hearts breaking

My second year of teaching, a senior died in a jet-ski accident.

There were suicides.

There was a swimming accident.

There was a drunk driving accident–that one claimed two lives.

I’ve been in those horrible before school emergency staff meetings. The ones where it is horribly quiet and no one is making eye contact with each other.

Grief counselors on site for those who need someone to talk with or to cry with.

I am not down-playing those tragedies. They were awful and they rocked our schools.

But today was a category all it’s own.

This morning I stood in front of my first hour and had to deliver the news that one of the teachers had died suddenly the night before.

Because it is only my second year teaching in the school, and she and I teach different grades, I’ve only chatted with her a couple times, but I knew she was a student-favorite. I knew she was extremely close with much of the staff.

I stood in front of the class thinking I could read the script clearly, but I started to tremble. I knew the words after I said, “I am so sorry to have to inform you…” were going to absolute wreck my students.

And they did.

It was a short paragraph, but the sobs and sniffling started immediately.

They are just children, and someone they loved has been taken from them. Stolen.

Immediately I wanted to shelter my students. I wanted to not read the words. I wanted them to be protected from the pain for just a bit longer.

But I couldn’t. I had to break their hearts.

Those hearts were not alone, though. Immediately we brought kids to the ears and shoulders and arms they needed. Teachers postponed plans. We listened. We shared, but mostly we listened.

Between classes, the halls were quiet for the first few hours. Students found friends and fell into each other’s arms.

Administrators from all the other buildings stopped in.

Past staff were in the halls for faculty and students.

Teachers experienced grief hand-in-hand and side-by-side with their students.

At the end of the day, we were “debriefed”.

Exhausted, tear-stained faces gathered. Those who knew her best shared –and I was once again overcome with the wonderful person she was and how I wished I had gotten to know her better.

We were encouraged to take care of ourselves this weekend because today, we took care of our students first.

It’s what Abbey would have done.


Please pray for the students and staff of Wyoming Public Schools and for the family and friends of Abbey Czarniecki.

Oh Yeah, I Teach Too.

The first thing people ask me when they see me is, “So. How is the school year going?”

I realized today that I am constantly answering that question in real life, but have been weirdly quiet about it here.   Today was the last day of the first marking period. One quarter of the school year is already over.  That is sort of crazy to me. I mean, it feels like we just started.

So how is it going?

In a word: Great.

Last year was Ok. It was better than I thought it would be, but I told myself I wouldn’t make a judgement based on my first year–one where I was overly tired and emotional due to being pregnant. And one I didn’t finish because of said pregnancy.

This year is already a million times better if only because I have much more energy. I mean, I don’t have to waddle my way to the copy room only to need a nap when I get back. So you know, bonus!

My Reader’s Workshop is off to a really good start. There are still parts I need to tweak, but the kids are responding well to it. They are enjoying reading what they want to read, and I’ve gotten positive feedback from them on the amount of time I give them to silent read.

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This year I also added the Reader’s Notebook portion where I give them 4-5 minutes to respond to their reading.  This part may need some adjusting. I showed the students the notebook that I am keeping, and I share it with them every week so they can get some ideas for their own. Some kids are doing a ridiculously awesome job; others are trying to just get by with a one-or-two-sentence summary each time. My goal is to get kids to think deeper about what they read, but I don’t want it to turn into busy work. It needs to feel like an authentic way to put their own voice into what they are experiencing via the written word.


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We’ve also been writing. I find that with some of the curricular requirements I have (reading a full-class novel each quarter and doing vocab lists), I don’t have the time to set up workshops the way I would like. I think if it were up to me, our entire class would be set up as a workshop. We would always be in either Reader’s Workshop or Writer’s Workshop mode. I haven’t found a way to do that with us reading a whole class novel and doing sixty vocabulary words a marking period, but I do feel like I am making progress.

This quarter we wrote personal narratives using the This I Believe essay format (from NPR). We did each of the steps together: I modeled it, then they did it. I wish we had had about one more week for them to do some peer-work with them. They didn’t turn out exactly as I had hoped. Some kids did fantastic, of course, but overall I felt I could do a better job.

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The last thing I have incorporated this year is the anchor chart. I have full-on-embraced those things and the kids love them! I have been making them for everything! We have character charts, plot maps, grammar charts, critical reading charts, writing charts…they are EVERYWHERE! All the research I have done supports the use of visual cues as a way to help students absorb what they learn, so I do it.

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I’ve been working hard to write about what I’m doing and what is best practice over at The Educator’s Room as well as sites like Nerdy Book Club, Writers Who Care, and others. I also presented again at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE) conference.

While I feel good about what I am doing and where I am going and my level of involvement in my own professional development, I guess I haven’t written about it because I don’t want to toot my own horn too much. I mean, as I typed up each of the above things, my head was swimming with the kids I’m still not reaching, what we still need to work on, and how I could do it better and more efficiently than I am now.

I’m reluctant to yell, LOOK AT ALL MY AWESOME, when I feel like it’s not the level of awesome it could be. I mean, the ideas are awesome. The practice COULD be awesome, but it still needs work.

So yes, the school year is going great…but I am also still working on it.

March Book Shower

March is when Alice is coming (the 6th).  March is Charlie’s third birthday (the 13th).  March is my thirty-seventh birthday (the 27th).  March is also READING MONTH.

March also means my last day of teaching until fall. While it is exciting to think of being done for six months, it also stressful for me getting ready to leave my students–and my classroom library–with someone else for 12 weeks.  Will the sub love and care for my books the way I do?  Will my students continue to be responsible about checking out and returning books without stealing or losing them?

What I know for sure is that I have students who are definitely reading those books. I would say that over 75% of my classes are doing more than required one independent book per marking period, and of the remaining 25% of students, less than 10% are just not reading or doing their required work.

With only 4 days left of work for this year, I would say my biggest success has been Reading Workshop. I have many things I would like to add or adjust for next year, but as my first year trying Reader’s Workshop AND being in a new grade-level and building, I would say it’s been more successful than I could have hoped.

That said, I always, always need more books. So rather than having a baby shower, I was told I should throw a book shower!

If you want to participate in my March Book Shower to celebrate the birth of Alice, mine and Charlie’s birthdays, Reading Month and the success of my first year of Reader’s Workshop just click the imagine below and it will take you to my classroom wishlist.


This wishlist has been compiled by my students as they read and request books. There are over 300 titles, so if you click through, you can find something you would love to add to our library.

It would only take a gift of ONE book per blog reader and my students would be able to have the books that will keep them reading!

I would love it if you would share this post with others too! You can either click on the share buttons below, or you can use this when you share via twitter or Facebook:

Join me in throwing @ksluiter a Book Shower in honor of March being Reading month, her new baby girl, and her students’ love of reading! http://wp.me/p1qChn-2yS

It’s about to get crazy in Sluiter Nation…help us celebrate!

Close and Critical Reading

Because one of my district’s School Improvement Goals is literacy-based, we developed an assessment called Close and Critical Reading (CCR). I know what you’re thinking…aw jeez, another assessment.

Hear me out.

Teaching CCR skills helps students not just understand what they read better, but it helps them to intelligently talk about the features of the text, the inferences they can make, and the connections they see. Students are given a text appropriate to the content of the class they are in (we do this across the curriculum so students can build their skills in all sorts of texts, not just fiction in the English class). Then they are given four questions:

  1. What does the text say? (summarize)
  2. How does the text say it? (discuss genre, features, and language)
  3. Why does the text say it? (inference of theme, lesson, or slice of life)
  4. So what? (making connections both with self and society)

We give the test as a summative assessment four times a year (once per marking period), but we do formative assessments of these skills almost daily–at least in the English Language Arts classes.

I have been doing CCR-type lessons with my high school students for year, but now that I am a junior high teacher, I need to remember that these students need the basics before they can refine the skills.

This led me to create my very first anchor charts!
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You can see that I do not have the neatness and creativity of a seasoned anchor chart maker, but I did my best.
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and as we move on, you can tell I lost my patience with trying to write neatly…
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and instead of starting over when there were boo boos, I just fudged it.

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In order to teach these skills, we also teach active reading, but that is another post.

It’s funny because if you tell the students they are learning CCR skills, they get all groany. But if you just have them do the skills without labeling, they do it with {almost} no whining.

Couple this with all the “free” silent reading we do in class in our own books means we are building much better readers…and kids who actually like to read!

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.


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.


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!

some parting words

Dear seniors of Sluiter Nation,

Or should I say, “Ok guys, a few things…” since that is how I start every single class, every single day for the past nine months with you.

Tomorrow (Friday) is your last day. I’ve been back and forth and kept awake at night about these last couple days with you. I want our year to end just right. I want to say just the right things to you.  But here is the deal, I can’t.

I can’t do it.

For one, if I say the things in my heart out loud, it will come out all wrong. I will make one of my faces because I will feel uncomfortable and you will all laugh. Or, and this is my bigger fear, I will cry.

Plus I would have to say all this four times since there are four classes of you guys.

So I am going to write my parting words for you (and the rest of the interwebs, I guess) to read. So here it goes…

I’m going to miss you weirdos.

I am not exaggerating when I say this has been my best year of teaching in at LEAST five years.  I have never not liked my job, but this year I loved it again.  That was because of you guys.

I can’t remember the last time I was so exhausted at the end of the school year…but in a good way. In a way that felt like I was tired because I had put forth so much of my heart and soul into good things. You guys are those good things.

And I will miss you.

First hour, I will miss the way we eased into our mornings together. School started at 7:30am, but we were never a full class until at BEST 7:45 (Ok, I won’t miss that, ya slackers!), but I do appreciate that you guys could hang out on those days of terrible weather that  made me late. I never had to worry about you guys acting like fools while I wasn’t there. I could concentrate on getting to school safely.

I’ll miss the way that even though you seemed sort of asleep, you were consistently the class who heard all the directions–even if you were always the last to get every single assignment in from each person.

I’ll miss the guys, and I’ll miss all the ladies who tolerated the guys and joined me in the eye-rolling about the guys.

Petey and Tyler, may you continue to always find a funny on a Friday even after you’re not in room 47 anymore. And Logan, I’m sorry I almost got you fired for getting you addicted to hashtags. #sorrynotsorry

Fourth hour, I will miss your great greetings.  Each of you were so good at saying, “Hey Mrs. Sluiter!” or “Good morning, Mrs. Sluiter!”  You all came in so happy each day.

And you kicked ACE at English.  You did. You amazed me on the daily. This class consistently blew me out of the water with the level of awesome that you achieved on stuff I assigned.

Whether we were talking about Beowulf, Macbeth, or you were talking in your book clubs, the stuff you came up with was awesome and so uniquely YOU.

Oh and Cody? #merica

Sixth hour, Thank you for being my after lunch class. You guys won as the class who, hands down, had the best class discussions.  You also laughed the hardest at my stories and jokes, which means you win.

I will miss your ridiculous randomness, your tireless effort to get out of work, and how shocked you all were when you realized that you could do amazing things (like write really well and read a whole book and love it).

I will miss how great you could make me feel even though it was the afternoon and I wanted to be tired.

I do give side-eye to all of you who brought in delicious-looking snacks and never shared with me. #justsayin’

Although thanks for not leaving a mess because messes = mice and bugs. Mice and bugs = GROSS.

Seventh hour, Thanks for being, by far, the chillest last hour of the day I have ever had in thirteen years in the teaching business. I know anyone who walked in my room did a double take because they couldn’t believe you all were working so hard and so quietly. I like to say I am such a BA teacher that I made you that way, but you are all just that cool.

Instead of being wild banshees at the end of the day, you guys knew to get your shiz done and get on with it. I like that.

Well, except you, Nick. You were totally out of control. #sarcasmfont

All of you…

I know you’re giggling as I get sappy here because you know there were times you did nothing in my class. I know that too. I mean, it wasn’t perfect.

There were things that I could have done differently to make you all more successful, and there were definitely things some of you could have done differently to have a better ending to this school year.

But what it came down to was this: you guys made me want to be a better teacher each day. You made me want to try new things that would help more students. And you LET me try those things–like the book clubs–without too much complaint, and even with a whole lot of encouragement.

You were honest with me.

You were fun.

You were serious.

You were ridiculous.

You were totally weird.

You were random.

You were you.

And I am going to miss each and every one of you (yes, even you).

Because I know you think teachers taking selfies is hilarious.

Because I know you think teachers taking selfies is hilarious.

I want you to know I am proud of each of you. EACH OF YOU has something from my class to be proud of. I have been praying for each of you this entire school year.

I am so happy to have been a tiny part of each of your lives.

Thank you.

~Mrs. Sluiter

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!” 

(Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss)

way leading on to way

I’ve been listening to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ album, The Heist, a lot lately.

I’m not sure if that is either here nor there or if it has to do with anything. It’s just been my thinking music lately.

Anyway, I’m feeling…I don’t know what. Frustrated? Disappointed?  Sad. I’m feeling sad.

Last week I wrote about why the Common Core Standards are not evil. Of course, after that, I ended up seeing about fifty posts about why they are basically the anti-Christ.

I lost sleep over those posts.

I cried.

Why can’t they understand? Why can’t *I* make them understand?

Friday night, after midnight, I finally closed my Chromebook, and took my upset, worry-filled tummy to bed.  And tossed and turned all night.  I fretted all day Saturday.

I was encouraged to write another piece.

I don’t know.

Lately I feel like I am standing next to a huge…giant…ENORMOUS mountain.  If I squint, I can see the top through the fog and clouds. At the top I see a spot that I would totally look good on. I would be comfortable there. And I know, I KNOW I would rock that spot on the top of the mountain.

But then I let me eyes travel down from that spot on the top. Down the side, over the cliffs and crags, over and under the dangers and perils, until I get to my own two feet at the bottom of the mountain.

I look around me a the rather large hills that I climb each day. Some times I run up them and stand at the top with my arms raised.  Other times I pull myself up by sheer will power.

Other days I don’t quite make it to any of the tops of those hills.

And then I look back up that mountain.

I am so small.

I am just one person.

The internet is not my job. It’s not even my full-time hobby or passion.

Over the past six+ years, I have accumulated a small audience. A community I love. People out there who support my writing and push me forward in this thing called life with love and words.

But we are a small speck of the internet.

I’ve always been Ok with that because it’s never been my intent to leave teaching for writing. It’s never been my dream or goal to write a book. I have no intention of leaving this space behind, but I don’t have any plans to make a drastic life change either. I love to teach.

Let me say it again: I love to teach.

The Common Core is not my passion; teaching students is my passion.

I have a lot…a LOT…I could say in response to the outrage and rants out there on the internet by people who are not currently in education and who are basing their opinion of the Common Core on implementation strategies and procedures they are seeing in their schools or have “heard about”.

But the internet–and all those looking for a scandal and another reason to hate public schools–are not going to listen to me, a small blogger who happens to be a teacher.

No one cares about my credentials (over a decade of teaching experience, BA in English, MA with an emphasis on teaching English, member of the National Writing Project via the Third Coast Writing Project, member of the National Council of Teachers of English, high school English teacher, and adjunct English instructor at our local community college).

The fact is I am not going to write the next viral post on education.

Because posts that tell people about the good stuff that is going on due to a government-mandated change rarely go viral. Those posts get ten or so pat-on-the-back comments from people who already read that blog (which I love, by the way) and then the internet moves on to what it can be outraged about next.

If I could, I would take the internet into my district, into my school, and into my classroom. I would show you my students and their writing. I would introduce you to the families and the community.  I would let you see our brutal reality, but show you how we do such SUCH positive things every single day while following the Common Core. I would invite you to a department meeting, a staff meeting, a student meeting.

Shoot, forget about the Common Core. I don’t even care about it. What I care about is public education. I care about changing the perspective. I care about fixing the system.

I care about teaching kids. I care about making their future better.

I could climb that mountain and I could get to the top and I could be loud and proud up there.

But it’s just a big mountain.

And I’m so small.

So I will turn away from that mountain and leave it for another day.  Although, as my man Robert Frost said in a poem that is sort of famous, I know how “way leads on to way” and that I will probably  never come back.

I’d look good on top of that mountain.  I would.

But I can’t abandon the hills for the cause–or pride- of climbing a mountain.


On a totally different note, my friend Jennifer P. Williams is at the tail end of her 31 days of cookies series and yesterday she posted a recipe I sent her for Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies.

crippling expectations

A few weeks ago I bought a beautiful purple mum. I placed it on our stoop next to our front door under a fall wreath that I had created a couple years ago. Every time I pulled into our driveway, I smiled at the pretty pop of color it gave the house as all the rest of the plants had started to wither and brown.

Yesterday as I turned into our driveway, I noticed that my mums were all dried up and brown.

I had forgotten to water them.

Something was bound to give, I suppose. This is the paradox of this school year for me, and I was feeling it on Sunday.  The brown mums were the last straw, I guess you could say.

I love each and every opportunity and responsibility I have taken on this fall.

Having four sections of twelfth grade English has been so fun and such a great challenge. I love the immense responsibility of helping our school get it’s graduation rate up because it’s not just a number to me, it’s the 100 faces that show up in my classroom each day. For some of these kids it means they will be the first in their family to graduate.  That isn’t a statistic to me, it’s personal.

Last year I took on the volunteer task of doing Students of the Month at my school.  Each month I send out a survey to staff gathering nominations. Then I get to announce the winning students in each grade (one boy and one girl, so a total of six kids each month). But I don’t have it end there. I track down each student, have each fill out a profile questionnaire, and then pose for a photo. Then I ask their teachers to give me a sentence or two about the student. I take all that, combine it with their photos and post it on a bulletin board in the hall. I also submit it for the monthly school newsletter.

It’s a lot of work for no pay, but I adore it. The kids get such a proud smile when they find out they are chosen. And reading what their teachers say about them almost make me tear up. But my favorite part is watching students look at the bulletin board. It’s such a huge affirmation to our kids here.

Being back in the Community College classroom has been positive for me too.  I absolutely love teaching a class that is focused on writing. I love the discussion and the higher level of maturity I get with college students. I feel like I am able to stretch my teaching muscles in new ways through teaching this class.

On top of all that I am trying to keep up with freelance writing. I love the challenge of expository writing and researching content that I may not otherwise read about. I like practicing what I preach. I spend so much time teaching students to do good informational writing, but recently I haven’t done much of it myself. Unfortunately, when things get busy, this is the first thing I have to say no too.  And of course it’s the only one bringing me in some spending money for Christmas gifts, but I would rather give that up than give up time with my family.

This past weekend things caught up with me.

I have been diligently sticking to my time management plan, but  when 130 essays get turned in at once, things get squished.

Sunday I felt like I was failing everyone. I couldn’t grade fast enough. It consumed my entire day and evening. I wasn’t seeing my family, I wasn’t going fast enough to get the papers back to my students in a timely way.

I texted Cortney from where I sat in Starbucks armpit-deep in essays. I was crying and I told him I felt useless and horrible. He assured me I was neither and to just work through it one essay at a time.

Later when I complained that I was such a slow reader and commenter, he said, “no, you’re just really thorough. You want to give your students the tools to succeed. That is not a bad thing.”

He is right, but it makes me feel so awful.

I never feel good enough.

I have such high expectations of myself. I have such lofty goals.

I want 100% of my seniors to graduate this year.

I want 100% of my college students to get better at writing and start to like it a little bit.

I want to have a quick turn back rate so students (and parents) can understand where they are in terms of mastering my content.

I hate that it takes me weeks to get essays back.

I hate that it I can’t keep up with calling/meeting with students who are in danger of not graduating–that I run out of time to check on ALL their grades and touch base.

I wish I could give up sleep…or have an extra 12 hours added to each day just for sleeping, so the other 24 can be for other stuff. I don’t want to give up on my family or my students.

But sometimes it feels like I am failing people if I let myself sleep or watch TV or stare at Pinterest. Like I should be grading or writing or planning or doing something for someone else.  If there are items on my To Do List it seems that I am a waste if I am not working on them.

I know I have to put myself first or no one will get the best of me. I know this.

And yet…when I let myself go to bed after grading only one paper or I let myself play Words With Friends on my phone or I write this blog post instead of filing writing samples…I feel guilt.

Stupid guilt.

I take my jobs–all of them–very seriously. Very personally.

When I don’t meet my own expectations that I place on myself, I feel like I let everyone down.

pile-of-paperAm I putting too much pressure on myself? Should my expectations of myself be lower? Am I crippling myself with my expectations?

This is what I know: I can’t have high expectations of my kids–both my own and my students–if I don’t also have high expectations of myself…right?


a homecoming to remember

I remember a lot of things in fairly vivid detail, but recently Cort and I were trying to remember going to football games when we were in high school and there wasn’t much we remembered.

He didn’t usually go to many since our friends were all on the field and his girlfriend lived in another district. He spent time with her instead.

I went to every home game because I was in the band.  I remember marching and sitting in the bleachers until  halftime, but I can’t remember much else. I can’t remember if I changed and stayed for the game after halftime or not. I had a boyfriend who was not in band, but was two years older, so maybe my freshman and sophomore year I did? I really can’t remember.

And I remember almost nothing of homecoming. I know we had pep assemblies. I remember voting for King and Queen, but I don’t remember much from the game. As for the dance, ours was after the game in the school cafeteria and it wasn’t formal. We just showed up in our jeans and over-sized flannels and Doc Martins and pretended to know what we were doing when OPP by Naughty By Nature was played. The Homecoming court were the only ones wearing fancy clothes.

Looking back, it was all sorts of awkward.

I’ve written before about Homecoming. For a couple years, I was the adviser for Student Council. I was in charge of the pep assembly and the dance. Never again. It is so much work and it’s not my thing AT ALL.

After that I was senior class adviser for about five years. I really enjoyed that. I was in charge of the Homecoming Court/halftime of the game. I loved working with the seniors because they were so excited. That job also included planning graduation though, and I had to give up the position when I was pregnant with Charlie since my maternity leave would have me off at the end of the school year.

It’s been a huge relief to not be in charge of anything during homecoming for the past couple years; I’ve been able to attend what I want and just enjoy it.

The cheerleaders getting peppy at the pep assembly.

The cheerleaders getting peppy at the pep assembly.

This year for Homecoming, we nixed the parade and had a mini-carnival instead. I think this is the best idea we’ve had in a long time. Not only did my kids LOVE it, but so did the community.  TONS of families and kids came out…and then stayed for the game.

It was standing room only!

After the carnival and about 3 minutes of the game, Cort took Charlie home, but I stayed with Eddie until after halftime.

I knew he would have a great time, but didn’t take into account the swelling my heart would do.

{aside: seriously, I should be prepared for this by now. Whenever Eddie is involved, he sucker punches me to the heart with pride}

It all started with the carnival.

Can you find the Sluiter Kid?

Can you find the Sluiter Kid?

Eddie was so excited about the carnival! If I am honest, I thought the long lines for the games and activities would bring out a pouty face and some whining.  The boys had been up since 6:30am, after all, and Eddie had school that day too.  But my Big Guy was a great listener and waited patiently for his turn.

Two dudes eatin' wieners.

Two dudes eatin’ wieners.

After the games, we found a spot on the grass to eat our complimentary hot dog dinner. I was impressed again with how nice he sat and ate his whole dinner.  I had Charlie in the Ergo and if we weren’t walking around (ie waiting in lines) he got a little antsy, but he did a good job of eating what Cort handed to him for dinner too.

I have a Bird on my back, yo.

I have a Bird on my back, yo.

After the carnival, it was time for the football game. Cort and Charlie hung out for a little while, but since the game started at 7pm and Charlie’s bedtime is usually 7:30pm, they didn’t stay long.  Eddie was being way good though, so I stayed behind with him for the first half of the game.

He was so good. SO GOOD.

First we had to get some popcorn. He waited patiently in line and ordered our popcorns for us all by himself.

“Two popcorns, please.  Thank you.”

I smiled so big.  What a gentleman!

He was wary of all the “big kid students” who kept coming up and saying hi to us. “Them are ALL your students? That’s a LOT of students, mom.”

I think he thought every kid there was in my class. He doesn’t quite get that I have five classes, but I know a lot more kids than who are on my rosters. By the end he would hear, “HEY, MRS. SLUITER!” come from somewhere and just put his hand up to wave and yell “HI!” to no one in particular.

He adjusts to fame quickly.

Poppin' Corn, yo.

Poppin’ Corn, yo.

Armed with popcorn, Eddie really wanted to go back into the bleachers…to the TOP of the bleachers to be exact. As we made our way through the crowds, I noticed all the kids standing in their groups having drama or laughing or checking out other groups of kids.

I do remember this, I thought.

Kids there to see and be seen.  Not much has changed in the past 20 years in that respect, I guess.

It felt different to be there as a mom instead of finding my little huddle of peeps and sharing in the gossip and jokes. It’s way better as a parent.

When we got to our spots at the top of the bleachers, I fielded questions about the scoreboard, the numbers on the field, cheerleaders, and the kids behind us speaking Spanish.

“Mom. Them kids are speaking Spanish. People speak that. Did you know that?”

I had to explain to him that he shouldn’t stare because staring at them wasn’t going to make him understand them since the only words he knows are “hola” and “boca”.

“But you speak Spanish, mom. Hey. Why are their numbers on the field?”

It was like that. One subject to the next.

And it was awesome.


At halftime we watched “them pretty princess girls and boys” ride on the “fancy cars” to see who would be “picked to be famous.”

We made our way down to the fence to be in the front row.  Eddie accurately (an nonchalantly, I might add)  predicted who would get “picked” impressing all the kids around us.

He wanted to go then, so we started making our from the far side of the bleachers back to the concession area where the gate was. That’s when the band took the field.

Future Band Nerd like his mother?

Future Band Nerd like his mother?

“Mom! Stop!”

We had to stop and watch the high school band perform. Eddie was mesmerized by the drums and the marching and the flags. It made my band nerd heart so happy.

After that he announced he was tired and could we please go home.

It was after 8:30pm–and hour after bedtime–and I knew it was time.

On our way out, we were stopped a few times by students. Once we finally made it to the parking lot, Eddie took my hand–something he never does on his own–and kissed the top.

“You are my best Mommy, Mom. I love you. Thank you for having this football game and carnival at your school.”

I stopped, squatted down, kissed the top of his hand and said, “You are my best Eddie. Thank you for being you and coming with me.”

He almost fell asleep on the way home.

I might not remember much about football games and homecoming from when I was a teenager, but I will never forget the football games and homecomings from now, when I am a parent.

It’s Personal

Friday I did something that I wasn’t sure was a good idea, but that I felt I needed to do. I made a snap decision to be vulnerable with my seniors.

I read them my post about depression.

Having never read any of my own personal writing out loud before, and certainly not in front of a bunch of teenagers, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But they all listened intently. In fact, I could feel their listening, if that makes sense.

I was nervous, had no idea what to say to introduce the piece, and knew less what to say or do after I finished. One hour was super quiet. One hour gave me a huge round of applause. One student hugged me. Once I cried.

Why in the world did I do this?

I am trying to teach them to write personal narratives.


The Common Core Standards (which we use) say that the students will, “write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.”  Under that main standard there are five sub-standards based on structure and technique and language.

Pretty generic, but I am Ok with that. It leaves it up to the department/teachers how they want to teach the standard.

We decided to start the year with personal narratives and the prompts we give the kids to choose from are ones that are common on college applications: about important experiences, people who impacted them, the communities they are part of, etc.  The idea is that they are not just writing for a teacher, but for a more “real” audience.

That aside, I want these narratives to be good.

I want my students to dig deep in their souls and pull out something meaningful and powerful. I want them to bleed onto the page. I want them to be so good that I scramble to figure out how to have some sort of public presentation for them to read and share their awesomeness.

I dream big when I dream of my students’ success.

But first we have to start at the beginning.  The blank sheet. The empty document. The blinking cursor.

I started by giving them real examples of student essays–ones we found through a website devoted to helping students write quality entrance essays.  Learn by example before doing, right?

They read them, we talked about what we noticed, but I didn’t feel that they really knew what I was asking. Sure they could tell me that “showing not telling” was important and that the great essays they read did more showing that telling, but I wanted them to do that in their writing too.

I knew they recognized good writing, but could they do it?  I believed so.

But they needed to hear something by someone they knew and could relate to personally. They had to know the person behind the writing.

They  needed to be inspired.

Since this is my first year teaching seniors, I don’t have samples to draw from past years; and besides, it’s always more powerful to have someone you know read their work.

I could tell on Friday that while my students accepted that their first paper assignment was this personal narrative, they were not planning to dig deeply for it.

So I walked over to my computer, loaded up the blog, printed my post, and stood before my students.

And I read my story.

As far as form goes, it was not the best example of what they needed to write. But it was exactly what I wanted them to do with vulnerability and voice.

After I read it, I asked if they understood what I meant by choosing something personal. Not something private, but personal. They nodded, but to find out, I had them each brainstorm ideas for each prompt on their list using lists. The next day, I had them choose one of the ideas they had from one of the prompts and fastwrite about it for 7 minutes.

I asked them to look at their fastwrite and underline/highlight/circle things they liked: ideas, words, phrases, sentence structure.  Look just for the “lovely” (to borrow a phrase from her) in their “bad” writing.

The next day we mapped. Our district teaches all students how to use eight different thinking maps.  The hang in my room on a wall and I routinely see students staring at them deciding which one will best help them manage their thoughts on a subject.

I gave them examples of how they could use a variety of the maps to plan their narrative.

Today they are writing.

Writing and writing.

I’ve looked over shoulders and held netbooks with drafts hammered out on them. Some are bad. Some are Ok. Some have that thing…that shimmer of potential of greatness.

Some students are focused. I see them stare off biting a nail, earbuds in while they think of the next thing they will type. Some are distracted and discussing what happened at lunch.  Drafts are due to me by Friday.

I am going to do everything in my power to look at each. To come up with a good plan for revision. To teach my students to help each other.

But that is another post.

For now, they are writing narratives.

Narratives that I hope they will want to read and be applauded for in front of their peers.

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