Teachable Moments

The world happens around our students all the time, and they bring it into our classrooms.

We don’t teach in a bubble.

That means we have to talk about the tough subjects.

It means we listen with an open heart and an open mind.

It means we keep our bias to ourselves so as not to limit the voices of others.

It means we teach critical thinking.

It means we teach respect for differing views.

It means we acknowledge the facets of our world that are beyond our control.

It also means we talk about the ones that we can control.

To do all that, you need to build relationships with students.

They need to feel safe to express an opinion,

ask a question,

or tell a personal experience.

Most importantly,

it means you have to realize you teach students not content.

A teachable moment is going to throw off the lesson plan,

disrupt the scope and sequence, and

it probably won’t follow the curriculum guide.

But that’s okay.

Don’t be afraid to have the tough conversations.

Don’t be afraid to hear student voices.

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have the answers.

Don’t be afraid of the teachable moments.




I’m Still Waiting for Flying Cars


, , , , , ,

Sometimes I have no filter.

Those of you who know me…stop laughing.

I really have gotten better at tempering what I say and keeping the snark under control except with close friends.

But sometimes, I just can’t hold it in, especially when it comes to education buzzwords created by those far removed from the classroom.

No Child Left Behind

Thanks, policy makers. Prior to this becoming law, I frequently, purposefully left children behind…said no teacher ever!

What we did was meet children where they were developmentally; understanding that no two were exactly alike.

College and Career Ready

Wow, I wish my teachers, way back in the 70’s had known they needed to prepare students for college and careers.

I mean, I don’t know how my friends and I muddled through to become successful adults.

Future Ready

This one showed up repeatedly in my Twitter feed yesterday (and was the proverbial straw that pushed me to write this post).

Future Ready…what does that even mean?

Ask a hundred people, and you’ll get a hundred different answers.

Are we insinuating that prior to this initiative schools weren’t preparing students for the future?

I read through the Future Ready pledge.

How sad is it that a friend and I both thought of a Tommy Boy quote?

“Here’s the way I see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box ’cause he wants you to feel all warm and toasty inside.”

To me, that’s what this is.

A guarantee on a box.

A hollow gesture that allows policy makers to feel good.

When I think about the future I want for my kids, it’s what my parents wanted for me.

I want them to work well with others.

I want them to have and support an opinion.

I want them to listen to what others have to say and be able to disagree without attacking.

I want them to be positive, productive members of a global community.

Most of all,

I want them to be happy.

Let’s face it. We have no idea what the future holds.

We can make predictions.

But we don’t know.

A quality education is about giving students real world skills and experiences that transcend generations.

It’s not about the technology or innovations.

If it was I wouldn’t still be waiting for flying cars.

Thankful for the Little Things

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to limit my time with those who see the glass half empty because they suck the life out of me.

It’s not that everything in my world is perfect, but I’ve decided to try to always look on the bright side of life. (Monty Python fans, are you singing the song? :) )

I’ve found that the littlest thing can have the biggest impact – from a simple thank you to the kid who waited and held the door for me on my way into school to a passing hello in the hall, it matters.

I’m convinced that it’s the little things people say or do for us that set the tone for the day or the week or even a lifetime.

This past week I didn’t have to look too hard for the bright side, it just seemed to find me.  These are the highlights that made me smile.

  • Last Sunday I wished a former student happy birthday via Facebook.  This was his response:  “Thanks! Me and Sean used to make finger skateboards and play with them when you weren’t looking. Now that I’m 32 I feel comfortable telling you.” :) I laughed because I’m sure they did. I probably knew it at the time and ignored it, but I loved that he wanted to share that all these years later.
  • Tuesday at the Veterans Day Assembly, a World War II veteran from the local American Legion Post gave me a big hug. Then he told me how they’d been talking about me on the car ride over and how much they appreciated me.
  • As I was leaving to head back to the high school, a young mom got out of her car, stopped and stared at me and said, “I know you!” When I asked how, she said, “You were one of my teachers, I think.” I asked her name, and as soon as she said the first, I said the last. Her face lit up.  I was a long-term substitute in her 4th grade classroom. It was 18 years ago and in a different district, but she remembered me.
  • Wednesday morning I had an elementary parent catch me in the hall. She wanted to tell me how much she appreciated all I do for students, but more importantly, she appreciated the time I took to talk with her about her child.
  • Thursday’s mail brought a handwritten thank you note from a former student. I had sent a little gift to him and his wife – a few books for their new baby boy. He’d already thanked me through Facebook, but then he took the time to write and send an actual note.

These are the moments that keep me centered.

They remind me why I do what I do.

They remind me that teaching is still an amazing profession.

They remind me that I’m truly blessed.



You So Get Me

The other morning I was running behind schedule so I was drying my hair when C needed to get in the bathroom to brush his teeth.  This isn’t a big deal; happens all the time, but I recently bought a new dryer, and it was the first time he had seen it.  He looked at it, looked at me and then made this boy grunt that only a mom can translate into “What’s that thing?”  So I told him it was a diffuser to which he answered with another quizzical grunt, so I explained that it diffused the air coming out the dryer which helped me dry my hair faster.

He stood there a little longer, and I said, “Yeah, I know, it kinda looks like a ray gun.”

5dcd362e5ae67a5b792788e39abe67f9He looked at me with this huge grin and said, “You so get me all the time!”

He’s right.

I get that he feels things more deeply than other people do – too sensitive some might say. I hate the word too (adverb – to an excessive extent or degree; beyond what’s desirable, fitting, or right.  (http://dictionary.reference.com)

He’s sensitive – no superlative needed.

I get that he sees the world as black and white/right and wrong – it’s really hard  when he sees somebody not following the rules. We’ve had countless conversations about how I can’t make random children at the store follow the rules. As he’s gotten older, I tend to say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

I get that he has to talk to the TV. It drives S nuts, but it makes me smile. I don’t know how often he asks a question about why a character did A instead of B. Of course, when I try to answer he tells me that it was just a rhetorical question.

I get that if it pops in his head, it’s probably going to come out his mouth. I don’t think there’s a mean bone in his body, but he can be brutally honest.

I get that when a topic catches his interest, he kind of obsesses over it until he learns as much as possible about it.  Not sure many kids his age start sentences with, “According to research…”

I get that he can nerd-jack a conversation and go off on tangents that leave other people shaking their heads.

I get that when he does that and someone calls him weird, it hurts.

I get that he’s torn between fitting in and being himself, and that when he chooses to be himself it can be a little lonely.

I get that sometimes he thinks I’m the only one who gets him.

And I so get him.

All the time.

Teaching My Kids to Vote



I started my day in line at the Town Hall. It’s election day, and I knew I had more time before work than after, so I was there when the polls opened at 7:00 a.m. I was surprised to find a line already, but even so, I was in and out in 15 minutes.

I have voted in every state and federal election since the 1984 presidential election, and I am pretty diligent about voting in all the local elections, too. (Although I have to confess, when everyone on the ballot is running unopposed, I have skipped a few.)

I love seeing my social media feeds fill up with “I voted” posts from  friends and colleagues (regardless of their political leaning).  As someone who taught 5th grade American History for 18 years, I am especially proud to see my former students post that they have voted.

I was reminded last night of a conversation I had with S when she was in 2nd grade, during the primary election to determine who would be the presidential candidates in 2008.

She had not been feeling well, so I was taking her to the doctor, and during the car ride she was telling me about the upcoming mock election in her classroom, and she said, “I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”

I asked her why, and she said, “Because she’s a girl.”

Now, there is a fine line between mom and teacher, and I can never resist the teachable moment, especially when I have just one kid in the car, so I had to pursue the conversation.

Me: Honey, we don’t chose candidates because they are men or women.

S:  Hmm, well then I guess I’ll vote for Barack Obama.

Me: Why?

S: Because he’s young.

Me: Honey, we don’t chose candidates because they are young or old.

S: Then how do you pick them?

Me: You listen to what they say, and you decide who you agree with most, and you vote for that person.

S: How do you know who’s telling the truth? (What’s the old saying? Out of the mouths of babes. ;) )

Me: That’s a good question. You have to hear what they say, and look at what they do, and then decide.

Later that night she and I sat down and looked at a couple of kid-friendly articles on the candidates, and she had tons of other questions.

When the November election rolled around, her school, like many others, held a mock election.

Now, it would’ve been easy for me to tell her how I believe politically and to let MY opinion be the opinion she put on her ballot, but I wanted her to be able to form opinions on her own and be able to support them. So, the teacher beat out the mom, and we sat down to look at some kid friendly sites, starting with Time for Kids. I had her write the names of both major party candidates (McCain and Obama) on note cards, and then we went through the information provided.

I was in teacher mode at this point, so I read each statement, making sure she understood what the issue meant, and then I read what each candidate had answered to that issue.  If she liked what she heard, she put a tally mark on that candidate’s note card. Sometimes she liked what both said, so she put a tally mark on each. Sometimes she didn’t like what either had said, so she didn’t put any marks down.  When we were done, she counted up the tally marks and decided who to vote for, and when I asked her why, she could explain it to me.

This morning as I was leaving, C asked me who I was going to vote for, and I wouldn’t tell him. Instead I explained about secret ballots and that while I was glad to share that I was voting, I really never shared who I cast my vote for. Then I said, “So, if you could vote, who would you vote for?”

I loved his reply: “I don’t know. I don’t have enough information about the candidates to make a decision.”

That is what I want for both S and C. I want them to be able to not only make decisions but to support those choices, and to realize that you have to do a little research to make up your mind.

They won’t always agree with me, and I’m okay with that.


What’s In A Name?

A few weeks ago I overheard a conversation that has stuck with me.

I was sitting at a soccer game, and the parents next to me were with the opposing team. From the conversation I could tell they were also teachers, and they were talking about kids’ names. The conversation started with how hard it is to remember kids from past years, to keep their names straight when you’ve taught for so long, but then it moved in to talking about unique names of current students.

And I was bothered by what I heard.

Both of them talked about how some of the names were difficult to pronounce, so they just gave the kids nicknames.

At first it made me think of this:

But then, I thought about all the times people misspell names and don’t make corrections, the times names are shortened without asking if that’s okay, and even calling someone by a siblings’ name.

I’m kind of funny about all of these things.

My poor daughter goes through life having to tell people there is no H at the end of her name, and that our last name has an E not an I.  People still get it wrong, which is okay if they fix it when she (or I) point it out, but we’ve had a teacher tell her it’s no big deal and not to worry about it.

And I hate to be called Jenny (goes back to a moment in 7th grade when a friend who shared my name but spelled it differently informed me that a Jenny was the female counterpart to a Jackass).

But people call me that all the time….shorten my name without asking my preference.

In high school, one of my few rebellions came when my history teacher insisted on calling me Jenny even though I had asked her not to – I ignored her when she said Jenny. I wrote JENNIFER in huge letters at the top of every assignment. She never got it, and it frustrated me.

And sibling names? I’m the youngest of five. I don’t think my mother has ever gotten my name out on the first try. :)

As a teacher, if I use a siblings’ name by mistake, I quickly correct myself and apologize.

I’m not afraid to ask how to pronounce a name – better to ask than to slaughter it with my Ohio/Texas/Wisconsin accent. I’ve found that I earn a little trust with students when I do that.

And I always ask before I shorten a name. I totally get the Michael who isn’t a Mike or the Elizabeth who’s okay with Beth but hates Liz.

It may sound like I’m making a big deal out of a little thing, but I think names are very personal.

They represent who you are.

So when someone changes your name without your permission?

It makes you a little less you.


Saturday morning I pulled my favorite old sweatshirt out to wear to S’s soccer game, and I was flooded with memories of the friend who gave it to me.

I’ve worn that sweatshirt hundreds of times.  She sent it to me when I was pregnant with S (she wanted me to have something big and warm to wear when I walked the dog – never had the heart to tell her I didn’t venture out in the cold Wisconsin weather unless I had to), so I’m not sure what triggered the memories.

Maybe it’s the fact that her 50th birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and she’s not here to celebrate it.

Maybe it’s that I came across this quote right before I pulled out the sweatshirt.


Ro was one of my college friends, and I can’t think of her without smiling and shaking my head at all the things she did AND the things she convinced the rest of us to do.

We all have our favorite stories – from asking to be rescued from the balcony to putting Alka Seltzer in her beer (best lesson in chemical reactions EVER!!); from Ranger games to Beach Boys concerts and Whataburger stops; from being chased by ducks to cutting down our own Christmas trees; whether it involved her love of sports (Cowboys and Mavericks) or her musical taste (Boy George and Bruce Springsteen), Ro lived life to the fullest.

When Ro was younger, a doctor told her that the life expectancy for someone with her medical condition was 40…she passed away three months before her 41st birthday.

It was almost like that statement…that number…became her destiny.

I always just thought she had more nerve than the rest of us, but now I think she was trying to cram 80 years of living into the 40 she could count on.

And as I thought about her Saturday morning, I wondered if maybe she was trying to un-become what everyone expected when they saw her.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

The who we become based on the expectations of others.

The things we do because we’re supposed to not because we really want to.

The things we don’t do because we’re worried what others will think.

The things we try to justify rather than just owning them.

Realizing my own mortality?


But, more than anything, I think I’ve started thinking about it as I watch S and C, and I want them to not ever have to worry about un-becoming because they were allowed to become themselves in the first place.

So, when S wanted to quit 4-H and C said, “Maybe I should stay in. It will look good on my college applications,” I found myself telling him that lots of things look good on a college application, but that shouldn’t be the reason you do something. Do it because you love it.

And last spring, at Solo Ensemble, I told a friend with older children that S didn’t want to be in band in high school. I got a lecture of sorts about how I should make her. Nah, I think that’s a choice she should make herself. There are too many other things she loves more than playing her flute.

I’ll admit it; it’s hard. I caught myself telling C the other day that he really needed to stick with basketball one more year, and when he asked why, I said, “Because you’re going to be really tall.”

Yep, that’s what I said. Total mom failure.

He doesn’t love the game, and another growth spurt isn’t going to change that.

So, I’m working on it.

Working on finding the balance between supporting without smothering; encouraging without pushing; helping them become who they are meant to be.

And I’m learning.

From the serious thoughts of great writers;

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

From a movie monologue:

“…even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second.” ~ Christopher Welch (as the minister in Synecdoche, New York)

From the wisdom of the dying;

“Accept who you are; and revel in it.” ~ Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie)

And from the twangy honesty of a country song:

“Say what you think. Love who you love. ‘Cause you just get so many trips ’round the sun. Yeah, you only, only live once.” ~ Kacey Musgraves

Un-becoming? I sure hope so.









What’s Your Kryptonite?

I always smile when I see some post or picture with a “What’s your superpower?” thought. This is one of my favorites because I do think teaching requires superpowers.


Created by Krissy Venosdale (http://venspired.com)

Created by Krissy Venosdale (http://venspired.com)

But the realist (pessimist?) in me always thinks, “But if you have superpowers, what’s your kryptonite?”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately…kryptonite…the things that trip us up, zap our powers, make us stumble…our ultimate natural weaknesses.

It’s never the big things that get us. We always seem to be prepared for those. It’s the little things – the pebble in the shoe not the boulder in the road.

Not sure I’m ready to name my kryptonite…but acknowledging it is the first step, right?






Finding Balance

Neither S nor C showed animals at the county fair this year. In fact, neither of them even entered any 4-H projects.

There was a little piece of me that missed walking through the 4-H building to find their things, and I did, for a split second, miss the hustle and bustle of show days.

But honestly, most of me did a happy dance when they decided not to show calves this year.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think they both learned a lot from taking animals to the fair, but what a time commitment for them (and for Tim and me)! Last year we had several days when we were in the barn for 15+ hours, and if you know me, you know I’m really not a fan of barn duty. (Tim and I worked this out years ago: I don’t milk his cows and he doesn’t grade my papers.) Throw in the fact that our fair runs from the last Thursday in August through Labor Day, and that school starts the day after, and it really becomes a time issue.

It was totally their decision not to show.

For C it was easy – it was a lot of work for very little return. He showed because S did, and because his dad did as a kid. He felt obligated to keep the family tradition going even though it was obvious he was not really having fun doing it.

But for S? It was much harder. She has placed first each time she has shown, and there is something about the prepping and organizing that excites her. However, she had a list of things she wanted to do this summer (basketball, Apostle Islands, volunteer counselor) that she knew would take away from time needed to work with the animals.

As the fair drew closer she started talking about wanting to show again next year, but in the same breath, she talked about how small the 4-H club had gotten; how she worried that not everyone would pull their weight, and that, as the oldest, she would be the one to do most of the work; about how she didn’t get to just hang out with her friends when she had so much barn duty.

So, we had a long talk. I told her I was fine with her showing next year, but what was she going to give up?

Did she want to skip playing AAU basketball?

Did she want to just go to day camp instead of resident camp so she could be home every night to walk her calf and heifer?

And that week in Pictured Rocks she has her heart set on next summer? There’s no way she can be gone that week. Animals need to be washed and clipped, hooves need to be trimmed, and the decorations for the barn displays have to be finished.

I didn’t tell her she couldn’t.  I just told her she needed to think about what would go if we added that back.

There are only so many hours in the day and so many days in the summer.

As much as she would love to do it all, I’m trying really hard to help her find a sense of balance.

I want her to find what she really loves.

I want her to her to take advantage of the opportunities that come her way.


I want her to realize








One of Those Summers

On the way to football practice tonight, C said, “Hey, Mom, you know that commercial that talks about having a summer to remember?” I nodded, and he continued, “This has definitely been one of those summers…just like last year.”

I looked at him and laughed, thinking, last year we spent 13 days in Europe. This year we haven’t ventured more than 500 miles from home, how could this possibly compare? So I asked, “Really? As good as Europe?”

He gave me that grin and said, “Just as good but different,” and then he started listing things.

We have enjoyed

  • A weekend in the Dells (waterpark heaven even though he had to watch S’s basketball tournament)
  • Two extended visits with Honey and Papa (my parents – S started calling my mom Honey when she was little, and it stuck)
  • Two trips to Kings Island (where I rode every single roller coaster with them)
  • A day at the State Fair of Wisconsin (Tim even managed to get away and go with us)
  • Visits to the aquatic center
  • A couple of trips to the lake
  • Kayaking (bonus – a t-shirt that reads, “Paddle Faster! I hear banjo music.”)
  • Nightly bike rides (not every night but a couple of times a week)
  • Lots of backyard bonfires
  • Great seats at a Cincinnati Reds game (even though they lost)
  • Hiking the Kettle Moraine North Trails and trails at The Cincinnati Nature Center
  • Staying up past bedtime
  • Sleeping in
  • Getting up in the middle of the night to watch a meteor shower, and
  • Reading books from cover to cover without having to stop.

Throw in

  • an awesome baseball season (he consistently got on base; even batted in the winning run a couple of games)
  • his first full week of sleep away camp which included a day at Six Flags Great America
  • a second week of camp filled with swimming, biking, fishing, archery, and kayaking
  • three days of football camp
  • Bowling birthday parties
  • Nerf battles
  • Boy and dog moments (Brownie hears him say, “C’mon boy!” and he heads to the door), and
  • Football practice starting (first day in full pads was better than Christmas).

And we can’t forget S. She filled the calendar with

  • Basketball tournaments (AAU and 3-on-3)
  • Shopping trips to the outlet malls near several of those tournaments
  • Basketball camp
  • Summer basketball league
  • A week of camp in the Apostle Islands
  • A week of Leaders in Training camp
  • Three weeks as a volunteer junior counselor (princess camp, fishing camp, junior kayak camp), and
  • Dirt track racing (watching not driving – lol).

And while I go back to work (officially) tomorrow, C reminded me that summer doesn’t technically end for a few more weeks, so we have time to squeeze in

  • The County Fair this weekend
  • Another kayak trip or two
  • More hikes in Kettle Moraine North Trails
  • At least three or four more bonfires, and
  • Maybe a Brewers game.

As he walked across the field toward his practice, I had to smile. My summer to-do list has very little checked off (I REALLY did plan on organizing the office!), but that’s okay.  In between working on my dissertation proposal and summer curriculum work, we had one of those summers.

When they were little, I had a sign hanging in my kitchen that read, “Cooking and cleaning can wait til tomorrow for babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow. So settle down cobwebs, and dust go to sleep. I’m rocking my babies, and babies don’t keep.”

I figure I only have five summers left when they are both at home, and even fewer where they think it’s cool to hang out with their mom. They’ve already started planning next summer.

  • C thinks Kings Island should be an annual event
  • S thinks we need to take an alternate route to Honey and Papa’s house and spend a day in Cedar Point.
  • They both think kayaks would make great Christmas gifts
  • S wants us to go to Pictured Rocks, and
  • I think we need to use those passports again and cross Lake Superior into Canada.

When it’s all said and done, what do I really want them to remember? A perfectly clean house? A place for everything and everything in its place?

No, I want them to have memories that bring smiles to their faces.

I want them to have summers to remember.





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,472 other followers