One Sunflower

spin the Lazy Susan

The true gifts of holiday gatherings are the stories and discussions that happen – around the table, in kitchens and hallways,  chairs pulled close together in a corner linked by table and candlelight.

“You are a teacher, what do you think about the children of today?”

“I heard about it on NPR and decided to check it out.  If it’s been translated that many times over the centuries, there must be something to it.”

“People ask me if I’m sorry my children aren’t coming for the holidays and I tell them it is a crazy time to travel.  Besides, I’d rather visit them in the summer when we can really enjoy each other and be outside!  This year we’re going to do the trip we didn’t get to…..”

“A bomb went off on a block near us and all the oil lamps – that was what we used at the time – went out.  I remember thinking: ‘am I dead?  This isn’t so bad…’  Remember, I was only 5 at the time…”

“Do you want to know where the secret pocket is?  Come closer…..”

“This one is Snowy, and this one is Snowbloom….”

“The candlelight …. and the bells…..they rang the bell at midnight….”

“Merry Christmas, it was so good to talk to you. See you next year!”


all on a Saturday morning

My story is a tribute to you, teachers, who despite politicians in plaster palaces playing with purse strings,  go to the front lines every day with your hearts –  bottomless resources with no strings attached:

I pulled up, trying to get the car door over a spot on the road without a puddle.  Rain had just begun to fall and I turned up the heater when she climbed into the passenger seat.  Pulling the seat belt over her pregnant belly, we smiled at each other and I headed towards the main road.  Not knowing enough Spanish to say more than hello and ask her how she was, we sat in silence for the next 30 minutes as I drove to town.

Navigating congested roads full of holiday shoppers, I finally pulled into the parking lot, grateful to see official greeters and signs pointing the way.  “Have you been here before?” one of the men asked.  “Just enter through that door, you’ll find a table to sign in.  There will be someone to help you.”

I linked my arm through Senaida’s, assuring her with a glance that I knew where we needed to go.  After finding her name on the clipboard and getting a ticket with a number for entry and a ‘3’ for the number of children currently in her family, we helped ourselves to some sweet bread and juice and sat.

A young woman with a garish tattoo between her breasts, bouncing a baby on her hip sat down across from us and I opened a conversation.  Senaida sat quietly eating, watching other families enter.  She chuckled at a father swinging a baby carrier from his arm with a large blanket dragging on the floor, the baby staring at us with big brown eyes.

We waited for about an hour. At last they called numbers that included Senaida’s and we made our way towards the gym door.  “You may choose 2 toys and 3 stocking-stuffers for each child.  There are free books and each family can have one article of clothing.”  I wondered what kinds of toys would be available for Senaida to choose.

There were five rows of tables, two for boys, two for girls and one full of board games.   All of Senaida’s children are boys – even the one on the way, so I didn’t look over the girl table at all.   There were plenty of choices for her boys, all brand new, all toys that had been discounted 80-90%.  Nothing was over $5.

Senaida cooed and exclaimed, carefully examining pictures on the boxes and telling me which son she was making a choice for.  I held the large bag as she loaded them in. Choosing the stocking stuffers was more difficult. There were crayons and play dough, card games, bubbles and candy canes. Everything was totaled and cash exchanged and high school girls wrapped and labeled each gift.

Three hours later, we were back at the apartment, carrying the beribboned treasures through the door to hugs from three boys.

My aide and I always choose one of our student’s families to sponsor at Christmas.  Senaida’s boys were our choice this year – lucky me, I got to spend my Saturday doing it!

Thank You Two Writing Teachers


Ginny’s norm

Last spring, when our primary teachers gathered for a work session that became known as “the Summit,” a veteran teacher volunteered to begin by reviewing our norms.  She ended up adding one of her own.  Her wish was that we, her colleagues, be the kind of students we all want in our classrooms:  curious, eager learners, working to increase knowledge and performance, listening and supporting one another.

Our staff continues to have uncomfortable meetings as we wrestle with teacher performance standards, trying to describe goals for ourselves and our students, seeking supporting evidence that demonstrates success.  While we stretch and pull and poke each other in the process,  I find myself reflecting on “Ginny’s norm” as it has come to be known.

Feeling the frustration in the room I think about my students – the youngest in the school with the farthest to go – and conjure my inner 4 year old.  A preschooler has no concept of bottom and top, beginning and end, success and failure.  It is just an exciting journey everyday and a whole body experience. The only request I hear from these children is that they have a friend to sit with.

That’s a nice norm too.