Fortnite For Fogies

I am at a family gathering over the vacation.  My brother-in-law has an app.  This naturally intrigues me.  “What’s that app, ya got there?”

“Oh, it’s for tracking how much water I drink.”

Now whenever I see someone using an app to improve his life or his health, I must have it (provided it’s free…and time-consuming).     I already track my steps, my heart rate, my blood pressure, my sleep (including a breakdown of light, REM, deep sleep, and sleep adversely affected by sleep tracking), but clearly I have overlooked an important aspect of my health.  My brother-in-law’s app features a cartoon water drop, which becomes more plump and happy when you drink more water.  Awesome graphics!  “This is cheerful and uplifting.  I must have it,” I think.  Sadly (skinny, downcast water droplet), apparently it is an Android-only app, and I will have to settle for something less engaging but undoubtedly more sophisticated.  I learn from my brother-in-law, that he is trying to drink at least 80 ounces of water per day.   This sounds like a lot to me.  I do the high-level math. That’s ten glasses of water.  I think about my usual day.  Orange juice and coffee in the morning.  Maybe a stop at the water fountain during the day.  A glass of water with dinner.  Gulp.  Apparently I am woefully dehydrated.

I confess this later at the family gathering, hoping to get some “me toos” or “yeah, right there with yas.”  I get none.  Instead, I get advice.  From everyone.

“I carry a water bottle with me wherever I go.”

“I keep a large bottle at my desk and just drink from it all morning.”

“I carry a gallon jug with me all day.  It’s good exercise in the morning, and I’ve got incentive to lighten it by drinking.”

“It’s easier if you just get to 32 ounces before you leave the house.”  This from my brother-in-law, who I had thought would surely give me an “I was like that, too.”

I don’t smoke.  I don’t drink much alcohol.  My salt intake is way down.  I eat oatmeal for breakfast, for cryin’ out loud!  But apparently I  have been engaging in very self-destructive behavior.  I make some excuses.  “I’m rarely at my desk.”  “I can never get to a bathroom.”  “I can’t have a bottle in my hands all the time.”  No one in the room is in the mood to enable me.  They have answers for everything, though my wife’s sarcastic suggestion of “stadium pal”  at least shows some understanding of my situation.  I briefly entertain that thought.  Briefly.

So, after returning home, I spend the rest of my vacation week faithfully filling my water bottle,  taking healthy swigs every time my engaging new app reminds me,  tapping the water bottle icon on my phone, racking up all sorts of hydration points with the parched cells in my body, and making frequent trips to the bathroom.    Aside from an all-day bloating sensation, I don’t notice dramatic changes. My energy, mood and cognition seem about at their usual pre-hydration levels.  I tell myself that my kidneys must be feeling so much more valued.  I realize, though, that I was working from a serious deficit.

The real challenge, I know, will arise when I return to school.


I have now survived two school days since operation hydration.  My routines have changed somewhat.  I now drink a glass of water in addition to my glass of orange juice at breakfast.  That’s 16 ounces, folks.  Coffee counts, too, so I’m up to 24.  Then, after I walk McGee, I have another glass of water before heading off to work.  That’s right, 32 ounces before 7:00 a.m.!  I bring my water bottle with me and take a few swigs in the car.  No, I don’t tap the app while I’m driving.  I’m health-conscious, remember?

At school, I keep the bottle at my desk and make frequent side-trips to get in a few gulps.   I’ve found that if I stand reasonably still without bending, my bladder won’t actually burst before my first break in the morning.  The down side is that I rarely interact with colleagues anymore.  Some try in vain to engage me in hallway conversations, but those will have to wait.  I brush past them impatiently, as I dash to the men’s room. I make my first trip as soon as I arrive at school (32 ounces, remember?) and then at every break opportunity.  I have new respect and admiration for my pregnant colleagues who often remarked about how long our morning was.

I have considered purchasing a life-size cardboard cut-out of my image to place at the front of the classroom while I dash out.    It might work.  The kids don’t always pay that much attention to me, anyway.  Alternatively, I may contact Royal Flush or John’s Johns to see if they have a classroom model.  I think that would be fun.

It’s also possible that when the excitement of this new app wears off, I might actually discover moderation.


Procrastination Day

It’s Tuesday, but that could also be known as Procrastination Day.  I’m on vacation, so I’m not under great time pressure, but I have tasks that I need to address this week.  Today is overcast and drizzly.  It’s the perfect day to get things done.  I need to write a letter to my class.  It’s a school tradition that the fifth grade teachers write a letter to their class and read it at the Moving Up Ceremony at the end of the year.  (Note:  I believe I am the #%#$@-hole who started this tradition about 15 years ago).  We have to write the letter in April, because the parents like to put the letter in the fifth grade yearbook, and that goes to press…soon.  My deadline is April 17.  I know, after a month of writing a daily slice, it shouldn’t be  hard to write a letter.  Still, there are so many ways to avoid the task.

Just this morning I have found almost twenty ways to leave my letter:

Just go to the bank, Hank,  run a trivial errand, Darren

Make a to-do, Hugh; it’s important to you.

Send an email, Dale, format some pix, Trix

Just take out McGee, Lee, and keep your keys free.

Sadly, I just spent an inordinate amount of time wondering why nothing that I did today rhymed with any known names in the western world.  Nothing rhymes with adding 100 songs to a Spotify playlist.  Nothing rhymes with hanging a family portrait that’s been sitting around for months (oh wait, “hang a picture on the wall, Paul!), or sending excessively long texts about poems discussed over the weekend, or a reminder to Sarah about  meeting with one of my former students who’s touring her college (“Don’t call ‘er, just text ‘er, Dexter,” was the best I could come up with.  Seriously, I spent time thinking about that!).

So, since I’m even having trouble writing about the ways that I’m not writing, I think I’ll just publish this post and force myself to get to it.

Just sit and compose, Rose; write a rough draft, Shaft. 

No need to delay, Jay, just listen to me.

Just tap on the keys, Louise, no need to fret, Chet

Just get it on the page, Gage, and set yourself free.

Final note:  Just for the record, Paul Simon only came up with five ways in his song, not fifty.  I counted.

April Flakes Out

Today seemed like April Fools Day Observed.  The calendar said April 2, but the pranks showed up anyway.  First, we wake to a blanket of white stuff on the lawns, trees and roads.  The snow is falling steadily.   Nice one, God. I get it. Maybe it’s April first somewhere. Well played.

Maybe there’s a delay. That would mitigate the prank. I check my email.  Nothing.  I check Twitter.  Nothing.  The Superintendent is pulling a good one, too.  She appears to be going  with a regular opening.

Usually a serial tweeter on mornings like this, today she was MIA.  It was a good prank on the people who came from the hinter lands.  They got the Adrenalin rush of car-sledding on the Connecticut hills.  For me, it wasn’t so bad. A slushy Post Road, but no skidding or fish tailing.  Nice try, though.

Then I arrived in my room.   Some sort of gremlin had gotten into the heating system and cranked it up to Inferno.  Opening the door to my room was similar to opening the door of the oven after it’s preheated.  I hadn’t dressed appropriately, meaning I wore more than a bathing suit.  I opened my two windows, but this had minimal effect on the temperature in the room.  Later, as each student arrived, he or she needed to point out that, in fact, the temperature in the room was astonishingly high.  I didn’t blame them. It’s hard not to comment when you’re slammed in the face with a blast of dragon breath.  I suggested that they sit on the floor, since heat rises, but then I noticed the reddish glow of the carpet.

We spent the rest of the day looking for opportunities to vacate the premises. “Hey, let’s get to Music early.  That’ll surprise Mrs. L,” said one student.

“Maybe we can stay a little longer at the library,” another suggested.

During our reading period we headed for the hallway outside the auditorium, only to find another refugee class had beaten us to the lobby.   We stayed anyway.  “Mind if we sit on your laps?  Good.”

I had to applaud the resourcefulness of my students.  We had indoor recess today, in spite of the fact that we would have given almost anything to go play out in the slush and freezing rain.  As recess began, so did the special requests.  “I had said I was going to do regular recess, but can I go to extra instrumentals?”

“I was wondering if S. and I can go help the art teacher by cleaning brushes.”

“Did she say she needed help?”

“No, but I’m just thinking she might.”

One student had set up a special tooth extraction station so that kids could go to the nurse for the “I lost a tooth today” stickers. I heard she ran out, today.

“Hey, Mr. v., what would I need to do to get sent to the office?”

“Hey, can M. and I go clean the downstairs bathrooms?  I think there was a toilet that was clogged.”

“Umm, could  J. and I  go look for poison ivy in the courtyard?”

Yeah,  I thought I had dodged the prank by driving to school without incident this morning.

I’m bringing  a hose and the wading pool tomorrow.


So, it’s Saturday morning, and I’ve discarded the draft that I wrote yesterday.  I had thought I would click publish this morning and be done.  Then I read entries by some of my “go to” posters here.  They were not the usual.  They were not practical.  They were not pedestrian.  Those are the adjectives I would use for what I had written.  I had reflected on what I would do differently next year to make things more connected between my own journey and my class’s journey.  I’ll keep that draft and look at it, but it’s not for today.

Today I’ll write off the cuff.  Today I won’t compose.  Today I’ll try  to be brief. Ha!

I said when I started my blog in July that I can identify with the Dorothy Parker line, “I hate writing.  I love having written.”  It’s hard work for me, but I enjoy the satisfaction of having done it.  This month, I would say that on several occasions I actually enjoyed the act of writing.  When an idea is bubbling inside your head and you’re rushing to get it onto the screen before that bubble pops, it’s as exciting as watching a great game.  There’s suspense.  There’s anticipation.  There’s a momentary pause while the words are in that ether, between brain and screen.  And occasionally, there’s the swish, as the right words hit their mark.  Occasionally.

I have often wondered if I could live as a writer.  I still wonder that.  This month I straddled two worlds.  I tried to have one foot in the writer world and one foot in the teacher world, and the two worlds didn’t always move in the same direction.  I know that one informed the other, for sure, but they also competed.  I got a sense, though, of how intense a writer’s life can be.  I felt the pressure of deadlines on those days when I had not written the night before.  On those days, I navigated the daylight hours, always knowing that when I got home, and it was dark, I needed to summon some energy and ideas.  There was stress.

Now, however, I love having written.  I love having written because I occasionally hit the mark.  I love having written because I got feedback that I really appreciated.  I love having written because I have saved some moments from fading to oblivion.  I love having written because it has made me attend to my world.  I love having written because I feel like I’m doing what I ask my students to do.  I love having written because I know the struggle better.

I also love having read.  I marveled at some people’s discipline.  I marveled at their consistency.  I marveled at the variety of some people’s entries.  I envied some writers’ ways with words.  I envied some people’s ability to capture emotion.  I envied many people’s bravery.

I am really grateful for this community.  I am particularly grateful for my welcome wagon commenters.  No matter how inconsistent I was with my posts, they were ready to respond.  I loved seeing the little red number in the corner of my WordPress icon on my phone.  The Responsive Classroom belief is true. At the core, “Everyone wants to know and be known.”  That’s how I felt with this challenge.

Forgetting What I Had Remembered

It is  amazing to me how much of our lives we forget.  This occurred  to me today when I reached for a book that I wanted to revisit.  It’s Good Friday, and I’m off from school, but I am feeling tired, mentally tired.  I have physical energy, which means I can do things like hang pictures, run errands, and vacuum the basement, the man cave occupied by two dogs who shed constantly. In truth, though, that “energy” is really just my way of procrastinating, avoiding  the mentally taxing task of scraping two more slices from my brain.  Sorry about that image!

So, in an effort to recharge (and, if we’re being honest, to further procrastinate), I pulled a bright orange book off my shelf.  It’s a book called The Energy to Teach, and it’s by one of my heroes, Donald Graves.  I wanted to reread a chapter about getting energy from the people you work with.  I thought it might fit with what I’m thinking about this Slice of Life Challenge.  I’ve been feeling like this challenge (both the writing and the responses), has presented me with a new set  of colleagues.  I opened the book an found the chapter easily.  It had a bookmark right there.  The title of the chapter is “Build Energy with Colleagues.”  “Wow,” I thought to myself, “you have a pretty good memory.  You probably haven’t cracked this book in ten years.”  I started reading.  The chapter begins with  what we  all hope to get from our relationship with our colleagues, a chance to “swap stories,”  “speak the truth about how you feel,” or  “share books.”  Then it laments the challenges:  “But the increased pressure in schools, especially in the last five years, seem to make quality time with other teachers a fading possibility.”

I read those lines, and found myself struck by the part where he says, “in the last five years.”  Wait, when did he write this book?  I paged back to the front cover to find the copyright date, but I found something surprising instead:  an inscription.


It startled me.  I read it several times.  This is what I mean by the flaws in our memory.  I had, at first, no recollection of Don Graves signing a book for me, and no recollection whatsoever of Don Graves visiting my classroom.  How does one forget something like this?  It’s not like forgetting some random writers’ workshop on a Wednesday in 2012.  This was a workshop where the godfather of writers’ workshop was in my classroom.  Slowly, though, like a Polaroid picture, it started to come into focus, and I could see my old classroom.  I remembered the class I had in 2001.  That was the year, after all, that something all-too-memorable happened on September 11th.  But then I realized something else.  The inscription said, “How well I remember…” so he didn’t sign the book when he was at our school.  No, he was recalling a visit.  Now I know what I was doing.  I was at NCTE, and he was probably doing a book signing.  I think I know what happened, too.  He started writing an inscription and his pen ran out of ink.  I made a comment that with the different-colored ink, it was going to look like I had added the personal note.  That’s why he said, “I really did write this note.”  But that’s all I remember.  I immediately went back to my bookshelf in the basement to see if I had my journal from 2001.  I wanted to see my notes from that workshop.  To whom did he talk?  What was my mini-lesson?  How nervous was I?  No luck. That journal must be in my closet at school, but I found another one.  It was from 2005.  Naturally, I started to read, because, let’s face it,  I really am a hopeless procrastinator.

Again, I was fascinated by all that I had written…and didn’t remember.  That year, 2005 was the year of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.  We had thrown them a party, and I had tried to write a tribute.  I don’t remember writing it or sharing it, but I must have.  I flipped more pages and found notes I’d written about our poetry unit.  This could be helpful.  I’m about to start a poetry unit.  I also found an entry about a workshop given by Shelly Harwayne.  My entire reflection was about helping students to slow down, about how you can’t just tell them to slow down.  I wrote, “The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that it takes time to learn to slow down.”    You have to help them, train them.  This, I thought, is what my current class really needs.  I bookmarked the journal entry.

And then I found an entry reflecting on a unit on memory.  I didn’t call it memoir, because at that time I had a real aversion to the word. It seemed too pretentious for 10-year-olds to be crafting memoir.  My mouth actually struggled to form the word without grimacing.  Memories, on the other hand, I could embrace.

This slice is far too rambling, but I think I know where I was trying to go.  I’m wrangling with what I’ve gleaned from this month of “slicing,” and I think I’ve harvested this:  our lives are so fast, moments so fleeting, and our memory so frail that it’s vital to write, as a way of slowing down the world and a way of holding on to what matters.  I’m so grateful for my old journals, 26 years of them, but I need to mine them more regularly.  I’m so grateful for the 30 days of thinking that are now preserved in my blog.  But there’s another thing that I’ve gained from this experience:  I’ve found a whole new set of colleagues, and as Don Graves notes, that’s a lifeline for a teacher trying to maintain energy and sanity.

In my last March entry, number 31, I think I’m going to try to think about what I can do next year  (and next month) to bring more of my students into this world, blending my slices with theirs.

Opening Day

The birds were a little noisier when I walked McGee this morning, so though it wasn’t really warm enough to call it a spring day, or even to say that spring was in the air, there was hope.  The air was damp, and that meant an earthy smell as we headed onto the street, but what really gave me hope was that today, March 29, was Opening Day of the baseball season.  That’s the day of possibilities.  The day when even the mediocre teams start out tied for first, and if your team is from Baltimore, it even looks good in the standings, where they tend to print the teams in alphabetical order when everyone is tied at 0-0.

It’s kind of silly that I still get excited about opening day for a baseball season, but there’s this:  I remember in 1970, yes, 1970 when my friend Charlie got to go to Opening Day at RFK Stadium in Washington.  His dad took him out of school to go to the game.  That’s right, he was allowed to miss school to go to a baseball game.  This was inconceivable to me.  My father wouldn’t EVER have taken me out of school for a baseball game.  This Opening Day thing must have been really important.  The next morning, there was a color picture — that’s right, a color picture on the front page of the Washington Post, showing the Senators and the Tigers playing a baseball game.  I’m not sure they used a color picture the year before when the astronauts landed  on the moon.  So, I guess Opening Day is important.

This morning I looked for signs of good fortune on my walk.  The birds were singing boisterously.  That is a very good sign if you are an Orioles fan.  I chalked that one up on the plus side for my Birds.  We passed two dogs going in the other direction.  McGee refrained from barking.  Another good sign.  It smelled like rain, but it was not raining.  I like the smell.  I do not particularly like getting rained on.  I’ll chalk that up as another good sign.

Back at the house, I grabbed my lucky Orioles tie.  It’s really quite ugly, with diagonal orange and black stripes and  cartoon birds inside one of the black stripes.  I was scheduled to have my last parent conference in the afternoon.  The parents might think less of me, but I had to risk it.  Opening Day takes precedence over dignity.  I couldn’t find my Orioles socks.  This concerned me briefly, but it might have been overkill anyway.

Throughout the day, I was generally able to focus on school.  I had a few lapses.  “I’m sorry.  Were you talking to me?  I was just thinking about Opening Day.  Of course you can go to the nurse for that compound fracture.”

After school, I had to do more teacherish things, like meeting with that last set of parents, a rescheduled conference from our snow days last week.  What was I thinking?  I rescheduled a conference for Opening Day?  At 3:00?  The very time that the first pitch was being thrown?  “Well, that shows tremendous dedication to your work,” I rationalized.  At 3:40 I checked my phone.  No score in the third inning.  I went over a math problem with my fifth grade team. We were planning to give it to our classes on Monday and my teammates thought it might be a good idea to know how to solve it.  After that, I scurried around my room, picking up papers and pencils, erasing white boards, putting up the Monday schedule, and grabbing all of the things I’d bring home and ignore for the weekend. I scrambled out of the school at 4:35.

By five, I was where I was supposed to be, at my dining room table, in front of my iPad, watching the last innings of Opening Day.  The O’s took a 2-0 lead in the 8th, gave it up in the ninth, and won it with a walk-off homer in the the 11th.  Victory on Opening Day!  Still in first place.  Only 161 games left in the season.  It’s amazing how important that first game seems to be. Perhaps I was a little too pumped for that game.  I promise to be less obsessive…until the next game.

Religious Education

This year’s convergence of Easter and Passover has my students engaging in serious discussions about the  nuances and varying beliefs of their religions.  It’s an interesting time to be eavesdropping. It’s requiring some restraint to keep from jumping in.

First snippet:

E:  Are you Catholic or Christian?

L:  Neither.  I think I’m Methodist.


Second Snippet (joined in progress)

D:  So, let me get this straight, you’re saying Jesus was Jewish, right?

J:  Yeah, he was.

D:  Then, if you’re Jewish, how come you say he doesn’t exist?

J:  I didn’t say he didn’t exist.

D:  You said you don’t believe in him.

J:  Right.

D:  But that doesn’t make sense.  If you don’t believe in him, how could you say he was Jewish?

J:  I know he was a person.  I just don’t believe he was God.

D: Ohhhhh!  I get it.

M:  (Jumping in)  But he was God, because you don’t just get born from a virgin unless you’re God.

J:  That’s the part I don’t believe.  I mean really.  How could she be a virgin and have a baby?

M:  Well, God did it.

J:  Well that’s just weird….No offense.

Third Snippet (Same day)

A: Which do you think is better, Easter or Halloween?

O:  Definitely Halloween.  Why? What do you think?

A:  I’m going with Easter.

O:  (dubious)  Why?

A:  Just as much candy, plus, they bring it right to your house.

This concludes today’s episode of Religion in the Schools.  Tune in tomorrow as we explore Maundy Thursday.