We Made It!

Well…here we are…heading into the last two days of this incredible school year.

When this year started, we were filled with fear. What if we get sick? What if we carry this disease back to our families? What if our students get sick? Can we figure out how to teach well in this new environment where kids have masks and are behind plexiglass and need to be socially (I prefer physically) distanced?

Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Use hand sanitizer. Sit behind plexiglass.

Hybrid. Quarantine. Full time. Dedensify (Was this just our district, or was this a thing?). Mitigating measures. Distance Learning.

Zoom. Breakout Rooms. Sharing screens. The Chat Box.

And now, here we are. Vaccinations are plentiful. Graduations are happening. Kids are having recess without masks, and we are finding ways to celebrate the end of another school year.

We have all been pioneers. We have reached a destination. We will celebrate. Teachers have taken it on, made it work, overcome obstacles, and made the school year everything it needed to be for students.

I’m beyond proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish during this school year. I’m ready for a break.

We made it!

We Gathered

We gathered – around a table in my back yard, overlooking the apple orchard, on a cool and breezy May evening. No masks needed now. Beautiful smiles all around.

We ate and drank – beautiful platters of food filled the table. Each person bringing their own specialty – delicious cheeses, soft lemon bars, homemade guac and chips, skewers filled with cheese, tomatoes, and shrimp, and a fruit and nut platter. And some summer rose to sip as we nibbled.

We talked and laughed – about work, family, the upcoming summer. About the crazy year we were experiencing. Just about stuff.

We relaxed – We sat and ate and drank and talked for hours on a Monday evening. It felt like we could just stay like this all night. It felt so good to spend time with colleagues off of Zoom, gathered around, laughing and just being together.

We need to do this again….soon.

Thank you

“Just say, ‘Thank you.'” my dad advises when I try to deflect compliments. He’s right most of the time, but this time “thank you” just didn’t feel like nearly enough. It was Sunday evening and I was heading to bed after a most spectacular Mother’s Day. I tried to express to the girls and my husband how much the day had meant to me.

“I can’t tell you how touched I am by all you did to make this day special.”

“Thank you for making me a mother and for being the most wonderful daughters.”

“Your kindness and thoughtfulness is beyond….just beyond.”

“Thank you for a day of fun, love, and spectacular food and entertainment.”

None of it seemed quite right. None of it felt like enough, but I couldn’t keep blabbering on like this. I wanted so badly to capture all that I was feeling with words, but I couldn’t do it. I wanted so badly for the girls to know how full my heart was. Even as I lay in bed thinking back on the day that started with my coffee and cereal served on a paper doily, a beautifully set table filled with handmade cards and the most thoughtful gifts, followed by brunch with my dad, stepmother, and extended family (for the first time around one table in more than a year), and then on to a walk along the beach, back home for some crossword puzzle solving and newspaper reading, and then fancy appetizers and the New York City Ballet Gala, a most delicious dinner of my favorite swordfish, and finished off with a game of Baby Boomer Trivial Pursuit and doughnuts from THE best doughnut shop around, I struggled to find words.

Maybe there aren’t words for this. Maybe it’s just this overwhelming feeling of joy and love and gratitude that can’t be captured. Maybe I shouldn’t even try to capture it. Maybe I just need to let it fill me up. Maybe I just need to savor it and hold onto it as long as I possibly can. I guess I just have to trust that my family knows that they created this experience and that I thank them. Maybe I’ll just have to leave it at that.

Thank you.

Feeling Some Normal

Do you want to come over for dinner?

How about if I order some pizza and we come by for an early Sunday dinner?

I haven’t said these words for over a year! COVID has kept us from seeing our friends and family over the dinner table. We have done our best to stay in touch by phone or Zoom. We have gathered outside around firepits. We have had meals together, but sitting at separate tables, at least 6 feet apart. We have taken walks with masks and more recently, without.

But this week, Tim and I gathered on several different occasions with friends and family (We are all vaccinated, of course.). We gathered around the same table, inside, and without masks. We talked and laughed and ate and drank for hours on end. We hugged on the way in. We hugged again on the way out. We made plans for our next dinner gathering.

I’m feeling some normal. It feels so good.

The Big Day

The day had finally arrived. I’ve had it marked in my calendar with stars and exclamation marks for over a month. Today is the big day. I got ready quickly, jumped in the car, and headed out. I drove quickly, but was careful not to drive too fast. Can you imagine getting a speeding ticket and having to delay this special day for another minute? I pulled in the driveway. The door opened. There he was. My dad, all 90 years of him framed in the doorway. He said, “Come on in!” I haven’t been through that front door and inside my dad’s house in over 13 months. I started to put on my mask and then remembered that it’s been 14 days since my second shot. I am now vaccinated. So is my dad. No masks needed today. I walked up the path to the door. It felt like it took hours to go just a few feet. He reached out his ams. I reached out mine. It was like a slow motion scene in a movie. He pulled me into his arms, and I wrapped my arms around his waist the way I’ve done so many times in my life. He hugged me tight. I hugged him back, tighter. And then the tears pushed their way up and out of my eyes. I was sobbing. Overwhelmed with the idea that I was finally able to hug my dad again. Such a simple and once ordinary gesture. Now so filled with importance.

Taking a Break

Today is the first day of our April vacation. I always look forward to a week off, but this year I really need a break. I need a break from Zoom. I need a break from all day mask wearing. I need a break from constant worry. And so, I am taking one. I’m taking a complete break from school.

I’m planning to read books (not professional ones).

I’m going to write (for pleasure).

I’m organizing (because it gives me a sense of control).

I’m cleaning (see above).

I’m paying bills (I’m behind.).

I’m going to take care of appointments (has to be done).

I’m driving with my husband to visit my sister-in-law and her family. It’s been 18 months since we’ve seen her (to return to some sort of normalcy now that we are all vaccinated) .

I’m going to sand, prime, and paint a chair (I have time to complete a project.)

I’m going to do some gardening (It gives me hope.).

I’m taking a break and hoping to return to school next Monday with energy and optimism to finish out one of the hardest school years ever.

Planning a Unit with a Colleague

In our district, we use the Teachers College Units of Study as our core curriculum. We have a pacing guide that is usually quite tight. We often find ourselves having to modify units here and there to make sure we get to all of our units by the end of the year. But this year is different (I know. That is quite the understatement!). This year when we created our pacing calendar, we were still in a hybrid setting and not sure what would happen next. Would we shut down in a few weeks? Would we be fully remote? Would things work out and we would return to a full schedule? Who knew? So we created a pacing calendar that had more time for each unit (since we were only in school for half the day and that meant a bit less time for everything we needed to do).

Fast forward a few months: We have been back in school full time for about a month now. That means there is some room in our pacing calendar. So, our second grade team decided to add a unit on poetry. We have a writing unit, but we needed to create a reading unit. One of my second grade teachers (and fellow Slicer) asked if we could find some time to map out this unit together.

I got out my professional books (Calkins, Heard, Routman, Fletcher) and looked through them for some ideas. I found some of the poems I have saved in folders. I remembered a series of Shared Reading lessons with poetry we had done last year. We met. We talked and shared ideas in my office (This hasn’t happened much this year!). Elena shared her vision for a virtual poetry cafe so that families would be able to visit their children and celebrate their learning. (She’s a teacher who is finding ways to make things work this year.) We talked about how we might get there. We brainstormed some lessons; a bit of inquiry, some comprehension strategies, and, of course, some fluency work.

We shared. We created. We planned. It felt so good!

Thank you, TWT

Dear TWT and Fellow Slicers,

Thank you for creating the conditions for me to grow as a writer. You never forced me. You never bugged me. You never made me feel guilty or ashamed. You invited me. You created a space. You sent me gentle daily reminders. You gave me an amazing family of writers.

It was my choice to show up, but I knew that if I did, you would be there. You would be there with comments and questions and likes. Your writing would be there for me to use as inspiration or as a mentor for my own work. You would be there if I needed encouragement, support, or even someone to struggle beside. And you were always there to spread joy.

When I selected my OLW with all of you in January, I decided on the word hope. I quickly followed by adding the word action (feeling that hope just wasn’t enough with all that was going on). I have always hoped to be a writer. This month, you created the conditions that moved me to action.

I thank you for that.

With sincerity,

Erika

What I’ve Learned


We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

We are nearing the end of this 31 day writing journey.  I have spent most of the month trying to reflect on my experience as a remote learning teacher.  Here are my big Ah Ha’s:

-Relationships matter!

-Relationships matter!

-Relationships matter!

-All voices need to be heard.

-Having a supportive family behind a remote student makes ALL the difference.

-Teaching needs to be responsive and engaging in order to be effective.

-Teaching remotely is hard, but you can make magic happen.

-Teaching writing remotely is extra hard.

-Kids are a lot of fun.

-Choice is powerful.

-We can build community in a virtual space.

-I’ve learned a lot about math, and that is informing my literacy work.

-I couldn’t have done this work without my colleagues, friends, and family.

-It’s OK to ask for help.

-It’s OK to cry.

-I can learn lots and lots of new things, and quickly.

-It’s hard to be on Zoom for such a long time every day.

-I can push through adversity. 

-I need to listen to my daughters. They are wise.

-I love to teach.

-Kids are amazing.

Spending this month writing about this experience has helped me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  I hope it has  helped some of you as well.

What I’ve Learned About Teaching Literacy From Teaching Math (Part 2)

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

As you probably know, I’m a literacy person.  You may also know that I’ve been teaching a first grade class (remotely) this year.  That means that I’ve had to teach all subjects, including math.  At first I was worried.  I don’t know much about how children develop as mathemeticians.  I don’t have knowledge of the content or the progression or the approach to teaching math in our district.  And so I learned, with the help of many.  I began to study the teaching of math.  I asked questions of our amazing math coach. I read some of the research. I had a chance to hear Marilyn Burns speak twice (once with Jen Serravallo and once with Lucy Calkins).  I’ve learned some things while teaching math that I want to think more about in my literacy work.  Here are some of them:

Inquiry:  I think kids would benefit from more inquiry in their literacy work.  I remember years ago we used to show a piece of writing or read a section of text and simply ask, “What do you notice?” The high engagement and level of thinking from students was pretty remarkable. I think we can do more of this.  I heard Paul Anderson talk about science instruction last week and he talked about how this kind of inquiry provides access for all, full inclusion.  This seems worth some exploration (an inquiry, perhaps).

Give the the Answer: Marilyn Burns talks about the importance of focusing on process in mathematics.  She encourages teachers to give kids the answer to problems and then push students to show their process.  How did they get to the answer? I’m wondering if we could do this in literacy too.  What if, when we were studying character traits, we said, “Here’s the character trait.  Now….How can you figure that out?  What are the clues that got you there?” or, in writing, “Here’s how you would punctuate that sentence.  Why is this so?”  I’m just starting to think about how we might try some of this out in our literacy classrooms.

More Manipulatives: For many children the math and literacy concepts we are teaching are quite abstract.  In teaching math, I’ve seen how helpful manipulatives can be in helping students really understand a concept.  Is there a place for some of this in literacy?  

More Games: Saying this makes me a little nervous.  What I don’t want is for literacy work to become silly.  I don’t want a bunch of literacy games taking the place of independent reading and writing, and the authentic work of the reading and writing workshop.  But I have seen how engaged children are in the math games and activities.  They are learning math concepts, and having fun (often with other children) learning them. I wonder if there is a place for some game-like work in literacy.  

So now I’m embracing the work I was pushed to do in math this year.  It’s helping me do some new thinking that might make our literacy work stronger.