Slice of Life: Finding Your Center

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The ending of the school year often brings some interesting projects for students, and our gym teacher, Jim, has invited in an outside archery education group to work with our sixth graders this week. It’s pretty cool to walk into the gym and see the line of kids hard at work, learning how to draw a bow and how to eye a target.

Jim at Archery in PE Class

And the group’s motto — Find Your Center — gives a hint about how they connect archery to paying attention to the body, and paying attention to the spirit, and the need to find calm in the moment of life’s crazy times. Just before you shoot, time stands still as you slow your breathing and ready your arrow, and then you release the arrow towards the target.

Finding Your Center is a good saying to have in your head as transitions loom (as they do for our kids, moving out of an elementary school into a middle school).

Find your center. I like that.

Peace (soaring forward),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Remove the Negative/Keep the Positive

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Every single year that I have taught (16 years), woodcarver Elton Braithwaite has arrived in early June to work with our sixth graders on a woodcarving project.

For a full week, as an artist in residence, he teaches our students the ways to be creative with wood. More than that, though, his message of tolerance, of perseverance, of making opportunities, of learning what others want to teach you — these are the most important parts of Elton’s visit. Those are the things that will resonate after the school year ends.

Yesterday, his message included the following phrase, in which he used woodcarving as a metaphor for life. He was talking about how a woodcarver’s job is to surface the art by removing that which surrounds it, to envision what you want to remain strong and vibrant by taking away things that hide it.

Remove the negative. Keep the positive. — Elton

I really love that phrase, and appreciate that my students will have a chance to learn from Elton, not just about art (although the art they will make is magnificent and woodcarving projects decorate many of our school hallways and rooms) but also about what it means to live a positive and fulfilling life, to dream and then to make those dreams become a reality.

Elton Comes to Visit

Peace (surfaced on the plane of the world),
Kevin

PS — I show this to my students before Elton arrives.

 

 

Slice of Life: Shadows and Dogs

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I have a sweet, older dog. Sometimes, like yesterday, on our first walks of the day, in the early mornings, the shadows startle him. He gets a bit jumpy, which can then startle me, even though the shadows are not usually something to worry about. Usually, the shadow is just a stick, or a kid’s toy on a neighbor’s yard. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be there today because it wasn’t there yesterday. I guess the apparitions of the world startle all of us, now and then.

Peace (Where light meets dark),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Fleet-Footed Kid and The Bad Track Parent

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My wife and I joke that we are bad high school track parents. My son, a senior, is a captain of the spring track team, and is an amazingly fast runner in the 200m and 400m and the relay teams.

I grew up playing baseball and lacrosse. I didn’t know much about track when he started. I’ve learned as much as I can and follow the events with a muted interest. When he switched to track two years ago, we wholeheartedly supported him, but the track meets I have gone to have given me a few seconds of thrills and excitement — that burst of speed and athleticism —  and lots and lots of waiting-around time for something to happen.

I never complain to him, yet he tells us again and again that he does not expect us to watch him at every meet. We’re not sure to be grateful that he doesn’t expect us there all the time or sad that he doesn’t expect us there all the time. It’s complicated.

Last night, as I was at my younger son’s baseball game (they won), the high school running man was apparently ripping up a track event with high speeds, and helped bring his team to a season title yesterday. I know this because I opened up the website of our local paper and there is video of him barreling down the track, and an article focused mostly on him and his endeavors, and an interview with him as he celebrates his teammates.

What a kid!

Boys Track

from The Daily Hampshire Gazette

He got home late, so I didn’t even have a chance to ask him, How did it go? I think he would have downplayed it but now I know. I’ll be congratulating him this morning. Still, not being there to see him run and compete live and to not have been yelling support from the stands?

Yeah, I’m a bad track parent.

Peace (goes fast so catch it while you can),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Smoke, Fire, Vape

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I guess it was only a matter of time before we would have to address this alarming health issue with our sixth graders. Although my students are still in an elementary school and not as exposed to older kids on a daily basis as many other districts, the larger cultural and social elements — good and bad — eventually trickle down to us. It’s often just a matter of when.

So, vaping.

In the past two weeks, we’ve had some informal information on the social grapevine of some of our students perhaps trying out vaping (or e-cigarettes), or experimenting with it, or whatever. I can’t say if any of it is true, and our school administration is working to get solid information so they can intervene if necessary.

When I asked my own son, who goes a 6-8 middle school in another district than the one I teach in, if students are vaping there, he didn’t even hesitate to say yes. By the lockers. On the bus. In the bathrooms. It was rather alarming how quick his response was.

I didn’t press too much except to remind him of dangerous vaping can be and how its potential for addiction for young people is incredible high. He later told me that a group of health officials from the schools came into every classroom at his school, to talk about the dangers of vaping.

At our school, our health staff is working on a response to the possibility of vaping, including a letter home and probably a forum with all sixth, and fifth, graders.

“I was hoping we had some time,” a nurse told me, when we chatted about vaping, explaining she is attending a session a few weeks where vaping response will come up. “But I guess not.”

Nope, and not with summer and free time for kids coming up around the corner.

Peace (keep it safe),
Kevin

Slice of Life: What Poetry Surfaces

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The paraprofessional in the classroom called me over to the side of the room during our writing time.

“Did you see what (this student) is writing about? You might want to see.”

Curious, I wandered over to this student as everyone was working on Digital Poetry Books — five short poems on a common theme, built inside Google Slides, with a hyperlinked Table of Contents. Some students are writing about sports, and family, and nature, and hobbies. They are learning poetic form, the way image can intersect with words, and the technological aspects of creating a digital book.

I glanced over the shoulder of the young writer. I look up. It is a deep theme for a sixth grader, an emotional one (I won’t go into details for privacy reasons) that has resonation, and it occurred to me that this student has been quieter than usual lately, although working harder than ever. I attributed it to a sense of the year ending.

Maybe it is something more, something going on outside of our school day, something that is on their mind with someone this student loves. Something that is spilling over into their poetry as a means of making sense of things.

Poetry has the ability to surface the heart in unique ways. It can tap into the heart of your world, if you let it. Poems can provide an inroad to understanding of emotion, and of the complexities of life. A poem can bring forth a difficult topic, and allow you to grapple with it. A poem won’t solve your problems. It could, however, provide you with some balance.

I looked across the room at the paraprofessional and we shared a look, and then we talked later, after school. Now we are both being a little more alert to this particular, student’s world. I am thinking of how to have a gentle conversation to make sure everything is all right, and to let this student know we are here for them, if they need it.

Peace (in Poems),
Kevin

Slice of Life: April’s Daily Poems


Abandoned Hotel Fire flickr photo by darkday. shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Bud Hunt has been inspiring me to write poems all month with images at his blog site. I am grateful. Thank you, Bud. Midway through April, I wrote an update on the poems I had written for the first half of the month, and here is my second update on the second half of the collection.

I’ve been on a mission to write “small” on the Mastodon network, with small stories (a version, in my mind, of Slice of Life), small quotes (from books I am reading) and small poems, so I have been purposely trying to keep these daily poetry pieces with Bud short, to the point, evocative.

Writing a poem a day in April is a nice transition from writing a slice a day in March, with both the bit of anxiousness (do I have another poem/slice inside of me?) to success (I did have another poem/slice inside of me) to critique (that’s the best poem/slice you could do?). And while the quality of the writing varies in this kind of daily flow, the act of writing each day is powerful. I still like some of the poems I wrote this month, so that’s a good sign.

I think May will be a little bit slower …


The pianist, Washington Square flickr photo by NightFlightToVenus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

First, I start with the end, the last poem of the month.

So this is where
you say the words go
to rest.

We unwind
the time for
rhymes,

break loose
stanzas
from the lines,

put the poems back
into the pocket
for another
time.

The flow is
slowed but never
silent.

The writing, merely
the temporary act of
capturing the
heart, which never stops
beating.

This is by
design.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/30/npm2018-prompt-30/

 

I am not of this world,
and how strange is it
to realize the truth of that?

So much remains a mystery
of another’s existence,
stretched to the edge of imagination.

What is it we learn from each other
through the stories of images
is a sense of our shared humanity.

I am yet of this world.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/29/npm2018-prompt-29/

 

The child in me still puts
crayons between my fingers,
scratching out color clouds
until everything slowly, methodically,
dissolves into little more than
a soft and silent muddy gray.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/28/npm2018-prompt-28/

 

Turn me off;
I’m not on
today.

No amplification
necessary,
for what I have
to say

is said with the look
of my eyes, not the
words of my voice

I have no choice:
the power button
is now off.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/27/npm2018-prompt-27/

 

She delivered words
on a plate, with poem
as a fork, and a novel
as napkin, and told me,
Dig in.

I crunched some ideas,
rolling rhymes
on my tongue,
watching the landscape
push past me, the window
as refuge from memory.

Dig in, she said,
then left me to my
lunch.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/26/npm2018-prompt-26/

 

What will happen,
I wonder out loud,
when I lean my words
on an angle and
slide the story
down the slope
of the graph?

You laugh.

I’m long past the point
of knowing how to calculate
what you think
when I write,
so I spin a poem
upon this plate,
a problem solved just
for you.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/25/npm2018-prompt-25/

 

Mornings
in this house
become ever more quiet —
a soft solitude
of writers —
until the kettle whistle sings
its steam-song urgency,
the tea bag steeping movement
back into our day.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/24/npm2018-prompt-24/

 

Words and phrases,
discarded into plastic pails
by the back door.

Sometimes,
I’ll lean out my writing window,
let my fingers dangle,
as the poems drop.

I forgot
what it is
I meant to
write.

So much of life
gets away from us,
it’s amazing we even have
the courage

to save a bit
for the remembering

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/23/npm2018-prompt-23/

 

How does
one believe
in the impossible
when the reality
is what’s always
so visible?
Suspend yourself
in the imagination,
so that together,
we can experience
the unknown,
with hearts as wide open
as our eyes.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/22/npm2018-prompt-22/

 

I abandoned
all reason
on the street,
if only so I would
always remember
the day, the time,
the weather,
in which we’d be sure
to meet.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/21/npm2018-prompt-21/

 

Your fingers run lightly
over the keys, a Sonata
in C, I believe, as passersby
hear but don’t listen.
I sit, outside your frame,
watching your body
sway in time to the rhythm
of some long-ago memory,
a postcard wrapped up
in song.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/20/npm2018-prompt-20/

 

It’s the waiting
the wondering
the worrying about
arrival,
the listening
the distractions
the contraptions
of the world,
covering up the sound
I’ve found I’m always here
listening for.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/19/npm2018-prompt-19/

 

On the night
when the waves
were my audience,
and the moon,
my companion,
I danced until dawn
to the music of
the seas.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/18/npm2018-prompt-18/

 

I won’t
spin star-light
from lamp-light,
nor moon-light
from flash-light,
but when darkness
descends, I’ll hold
your hand, letting
the calm flicker inside
this gloom of this room,
as we move in the groove
of the dance-light.

via http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2018/04/17/npm2018-prompt-17/

Peace (in poems and words and rhymes),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Boy Who Wants to Hit Delete

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I’ve had a conversation a few times with one of my students that goes along the lines of something like this.

“Mr. H, can I trash all of my writing?”

“What? No. Of course not. Why would you do that?”

“I don’t know. My Google account seems full of files. Can I get rid of them?”

“You don’t need to do that. First of all, your school Google account has plenty of space — more than you will probably ever need. Second, I want you to be able to look back when you graduate high school and see what writing you did in sixth grade. This account will follow you for the next seven years.”

“Oh.”

“And third, we will be working on a digital writing portfolio this Spring, pulling pieces from the entire year, to showcase your work. If they are in the trash, you can’t easily find them.”

“Oh. Ok.”

I’ve had at least three iterations of this same conversation with this same student over the last four months or so. He is an avid technology user, and he has benefitted from our extensive work with technology to improve his writing. I’m not sure why he feels the need to delete his files in his Google account. It clearly is on his mind.

I suspect it is not so much to do with his feelings about his writing — which was my first thought, as writing does not come naturally to him but he works hard on every assignment — and more to do with the untidiness of the Google architectural design system. Even with folder systems, the Google digital file architecture can be tricky and confusing to navigate.

Yesterday afternoon, at the bus loop, he told me he wasn’t sure anymore if he wants to be an engineer. I told him I was surprised to hear him say that, and that I thought he would make a fantastic engineer — he loves to design and build things, and solve problems — and when he asked me what kind of engineer I thought he would become, I said: architectural engineer.

Later, thinking of our conversations about files and computers, I wondered if he might be the one to finally solve the problems of curating digital content in meaningful ways for all of us as a networking engineer or something.

Maybe so.

Peace (don’t delete),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Bag o’ Work Left at School

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

This is the first Spring vacation week in memory where I didn’t have an overflowing bag of student writing (either literally, or figuratively, now that I use Google Classroom for much of our writing) to read and assess and comment upon. My carrying bag, the one that is often filled with student work, is still in my classroom. I didn’t need it.

Either through planning (there was some of that, to be sure) or sheer luck of where our unit is right now (there is some of that), I’ve been able to mostly keep it relaxed so far this week.

So, why does that make me feel guilty? Sheesh.

I’m so used to spending time outside of school with student writing, and thinking of lesson plans and activity flow, that when things slow down, I feel as if something should be happening. Helping students make progress with their learning — with their writing — that’s what teachers do.

Ok, but … still … relax.

Enjoy your books. Enjoy your family. Enjoy Spring (even with snow and sleet still on the ground from yesterday’s storm that gave us permission to stay inside most of the day). Think about the days ahead when we get back, but not too much.

The dog needs a walk. Go on and do it.

Peace (on the horizon),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Stories on the Wall

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Like many teachers, I try to display student work throughout the year, both as a way to get some of our stories read by classmates and to showcase some exemplary work. I often will take names off the work, for various reasons, and my closet door often becomes one of the classroom posting sites. Students line up near the closet at the end of class, so it becomes a prime viewing spot.

I had placed a bunch of stories written as part of a lesson around remixing stories from a different character perspective — we used Rikki Tikki Tavi as our core story — and it was a few days later that one of the writers was reading the stories during a lull when he gasped, and shouted out that he recognized his writing. (The stories were typed, so handwriting was not a visual give-away).

“Hey, that’s my story! I wrote that! That’s my story!”

His friends all came over to look and read with him. Then, they started to read and re-read the others.

Student Writing on Display

Peace (displayed, read, celebrated),
Kevin