BFFs and Netflix

My best friend since the 7th grade lives in Chicago which takes almost three hours one-way to get to.  We don’t see each other as much as either of us would like.

But back in the day…in high school…we were inseparable. We almost never had classes together–I’m not sure why–but we always found a way to see each other between classes. I can still remember my senior year schedule after 18 years:

I didn’t see anyone before school because I was always late, but after first hour Spanish 3, we passed in the hallway on my way to government (this is also where she would tell me if her first hour government class got donuts so I could tell our class and get some for us too).

Third hour we had advanced psychology together. This is where we watched a birthing video, a kid fainted, and she yelled out, “OH MY GOD! WHAT IS THAT BABY DOING TO THAT WOMAN?!?”  We both vowed to never have babies until we were in our 30’s. (Eddie was born when I was 31 and she gave birth at 34).

Fourth hour I had band and she went to lunch.

After band I had lunch and we met by my locker to walk to 5th hour together. Every day we passed an English teacher named Mr. Larsen and I said, “Hi to my favorite teacher I never had!” and he said hello to us always calling my BFF his favorite red-headed student.

We sat near the front in our Brit Lit class together. Daily we made our teacher chuckle with our “verbal fluencies” discussing whatever topic he told us to.

Neither of us had a last hour in the building. I was a teacher’s aid for the band director and she did some community learning thing where she assisted an elementary teacher. Some days, when neither of us had to report, we did a 7-11 run.

Come to think of it, we did a LOT of 7-11 runs back then.

We were most definitely a dynamic duo.

I miss that randomness now.

There are MANY days when I think, “what I wouldn’t give to jump in the old Nissan, pick up T, and hit 7-11 for a Big Gulp and a King Size Butterfinger.”

After those 7-11 runs we usually went back to her house and watched movies. So many movies. Reality Bites, Pretty in Pink, Footloose and the Wayne’s World movies.

Wayne's World

Oh the Wayne’s World movies…such great memories. Party on!

Anyway, I miss T. I miss our togetherness and how we didn’t have to talk about deep issues or gossip about other people, we just could hang out and discuss why in the world the 7-11 Big Gulp cup said that Mt Dew was available when our store didn’t have it. False advertising, yo.

Sometimes, like Wayne and Garth, the best friends are those who are just fun and get you without having to have deep conversations.

Although I like to think that if we still lived close, we would have those big discussions about religion, politics, child-raising, etc.But maybe not.

What I know is this: If you have a person in your life who you can be half of a duo with, someone who makes you laugh and is easy to be around, say an extra “thank you” for that person. Because I miss mine.

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Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts and opinions are mine. Netflix provided my family with a free year subscription of Netflix and an ipad mini to watch it on.

Blame the Common Core!

 

Since school has started, I have seen all the usual complaints on Facebook about the evils of the Common Core.

I don’t get the math!  Blame the Common Core!

My kid takes test every other minute!  Blame the Common Core!

My kid has too much homework! Blame the Common Core!

I heard that cursive no longer needs to be taught! Blame the Common Core!

Teachers are given scripts to read; they aren’t teaching anymore! Blame the Common Core!

It snowed in November causing a snow day! Blame the Common Core!

Ok, maybe I didn’t hear that last one, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if I did. Lately all the ails of education are being firmly blamed on the Common Core State Standards. As a teacher, this gets tiring to hear/read.

First of all, I didn’t create the Common Core, I just follow the standards. Secondly, I am not opposed to the Common Core. In fact, I sort of like them. I have enjoyed creating projects and lessons more in the past couple years than I have in the decade before. I personally feel more freedom to just be a GOOD teacher.  Let me break it down for you:

Math is hard.

I’m not a math teacher, so it’s hard for me to explain this part to you. I wrote about the math standards last year. Now that I have a son in Kindergarten, I have been following the math standards more closely. I am pleased that not only is he meeting each standard, but I see evidence of how he is learning it through the work that comes home in his folder. The math, so far, seems like it is doing a better job teaching students what numbers mean and how math actually works rather than having them do rote memorization. I think this video explains the math better than I can.

So many tests!

I’m not sure if this is a state thing or a district thing, but I am not seeing it in my district in Michigan. When parents (and even teachers) complain that assessments are taking over their instruction time, I’m not entirely sure if they mean mandated testing (by the state, district, etc) or if they mean assessments their department has put into place.

I give assessments, but they have nothing to do with the fact that I am following common core and everything to do with it being an end of a unit (in vocab or grammar). Papers and projects also count as assessments. And technically I am assessing my students’ understanding daily whether I put it in the gradebook as an official summative assessment or not.

The only assessments that my students HAVE to take outside of my class curriculum are the SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) Test (4 times a year) and the SMI (scholastic math inventory) Test (4 times a year). They also take the state test once a year (in April).

Too much homework!

I don’t know what to tell you here. Homework is not anywhere in the Common Core Standards. In fact, I assign almost no homework.

Homework is an implementation thing. So if you feel your child has too much, you should be talking with the teacher and/or administration.

No more cursive???

Ok, it’s true. Cursive is not included in the Common Core State Standards. But neither is Tuesdays with Morrie and I’m teaching that to my 8th graders. The Common Core are standards that every child in that grade should achieve. That doesn’t mean teachers can’t go beyond the standards. Just because cursive isn’t required in the standards, doesn’t mean teachers aren’t teaching it.

Teacher Scripts.

I’ve heard of this happening. Or at least I’ve heard of districts telling teachers what and how to teach. That is not happening in my district. In fact, I think it’s happening in districts that are panicked about the Common Core and how they can “teach to the test” given in their state.

The teachers in our district (and others across Michigan) have worked hours and hours to actually make learning more student-centered; to create project-based, inquiry-based, and authentic learning for their students.  Since adopting the Common Core in our district years ago (when it was first mentioned in the state), we have actually made more room for good teachers to do good teaching.

If you feel the teachers in your district are being told how to teach–and it’s not good teaching–speak up! No where in the Common Core does it say HOW to teach, only what standards to teach.

Snow Day in November??

This happened here because of a foot of snow. Not the fault of the common core.

Are there issues with the Common Core? Yes. They have become very political, money has ruled (the way it does everything else in this country), and it’s being implemented poorly in some areas.

However, as a teacher in the trenches of it all, dealing with matching what I do with these “new” standards, I like it. I block out much of the politics and bickering about testing and I just do what I do: teach the best I can.

I really believe that is what the majority of teachers are doing. I know my son’s Kindergarten teacher is doing a fabulous job…not because of the common core nor in spite of them, but because he is an amazing teacher.

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I am a part of the Michigan Education Association’s (MEA) Common Core Cadre that works to inform and aid districts across Michigan on best practice of implementing the Common Core State Standards. I’ve also been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan on the subject.

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The best way to be a great student no matter what the standards is to be a great reader!  Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for the children’s book Stand Up!

First Snow Day

Today Eddie and I are home for our very first snow day of the 2014-15 school year.

This is sort of a big deal because it’s only November 18 and there is over a foot of snow out there…and it’s still coming down. It’s also cool because my school district doesn’t close very often (we are an urban district with city roads that are very well plowed), but Eddie’s closes more frequently (his has a ton of rural roads). So the fact that we have today off together is pretty neat.

When I got the call just before 5:30am that my school was closed, I just figured Eddie’s was closed too. He is not a sleeper-in-er, so I figured this would mean when Cortney and Charlie left around 7am, I would need to get up.

Not so. Eddie was content to snuggle on the couch with the tablet and TV until almost 9am! He came into my room, slid into his daddy’s spot in bed, and put his face close to mine, “Mom? Hi. It’s a snow day!  Can you make me some breakfast?”

And thus started our day.

We watched some TV and had some breakfast.

I did some random things around the house that were bugging me (full sink of dishes, towels needing folding, etc) and Eddie decided it was a good day to put a major dent in his weekly homework.

Seriously. He decided this on his own!

2014-11-18 11.02.33

 

After he was done with homework, he got out his crayons and paper and the stapler and made a book. He also read all the Kindergarten sight words to me while I worked next to him. Then he went on to the first grade ones.

We had some lunch and discussed the awesomeness of carrots with ranch dressing.

We read some books.

Now he is watching Frosty the Snowman because it’s fitting and I am thinking about taking a shower…or lying on the couch with a book.

This day was a lovely little blessing.

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Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a signed copy of the children’s book, Stand Up!

Sometimes…

Sometimes…

I feel like I am failing.

I don’t think I have enough patience to be a mother.

I wonder why I thought I could have another baby.

Sometimes…

I don’t think I have enough patience to be a junior high school teacher.

I think I have to choose between being a nice teacher or the crabby teacher because being “fun” means kids can’t refocus.

I think about quitting.

Sometimes…

I feel like a let down as a wife.

I am painfully aware of how much work it is to love me.

I cry when he can’t hear me.

Sometimes…

I wonder why people stay my friend.

I have to admit I wouldn’t be friends with me.

I step outside myself and don’t like what I see.

Sometimes…

I laugh so hard at something my  boys do, I forget all the other challenges of the day.

I see in his eyes that wants no one else but me.

I think I can change the world one student at a time.

Sometimes I forget that my life is blessed because I get blinded by my self-doubts.

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sometimes i know, sometimes i rise
sometimes i fall, sometimes i don’t
sometimes i cringe, sometimes i live
sometimes i walk, sometimes i kneel
sometimes i speak of nothing at all
sometimes i reach to myself, dear god
~Sometimes by Pearl Jam

The Days are Long…

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

I hate that phrase, but I use it all the time.

Just this morning I woke up to our alarm, rolled over, looked at the clock and thought, “How in the world is it only Thursday?”  I find myself wishing the days to go faster, to start later and end earlier.

The days start when it’s dark. I eat the same eggs and toast. I choose from the same few maternity outfits. I take the same drive to work. I follow the same schedule. I can expect the same challenges each day.

The days are ruts. Familiar and comfortable, yet confining and draining.

As I crawl into bed, I curse the early morning alarm that will be sounding in just a few short hours.

Dark morning to dark night.

Every day a list a mile long.

Every day a thousand needs to fill for a thousand different people.

Every day little to no energy.

Every day a thousand things left undone.

Last night I told Cortney that I find myself wishing for the end of the pregnancy because it means the end of this stressful “first” school year in my building, the end of this increasingly uncomfortable pregnancy, and the end of pregnancy for me forever.  But then I feel immediate guilt for such thoughts. I feel those little kicks in there that only I can feel yet. I think about how as soon as Alice is here, she starts that quick stage of infancy…the minute she snuggles in my arms, time starts to take that baby away.

Sunday we were at my nephew’s first birthday party. Charlie came monstering up to me and I actually flinched at how BIG he looked to me. I flashed back to how I cried and cried at how big Eddie looked when I brought Charlie home from the hospital almost 3 years ago, and realized that if Charlie looks big to me now? In four months he is going to seem like a dang adult.

I’ve only been a mom for five and a half years!

But holy cow…I’ve been a mom for a whole five and a half years!  That is longer than I was in college!

How did those years slip by so quickly when I feel like each minute of each day is plodding along at the speed of grass growing?

Somehow I have a 5-year old who tells me that he was “upset” or that something is “inappropriate” as he writes full sentences and reads me books.

Somehow I have a 2.5-year old who “reads” his favorite books because he knows them by heart, tells me he loves me, dances like a fool, and talks in full sentences.

Yet here I sit looking at the clock, wishing it was Friday afternoon rather than Thursday, and willing the next week to fly by so Thanksgiving Break can get here.

How can time fly and drag at the same time?

The Pros and Cons of a Janky Blog

My blog ain’t quite right.

A couple months ago I found I couldn’t log in. So I hired someone amazing and she fixed it.

Or so we thought.

I mean, I can log in and my blog is back and not hacked anymore.  She did her thing.  But something is still janky.  Something that is not her fault or mine.  We thought it was a hosting issue. I have a media library, can upload to it, but cannot access it from a post. So you know, that does me no good.  There are also weird memory-type errors. Like it can’t find my list of tags when I start typing them. It won’t let me make new categories. Among other weirdo things.

But GoDaddy can’t figure it out.

So maybe it’s a WordPress thing?  We don’t know. Cortney is working on it because I just hear gobble-dee-gook and start rocking and crying in a corner.

But I can type words.

It’s been driving me nuts to not post a picture with my posts though. I have pretty much had to give up Project 365 for this year since I am over two months behind. I mean, I have the pictures on my computer, but there is no way I am going to put them all up once (if? ACK!) this thing ever gets fixed.

It’s weird not to photo-document this pregnancy with Alice. In fact, it makes me angry. I have so SO many posts and pictures of BOTH boys in my tummy. Nothing of Alice.

Not being able to post pictures has made me use my words though. I have to either write or not post and because I am sick of not posting, I have been putting my words here.

I’d love to put a montage of snuggly pictures to show you how the boys have been with me lately, but I don’t have that option. So I’ll just have to tell you that Charlie likes to sit so close to me that it’s hard to tell where I stop and he begins. He has started to do this thing when we ask him to come to us where he turns and shakes his booty at us. It’s simultaneously frustrating and hilarious.

We have always laid next to Eddie as he falls asleep at night, but lately he has been turning into my negative space and putting a hand on my arm as he falls asleep.  A couple nights ago he confessed that he wishes I wasn’t pregnant because I am too tired all the time and he doesn’t want to have to share a room with Charlie. Then he started to cry because he was afraid Alice would think he didn’t love her.

My boys are so sweet.

I wish I could put their picture here.

But I guess I really don’t need to.

(I still want my janky blog fixed though.)

Daily Writing

I’ve now written and posted for 7 days in a row.  After all the lack of posts in the past few months (ahem, pregnancy), this is sort of a big thing. I posted on November 1st and then realized that National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo) is this month, so I thought, “what the heck? I’ll give it a try.”

I’m not sure what I thought would happen. Would the flood gates open and I would just start writing the best stuff ever? I mean, I had let the words pile up in there, surely words are like wine…getting better with age, right?

Yeah, no. Those words have gotten dusty and fat. They tumbled out all out of shape and clumsy. They are grubby and unpracticed. They are awkward and lame.

But they are coming out.

I was afraid I wouldn’t have something to say every day.

I was wrong.  In fact, I find myself looking at the world as a writer again. Everything is a potential story to tell. My writer lens is sort of scratched from being tossed aside for a few months, but it still fits. In fact, to my surprise, it’s quite comfy.

I find myself composing in my head on my commute to and from school. I’m jotting down ideas again.  And because I have committed to posting something every single day, I don’t even worry that I am not writing the next amazing masterpiece. I feel like there is so much dang pressure out there lately to write only polished, wonderful pieces…and then also submit them elsewhere, that it feels kind of good to know that I can just come here and write some stuff and post it and not feel the pressure on myself to be more amazing than the last link you clicked on.

I’m just being me here in this space.

What I am right now is a writer finding her way back, dusting off the words, and putting them down. One post at a time.

Living the Reader’s Workshop

Friday I missed school to attend–and present–at the MCTE (Michigan Council of Teachers of English) annual conference in Lansing.

I haven’t been to the conference in years, but this year I was invited to create a presentation proposal with two professors from a local private college about using Reader’s Workshop. Our proposal was accepted and before I knew it, I was on the schedule and registered as a presenter.

The presentation went really well.

My part was first and concentrated on using the Reader’s Workshop with 8th and 9th graders. I also gave my perspective as someone who is very new (only 9 weeks of experience) and what successes and challenges I am seeing so far.

This is where I wish my dumb blog would allow me to add pictures.  In just nine weeks I had an enormous reaction to Reader’s Workshop.

On the day that I was out presenting, I had my students fill out a personal reflection sheet about how it’s been going. Almost unanimously, students agreed that the time we read in class is important and they wish we could do it more often. With the exception of only 5 or less students, everyone said the wish we could read LONGER than 20 minutes and more OFTEN than 3 times a week.

I wholeheartedly agree!

Kids also asked for more books. More from series that I already have, more biographies and memoirs of athletes, more titles like (fill in the blank), more, more, MORE!

Do you know how fantastic it is to hear kids who ten weeks ago claimed, “I don’t really like to read. It’s not my thing,” ask for MORE BOOKS??? It’s amazing!

Kids are also recommending books to each other and telling their parents about their books. At parent teacher conferences tonight I lost track  of how many parents said, “S/he said the other night s/he was going to go read. I couldn’t believe it!” This made me smile SO DANG BIG! And it backed up my claim that if you don’t think you like to read, you haven’t found the right book yet.

The presentation on Friday also gave me ideas of what else to slowly add. One presenter had a good chart for having the kids fill out each day what book they are reading and what page they are on. It’s more organized than my pieces of notebook paper I have been passing around and losing. Oops. I’m hoping that this will be better for data collection.

The other presenter had a cool quote analysis sheet I am going to do with students once a week where they choose a quote from their book to talk about what it means and what connections they can make to it.  This is also a good jumping point for some discussion and takes us beyond mere summarizing–our focus in the first quarter.

I do still have some challenges. Finding something that will get EVERY kid reading is still a struggle. There are a couple kids in each class that are either “book hoppers”–they “read” from a different book every time we have silent reading which really means they are not reading anything at all. Or they are “Media Center Denizens”–every time we are going to read they need to go look for a book in the media center because I just don’t have what they want in my classroom.

I also have a hard time with time. I have full novels I have to read each quarter with my classes as well as grammar, vocabulary, and writing that is mandatory. Being able to fully commit to the Reader’s Workshop model has been almost impossible, but I think I’m working it the best I can.

Next week I am going to share with you some of the books my students love best in case you are looking for gift ideas for the 13-15 year olds in your life!

If you are feeling like giving to students this season, you can find my Amazon Wish List for my Classroom Library here. We are ALWAYS taking donations (and the titles there are all student-generated).

Good Things

We do something at my school called “good things”.  It’s where we share good things that are going on in our lives. Almost every teacher does it, so when great stuff is going on, a student will come in and ask, “Hey Mrs. S, are we doing Good Things today??”  Our assistant principal also shares Good Things during announcements at the end of the day in the form of a Wolf Pride Roll Call where students and teachers can give and get shout outs for doing great things.

I love this because it really creates an atmosphere of positivity in our school.

Today I was a little cranky (yes, again. What?) and I realized that I needed to stop and do my own version of Good Things.

I can feel Alice kicking up a storm! Eddie was a regular mover, but Charlie was a regular gymnast. So far, Alice has Charlie’s booty-shaking tendencies.

Charlie is a complete ham. I find myself looking forward to seeing him first thing each morning, because even as he stumbles out of his room rubbing his eyes, he will still exclaim, “Oh. Hi Mommy!”

Eddie is writing sentences. SENTENCES!  10 weeks ago he wasn’t writing anything but the letters, today he wrote, “I like my mom” next to a picture of me. I melted. And his innocence is almost as sweet. His homework lately has been a sheet of 6 pictures that he needed to write the names of underneath. They are all three-letter words like “dog”, “bat”, “nut”, etc. Then they have to write four sentences using a variety of “popcorn words” (sight words) along with the words they just sounded out.  This has led to the following sentences: “I go to my bat cave” and “I see my nut” and my favorite, “I like my moms (sic) pot”.  Yes, there as a picture of a pot…the kind you cook spaghetti in. But we laughed and laughed.

My classroom library is being used, and people still love to give! For nine weeks students checked out my books and read them. This week I started hanging the Book Ads they made around the library to help them have ideas of what to read next. I also asked my students in a reflection piece, what they wish was in the library.  They listed books, authors, and subjects they wish I had.  I added them all to my Amazon Wishlist–over 100 new titles! Yesterday I shared the link on Facebook and I’ve had four more titles purchased. I can barely contain myself. Every time we have a need, people help. Those people are YOU. Six hundred titles seemed like so many at the beginning of the year. Then those kids started consuming them!  I have girls who read every one of the Princess Diary series in the first nine weeks and wanted something else. Suddenly with 150 students, 600 seems like a small number for the whole year!  Thank you for supporting them!

Cortney is the best husband I could ever ask for. He should be number one on this list. Seriously. He goes out of his way–even when it’s totally uncomfortable for him–to make sure I get enough sleep, have enough time to do my grading, and get off my feet enough. He does far more than his share with the boys, with dinners, with household chores. Not that we keep score. But if we did, he would be winning. Against everyone.

And lastly, tonight I made homemade chicken & rice soup and banana bread for dinner. And it was delightful. Perfect for this rainy, blustery, chilly fall day.

What are some Good Things going on with you right now?

The Peace that Passes Understanding

I don’t believe in coincidences.

Therefore the timing of us going back to church as regular members one year ago coinciding with the installation of our new minister who just happened to be the husband of a teacher friend I had lost touch with felt incredibly planned…by someone.

Sometime last summer Cortney and I decided to put more effort into getting to church on Sunday mornings. We went on and off for a month or so while there as an interim pastor, then we went on vacation and weren’t in church much for a couple weeks. We knew that our church had called a new pastor because we got the letter, and when I saw the last name I remember thinking “Huh. I wonder if he is somehow related to G?”  G was someone I had taught with back in my early days in my district and with whom I had taken some grad classes–she for her Doctorate and me for my Masters.

After school started, we got back into the habit of going to church again. This is when I realized not only was our new minister related to G, he was married to her.

Since that moment of realization, my life has been very different.

Going to church regularly has changed me.

No, I didn’t suddenly turn in to a praise-singing, hand-clapping, arm-in-the-air-swaying Jesus Freak (not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not me). In fact, my faith and beliefs haven’t changed much at all.

I still wrestle with a lot of the same questions about God and why things happen the way they do and why there is so much pain. I still prefer traditional hymns, pastors in robes, and following the liturgy over drums and smoke machines, jeans on church leaders, and unpredictable  passage selection. I still believe women have a place in leadership roles.

What is different is more internal.

It’s something that almost surpasses words, it’s more of a feeling.

Church is more than sitting in a pew week after week. It is the warm smiles and the “good morning, Sluiter Family!” we are greeted with. It is the question about my job or pregnancy or writing coming from a place of genuine interest. It’s the Peace. It’s the hymns that my grandma and mom used to sing. It’s having Eddie sit in the pew next to me coloring pictures of Jesus and humming to all the hymns. It’s the hugs I get from good friends who are genuinely glad to see me and my family.

Church is knowing all week that someone out there is thinking and praying for you–not because they are your family, but because they are your church family.

It’s a sense of peaces that passes all understanding.

It’s a community.

It’s a family.

It’s love.

It’s reconnecting with a friend I had no idea I needed so badly.

I’m still not a hugger or a personal-space invader. I’m still not comfortable publicly praying. I am not handing out Bibles on street corners.

But I am learning more. I am believing harder. And my heart is much, much bigger and filled with more love and people and joy and peace.

I wouldn’t say I have gotten many answers, but I have gotten a feeling of Ok about having the questions and the doubt.

And I think that is what I was searching for–a deeper sense of peace that I can draw from even in my most anxiety-ridden moments. I don’t really understand this sense I have now, but I will take it. Because one thing I know for sure: you don’t have to understand something for it to be Truth.

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