Field Trip

Last night, L and I went to see the last performance of Matilda the Musical here in Greenville. She’d read the book earlier and was eager to see the show, and K gave me tickets for us as the sweetest and perfectly thoughtful birthday present I’ve received. And so we headed out in the late afternoon and came back in the late evening completely enthralled with what we’d see and talking about what we might see next. (Junie B Jones is coming later, but I think I’ll let K take the Girl for that particular one.)

Ironically, we went on a school field trip to the same venue this morning.

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Odd, the difference between taking your own daughter to a show and taking 250+ thirteen-year-olds…

Learning

My job is about learning. It’s about teaching, too, but the more I stand on this side of the desk, the more I realize that teaching is learning. It’s not just the simple process — as if it were so simple in truth — of learning how to teach. There’s that, certainly. I’m better this year than I was last year, I hope. I’m better this year than I was five years ago, I’m sure. I’m better this year than I was fifteen years ago, I know.

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It’s not pedagogy and method that I have in mind, though. I’ve learned that learning is so much more than simply figuring out how to write a good paragraph, understanding how to do geometric proofs, seeing the logic of the scientific method. These things are all well and good — and important. But they all serve as simple means to ends. We learn to write a good paragraph to be able to communicate better. We work on proofs to be able to construct a scaffold of surety around our knowledge — to prove to ourselves what is is. (And to move on to higher and more challenging math.) We study the scientific method because it’s the best way to find out things about the physical world.

All this knowledge helps us in our day to day functioning, but it does very little to help with our living. I’m not more at peace with myself because I can write a paragraph. I can’t show compassion better because I can manage geometric proofs. I’m not more mature because I know the scientific process. My life can bump along just fine without this knowledge, and having this understanding is in now way insulation or protection against anything. I’m not a better person for this.

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I’m a better person when I connect with other people. I’m a better person when I understand that the most precious and instructive moments in life are those flashes when a couple of people connect in a real and meaningful way.

I teach my students how to make sense of Shakespeare (and, by proxy, many other challenging texts), and I show them how to organize a paragraph coherently, then how to string several paragraphs together in a logical order. Useful skills, but not life changing. Yet sometimes I get so wrapped up in the importance of those minutia (relatively speaking) that I miss the real teaching and learning opportunities. I forget that just because they’re not learning just what I want in just the way I planned it than my students aren’t learning. I forget that just because what they’re doing for a particular session has nothing to do with English than they’re not become better people. I forget that, at it’s base, that’s what all good teaching is about. There’s the subject matter, true, but all the teachers we really remember taught us more than just their subject matter. In some rare cases, we can sometimes barely even remember what exactly they taught us about English or math or Spanish, but we remember what they taught us about life.

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Today, I had the privilege of taking about twenty of my students down the street to a community center than has a trice-weekly seniors program. The plan was simple. The plan didn’t work as planned due to technical issues. And so from a certain point of view, it was a complete waste of time. It didn’t do what I wanted it to do. The plan didn’t behave properly. And in that mini-disaster, I learned once again — my students taught me once again — that there’s more to teaching and learning than nouns and rays and Erlenmeyer flasks.

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Sometimes lessons just come along than can’t be planned because the lessons themselves come simply from the messiness and unpredictability of life. Sometimes a room full of teens and seniors offers such individualized lessons that could never be planned, never be executed because life can often never really be planned. And that in itself is part of the lesson.

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In the afternoon, another lesson about learning: not all learning has any adults at all involved. The kids headed out for their quarterly (or is it more often? I can never remember) reward day, which consists basically of forty-five minutes of freedom outside. Some kids play basketball; some kids play soccer. Some kids walk around and gossip orally; some kids walk around and gossip electronically.

And some kids just do a little bit of everything. The lessons there? Countless, and completely unplanned.

Back at home, L asked K to help her with a traditional Polish dance that she’d like to use to try out for the school talent show later this year. Tryouts are coming soon, and the Girl is not quite sure what she’s going to do. This is the first year she’s eligible, so she’s feeling a bit stressed about making a good impression. She’d noticed that all the Indian students in the past who’d done traditional dances made it to the show itself, so she reasoned that a Polish Highlander dance might stand a good chance.

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So K began working on it with her. I’m not quite sure how this is supposed to work because Polish Highlander dances are really not solos — unless you’re dancing a male part. This bit of information prompted a bit of begging from the Girl, so K showed a few male moves. And E decided he wanted to learn them all, male moves and female moves.

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Another unplanned lesson.

They’re really all around us. The opportunities are endless. And the miracle of it all is that we really don’t even have to be aware of it.

Reading

I give the students the same information every year, but this year, I decided to break it down in a letter. Dear student, you recently took the MAP test, which measures your reading progress. And so on and so on. It’s a mail merge, so “student” is replaced with the kid’s name, and all the details are individualized. Like the winter score. Like its grade-level equivalent. It’s bound to be a disheartening moment for some: I’m not sure they’ve ever been told point blank, “Your reading scores indicate that you’re reading at a second-grade level.” How do you take the news that your skills are six years behind where they should be?

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There are a number of reasons one could posit for this, and for each, a exception: For some, it’s a question of limited English exposure at home. But I have Latino students in my honors high school courses as well. For others its a question of limited access to books. But I have such students in my honors high school courses as well, and they solve the problem by basically camping out in the school library. No role model in the immediate family to provide the support necessary. But I’ve had students in my honors high school courses who’d never even met their biological father.

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At times they seem like excuses, at times they seem like legitimate — and tragic — explanations. Whatever the case, they’re my charge, and I’m tasked with reversing the trend. Some days, though, it just feels like I’m making the situation worse still.

First Day Returning

The first day back can always be stressful: you walk back into the school wondering what kind of day the kinds have packed in their book bags and hauled to school from Christmas break. Some years, they unpack a chattiness and an unwillingness to work that in a lot of ways is understandable. Other years, they haul out their books and their attention and make the day slide by almost effortlessly.

It occurred to me that I could help them pack their bag by having them leave on a good note, hence my opłatek efforts at the end of the year. Through most of the day, I thought that perhaps it had worked, that perhaps ending the year on a deliberately positive note helped bring them back with a positive outlook. They worked brilliantly, and not a complaint as I introduced and modeled a new weekly assignment, the article of the week, based on Kelly Gallagher’s ideas.

The final period of the day rolled to a close, and one young lady who was absent the final day asked me if I’d saved a cookie for her.

“Excuse me?”

“The cookies you gave everyone before the break.”

Here it was — definitive proof that what we’d done together had made an impact, for someone had clearly told her about the experience. Obviously it had struck something in their souls, made them resonate as one for a moment, showing them the oneness of humanity and all the hopes and dreams of everyone who has ever set out to create a utopia.

“Oh, yes,” I replied. “How did you hear about them?”

“Oh, everyone was just saying they were really tasty.”

A utopia for the taste buds, I guess, is better than no utopia at all.

Monday Afternoon

Yesterday was such a busy day that I didn’t even take the time to share everything that happened. The Christmas tree got a mention but little else, and the promise of the lights we put up around the house was about there was of the final product. So it would be tempting just to post those pictures and call it day. After all, there is continuity with the pictures and the day’s before.

“That tree is enormous” seemed to be the general consensus — certainly the biggest one we’ve ever brought into our house. “Remember that first tree stand we used?” K mused as she held the tree later that night while I, sprawled on the floor, loosened all the screws holding the tree in place and reinforced it with planks of wood. He might have held a tree half the size of the one we have in our living room now, but it would just laugh at the tree we brought home Sunday.

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But to leave today’s story at that would be leaving out the wonder of today. For example, a girl in my most challenging — and as a result, often most rewarding — class left the room without asking permission. It’s not the kind of thing I would have expected her to do. I went out to talk to her and determined that she’d removed herself from a stressful situation so that she wouldn’t say something she regretted. It turned out, she’d already kind of said that anyway, making a comment under her breath that probably shouldn’t have even been said at all. “But she was off task, and being distracting,” S protested. I suggested that she really didn’t need to say what she said, no matter what M was doing, and after some thought, she agreed. We went back into the room and I suggested that to be really mature, to take the situation to the next level, she might want to apologize to the girl in question. And she agreed. And in a few moments, the two of them were in the hall together, working out their problems like forty-year-olds instead of fourteen-year-olds. So to leave that out of the day’s story would be a minor tragedy.

But there was still the Boy and our time exploring before dinner.

As I was putting on my shoes, E pointed out that the giant ladder truck that had been mine at his age and which Nana and Papa had saved was in sad repair. “It’s not new and shiny like it was when you got it,” he observed rather philosophically. “Did you get that from Santa?” he asked after a pause, and I thought, “Well, here it is.” It’s a moment I knew was coming, was surprised that never came with L, and yet while dreading it in a way, paradoxically never really gave it too much thought.

But it reminded me of something I wrote on a blog I used to run, now almost ten years defunct, in which I dissected the statements of leaders of various religious groups that all clung to the same beliefs I grew up with after the church in which I grew up declared its own beliefs heretical and moved to Protestant orthodoxy. When L was born, I struggled to find the time and motivation to keep it up, so in August of 2007, I resigned:

I’ve been struggling—to find topics for this blog, to maintain my interest in all things Armstrong, to find time to care.

Truth be told, to care.

Jared said it best in a recent comment:

[A] moribund XCG is [not] entirely a bad thing either. After all, there’s only so much one can say about Armstrongism before you’ve said it all. (Source)

I don’t feel like I’ve said it all—there are thousands of words that could still be written about the phenomenon of Herbert Armstrong and the sect he formed. Yet, I really no longer have the interest or time to write anymore words about it.

I feel like Chicken Little, for our common XCG sky will continually fall. David Pack will talk about his web site statistics until the day he dies. Rod Meredith will provide critics with still more reasons to call him Spanky until the day he dies. Those in the upper echelons of the dwindling WCG will continue to talk about their amazing transformation until the day they die.

But I will not be commenting on them at that point, and I certainly won’t be commenting on them when I die.

About six months ago, I started preparing a final post, but I kept putting it off. I thought, “Maybe I’ll just write a little here, a little there,” for a while. Several have noticed and commented on this, and I have remained silent as to the cause of this dip in output.

My initial draft of this post might provide clarification:

Certain things in life force us to see things in a different perspective. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, conversions—these are the kinds of things that make us stop and reflect on where we are, what we are, and most importantly, what we’re doing with the short time we have on Earth.

We have twenty-four hours in a day. We work at least eight of them; we sleep six to eight of them; we wash, shave, cook, eat, clean, drive, exercise and a million other forms of maintenance for another three or four a day. That leaves us with precious few hours a day for ourselves.

What do we do with that time?

Until recently, I spent time looking at, analyzing, and even mocking the beliefs and actions of a group of people I no longer have anything in common with.

Recent developments in my life now make that a less-than-ideal way to spend my free time.

The “certain event” I was referring to was the birth of my first child.

Since then, I’ve been of thinking about what I want my daughter to know about my own religious past. Truth is, I want her to know as little as possible. Because of shame? Embarrassment? Certainly not. I don’t want her to know for the simple reason that it no longer impacts my life. I can’t see much positive coming from me ever going into any detail with her about what I used to believe, about what her grandparents used to believe, about the fact that a true handful of people in the world still believe it. I don’t believe it, and that’s that.

And so, to quote one of my favorite authors:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

To talk of many things—but not the XCG. And not here.

I appreciate all the support I’ve received during this little two-and-a-half-year adventure. I thank all the fellow contributors who, throughout these last nearly thirty months, have helped to make the discussion here a little more balanced. I am grateful to all you regulars. You really kept the site going.

Most of all, I’m heartened by some of the comments of the past, folks telling me that I have helped them in some way. I appreciate you sharing those thoughts, for it gave me a certain joy that I will truly never forget.

But the time has come.

Best wishes to all, ill wishes to none, and I leave with the hope that if we ever meet again, we’ll have so much more to talk about than the XCG.

And since then, the Girl never once asked about Santa for me (for we didn’t celebrate such heathen festivals), and I’d really forgotten about it. Of course I still write about the phenomenon, as evidenced by a post earlier this week (and as the thirtieth anniversary of Herbert Armstrong’s death is just a little over a month away, I will likely write about it again in the near future). But I hadn’t thought about what I’d say to the Boy or the Girl about my religious upbringing. It just didn’t seem important at all in a way. Until E asked me if Santa had brought me the ladder truck. I thought about it for a moment, realizing that a philosophical/theological treatise was certainly not required, and simply answered, “No, buddy, Santa didn’t bring it to me.” Maybe some day, he’ll ask about it again. Probably not. We’ll cross that little relatively insignificant bridge when we come to it.

Showing, Not Telling

What do you do when you come into work to find that a tool you’ve used for almost ten years, a tool you’ve created yourself and spent probably thousands of hours over the course of almost a decade, a tool you use now daily as a result of the initiative of your principal and his vision of turning your school into a true tech academy — what do you do when that tool is suddenly, inexplicably, and without any notification made completely unavailable to your students? It was the situation I found myself in this morning, as my first group of students filed in, logged on, and one by one said, “Mr. Scott, the site is blocked.”

My first reaction, of course, was fury. For the briefest of instants, I took it personally, as if my web site was specifically targeted for blocking. That took only a few moments to clear up in my mind: surely it was just a new filtering rule that had been applied, and like dolphins caught up in a net trawling for tuna, my poor site just got dragged into the mix. In the end, I’m really not sure what was going on, and I’ll likely never know the cause. What’s most important is not the cause but the effect: one of the most useful tools in my classroom is unavailable because of the actions of unknown people who work for the same organization as I.

At this point, the astute reader is probably thinking, “Surely that is a mechanism in the school district through which teachers can request that a site be unblocked.” Indeed, there is. I’d made such a request a couple of years ago and another one at the beginning of the school year. According to the district records, those requests are still pending. There are many different ways to explain this, but none of them are particularly complementary of the school system’s mechanism for unblocking web sites. Still, I filled out the online form, and even sent an email, CC’ing my principal, explaining the situation and the fact that “all of my requests [for unblocking] are still pending” and my worry ” that it might be several months before any action is taken on this issue,” requesting that the powers that be “process this request immediately,” and expressing how much I “appreciate [their] prompt help in this matter.”

As a third fail-safe, I called the help line and explained my situation. The lady with whom I spoke explained that she had no power to unblock web sites, which was what I expected. She mentioned that she saw my email, which was what I expected. She explained that she’d forwarded it on to tier three, which I didn’t quite understand as I don’t know how many tiers there are in this particular case, but it was still a little unexpected. It sounded like progress. I asked if I might have some kind of contact information for someone in this tier three, and the help desk attendant explained that she didn’t even really know who they went to, simply that they went to tier three, which I somehow expected.

But how to turn it into a teaching experience? My second class filed in, and by then, I was in a white-hot righteous fury of epic proportions. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got, which sounds about right for me. Yet the students could not discern how angry I was, for I did my absolute best not to manifest it at all. In that particular class, I’m blessed to have a co-teacher, and when she entered, I explained to her what happened, then explained to the class what had happened. I went so far as to say that I was extremely angry about it. But I excused myself, went to the restroom, ranted for a little bit, washed my face to freshen up, and went back to the classroom and carried on as if nothing had happened. Students were finishing up summaries of a reading we’d just finished, and I and my co-teacher went from student to student, advising, helping, praising, encouraging — all the things we try to do on a daily basis to build the self-confidence of the students in this class, all of whom read below grade level. A corollary to this low reading ability for many of them is a low level of self-control. Several of them say what comes to mind when it comes to mind. Many of them, when they come into the classroom angry about some excessively emotional interaction that occurred in the hallway — “drama” they call it — enter the classroom already doomed: they will sit and stew about it the entire class, refusing to work, refusing to calm down, often disrupting the class further.

On Monday, I’ll be able to debrief them about how I dealt with my anger. “Please notice,” I’ll begin, “that I didn’t take it out on you and that I didn’t refuse to work. I dealt with it and moved on. Was I still angry at the end of class? Very much so. But I kept it from controlling me.” Will it help? Perhaps. Teaching by example is always better than teaching by words. Show, don’t tell. Who knows — that might turn out to be the most valuable session we had all year for some students.

Good Day

DSCF7036Have you ever had a good day? Well, I did today!!!! It was a really good day.

  1. When I got to school today my teacher told me to go to the library so I can be the leader of the month. So I went on the morning news, and said my name, grade, and teacher. Then I got a picture, sticker, and two coupons.
  2. We had a sub in P.E. ( she was my P.E. teacher last year and I got to see her again).
  3. We got to start reading groups.
  4. We ONLY had half a math sheet and spelling for homework!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  5. We got to watch Goosebumps for recess ( it was raining all day).
  6. E (my brother), mama (my mother), and I went to McDonald’s for ice cream (that was one of the coupons).

That was my good day.

Break

K informs me that I work probably fifty to sixty hours a week during the school year. Grading, planning, grading, planning in the evenings, on the weekends, in the evenings, on the weekends. It adds up, she tells me. I never keep track, but I’ll go with her assessment. That’s why, when summer break comes around, it’s an absolute relief, at least for the first couple of weeks.

And it allows me to do things like cleaning up a trampoline we got for free from a family whose boys have long outgrown it and doing it in the early afternoon of a Tuesday.

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Which is also good, because as L helps, she gets tired, which bodes well for a restful night’s sleep.

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So we all get breaks.

Change

It was bound to happen, because it happens to all children these days. L came home crying that her friends — her best friends in her class — were bullying her. I don’t think she used that word: it was a label added afterward. The first moment K and I had alone when I came home that day, she said, “Well, some kids are bullying L at school.” And while at first blush, it sounded like it might not necessarily be bullying (we’re so quick to call everything “bullying” these days): some of the Girl’s friends were chasing here around the playground, grabbing her, not letting her go. But with each new detail, it became more likely “bullying” was not a misapplied label in this case. The girls, it seems, had recently decided that, because L had wanted to play alone during recess for a couple of days, that they didn’t want anything to do with her. They were ganging up on her, chasing her, and then holding her by force, squeezing her arm so that it caused pain, and doing it all despite L’s requests not to, despite L saying that it hurt. What was worst was that she took her entire free time one day in class to write cards of apology to her three friends, the instigators, basically saying, “For whatever I’ve done to make you angry at me, I’m sorry.” One girl ripped the card up in front of L while another took some makers and scribbled all over it. L was literally in tears as she told me, and she had been in tears earlier in the day when she told K.

So many questions running through K’s and my conversations about this. Do we know that the Girl, normally a sweet girl but capable of mean streaks like everyone, didn’t in fact antagonize a bit? Does she know, for that matter? At what point do we get the teacher involved? What do we tell the teacher? She didn’t want to tattle on them, for she still hoped to salvage the friendship, but she realized she needed help.

The most pressing question, though, was, “What do we tell the Girl?” In the end, we suggested that she hang near the teachers when they go out to recess, and when the gang begins to approach, move as close to the teacher as possible, then when they try to chase her, don’t move. “They can’t chase you if you aren’t moving, right?” And then when they begin the squeezing, the plan was to say loudly, “Stop — that’s hurting me.” The plan was that the teacher would hopefully hear and intervene, and technically, the Girl still wouldn’t have to tattle.

The next day, the debriefing: “We’re friends again.”

K and I smiled. It’s still coming, but it just hasn’t quite made it.

Wrong but Right

“Daddy, is she a good student?” The Girl was helping me grade papers (she loves going over multiple choice work — no really, there’s no convincing or arm-twisting necessary), and as she always does, she asked about this student and that student. I glanced at the name.

Is she a good student? How I answer that question would depend on how we define a good student. If we define it as a student who is always hard-working, who is always pleasant to be with, who always gets her work done and always does stellar work, there was no way I could possibly describe the student L was asking about as a “good student.” Indeed, by that metric, she is just about everything — anything — but. Or at least she was. At the beginning of the year, she was belligerent, often refusing to work, often showing nothing but unreasonable anger about any correction or redirection. She was, in short, a nightmare student. And that means that I was immediately drawn to her, immediately interested in helping her, and immediately frustrated with her more often than not.

But the last few months, she’s been changing. Some days, she works. Some days, she’s incredibly attentive during whole-class instruction. And then some days, she’s back to her old games. But there is progress. And really, if we look at any definition of a good student, progress must be factored into the definition.

“Sometimes, sweetie, sometimes,” I said, then added, “Why?”

“Because she got them all right.”

Superlative

Every morning, she walks down the hall saying the same thing. Our eighth-grade school counselor’s mantra is, “It’s going to be a great day!” We teachers all smile at her and nod affirmingly or make a snide comment with a smile — “Not with this headache” or some similar thought — and move into our day without giving it another thought. While she does mean it — she certainly wishes we all have a great day — it’s also become somewhat of a running joke as well. She’ll look at what’s going on in the hallway, some kind of drama or other, raise her eyebrows, turn to the nearest teach and repeat, “It’s going to be a great day.”

Some days she’s prophetic: some days turn out really well. They have to — it’s the nature of teaching to have the bad but also the good, that which drew idealistic people into the profession to begin with. We all have visions of changing the world, one child at a time, of promoting self-confidence in this student, of helping that student discover latent talent. We know the statistics. We know some of the stories trailing behind our students. And we’re there to help. That’s the idealistic vision of teaching that we all cling to.

Yet even in the seemingly brightest days, there’s a kid who refuses to work, a boy who brings in some baggage from a hallway interaction and disrupts the class, a girl who is still stewing over some injustice, perceived or real, suffered in the previous class. It’s good, but it’s never perfect. How could it be? It seems for a perfect day, everyone involved in our classroom routines would need to be having perfect days as well, or at least extremely good days.

That’s the thought anyway, for such days are so rare that I think we teachers sometimes even forget they exist. The other days seem to crowd out everything else, and at one point or another, we teachers, each and every one, have found ourselves standing in our classroom, loo out our window, wondering if we need to get out of the profession. We smile at each other in the hallway during these days and say things like, “I feel like today, if I’d just stayed home and bashed my head into the wall for eight hours, I’d have more to show for it.”

And then the stars align, the kids smile, and every kid in every class is, to some degree or other, productive. First period, a traditionally tough period for me, slides by without me even realizing the class period is about to end, and the kids, with their pencils scribbling during our Friday writing/workshop session, don’t realize it either. Kids who just Monday mounted a virtual mutiny in class. But today, they’re writing, conferencing with each other, focused. Working.

Second period comes, and everyone is busy, working on stories for the school web site or creating audio stories, heading out to interview this teacher or get information from that administrator. On the best days, the class feels like a newsroom must, and that’s a good thing, for next year, the course will officially be rebranded: “Journalism.”

Third period — a planning period — arrives, and with it, a call from the principal with a simple question about next year that just brings a smile to my face.

Fourth period, and the kids all work marvelously in groups, piecing together a rather complex argument in a rather long article, collaborating and learning at the same time. This is English I Honors, and I rarely have any issues with them, but some days, they’re just more productive than others. Today is such a day.

Fifth period, my most challenging, and everyone is writing, writing, writing. I’m sitting with a student, looking over his work, realizing that, out of seemingly nowhere, this kid’s writing has suddenly improved so drastically that it doesn’t even look like it could come from the same young man. Once again, I almost don’t realize that the class period is about to end, and neither do they.

Sixth period and we have a small epiphany about a passage in Lord of the Flies.

Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law.

It’s not a real epiphany, for I’d aligned everything for the kids to “arrive” at that realization. They were set up, but sometimes my set ups don’t work.

Seventh period — another planning period — and I cast a backward glance over my day and realize it’s the best day I’ve had in recent memory. Certainly the best day of this school year. Likely one of the top ten days I’ve ever had in the classroom: everyone productive, everyone cooperating, everyone working, everyone learning. I sit and analyze what happened that created such perfection. What did I do differently? How can I replicate this? Why don’t days like this more occur more frequently?

In the end, I realize once again the obvious: because so many people were involved today in creating such amazing day, I can’t possibly hope to recreate it on my own. It’s not what I did, it’s what we did. It’s not how I can replicate it, but how we can replicate it. It’s a frustrating realization, because it means that the power is both within me and out of my control. It brings to mind an analogy a colleague once made: teaching is like gardening. We prepare the soil, plant the seeds, we water the garden, and sometimes, we see the fruit, and sometimes we only hope that the seed will germinate at some later point.

But some days, like today, it seems like everything is sprouting.

Writing

The Girl is to write a research-based biographical report about Amelia Earhart. As with all homework, I’m willing (and sometimes insistent) to help her, at least to check her work. But this is a big assignment. We’ve needed to pace ourselves, so last week, we set up a schedule on Google Calendar to make sure L completed everything in a timely fashion and didn’t simply let everything pile up at the end.

She completed the book, she finished the planning, and today, it was time to begin the report.

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It’s a fine line, though, between helping and doing for the Girl. As a writing teacher, I have experience in guiding students to see the problems with their writing and helping them improve it. But in the back of my mind, I say to myself, “This needs to look like a second-grader wrote it.” Should I teach her to transition between ideas within a paragraph? Should I show her how to turn her one-sentence opening, her thesis, into a full paragraph?

I’ve decided simply to guide her as minimally as possible, then ask her to read the finished product. If she feels it’s clumsy, if she comments on the short introductory paragraph, we’ll get to work fixing it.