Thursday, March 24, 2011
Yesterday afternoon my highly coveted smart phone arrived at my house via UPS. Of course, I was at school, and then I had to drive down to the Loop for a meeting. By the time I got home last night it was 9, and I just couldn't wait to activate it and start playing.
By the time I got off the phone with the customer care person, it was almost 1l. I quickly discovered that although I'm pretty tech savvy, there were just things I couldn't figure out (like um... how to make a call?).
I know that as I have time to sit and play with my phone and poke around, I'll get the hang of how the phone works, but until then, I guess I'll let my 6 year old have a crack at it. I'm sure she'll figure it out in five minutes.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Some nights I make the perfect dinner to suit the weather and mood of the day. Today was one of those days. It was a cold, gray, rainy day in the Chicago area, and all day I felt tired and lethargic. All I wanted to do was go home and take a nap; I certainly wasn't interested in cooking an elaborate dinner!
I thought about what I had in my freezer or pantry that I could whip up while my oldest was at dance class, and I remembered a bag of frozen ravioli. Mmmmm..... ravioli! Know what makes ravioli taste even better? Baking it in the oven with cheese on top. There's something about the red sauce, the pasta, and that bubbly cheese that is immensely satisfying. It's warm and comforting and that kind of stick-to-your-ribs meal that makes a cold, icky day a little less icky.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Today my six-year-old daughter wiped out on her bike. It was the first fall of the season, and her first serious fall since she started riding a two wheeler late last summer.
I was getting dinner ready and my husband was watching her from the front window when she fell. I heard him go running through the front door and my older daughter yell. By the time I got myself to the door, he was bringing Abby in. The first thing I noticed was all the blood.
As a mom, I know I have to appear calm and collected when one of my girls is injured, but inside, I panicked. Holy cow! There was blood on her face and blood on her knees. From the first glance, I couldn't tell where the blood on her face was coming from. I do remember thinking, "Thank goodness she hasn't lost any teeth yet. If one is knocked loose, another will just come in!" Does that make me an unfeeling mom?
Turns out she was fine, just a scraped knee and chin and a fat lip. We'll make her get back on that bike before the week is out, and hopefully she'll escape unscarred, both physically and emotionally.
|Abby with scraped chin and fat lip. Thankfully no stitches needed!|
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Over the course of the past few days, I've had more fun than I've had in a really long time. The last half of 2010 was an incredibly stressful, sad time for me and the family on my dad's side. It seemed that things kept happening, tragedies stacking up, and I never felt fully recovered from any of it.
Then I traveled to Springfield with colleagues to a conference, and we spent much of the 3 days together laughing. It felt so good to just BE, to not think about all of the stresses that seem to take over my life.
Last night I went with my husband to a local bar to see a friend's band play. It was the first time we'd been out together in a while, and we had some time to talk and reconnect before the band started. It was a nice way to celebrate my return home and just hang out and hear some music. I sang, I clapped, I danced, I had a beer (or two), and again, just enjoyed the night. No worries, no thinking about deadlines, nothing.
Sometimes I wonder if I keep myself from having fun by being the designated worrier for planet Earth. I need to remember that FUN is FUNdamental!
Saturday, March 19, 2011
This weekend I did two presentations at the Illinois Reading Council Conference. One of them was on making documentary films in place of a research paper, and the other was on integrating the reading/writing workshop through genre studies. While I've attended the IRC conference many times over the past seventeen years, this is the first time I've ever presented there. I never really thought I had anything amazing to share that other teachers didn't already know.
However, my thinking about what I have to share with other teachers has changed since I began doing PD for my school district and since I began working with the Illinois Writing Project. I've come to realize, that in my eighteen years in the classroom I've learned quite a bit through trial and error and through long hours of reading, thinking, and analyzing what works for me and my students.
Today I felt honored to give back to my profession, to provide teachers with something to think about the way countless others have done for me in the past. Presenting at conferences isn't about stroking my ego, but rather helping a colleague on their own journey of learning. Of course, just because I'm helping others does not mean my own journey is over!
Friday, March 18, 2011
I have been using Twitter about two years, but it's really been in about the past year or so that it's grown to be one of my biggest sources of professional development. I've discovered YA authors who will answer questions posed in tweets, leaders in my field who tweet their latest thinking, and friends to bounce ideas off of and to share the ups and downs of life with.
|With Teri at NCTE|
Yesterday, I got to spend the entire day with Donalyn Miller (The BookWhisperer! find her on twitter as @donalynbooks) at the Illinois Reading Council Conference. As we sat over dinner with another twitter friend (@katsok) and four of my colleagues, we talked about books and teaching and family and books and travel and food and books and wine.... well, you get the picture. I thought about how even though I've met Donalyn in person just twice in my life, in some ways I knew her better than the people I work with every day.
Twitter is terrific!
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Yesterday, four colleagues and I drove from Northbrook, Illinois, to Springfield. We're here for the Illinois Reading Council Conference, one of the highlights of my professional year. As we drove through the flatness of the Illinois countryside, there was much talk and laughter in the van, and very little talk of school.
I'm so happy that I'm not attending this conference alone this year, as I have in years past. I am a social person, and I find that in order to fully process information, I need to talk about what I've seen and heard. After a day full of sessions, I like to talk to those who have traveled with me, dissecting bits and pieces of the various presentations, figuring out what will work for me in my classroom and what won't. Those debriefing times are among my favorites.
Yet, how many times do I forget to offer my students that same opportunity to talk and debrief their own learning?
Monday, March 14, 2011
This week is absolutely nutty. Besides the time change, I have two presentations to write, papers to grade, a house to tidy, a Brownie trip to plan, a suitcase to pack, and sub plans to write. My to-do list is absolutely GINORMOUS! I find myself clenching my teeth and freaking out a little bit, worried I won't get everything finished before I leave for a conference on Wednesday afternoon.
What I need to do, instead of freaking out, is to breathe. I know I need to slow down and do the things I can and the other things will fall into place. I should go to a yoga class, or at the very least take a relaxing soak or hole up somewhere quiet.
When I sit down and look at that crazy list, I wonder why I am unable (unwilling, perhaps?) to delegate some of the things on my list to my colleagues or to my husband. Perhaps the key to fewer freak-outs is the willingness to give up some control.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
I really dislike the "spring forward" day. The older I get, the more my body clock gets messed up by the beginning of Daylight Saving Time. Right now, the clock on my computer says it is 10:11pm. That means I should be winding down, ready to head into bed to read for about 20 minutes before drifting off to sleep. Too bad my body thinks it's 9:12pm. And when that alarm clock goes off at 5AM?
I shudder to think about it.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Today my younger sister arrived to spend a few days with us. When I say younger, I mean much younger. I was 21 when she was born, so when we are out together, people often think I am her mom instead of her sister. When she was little, it used to bother me, but now I'm ok with it.
Lindsey is the youngest of my dad's second set of kids. I must admit, there are times when I have moments of jealousy. She's had experiences and opportunities with our dad that I didn't get to have because after my parents divorced, I saw my dad only a couple of times a month. Mostly, though, I feel lucky to have such a great sister. She's a junior in college, majoring in music education, and as I watch her having those college experiences that I can barely remember, I'm impressed by her maturity and sense of self. She's worked hard to get where she is, and I know she's going to make a fabulous music teacher.
So if you read this, Lindz, know that you've got a big sister who loves you lots and who will always be in your corner, no matter what.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Today my classes finished their study of feature articles. We spent a couple of weeks reading and analyzing feature articles from various magazines and talking about what qualities separated a good feature article from a not-so-good one. We examined text features and how they help the reader make sense of information. We explored introductions and conclusions. Finally, my students thought about topics they were interested in learning more about, researched those topics, and wrote their own feature articles.
I love this genre study. It's fairly short, easy to find mentor texts, and it's a genre that most of my students have not explored before. Another bonus? I get to read articles about 60 different topics! Nothing boring or tedious about that. Today as students were reflecting on their learning over the course of the unit, I walked around the room and peeked at their finished products. They look fabulous, and I know that there's lots of great writing in that pile papers, since I had conversations with the kids as they wrote.
The best part of today? Seeing the proud smiles of my seventh graders as they said to me, "Mrs. Rench... look at this! Isn't it great?"
And I think to myself, Yes, dear students, it is. But for more reasons than you think.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
sometimes I really just get a craving for fried chicken. Today was one of those days. When I left my house this morning to head off to school, I was fully intending to swing by Whole Foods during my errand running and pick up a rotisserie chicken (they're on sale on Thursdays!). At some point during my crazy day, I decided that only fried chicken would do.
I only let myself have fried chicken about twice a year, so it is an event when I allow myself to cross the threshold of my local Brown's. Of course, I unfortunately don't limit myself to the chicken. There's the musrooms - those yummy, deep fried nuggets of mushroomy goodness. By the time I get home, my mouth is watering, just thinking about the crispiness of the chicken and the tastiness of the mushrooms.
However, this means I have to be super good this weekend to counteract all of those extra calories!
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Today I spent my morning in a really good meeting. It's not often I can say those three words together in a sentence, but this was one of those rare occasions. The meeting was of my districts Lab Teachers, and we were meeting with Diane Sweeney, author of Learning Along the Way, who works with our school district on our coaching and lab programs. We spent the morning discussing a chapter from her new book and talking about the evolving role of the district lab teachers.
The best part of the meeting was when Diane asked us what WE wanted to learn more about, a subject on which to engage in deep study so that when we felt ready we could open our classrooms or provide other professional development with others in our school district. As a group, we brainstormed a list of five or six possible topics, and then we each had to choose ONE. It was so difficult! Even though I've been teaching for seventeen years, I am always seeking to learn more and to become a better teacher. Ultimately, I decided to embark on a study of struggling readers (and consequently how to use our Fountas & Pinnell Assessement data to help them) with several of my junior high colleagues. I'm excited to work with my group to explore this area that I feel is one of my weakest as a teacher.
How lucky am I to work in a school district that values professional learning and encourages me to always push myself to learn more. And my professional learning will end up helping my students. What could be better?
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Tonight I went to my daughter's fourth grade orchestra concert. I know, I know.... for most of you those words conjure mental images of screeching violins and off-tune instruments, but I am lucky to live in a school district that invests great resources in its performing arts programming.
As I sat in the audience listening to the orchestra play their three songs, I thought about how far these kids have come since their first concert in December 2009. At that point, they all played the same tune, with the same notes, no harmony, basic rhythms, and yes... many squeaks. However, with patience, practice, and lots of coaching, these young musicians have grown by leaps and bounds. Teacher that I am, I of course thought about how I need to remind myself from time to time of those three essential elements when working with my students: patience, practice, and lots of coaching.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Sometimes I get so caught up in the busy-ness of being a mom, teacher, and wife that I forget to slow down and appreciate the little things that make my life just that little bit better. For today's slice, I thought I'd share a few of those:
- The way my basement smells when I'm doing the laundry. I love the bleachy smell of the white load. It makes me think of summer and lazy days spent at the pool.
- Warm towels fresh from the dryer. 'Nuff said.
- Baking with my girls. Yes, it makes a mess, but that time we spend together in the kitchen mixing (and tasting) dough is providing them not only with special time with mom, but an arsenal of recipes they'll be able to share with their own families some day.
- Watching The Daily Show with my guy. By the time we fire up the DVR, the girls are in bed, the dog is snuggled between us on the couch, and we can enjoy a laugh together. It's a great way to end an evening.
- The quiet of my house at 5AM. This is my time for myself. I check my email, see what's new on Twitter, and then head to my basement for 45 minutes of Wii. It's a fun way to get some exercise until spring is firmly here.
- My Land's End electric blanket. My bedroom is COLD, and I fire that puppy up about 15 minutes before I head into bed with a book. I get all warm before drifting off to bed, but I have to remember to turn it off before I fall asleep or else I get TOO hot overnight. It's the best blanket I've ever bought.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
This must be my weekend for confessions, because here comes another one folks.
My basement is a mess.
Yes. A mess. In September of 2008, we got 4.5 feet of water in our basement during a massively heavy rain. In the aftermath, we filled a dumpster with stuff that was ruined, including a couch, many scrapbook supplies, and various other things that cluttered that area. I told myself that I wouldn't let my basement get so full of stuff again.
Fast forward to March 2011. The wallboard is still cut at the high water line, the floor is back to its original concrete, and yes, the basement is full of stuff again. The difference, though, is that most of the stuff is in bins. Today I made a dent in that stuff, though... I filled many bags and boxes with clothing and toys to donate to Goodwill and Freecycled a bread machine. It feels good to let go of stuff.
Now if I could just convince my kids....
Saturday, March 5, 2011
I have a confession, one that some may find surprising, if not a bit disturbing. Ready?
I love going to the grocery store. There. I've said it!
I think my love for the grocery store is rooted in two places. First, it is tied in to caring for my family. I come from a family where food=love. Not great for the waistline, I know, but so many of my best family memories are tied to meals. Now I am bringing that sense of comfort and love to my own children, teaching them to eat healthy foods and have fun in the kitchen. The second reason I love going grocery shopping is that I am often by myself or with just one of my daughters. As a teacher and mom, I am rarely alone with time to think about all of the stuff that makes up my life. Going grocery shopping gives me an hour or two to be alone, to think and plan and, yes, even dream, if you can believe it. When my daughter Abby goes with me on my Saturday morning excursions, we have time to talk about what's going on in her busy six year old life or practice her reading skills as she tracks our progress on the grocery list. She often rides on the cart, right in front of me, so the entire trip through the grocery store is like a giant hug for her. I can lean down and kiss the top of her head and think of how lucky I am. What could be better?
Friday, March 4, 2011
I love to read. I don't remember not being able to read, and almost all my life, I've been known as the bookworm. There are photos upon photos of me at various events with my nose in a book. I hate to just sit and wait, so I usually have some sort of reading material with me at all times.
Reading is more than just a way to pass the time though. It's a way for me to get lost. When I need to get away, to forget about my life for a while, I pick up a book and get transported to a different world.
Looks like my 9 year old daughter is following in Mom's footsteps. Everywhere we go, she has a book- most likely a Harry Potter title- tucked under her arm, ready to snag a spare minute or two to get lost in Harry's world. Know what? I love it!
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Today while my students were taking their ISAT tests, I spent some times thinking about today's Slice. I was thinking about how busy I seem to be, how quickly life is passing me by, how I'm always saying "How will I find time for THAT?" I started listing the things I do when I get home from school that are part of my other job - being a wife and mom... cooking dinner, tidying the house, supervising homework, reading with my kids, walking the dog. I thought about the things I do for myself - a nap when I'm exhausted, my weekly appointment with my personal trainer, a yoga class here and there. Finally, I thought about those things that I'd like to do if I had the time - write more, pursue a Ed.D., clean my basement.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I DO manage to make time for things I think are important (and, to be honest, things that just let me zone.... like Facebook or watching Top Chef). One thing I need to do more of is to sit back and take a good look around and remind myself that I am in charge of how I spend my time. I CAN write more and do all of those other things. That with my time, just like with my diet, balance is the most important thing.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Today, as you may know, was Dr. Seuss's birthday. This morning, as I was about to leave for school, my six year old came to me and said, "Mom? Do I have a red and white striped shirt? I need one for Dr. Seuss day!"
I looked at her, and said, "Well, I don't think you do. Go find something red in your drawer and figure it out." I left before she got dressed (my husband gets the girls out the door in the morning since he works from home). All day I wondered what she came up with. My Abby is a wacky, creative, fun child who comes up with the craziest outfits on regular school days, not to mention "special" days. I was sure she would come up with something suitable to honor the wackiness of Dr. Seuss.
And I was right. She wore black yoga pants (to look like the Cat's legs, Mom!) and a red t-shirt covered by a white t-shirt covered by a hot pink tank top. I thought that was a pretty good way to improvise!
I love that my daughter is fearless. She has her own sense of who she is and what she thinks is right. It makes me wonder when (I teach seventh grade, I know it's WHEN and not IF) that will start to disappear. It makes me sad to think about.....
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Today was my daughter's second day of ISAT (Illinois State Achievement Test) testing. Last night at dinner, while we were sharing our highs and lows of the day, Molly told us how anxious she got while taking her science test. She said, "Mom, I don't know what happened! My brain just froze up and I couldn't think of a single thing!"
My heart dropped. My girl, who loves going to Mr. Toops's science lab to watch Herculese the boa constrictor eat mice and who thinks it's fun to conduct various experiments around our house froze on the science test. This isn't even one of the BIG tests that "count" toward AYP. What would happen when she takes her math or reading tests?
I looked at my girl over our dinner of roast beef and potatoes, and said to her, "Did you do your best? If so, that's all you can do." I don't think she believed me, and since she is a perfectionist, it doesn't help to tell her there are things on this test that she probably hasn't even learned yet!
How I wish my girl didn't have to be burdened with such heavy duty standardized testing. As a teacher myself, I understand the need to know what our students know and how much they have achieved. However, I worry that we're testing the joy right out of them.