Tag: students

Finish Lines

It’s Wednesday evening, and I’m thinking about this year’s journey through March.  I hurt my foot the other day (I don’t know how), and I joked to the other slicers at my school that I was literally and figuratively limping to the finish line.  My foot feels better today, though.  

I started the month by writing about how the ticking of a clock could sometimes untether me from the present, sending me back into all sorts of memories.  This month I wrote car memories and called them auto-biographies.  I wrote writing memories stirred by old letters and postcards.  I wrote reading memories inspired by my favorite books.  All of these memories grew out of entries by other writers in the Slice of Life Challenge.  I also wrote pieces about the people (and the animal) I live with at home right now and the people I live with at school right now.  So, that’s the past and the present.  I didn’t write much about the future.

This morning I was talking with Jess, a fellow slicer I have the privilege of working with.  She spoke about her husband saying that her slices had made their family’s life “cute.”  That’s not the adjective I would have used, but even so, I don’t think that she does that in a bad way or a disingenuous way.  I think she chooses what she wants to capture, the nuggets that the sieve holds back while other moments slip through.  I told her that I’ve had a little tug of war going on in my head and heart this month.  I have wanted to write the truth, but I’ve also tried to focus mostly on positive memories and observations.  I’ve worried that in doing so I might seem glib, writing mostly about the good or silly moments, even as world news has felt so grim.  I may have curated these posts to the point that someone reading them in the future might think life was pretty great in 2022…or I was pretty shallow.  I think I wrote to cheer myself up or to remind myself that every day holds positive moments or to remember that positive memories have pulled me through other difficult times.  

Tonight, though, my ticking clock has me thinking about the future, and I admit that I have fears and concerns.  The leader in Russia makes me angry and sad and apprehensive.  The former leader of our country makes me disgusted and worried that he might rise again.  The divisions and the anger in our country give me pain.  And some of the behaviors I see in school make me fearful about the mental health of our kids.  We have scars from this pandemic and the years that preceded it, and it may take a long time for us to heal.  One person I read said we, as a country or world, are collectively grieving the things and people that we’ve lost over the past two years.  I think he’s right, though some may be in denial.

Those thoughts played on my mind throughout this month.  That I didn’t write about them much was partly a choice made out of self-defense…and perhaps out of mercy for the people reading my entries.  As Jess said this morning, “I’m thinking about the energy that I’m giving off.  We have more than enough of the negative kind.”  

As someone who is well-acquainted with grief, I think there are some lessons in this writing challenge that can help anyone who is grieving.  One is that writing and drawing and photographing can help us find and preserve the things that we love and value.  Another is that reading the words of other people, learning about their loves and their daily struggles, can make us more aware, more empathetic, and more human.  And finally, responding to those “others” by looking for the good in their words and finding the connections to our own experiences, makes them feel less like “others” and more like “us.”

I’m so grateful for the people at Two Writing Teachers who made this community possible, and so grateful to all the writers who shared both their stories and their feedback.  I don’t have the energy to continue this kind of writing every day of the year, but I know that when I pass the finish line and land on April first, I will really miss this community.

Shark Tales and Tangents

It’s Friday afternoon in the resource room.  The regular resource teacher is absent, so I’m trying to take her place.  Five students and I sit around a circular table.  We’re reading a chapter from the book, Who Would Win?  This section features two sharks, the hammerhead and the bull shark.  It’s not really important to know who would win in a fight between sharks, but it provides some conflict and a chance to make predictions.  We begin by making a prediction based on any background knowledge we have.  I tell the readers that they may change their mind at any time if they get new information from the text.

Right from the start, J. has questions.  “A bull?!  There are sharks that are bulls?”  He can’t quite get his mind around that idea.  He demands a picture.  I slide a copy of the book to him, and he inspects the photograph.  It looks nothing like any bull he’s seen before.  Then he spies the hammerhead.  “Oh man!  That is an ugly shark!”  I’m thinking that I’ve never actually seen any sharks that I considered particularly attractive, but I understand J.’s reaction.  It’s an odd looking creature.

I ask each reader to make a prediction in their notebook, even if they don’t have much background information.  J., R., M. and A. predict victory for the bull shark.  Sensing a landslide, I cast my vote for the hammerhead.  I find, yet again,  that I am not much of an influencer.  S. joins me on Team Hammerhead.

As we dive into the text, we get information about the habits and the attributes of these two sea creatures.  We find that hammerheads are twice as large as bull sharks. No one switches sides.  We learn that hammerheads hang out in groups, while the bull shark is more solitary.  No one changes teams. We discover that the bull shark gets its name from its tendency to bump potential prey before deciding to attack.  We also learn that the bull shark is aggressive, while the hammerhead often avoids battles.  I tell S. that I’m considering a change.  She doesn’t budge.

The book has some humorous features as well.  On one page it lists things that both creatures can’t or won’t do.  A hammerhead doesn’t bake cakes, and a bull shark can’t paint pictures like Michelangelo.

“Who’s Michelangelo?” J. asks.

“He was a painter and a sculptor who lived about 500 years ago,” I reply.

“Is he dead?” S. asks.  I remind her that he would be over 500 years old, so yes, he has died.  I add that his paintings and sculptures are still very popular, though.  I resist any allusions to Ninja Turtles and try to steer the conversation back to sharks.

On another page, we see a text box that informs us that sharks have been on earth for 29 million years.

“I doubt that,” says J.  He is naturally skeptical of all information, print or otherwise. 

“Why is that?” I ask.

“Because, we’re only in the year 2022.  That’s way less than 29 million.”

“That’s true,” says M. “I think J. is right.”

I try to explain that creatures have inhabited the earth for much longer than the years on our current calendar.  That’s just a calendar that humans created, but it’s not the beginning of the earth.  I can see that J. is doing some thinking.  I sense that we are about to get into a discussion of how the world was created.  We have about ten minutes left in the day.  I am doubting we can discuss religion, dinosaurs, calendars, creation, and the big bang theory and still have time to settle the important shark vs. shark debate.  I steer the ship back to sea.

In the final pages of the section, the authors describe a theoretical battle in which the gentler hammerhead tries to avoid a confrontation, only to be bumped, badgered and bitten by the bull.  Team Bull is cheering wildly, sensing blood in the water. I stop before any graphic mayhem and ask the readers to write their conclusion, basing it on evidence. 

J.’s initial sentence is brief.  “I was right! The hammerhead would lose because it’s ugly.”  I beg him to dive a bit deeper.  Reluctantly he adds, “And because the bull is aggressive and the hammerhead is heavier and slower.”   I dismiss the group, most of whom are feeling superior to the substitute teacher.

As they say in the blurbs, “Read to find out if J. is right.”