xmlns:og>='http://ogp.me/ns#'> Pedals & Pencils: June 2009

June 26, 2009

Cover Letter '09

Dear Amanda and Peter,

Once when I was rafting, (Jodi can tell you which river), our raft stuck in Hell Hole, a sink hole kind of thing that spanned the width of the river.  Our raft was completely submersed under water, with all of us still sitting in it.  It was such a strange feeling, sitting in the raft with water above me.  I remember looking up at the water and thinking "This is not good."  I wasn't really sure what to do, but then our raft popped back up to the surface and flung me into the cold rapids.  A guide on the bank threw me a rescue line and pulled me to shore.

Writing was a lot like that this year.  I was submerged in this thing that wouldn't let me go and I didn't know what to do.  The institute was a rescue line for me, a line back to myself.  The pieces I selected for my portfolio are a reflection of this stuck stage and my inaugural steps back out of it.

The first piece, "The Escape Artist", tells a story that grips me even after many years.  I think about Brice daily.  His story directed many of the changes I made in my approach to writing with my young writers.  It was a gift to come back to it after a year and tie that story to my current practice.

"The Gray Hair" was a way for me to show all of my cards at the pre-retreat.  So much of this year required me to put on a brave face, often a fake face.  It was important to me to begin this institute honestly, even though it meant exposing vulnerability.  I fleshed out the raw truth and was surprised that it resonated with others.  Donald Murray says "The more personal I am, the more universal I become."  Never has that been more true for me than this year.

One of the hardest and most rewarding pieces I wrote this summer was "Hands".  It started as I wrote with my students, transformed during my presentation, demanded that I work on it at the writing marathon, and finally rested when I realized that a multimodal document was the genre that would house it best.  I did not include the multimodal document because that's for Terry, but I did include the text.  During the writing marathon I followed Lynn's good advice, I stopped fighting it and gave myself permission to write about this thing until I didn't need to anymore.  Giving myself the freedom to write about it as much as I needed to was apparently the key to being set free.

I've included "Clipless Pedals" because I love me some cycling and I love writing about the funny things that happen on my bike.  Life can be funny, so very funny, and I no longer take that for granted.

The final piece I've included in my portfolio is "Big Voice".  It's a found poem from Newkirk's book.  It represents two things.  First, it captures my desire to return to writing poetry.  Secondly, it illustrates the beliefs I hold true as a writing teacher.  It also conveys the responsibility I feel to speak up for what I know is true about fostering a love of writing in children.

Thank you for allowing me to attend the institute a second time.  Thank you for being a rescue line.  Thank you for encouraging me to pursue bigger things in the arena of writing and teaching writing.  It's more than I ever imagined for myself.  I am grateful and blessed.


Alicia McCauley


My hands are a book of stories, a criss-cross of scars, both seen and unseen. The scar across the back of my hand reminds me of my clumsy, carefree childhood, chasing my brothers through the house.  Stomping, yelling, running when running was just for fun.  Then the acute pain of catching my hand on my dad's wire bristled sanding wheel, the bristles, like porcupine quills catching under my skin.  And then my mother's tender hands, silky smooth bandaging my own small hand.

My cycling gloves have drawn tan lines across my wrists, a promise that adventure is mere pedal strokes away.  Steering my bike up mountains, beside rivers, through waves of wildflowers bowing over the plains.  My bike is escape.  My legs turn circles while my hands brake, shift, and guide almost without thought.  My mind moves beyond the daily clatter.  It is my space to think about big things and small things all under the careful guidance of my hands.

My left hand wears the promise of love.  Love in all its joy.  Love in all its pain.  Love without condition.  Love like I thought I didn't have the capacity to give.  Or receive.  How my lovely hands took care of me this year.  Wiping away tears, both his and mine.  Our hands clasped in the spare doctor's office, trying to hold onto light and hope.  If we just entwined our fingers tight enough, maybe our life together would not slip away.

My hands twisted medicine bottle lids, rubbed his back after lonely nights, and threw my raw prayers up to heaven.

The skin of my hands began to peel, as if my heartache had descended into my fingers and my hands could only respond by peeling away the layers.  It was painful, the forced exposure of new skin before it was time.  And still my hands continued to do all the required jobs just so I could make it from one day to the next.  Soon one day became many days and we'd held on long enough, tight enough, that our life together did not slip away.

My right hand wears the promise of eternity, of peace beyond my most vivid imaginings.  We cling to this and it clings to us.  It is here in our morning prayers, hands folded that we rediscover our life together, cognizant of the fact that we balanced precariously on the edge of it all and didn’t fall.

Stories balance on the tip of my tongue and the callous on my finger reminds me of my childhood spent holed up in my room, poetry spilling out, filling pages with graphite.  Now, my fingers tap at the keys of my computer.  It’s the rhythmic tapping of letters becoming words becoming paragraphs becoming the story of my life.

So far it is a story of joy, heartache, and healing.  I think of fairy tales and that phrase “They lived happily ever after.”  It always comes at the end of the story.  In my life story, we are living happily ever after.  We are living happily ever after right now because we are aware, so very aware, of just how precious now is.

The Escape Artist

           Brice was on the taller side. Well, as much on the taller side as you can be in first grade. He had downy blond hair and eyes like clear morning sky. His smile was easy and he’d not yet lost his first tooth.  He came to me on the first day of school, shirttails tucked into pants pulled up way too high. He beamed when I commented on the gel in his hair and the shine of his new shoes. As I came to know Brice, it became apparent that reading and writing were already a struggle.  His kindergarten teacher noted that he was behind in language arts, but proficient in math and science.  While most incoming first grade students could recall 20 or more letter sounds and read short words like "and", "the" and "can", Brice retained only 12 letter names and when encountering the written word, labored over each sound.  While others were writing words and constructing basic sentences, Brice was penning strings of letters and random symbols.  Together we began by studying letter/sound correspondence.

            By the time the leaves turned crunchy and brown, Brice had transformed into a functional reader and a lover of writing.  He was reading simple, repetitive stories with multiple sentences on each page.  During writing time, Brice used the words he'd mastered in reading to create stories of his own.  

            Each day, our class devoted an hour exclusively to the purpose of writing.  I'm not talking about handwriting practice, fill in the blank workbooks, or copying the teacher's writing.  My students viewed themselves as authors with important things to say.  

            As a beginning teacher, I was clueless on how to teach writing, so I let my students select their topics and go from there.  As they worked, I would assist and answer questions when needed.  Our class was a hive of activity.  As students worked, I would stroll around the room, often interrupting the class to reading snippets of their writing.  Despite my miniscule knowledge on teaching the craft of writing, my students bubbled with excitement at the opportunity to record their thoughts and above all, create books of their very own.  

            On Friday afternoons, my class would cluster on the carpet to read finished pieces.  Without exception, when a student climbed up into The Author's Chair and read aloud a story created by their very own hands, their face shone with pride.  The children on the carpet were rapt as they listened to and applauded story after story.  When a student would scoot down off the chair, a flurry of hands would shoot up, eager to be the next reader.  Most of my students chose to leave their books in the safe haven of the classroom.  Consequently, our classroom was brimming with their books.  There were books sandwiched on the shelves, leaning in the windowsills, stacked in cubbies, spilling out of desks, overflowing out of book boxes, and just when I thought we'd run out of space, we started tacking them up on the walls.

            Brice especially took pleasure in writing about his family. He wrote about his mom, his grandma, his sister, and his rowdy horde of cousins. His stories were predominantly retellings of exciting vacations to every place a kid could dream of.  Several times that year I’d sent notes home and left phone messages to tell Brice’s family about the tremendous progress he was making. My attempts to connect with his parents went unanswered, but hearing the stories about his close knit family set my mind at ease. Parents are busy. I understood. So, each Friday in the Author’s Chair, Brice would sit up straight, clear his throat, and read his latest adventure with his family.

            To describe what happened next as shocking is like saying the ocean is slightly damp. One day the principal asked me to escort Brice to the office during lunchtime. Brice was not a troublemaker. In fact, he befriended everyone and avoided conflict at all costs. Lost in conversation about his recess plans we walked hand in hand up the hallway, oblivious to the police cruiser in the parking lot and the possibility that it’s presence was linked to Brice. As we stepped through the office doorway, my eyes met the gaze of a police officer. A CPS caseworker stood beside her.  My heart dropped like a stone. The caseworker spoke with Brice privately while the officer filled me in on the details. Brice’s father was in prison and his mother had just been arrested for possession of methamphetamine. According to the officer, this was an ongoing case, which included prior arrests and visits to the home.  I was blindsided.  My mouth gaped as the officer succinctly informed me that Brice was to be relocated to a foster home and a new school that very day.  His little sister would be placed in a separate home.

            As he returned to the office with the caseworker, Brice cried from a deep and broken place. I held him, rocking him like a baby, feebly assuring him that he would be loved in this new home and at his new school. He was adamant about returning to his mom.

    “My mom is a GOOD mom! My mom is a GOOD mom! I want to go back to MY HOME!” he wailed, sucking in his bottom lip, struggling for breath.  After forty minutes of rocking, crying, and desperate screaming, Brice caught his breath and paused.

    “Can I do Author’s Chair today even though it’s not Friday?”  I was speechless. I would have wrapped the moon in a silver bow and placed it in his small hands had he asked.

            When the lunch bell rang, the class sat at the carpet.  Brice sat in the Author’s Chair, straightened his back, cleared his throat, and through red-rimmed eyes began to read. He read about a trip he’d recently taken with his family to Disneyland.  I knew it wasn’t true.  He knew that I knew it wasn’t true. In that moment I knew that all of his stories about his family were untrue.  He finished reading and with my heart in my throat, our class said goodbye to Brice. Our paths did not cross again.

            On that tear-streaked day, it was starkly apparent to me that writing had become a survival mechanism for Brice.  Perhaps his stories were a bundle of wishes he’d hoped would come true if he scratched them out on paper.  I’ve always known that writing has the power to whisk an author away to unknown and exciting places. What I learned from Brice is that writing can also sustain a person in places that are painfully real. His fictitious life created a safe space of normalcy. Pencil in hand, Brice scripted the life he both craved and deserved.  

            I often wonder what became of Brice. At night, between the hazy edges of dreams, I glimpse his face amongst other lost children who have come and gone too quickly.  I regret not seeing beyond his eager smile and bright eyes.  I regret not hearing Brice’s real stories, the ones that were too hard to tell.

            That day was a turning point in my life.  It changed who I am as a person, who I am as a teacher.  I pursued parents with regular phone calls and when they didn't call me back, I called them at work, flooded them with notes, and even dropped in on them at home.  Shiny new shoes, freshly gelled hair, and parents who appeared "too busy" would never again fool me into assuming a loving home existed for any of my students.

             Most of my digging into their lives produced discoveries of yards littered with bikes, parents who were eager to hear about their child's school life, and above all, families with deep love for their children.  Occasionally, I'd uncover a family without electricity, a kitchen with hollow-eyed cupboards, or a parent undone by addiction.  Knowledge is power and I did my best to use the intimate knowledge of my students’ lives to help them attain whatever resources they needed.  Digging beyond the surface allowed me to see the real stories of my students and maybe even ensure that some of those stories had happier endings.

            Eight years have crossed the calendar since my time with Brice.  Eight years and not a day has passed without his story rising to the surface of my mind.  Over the years my shock over his abrupt departure gave way to grief.  Grief was shoved aside by guilt.  And guilt became the catalyst for change.

            I recognize that some children have tumultuous lives outside of school.  Lives that I cannot always understand.  Lives that, to my dismay, I cannot always change.  The guilt I feel lies in this one lingering thought: If I’d shown Brice powerful words, words sturdy enough to bear the weight of his reality, maybe, just maybe those words would have given him the courage to write the heartbreaking truth.

            Yes, Brice demonstrated tidy handwriting.  He applied correct sentence structure, but that was not enough.  That is not enough.  I wanted Brice to have the power, or at least the choice, to write honestly.  While fiction can be a captivating vehicle, fiction under the guise of truth is hollow.  In his keynote address to the National Writers Workshop Donald Murray said “The more personal I am, the more universal I become.”  Writing that comes straight from the heart is what I want my students to strive for.

            What I did not know eight years ago, but am sure of now is that young writers need familiarity and practice writing with compelling words.  They need to roll words around in their mouths just to see what they sound like, to sandwich them side by side in unlikely metaphors, to appreciate the expression in a vivid verb.  As J. Patrick Lewis puts it, I want my students to experience the joy of  “uncovering that elusive verb or metaphor that one hopes will make a reader stop, ever so briefly, in wonder.”

            My desire to give young children access to powerful words combined with my conviction that writers need to write daily led to incorporating writers’ notebooks into my classroom.  Writers’ notebooks serve two purposes in my class.  They are a place where I guide my students in gathering vivid verbs, similes, metaphors, and other rich language.  Their notebooks are also a place to take off the training wheels and venture out on their own as writers.  Story starts, poetry, drawings, photographs from their lives, and a variety of things occupy the pages of their notebooks. 

            Let me introduce you to Marcus.  Marcus started first grade as a good student, excelling in reading and math, but he was not particularly interested in writing.  As the year progressed, he absorbed every bit of writing instruction and began playing with words.  As fall turned the corner into winter he was even calling himself a writer.  Within his first draft of a response to a prompt about the best part of his body, Marcus uses some beautiful imagery.

“My Thinking Brain

I like my forehead because it has my thinking brain in it.  My brain lets me tell stories and play.  When I am tired my brain gives me dreams of colors in the night.  In the morning my brain tells me when to get up.  And it tells me to eat breakfast.  I like my brain.


            In her book, Wondrous Words, Katie Wood Ray speaks to the importance of reading like writers, examining the crafting of texts for a variety of things including word choice.  To create awareness in my young writers, we do a lot of word gathering beginning in the whole group setting.  Below is Isabelle’s word gathering from Jan Brett’s book, Gingerbread Baby.  Gingerbread Baby brims with impeccable verb choice.   Faster verbs convey excitement and slower verbs create tension as well as reveal the Gingerbread Baby’s emotional state.  As a class we gathered verbs from the story and divided them into fast and slow.  Then the students picked verbs from within our list that they might want to keep in their notebook to use in place of the passive ‘went’ in later pieces.  Isabelle was the kind of kid who worried about everything from forgetting her lunch to not finishing her work in time.  Although her worries were unfounded, the fact that she was plagued by her worries was a very real thing.  Gathering words in her notebook helped Isabelle relax when it came time to draft.  Knowing she had lists of words available functioned as a safety net and allowed her to think about what she was writing, rather than worrying about not being able to come up with the just the right word.

Notes from whole class word gathering

            One of my purposes within writing instruction is to give students tools they can apply as they grow as writers.  It’s my hope that they’ll continue to use these tools long after they’ve left my class.  I foster this step towards independent work by stepping back and allowing for student led small groups.  After several whole group word gathering lessons, my class was ready to gather words within their table groups.  The entry below was in conjunction with a science unit on dragonflies.  Each table group had a tank full of nymphs (baby dragonflies) on their tables.  The nymphs grew and molted into gorgeous, emerald green adult dragonflies and the children observed each stage.  In preparing to write about all they’d observed, the table groups brainstormed lists of adjectives and verbs they might use in their report about the nymph stage.  As you can see, when left to work in groups, they came up with long and varied lists.  After the table groups were finished, we met back as a whole group for children to share out the words they’d gathered.  As they read, most of the other children added words they hadn’t thought of.  It’s wonderful seeing my students actively learning from their peers.


Independent Small Group Word Gathering

            While I believe great value lies in teacher and peer led activities within the writing process, the most important thing I can teach my students is that they are writers, real writers.  And writers often choose their own topics.  Teacher directed lessons on craft translate almost seamlessly in their self-selected writings.  Knowing the power of words creates a drive in my students to write freely with purpose and feeling.  Emotion spills out from the tip of their pencils onto the blank notebook pages.  Here Savannah exhibits vulnerability by expressing her fear during a storm.


Last night there was lightning.  I was afraid."

            I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the need for writers to write for real audiences.  In my class this takes many forms: letters to their big buddies, book reviews for the school library, reports to share with other classes, fictional stories about their classmates, apology letters, thank you notes and anything else that has an authentic audience.  Of course, the most relevant audience to young children is their parents.  After a lesson on writing small details, Maddie, a special needs student, decided to write a letter to her mom.  After that same lesson Marcus used his notebook to draft a letter to his dad for father’s day.



“I like my mom.  She is the best.  I love my mom.  She is cute.  We play hide and seek.  She is the best mom ever.  We go for a walk.  I love mom.”


“Dear Dad,

I love you for lots of reasons.  Sometimes you watch my brother’s baseball games with me.  Every time at dinner, you give me something I like.  Happy father’s day!

Love, Marcus”


            Writers’ notebooks allow space for my students to try out different genres.  After lessons on poetry and alliteration, Maiya wrote this poem about the joy of eating ice cream with her big sister.

“Ice cream

delicious, delectable, delightful

licking, freezing, melting

feeling happy with Haley


            I wish I could say that all of my young writers are eager to bite into expressive language and play around with words, but the truth is some of my students struggle with writing.  Even at the age of six, some of my writers think that editing and writing are one in the same and that to write, you must write each word correctly the first time.  They avoid writing, hate it even.  Frankly, I would, too.  Matthew was one of those writers.  He spent months snapping his pencils in half and declaring his hatred for writing.  It just about broke my heart because Matthew was a creative, caring kid with important things to say.  I tried every trick in the book to help Matthew write and, more importantly, see himself as a writer.  Nothing worked.  I think it’s accurate to say that both Matthew and I were frustrated and at a loss of what to do next.

            Then one day, Matthew rushed in and asked if he could skip independent reading time because he had something he just had to write about.  I was over the moon.  He actually wanted to write.  Here is his notebook entry from that day.

“My Loose Tooth

I have a loose tooth.  It’s a loose tooth.  I hope it will come out in one week.”


            This was a turning point for Matthew.  A few months later I tasked the class with writing author’s blurbs about themselves for one of our class books.  They were to include true and interesting facts about themselves.  Formerly a reluctant writer, Matthew wrote this about himself:


“My name is Matthew.  I have a dog named Gouda.  I am a good writer.”

             Reflecting on my second year of teaching, the year Brice entered my life, I feel grateful for his impact on the way I teach my young writers today.  I feel honored to have witnessed the preserving power of writing in Brice’s life. Yet, there is a tender place in my heart that still pulses with sorrow because this was a lesson too callous for a six year old.  Even for one on the taller side.

Clipless Pedals

Clipless pedals. The name itself is totally misleading. Clipless pedals are the kinds of pedals you clip your bike shoes into so you are in essence attached to your bike. This can be a really good thing when you're pulling up a hill and want a little extra power. It can also be a really bad thing if you come to a stop and forget to clip out. I've spent some time making asphalt angels after realizing I stopped and didn't disengage. As if it weren't bad enough, I'd look over and see the driver of the car next to me cackling.

It turns out bruises, scrapes and humiliation are pretty efficient teachers in my cycling life. After a couple of falls, I was vigilant about unclipping my right leg so I could come to a stop and stay upright.

This left me with one more pedal issue to resolve. After clipping out to stop, I needed to learn how to clip back in without swerving all over the intersection while the light changed from green to yellow to red with me still stranded in the middle. I called on the expertise of a far more experienced cyclist. He told me not to worry about trying to clip my foot in right away. One foot was still clipped in and I could use that leg to pedal across the intersection. Once in a less trafficked area, I could look down and clip my other foot in. It was definitely one of those "Why didn't that occur to me moments?" From that day forward, I'd stop confidently and start up again with my one legged pedaling.

A year later, I was leading some new cyclists on a ride and we came to a stop. One newbie tottered back and forth, clipping out just in time. When it was time to start up, she tried without success to clip in her dangling foot. She made her inaugural asphalt angel and from the ground asked, "Can you help me figure my pedals out?" I helped her up and smiled because I'd been there. I'd so been there. We spent the next few miles stopping, unclipping, lopside pedaling, and clipping in. Over and over again until she got the hang of it.

I won't say that I'm an expert or even that I possess any expertise because I've spent way too much time on the ground for that. I will say this, it takes humility to ask for help. And when asked, I'm always willing to share my experience.

Now if someone will just explain to me how I can avoid crashing that would be great.

Big Voice

Along the way
Saying yes to some.
Saying no to others.
Effort on what is essential.

Honor the sense of adventure, responsiveness,
Improvisation, opportunism, experimentation, alertness,
The possible contagion of topics.

Rich, tacit understanding
Intuitions about form, language, dialogue, voice.
The dazzling particularity of individual performance.

Toward invention, toward generation,
The infinity of connections and associations,
Of excess, of fullness, of having a lot to say.

Tip the balance.
Develop hope for the future.
Be daring.
Have a big voice.

The Gray Hair

You stand in front of the mirror, wrestling your curls into submission with the flat iron. He is next to you, bare-chested, brushing his teeth, spitting into the sink, humming a happy tune. You chatter back and forth about what lies ahead in your respective days. He talks about compliance meetings and projects. You talk about the bittersweet last week of school. Your eyes meet in the mirror and your shiver a little. His chocolate eyes have always made you weak in the most wonderful of ways. He smiles and the corners of his eyes crinkle, like fans brushing away the past year.

You remember the bottomless nights when he would utter, “I don’t want to live anymore.” The lips you love to kiss are the lips that broke your heart in ways so profound that words like broken, crushed, devastated can’t contain this pain. New words need to be invented to describe such an acute shattering.

You remember the white paper stretched across the doctor’s table as you sat holding his hand time and time again, medication after medication, tear after tear, slippery on your faces. You remember his kissing lips telling you to please lock up the medications so he wouldn’t swallow them all. You pushed aside all of your shoes and plunked down a brand new safe in the corner of your closet. It was heavy, cold. You kept the combination to the safe to yourself, hating that you had to keep a secret in a life that has always been shared.

You remember carefully putting out daily doses all in a little pile by the sink. You remember how his pants became loose, like dress up clothes on his gaunt frame. Food and sleep were unwelcome in his black ocean.

Then you remember the day he said, “I’m starting to feel okay.” You remember sessions with the counselor when he began to return to himself and your heart began to heal.

At the mirror he smiles and kisses your cheek. Your eyes drift down to the coils of black hair on his chest. One rogue gray hair stands at attention in the middle of all the other black ones. You look at your own face and see new lines around your eyes. In a moment of clarity, you understand that you are growing old and that he has chosen to live, to grow old with you.

June 18, 2009

What Is Real?

Today at the Northern California Writing Project summer institute we answered the question "What does authentic mean to you?"  My friend, Katie, who is faster than I am when we ride bikes together and consequently must pay, wrote a beautiful list of authenticity in her own life.  It was compelling and inspired me to begin my own.  I hope to add to it as I discover more authenticity.

Authentic is...

the feel of Terry's cheek stubble as he kisses me goodbye in the morning

my yellow gingham baby pillow, torn and ratty from years of love


my nephew Landon running and squealing when we are close enough to see the park

my Gramma's diaries

my niece, Brittany, asking to have a sleepover at my house

the playful twinkle in Terry's eyes when he's about to engage in mischief

being brave enough to ask for help and then accept it.

my mom cooking sweetmilks Saturday mornings

Terry washing out the puke bowl when I couldn't make it to the bathroom

pedaling by my dad's headstone, fighting the lump in my throat


I leave you with a snippet of conversation from the lovely book, "The Velveteen Rabbit":

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all..."

June 9, 2009

Go Ride Your Bike Up A Tree

I am sick.  That's right.  It's the first week of summer vacation and I'm sick.  Just as my poison oak started to admit defeat, a gooey sinus infection came in and delivered a swift kick to the face.

I've always maintained that when I'm under the weather, my body is trying to tell me to ease up a little.  Fine, I've eased up.  It's been almost two weeks since I've been on my bike or sweated out the pain in spin class.  I am literally itching to get out and enjoy this beautiful summer weather.

It does not help at all that my new saddle, Black Beauty, has arrived.  Don't mock me for naming my saddle.  I have a rule that I have to at least be on a first name basis with anything that spends that much time down there.  So, I named her Black Beauty.  Just look at her black rivets and sleek black leather.  She will be a fine addition to The Rocket.  She will be a fine addition indeed.

Since I am holed up as the chief financial supporter of Kleenex, my step-dad sent me this.  This guy does things I could never imagine.  Seriously, who thinks I think I'll ride my bike up a tree?  Amazing.  Enjoy.

June 5, 2009

Elvis Has Left The Building

After 31 years of teaching, my mom turned in her yard duty whistle in exchange for a well deserved retirement.  My step-dad invited her closest friends to join her in celebrating her devotion to children.  The house was brimming with long time friends, parents of former students, family, and Elvis.  You heard me: Elvis.  Some random Elvis impersonator, at best an acquaintance of my mom's, was mistakenly invited by another guest.  (Social Skill Note:  It's only okay to invite people to a party if you are the actual person throwing the party.)  Thankfully, Elvis did not sing.

As I coast into 70ish days of summer vacation, my mom steps into doing whatever she wants for the rest of her life.  No more early morning yard duty.  No more parent teacher conferences.  No more lesson plans.  No more staff meetings.  No more worrying about budget cuts.  No more calling me and talking about the funny/outrageous/heartwarming thing that happened in her classroom that day.

Sure, I can still call her and tell her about the goings on in my classroom, but I will miss the reciprocity.  My mother dreamed of being a teacher since childhood and so did I.  We have shared this beautiful profession my entire adult life and it's a bittersweet feeling knowing that come August, only one of us will be sharpening pencils and writing out a new set of desk nametags.  I now live in a world where I teach and my mother taught and it's kind of a lonely place.  Elvis has only just left the building and I already wish she'd come back.

June 3, 2009

Six Bucks

Tomorrow is the last day of school.  Each year it is bittersweet.  Saying goodbye to my kiddos and many of their parents is tough, but, oh, how I love, love, love summer followed by a fresh start every fall.

The last day of school is also tough for my little ones.  They, too, love summer, but don't want to leave our daily life together behind.  There are tears.  There are tight hugs around my legs and lots of tender I love you's.  And there are gifts.

I have received many lovely gifts throughout the years.  Bookmarks, photos, cards, bells, books, bike stuff, and much more.  It is the little things that mean the most to me.

Today one of my lovely families gave me flowers, a gift card to our brand new Trader Joes, and six dollars.  You heard me, six dollars.  I was a little confused by the last part and I'm sure she could tell because I do not possess a poker face.  At all.  So I her what the six dollars was for.  She smiled sweetly and said that since she is six, she wanted to give me six dollars of her own allowance.  I know she does chores to earn her allowance and I understood what a generous gift she'd given.  I was touched.  Later we agreed that she should think of something I could buy for the classroom with her money.

I can say with absolute sincerity that I love each of my students and I'm proud of all the ways they've grown.  Even the tough kids.  Maybe especially the tough kids.  Tomorrow I know my inept poker face will reveal my true feelings.  And that's exactly what I want.

June 2, 2009

Itching & Festering: Prom Q & A

A few weeks ago my friend Abby and I decided we should host an adult prom.  It's just what it sounds like: a prom for adults.  I'll give you a minute to let it digest.  You have questions.  I have answers.

Q: So you hosted an adult prom Saturday night?  Why on earth would you do that?

A: Why not?  What better way to spend a Saturday night?  And you thought you'd never pull that old prom dress out again.  Wrong, my friend.

Q: Did anyone else come?

A: Surprisingly, yes.  There were about 20 people all dressed up, including 1 mind-blowing plaid tuxedo.

Q: Did everyone dress up?

A: Do you really have to ask?  I can describe my prom dress in two words: zebra print.  Awesome.

Q: Are there pictures?

A: Of course.  We had a real prom photographer.  I'll post pictures when I get them.

Q: What did you do at the prom?

A: We had dinner at Red Robin, dancing in my backyard, and gave out crowns to the king and queen.  The highlight for me was when Thriller came up on the playlist and one girl busted out the full Thriller dance routine.

Q: What was the most surprising part of prom?

A: Well the Thriller dance was pretty fantastic, but not as surprising as waking up two days later itching and festering.  I get that this happens after prom often, but this was not that kind of itching and festering.

Q: What other kind of post-prom itching and festering is there?

A: Poison oak.  Itchy, scratchy, festering, blistering poison oak.  On my face, neck, hands, legs,  arms, stomach, and backside areas.

Q: Um, this is getting uncomfortable...

A: You're telling me!  I'm allergic to poison oak.  I've spent the past few days in a Benadryl fog.  Not to mention the fact that I'm a glistening homage to hydrocortisone.

Q: Seriously, this is getting weird.  Can we go back to talking about prom?

A: You bet.  Today, as a clinic nurse was giving me a super fun shot in my tush-tush, she asked "Where did you get poison oak anyway?" I pulled my pants up and replied "Prom".

Q: Um, I have to go and do something else now.

A: Funny, that's exactly what the nurse said.

June 1, 2009

Book Lovers

After school is one of my favorite times of the day.  I reflect on the happenings of the day and prepare for tomorrow.  At the end of the day I'm usually accompanied by a handful of my students from after school care.  They help sharpen pencils, organize books, clean the boards, and do any other job that garners special teacher time.

As my mom prepares to retire this year, she is passing on many of her materials to me.  This past week, I carted an overflowing box of her old books to my room and called on my little after school helpers to put them in the correct book tubs.

One of my little boys stood next to a tower of books.  He fingered each one with care and would often exclaim "Oh, Mrs. McCauley, I remember when you read us this one.  I love this book!"  As beloved stories passed through his hands, he recounted the precise time of year I'd read it to the class and something he remembered from the story.  If a book was new to him, he would stop what he was doing, plop down on the carpet, and a read a few pages.  About half an hour into this process, he asked "Mrs. McCauley, have you read all of the books in our class library?"  I smiled.  "No, not all, but I've read most of them.  I read many of them when I was little like you."  He sighed "I love reading."  I smiled "I know you do.  I do, too."

Part of creating closure to the year is helping my students understand that when they move to second grade the current kindergardeners will be first graders.  So during the last week of school we write letters to the new first graders and prepare the classroom for them.  Today each student cleaned out their book box and placed easy readers in the boxes for next year.  As they put the books in their boxes, I heard things like "Oh, I loved this book!"  and "Mrs. McCauley, I remember when this book seemed really big and hard, but it's so easy now!"  I smiled pleased that we had a moment together to reflect on how they'd grown as learners.

I've got a stack of books waiting for me this summer.  I can't wait to sit back and dive in.  And as I do, I will smile knowing that my little book lovers are probably doing the same.