Sharp Pencils and New Notebooks

This past week, I watched a fifth grade student organize about a dozen sharpened #2 pencils with great precision.  I smiled to myself, thinking back to the days when I, too, would sharpen each and every one of my pencils to a lethal point.  It was if the beginning of the school year would require me to write till each one was dull.  Though that was never the case, there was something wonderful about seeing the possibilities in those sharpened pencils.

Then there were the notebooks.  I loved the brand new, unblemished notebooks.  I dreamed of perfect notes with no crossouts and with notes that held the critical information that would result in fabulous grades.  Those empty pages were intimidating.  As soon as I placed one of those perfect pencils on the page, my notebooks lost their allure.  It was too easy to misspell a word or to forget Roman numeral III. 

As I reflect on those days, I wish that someone had helped me see that the sharpened pencils had erasers and that pristine notebooks were designed for brilliant thoughts and lousy mistakes.  Both can co-exist.  So, for each student, I wish you sharp pencils that quickly dull but can be resharpened with just a little attention and a crisp new notebook that will hold wisdom and a few doodles.

Inspiration via Caribou Coffee

Inspiration and coffee -an odd coupling for sure.  A great cup of coffee makes me happy, but it hasn’t quite reached the status of inspiration!  However, I recently was moved by a cup of Caribou coffee.  As I drank the cup of steaming coffee and tried valiantly to keep from spilling it, I was struck by the Espresso Truths imprinted on the cardboard sleeve intended to keep me from burning my fingers. 

     You are holding our pride and joy.

Though the statement was intended to reveal the hand-crafted nature of the beverage, it caused me to think about the children in our care.  Imagine if every morning as we opened the car door to let youngsters out the parent sitting behind the wheel announced, “You are holding our pride and joy.”  Though the words aren’t audible, the sentiment certainly holds true for each and every parent. 

I am awed and honored to hold your pride and joy.  As a parent, I am grateful for those who hold my own pride and joy.

Time in the Sun

Today’s 70˚ weather summoned me outdoors to do my paperwork.  It certainly would have been more efficient to sit at a table, but I just could not resist the sun-filled sky.  Sitting on our deck, I rolled up my pants, pushed up my sleeves, and lifted my head to gaze at the sun and soak in its warmth.  Within minutes, I could feel the tension begin to fade away.  With Diet Coke in hand, I sat and did nothing.  The paperwork remained untouched.  For an unknown amount of time, I relished the quiet moments of reflection. 

What did I do?  I thought about my daughter who was supposed to be napping.  I thought about the sermon I heard a few hours earlier. I thought about the upcoming week.  And I just sat.  I didn’t solve any large problems.  I didn’t write a poem or create anything.  For someone who usually marks her days by levels of productivity, this afternoon was somewhat of an anomaly.  It could, I suppose, be seen as a great waste of time.

Reflection. Quiet. Time away from a “to do” list.  I wonder what my day or a student’s day would be like if we had time – with or without sun – to sit and reflect.  Renewal.  Peace. Maybe only a little more joy. 

If today’s time in the sun is any measure of its value, then I say bring it on!

Spell Chek!

I can’t go anywhere or read anything without coming across a misspelled word.  Is it the English teacher in me that seems to have an eagle eye for errors?  I never won a spelling bee or made perfect grades on spelling tests every week as a child, but the misspelled words present themselves at every turn.  Every day, I drive by a fast food restaurant that wants me to indulge in its burritos.  But the sign outside of their establishment reads Chessy burritos.   I laugh every morning.  I know that I am odd.  I take pictures of spelling errors on state park signs.  I clip plastic wrappers from baked chicken that misspell its as it’s.  My eyes are immediately drawn to these egregious errors.  

I wish the attraction was as strong in my own writing.  Unfortunately, I fail to notice my own errors, which I find so irritating.  Why is it so easy to find errors in others’ writing and miss my own?   What is a flagrant error in others’ writing becomes invisible when I pen my own work.  

I wonder if people in other professions have similar issues?  Do decorators walk into someone’s home and think, “How could they put those colors together?”  I’m not sure.  But what I can say is that I am grateful to those who have proofed my progress reports, articles, term papers, and the like.  They have helped me see what I could not.

Now, let’s hope this post has no errors!  That would be irony at its best!

Fresh Starts

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”  Maria Robinson

I shared this quote with my sixth grade study skills class yesterday.  We talked about the times we wish we could have a “do over” after we make mistakes in our lives whether by our actions or our inactions.  But life is not like a four square game in which we simply call a “do over” and we get to try again.  Instead, we have a choice to make.  Will we ignore our mistake or wallow in guilt?  Or will we choose to take action and make something positive from our mistakes? 

The new year gives us a reason to create a new ending and a time to make new choices about our decisions and directions.  Sometimes our choices have to do with behaviors and other times it is about making different choices in our thinking.  During study skills, students took 30 minutes to organize bookbags, notebooks, lockers, and tablets depending on the choice they made.  Others contemplated ways with me to change negative thinking that increased stress. 

Thirty minutes later, sixth graders reported that they felt a weight had been lifted off their shoulders.  They were pleased with the ability to “start today and create a new ending.”  I am glad that they gained something from the lesson.  I certainly learned from them.  It sometimes takes so little to bring about renewal.  A little time and a little focus on what is positive.

“Silent Night”

I sat in church today and knew that I would have to write a post.  In fact, I was a bit surprised how many times throughout the day that I thought about capturing my thoughts.

It was a small church – one without pretense.  As a part of the service, two young siblings stood with hymnal in hand and sang two verses of “Silent Night.”  They were accompanied simply by a piano.  The eldest reached over to encourage her brother and to move him closer to the microphone.  They were generally on pitch and sang with a sweetness and simplicity that brought me to tears.  Their song touched me almost from the very first measure.  Now, I have heard “Silent Night” sung with full orchestra, in a candlelit sanctuary, and in the midst of a 75 person choir.  But for some reason, this morning’s version without any of the usual trappings made me think, made me focus on the lyrics, and allowed me to worship.

It’s interesting that the simple voice of children can have such an impact.  While I do love harmony, a full orchestra, and the sound of a full choir, today I experienced the beautiful message brought forth by two young children.

A Grand Day of Beauty

Standing outside for carpool at the end of Grand Day, I was struck with the incredible sights around me.  The blue sky served as the perfect backdrop for the stunning red-leafed tree in front of me.  The sun shone brightly, warming the day to a near perfect temperature for November.  In the midst of this glorious day, children and their grandparents and special friends shared time together.  Some built turkeys out of apples and candy.  Others interviewed their treasured guests about their lives.  Watching them walk hand in hand, I was struck with yet one more beautiful scene on this day. 

I couldn’t help but be a bit jealous of these children.  Sadly, my grandparents are no longer living.  My days of asking questions or sharing sweet moments with them are over.  Precious memories of them quickly rose to the surface.  Drinking freshly squeezed orange juice from oranges picked outside my grandparents’ Florida home.  Eating at the “kids’ table” on holidays in their kitchen in New York.  Riding a snowmobile in frigid weather wondering if I would fall off as we flew down the hills.  Learning to sew at ten years old under the watchful eye of my Grandma during the summer. Playing Uno around her table.  Stopping for orange pineapple ice cream after a trip into town.

On this gorgeous day, I enjoyed viewing  tender moments and reliving  lovely memories.  It was surely a grand day of beauty.

Remembering the Past

I traveled to Syracuse, New York, last week to to share some workshops with a group of lower school faculty. I attended this school from third grade through 12th grade.  Stepping back on this campus, my mind, emotions, and senses were in high gear!  This independent school made learning fun and taught me that I mattered as a learner and as a person.  The school has changed since I attended in the Dark Ages.  The faculty are new, buildings have been built, and classrooms have moved,  but the memories of my time there were crystal clear. 

I looked in the music room that used to be my third grade classroom.  I remembered Mrs. Johnson’s candy jar and the purple desk for the VIP student.  In that room, I learned to have fun with learning.  I walked in the art room and the smells transported me back to the days in which I tried rather unsuccessfully to form clay into something recognizable.  I learned that art was not my gift, but I marveled at those whose gift it was.  The soccer fields seemed so much smaller than I recalled, but the teamwork that occurred on those fields taught me that though you don’t always win, what you do in practice and a game matters.  Though I knew that I loved the school, my visit reminded me of the power of one little school on a young girl so many years ago.  Manlius Pebble Hill School shaped who I would become.

Our graduates frequently return to Trinity School and search for familiar faces of friends and of beloved teachers.  Though changes are inevitable, the heart and soul remain the same.  They talk about the interactive activities, the teachers they adore, and the funny stories of their past.  Remembering the past, they will smile.  I know I did.

Student Council Speeches

I listened to the sixth graders present their speeches for student council. Candidates stood confidently in front of peers and teachers from the past and present – all eagerly awaiting their views on leadership. Carefully crafted and well rehearsed, the speeches truly reflected the author. Though the content was compelling, my thoughts quickly shifted to the effects of this experience. What could have been a platform for self-promotion was instead a powerful community experience.  Students spoke of their love for our school.  They spoke of making a difference and of making Trinity an even better school.  I watched as teachers, staff, administrators, and students applauded the courage, humor, insights, and vision of these young people.  It was a proud moment for me – not that I had anything to do with it.  I was proud of our students, our audience, and a school that values and takes seriously the contributions of its students.