SOL 2016 Day 24: Going Back to Teachers College

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

Yesterday I got the email I've been waiting for.  Along with two of my co-workers, I've been accepted for a second year of Writing Workshop training at Columbia University's Teachers College in New York. 

Last August, studying at Teachers College was one of the most inspirational experience of my educational career.  I loved participating in mini-lessons, listening to advice from expert writing teachers and writing, writing, writing. I was in heaven.

Then being able to work with my coachee teachers in bringing writing workshop to life in their classrooms has been incredibly rewarding. It's wonderful to see students engaged in writing that is personal and authentic. 

This has been an incredible journey, and I'm glad it's not over. See that smile on my face? I expect to look like that again this summer.  

SOL 2016 Day 11: Rainbow - a Lesson in Student (Dis)engagement

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

Today was another day of professional development in reading and writing workshop with Amanda Hartman of Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I was not as enamored with learning as I was yesterday. Two days of leaving the house at 6:30 a.m. to get a ride to the train station and then a shuttle after the train. Two days of drenching rain and winds. Two days of listening to so many ideas that by the time lunch rolled around, my brain was full. I admit it. I was done. I couldn't concentrate anymore. Now I know how my students sometimes felt.

Our sessions were held on the 14th floor of a hotel with sweeping views. In the afternoon, we were in the middle of a reading activity when I turned into the proverbial bad kid who got everyone off task. Completely disengaged, I turned around just as a horizontal rainbow appeared over Berkeley. I'd never seen such a phenomena before.  I turned to my work partners who were still trying to make sense of the story we had read, calling for them to stop and look. They jumped up as well. Soon I  had half the room of teachers up out of their seats looking out the window. 

Amanda handled it with grace. After all, she's been a primary teacher so she must be used to such a flighty behavior. Since I'm not a five-year old (well, not physically), I felt pretty embarrassed. I was going to apologize to her in my evaluation at the end, but then (more child behavior) I forgot. 

So, Amanda, if you ever find this blog, I'm I hope you'll accept this apology. I've had it happen to me so I know how you felt. 

I'm sorry I disrupted your lesson.

SOL 2016 Day 8: Applause Please - Yesterday in Writing Workshop

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

 Sometimes while coaching, I feel like a proud mama bear. There is nothing like observing a teacher coachee, and see her progress as she strives to improve her craft. Yesterday, I got that burst of pride moment.

My coachee has been working on getting writing workshop mini lessons down, making sure to include all the important parts, using the language, making the teaching point clear. All while trying to keep the lesson to 10 minutes in length.In front of 30 seventh graders (twice in the day).

This time she nailed it. She taught with gusto, and her students were engaged and thrilled they understood the lesson. When I walked around asking questions later, I could see that many of the kids were already busy incorporating the new strategy into their writing

I can’t take credit for that teacher’s dedication to being the best she can be. Sure I’ve tried to advise her, but she’s done the hard part. 

Still, can’t help myself: proud mama bear.

SOL 2016 Day 7: Practicing Mindfulness Everywhere

Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge 2016
This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even students), visit:

When I became ELA coach, I really had no idea how I would structure my day. In fact, in my interview before getting the job, I turned to the coach who was part of the  panel and asked her, "What do you do all day?" 

I had been in the classroom so long (23 years) that I couldn't imagine my day without the bells telling me where to be with whom at what time. When I think of it, it's rather like the army or a convent in its rigid adherence to a daily schedule. 

It didn't take long before I got that hang of it: making my own schedule, keeping a daily calendar of meetings and observations, observing different teachers at different times throughout the week. I even  have to pay a little attention to school bell schedules just so I know when I can meet with my teachers. It has turned out to be a satisfying change.

However, one thing I didn't count on was having to drive more. As my family will attest, I've never been that fond of driving. I will always let someone else take the wheel if they are willing. Commuting back and forth to work is fine, but on the weekend or vacation I would be perfectly content to never drive. As a coach who travels to different schools all over my district, that had to change. 

What I've noticed: I'm getting more and more short tempered about my fellow drivers. I have found myself barking at people who didn't use a turn signal or barely tapped their brakes at a stop sign to make the infamous "California stop". It doesn't matter that they can't hear me, I still yell at them as if I really thought it would do any good.

Today I was particularly cranky. After all, it was Monday.  I fretted and fumed over some idiotic traffic move when I realized that this can't go on. So I tried to think of how to practice mindfulness while driving. 

I know the term "mindfulness" is rather over-used these days, but I do think the theory is a positive one. I've been trying some centering or meditation exercises in my daily writing practice, and they do work. Of course, it wouldn't be a good idea to close my eyes to concentrate on my breathing while in control of a car, but there had to be something I could do.

Just at that moment, I rounded a corner and the coastline of California spread out before me. Because of all the rain we've gotten recently, the hillsides are bright green. Clouds like great animals galloped across the sky. I started breathing slowly, I started counting with my inhalations and exhalations, keeping my eyes on that lovely green before me.  I serenely watched as the driver in front of me made a U-turn without signaling. 

Once Again Teachers Blamed

To Time Magazine

teachers blamed again
low pay no respect too much
work with no support

journalists use us
to sell magazines to whip
up feeding frenzy

too bad they didn’t think
no teachers no people who
can read magazines

Time magazine is about to use its cover to blame teachers for every problem in America's schools. On Monday, Nov. 3, this cover will be in every supermarket checkout line and newsstand across the country—and it's already online.

There are serious challenges facing our schools—tell Time that blaming teachers won't solve anything.

Take action! Sign the petition telling Time to apologize to American teachers:

Daly City? Where's That?

The other day I went to the Apple Store in Burlingame, CA. There at the Genius Bar were a group of school children along with their teachers (or camp counselors) all wearing blue tee shirts working on laptops.  I couldn't quite see what they were working on - maybe iMovies.  That doesn't really matter. What matters is that they all had the opportunity to work together using modern technology.  I'm happy for those students; what a wonderful experience for them.  But it made me think of my own students in Daly City (Check your map - this is a suburb just south of San Francisco).  


When our after school program, Citizen Schools begged for funding from several Silicon Valley companies, no one would give them the money they needed.  The result?  The program was forced to leave our school to go work with other students somewhere else.  What is it about Daly City?  Our community seems to be forgotten.  Our school district isn't like the large San Francisco district to the north of us or the more affluent districts to the south of us in Silicon Valley.  We aren't the richest or the poorest, but rather basically a working class community.  I guess that means we aren't glamorous enough to get the kind of funding other districts get.  The result: my students lose out.

The Greece I Saw, June, 2012

Of course I could write about postcard Greece: the pebbly beaches, the sky stretching out clear, dotted with clouds at sunset. Or the blue, blue sea, the bluest water I have ever seen, unlike any other place in the world. Or about the sun beating down hot and demanding as I walked down the small road from our tiny rented apartment to the beach. Or the food – black and green olives, anchovies and tiny whitebait fish served up crisply fried. All this is what I would expect to see – and to write about. The Greece everyone wants me to tell them about – because isn’t that what we all desire when we go on vacation?

But that wasn’t the Greece that touched me most deeply.  Instead, there was the Greece I could not ignore, the one with the brave face with terror barely hidden underneath. 

The Greece I saw was filled with row after row after row of empty buildings lined up on the road spreading out from Nafplio, a small town on the Peloponnese Peninsula. The lovely town square was filled not with tourists but locals.  I heard someone on the street comment that it should have been crowded in mid-June.  Instead many shops in the surrounding streets were shuttered and closed, and shopkeepers in those still open were desperate for any sale we might give them.  One salesman told us no one was coming to Greece now and certainly very few people were spending money. 

The Greece I saw was the Greece of political rallies before their June 17th election with an edge to the air, a palpable uneasiness, so few smiles but instead nervousness about their future.  The streets of Athens dingy, graffiti-filled with much of the neighborhood around my hotel closed and empty with signs saying “For Rent” - but who would possibly open a business now?  And the cafes stood half empty, the roof garden of my hotel with chairs to spare when five years ago I had to fight for a table. The night our Greek friend, T. tried to find us a restaurant to eat in – one after another gone, gone, gone – and her quiet unease at showing us what must be a daily occurrence to her, this woman whose job has been reduced to four hours a day.

Signs of protest were splashed everywhere – raised fists and slogans painted on walls, the whole place showing peoples' anger and frustration with their broken government.

This was the Greece of high unemployment rates, especially for young people. 29.6% of young people in Greece are unemployed, according to What can they feel about Greece's future? Where will their lives lead?

What about those who have worked their whole lives only to find their savings or pensions gone?  When D., a retired teacher, told me in his broken English, “We are very poor,” of course I thought about what I would feel, being reduced to this after giving years to teaching. His few words were filled with so much weight, leaving me with many questions - really none of my business - but I wanted to know where his teacher pension has gone, how he makes do, what this all means for education in his country.  But his English was not good enough for him to explain, and I know only a smattering of Greek.  I am left with only those few poignant words.

That was not necessarily the Greece I wanted, but it was the Greece I feared so much that I almost didn’t go - the only time I have come close to cancelling a trip abroad.  But I decided that I wanted to be a traveler and not only a tourist, to experience more than just the highlights of a country.  So I went.