Monday, May 12, 2014

Peace At Last

Here is my first Gargleblaster post.  Enjoy.  :)

Peace At Last

Cap-sized in a tempest!
I cling to an air pocket;
chin high.

Waves crash!
The Ship groans!
Water rises,
sloshing across my face!

Soon, only lips above water.

I reach for the sword's tip
with both hands.

My lungs fill.



Monday, May 5, 2014

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge: Rear-View Mirror Edition!

This year's edition of the Challenge was my first as a participant.  From my point of view, I found the experience to be terrific!  

A few years ago, I read Steven King's book on Writing. The one big thing I took from his book was the part where he said that being a writer is like having any other job; you have to go to work every day and you have to put in long hours every day.  He went on to describe 6-8 hours work days spent writing, revising, editing, reseraching and so on.  

As I read his book and, as I have read about other authors who live and breathe writing, I found myself wondering if I, too, would ever live "the Writing Life"?   Could I write everyday, for many days, and not give up?   Did I actually have enough thoughts in my head to fuel my writing for a great many days consecutively?  I didn't know.   I had never really pushed myself before.  This Challenge came at just the right moment for me to find out.

I was directed toward this Challenge by a writer from India named Shailaja V., who has a blog called The Diary of a Doting Mom.  Prior to this Challenge, Shailaja and I both were members of a writing community called The Trifecta Writing Challenge.  The community of writers who wrote for the weekly writing challenges were wonderfully-talented and supportive writers.  For two years, I honed my skills under their watchful and protective eyes.  We all did.  We all felt braver because of the positive nature of the whole community and the nurturing nature of the relationships each writer had with one another.  Unfortunately, the editors at Trifecta decided to close shop this past March and all of us who wrote there were saddened by the loss.  However, there was enough notice given to us to allow for the arrangement of connections with each other beyond the world of Trifecta and, out of those connections came Shailaja's connection with me.   This relationship bore fruit almost immediately as she directed a Tweet to my attention.  The tweet was about something called The A-to-Z Blogging Challenge.  She assured me that it would be fun and that I should give it a go.    She was right.  It was fun.  Lots of fun!!!

Over the course of the month of April, I have accumulated approx. 33,000 words about teaching and children and reading and learning and growing up.   I am very pleased with the product I have produced and feel that I have plenty of reserves still left in the tank, as it were.  But, as is often the case with projects such as this, what started out being about myself turned to be almost anything but.

I have had the great good fortune of meeting many wonderful writers and human beings over this past month.  I have been impressed with their talent, their passion and their positivity.  I could write at length about dozens of them but, a few that spring to mind as I type are some of the brilliant writers pouring forth from India:      Shailaja V.  Jayanta Tewari, Beloo Mehra, Vishal Bheeroo   .  What wonderful spokes people they are for their country and their culture.  What wonderful people they are in our world.  What wonderful writers they are in the community of poets and wordsmiths.  I would be remiss if I didn't give a tip of the old hat to my neighbour in numbers on the original sign-up list, Conlee Ricketts.  What a lovely and positive person she turned out to be.  Her 26-part treatise on living a positive life stands as a road map for a peaceful more contented soul for so many people out there in our world who struggle to find the right path for themselves.   I was equally impressed with Leanee Ross and Michelle Stanley, who both based their 26 posts around individual stories; Leanne with Pride and Predujice and Michelle with Alice in Wonderful.  What great feats of scholarly and imaginative writing on both of their parts. Finally, my Trifecta pal, Kathy Combs walked with me throughout all 26 days and I, with her.  Thank you for your creativity, Kathy and for your friendship.

The legacy of this year's A-to-Z Challenge is yet to be formally written.  I plan of posting another ten-twelve chapters on Education which should, I hope, be enough material, in combination with what I have already written, to shape into a book worthy of publication.  As well, I hope to enjoy and maintain the connections and relationships established as a result of this Challenge.  One never knows where Life will take you but, one must be open to the possibilities when they arise (as Shailaja's tweet, six or seven weeks ago, can attest).  Finally, as a result of my work throughout this challenge, I was nominated for two awards; the Sunshine Award and the Leibster award.  I have accepted both and fulfilled the requirements contained within. As part of the requirements of each award, I was asked to spotlight other bloggers and showcase their talents for the world to see.  I have carried that tradition on and hope that the bloggers I nominated will do the same thus, maintaining an on-going cycle of positivity and reciprocity within the blogging community.

So, you see, I could easily be still sitting at home wondering if I had what it took to live the Writing Life. But, instead, thanks to this Challenge, I now have my first book well under way and I know the thrill of writing every day.  I feel great about the experience and about the people I have met as a result of this experience!   I will be back again next year, as long as the Challenge is going to be back.

My only regret with the whole process was simply the overwhelming number of blogs to visit.  There was just not enough time in the day to do that list justice.  However, I do intend to road-trip my way through the list between now and next year.  It is a nice repository of blogs, all conveniently located in one spot so, there is no reason not to stroll through the list as time goes by.  Perhaps there are more great relationships and connections laying, undiscovered, in the list.  I hope so.

Overall, I shall end with a simple yet, profoundly tendered, Thank you!  To each of the organizers who stopped by to see how I was doing and, to all of the others who put in the time to organize this whole event....THANK YOU!!!    You all did an amazing job.  I am different....better.....because of this experience.   No putting the genie back in the bottle now!  :)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Loving the Leibster!

I think that many of us as writers do what we do because we have some inner desire to be heard, to have our thoughts expressed and received by others and, quite simply, to matter in ways that our personalities or life circumstances won't allow.  

When I was a single man, I used to hear my female friends constantly bemoan the fact that there were no gentlemen to be found.  Where are the nice guys?!   I would listen to all of this talk, with my back against the wall, eyes cast downward, silently screaming, "I'm right here!  I'm right here!"   But, never looking up and making eye contact, never crossing the room to grab some lady boldly by the heart, never able to simply say to anyone, "Hi!  My name is Tom and I think I might be worth getting to know."

Well, I think that I might be worth getting to know.  Writing allows me to bravely put myself out there.  My words are my voice.  My words are, for you, the gateway into my world.  I am happy to welcome you inside.  I am glad that so many of you are so comfortable there.

I write to be heard and to be noticed and to be valued.    When I write and then, receive feedback in the form of positive comments, that fills me up.  Your words of praise, returned to me, make me feel as though what I do each time I put my thoughts down on paper, is worthwhile.  Your encouragement pushes me forward and helps build me up.  I am forever grateful for your support.

Your words of encouragement are, truly, enough. But, sometimes, someone goes a step further.  A few days ago, I received an e-mail from a wonderfully-talented writer and very generous person named Michelle Stanley.  Michelle's blog can be reached here.  I highly recommend that you take a few moments and pop on over to her site.  She is a very creative writer and a great supporter of the rest of us who write.  Evidence of her generous and supportive nature can be found in the fact that she has nominated me to receive the Leibster Award.    This award is given to "up and coming" bloggers and acts as an affirmation that the nominated blogger is writing stories that possess quality and are worthy of any reader's valuable time.  I am honoured to have been paid such a compliment by someone of Michelle's calibre and, as such, I humbly and proudly accept this award.

In order to fulfill my obligations with regard to this award, there are several things I am required to do:

- I must post the award badge on my website.
- I must list some interesting facts about myself.
- I must answer a series of questions posed by the nominator.
- Finally, I must continue the tradition of recognizing up and coming bloggers by nominating several myself.

I am going to tackle these requirements from the bottom up.

I am going to nominate only three bloggers for the Leibster Award.  This is due, primarily, to the fact that I am so new to blogging myself that I simply do not know many bloggers who are not already well-established.  But, the three I will nominate are all top-notch writers and are well-deserving of your attention.  I shall nominate them in the order of which I met them.

1- Bethany Ellen Curtis     She writes at
2- Turok Tucker                 He writes at
3- Jayanta Tewari               He writes at

Let me tell you a bit about my nominees:

Bethany was a student in my classroom when she was waaaaay back in Grade 2!!!  She was always a very positive, quirky, talented young lady and I have always had a special place for her in my teachery-heart.  She and I shared a favourite book back in the day called, Stellaluna  by Janell Cannon.  We would write, back and forth, in Bethany's journal about this book; to the point when, eventually, I began calling her "Stellaluna" and then, "Luna" for short.  I still refer to her by that name today.  :)  We have kept in touch via social media such as Facebook and, through FB, I have come to be aware of her blog.  Bethany is a strong writer and creates compelling stories and personal posts.  I believe very strongly in her talent and feel that her potential as a writer is unlimited.  She is definitely an up-and-comer who, in my opinion, is already here!

Turok Tucker is a fellow alumni of that great writing community known as The Trifecta Writing Challenge.  It was while writing in this community that I found my wings as a writer and began to hone my skills.  The members of this community were all extremely supportive and crazy talented!  When the editors of Trifecta decided to close up shop this past March, a lot of us scrambled to establish personal connections that went beyond Trifecta.  As well, we all began posting heartfelt tributes to Trifecta in our closing Trifecta posts.  In one of my final Trifecta posts, Turok responded with a comment that ranks as one of my all-time favourites.  To paraphrase it, he said that not everyone "gets" what it means to be a writer. He went on to say how we all share something special that bonds us together and that we are Bards.  I don't have Turok's permission to post the whole comment but, it was written in a very heartfelt way and meant the world to me when I received it.
Turok is a fine, passionate, edgy young writer who, like Bethany, isn't afraid to let his writing take him beyond the safe and cosy confines of civility. He is, beyond question, Bard-like and fully deserving of this award!

Jayanta Tewari came to my attention during the recent A-to-Z Blogging Challenge that I was involved with.  Jayanta hails from India and is a member of a wave of excellent, intelligent, passionate writers emerging from that country.  Jayanta writes about bettering the quality of Life; not just in India but, for all mankind. However, he does so in ways that are realistic, approachable and, even humorous, at times.  Jayanta is a fine man and someone with whom I hope to have a life long correspondence.  I thank Jayanta for nominating me for the Sunshine Award and, in this world of quid pro quo, I nominate you right back, my friend!  Jayanta is someone everyone should read. You will be better for having done so!

Interesting Facts About Moi

1- I have a banker box full of stories that I wrote for the kids at my school. Hopefully, they will find new life as published children's books in the years to come.

2- I was the weekly winner once during my tenure with Trifecta Writing Challenge.  That story was entitled Watching Dad's Cigarette Burn. It can be read here.

3- My Mom is 82 years old and is very proud of me.  She has never read a single one of my 109 blog posts written on Blogger. Yet, she is still very proud of her son.

4- My favourite beer is Corona. My favourite milkshake is chocolate.  My favourite soda pop is Pepsi. My favourite milk is skim.  My favourite wine is dry and white.

5- I answer survey questions for money.

6- Not many would guess by my quiet demeanour that I like my music loud!!!

7- I was raised by the Atlantic Ocean but, generally speaking, I don't really like to eat seafood.

8- Having said that, I was married by the Ocean and, for our dinner, we offered guests a choice of fresh turkey or fresh haddock, caught that day by local fishermen.  I opted for the turkey.  Many opted for the haddock.

9- A gospel choir, known as the Inspirational Singers, performed for us after dinner.

10- When my wife and I got to our honeymoon chalet, the restaurant was closed, there was no food in our in-room fridge and we were both very hungry.  Nobody told us that, for more nights than we could care to count, something other than sex would be our top priority come bedtime.


Michelle's Questions for me:

1.   Name three secrets you never told anyone.

    A gentleman never tells.

2.   If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would do?
     Pay off all debts and then, with the remaining money, start paying off the debts of others.  Whenever I see an ad for a church raising funds for repairs to their building or, a family, who lost all they owned in a fire, is being thrown a fundraiser....when I see things like this, I'd like to be the person who quietly strolls in and leaves a $50,000 cheque in the donation box and then, walks away.
3.   Looking over the last ten years, what is one goal you have achieved, and goal
      you have not achieved?     
     I became a father in the last ten years. That will always be my greatest legacy. As for something I have yet to achieve, well, I have never really had a full, lush lawn at home.  That may seem like a minor thing to put down but, your lawn is what gives passersby their first impression as they drive or walk by my house.  A well-kept lawn is usually a manly responsibility and so, a poor lawn eats at my manhood and bothers me more than most people realize. 

4.   What are your plans for retirement? And will you travel? If so, where and why.

       When I began writing for the Trifecta Writing Challenges a few years ago, it was with the intent of building up my writing skills so that I could reasonably and legitimately expect writing to play a prominent part in my retirement years.  I can actually retire in four years so, the time to build up my momentum and an inventory of good stories and poetry, is now.   
      As for travel, my eight year old daughter has dreams of travelling to the places we have read about in our books so, if there is travelling to be done, I imagine it might be with her.

5.   Favourite drink on a Friday night.

     Hot tea.

6.   What do you think the secret is to a good marriage or relationship with
       a significant other is?
     My wife is my partner in Life.  We share a similar vision for many things such as fiscal responsibility, how to raise our daughters, how to conduct ourselves as human beings, etc.   I could go on and on about this but, the bottom line is simply this, the secret to a good marriage is being equal partners.

7.   Name three words that describe your personality.

      Humility, Integrity and Positivity.

8.    Home cooked meal or take-out?

   I like to eat so, it doesn't matter.  What matters is the people with whom I am sharing the food.  The location doesn't matter as long as the company is good.
9.    When was the last time you blogged and what was it about?

       My last blog was posted yesterday and it concerned another award I received as a result of my participation in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, called the Sunshine Award.  The post for the Sunshine Award was not as long as the post for the Leibster Award, let me tell ya!

10.  What do you think is the key to happiness?

       It is almost a cliche but, helping others is the key to happiness.  Making a difference without the need for reward or recognition always, always, always brings about its' own rewards later on in Life.  My life is very good and I attribute a large part of the reason for that being that I live a life in service for others.  

11.   Who is your favourite poet and why?

          I will cop-out somewhat by saying that there are too many poets I admire to just pick one.  I was continuously amazed at the high calibre of the people who wrote for Trifecta during my time there.  In addition to admiring their good work, I came to learn that, on any given week, all sorts of different people were capable of rising to the challenge and producing stellar work.  Therefore, I will not limit myself to one poet; I like talent, period!   However, if I could highlight one thing about poetry it would be that the last movie, other than Frozen, that I have watched was called Louder Than A Bomb and it was all about a Slam Poetry festival in Chicago.  Please check out the trailer and then, the movie, if Slam poetry is your thing.   

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Sunny Days: Part Two

I quite enjoyed the experience of being involved in the recently-concluded A-to-Z Blogging Challenge.  Writing about children and about education from my perspective as a father and as a teacher, was very rewarding and fulfilling.   When I set about writing 26 posts, I did so because I love to write and I wanted to push myself to see if I could maintain my energy level and maintain the quality of my work throughout.  I am pleased with the end results and, judging by the comments of my fellow writers (those new to me and those I knew prior to the Challenge), I met my twin goals in the eyes of others as well.

That was reward enough for me.  I would have been very content to have stopped there, basking in the warm glow of my accomplishment.  However, my day was brightened by, not one but, two delightful affirmations, in the form of two separate nominations for the Sunshine Award; first from my friend, Shailaja (who writes brilliantly at her blog entitled, Diary of a Doting Mom) and then, from my new friend, Jayanta (who writes passionately about improving life on his blog entitled  My Thoughts).   

In order to be able to accept this award, There are rules to follow and criteria I have to meet so, without further ado, here are da rules!

- I must proudly display the Sunshine Award Badge.

- I must link back to the folks who nominated me.

- I must nominate and link back to up to ten bloggers of merit.

- I must write ten interesting things about myself.

Well, the first two rules were easy to follow, as is the fourth but, I am finding Rule #3 to have me at a disadvantage.  This award is given to bloggers who are rather new to blogging.  It is intended to be for blogs that have fewer than 100 followers.  So, in essence, it is akin to being a Rookie of the Year Award.  I am fine with the public pat-on-the-back at this early stage of my career. In fact, I am very honoured.

However, being so new, I do not have that many contemporaries who have fewer than 100 followers!  I have searched my own list of favourites and have come up with the following small but, powerful list:

Isabel Yeo
Conlee Ricketts
Laura Alonso
*I would have nominated Jayanta, too, but he has already been nominated by two others.

Hopefully, my list of three talented writers will be enough to merit the keeping of this award.  :)

As for ten interesting things about me.  I will leave it to you to decide how interesting the following ten things are but, here goes:

1- If bacon was liquid, I would drink copious amounts.

2- My favourite hockey team is the Toronto Maple Leafs.  They won the league championship, the Stanley Cup, when I was three years old.  They haven't won since.  I am 50 years old now.  :(

3- I have never broken a bone in my body, ever!

4- My father passed away when I was 11 years old.  I was the oldest child in my family and, instantly, became the "man of the house."

5- Orange Pekoe tea is my drink of long as it is good and hot when poured.

6- My favourite musical group is Radiohead.  My wife of twelve years would be hard-pressed to guess that.

7- I find it difficult to maintain a healthy lawn.  My thumb is, definitely, not green.

8- Cape Breton Island will always be Home to me, even though I haven't lived there for 30+ years.  It was where I was born and raised and, as the old saying goes, is in my blood.

9- I am more a night owl than a morning person. But, a good sunrise does my heart good.

10- I have never had a hole-in-one while golfing but, my father-in-law has had two; the second coming just last week!

So there you have it!   Thank you again, Shailaja and Jayanta, from the bottom of my heart, for honouring me as you have with this award.  I appreciate it very much.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for AlmanZo Wilder

At the beginning of this challenge, I wrote Post "A" about how one of the surest ways to help a child develop into a good reader later on in life was to pair reading to your them with Love.  I went on to explain how I have read to my oldest daughter, Leah, almost every day of her life and that it was my favourite part of my day, each and every day of our lives.

Today, I shall write the companion piece to that post. I will expand upon the act of reading with my daughter, offering you a peek inside the world of the books that we have shared. I will conclude with a story that means a lot to me; one that I have shared before in situations where good-byes are in order.

When Leah was three years old and younger, our bedtime story ritual consisted of the two of us cuddling together on the floor or on a cozy chair and reading three picture books together.  We had a vast library at our finger tips from our own collection and from those books we borrowed, twenty at a time, from our public library.  Some books were read once and put aside, others were read, over and over again and still have a place on our bookshelves to this very day.  With each nightly session, Leah grew more familiar with the conventions of books; how the text flows from left-to-right, how the illustrations compliment the text and add depth to the author's meaning, how sentences were structured and what wonderful language there is in the world.

Because Leah had such a deep, rich experience with literature at such a young age, the day I stumbled upon a book entitled, 28 Good Night Stories, I knew I had found the perfect book to help us transition to chapter books.  This book is based on the relationship between a sleepy bear and a guardian angel trying to earn his wings.  The two tell each other stories over the course of 28 nights.  The beauty of this collection of stories was that Leah and I could still read our three stories a night but, we did so in a new format.  This book enabled Leah to understand that a story can be longer and can continue, day after day and, still be there the next night, even if we hadn't reached the back cover of the book yet.

The impetus to transition into chapter books was fuelled by a Christmas gift that Leah received from one of my wife's dear friends. It was a gorgeous, coffee table-sized hard cover edition of Peter Pan.  This book, despite its' politically-incorrect segments (which I omitted as I read) was the first book that told an entire story over the space of hundreds of pages.  It was a real step up in terms of the complexity of the character development and the plot lines for Leah.  She seemed to enjoy the new format of our bedtime stories and since then, we have never looked back.  Here are a few of the entire series of books we have read through since (and that Leah is now reading again, on her own!)

The series we started to read through in earnest first, was a fluff series called Rainbow Magic.  The Rainbow Magic series concerns two friends, Kirsty and Rachel, who help various fairies from the Fairy World, whenever they have trouble because of the nasty Jack Frost and his band of Goblins.  It is all very cartoon-like and the stories are formalistic but, they were the perfect entry point into the world of chapter books for my little girl.  The fairies all had names and, eventually, there was a Leah fairy and a Sophie fairy, too.  Those are the only two books of the series we own.  The rest we borrowed from the Library.  Thank goodness because it only took two-three days to finish an entire book from this series.

When we exhausted that series, Leah turned her eyes toward a much better series by Mary Pope Osborne, called The Magic Tree House.  This series revolves around two siblings, Jack and Annie, who travel through time via books found in a magic tree house that appears in the woods by their home.  Through this series of introductory chapter books, Leah was introduced to all sorts of historical events and famous historical people.  The books were short enough that we could read them and still have energy left over to follow our curiosity and check out the real stories behind the fiction described in these books.  The books were written by Osborne which the goal of introducing history to children in a way that would entertain, as well as, educate.  She has succeeded very well.  They are excellent books for beginning chapter book readers, as well as, being an excellent introduction to history from all around the world.

There were over 100 books in the Rainbow Magic Series and over 50 so far in the Magic Tree House series.   After plowing through both, we opted....ok, I opted, for series that were somewhat shorter and more contained.   Leah had started demonstrating an interest in history and, in particular, the story of the Titanic. So, we turned to Canadian author, Gordon Korman, and next read his Titanic trilogy.   Much like James Cameron's Hollywood movie, these three books take a historical fiction angle on the real story.  The books are good to incorporate real life characters in with the fictional ones and, as well, introduce readers to some not so famous details and characters such as Thomas Andrews in Ireland, who designed the drawings upon which Titanic was built and his "Guarantee Group" of workers who went on the maiden voyage and died there, too.   Historical fiction has become a favourite genre for Leah and the Titanic Trilogy by Gordon Korman was where it began.

From there, we stumbled upon two excellent trilogies. The first was called The Mysterious Benedict Society  by Trenton Lee Stewart.    These stories are detective/adventure stories invoking a group of four children, Constance, Kate, Rennie and Sticky.  All four of these children had been recruited into a special school run by a mysterious man called Dr. Benedict.  Each child has a unique gift but, not a supernatural gift. Their gifts were athleticism, intuition, logic and a photographic memory. The children are asked to decipher clues and solve mysteries throughout and are constantly reminded that they all have skills necessary to the success of the group when they work as a team, rather than as individuals. Leah enjoyed seeing intelligence celebrated and having the children solve problems using their brains rather than relying on magic or gizmos.  The stories are fairly lengthy and there was plenty of interesting background detail on all of the main characters.  We enjoyed solving the mysteries introduced in these books, along with the characters.

Hot on the heels of that series, we came across an awarding book called Chasing Vemeer  by Blue Balliett.   We didn't know that this was a series until we were finishing up the first book and looking for others by the same author.  Chasing Vermeer concerns three children who live in Chicago and end up involved in a mystery that revolves around a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer entitled, The Lady Writing.
  Again, the children use intelligence and courage to piece together the clues to who is involved and what is behind the theft of this painting.  Again, the historical fiction genre proved to be right up Leah's alley and she enjoyed this book thoroughly, as did I.  The two follow-up books were equally good.   The Wright Three  was about a mystery at a famous house built in Chicago by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, called Robie House.  The third book was called The Calder Game and had, as its' focus, famous sculptor Alexander Calder.  All three books involved mathematics, art, poetry and seeing the patterns that exist in numbers, geometry and Nature.  These books were accessible reads for any child but, would really be appreciated by intelligent students because intelligent students were being featured and celebrated throughout the series.

In between the Magic Tree House and Titanic, Leah and I read the entire Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I have saved this series for the conclusion of my post because it was the most special out of all the times we have spent together reading books.

As noted at the beginning of this post, Leah and I reading together has become woven in the fabric of our lives.  It is part of our relationship together that we both treasure.  We read together because we
love one another.  We love one another so, we read together.  It all fits together so perfectly for us both. It is hard to imagine that the day will come when Leah will say to me, "No reading tonight, Dad. I'm going to go out with my friends" or something similar.  I will feel my heart crack on the spot but, because I love her, I will tell her to go and be with her friends. I will tell her to have fun with someone other than me.  I will watch her grow up and leave.  I know that this is a part of Life but, just the same, I am not yet ready for our reading time to end. So, with that in mind, I was definitely caught off guard when we came to the scene in the Little House books where Laura has fallen in love with Almanzo Wilder and has agreed to get married.   As we read that scene and, in particular, the scene where Pa Ingalls had to help Laura climb into Almanzo's wagon and drive away to live at his house as his wife, I definitely became emotional myself.  I choked back my tears and soldiered on but, inside, I was dying and, all the while, Leah was wondering what was wrong with my voice all of a sudden.   I attempted to capture that moment in a poem that I like to share when it comes time for good-byes.

As this is the final post in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, let Damn You, Laura Ingalls serve as my farewell.

Damn you, Laura Ingalls!!!

A pioneer life,
lovingly revealed,
each night
in the soft glow of lamplight.

My young daughter's body
melts into mine,
as Pa covers Laura with blankets of fur
to keep winter's chill at bay.

Builder of homes, provider of food, protector of the family,
Laura's Pa can do anything.
That I can, too, is confirmed
by her hand reaching for mine as we read.

We are comfortable in the warmth of her pink bedroom,
flannel jammies and slippers, too.
Yet we feel the bitter winds of The Long Winter
And thirst for sunshine,
in the starlight,
in our home.

Pa warms up the fiddle
"In the starlight, in the starlight..."
Together they sing.
Together we hug and whisper in time to Pa's tune.
We smile. Our hearts fill.
As did the Ingalls that night, so many lifetimes ago.

The bonds of family.
The foundation of Home.
Timelessly on display
in the pages of our most treasured of books.
The lessons, obvious.

Her small heart beats with vigor.
She is ever becoming Laura;
stronger, more able, more a young woman
With dreams,
..........with dreams.
With dreams that cause my heart to ache.

Pa helps Laura into Almanzo's wagon.
I stop reading aloud.
She turns,
her eyes to mine.
I have to juggle my many emotions,
managing to meekly clear my throat.
Together we watch that wagon drive away
Damn you, Laura Ingalls!

The story of family and of trails blazed across space and time
is now a road map for my daughter;
a way forward,
a yardstick for her to measure success and love.

The final pages read.
I tuck her gently under a downy comforter.
A tender kiss.
A lamp turned off.
"Daddy loves you," I say in the darkness.
"I love you, too, Daddy."

I leave the room
and her,
to her dreams,
whatever she makes them to be.

As we say good-bye, Leah has shown an interest in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis. We have started off with The Magician's Nephew. These books are a definite intellectual step up, just like Peter Pan was an intellectual step up from the picture books we used to read together. After the first four chapters, I stopped and told Leah that if she felt the storyline was too scary or too hard to understand, that we could stop. She replied, without hesitation, "It is the exact opposite, Daddy. I love it and can't wait to find out what happens next. "

Like a flower, Leah's mind blossoms and turns toward the light as we continue to read together; time standing still.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for our Youth.

I took this photo this past Friday and I love it to bits!  Here's the story behind the photo.

The children in this photo are SKs or, Senior kindergarten students.  In Ontario, our Kindergarten programme runs for two years; Junior Kindgarten is for children aged 3-4 and Senior Kindergarten is for students aged 4-5 years of age.  After graduating from Kindergarten, the students are placed in Grade 1, with some of them ending up on my class list for the upcoming school year.

As the school year reaches the third and final term, it has been my past practise to begin to incorporate the SKs into my programming, at least for a little bit of the time each week.  In that way, I get to learn a little about the students who will form my world soon and they will get a chance to see their new classroom so that there are few, if any, fears and anxieties over the summer holidays about what awaits them in the Fall.  With that in mind, at the beginning of April, I began taking the SKs with me to the computer lab every day for twenty minutes at the end of the day. My own students have Music at that time or else, they are with me in the Lab anyway. So, one way or the other, it made sense to slide the Kindergarten children in then.

For the first few weeks, the SKs simply came to the lab and listened to e-books on the computer.  The early goal was to ensure they could all log-in independently and access the programming they needed to use and then, shut the computer off properly at the end of their session.  They were very happy to be invited in with us and quickly demonstrated a mastery of the simple goals I had set. They were very happy to come and hang out with me and my students because it made them feel like they were growing up and becoming "big kids".

Well, on Thursday and Friday, the Music teacher needed the computer lab at the end of the day to help prepare the students for their participation in an event called Music Monday. So, the SKs and I had to find other accommodations.  Those other accommodations turned out to be my own classroom.  Thus, if you look back up at the photo at the top of this post, you will see a snippet of what my classroom looks like.  After talking about it so much throughout the course of the A-to-Z Challenge, I felt it was good to finally provide a visual to go along with all of my descriptive words.

As for the SKs, being inside of my classroom was what they really had wanted to do all along, as it turns out.  They were soooooo thrilled to sit at my student's desks, with their tiny legs dangling, doing the work of the big kids that they are so close to becoming.  In this photo, they are using small computer netbooks to access their e-books but, that is not so important at this moment.  At this moment, these small children are transforming inside their minds.  Their perception of who they are and how they fit into the social hierarchy of the school was changing.

When it was time for them to line up and return to their own Kindergarten class, I said to them, "Do you know who you remind me of right now?"
They smiled and looked up, "No, who", said one of the girls.
"You look like big kids, like Grade 1s!  You look like you are ready."
Each one of them straightened up and stood taller. As we walked back down the hallway, they walked with a more confident stride; dare I say, almost a slight swagger. As they re-entered their own classroom, the kids who were still there, the Junior Kindergarten students, seemed young and small. A metamorphosis had happened. They all looked beautiful. All of them ready to fly.

It is nice to be involved in those tiny yet, big moments in the lives of children.  I am especially happy to share moments like that with the youngest learners in our school because, by virtue of their youth and the relatively early stages of their intellectual development, they are not always regarded with the same respect as students in Grade 1 and up.  Many people; especially those outside of the school community, view Kindergarten as child's play, with the real work of school beginning once they enter Grade 1.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as I wrote about in Post "K", regarding the amazing work that Kindergarten teachers, parents and students do during the first moments of their school careers.

Being a teacher is filled with important, well-planned out moments. It is, also, filled out with incidental moments that turn out brilliantly beyond any expectations.  Being able to watch my "Kindergarten pals", as I call them, grow up before my eyes, was a warm, fuzzy time and was a wonderful way to end my week and, for all intent and purposes, end this A-to-Z Challenge.

As I type the final words on this post, I am actually typing my final words for the entire A-to-Z Challenge!  Waaaaaay back at the beginning of this month, when the muse formed fully and I went into that zone that all writers know about, several of these posts popped, almost fully-formed, into my mind. Post "Z" was one such post and, as a result, "Z" has been complete for some time now. This means that these words that you are reading, right here and now, are my final Challenge words that I will type.

So, I just want to take a moment and acknowledge what a wonderful experience this has been.  I am very grateful to the organizers of this Challenge for providing me with the opportunity to write....A LOT!!!!   I have always been someone who was more of a dabbler when it came to writing; writing a story here, entering a challenge or two, there but, never living, what we would call the writing life.   But, through this Challenge, I got to test myself to see whether or not I had the stamina to write almost every day and, as well, did I actually have enough words inside of me to warrant writing every day.  Turns out that I did on both counts. For giving me the structure, via this Challenge, to help me discover that I may, indeed, have what it takes to be a real writer well, I am indebted, to say the least. Thank you very much.

As well, I also want to thank those loyal readers and commenters who joined me throughout this journey.  I have met some wonderful new friends and have had the pleasure of discovering some very talented, intelligent writers, as well.  What a lovely bonus.  Thanks to all of you for your support and for the confidence you have shown in my abilities.  I appreciate it a lot.

Finally, I grew up wanting to be a writer but, instead, became a teacher. Now, I am writing about teaching; my worlds have merged and I feel wonderful about it.  I am blessed to be able to write about something as important as the lives of children.  They are such beautiful people and being with them every day is an honour and a privilege.  If the act of telling their stories is what I was meant to be doing with my life then, I am happy to go where Destiny is taking me.

Thanks, again, everyone.  "Z" is ready to go for tomorrow.  Thanks for everything. This has been fun! :)

Monday, April 28, 2014

X: is for the Residue of Honest Effort

I don't believe that anyone sets out deliberately to become a failure. Unfortunately, we all do fail at things, from time to time.  In a kinder, gentler world, we would react to failing by rising from the ashes and dusting the mistakes from our bloodied finger tips. We would use the lessons being served to gain wisdom and insight and, as a result, failure would be cheated. For, failing is often the residue of honest effort and, as such, is not to be denigrated nor least not, in a kinder, gentler world.

I have failed many times in my life and, I imagine, I will fail many times again. That I fail is not, in my opinion, a sign that I am lacking in skills or intelligence.  There is not some flaw in my character or in my genes that is fatal and prohibitive.  Simply put, sometimes I win but, often I don't.  That's just the way Life is.  We can't always be the "winner". Sometimes, it is simply someone else's turn to shine, to have their moment and that is ok.  There truly is glory enough for all.

However, we don't always live in that kinder, gentler world.  Far too often, we live in a world of harsh judgements and cold pronouncements.  The line between being a Golden God and a loser is a thin one and, as the song states, "don't get caught on the wrong side of that line."  In such a climate, it is easy to view mistakes as undesirable and failure as unacceptable.  Certainly, in these times of standardized testing, failure can have tremendous personal and professional consequences.  In our world that obsessively pursues perfection and greatness and, in an Education System, that punishes failure, we careen down paths that are ripe for long-term negative consequences for all of us. *If you have read, Fight Club or have seen the movie then, you will know what I am talking about.

There is a difference between failing and being a failure.  That distinction is important to note.  Failing is the act of trying your best to achieve a goal and coming up just a bit short.  Failure, on the other hand, is an attitude that we adopt when we feel we are not good enough and it is a judgement cast by others who, also, believe we are not good enough.   How we react to failing and, how others react to us when we fail, is very important. That reaction goes a long way toward determining how our futures will unfold.

In my classroom, students fail all of the time.  That is a good thing.  It means that there is authentic learning going on.  It means that my students trust themselves enough to take academic risks and push themselves to greater heights. It means that they trust me to view their mistakes, if honestly made, as opportunities for insight and instruction. The environment of our classroom is crucial for this to happen.  All of those moments, early in the school year, that were spent creating a warm, safe, trusting classroom learning climate, end up paying off as the year unfolds and the students feel intellectually and emotionally safe. If they make a sincere effort to succeed at any task then, I will honour that effort by viewing the end result as being what it is, a developmental step forward and not, a pronouncement on intelligence.

For example, I look at spelling mistakes as opportunities for instruction. Let me show you how it works.  A child weight wish to use the word, "water" in a sentence and ended up spelling it, "wor". There is much information for me with my student's "mistake".

From my experience, I know that students acquire their phonetic spelling sounds in a developmentally sequential fashion.  Usually they start off just recognizing the initial consonant sound that they hear when they say the word and attempt to "sound it out" for spelling purposes.  So, "water" might end up being spelled "wenlf".  With further growth and practise, the student would then start hearing the final consonant sounds when sounding out a word. So, they may spell "water" as "wor".  The next sequentially step in their growth comes from hearing the interior consonant sounds.  So, based on our example above, I would recognize from my student's error that they are hearing the initial-final consonant sound properly and that my next goal for them will be to help them focus on the "t" in the middle.  Soon, I would expect them to spell "water" and "wotr" or something similar.  From that point, the student errors will indicate to me when the time is right to start introducing the vowels and blends and diphthongs and all those lovely parts of our speech in the English Language.

If my students only copied words from a word list or a chart and were expected to always spell perfectly,  I would miss out on a whole host of diagnostic information about how the student is really developing intellectually.  Sometimes, people hold up these perfectly spelled papers by five year olds and proclaim that they are super spellers. I am always skeptical of this because I know that all children go through this developmental sequence of intellectual growth. There is no magic involved.  There is hard work, instructive assessment and lots of time required before a student is truly ready to be an excellent speller of words.

Now, the other side to this discussion is what happens when mistakes are viewed, internally and externally, as being negative.  I am sure we have all had experiences where by a teacher or coach or a parent has lost their temper, used esteem-destroying language ("How could you be so stupid!") or opted to publicly shame someone. I am very aware of my role as a judge, as well as a teacher.  I get paid to pass judgements on the work produced by my students.  I am not always comfortable placing a mark or grade down because, especially with young students, so much of what they produce is developmental in nature.  There is no "smart" or "stupid" in an elementary classroom.  Some kids are simply further ahead or behind on their intellectual journey.  But, report cards and standardized tests, force us, as educators, to publicly say that students are measuring up or that they are not at that moment in time. I find that hard to do.  It goes against my beliefs in how children develop and grow.  I have seen struggling students make good progress over the course of a term but, still not meet the arbitrary criteria established by the State or Province and, as a result, receive a failing grade for the term, even though they had made a lot of progress. When I show that report card to the student and his/her parents, it is hard for them not to become demoralized.  Judgement has been passed and they have been found wanting.  It is an affirmation of feelings that have probably been percolating inside all along; that learning is hard and that they are not good enough to be smart....that they are not smart........that they are a failure.   I am not sure what good is supposed to come from destroying a student's self-esteem and sense of worth because of passing judgement in this way?

The photo at the top of this post shows an excellent answer with a big red "X" through it.  You will never see a big red "X" on any student's work in my classroom.  When errors occur, I use a pencil to circle an incorrect sum or a missing capital letter but, never the public shame of the big red "X".  When I judge my student's work, it is done so humanely and with the goal of improvement in mind.
I want my students to always believe that they are safe in our classroom; safe to take an academic risk, safe to approach a problem from an original viewpoint, safe to express themselves creatively in ways that best suit their skills and personalities.  That only happens when failing is accepted as a natural part of trying and when it is respected for the wise teacher that it is.

If you have any thoughts, feelings or comments to make on the idea of mistakes being beneficial or, if you have had a negative experience being judged by someone, please feel free to leave your comments in the box below.  I appreciate you stopping by and reading my work. :)