  Always.  I HATE waiting and a book makes me feel less stabby when I have to.)  I actually even remember what book it was.  It was the first book in the first book in the Twilight series.  (I know.  I know.  And they weren't even that cool yet...I know.)

"Oh, that's my book."

"The book you are reading to us?  That doesn't look like Judy Moody."

"It's not.  It's my own book.  That I read for myself.  On the train or before I go to bed."

"You read?" (blink, blink)

"All the time."

"What's your book about?" (still suspicious)



I don't think that particular friend will go glancing in a teacher's bag again, however, word of this insane reading nonsense spread around the room like wildfire.

Psssssttttt....Did you know that Mrs. Mimi reads every night before she goes to bed?

Hey....did you know that Mrs. Mimi is reading a book that she hasn't shared with us?  It's about vampires!

And that's when it hit me.  My friends had never seen me read.  Sure I read aloud to them every day, I read their books, I read with them, I read from the board, but in their presence, I never read for myself.  (I mean, I would actually have to sit down and take a breath for that to happen and we all know that that is a luxury teachers don't often had.)  While I knew that I was never going to be able to sit and read while they read (because she-who-shall-remain-nameless would flip her Weave and we all know I wanted to avoid that like the plague), I realized I had to share my reading life with my class.  Show them the book I was reading.  Talk about my reading.  Wave my nerd flag and wave it proudly.

Chapter 5 of The Book Whisperer advocates for just that.  That we share our reading lives and our love of reading with our students.  Because we can't fake it.  They are too smart for that and I agree with Ms. Miller that authenticity is everything with kids. 

It also means reading the books our friends are reading.  Have you ever had this happen:

Teacher: How is your reading going?
Student: Great.
Teacher: Can you tell me about the story so far?
Student: (Launches into long and detailed explanation that sounds pretty good but honestly, you haven't read the book and they could totally be pulling one over on you, but what are you going to say because, without reading the book, you don't have a leg to stand on....)
Teacher: Sounds fantastic!  (Ugh.)

Can we read every book in our classroom libraries? Probably not this year.  Should we be reading the books our friends are reading?  Hells, yes.  I'm not sure how else you do it. 

I love these last lines from the chapter.  They remind me how important it is to bring your authentic self to the classroom each and everyday and how critical that we turn lists of strategies and requirements and standards into something truly inspired.  "The reality is that you cannot inspire others to do what you are not inspired to do yourself." 


Friday, November 30, 2012

Nerd Out: It's Not All About Leveling

Oh standardized testing, how you have ruined us!  How you have forced us to do things that deep down we know are not the best for our little friends!  How you have been abused yourself - used to measure things that you were never designed to measure!

I think we all need one big support group.  I'll meet you at the bar...

Anyhow, one fallout of testing, testing, testing and more testing is our obsession with data, accountability, measuring, and all things one can put on a graph.   One huge casualty besides you, me, our friends and collective sanity?  Our classroom libraries.

I don't know about you, but I have always had a love/hate relationship with my classroom library.  I loved the neat, organized and colorful labels.  I hated that lurking pile of books that I didn't know where to shelve.  I loved the bursting baskets, filled with books books, glorious books!  I hated when books were put back in the wrong place, carelessly and without thought.  I loved the rug, the pillows, the little lamp, the cozy feel of my classroom library.  I hated vacuuming and maintaining the space.

As you already know, I can make most things in life into a full fledged drama.

Getting back to my trend I have seen in classrooms (and a trend that I do NOT believe is the fault of the teacher, don't get me wrong) recently is making the classroom library into a wall of leveled baskets.  Whether you color code them, number them or Fountas and Pinnell them up, it is still a huge wall of leveled books.  And nothing else.  No genre, no topic, no author, no nothing.  Just levels as far as the eye can see.

I often wonder what this looks like from the perspective of the little friends in that classroom.  Do they imagine the books mocking them - all you-can-look-but-you-can't-touch-me?  Do they push readers to work harder?  (My guess is no.)  Do they make readers feel bad about where they are and limit their choices? (My guess is yes.)

Levels are fabulous.  They are a great tool and have shaped my own teaching of reading.  HOWEVER, as the eloquent Donalynn Miller writes in chapter 4 (I know, chapter 4.  Could we be doing this book club thing any slower?!  I swear, you guys, I am totally not a slow reader.  Seriously.), "I never want my students to feel that they are roped into a book...I believe that students should be empowered to make as many book choices as possible..."

Is it really a choice if you are told to pick one book from the basket labeled "DRA 28"?

This chapter goes on to detail the ways in which Ms. Miller expands her students reading lives and helps them to form a reading identity.  Now, I love the smallest of small fries down in lower elementary and for these new readers, it is essential to have leveled books.  But leveled books and being labeled as a "level x" reader certainly isn't the answer.

Can you imagine if someone yanked the People magazine out of my hands and told me it wasn't my level?  It wouldn't be a pretty day, that's for sure.


If you want to chat more about our The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, check me and my fellow nerds out over on our book club's Facey Face page.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

To Gift or Not To Gift

Assuming that none of you out there was the lucky Powerball winner (I mean $500M??  Can you imagine how much that will buy you at The Container Store or - gasp - Staples?!  The organizational possibilities are ENDLESS.  Don't even get me started on the shoes I could buy...), the question I'm thinking about today is to gift or not to gift. 

Every year at this time, in addition to keeping the lid on my boiling pot of friends who were oh-so-over-excited about the holidays, I began to think about putting together a gift to give them before our vacation.  A Holiday Something from me to them.  As with many things in my life, I have found that this situation is also a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Let me explain...

In my early years of teaching, I used all my bonus points and extra pocket change to buy each student two books I just knew they would love.  Joy!  Giving! 'Tis the season! 

Inspired by my own generosity (I have never been afraid to toot my own horn), I followed that gift up with At Home Kits Of Fabulous.  Each child got a new pencil box filled with fun art supplies and ideas for at-home-fun-while-on-vacation.  Ooooo!  Aaaaaa!  Fabulous!

Then I found one At Home Kit of Fabulousness discarded carelessly in the entry way of the school building.  Boo!  Hiss!  And a hearty dose of WTF?!

The next year, you got a pencil with a bow on it.  Blerg.

Then there was the year I began my doctoral work and had to pay for books, classes and, you know, food.  Hershey Kisses all around! 

But do you know what?  (Here's the part where I whip out that janky mirror and hold it up to  my old shriveled heart a-la-the-Grinch and you get to watch my heart burst with the joy of giving.  Consider yourself warned.)  When I gave out the books?  The kids flipped out and practically fell over themselves to hug me.  When I gave out the At Home Kits of Fabulousness?  The kids flipped out and practically fell over themselves to hug me.  When I gave out the pencils?  The kids flipped out and practically fell over themselves to hug me.  When I gave out the Hershey Kisses?  The kids flipped out and practically fell over themselves to hug me.

For real.  Of course, there were a few party poopers who could have given a rat's ass (hence my kit of fabulousness discarded on the floor), but you can't win them all right?  Bottom line?  My friends could have cared less what I got or how much it cost?  They were just thrilled that I thought to give them a gift - from me to you.  Nine times out of ten, each thoughtful gesture I extended to them was met with so much love and appreciation that I was blown away.  Every single time.

What about you?  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nerd Out: Living the Life of a Reader

Can I just say I love the idea of teaching students to "wear a reader's clothes?"  Freaking.  Love.  It. 

In our current Common-Core-standards-frenzied-insane-accountability times, it is very easy for us to lose our way and over-emphasize the teaching of skills, skills and more skills. 

Let me tell you a ridiculous story from the days of old which may help to illustrate my point.

Picture it.  My classroom.  First thing in the school day.  Twenty lovely little heads are bent, deeply engaged in their reading.  The stars had aligned, the mood was right, the moon was only so high in the sky and all my friends had found a book they loved and were deep into loving it.  At the same time.  Yes, it was a thing of beauty. 

In walks Ms. Cocktails Before Noon.  (Remember her?) 

Ms. CBN: What are your students doing?
Me:  Reading.
Ms. CBN: What is their Do Now task?  I see that you haven't posted it. (She turns and indicates my blank white board upon which I am supposed to dutifully scribe an activity for students to complete each and every time they transition back into the classroom from another activity.)
Me: Uh, their Do Now task is to read.
Ms. CBN: What skill are they working on?
Me: I'm sure they're all working on a number of skills depending on which book they are reading.
Ms. CBN: So no higher order thinking skill in particular?
Me: Well, if they're all engaged...
Ms. CBN: (interrupting): How are they supposed to know what to do if there is no Do Now task?
Me: We always read first thing in the morning, so they don't need me to write it down, it's our routine.
Ms. CBN: And what's the point of this routine?
Me: To enjoy reading.  To practice their reading skills.  To...
Ms. CBN: (interrupting again) How can I hold anyone accountable when there is no clearly laid out task that I can check up on?
Me: So is the Do Now for me, for them or for you?

I might add that I began writing "Enjoy a book" on our Do Now board each morning just to appease the Administrative Powers That Be to leave me the hell alone.  I was told that "enjoying a book" is not a task supported by the standards.

And I shall pause as you pick your jaws up off the floor.

I know.

I know.

So, yes, I loved the idea of reading the clothes of a reader that Donalynn Miller puts forth in chapter 3 of The Book Whisperer.  And I appreciate her acknowledgement that living the life of a reader involves a variety of behaviors and attitudes that  must be explicitly taught and modeled by teachers.  For example, how to use a library, how to behave in a library, how to carry a book with you, how to find places to read in your life, reading is a priority, reading is a pleasure and reading is something that is cool to do in public.  

One of these key behaviors is stealing time to read taking a new, more positive spin on constant classroom interruptions and organizational nightmares, such as Picture Day.   (You know how I feel about Picture Day.  If you don't, take a deep breath and click here, here or here.)  "Replacing warm-ups with reading time and stealing as many stray moments as possible, I calculate, gains twenty to thirty minutes of reading per day."  Say wha?  That's amazing.  I think a fun experiment would be to chart how much time your kids spend actually engaged in a book each day for a week.  What did you find?  Can you squeeze in more time?  Steal any more moments or create/teach any new habits?   

Another general comment that I think is important for us to reflect on is Ms. Miller's unfailing positive view of her students and their abilities.  Granted, girlfriend is writing a book and I'm sure has blown a fuse in the moment every once in awhile like the rest of us.  Regardless, it is clear that she respects, loves and maintains a positive attitude toward each of her students.  She writes, "Students rise to the level of their teacher's expectations..."  And again later, she states, "Building a trusting relationship with students is easier when you expect them to do the right thing instead of assuming that they are not." 

I couldn't agree more.  Some may write this off as utopian bullshit, but I think she's right on the money. 

Interested to hear what you all thought about chapter 3...please post your comments here or on our book club FB page (whether you read the chapter or not).  Also, I think we're going to pick up the pace a little.  It might be a bit embarrassing and somewhat hypocritical if we only read one book a year! 

Until the next chapter, stay nerdy, my friends.

Monday, November 12, 2012

But I Don't Waaaaaant To....

The other day, I wrote about struggling to always see what there is to love about teaching.  I guess you could say I'm kind of in a funk right now when it comes to teaching.  I think I resent it.  Basically, right now, teaching is being a douche bag and mocking me every moment of every day.

It has taken over my life.  My brain.  My "free" time.  My desk.  My wallet.  My library card.  My posture.  (Have you ever stopped to think about what a typical teacher bag weighs?)

Don't get me wrong.  I love teaching.  Teachers.  Students.  Books.  I love planning new units of study, coming up with ways to spice up my classroom, discovering a new incentive to pump up my friends.  I will gladly nerd out with the best of them and talk educational theory, practice, policy, you name it, I will talk about it and talk about it with a smile on my face and a pocket protector in my heart.

But do you know what else I love?  Shoes.  Cooking.  Reading.  A good cup of coffee.  Drinking cocktails.  Being outside.  Feeling in the moment without the constant tug back to the classroom, back to teaching, back to all things education.   

Do you know what else I would like to do?  Finish the painting I started for Mini's birthday.  (It was five months ago.)  Finish my book.  Finish a conversation without feeling guilty that I'm not doing something education related.

I am aware that when we accept this job (dare I say accept this "calling?") into our hearts and minds, we accept it with the knowledge that it will quickly come a defining part of our identities.  It is who we want to be, who we are and can't deny.   But for the love of all things organized I want to be able to do something else without feeling guilty about the stack of books, the pile of papers, the unfinished articles that sit mocking me from my desk.

What is it about teaching and feeling guilty?  About being a teacher and feeling like we have to be a super hero at every moment of every day?

Let me paint you a picture.  My house.  Sunday afternoon.  Mini is napping away.   Mr. Mimi is sipping coffee and enjoying the latest DVRed episode of No Reservations.  (He loves him some Anthony Bourdain.)  Despite being an incredibly hard worker who recently began his own successful company, he is relaxed.  I want to sit with him.  I want a cup of coffee.  But the idea of taking the time to get a cup of coffee when I could be at my desk working on the latest unit I've agreed to write makes me want to claw my eyes out with that sort of insanity!  Why that's two minutes I could use to get something done?!?  The waste!

And then what do I do?  I sit at my computer and throw myself a pity party and get next to nothing accomplished!

This post should come complete with a downloadable violin solo to play while reading because I acknowledge that I'm whining, but eeeeeeeeeehhhhhh.  (That was my attempt to spell what whining sounds like.)  When I get this out of balance, I can't get anything done.  When I'm balanced, I could negotiate a peace treaty, finish the laundry and organize a fundraiser for displaced cats all while shopping online for fabulous shoes and without batting an eyelash. 

Must.  Find.  Balance. 

Now somebody send me a cup of coffee.  I have work to do. 

Here's hoping you are having a much more balanced weekend.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Have You Ever Thought About What Makes You Crazy?

Here's a fun list for you: Mrs. Mimi's Top Five List of Events That Make Me Want To Poke Myself In The Eye and Run Screaming From the Building

5.  When "special" teachers (phys ed, art, music, etc) are absent yet, despite the fact that said teacher has called in or requested the day in advance and therefore said teacher's absence is known to everyone in the front office, you don't find out until you are standing in front of their door with a line full of disappointed 7 year olds.   How is this bit of information so difficult to communicate clearly and in a timely fashion?  How easy would it be to remedy this problem that happens FAR TOO OFTEN?

4.  When you have to submit a formal "request" for photocopies that includes the date, the number of copies, the reason for the request and a blood sample.  Because, even though you have several advanced degrees and a general interest in the maintenance and well-being of the photocopier, you are not qualified to press it's glorious buttons yourself?  Or because budgets are tight and schools are forced to ration paper and you are not to be trusted in your paper consumption?

3.  When push in/pull out support acts as if their schedule is optional or merely a suggestion despite the fact that I am busting my own balls to get everything in and plan around their 'schedule'?  Then they stand in your doorway with this far off look on their face and you are, you know, teaching and therefore unable to have a little chat about what to do now.  (Note: Similar to the girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead, when pull out / push in services are good, they are very very good and when they are bad, they are horrid.) 

2. When other adults in the school building are just outright nasty to children and hold them to an expectation that they themselves can not live up to?  For example, those individuals who SCREAM at children to BE QUIET during a fire drill and then GO BACK TO THEIR OWN CONVERSATION?!   Very do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do because I probably don't do anything productive?

Drumroll, please, because we are ready for the number one event that makes me want to poke my eyes out and run screaming for the building! Can you stand the anticipation?  What is she going to complain about next?!

1.  When your moments of brilliance are thoughtlessly interrupted by a knock at the door, a ringing classroom phone, an unnecessary announcement over the intercom or someone ballsily (Can I petition to have "ballsily" added to the dictionary?  I kind of love it.)  walking into your room with some minor question/request/thought that could absolutely  have been handled by a note in a mailbox or an email?  You have no idea how many times I have wanted to simply punt Interrupters right back into the hallway without blinking an eye!

Some of you  may know that I've started a Nerd Out book club in which, just about once a month, we choose an inspirational or practical book to read and reflect on in an effort to inspire ourselves (since no one else seems to want to do any inspiring around here these days...).  This month we are reading Donalyn Miller's book The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.  She writes,

"The greater issue of limiting classroom interruptions is a systemic one, but how to recoup lost time with students is within a teacher's reach."

And I began to wonder, how many other professional people are asked to regularly find way to recoup time lost to constant, thoughtless interruptions?  How many times does someone walk brazenly into a board meeting at Businessy Business Headquarters and say, "Hey - I know you're in the middle of something but did you get me that paper I asked you for?  I haven't checked my mailbox or email yet, in fact I have done nothing pro-active or thoughtful to deal with this, so I thought I'd just stick my head in here and interrupt you."  I'd venture that the answer is never.  Or you do and your ass is fired.

How many other professionals are given a specific and fleeting amount of time to accomplish a gigantic goal and then have to deal with that time being treated disrespectfully?

How many other professionals are given just a few hours to solve the world's problems (you know, because the world's problems are the fault of teachers) and then told to solve those problems in a highly prescriptive way that comes with hours of additional paperwork that must be done outside of all those original hours?

Is the problem that people inside education but outside classrooms don't understand how precious our time is or that they don't see us as professionals?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Toplessness - Always Good For A Laugh

All right, friends.  It's Friday.  It felt like this week went on forever.  It feels like we could all use a laugh.  By the by - I know our job is CRAZY IMPORTANT and, in my opinion, more important than most jobs, but when did it become so heavy?  Ugh!

So, here is a hilarious story as a bit of a TGIF-go-grab-a-cocktail-you-made-it-through-the-day celebration.  Full disclosure- I am actually about to retell one of Big Mama Mimi's famous stories.  (And before you ask, no, this story does not involve my mother getting topless.  Sheesh.)  This is a story she told during her retirement dinner at the end of last year and brought down the house.  Seriously, I'm talking people gasping for air laughing.  I have never been more proud.  (Also, remind me to tell you guys sometime about this dinner.  Epic celebration of an amazing educator.  Epic.)

Evidently, back in the day (and my mother had taught for many days), people watched 16 millimeter films.  I know I myself watched them as a wee lass sitting in a classroom in a galaxy far far away, but you have to forgive me because I was not paying attention to the particulars of said-filmstrip, I was probably peeing in my pants excited about getting to watch a movie.  So there's that.  Anyhow, according to my mother, filmstrips came in these gigantic canisters, which, occasionally made them a bit daunting to preview.  (Insert ominous music here...because you know that everyone's first year of teaching is PRIME for some hilarious stories of disaster.)

Cut to my mother in one of her first years of teaching.  For many years, she taught with the same Super Colleague who is like a member of our family.  Together, they decided to show Nanook of the North, one of the first documentaries ever filmed.  Figuring that it was a silent movie shot in 1921 (and came in a massive film canister), my mother and her colleague decided NOT to preview the movie. I mean, what could go wrong with Nanook and his clan?

They dim the lights.  Nanook and his family race across the ice in a dogsled.  So far, so good.  Nanook and his family stop for the night and make an igloo.  Fantastic.  Nanook and his family arrange furs to stay warm for the night.  Great!  The kids settle down to sleep while Mrs. Nanook straightens up the igloo. My mother and her colleague high-five their teaching fabulousness!  Mr. Nanook takes off his shirt and gets between the furs.  Huh.  Okay...  Mrs. Nanook heads for the furs.  Hmmmmm....  She reaches for the bottom of her top.  Wait, what?  She wouldn't.  Would she?  Annnnnnddddd...BAM!  This is the part where a room full of 9 year olds learn that women living on the tundra in the 1920s do not believe in wearing foundational garments.  Yes, friends, we're topless.

Like shots from a cannon, my mother and her Super Colleague were out of their seats.  My mother blocked the screen while her colleague silenced a room full of preadolescent hysteria with one single Teacher Look and the following words:

I don't to hear one sound out of any of you.  That woman...could be...your mother!

And with that, my mother's super colleague launched into a brilliant, impromptu speech about cultural sensitivity. Crisis averted.

So, cheers to that, eh?  I hope you had a fabulous week, that you have an even better weekend and that you can find some places to laugh in your classrooms next week.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Remember When Reading Was Fun?

In chapter 2 of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller writes,

"Providing students with the opportunity to choose their own books to read empowers and encourages them.  It strengthens their self-confidence, rewards their interests, and promotes a positive attitude toward reading by valuing the reader and giving him or her a level of control.  Readers without power to make their own choices are unmotivated."

I mean, let's just pour out some of our drink in honor of Ms. Miller right now, shall we?  Because this is the point in my nerdy reading where I shouted, "Hell, yeah!" and may have scribbled several furious notes in the margin.  I know.  I am such a dork.

For me, the most salient parts of this chapter focused on the joy of reading and the need to be positive when talking or thinking about the readers in our classrooms.  I LOVED her emphasis on allowing children to choose their own books and her focus on igniting the joy of reading and sharing books.  That is her first goal.  Matching books to readers remains essential, but first comes instilling the love, the joy of reading.  How many students are discouraged as readers because they are told that must only read books at a certain level and only at that level?  Is that truly choice?  Yes, it is key to make sure our students are working with books that will provide them with success while challenging them in appropriate ways, but we must remember that leveling is  a TOOL not a RULE.  Lately, I wonder if, like most things that start out as a good idea in schools, we have abused and over-used this tool.  

Another moment that caused me to pause and reflect on my own practice was Ms. Miller's recognition of three types of readers or reading trends: the developing readers, the dormant readers and the underground readers.  I loved this in comparison to referring to students as "a level F" (if you speak Fountas & Pinnell) or "a 16" (if you speak DRA).  I'm sure that within each of these categories of readers there exist a variety of levels and groupings, but I think her shift to grouping children by their reading behaviors and framing them in a positive fashion is key.  Too often, we reduce reading instruction to a list of skills kids must possess to move level to level because of the test, the data, the SPREADSHEETS!  However, there is so much more to growing a reader than marching through a list of skills - like encouraging certain behaviors and developing an identity as a reader.  I think Ms. Miller has hit the nail on the head that is sometimes hidden under mountains of prescriptive bullshit.

Finally, I am bananas over Ms. Miller's list of conditions for learning which include immersion, demonstrations, expectations, responsibility (on the part of the student), employment (as in authentic practice), approximations (as in acknowledgement of success), response, and engagement.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the skills and move, move moving to COVER THE CONTENT QUICK, that we forget about the importance of setting the tone of our environment.  While I'm sure most of you out there know that creating an optimal environment for student learning is at the top of your list of things to do in September, I also know that most of you are not in control of your scope and sequence or your classroom time.  So there's that. 

What did YOU think while reading chapter two?  Any take aways?  Highlighted passages?  Moments of reflection?  Ideas you brought into your own practice?  Sharing is caring, my lovelies. 

Until Chapter nerdy!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nerd Out: The Book Whisperer Chapter 1

You guys.  Before we begin, I need to thank you for your continued support and understanding.  I am truly overwhelmed by your caring that comes through so vibrantly even over the Interwebs.  You are amazing.  I can't tell you how much better I feel after getting re-engaged with the world.  Thank you so much for giving me a reason to stop crying to Coldplay songs.  (Seriously, I was about to hire a tuba player to follow me around and occasionally play Debbie Downer music as I go about my day.)  While I know it's okay to be sad, I think it's time to strap on my high heels and move forward.  Always forward.


Last night I devoured the first Chapter of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.  Mr. Mimi has definitely confirmed his lingering suspicion that I am a total nerd, as I fist pumped, vigorously nodded, furiously underlined and may have even shouted, "Now you're TALKING!" as I read.  I like to think of reading as a full-body experience.  

What a fabulous segue into discussing this first chapter - it's like I planned it or something!  Mrs. Mimi is BACK! 

Because I am a Super Dork Thoughtful Reader I also read the Introduction.  Where's my gold star? In the introduction, we learn that in 2000, the National Reading Panel did not include independent reading on it's list of recommendations for improving reading instruction because they were unable to find a positive relationship between large amounts of independent reading and improvements in reading achievement.

Um, what?  Does this make sense to anyone?  I want to ask one of them to repeat this statement out loud to see if they can hear how crazy it sounds.  To me, it's like the time I was afraid that mice would eat the pair of high heels I had left behind on my classroom carpet in the middle of the night.  Mr. Mimi made me repeat, "I'm afraid the mice will eat my shoes" until even I could hear the underlying crazy.  (Note: The shoes were fine. Crisis averted.)

Back to Chapter 1...

Chapter 1 sets the stage for this book, giving us an idea of where Donalyn Miller has been as an educator and what her philosophical grounding is as she tackles developing a love of reading in her students.  Ms. Miller (who I think we can officially send a cape because she is clearly kicking ass in her classroom and is a Super Colleague), is very candid about her experience, showing extensive evidence of reflecting on her failures in an effort to improve her practice.  Right away, I want to hug her for this.  

On page 13, Ms. Miller discusses the influence of her past experiences in school on her own practice in the classroom and how, oftentimes, these experiences factor more readily into our instructional choices despite contrary information we may have received in our preparation or professional development.  Specifically, she references the teaching of the whole class novel (kill me now!) and how despite detailed and thoughtful planning, this idea flopped in her own classroom.  She also reflects on how she despised this instruction herself when she was in the student's position. 

To me, some essential take aways from this first chapter include the importance of the past, critical reflection and student voice.  

If I may put on my Dr. Mimi hat for a moment...some of the findings of my dissertation serve to underscore the notion that our experiences in school greatly influence our decisions in the classroom.  (Y'all, I can sound fancy too.)  Bottom line, it isn't just a waste of time to think back to our own experiences.  Let's discuss for a are a few questions for you to swish around your fabulous noggins:
  • What influences from your past experiences as a student do you see evidenced in your teaching today?  Are those choices working for children?
  • What would your (insert appropriate age here) self want as a leaner?  (Hint: You lose major points if you say "more gym," "more lunch," or "more recess" although I think there is more there than meets the eye.)
  • What do your students want?  (This implies that you've actually asked them directly.)
What were your favorite moments from Chapter 1?  What lessons did you take away?  

PS - I've created a group page over on Facey Face for us to use to discuss our reading more collaboratively.  (Also, it's another opportunity for you to "LIKE" me, which feeds my inner Me-Monster.)  Here's the link.   

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Where Do I Begin?

Oh, my lovely, faithful, amazing readers...was April really the last time I posted?  I am so sorry.  Clearly, I have some 'splaining to do.  (Anyone else a closet I Love Lucy fan?)

Without going into too much detail lest I stray from being Educational Ass Kicker to TMI in the blink of an eye, here is the deal.    And why I desperately want to come back from where I've been.  I'm sure you will a) read between the lines, b) not be quite sure what I'm talking about but know this is all I can say and/or c) all of the above.

But first, get yourself a drink.  It's the beginning of the school year and Lord knows I could use one too.

Just a few short days after I posted in April, I found out some wonderful news.  Wonderful news for me and my family.  News that made my mind race with organizing tasks, appointments to be made and books to read.  News that took my mind away from this blog.

And then, just a couple of months later, I got updated news.  Very sad and personal news.  News that made my mind race with the the types of things you don't want racing through your mind (a.k.a things that don't mean purchasing new Sharpies).  News that I wasn't ready to share or really even accept for myself.

If you are not picking up what I am putting down, know this - I am fine.  Physically fine.

Needless to say, the summer was rough.  For the first time I can remember, I've been desperate for the summer to end so that I could start fresh in the fall.  As a teacher, fall has always meant fresh, new beginnings and holy shitballs do I needs me a fresh new beginning.  (Seriously, I saw an ad for Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte and almost wept because that is a more reliable sign of the fall than the changing leaves.  Thanks, climate change.)

I am trying my hardest to move on with a new perspective on what really matters.   Although, I'm sure I'll be back before you know it and ranting about lost preps, photocopiers and those crappy dry erase markers that are so faint it's like writing with crushed up leaves and berries.  Easy come, easy go when it comes to perspective, right?

Please know that I have missed all of you, blogging and my sassier Mrs. Mimi self more than you can imagine. 

I hope your school year is off to a fabulous, organized and can-do start.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You Put Your Whole Self In, You Put Your Whole Self Out...

You Put Your Whole Self In and You Shake It All About until you are a frantic, crazed mess who has nothing left to give.

That pretty much sums up teaching, doesn't it?

I mean...I think it has already been acknowledged that teachers struggle with just sitting still and relaxing.  (So, for all of you out there who are all, "teachers have so much vacation time, how can they possible claim to be stressed out" - message.  I think it's loud and clear enough.)

But I think another common sickness amongst us teacher folk is that we love to say yes, yes, yes and yes again until we have created a To Do List so long, so elaborate, so multi-faceted and complicated that it should really be donated to science for study.  (If you don't believe me, see my own love/hate relationship with To Do Lists here, and here).

Friends, I have over-yessed myself.

More specifically, I have been asked to be a part of a team of writers who are working to create a (kick ass) literacy curriculum that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards.  As teachers, we write curriculum all the time.  But the moment you think about putting that curriculum into a book that people will read and use in their classroom, everything suddenly, how do I put this gently?  Well, it feels like a monumental decision that I must make while standing in public with my pants down.  That's about as gently as I can put it.  (Sorry, mom.)

So that's where I've been.  I've been writing.  And writing.  And writing some more.  I'm out of the deep, dark hole that is questioning your own ability for the time being and thought I would say hi.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Went Running. What Did You See?

(If you can name the book that inspired the title of the post, you are definitely an early elementary teacher.  And I love you a little bit more than I did two seconds ago.)

Friends, I went running this weekend.  Running.  Running as in sneakers on, headphones in, Mini napping and work bag idle in a corner running.  Running. 

I know I keep typing it, but it's like my fingers are in shock.  So are my feet.  And my legs.  And - holy crap - the endorphins!  I am awesome right now.  AWESOME.  Awesome with a capital amaze balls.

Why has it taken me so long to get back on the horse?  And, honestly, was I ever really on the horse to begin with?  Oh.  Wait.  I know.  I'm an educator and we feel intense guilt whenever we do something for ourselves with time we feel like we should be doing something for our classrooms, or our families, or our friends or all the other individuals who get neglected between the months of Setpember August and June.  I doubled down with that guilt a little over a year ago when I became a mommy and, holy shit you guys, the mommy / educator combo is a whole world of guilt I never knew existed!  It's like a layer of guilt wrapped up in a you-suck-at-balancing-everything wrap.  Mayo on the side of course.  (See what I mean?  These endorphins have made me insane!)

If you've been reading me for awhile, you know that I am on a constant search for Zen.  (Read more posts about my impossible dream here.)   And I feel like every teacher friend I have is too.  We all lament our inability to go to the gym, to get a pedicure, to sit down and enjoy a book for ourselves.  We all make grand promises to fit that stuff in.  Because we are teachers, we organize a massive Plan To Do More For Ourselves And Be More Efficient which includes goals that are impossible to meet.  Like "go running six days a week" or "only eat dessert twice a month" or "grade papers the same night that I collect them" or "answer every single email I receive within 24 hours."  Um, can you say "set yourself up for failure much?" 

But you know what I did today?  Inspired by my version of a self help book The Happiness Project, I stopped complaining about how I never get to do anything for myself and used that time to actually go and do something for myself.  (Effing revolutionary, I know.)  I didn't tell myself I was going to run seven miles, I started with one.  And then I came home so freaking proud of myself and hopped up on endorphins that I know I will do it again.  Sooner rather than later.

And I thought to myself, "Self, maybe we should start a TEACHER's Happiness Project...."  In the spirit of continuing to strive for that Zen, that's exactly what I'm going to do.  In the spirit of just starting and starting small, let's just keep it to the blog for now.  I'll post about what I did to find more balance and be happier and you can respond with what you did (or hope to do) in the comments.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Musings While At the DMV

I recently had to spend some quality time at the DMV.  You see, I have a birthday coming up and as a special gift to me from the universe, my driver's license is set to expire this year.  Happy birthday to  me!  Cut to me standing in a line that was five people and countless inefficiencies deep.  After I checked Facey Face, caught up on emails, played a game or two of Scrabble on my phone, read the news headlines and checked the weather (twice), I had some time to stand and think.  (Yes, there was time....lots and lots of time.  Like endless amounts of time.  For reflecting.  And death staring.)

Time to think and watch.  Watch as the employees at the DMV engaged in an elaborate dance that could be called Ignoring My Responsibilities and All Sense of Customer Service: A Movement Study.  After "helping" (servicing?  dealing with?  tolerating?) an individual tax-paying citizen, one DMV employee in particular would begin her dance.  It went something like this:

Take a sip of coffee, exclaim about it's temperature, carry the coffee to the copier under the guise of copying something (although no actual paper was involved), carry the coffee back to her station, check her messages, adjust her station on Pandora, chat with the employee next to her about the last song played, laugh about a comment so hard that laughter deteriorated into a fit of coughing that spewed germs on everything in a ten foot radius, comment on coughing, sigh deeply, roll her eyes at the clock and then, with a strong, undeniable annoyance, end her complex dance by bellowing, "Next!"

"Help" the next individual and repeat.

As performance art goes, I say well done!  However, as far as efficiency, customer service and general awareness of how germs are spread goes, I say holy crap this is UNBELIEVABLE! 

During my ample time to "reflect," I had a thought.  Everyone hates going to the DMV for just this reason.  (Apologies to all you rockstars at the DMV....wherever you are hiding.)  It seems to be common accepted knowledge that the DMV is chock full of inefficiencies, employees who could give a shit, pointlessly long and redundant paperwork and confusing lines that are impossible to navigate.  Even if there was an employee who came in all gung-ho and full of (what's the word?) work ethic, would it matter?  Would it make a difference?  Would anyone notice?  Would that employee be able to sustain his or her commitment to a job well done?  Would it be long before the reputation of the DMV became a self-fulfilling prophesy?  Before this individual was crushed into submission, bitterness, and fits of coughing by his or her colleagues?

Can you see where I'm going with this yet?

My next thought was, "Will it be long before the same things happens to teachers and education?"  I mean, we already take more than our fair share of finger pointing in the media.  Just this last week, people (including myself) collectively gasped in horror when we heard about the teacher who had used insanely inappropriate images of slavery in word problem.  Granted, girlfriend was wrong with a capital Crazy Pants, but still. Where are the stories of teachers doing amazing things?  Teachers inspiring their students?  Teachers who are able to make a difference without ruining their marriages, sleeping over at their schools or giving up everything in their lives a la every movie about "good" teachers ever made?

How long is it before the general public assumes we are all lazy bags of hair who collect a paycheck while doing the least amount of work possible because we only got into this profession for the summers off anyway?  How long before the general public just accepts that public schools can be equated with failing schools?  And how much longer after that before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy?

In my last school, I always wondered about co-"workers" like the Fanny Pack, the Bacon Hunter and the Big White Guitar.  Was there ever a time when they were killing it in their classrooms?  Did they start out this way or did the system slowly eat away at their work ethic and commitment to children?

Anyone else feel like a drink? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Just Another Manic Wednesday

There are days when it feels like the stars have aligned and made you the Goddess of Teaching, teacher of the year, and the woman whose you-know-what doesn't stink because even her shit is made of pure genius all wrapped into one. 

Do you ever have those days?

Days when you get through everything in your plans but didn't feel like you were rushing.  Days when all your teaching comes together in ways you couldn't imagine.  It's just that great.  Days when all your friends are pumped about their learning and produce amazing things.  Days when that particular friend who drives you batshit crazy is slightly harder to love does something kind and lovely for someone else.  Days when the photocopier works, your classroom phone doesn't ring and there are no interruptions at your door.  Coats are on their hooks, the pencils are all sharpened and there isn't a scrap of paper on the floor for as far as the eye can see.

Hold on, I'm a little choked up. It's just so beautiful. Give me a moment.

These are the days when you tap into your inner Charlie Sheen and shout, "Winning!" as you high five your colleagues in the hall at the end of the day. 

Too far?

Regardless, you know what I'm talking about.  We have all had those days.  We have all relied on those days to get us through the other days.

Ah, the other days.  Today I had one of those other days.

Those days when you can't find your car keys, your wallet is in places unknown and you are ten minutes late to everything.  Where the stars don't align, you don't feel productive and while you get things done, you know you could have done way more.  You have food in your teeth, there is paper everywhere and where the hell did you leave that pen?!  Your friends are snippy, the interruptions are endless and you are starting to feel as if Judith Viorst was writing about you, not some kid named Alexander.

Why is it that those other days always seem to follow up the days when you have rocked it endlessly?  Is it the universe sending us a reality check?  An ego check? 

I think it's just the nature of teaching.  When I was getting certified, one of my favorite professors told me that teaching was all about not getting too caught up in the highs and the lows because they are extreme and ever changing. 

Someone point me to the wine.  After all, tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

This Year I Promise Not To Over Promise

Or at least I promise to try not to - that's good, right? I mean, i think it may be genetically impossible for a teacher to not over-commit herself. Just a personal theory.

For the last few days I've been thinking about 2012 and how I'm going to make it even better than 2011. Honestly, in a lot of ways 2011 kicked some serious ass. It was my first full year as a mommy, I finally graduated and became Dr. Mimi, I've been fortunate to have a few rad professional opportunities come my way and overall, I have a pretty happy life. However, in many ways 2011 was tough. I was stressed, I felt pulled in a million directions, not to mention having my own fair share of family drama.

So what to do? How to make things better?

My first reaction was to get my list on. (You knew that was coming, right?) In true teacher-who-can't-say-no-to-anything-and-thinks-she-is-invincible-and-more-productive-than-three-typical-adults-combined fashion, the list was lengthy. Here are some highlights:

* to catch up on my Fave blogs and educational news daily
* to be more informed
* to do hot yoga at least once a week
* to clean a room or area of my house everyday
* to be more organized (I know! But it's possible, even for me.)
* to take more pictures of my work in classrooms
* to blog more
* to read one professional book each month

Sound familiar?

Here are some rezzies from year's past that might strike a chord:
* to correct homework as soon as I receive it
* to communicate more with parents
* to change my outside bulletin board every two weeks
* to integrate more technology into my teaching
* to be at least one week ahead in my plans at all times
* to re-organize my files and keep them up to date
* to stop putting things in piles

Anyone? Anyone??? Bueller?

But on this first day of 2012 I realized that I can't completely control what happens to me, not can I totally control the times will have available for me to be so fabulous. What I'm getting at is rather than set myself up to go do in spectacular flames of failure in mid-February (with the related crying, shame spiraling and ice cream eating), I think this year I'm simply going to try not to over commit. (Which for me means keeping the plate full because I'm a sick sick individual who is more productive when I'm busy, while trying my best to make sure that the plate is filled with more things I love than things I'm not so jazzed about. Assessment, I'm looking at YOU.) I'm going to try not to say I'll do something simply because I'll feel guilty if I don't. I'm going to try to take each week as it comes and do what I can. I'm going to try to be more present in my daily life and think about what I get to do, rather than think in terms of what I have to do.

What about you? How long is your list??? (Come on, I know you have one...)

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