Slice of Life: Drumroll, Please

Newspaper Announcement

Last week, for Slice of Life, I mentioned how I had been told I was a finalist in a short story contest here, sponsored by our local newspaper. Well, I didn’t win it all but I did come in what they are calling First Runner-Up (sort of Second Place, I guess) and this morning, my story was published in its entirety in the newspaper (in wicked small font!).

Newspaper Story

I’m pretty excited about it and I will bring the newspaper into the classroom today, too. You can listen to the interview I did with the local radio station and hear me reading the story out loud, over the phone, if you are interested.

Now, for my next story …

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Short Story Finalist

(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 other day, I found out a short story I wrote for contest hosted by the local newspaper and radio station is a finalist, with the winners to be announced in the coming days. This Short Fiction Contest used to be a HUGE deal around here where I live during its heyday, as writing groups and others put its annual submission date on the calendar as a must-watch time of year.

Like many others in this area full of writers and artists, I have submitted stories over the years, and I was even a finalist one other time (in a strange piece that used the format of a end-of-book contributors biography list to weave in hints of stories that connected all of the people together).

The contest went dormant for a few years as the local newspaper struggled to cut costs and ended its weekly magazine (where the story was hosted). But then this year, before the Pandemic, the newspaper revived the contest with a call for submissions. I had an idea for a story, sparked by something I had read about an unclaimed piece of land, and then wrote it in a blur over a day or two, then workshopped it with some friends at an online community I was part of (Yap.Net) where the advice of my reader friends was so incredibly helpful to fine-tuning the narrative and voice.

Then I submitted the story.

But, of course, the Pandemic hit us not long afterwards. The newspaper struggled to stay afloat with reduced advertising, and I didn’t even think about the contest at all, or my story, for a long time. I just figured it was another casualty of the times.

A few weeks ago, I saw a notice in the newspaper that the whole thing was back on again, with help 0f the local radio station, and then two weeks ago, I got an email saying I was a finalist and would I come on the local radio to read my story and be interviewed (of course, I did – it will be here as a podcast after it runs on the air this week sometime)?

So now I am waiting to see what happens.

My students are excited (Our writing teacher is a finalist! The story will be in the newspaper! He spoke on the radio and mentioned us!) and I’ve been using the moment to play up the fun of being a writer telling stories and getting some recognition now and then, and explaining where my idea for the story came from and how I wrote the story, and the moments of struggle in the writing, and all that.

So, I wait … but not much longer.

Peace (writing it down),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Listening To Student Voices

(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 School Committee in the town where I teach is poised to vote this week on whether to start bringing everyone — hundreds more students — back into our school building. The committee has been getting an earful on Facebook, apparently, from parents, demanding school fully re-open so they can get back to their jobs.

Meanwhile, numbers of virus cases all around us are rising – two neighboring cities just went up a level in the state’s data map of Covid-19 trends. I don’t see how we would do a full return, to be honest, as in our current Hybrid Model (half kids two days, the other half the other two days, Wednesdays full remote for building cleaning), the desks for my largest class of 11 kids at 6 feet apart take up nearly the entire room.

After the last School Committee meeting, where they discussed this possibility of a full return (meaning about 600 people would be in our building), I waited to see if they would be surveying families (nope); or staff (nope); or students (nope.). It seems to me, on listening to the discussions, as if Facebook is what many are listening to (and that scares me almost as much as anything – in that same Facebook group, some parents have apparently begun to turn on us teachers) as well as emails and letters from interested parties.

It galls me that we don’t regularly ask the very ones who are affected most by those decisions what they think: our students; their children.

So on two recent mornings, I asked my two homeroom cohorts the question of a full return, and what a lively and thoughtful discussion we had on this stop of a full return. Clearly, these sixth graders have been thinking deeply about this topic, but not often being asked.

My general sense is that students are happy to be back in school, even in the current model with all of the restrictions and safety protocols that limit their interactions with each other and teachers, and many want to remain that way until the virus is brought under control. There were some strong arguments in favor of bringing everyone in, however, including socialization and friendship and the pace of education.

I made sure to frame my questions as neutral — neither favoring a full return nor advocating against it — and I opened the floor to anyone who had a point to make, and the back-and-forth and follow-up-questions made me proud of these sixth graders. I just wish the small group of elected officials who only meet remote on Zoom out of safety precautions would find a way to listen to the young people who are in our building, doing their part to stay safe by bringing a level of cautious normalcy to our community.

Peace (listening),
Kevin

Slice of Life/Audio Postcard: Week Five

DSC01722 (2) -01 DSC01722 (2) -01 flickr photo by suzyhazelwood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

We’re now entering our fifth week of the school year, and I am still taking part in a research project documenting educators’ first six weeks of school through audio postcards. Here, I address how things are going, as we start our fifth week; what’s working so far; and maybe what’s not.

Here is:

Peace (finding our footing),
Kevin

Slice of Life: It’s All So Dang Quiet

(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 first thing I noticed as we began our first day back in the school building since March with students (half of them, anyway) was the quietness of the building. The hallways, shining from cleaning and new lighting; the cafeteria, set up for one student per table for lunches; our classrooms, with desks spaced apart; everywhere.

So quiet.

And the students, on their first day back to our school but not their first day of school, were subdued. Maybe it was the masks. Maybe it was learning the protocols of how to move through the building and how to clean desks and when we can go outside to get fresh air. Maybe it was all just very overwhelming. Just as important is the class sizes, of no more than 10 students per classroom at this point (the other half of the classes are home, doing independent learning and come to school on Thursday and Friday).

I asked people about the quiet, which was so noticeable in a building often filled with loud students and raucous energy. They all noticed but whether they liked it or not was rather mixed. Same with my students, as some said they like the quietness of the classrooms, and hope to get more schoolwork done. Others admitted they missed the noise of friends, even as they were happy to be back.

Outside, under a tent, for a mask break, the students could chat with each other, although a few pairs of friends had to be reminded about social distancing more times than once.

“How long will we have to do this?” one boy asked, exasperated, after being told to move a few more feet away from a friend he had not seen in person since March.

“For as long as we need to stay safe,” I replied, sympathetically.

Another student chimed in, “Until the virus is gone.”

A fourth noted, rather sadly, “And who knows when that will be.”

We all went quiet at that.

Peace (back in the building),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Accentuating The Positives

(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.)

So, this is not ideal, this learning situation many of us are in right now. I am remote until next week, when we move into a hybrid model. It’s taxing on us all — educators, students, families, administrators. So today, I am trying to make note of the positives of my situation after ten days with my sixth graders on Zoom and Google Classroom.

  • We’ve had near 100 percent attendance across our three sixth grade classes since the first day of school. I find this pretty amazing, given the remote nature of things. Each morning, before I start things up, I always wonder: Are they going to show up? And they do, day after day, ready for school. I celebrate my students repeatedly throughout the day.
  • With only a few minor glitches here and there, our access to Zoom for virtual classrooms, to Google Classroom and Apps for other activities, and other technology has mostly been seamless. Some students have spotty Internet at times, but we’ve been able to work through that. I credit our school district technology staff for the summer planning around Mac laptop distribution to our sixth graders — every student has their own Macbook right now. This makes a world of difference from the Spring, when a hodgepodge of devices made it difficult to troubleshoot with families.
  • We’ve done eight writing prompts in ten days, and my young writers have been enjoying the range of creative activities done both in their Writing Notebooks and in Classroom. We’ve done some story writing, some listening activities, and some reflection pieces. And our use of Breakout Rooms has been beneficial, pulling together small clusters for sharing ideas and stories.
  • Speaking of Breakout Rooms, I’ve been impressed by how respectful and collaborative my students have been in those rooms in Zoom. I can only pop around, joining one room at a time, but every time I do, I am so heartened by the positive energy of the discussions and sharing in the Breakout Room, as some students become leaders of the group and others recognize and encourage each other as writers.
  • One example of this is a four-day Fractured Fairy Tale Read-Aloud Play unit that we just wrapped up yesterday, with performances in Zoom in all the classes. I had three plays and three groups in each of my three classes, and Breakout Rooms allowed each group to practice and talk through their play and parts. It wasn’t ideal, but since Read-Aloud Plays are like radio shows, it worked fine. And it gave every student an opportunity to read out loud (for me to hear) with fun stories, as well as collaborate and then present to the full group.
  • I’ve been hesitant to get too deep into our reading/literature curriculum, which focuses in on novels, in this remote setting. We did send home class novels in the summer, along with textbooks, asking them to hold on to them until we needed them. At this point, I may wait until we are back in school and use the outside tents and grassy areas for reading. But we have been doing some short story reading and analysis, and some small non-fiction texts, so I feel as if I am honing in on some skills that will be important this year. Plus, there has been the read-aloud plays.
  • We’ve done a lot of reaching out to students to gauge their emotional well-being, through Zoom sessions and emails (including families) and end-of-week surveys, and I think that effort is paying off in the positive start many students are reporting experiencing. They feel connected, and supported, and heard. That’s so important after the Spring shut-down.

There’s probably more I could add here, but I like that this Slice has forced me to find a positive frame to see my teaching days, and to realize, there’s a lot of good things happening. Next week may be a different story, as we start moving our students back into the building in cohorts. I’ll keep looking for what’s going good instead of what’s not.

Peace (to us all),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Not Enough Standing

(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 never been a sitter in the classroom. My chair at my desk rarely gets used when school is in full and regular session. I am always on the move, working with students on their writing or cruising the room to answer questions or to check on how things are going. When I write, I sit in a student desk in the midst of the kids and write along with them.

Or I’m standing, talking, dancing, jumping. Whatever it takes.

So this start to the year, at home for two weeks of Distance Learning to begin, at my kitchen table, it feels so sedentary and stuck, like I am glued to the wooden chair. Every sensory break in our Distance Learning schedule that we have, I am outside, playing with the dogs in the yard or walking at a brisk pace through the neighborhood. Anything to get moving. I wish I had a standing desk here at home, so I could get up and be on my feet.

And of course, I urge my students to do the same at every break we’ve built into the day — get away from the screen, get some fresh air, go run and jump and play, be active.

I don’t know how computer programmers or other office workers do it, sitting all day with a screen as companion. It will do for now, this situation, because of the Pandemic we are in, but this kind of teaching from a chair is just not good for the body.

Peace (on the go),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Puzzles, Poems and Songs

Puzzled during Pandemic

Today’s Slice of Life is a gathering of smaller slices.

First, after starting this 1000 piece puzzle in the days after we left school in mid-March (the first puzzle I have done since childhood), my wife finally put the last piece into the dang thing the other day and finished the scene (Falling Water). The four pieces our puppy chewed made completing the puzzle even more difficult. I started strong in March and April, and even May, and then lost patience at the end in June, but my wife was dead set on finishing and not giving up on it. We finished because of her perseverance.

Second, I received word that a poem I had submitted a few weeks ago to a regional writing guild — the Straw Dogs Writing Guild — had been accepted as part of its Pandemic Poetry collection, and will be a featured poem with the guild in mid-August. The poem is something I wrote for/about my students right near the end of the school year. I’m happy that it will be part of the collection at the guild because it will keep the spirit of that class alive in different places, including my heart.

Third, I wrapped up the collection of songs – Notes from a Quiet Corner — that I have written during this time, and was sharing it out with family and friends yesterday, sending songs and beats out to everyone in my own little celebration of being creative and sane in one way I know best: writing songs and recording music.

 

Now I am gearing up for my summer break from blogging and most, but not all, other social media connections, starting tomorrow with the beginning of July.

This morning’s poem captures that, I think:

June’s
rain blooms
lilies

We’re
here, smoothing
petals

soft
but temporary
reminders

how
present time
wanes

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Crossed Paths

My wife, son, puppy and I were on a hike in a state forest quite a distance from our house, as we decided to get away from our familiar terrain into some place new.

There was a long, winding path that led to a waterfall, not too impressive with our lack of rain, and we were on our way down the trail, towards the car, sort of both acknowledging and ignoring any other hikers, as we walked.

Suddenly:

“Mr. H? Mr. H. Mr. H!”

A voice called out and caught my attention, and there, on the path, was one of my former students, one of those kids from the class that I only saw regularly on a video screen for three months, on the trail with his family.

His face lit up. Mine did, too.

There was real joy in seeing one of my (favorite) students out in the world, on a trail, nowhere near either of our homes. From a six foot distance, we chatted and laughed, before he headed up and we headed down. It was just one of those small lovely human encounters that can unexpectedly make your day.

Peace (crossed paths),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Nearly Done Writing (for now)

A week from today, the school year for kids will be over (we teachers will still be doing a day of PD on remote learning to get ready for what’s likely coming next year). With wrap-up events happening this week as our students transition from our elementary school to the middle school, yesterday was our last day to meet with all of our sixth grade classes in Google Meet, for one final classroom session on the small screen.

I went over different things — a few scattered assignments still out and about to complete, where to bring borrowed novels and assigned textbooks to school, our upcoming Step Up Day ceremony, etc. — but I made sure I spoke of my deep and heartfelt appreciation for the writing they have done since we left school in mid-March, and how so many of them were able to persevere through hard work, and how they remained connected to us and to each other.

I encouraged them to find books they want to read this summer, and to take their eyeballs away from the screens. I reminded them of my regular urging as their writing teacher that they keep a writer’s journal of these times, for their own sake (to look back and remember) and for future generations, too. I talked of writing poems, of making games, of imagining stories, of organizing essays. I tried to cram a year’s worth of what writing was for us into a short video chat, and it was impossible.

I hope I left them with love.

When I asked how many were happy the year was finally ending, most raised their hands. When I asked how many were sad the year was ending, most raised their hands. Same here. Same here.

Peace (in transitions),
Kevin