Lovely sunset

Lovely sunset

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Just Take 100 Steps

  Teacher's Write  7.2.16
          For the past three summers I have signed up to be part of the Teacher's Write  summer online writing community. Each year I have created some pieces of writing that I had no idea were inside of me. All credit goes to the wonderful guest authors who provide the encouragement and ideas for the creativity to happen. 

          This past week the prompt was to take 100 steps and simply write about what you see. I did that, stepping down off my back deck and walking to the corner of my back yard. I jotted some notes into a tiny notebook -- that had been part of the first day's writing about using notebooks all the time to capture important moments you may use later in your writing. I discovered that notebook was too darn small that day but, nonetheless, used it to record what I saw. Initially, I was doubtful. All I saw was my backyard. Then I started to look a bit more closely. I started to really see what was there. So I jotted down some notes
and decided to just trust the process. Once I was done, I returned to my computer to type up what I had just seen in my 100 steps. I ended up with the following passage.



100 steps took me to the northwest corner of my backyard. I looked around wondering what I might find to write about. It is a very typical suburban yard but as I stood there I began to really see. Along the hedgerow is a line of mature cherry trees that my family has picked for years. For the lawn mower driver the trees provide a juicy snack on a sweaty-hot, summer day. Today they are droopy with fruit seemingly waiting arms outstretched for that next sampler. Among the cherry trees is a silver maple interloper holding a double-decker tree house built painstakingly years ago by a tag team of boys.
The raggedy board ladder tacked onto the trunk has gaps and tips this way and that but remains for the next courageous climber to give it a try. In the northeastern corner are weathered tree trunk stools ringing the cement brick fire pit stacked high with crispy, dry brush ready for the matches, s\’mores, and song. Closer to the house is the silver and black trampoline, a few poles needing to be attached before jumpers can safely begin bouncing. The trampoline shadows the garden plot waiting for its plants. Just past the blueberry bushes, next to the raspberry plants is the grape arbor
with the determined leaves creeping steadily over the top and back down to the ground under which the grapes will appear in a few months. Looking out past our yard to the north is a smart, tidy cemetery.
My parents\’ gravestone marker looks back at me from its corner plot by the American flag reminding me I should drop by for a visit. If you have time. 100 steps to the north brings me to thoughts of happier times and sadder times, of faces I haven\’t seen in so long. George and Nancy. 100 steps


 I shared it with my colleague, Andrea Page (soon to published author -- yea!!!  Sioux CodeTalkers of WWII). She, as always, was very supportive and encouraging. I remarked to her that it seemed more like a poem than anything else and she suggested I work on it to make it a poem much like I teach my students to do. I chuckled because she sometimes knows me better than I do.I model a method of poem writing after a Nancy Atwell conference I attended many years ago. My "poetry haters" generally find some comfort in it. I ask them if they think they can write a paragraph which they, of course, (sensing this is a trick) reply yes to. There is much more to it but basically they choose a topic to write a paragraph about and then I show them how to turn that paragraph into a poem. So that is what I did.

Step # 2: Write each sentence as a line of prose.

Along the hedgerow is a line of mature cherry trees that my family has picked for years.
For the lawn mower driver the trees provide a juicy snack on a sweaty-hot, summer day.
Today they are droopy with fruit seemingly waiting arms outstretched for that next sampler.
Among the cherry trees is a silver maple interloper holding a double-decker tree house built painstakingly years ago by a tag team of boys.
The raggedy board ladder tacked onto the trunk has gaps and tips this way and that but remains for the next courageous climber to give it a try
In the northeastern corner are weathered tree trunk stools ringing the cement brick fire pit stacked high with crispy, dry brush ready for the matches, s\’mores, and song
Closer to the house is the silver and black trampoline, a few poles needing to be attached before jumpers can safely begin bouncing.
The trampoline shadows the garden plot waiting for its plants.
Just past the blueberry bushes, next to the raspberry plants is the grape arbor with the determined leaves creeping steadily over the top and back down to the ground under which the grapes will appear in a few months
Looking out past our yard to the north is a smart, tidy cemetery
My parents\’ gravestone marker looks back at me from its corner plot by the American flag reminding me I should drop by for a visit
If you have time.
100 steps to the north brings me to thoughts of happier times and sadder times, of faces I haven\’t seen in so long.
George and Nancy
100 steps

Step #3: Cross out, remove any unnecessary words. Rearrange phrases. Add sensory details. Make it look like a poem. Use mentor poetry books for ideas!
100 Steps
"If you have time"
mature cherry tree hedgerow
 juicy snacks  on sweaty-hot, days for the lawn mower driver
to snag on the way by
droopy fruity outstretched arms for that next sampler

"When you have time"
Among the cherry trees a silver maple interloper
double-decker tree house
built painstakingly by a tag team of boys.
raggedy board ladder tacked onto the trunk
gapped and tippy
this way and that
for the next courageous climber to try

"Sometime"
weathered tree trunk stools
ring the cement brick fire pit
stacked high with crispy, dry brush
ready for the matches, s’mores, song

"If you have time"
shimmery silver black trampoline poles
needing to be attached
before jumpers may bounce

"When you have time"
shadowy still garden plot
waits plants
weedy, prickly ,patient

"Sometime soon"
blueberry bushes blooming
raspberry plants ripening
grape arbor's
determined leaves creeping steadily
over the top and back down
September grapes

"If you have time."
north- a smart, tidy cemetery
American flag waving
My parents’ gravestone marker
looks back
reminding me
I should drop by for a visit

"Make  time."
100 steps to
 happier times
sadder times                       
faces I haven’t seen in so long
voices I strain to hear
George and Nancy
100 steps
"If you have time."
Step #4: Revise, Revise, Revise! Here is my final draft. I hope you like it.

100 Steps by Gretchen Breon

If you have time
mature cherry tree hedgerow
sweaty-hot days' juicy snacks
"Oh,never mind those worms-they won't hurt ya!"
to snag on the way by
"Friends share, you know."
droopy, fruity outstretched arms

Anytime
a silver maple interloper
double-decker tree house
raggedy scrap board ladder tacked onto the trunk
big gaps and tippy this way and that
"Yes, I do believe you might see to the lake!"
for the next courageous climbers

Sometime
weathered tree trunk stools ring the cement brick fire pit
"Big fires-sit back, small fires-sit close!"
stacked high with crispy, dry brush
ready for the matches, s’mores,
guitars and ukulele songs off key loud
If you have time
shimmery silver black trampoline poles
needing to be attached
"Sure that's safe?"
before jumpers may bounce
When you have time
shadowy still garden plot
weedy, prickly, patient
waits plants
"Did you get the onions in yet?"
tomatoes for sauce, zucchini for bread
Sometime soon
blueberry bushes blooming
raspberry plants ripening
"Need some jam jars?"
grape arbor's
determined leaves creeping steadily
over the top and back down
September grapes
If you have time
north- a smart, tidy cemetery
so quiet
American flag waving
their gravestone marker looks back
reminding me
I should drop by for a visit

Make  time
100 steps to
faces I haven’t seen in so long
"Hey, High Riga, stop by
when you get a chance"
Voices I strain to hear again
"Hey, give us a call
when you get a sec"

Take the time




Thanks for taking a peek. 

         


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Let's Keep Our Stories

This whole blogging thing has me a bit intimidated. I return each summer vacation to my blog filled with hope and ambition that I will blog, blog, blog my heart out. I even bought a book on my kindle all about how to blog and have people want to read it. Haven't read that book in a while. So the problem is in that book it detailed all the things you must add to your blog posts in order to attract readers. I guess that is not really why I want to write. Yes, it would be nice for someone to read one of my posts and comment. That has happened once or twice. It is a rather nice feeling but the comments I have received have been from friends and family who know me. I feel like those don't count. They know I am an English teacher. They likely know I can write. Hard to imagine being a good teacher without being able to write.

No, the reason I want to write is because I love the way the page looks as it fills up with my words. I like to see my thoughts looking back at me from the computer screen. I want to tell the stories that I share every day in my classroom -- I want to write them down before I forget them.

Many years ago I worked in a couple of different nursing homes. I was an Activities Director. It was a challenging yet rewarding job but, ultimately, one that sent me back to school to become a teacher. But when I was employed at the nursing homes I met some of the most unique individuals. I was sure that someday I would write a book and tell the stories of the ladies and gentlemen that I had met. There were some strong characters to be sure. And some were sweet.. and some were .... well, just plain ornery. But the stories I could tell..... 

I do remember one story that I have told to my classes often. This year I mentioned that one of our pets at home is a goldfish. The kind you win at the carnival. I explained to my class that we had one of those that was over 5 years old! They seemed unimpressed but I pushed on to tell them that those fish typically live only a few days because they are bait fish intended to be fed to other fish. It is usually just a big sad story a few days after winning them as the ritual flushing occurs.

For the nursing home residents, throughout the year we would plan some big events that had themes. One time we planned a Bridal Fashion show and I and many of the other workers wore our own wedding gowns to the delight of the residents. Another big event was our Senior Prom. The residents really looked forward to the dancing, the music, and of course, the unique decorations we managed to pull off.

 For one special event we had an ocean theme. As we brainstormed decorations, the activities staff agreed we could place fishbowls on each dining table for a centerpiece. We would buy the inexpensive carnival fish to put in each bowl. The residents were amazed to see the tiny goldfish swimming around as dinner was served. The fishbowls were a colossal hit. The residents could not stop talking about those fishbowls.

After the event, we gathered up all the glass fishbowls onto a gray serving cart and rolled it back into the Activities/Bingo room. All the fish were moved into a large fish tank found in the craft closet. We didn't give them another thought until the next day when residents began arriving for  bingo. A few of the more vocal residents pointed out quickly that several fish were floating on the top. Bad luck for them, we guessed! They were plucked out and flushed posthaste.

A few hours later, residents gathered again in the Activities room for cards. It wasn't long before we were being notified of more fatalities in the fish tank. Not wanting to dwell on the sad topi, we again quickly removed the goners. The residents remained cheerful noting how much fun it had been to see them on the dining tables.

By the next day, there were many dead fish floating on the top of the tank. We all did our best to  remove them before anymore residents saw them! This was starting to get depressing! Day after day we scooped out the dead ones and before long, in spite of having purchased hundred of goldfish, there was only one left. This fish was hardy. He was the sole survivor. None of us could figure out why it was still alive but it was. Even the residents noticed. One of the maintenance men eventually asked us if he could have the fish for his apartment. We quickly agreed not wanting to have to share the gruesome tale with the residents when the final flush was needed. He named that fish Rocky.

I don't know how long that fish lived. I guess my story sort of stinks without knowing that but like our own fish, it wasn't supposed to happen at all. We really look at our fish with wonder. How is it still alive? No idea. But that will to live is something to think about.  It seems to be a powerful force. Maybe the residents took some solace in the fact that, in spite of all the others, at least one had managed to hang in there.

Those are the kinds of stories I don't want to lose. There were really special residents like Martie, who always had a white neck brace collar on, and my little piano player, Edna with the squeaky high voice and the slow, slow, shuffle, shuffle walk and Michael, who was the unofficial mayor of the home.


If we don't write down the stories, we lose them. I really am going to try harder to remember more of them. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. For now.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Don't Go, July.

Dear July,
     The other day I noticed how close we are to the end of your stay. Boy, the time has just flown by! It's hard to believe that our time together has come to a close and in a few days you will be gone. I am imploring you not to go.  I have to admit, I have just begun to really enjoy you. Just this week I have started to truly feel the magic of your days.I stopped checking the clock to see if I was late. I baked cookies!  I began poking through the books I have been meaning to read, finished one last last night. I noticed, really noticed, the beautiful blue and pink sunsets that have marked the last few evening's end. I even started to walk regularly, been meaning to do that for many months--not sure what you did that got me there!  July, you are a quite wonderful month.
     I have penciled in this final week as our time together to bond, relax, and really feel the power of your presence. I am in no way ready for you to leave and be followed by August. August is just not my favorite. With August comes those back breaking days of setting up my classroom combined with shopping trips for the school supplies.

     So much effort to create just the perfect environment. So much money spent on supplies that will no doubt be gone by January. In August, I begin to have the dreaded "teacher nightmares." That is never restful sleep; I wake up panicked by the situation I was clearly not prepared for in the dream. Can't find my classroom, late for the school day, unprepared to teach, missing my shoes....after twenty years of teaching, you would think they would stop. None of this makes me feel happy or relaxed.
     In addition, August means cramming in any last minute appointments that should have been taken care of in July. August means coming to terms with all the great plans and ideas I had for the summer that didn't and, now certainly, won't happen. That just makes me feel bad. August is filled with judgement for time and opportunities wasted. Bossy and judgmental, who needs that? Not me.
Finally, August is often called by teachers, "one big long Sunday night." A huge reminder that school is starting and our restful time is gone.
      So, July, you are soooo my favorite. Please stay? I really need you.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Please stop "helping" us. Please.

I am so involved lately in advocating for what is right and just for the field of education. Everywhere you look are self proclaimed experts so eager to join the conversation about how to fix our profession. How wonderful that so many feel so empowered to offer their expertise to our leaders. How is it even possible to imagine so much good will? Or is it. Are all the "helpers" really helping? Does the teaching profession need all to succeed? I wonder.

I saw a post recently on FB showing a new concept: a public data wall where students names are posted near the benchmark they have achieved. So the entire class would be aware that "Norissa" was at the lowest indicator for that particular marker. This was obviously a suggestion from a "helper" as a way to encourage those slackers to catch up with the rest of the class.

Imagine that. I wonder if the same "helper" would like a wall for teachers? We could post names of teachers whose test scores were lowest and that would surely help them see how they had to catch up to the others. Yes. This is how our profession is currently viewed. As if we are in so desperate need of help that any, yes, any new idea would be better than what we are currently doing.

How.Dare.You.

Right now. Step away from my profession. Stop offering your feeble suggestions since in doing so you are making it abundantly clear that I have no idea how to help myself. Then as you disengage yourself from my career, might you consider that whomever you have been listening to about the terrible downward spiral of education might actually be lying? Yes. They are lying to you.

My school is not failing. Schools do not fail. Systems fail to provide what children need. That is what is happening. Pockets of need are showing up all over the country demanding attention. Many children go to school everyday to escape from pretty bad situations at home. Many children go to school each day to have a nourishing breakfast and lunch. Many children each day must travel through terribly dangerous neighborhoods simply to get to school. Teachers see this day in and day out and this, this is what the helpers should be looking at.

Could I ever so gently suggest that the "helpers" look at those pockets of need? Can you agree to take those well intended suggestions and put them toward solving the real problem of poverty? Can you find a way to give needy children new clothing? Can you find a way to put a replacement refrigerator in the home where the family is using coolers to keep food fresh? Can you find a way to help a child have a happy birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving? Can you help a teenager find a part time job? Can you get some childcare so students are staying home from school to babysit their siblings? Can you help to fill the shelves at the food cupboard? Can you work on a Habitat House? Can you volunteer to read in an elementary school? Are you really interested in HELPING?

If, instead, you are content to offer up ridiculous unproven notions that you are certain will fix those schools then really, just, stop.

We Have Got This. Thanks for your concern. We Have Got This.

Teachers have all the answers within us. We constantly monitor and adjust within our classrooms. This is how we work. Our work is never, and I mean, really, NEVER done. And we pack up at the end of every long day anyways knowing it will be right there for us the next day. Maybe the "helpers" saw this and interpreted it meant we really wanted them to help us. No. We knew from day one that we had chosen a challenging field to work in. We knew from day one it would not be easy and it isn't.

So, once again, let me make this brutally clear. WE HAVE GOT THIS. Nothing to see here, folks. Please, Please, Please go find those glaring pockets of need in your communities and help them. They truly do need your wisdom and good intentions. And by that, I mean your money. Find an organization whose mission is to really help the children and donate your time and money to them. And, you know what will ultimately happen? You really will help the children.

The field of education is not stronger as a result of all the reformer nonsense and lies. Yes, lies. It comes right back to that. What you have been told is simply not true. Look into it and you will see I am right.
 

Monday, February 16, 2015



"Patience ....."

This is always a hard time of year for me. Living in Rochester does not make it any easier. It's gloomy, it's cold, and there is no respite in sight. My dad, a wise farmer, once encouraged me to remember that "once you get through February, spring is right around the corner!"

Always loved his optimism with nearly all situations. I loved how he could smile and shake things off with a gentle shrug of his worn, tired shoulders. I can still see him, in response to one of my complaints about winter, breathe in with a small tug of his lips to one side of his face. He would reach up and adjust his cap (usually a Yankee cap) slightly off center and look me straight in the eye. The message he would always deliver was patience, that "good things are coming our way" and he would finish it up with "just you wait and see."

I think of him often now as my profession is being threatened on all sides. I wonder if his answer would remain the same. George never shied from pointing out a conspiracy theory, though usually that came up when discussing his beloved Buffalo Bills. I do think he would be sad that each individual teacher is being told that an entire year's worth of work is only worthy if the score on a 3 day long painful test is high enough. He likely would not even be able to understand the convoluted method of determining the score for the student much less the score for a teacher. (Administrators can't even fully explain it.)

I know, for sure, he was proud of me becoming a teacher. I know, for sure, he believed  every day I went into my classroom I was going to try to make a difference in each of my student's lives. I know, for sure, he knew I wasn't afraid of being evaluated; I had shown him many of my early evaluations just to help him understand my professional life.

George would surely scowl at the suggestion that I was only interested in protecting my pension and the fact that Governor Cuomo would say that about teachers would not sit right with him. Nor would he find it the least bit amusing that the hard work in our evaluation process was to be called "Baloney" by our Governor Cuomo.

I am reminded of a time when I saw him get politically active. Many years ago, Rochester was hit by an historic Ice Storm. It was severe and power was off for many customers for weeks. My parents, George and Nancy, were one of those households whose power remained off for more than 14 days. They were in their 70's at the time. Their frustration became clear when they placed a large sign in their yard and started marking off the # of days without power as houses around them all had their power turned back on already. They were spending time in their garage where the wood burning stove kept them toasty warm. They kept a generator going to prevent their basement from flooding and alternated plugging it in there and then the refrigerator and so on.

 But their biggest concern through this entire frustrating event in their lives was for the neighbors across the street, in their 80's, who also had been overlooked by the power company. George and Nancy were furious that no one was looking out for the elderly couple across the street!

When interviewed by a local news station that had seen their sign, he likened it to his experiences in WWII where the fight was much more serious. He simply couldn't believe the treatment he and his neighbors were receiving by the local power authority who was not able to even answer all the phone calls they were getting and seemed indifferent to their plight.

George had simply decided enough was enough. His patience was gone and it was time to "bring in the big guns, by golly!" It was not long after the news report that George and Nancy and the "elderly" neighbors had their power restored. It really was the sign that did the trick. It was an old political sign of his nephew, Dale Rath, who had run for office some years before. The irony was not lost on the rest of us who had tried, in vain, to call for them, had tried, in vain, to get them to come stay with us, who had tried, in vain, to problem solve this situation. It was the gentle, wise farmer who took the "bull by the horns" and solved the dilemma.

I am pretty sure that George would agree that it is time for teachers to start bringing out the "big guns." I wish I knew what that meant for our profession. I know, for sure, all teachers need to get involved in educating everyone we can about the hurtful, destructive policies being applied to education. I know, for sure, teachers cannot do this alone. I know, for sure, if our profession is being attacked, so too are administrators and superintendents and it is time for all leaders to respectfully share how devastating the testing has been for the children and the teachers. I know it is time to notify all the lawmakers to make sure they really understand the ramifications of the various policies they will be voting on.

So, I don't have a big sign to stick in my lawn but when I say, "It's On," I mean it. George would want me to speak up for the kids just like he spoke up for his elderly neighbors. I will contact legislators, news sources, anyone who will listen. They cannot ignore us forever just like the power company finally had to help out George and Nancy. Here is where the advice my dad gave will make the most sense. I will be patient, I will persevere, I will not stop until the situation changes. I will expect our leaders to find their senses and finally, finally do what is right for the children. By golly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day 2014

Veteran's Day 2014
We have just completed the first ten weeks of school. I am home today celebrating the men and women who fight for us to enjoy great freedoms. Veterans Day. The meaning of this day is not lost on me. My dad was a WWII veteran. My brother fought in Vietnam and was my first living, breathing example of a hero.  My kids have friends who now are in service to their country either in active duty or as reservists. I continue to be amazed at those who choose to sacrifice their personal freedoms to protect those of others.

My kids and I have just spent the day researching and, ultimately, purchasing new cell phones. Funny--there seems to be some irony there. You see, we live in a great country where much time and effort went into protecting our freedoms from any kind of tyranny.  Inherent in the notion of America is the fierce individual who stands on its own and answers to none. Maybe you already see where I am going with this.

The cell phone hysteria. IPhone this and Droid that.. Everyone needs, no,... has to have one!!! No one is safe without one, right? The incredulous looks when you try to explain that there once was a time before cell phones are quite amusing.

It really is interesting when you stop to think about it.  The fiercely independent, devil may care American cannot live without a cell phone.  A device used to call for help in case of an emergency. You know, in case we are abducted. It happens all the time, right?

I was especially struck by the irony when the new IPhone I purchased offered me the opportunity to sign into the phone with my fingerprint. Hmm. Let me get this straight, I am buying a device that will track my every move, that authorities can use to see who I have been talking with and what I have been saying through my texts, they can see what I have searched on the internet and what videos I have viewed on Youtube. I am paying a monthly fee for this service and, oh by the way, would you be so kind as to SIGN IN WITH YOUR FINGERPRINT thereby providing us with all your personal information we need to completely watch you 24-7?

 And we all feel we #CANNOTLIVEWITHOUTTHESEDEVICES!!!  This has been masterfully orchestrated, implemented, manipulated. It is so prevalent in our society and no one even recognizes what has happened.

The irony is not lost on me on Veteran's Day. Thank you to all the Veterans in my life and everyone else's. We are free to give away those freedoms because of you. We are free to surrender all our personal information to cell phone companies who gleefully accept our hard earned money in exchange for our own hand held personal tracking device.

You know what else is ironic? That so much of our society thinks teachers are the problem to nearly every ill in society. Now that is really something we should think about. All this talk about personal tracking devices aka cell phones, that is just nonsense. Teachers! Those are the ones who need to be scrutinized. Teachers! Part of the "monopoly " of public schools that our esteemed Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke of. Teachers! Who need to sign documents of non-disclosure before scoring the NYS Assessments that will ultimately impact their careers. Teachers! Hey, stop thinking about those phones!!! Focus!!

It's the TEACHERS THAT NEED WATCHING!

Do you get it now?