Monthly Archives: January 2014

Part 2 How I survived and stayed…


The next few weeks I am in reflection mode…wondering what is next for me in education.  Will I do substitute teaching (we have wonderful retired teachers that sub)?  Part-time private? Move to Ecuador…work internationally? Be a tour guide to school groups on field trips at the Pumpkin Farm? Undergrads at our local college? The list is endless and I just told Dave, ‘I just want it to fall into my lap’.  So last week I started looking back and maybe I can see some things along the way, some strengths perhaps that might help me open the new chapter of my life book.

Last week I pretty much stated that my first year was a discipline nightmare.  I wasn’t looking forward to going back to teaching that first summer out.  But I had to because Dave was planning to go to grad school full-time and then we’d both be considered a ‘hippie couple’ if I didn’t have a job either.  As it turns out, he got a teaching job and decided to put grad school on the back burner, because after all, we did need a television…especially for football season and a hippie van, that was purchased one night when I was at open house.  Can you even imagine???  In other words, we were broke and had school loans from undergrad to pay off and now a hippie van.

So I reluctantly started back my second year.  My principal moved me back a year from 6th to 5th and decided that maybe my noise level was just too much of a gamble in the ‘open space’.  I had a self-contained classroom next to two teachers who would become my ‘team’.  In 1977 we had just started talking about ‘team’ and that word would become an essential part of my vocabulary for years.

However,   I moved to yet another dysfunctional team.  One teacher loved to work and the other didn’t (she just liked to take).  It became clear to me early on that it would be very smart of me to become more of a ‘worker’ than a ‘taker’.  So I asked questions…every day…all the time of my friend and co-worker Sandy.

“How do you get your kids to walk quietly in the hall to specials?”  Our school valued quiet halls.

“Easy,” she said, “I walk backwards and I don’t budge if anyone is talking.”

So I began to imitate Sandy, her every move outside the classroom.  I walked backwards.  I stopped if they were out of line and talking.  They stopped talking because they wanted to get to gym, music or lunch.  We became a semi-team of two.  She willingly planned lessons with me, we both gave things to the third wheel of the team when she asked, and I learned how to share my thinking with a fabulous mentor teacher.  In the late seventies the word ‘mentor’ wasn’t in our ed lingo yet.

I need for a minute to go back to the students that I had.  Just like today, I taught in a diverse middle class neighborhood.  In most of the families two parents were working.  For the most part these families valued education and really respected teachers.  That summer before I started back my second year I read my first professional book, by Glasser who discussed Reality and Choice Therapy.  I also read something else, possibly in Teacher magazine about class meetings.  That second year, I decided to start every single day with a class meeting.  This class meeting became an essential way for us to discuss behavior issues , what our day was looking like and plan for ‘fun’ events.  Back then I intuitively knew that if they could talk in a group about grievances and start to set goals, behavior would be better than it had been the year before.  They created the rules together and together we also created consequences and rewards.  Class meetings would continue throughout my entire career in some shape or form.

Teaming and mentoring is also a value I hold high.  It takes work to team…difficulties occur on a team, and they are worked out.  I wouldn’t begin to understand that until my 3rd year.  They hired a third teacher, moved us to 6th grade and back into the open space.  We had a dream team for two years in a row.  I didn’t know how good it was until after it was gone.  We helped each other fly.  We looked at our individual strengths and helped each other, loved each other and cried with each other.  Back in the open space teaching our desks clustered easily in the middle for teacher planning.  We held morning meetings with all of our students on the stairs in the middle open space.  We were a giant classroom trusting each other to be the lead teachers of our science and social studies unit, collaborating and changing groups every two weeks in math based on student need.

What about reading and writing you might be wondering about.  Oh…pretty much it was called reading and spelling and punctuation in those days.   In the middle and late 70’s we followed leveled basals.  We each had 5 reading groups and they had to pass an assessment to make it to the next level.  We grouped for reading- 4th, 5th and 6th grade.  That’s right folks…4th graders were sometimes in a 6th grade group.  We were on a fast and furious pace back then…not all good, but not all bad either.  The one thing that the reading specialist in my building had never heard of was ‘read aloud’.

Once I innocently asked her, “do ya think maybe I could read aloud Blubber to my kids?” “what are you talking about Nanc…no time for that…just make sure they pass those end of level tests.”

All of in open space, however, began to open up our read aloud daily and, I might add,  somewhat on the sly.

My world had changed with my students.  We had Book Love Mania and it was contagious.  It fueled me, my team fueled me and every single day my students encouraged me to grow, change and read more and more so I could learn how to better serve them.

For years after leaving my beloved first school I had dreams that I was hired back and in the  Open Space.  I still miss this school so much.  These people mentored me and loved me.  Administration??? We had five principals in the twelve years that I was there. So we basically ran the place, and years later, they finally got smart and hired my friend Sandy, much later in her career.

Okay…so I’m just a third of the way through.  It dawns on me now, that I have never quite had that perfect team again.  I’ve gotten close, but somehow I’m wondering why I don’t see those kind of teams in our schools today.  It is more self-contained than ever.  Control your own kids academically; control your own student’s discipline and depend only on yourself!  It could be so much lovelier, I think.

I might just have to have a few more posts on the second and third parts of my life in school.

But something is standing out to me today…mentoring and team building… really important to me.

Looking back to move forward…


I actually had to get out a pen and subtract, the year I started, the year it is, to make sure it has actually been that many years…First thought, I’ve always hated subtraction with a zero in it. Second thought…REALLY? It feels like a nanosecond, my career.  It is time to look behind me a minute to see how I have arrived here, 4 months away from leaving the day-to-day classroom work that has literally filled almost every crevice of my brain for the last thirty-eight years.

I finished college in three short years, where I learned that I loved to learn and that research and writing was something that I actually enjoyed.  I started when I was only a 20-year-old with a class that was only eight years younger than I was.  They quickly noticed that.  I did not work with a team of teachers that even liked each other in a giant room called an ‘open space’.  The library was in the middle of this room.

My friend the librarian came up to me one day and secretly told me that the principal was taping me every day, to see if my classroom’s noise level was under control.  Guess what, it wasn’t!  But every time he put the tape on, she gave the signal and I would try my hardest to rein in their voices. I felt like I was living in Watergate (some of you don’t even know about the Nixon years).   In those days teacher wisdom, or best practice was not to  ‘smile until Christmas’.  That must have been where I went wrong because I remember literally crying in front of my entire class teaching a math lesson before Easter.  However,  if you can believe this, math became one of my favorite subjects to teach because, I totally understood those who didn’t get how to subtract with zeros.

Somehow, I made it through that year only with the help of my mom  who still gave me hugs, fed me, tucked me in at night and a husband to be that planned our entire wedding without me.  It is interesting that fact has never changed about us…Dave still plans everything; because I’m still planning for school or finding a new book or writing the next post or planning for school or the next inservice or the next university class.  God Bless my mom, God Bless my Dave.

This is just my first installment…my second… How I Survived and Stayed.

PS Today we were off to pick the granite for our new kitchen.  I got the exact kitchen I wanted if I agreed to the remodel and learning how to cook 🙂  Dave was driving and I was going on and on about just why I wasn’t so satisfied my part of the Friday inservice…and how I just don’t exactly feel ready to be done with all this.  We were out-of-town and close to the school that I got started in.  I begged him to drive by it, just so I could look.  Dave said, “Maybe…if you promise not to keep talking about school the rest of the weekend.”  “I will try, I muttered.”

PSS We picked our slabs of UBBA TUBA granite.  I just love the sound of those words!  I got my wish.  Today I will try my hardest to keep my side of the bargain.

This is where it began in 1976  G. Stanley Hall School…Oh, how I came to love this school !  It looks like the open space needs a few more bushes and some awesome trees to dress it up a bit. GSH


love to write, love to think, love to SLICE... please join our community

love to write, love to think, love to SLICE… please join our community

On Wednesday night at our church, we have worship music and then can choose classes to attend or sit in the auditorium for a message.  Last week Dave surprised me and said that he wanted to try a class.  It was called Leaving a Legacy for your Grandchildren.  I smiled inside, because or the word Grandchildren.  Our church has never offered a class before for Grandparents.  I smiled because, I still can’t believe I’m old enough for a grandchild…but I am.  I smiled because Dave was so eager, generally he will choose classes on social justice, but lately, one beautiful grand-daughter consumes him.  We both desire to leave a legacy, a legacy of love to sweet Sam.

So off we went.  This couple, who I have listened to on the radio in Chicagoland for many years, was leading the class.  They said, to all of us, that they wanted to learn from us as they felt that they were relatively new grandparents themselves.   First they described the different styles of grand- parenting.  They acknowledged that you can still be a ‘hands on grandparent’, even if you live miles away from them.  Whew, that was a sign of relief for me!

Then they started talking about this legacy stuff.  The importance of time…the importance of having a plan and then DRUMROLL, the importance of STORY!  I could feel goosebumps beginning to develop.  I could feel Dave’s eyes moisten. Why you might ask?  Well, my eyes also filled with tears.  We both happen to be storytellers by nature.  Why the tears?  Dave’s mother began telling Emily and Jeff the stories of the their families when they were very small.  She used it to build connections that will live on forever in the lives of both of my children.  Kelly who came to live with us in high school, also has heard many stories of her life also.  We all loved to listen, and oh, how she loved to tell.  Today she is in heaven; and somehow I know she loves that I’m writing this today.

She has left a legacy of love for her family.

Those of you who are crazy enough with your little ones, I admire your tenacity.  Writing your stories each week on the ‘slice’ is a  testimony to your love of story, and it most definitely is evidence of your love of the people in your life.  Sometimes they are stories that are hard to tell but sometimes they are joyous or delicious, especially (when you write about food).  You will be building your legacy, one word-one sentence-one paragraph at a time.

Thank you all so much for sharing your love with me.

PS         I haven’t written one in a long time.  Emily called the other day, all excited.  “Guess, what, Dad?  Sammie is on this new kick… she wants us to tell her stories about Fat Henry, he was their first cat.”

PSS     Yep, I think she is about the smartest 2-year-old in the universe.  Now that is a statement of a Grandma for sure! xo nanc

sam and horse

One Word 2014

love to write, love to think, love to SLICE... please join our community

love to write, love to think, love to SLICE… please join our community

Tis the season to be ___________!

____________ Christmas!

I wanted to be, I really wanted to be MERRY.  I pretty much lost my weeks from Thanksgiving through Christmas.  I hope that I’ve learned, I hope that I have walked a bit more in the shoes of the people I serve at our Care Center every Thursday night.  I know that it is something to work at, to strive for… being MERRY in pain.

I need to back up a bit for some.  Many of you know that my daughter, grand-daughter and son-in-law have been in from their missionary post in Ecuador…it used to be called furlough…now it is called home ‘work’ or something like that (basically fundraising and touching base with churches and supporters here in the States).  It also was a chance for Dave and I to see and love all of them 24-7.  They were back and forth to Mississippi my son-in-law’s home.  Dave and I have officially been empty-nesters for 2 years so having them was a bit of an adjustment, but one that I fully embraced.

So….to make a long story short, it all started with a toothache before Thanksgiving….subsequent horrible root-canal nightmare, complete with swallowing the temporary crown, gagging and having a panic attack yet again in the dentist chair, major pain with major pain killers regime ensued (let’s just say, my advice to those of you who might need one is to go to an endodonist.  not just a regular dentist).

At the same time this was happening I had Thanksgiving for the first time in my life, a big deal for a non-cook with a toothache, my mom took a bad fall that scared us all, made three more Christmas feasts for family, caught the stomach flu (down for two more days, at least lost a couple of lbs…but you know, of course I gained them back quickly), helped Dave unscrew all our kitchen cabinets so we could give them to Habitat (remodel starting next week), made a trip to the Delta to say our tearful goodbyes to our kids (I was a bit sadder than Dave who is going next month…yeah, I get to shovel snow, now that makes my heart very MERRY, but somehow I still love this word).

And  this story is starting to feel a bit like If you Give a Mouse a Cookie.  

So I’m going to go back to this word MERRY.

I usually love Merry Christmas.  I usually love Merry New Year and Merry Valentines and Merry Martin Luther King and Merry Snow Day and Merry Kids and Merry Vacation….I love love love Merry when the sun is shining and all is right in my heart.  It seems like it’s  been an awfully long time since I’ve laughed until it hurts.  However, life is not always one big MERRY.  For the people I serve getting groceries at the Care Center, it is not.  For one of my little girls who has to go to work with her Dad every night, sleeping and trying to get her home work done as she travels there in the car it is not MERRY at all. But do you know what?  She chooses MERRY, every day when she hugs me good morning; she chooses MERRY.

And  somehow I believe that I can live with this spirit of MERRY.  I can wake each morning grateful and MERRY.  MERRY can be how I greet and teach in my very last year.  MERRY can be the way I look at a keyboard that sometimes refuses to be creative, like I like.  MERRY can be a way I approach physical pain…emotional pain… that is harder for me, but with my God walking with me, my life of a spinning Merry-go-Round can be just that… sometimes I’m dizzy, but still MERRY.

I love this quote by Shakespeare…

Our stern alarums changed to MERRY meetings,

Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.

MERRY, MERRY  my slicing friends.