Thursday, March 15, 2018

SOL 15/31 - Conference Day

I am writing this post during a break in my long day of third grade parent-teacher conferences. But during these (almost) spring conferences, we add in an extra ingredient, and have student-led conferences. For twenty-five minutes, a third grader gets to fill in their parents about their learning – Use a multiplication strategy! Explain the writing process! Demonstrate how to use a dichotomous key to identify different conifers! Read sentences in Hebrew!

Sometimes a student led conference is a little bit like doing a high wire act without a net. What if they can’t solve that math problem? What if they freeze up in front of the map of Portland? This was my biggest fear when I started to hold this type of conference. And then I realized that if that was the case, it was important for the family to see.

The reward for having students lead conferences is the joy and exuberance that radiates off of them as they show what they know. And the satisfaction from knowing that we’ve actually taught them a thing or two!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

SOL13 - Devil vs. Angel

I shouldn't have popped in to Kim's music studio today. I just wanted to say hi, shoot the breeze for a few, maybe generate some ideas for our upcoming third grade extravaganza. I wasn't ready to be plunged into a half hour of agonizing deliberation.

"Hey did I tell you that I got tickets to see Hamilton?"

"You're kidding! It didn't sell out?" I was sure that the upcoming road show had sold out out within minutes of tickets going on sale late last year. Why should Portland be different than anywhere else?

"The just released a bunch of them. Check it out". Kim fired up the Google, and soon we were looking at two weeks of shows, almost all of them with some tickets available.

"Click on one of them. Let's see how much". The tickets ranged in price from $175 to $350. Decent seats, most of them in the orchestra. A few in the first section of the balcony. I felt my body temperature start to go up. My palms actually started to itch. Two tickets would be at least $350. Then add in charges, and I was looking at around $400.00

"Go on!, said the devil on my left shoulder. "It's the theater event of the century! You consider your self cultured, and you're going to pass up this chance? You're going to keep being jealous of your one student who's actually seen it? And keeps talking about it? All year long? This is your opportunity! your moment! Seize it!"

"Hey, cool your jets pal", cautioned the angel on the other side. "You've almost paid off that credit card debt. You're doing major work on the house this summer. And after all, you did just see Book of Mormon, didn't you? What if you buy the tickets and you don't really like it? How stupid will you feel then?"

I texted my wife, but she was no help. I could tell she thought it was too extravagant, but when I asked if, money aside, she wanted to see it, she replied, "But of course!"

I let that angel and devil fight it out until my prep period ended. The fever started to lessen, and I began to wonder what was greater, my desire to see the show, or the idea that it was something I should do, whether I really wanted to or not. And that's when I knew that I probably would not buy the tickets.

But then again, tomorrow is another day, and that devil might not give up so easily.

Monday, March 12, 2018

SOL 12/31 - The Easy Way Out

Here's the inevitable Slice of Life about writing Slices of Life. It's bound to happen, and it's happening because I missed yesterday, and I don't want to miss today. But here it is, 8:00 pm Pacific time, and I've still got loads of work that has to get done, but I must post!

Why is it so difficult to find an earlier time to write? My schedule provides enough prep time. I sure as the dickens get up early enough in the morning. Yet I continue to tell myself "I'll do it later". And then I come home and make dinner, because my wife has a chiropractic appointment, and then afterwards, before tackling the other stuff that has to get done, it's time to plotz for just a little while and watch the latest John Oliver episode.

So here it is. I've done it. The post about posting. I swear, it will be the only one this month. Tomorrow I vow to make better use of my time! By Grabthar's Hammer! (I cannot resist the occasional, obscure movie quote. Anyone?). Over and out.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

SOL 10/31 Vancouver Morning

Corner of Davie and Denman in  Vancouver BC, looking out over English Bay at seven in the morning  A line of red hulled tankers stretched in a line, still snoozing before they start their day. Across Denman from the Starbucks where I’m sitting is a small park ringed by a number of palm trees.  Do they ever wonder how in the world they got here?  Maybe that’s the punchline cosmic joke that the circle of bronze men find so funny. They are larger than life, and they form an outward facing ring in the middle of the park. I say men but really , they are the same man, shirtless, eyes closed, doubled over in mirth with a huge grin on his face. Whatever the joke is, it's obvious that he/they are having the last laugh.

"May this sculpture inspire laughter playfulness and joy in all who experience it"

Thursday, March 8, 2018

SOL 8/31 Fruits of Our Labor

A gratifying moment during our literature discussion following read-aloud. We've just started and read a couple of short chapters from Katherine Applegate's The Wishtree.

"So what did you think of the beginning of the book?"

There is some discussion of genre, and of point view (the story is told by a tree). Then S raises her hand.

"The first chapter was really short. I think that the whole first chapter is a really great lead".

And there it is. One of those moments when you that the stuff you're trying to get across, really is getting across.  A big reason to smile.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

SOL 7/31


Is it food or love?
2:00 in the morning
nudged awake by her incessant and insistent meow
Is she protesting the empty food bowl?

2:00 in the morning
offering my chest for her to lie on
Is she protesting the empty food bowl?
her nightly session of vigorous petting

offering my chest for her to lie on
I pretend not to hear
her nightly session of vigorous petting
walking up and down the length of the bed

I pretend not to hear
Then she settles in
walking up and down the length of the bed
dissolves in a steady hum of purring

Then she settles in
nudged awake by her incessant and insistent meow
dissolves in a steady hum of purring
Is it food or love?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

SOL 18 6/31 - Transitions

"Transition coming up! Quickly, quietly, put away your chromebooks and math journals, and put your snack on your desk. I'll send you out to recess when you look ready."

10:00 a.m. It's a transition alright. Transitions all around. Eight and nine year olds get to transition from this middle aged dude telling them all the time to "Actively listen!" "Focus!" "Tell me that in a complete sentence".  They transition to freedom to run! shout! throw! tag!  And middle aged dude gets to transition from a state of constant of awareness, to just being able to sit, and breathe. Deeply.

"Hey, did you have a few minutes to chat?"

 It's the administrator from the private school in Tacoma. She's been one of three visitors to stop by this morning during the math lesson. They are all part of The Visiting Team, representing our school's consortium. Its the last step of our school's self-study - the process whereby a private school renews it's accreditation. It's a long process, and we're all glad it's finally over, but there's still this last step. We're smiling hosts, under a microscope for a few days. The visitors are all pleasant, friendly, and very professional, and I am happy to do my part and be interviewed. But it's 10:00 a.m. Transition time. Snack time. Empty my brain time.

"I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit of what inquiry looks like in your classroom?"

"How exactly do you differentiate as you move through a unit of Everyday Math?"

"What is an example of a PBL unit with which you have engaged your class?"

Somewhere in my brain I have the answers to all of these questions. Good answers. Thoughtful answers. True answers. Unfortunately that's in my 8:00 a.m brain. The just-finished-my-coffee, let's greet the day brain! Not the 10:00 a.m, already beat, hungry, can't wait for Spring Break brain. This brain is already toast. It's transitioned.

My mouth opens. Words come out. They are almost good, and they are mostly true. They're the best words I've got at the moment.  Maybe they can catch me again later, after another transition.

Monday, March 5, 2018

SOL18 5/31 - Another Year Gone By

"Hi Rand." A warm, worn eighty six year old Tallahassee drawl. "I was wondering if you'd call"

"Hey Beverly. Of course I'm gonna call you. Happy Kate's Birthday."

Another year, another phone call to a woman who, in all likelihood, I will never see again in person. Beverly is an eighty-six year old woman living in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the mother of Kate. For a few years starting in 1987 Kate was my girlfriend, and when she was no longer my girlfriend she was one of my best friends until she passed away in 2001. The last time I saw Beverly was in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly, right where the bypass meets Jefferson Hwy. She was meeting her ride to take her back home. It was the morning after Kate had died. The morning after the end of a week long, hospital room vigil. Kate was conscious but blissfully unaware as friend after friend stopped by to hold her hand, kiss her forehead, and hug each other. And now I was hugging Beverly goodbye, telling her I'd stay in touch.

"You sound great, Beverly."

"I feel pretty good, for 87! But sometimes I'm not quite as steady on my feet."

"You should try some gentle yoga. Keep moving."

I'm not sure how it started, but I fell into the habit of calling Beverly every March 4, Kate's birthday. 

"How's the family?"

"Well, Jeneane has a new boyfriend. He seems real nice, and he obviously likes her a lot. And Lauren's still teaching. Can you believe she's 31 now?"

Lauren was Kate's niece, and the last (and only) time I saw her she was a toddler. Now she's a mother of two. We go on for a while about family, hers and mine. Beverly used to correspond with my mother before she passed away. It's almost as if we are family, and I guess in a way we are. Out of shared love and shared grief our lives have become intertwined.

It's time to sign off. I tell her I'll try to be in touch before another year goes by. It's always my intention, but it never happens. Who knows? Maybe this is the year.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Sunny Portland Saturday

Ah, that most precious of commodities, a sunny winter Saturday in Portland. There's no excuse not to take the bike out of the garage and get the body moving. Except that it's cold. Mid 30's. Coffee first!

Wool hat, helmet, velcro thingy to keep my pant leg out of the gears, two shirts, sweatshirt, winter vest. It's been a few months since I've checked the bike tires but they feel firm between my thumb and forefinger. Ok, let's get this ride on.

It's cold, despite the layers, but as my heart rate increases I start to warm up. Through Kerns, up into Hollywood, and into to curving streets of Laurelhurst. The clouds and rain will return tomorrow, without a doubt, but a sunny Saturday like this will help get through the gloom ahead.

Friday, March 2, 2018

I Am Not Cattle!

T.R.F - Time Restricted Feeding. It sounds like a corporate beef raising technique. Industrial farms. Strict feeding schedule for the cattle. Nope. It's a type of diet strategy. Fast for a certain number of hours each day, and lose weight by eating what you normally eat. So, for the past few weeks I have been fasting fifteen hours, from 7:00 ish in the evening until 10:00 the next morning. Is it working? I'll let you know at the end of the month!

Today I faced a dilemma. It was a teacher work day. I have a tradition. On teacher workdays I take myself out for breakfast before work. I dragged myself out of bed, activated the French press, and then opened the google and the yelp, trying to find the best breakfast sandwich in Portland. And then it hit me. T.R.F! Stick with the program and eat a frozen Amy's at 10:00, or honor tradition?

What can I say? I'm a traditionalist. At least where breakfast is concerned.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Whole Megillah

Purim - one of my students, in her first slice of the month, referred to it as Jewish Halloween with cookies. Not quite, but the casual observer might agree. A Jewish day school on Purim is a fun, silly, joyous place to be. The kids, and teachers, pour into school in costume.  Then it's time for the traditional 5th grade Purim Shpiel - a retelling of the story of Esther set to musical parody. This year our wildly talented music teacher chose the theme of Pitch Perfect. The kids rose to the occasion once again.

I'm not big on dressing up in costume. Not anymore at least. Thankfully my teaching partner lives for themed Purim costumes for our third grade team. She, too rose to the occasion once again, and for over seven hours I was transformed into Dante, the crazy, lovable dog from Coco. (disclosure - I have not seen the movie. I'm just guessing that Dante is crazy and lovable). The costume was handmade dog ears, eyes and nose makeup, and...... a rubber bone. As she removed the bone from its packaging, Jana paused.

"Ewwww. Sorry, I didn't realize it was chicken flavored. Might not want to put it in your mouth." But when I'm in, I'm all in. I managed to not let it touch anything but teeth. And I never tasted chicken.

Only on Purim.