Two funerals too many

Two funerals too many

They were very different girls, Altonise and Alexis.

Both were fun-loving, full of life, and feisty. Beyond that, their similarities were the color of their brown skin and the first letter of their names.

I taught them both, loved them both, and both were murdered.  IMG_0637

One was a senior, one was a junior.  Different high schools.  Different challenges in life. Different goals. Different styles.  Different attitudes.

Both were found dead in their homes, both of their last moments filled with violence and terror.

Unfulfilled promise that will never have a chance to bloom.

As a teacher, there are no things worse than the funeral of a student, except maybe the day when you and your students find out about that death.

I couldn’t go to Alexis’ funeral because my husband works weekends and I couldn’t find a sitter.

Altonise’s fell on Monday after a rainy Easter weekend.  The day burst with bright blue sky and a few dancing white clouds.  My heart wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the day nestled in with the tragedy of the funeral.

But even the funeral wasn’t gloomy.

There were songs of hope and the promise of salvation, and guarantees that, if we follow the right path, we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. The mourners sang and clapped along, and silences were punctuated with the keening of her friends and family.

There were speeches of forgiveness and admonitions against violence and revenge.

And there was pink.  Deep rich pink, like impatiens in the summer.   It was in the corsages members of her family wore, in the flowers around her casket, and in the headbands and hairstyles of her friends.

As a mom, there are no words I can offer for comfort. And as a teacher, there aren’t either.  Death is of life, and we must face it, but when it is a shocking death, a loss of the promises of youth, how do you find comfort or offer it?

Love.

And faith.

And so, for Alexis and Altonise, two spirited young women whose tenacity and spunk lit up the world around them, I can only offer words. One of my favorite poets is John Donne, whose poetry is by turns passionate and full of faith, lost and full of love. In one of his holy sonnets he says, “But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space.”

I will mourn the space that held these two girls, and hope that as the world turns on, those who loved them will live a little more, do a little more good, and experience a little more of life in their honor.

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Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Hello Governor Deal (and whichever staffer is lucky enough to be reading this),

I am what you call a “veteran” teacher.  I’m on the downhill slide toward retirement; and I’ve gotten to the point that I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut about issues concerning my profession.
The GMAS system stinks. The Georgia Teacher Evaluation system stinks.  The fact that my elementary school children do more to prepare for tests than they do play outside stinks.  Are you seeing a pattern here?
I love to teach. I love my students, and like parents all over this state, I love my children and want what’s best for all of them.  However, tests that aren’t reliable or valid are not what’s best for them. Tests that generate no useful data for teachers are worse than useless.  Tests that are compared to different tests for the purposes of evaluating me are even more useless than that.
Tests that are far beyond the abilities of a disabled child are not good for them. Having little to no recess is not good for elementary school kids, and pushing small children to do what they are not developmentally ready to do does damage that takes years to undo.
Governor Deal (and your dedicated staffer), if you want to know what teachers and students need, how about asking teachers?  How about asking parents?  Ask actual experts instead of relying on the corporate input that got us into this mess; wouldn’t it be nice to go down in history as the Governor who actually made genuine change for the better in Georgia’s schools?
If you want to know how to do this, ask the people who know. Ask teachers. Ask parents.  And when you do, listen to them.  Sending them a survey and then ignoring what it says is not sound policy, Governor Deal.  If I ran my classroom like that, I’d be out of a job.
I would love to be able to come talk to you and the legislature in person, but our grades are due this week, and school policy forbids me from taking the day before a paid holiday off, or I would be there early Friday morning to talk some sense into you and the representatives you’re leaning on.
Instead, I have to rely on the saucy tone of my letter to do that for me.  Please encourage the legislature to do what’s right by teachers, students, and their families and pass 355 and 364.  It’s the right thing to do.  And since I voted for you, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a citizen of the state of Georgia if I didn’t ask you to do what your electorate wants.
Respectfully,
Tracy Saunders
18 Year Public School Teacher
Mom of Seven
Goals In Progress: Camping Gear and Graphic Design

Goals In Progress: Camping Gear and Graphic Design

So, it’s official.  I’ve become a tiny entrepreneur in a very large pond of them.  I opened a Teachers Pay Teachers store.

And I have to admit, when I saw my Walden worksheet pinned on Pinterest, I felt a happy little twinge. You read that right.  My worksheet on Walden has been pinned. By a stranger. On Pinterest.

I feel a little famous.

igotpinned2
So many cool photo quips could go here.  Choose your favorite. 
It’s not a huge thing, but I made it, someone pinned it, AND someone paid $1.50 for it. Hooray for a new pack of gum!

It’s a close reading practice worksheet that I made for use in my classroom–nothing too snazzy, and believe me, some of the teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers have serious addictions to snazzy.

I made a series of these close reading practice worksheets because even in honors classes, my kids are struggling with Walden.  Thoreau loved long, complex sentences, and for kids who are used to Textspeak, it’s a whole new level of comprehension, analysis, and interpretation.

You can see all seven of my items for sale here.  Go on. You know you need some Walden close reading worksheets in your life.  There will be more posted as I sift through my older stuff and refresh it for my marketing staff.

AND!  I’ve sold a couple of printables to some bloggers in the past few weeks, money that is going to be used to finish collecting camping gear this week for vacation next week.  Two camp chairs and two hammocks later, I’m feeling pretty good about my new hobby.

I’ll post links when those items go live, because if people like the work I did and download it from the blogger who bought it, then maybe that blogger will buy more, which will allow me to eventually save enough money to maybe someday afford a trip to Disney.

Seriously.  Have you seen their prices?  Hopefully the kids will be able to come home from college so we can go.

 

Seven Ways I’m Recharging Over Spring Break

Seven Ways I’m Recharging Over Spring Break

Five school days left until my favorite week of the year: Spring Break.  Great weather, great friends, great family plans–It’s all mapped out in my head and I can’t wait! Like usual, I have probably over scheduled it, but there’s so much refreshing that needs to be done. I need to sleep in a bit, recharge, and re-energize for the last nine weeks of school.

Part of the week involves a much-needed family getaway, but the rest of the week?  All mine!

Easier said than done, right?  Here are my plans to make the most of this precious week.

  1. Get a babysitter.  If you have small children, treat yourself to a day off from everything.  I am planning to hire a sitter for one whole day, in which I will attempt to do as many of the other things on this list as I can.
  2. Spend time with some water. The beach, the lake, the river, a creek, a pool–any
    IM000673.JPG
    Lake Michigan.  Yes, it’s really that blue.

    largish or moving body of water will do.  There is something magically meditative about water, whether it has your feet wrapped in a cool hug or is holding you up on a float, it is hands down the best way to spend a few hours and unwind.

  3. Take a nap. During the school year, I don’t get to do this much, but I am convinced that an entire continent and part of Europe cannot be wrong about the restorative importance of an afternoon siesta.  So one afternoon, there will be a large fajita-filled lunch to get me in the mood, followed by a faceplant into my pillow.  It already feels amazing.
  4. Go junkin’. I love thrift stores. I do not, however, love thrift stores if I have to take my children with me.  They are 4, 6, and 7. I love them, and they can suck the joy out of a 50 cent Goodwill sale like no little people I’ve ever met. It’s hard to dig through a pile of wallets or a rack of clothes when you are fussing at your son to stop wearing the pink heels, catching your 6 year-old before she manages to hang upside down off the clothing rack, and before your 7 year old launches into a “Why Smoking is Nasty” lecture at the lady she saw stubbing out her cigarette outside.   There will be either a flea market, auction, or thrift store afternoon–without the kiddos– so I can relax and enjoy the hunt.
  5. holyhellcoverRead something for fun. Because I teach English, the only reading I get to do during the school year are student papers and the literature I’m teaching. And there’s only so
    many times you can read about Scout and Jem before even they lose their appeal.  (This year was an exception though–I got to read my husband’s first novel.  Check it out here!)  This spring break, I have a few brain candy murder mysteries lined up, and I’m planning to take them to the beach with me.  Two birds and all that.  Plus I just bought folding rocking chair, so I am all set!
  6. Have a big afternoon out!  I am going to kidnap several of my friends and we’re going to sit at an outdoor table and tell stories and save the world over drinks and appetizers.  You’re all invited!!
  7. Explore your artistic talents.  As far as DIY addictions go, mine is small but mighty. I have the materials to make a dozen (really cute) birdfeeders, a set of letter canvases to paint for the entrance, an area taped off to sand and paint into a hallway chalk board, the fabric for the Christmas pajamas I was too tired to make in December, and the fabric to redo my dining room chairs waiting in my cart at fabric.com.  My goal is to finish at least one of these projects over spring break, so I can say I accomplished something on my to-do list. And because I promised my husband I wouldn’t buy any more project stuff until I actually finished a project.
    coloring books - Copy
    The top ones are all Thaneeya McArdle’s work.  I *LOVE* her designs. I even bought her color a picture a day calendar.  So awesome.

    I also have a significant collection of adult coloring books and a small set of colored pencils and Sharpies that I plan to spend some quality time with.  I was super excited to find that my co-op order will be here in time for Spring Break.  Check this out and be jealous!   If you haven’t checked out Thaneeya McArdle’s coloring books, you are seriously missing out. They are the perfect combination of large and small designs and I am addicted.  (Remind me later to write about using adult coloring pages in class!)

  8. And just so you can say you accomplished something really important, purge your junk drawer.  This is actually at the top of my to-do list, if only so I can say, without lying, “I did some clutter purging over break, and you’re right! It felt great.”

As a teacher, fighting burnout is one of the most important things you can do.  This year I have a plan, and I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready to go!  Who’s with me?  What are your plans?  Do you have any great ideas that I’ve missed?  Share them in the comments!

Too Much Water in the Kool-Aid

Too Much Water in the Kool-Aid

Clear-Out-the-Dead-Wood-Thats-Holding-You-BackToday’s lesson on writing in 10th grade ELA was on eliminating unnecessary words and phrases.  My favorite high school teacher called it “eliminating the deadwood,” and in today’s class, my standard, “Don’t waste your reader’s attention span on words they don’t need to read” was not explanation enough for one of my students.

At issue was my admonition: Don’t say “I think.”  Don’t say “I believe.”  Say what you want to say like it is fact, and people will take your argument more seriously.  Z. kept insisting that there had to be more to it, a better reason.  And I couldn’t think of another reason or another way to explain it.  Then M. piped up.

“Do you ever make Kool-Aid?”kool aid.1

That got my attention.  “Yes ma’am. What does this have to do with writing  a paragraph?”

“Well, it’s like when you’re making Kool-Aid, if you put too much water in it, it loses its flavor.  You don’t want your paragraph to lose its flavor by cramming it with too many extra words.”

Best metaphor on revising ever. Good thinking, M.

Extra credit for you!