Teachable Moments

Hurricane Michael wasn’t my first experience with a major storm. In the autumn of 2004, four hurricanes, beginning with Charley, and followed by Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne, impacted one part of Florida or another. I was teaching 5th graders at Croton Elementary in Melbourne that year, and it seemed that through much of August and September my students and I were either prepping for a storm or cleaning up after one.

Prepping at school meant wrapping all of our electronics, computers, monitors, and books in heavy duty garbage bags, securing the openings with duct tape, and placing them as high as possible in the classroom. Then after the storms passed we had to take everything down, remove the tape, and put things back where they belonged. Networked computers had to be put back on line, and books matched with students.

The school was fortunate, and we never had any significant damage, but every time a storm’s predicted path indicated Melbourne might be hit, the drill to prepare was carried out to a “t.”

Since some of this prep and de-prep had to take place during the school day, we made learning games out of the process. I taught math and science, so my students measured the equipment to be stored during the storm and estimated the minimum amount of bags and tape we’d need to do the job. They measured shelves and cabinets to see where the equipment could be stored best. They learned to code tags for computer equipment in order to get everything running smoothly again as quickly as possible. We did job efficiency studies afterwards to see where we expended unnecessary energy and what we should do differently if there was a next time.

We didn’t realize when we prepped for Charley that we’d be doing it again for three more storms, but the students made charts and checklists just in case, so we’d be ready to go into action if another storm hit. By Hurricane Jeanne, we were operating like a well-oiled, if slightly weary, machine.

The team prep work seemed to take some of the anxiety out of waiting for storms to hit, and the games helped minimize the learning time lost to the storms. And when we came back together after the various storms had passed, students were engaged in problem solving and trouble shooting, instead of worrying about the lack of electricity at home, at least for a portion of the day.

That was a tough year for all of us, but I have only good memories of working with that group of children. Studly and I moved to Illinois at the end of the school year, and I’ve lost touch with those students, but I hope the ones who stayed in hurricane country remember those days of prepping for the storms as good ones.

Peace, people!

Support Oklahoma Teachers


Teachers all over the U.S. are taking a stand for their profession. Just this week teachers in West Virginia successfully held out for a 5% wage increase, and Oklahoma teachers are poised to follow their example.

I’ve attached a link from Beth Wallis, an educator in Oklahoma who has written one of the best pieces I’ve read explaining the necessity of teachers advocating strongly for higher wages, for the good of their students, teachers, and the very communities in which they live.

I taught. Every word Ms. Wallis writes rings so true it makes my heart ache. I’m rooting for her and for her fellow educators. I hope you will, too.

Images from Pinterest:


The Assignment

Once upon a time I was a teacher. I wasn’t a great teacher, nor was I an awful one. I loved being with young people all day long, but I am a woman of little patience, and that is not a good thing when working with active children.

While I taught students in grades three through seven at various times in my career, by far my favorite years were those I spent teaching English to middle schoolers. I know what you’re thinking, “How’d someone with Leslie’s blatant disregard for the rules of grammar ever teach English?”

Shucks, y’all. I had a teaching manual. Duh. Seriously, though, before I began blogging I was much more cognizant of, and adherent to, those pesky rules. Now it’s “Rules, Shmules” most days. But this post really isn’t about me. Gasp!

One of the first assignments I gave as a seventh grade English teacher was for students to write about something important that had happened in their lives. It could be something funny or frightening, happy, or sad. I’m not even sure I placed a word count requirement on this paper, I just wanted to get to know the students better and to get a feel for their individual writing abilities.

I was shocked and pleased that those seventh graders went immediately to work, and after I’d read their rough drafts I knew that the students who wanted to share their stories with their classmates should have the opportunity to do so. Much of what they’d handed in was so honest that it had to be worth more than just a grade.

After making some editing and proofreading suggestions on each of the ninety or so papers (I taught four sections of English), I handed back the papers and told my students how proud I was to have them in my class, and that once they’d written their final copy I’d open up the floor for anyone who chose to share.

Now seventh graders are an interesting lot. I figured I’d have perhaps twenty percent of each class volunteer to read their papers. Instead, every single student shared their stories. And what an experience that became! I’m sure we spent way too much time on this activity, but my students and I bonded over these stories.

One athletic young man had us all in stitches as he told of the time he and his buddies got into his older sister’s closet and put on various pieces of her clothing, including tutus and swimsuits. and wore them to dinner, much to the horror of his sister and the amusement of his parents.

A shy young woman told of being chased by a vicious dog while riding her bike and being rescued by another dog at the last minute! By the end of the story her classmates were on the edges of their seats, cheering her on.

The story I remember having the most impact, though, was the story a quiet young man told about his mother’s illness. He and his father and sister were at the hospital visiting his mom who had been diagnosed with cancer. As the boy walked down the hospital hallway, he turned to his sister and asked, “Is Mom going to die?”

His sister became angry and told him that he just killed their mom because it’s bad luck to mention dying in the hospital. Their mother did die later that week, and the child blamed himself. The class sat silently when he finished, many were in tears. I was in tears, and I’d read the story.

The love that then surrounded that young man was amazing. Other students made a point to tell him he wasn’t to blame for his mom’s death. He knew that deep down, but hearing those words from his peers seemed to turn a light on in this child. I watched him blossom that year.

When we finished sharing, more than one child thanked me for allowing them to write about themselves. While I’d just been trying to help myself get a feel for their abilities, I got a good deal more. Extras like that are what make the profession unlike any other.

Peace, people.


For the first time in my adult life I’m watching a debate in the company of people who have similar political views. I’m pretty vocal, so it’s gratifying to be around folks who are just as vocal, and perhaps more so, than I am.

Bernie Sanders seems to be a big favorite in this crowd, with Hillary Clinton a close second. Thunderous applause breaks out at their every word. I feel sorry for the remainder of the pack, for hardly any applause at all comes their way.

I have a strong sense of fairness, and it seems as though moderator Anderson Cooper hurries the other debaters along, barely noticing their contributions to the debate; although, to be fair, I’ve had several glasses of wine.

Who will emerge as the debate’s winner? I love Bernie, but I’ll confess, any of these guys would be preferable to anything the Republicans have to offer.

Peace, people!

Algebra is Such a Lonely Word

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Land of Confusion. Which subject in school did you find impossible to master? Did math give you hives? Did English make you scream? Do tell!

I was a smart kid. Not motivated, and certainly not well-directed in my educational goals, but I had a talent for learning and for taking tests. 

My family wasn’t particularly concerned with my academic performance. They were pleased that I earned good grades, but there really weren’t any expectations that I’d go on to college. 

For the first eight years of my formal education all the subjects were ridiculously easy for me: English grammar and literature, Social Studies, even Science and Mathematics. Seldom did I need to study, even though had I done so on a regular basis I might have ended up near the top of my class. 

In ninth grade my good grades landed me in an accelerated algebra class and my educational wheels fell off. I worked my butt off in that class, but the concepts were so abstract that my brain was unable to process them. 

I literally thought that I must have missed the lesson explaining what “n” and “x” were, so night after night I’d reread my algebra text from the beginning trying to unlock the code. Surely, I thought, if I could just figure out their values I’d be okay. The concept of a variable just made no sense.

With the help of a good and brilliant friend I managed to stay afloat, even though she occasionally became exasperated and annoyed with my questions. It seemed simple to her, why couldn’t everyone “get it?”

Our accelerated class churned through one and a half years of algebra in one school year, then we moved on to Geometry. Holy crap. If I’d been merely struggling in algebra, geometry put me down for the count. I lasted half the year and then dropped the class since it wasn’t required to graduate. 

I can’t even remember what replaced Geometry in my schedule, I just know that for the first time in my academic life I doubted myself. It was a lowdown, crummy feeling.

Following my junior year my family moved to a slightly larger town. I met my future husband (Studly Doright was so cute back then) and even though I went to junior college for a year my heart wasn’t in it, and I was petrified by the idea that I wouldn’t be able to conquer college algebra. So I married my Studly and we settled into our lives together.

When our children were in elementary school we decided that I should go back to college, and with a totally new focus I rocked that scene. To my surprise and delight I was still a smart kid. With trepidation I faced my college algebra class. What was once too abstract for my 14-year-old brain now made sense. Amazing!

It was the only class I didn’t earn an “A” in, though, preventing me from graduating college with a perfect 4.0. But, that “B” felt like a victory after all those years, and summa cum laude looked great on my transcript.

Take that, algebra!   

Peace, people!

Leaping Lizards

I am not squeamish. Heck, anyone who has taught elementary schoolchildren knows that one either loses fear of all creepy crawly critters or one does a good job of faking bravery. Otherwise one’s desk will have lots of unwelcome visitors during the school year. I became quite adept at feigning affection for a variety of animals: “Oh, what a precious little tarantula! May I hold him?” “You have a pet boa constructor? Those are my favorite!”

Honestly I don’t mind most critters as long as I’m not caught unaware. It’s the ‘holy crap’ moments that get me. Yesterday, I had one of those ‘holy crap’ moments. The day had been about as wonderfully boring as a day can be. I’d spent the morning putting away Christmas decorations and attempting to locate all of my regular decor. I swear, one of these days I’m going to figure out a way of tagging decorative items so I can remember where things go.

I mailed a package to our oldest granddaughter in Texas, and then stopped by the big truck stop to get a soda. When I returned home I parked the car and then walked up the driveway to get our mail. Upon opening the mailbox not one, but two lizards ran out to greet me. Holy crap! I screamed, dropped the mail onto which one of the lizards was clinging and did the “ooh ooh ooh” dance–shaking my hands and stomping my feet just in case….well, just in case. Poor lizards–I think they had a holy crap moment, as well.



All Good Things

After three months off, this week I begin working again. I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand I’ll be bringing in the big bucks. (It was hard to type that with a straight face.) On the other hand, I’ll be giving up my life of leisure. No more midday naps! No more dressing in tank tops and flip flops. And, I’m going to have to talk to real people. Let’s hope I remember how that works.

Seriously, I am thrilled about continuing my relationship with the Florida Council for Reading Research (FCRR). This year we’ll be working with second graders in five counties, and I’ll be coordinating the efforts in Gadsden County.

I taught for several years, and I’d like to think I was good at it. The truth is, I probably was mediocre at best. I loved, loved, loved the kids, but I stunk at the organizational skills a good teacher needs in order to be effective. And, I was moody. That’s a hard truth to face, but it affected my ability to be a calm, caring professional.

There is a performance aspect to teaching, and I thrived on that. I never sat down, never relaxed, never fully settled in to the art of teaching, which should be more about the child than the teacher.

The position with FCRR is all about the kids. After conducting individual assessments, we engage small groups of students in targeted literacy interventions to help them develop the skills necessary to become competent readers. At the end of the semester, we will conduct post-testing to measure the effectiveness of the interventions. I was part of this program last spring, but came into it towards the end, so I am excited now to see the process from the beginning.

So, I’ll forfeit the naps, dig into my closet for blouses with sleeves and shoes that don’t flip and/or flop, and charge headlong into doing something I really enjoy. It will be nice to feel productive again.

Peace, People!

%d bloggers like this: