Why Do You Pray That Way?

I pray with my students at the beginning of every single class. When I worked in public schools, I called it Breathe. Always the same words: Sit up nice and straight and tall, feet flat, rear ends to the backs of your chairs, shoulders back, eyes closed or looking down at your desk. Take a nice deep breath in and out. And another nice deep breath in and out. You are a person of great dignity and worth. The world got better on the day of your birth. There is nobody better than you. And one last deep breath in and…

Rerun: Army Dreamers

Steven, one of my former advisory sons, came by my classroom to visit after school today. He graduated high school four months ago. “I’m thinking of the armed forces,” he said. Steven is an accomplished soccer player and football kicker. He landed some poetic field goals in his football career. I cheered him from the sidelines while he did it. This is a young man on his own. He has no support besides what he can rustle up for himself. School was never Steven’s thing. He hates the thought of going to college. He graduated on time but sitting in…

What I Said at the Prayer Service Today

In the beginning of the first Toy Story Buzz LightYear was excited about all of his power. He had the power of lasers, and flight, and the power of a star command ship that he talked to through his monitors. He had lots of gadgets and stuff and a mission. The problem was, it wasn’t real. It was all fake. But when he dropped his mask and breathed the real air, he grew to realize that it was only in cooperation with his friends that he had real powers and a true mission, and he was more powerful and capable…

What We Put Up With

When I was in fifth grade a boy I’d been sitting next to all year suddenly turned on me. He wore heavy boots to school and he began to make a sport of kicking me vigorously in the legs while I sat in my desk. His penis looked like a football helmet, he told me. He was going to ram me with it. The third time I stood to wait in line at the teacher’s desk to tell on the boy for hurting me, the teacher told me to please sit down. I needed to handle my own problems. Eventually the boy lost interest…

What Resilience Looks Like

Some of my favorite lines of poetry come from DH Lawrence’s “Self Pity:” I never saw a wild thing  sorry for itself.  A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself. My students have stories that I sometimes never hear. We are busy people in the classroom. We don’t have a lot of time to sit around and talk about our feelings and cry. Sometimes, though, I get a chance to know the true resilience of the rising generation. Their stories evoke the tenacious bird of the poem, its gnarly little feet curled around…

Call Me Helicopter Parent One More Time

My husband and I make our daughters’ education a high priority, and we have always insisted they do their best. We get to know the parents of our daughters’ friends and drive them to their play dates. (Do you hear the whirring of the blades yet?) When my kids have been right, I’ve taken their sides, even against adults. When one elementary school wasn’t working for my youngest, we found another that was a better fit. I prepare separate meals according to my children’s taste preferences and cut off the crusts of the sandwiches I make for lunches. (I know you want to call me Helicopter…

We Weren’t That Resilient

In response to the bell ringing that kids these days aren’t resilient the way their parents were growing up in the Wild West of the seventies and eighties suburban American neighborhoods and schools: I call bullshit. We weren’t that resilient. Those of us growing up in the seventies and eighties were not tilling Victory gardens and whittling useful things out of sticks that we found on the ground. I know. I was there. I can only speak to my own experience, and trigger warning, I’m not prone to nostalgia. Yes, we played outside with the neighborhood kids until the streetlights came on….

Big Day of Giving: 916 Ink

Katie McCleary, the writer goddess who is the executive director of the Sacramento organization 916 Ink, talks a lot about giving young people a voice. Here is what 916 Ink is about in their own words: 916 INK seeks to excite young people with language, particularly written language; to instill in children a sense of joy, wisdom, whimsy, and wonder with words; to celebrate syntax; and to support teachers, schools, and libraries in their efforts to share the benefits of reading and writing with all area youth. Check them out here: I want to tell you what I think about…

I Am Not Proud of You

Eighteen years ago, I had a colleague named Bertha at a pretty rough public elementary school where I taught fourth grade. This woman taught first grade with the masterful calm of a Jedi. Her room was an oasis of peace and productivity. I tried to learn as much as I could about teaching from Bertha. She was a goddess of a human being, which she would laugh at me for saying but it’s still true. One day Bertha was telling me about her grown son who had just started his dream job as a forest ranger. I said, “You must be…

One to Watch: David Pino

I love hearing the news that a former student is making waves in writing. In my One to Watch series, I highlight up and coming former students who are using writing to do great things. David Pino was in my Advanced Placement English Class seven years ago at a school called Sacramento Charter High. He knew more about most of the curriculum than I did, and was an encyclopedic resource for our Mythology and Archetype unit.  Also, I can never read Frankenstein again without thinking of his brilliant dramatic presentation of the Monster. He was a wonderful student in a…