Posted in Teaching

Forgetting the Pledge of Allegiance and Other Symptoms of Adult Summer Slide

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A couple of weeks ago, I was at my parents’ house when my mom mentioned that she “pledged the table.” She meant that she used Pledge cleaner on the kitchen table, but I (being the hilarious and punny daughter that I am) wanted to make the obvious joke that she pledged allegiance to her table. I put my right hand over my heart and said, “…” nothing. After a few seconds of sitting there with my hand on my chest and my mouth hanging open, everyone started looking at me funny, possibly wondering if I was having a heart attack. So I put my hand down and said, “Um, how does the Pledge of Allegiance start again?” My dad, looking concerned/disappointed in me, replied, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…?” at which point I was like, “Oh! Right!” and lamely finished my joke to a bunch of blank stares.

It wasn’t one of my finest moments.

You might be thinking, So you forgot the Pledge of Allegiance. Big deal. I don’t remember it either. But what you’re forgetting is that I’m a teacher. In Texas. Which means that every weekday morning from mid-August to May, I recite not only the pledge to the American flag, but the pledge to the Texas one as well. So, when I failed to bring those words to mind in late July, I knew I was in trouble.

Most parents and educators have heard of the “Summer Slide.” For everyone else, no it’s not the new ride at Schlitterbahn. The Summer Slide refers to the tendency for students to lose some of the academic achievement they gained during the school year while they’re off for summer break.

What many people don’t know is that teachers suffer from the adult version of the Summer Slide. (I’m trying to come up with a catchy name for it. So far, I’m partial to the Vacation Veer or the Sunny-Days Slither. Let me know your thoughts.) No matter what you want to call it, it exists, and forgetting the Pledge of Allegiance is the least of my worries. Here are the…

Top Six Things I Forget Over the Summer:

1. My Password for That Thing We Will Inevitably Have to Use on the First Day of Back-to-School Professional Development

It’s some combination of the year one of my pets was born and the middle name of one of my former students… I think…

2. Roughly Half the Acronyms I Need to Know on a Daily Basis

Go into SEEDS and review the IEP and BIP before the ARD. Then make sure the data is up-to-date in TEAMS and document the MOY and ISIP scores in ECST so the LSSP can access them. And do it all ASAP, OK?

Sure thing! Just let me Google a couple of things first.

3. What’s Appropriate for Seventh Graders and What’s Not

When September rolls around, I’ll pull out those notes I made in July for that really engaging lesson I wanted to teach, and then I’ll realize that excerpts from House of Leaves and clips from an episode of The Santa Clarita Diet probably aren’t approved resources for twelve year olds. Oops.

4. Where I Put My One Good Staple Remover

Seriously, where is that thing?!?! I’ve already broken two fingernails!

5. Pretty Much Everything About How to Teach Grammar

Sleeping past 7:00AM and swimming in Barton Springs and wearing pajamas all day somehow knocks subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns right out of my head every summer. I have to relearn them again every year.

6. Exactly How Short Forty-Six Minutes Really Is

In August, when I start getting excited about school again, I go into idealistic mode, which is fun but, cruel. There’s nothing quite as disappointing as creating the perfect week-long lesson full of inspirational warm-ups and ample time for questions and enrichment, only to realize later that it would take me ten days to actually implement my plan. Soon I’m bummed to find all those little extras are on the educational cutting room floor. Forty-six minutes a day is just too short for everything I want to teach them, but I do the best I can. Sometimes I think it’s good that I forget how short the time really is, because it makes me plan those ideal lessons, and once in a while I keep the good stuff and cut something else. (Shh!)

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The Summer Slide (The Dog Days Decline? The Free Time Free Fall?) is real. For students, the best way to fight it is with a book. Getting kids to read over the summer keeps their brains active and prevents them from losing important reading strategies and vocabulary. As for me, well, I’ve read seventeen books this summer, but that hasn’t helped me remember how to reset my voicemail message or reserve a computer lab, so I’ve got some studying to do. I guess it’s time to make some acronym flash cards.

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And now, a quick moment of seriousness. Are you worried your student is slipping down the Summer Slide? It’s not too late to do something about it! This would be a great time to check your school’s website and see if your child has a summer reading assignment he/she’s not telling you about. Or, take them to the library and have them check out one of my favorite books. (There’s a section of YA & middle grade titles about halfway down.)

 

 

Posted in Writing

How to Write a Journal Entry When You Have “Nothing” to Write About

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Thinking small now will have a big impact later.

A couple of years ago, I shared my 10 Tips for Keeping a Journal, and today I want to elaborate on Tip #3: Think Small.

As I said in my previous post, “If you wait until you have ‘good stuff’ to write about, your journal may stay closed for months. The truth is, there’s good stuff happening all around us almost every day. Consider this—who’s this journal for? You, right? What will YOU want to look back on in ten years? What you’ll crave are the little things. The tiny little slices of life that you’ve forgotten about. So your job when journaling is to master the mundane.”

It’s true. I’ve been rereading some of my old journals (a favorite summer habit) and want to scream at my college-age self, “Stop babbling about boy troubles, and tell me what’s in your pockets!” (Somewhere, in another universe, college-age me just had a very strange dream.) Really though, there are plenty of pages about my feelings (which are important, yes) but not enough about my world. When I look back on that time, I’m not interested in reliving all my relationship angst. I’d much rather see my former surroundings—where I spent my Thursday afternoons and which t-shirt was my favorite and what I ate for breakfast. Even after college, I still sometimes went through phases of vague melancholy or (worse) vague bliss where I described my deep feelings of unease or contentment without ever really pinpointing where they came from. That’s why I’m thrilled when I stumble upon entries like this one from February 18, 2007:

I am sitting in my purple chair wearing the new jeans I got at Buffalo Exchange tonight (that I love) with the green sweater that I rescued from the Goodwill bag (that I now really like) and the flip flops from Kelley’s wedding and a black head band wrap. I look totally funky stylin’ (in my not so fashionable opinion).

Note #1: Sweater and flip flops in Austin in February sounds about right.
Note #2: I am such a hoarder of clothes. I used to be SO BAD about putting things in a bag to take to Goodwill and then “rescuing” them a couple of days later, only to wear them once and then send them back to my closet for another year. I’ve learned my lesson. Now I take the bag to Goodwill immediately. Usually.
Note #3: I feel like I was quoting a friend when I used the phrase “funky stylin'” but I don’t remember who. Also, I hope I was being sarcastic.

Or this one from January 31, 2011:

I am sitting in my backyard writing by the light of the campfire I just made for myself (with the help of a firestarter log from HEB). My plan is to sit here and write in my journal and drink some High Life and read Lolita and enjoy the evening for as long as I like, no matter the time. I hear something barking off in the distance– maybe a coyote. Oh, and now I hear the muted but unmistakable caterwauling of Gink…

Note #1: High Life? Seriously? My guess is someone left them at my house.
Note #2: High Life and Lolita is a classy combination.
Note #3: I just Googled January 31, 2011, and it was a Monday, so I was enjoying this late-night campfire on a school night. How scandalous!
Note #4: You have no idea how loud my cat’s caterwauling can be. Someday, when he’s gone, this journal entry will remind me of the crazy sounds he used to make, and it will make me smile.

Those are the kinds of journal entries I can sink my nostalgic teeth into.

So if you’re keeping a journal, and you’re worried that nothing you write is exciting enough, fret not. Some of the most mundane tidbits today may be the lines that give you the biggest smiles ten years from now.

When in doubt, follow these simple instructions:

HOW TO WRITE A JOURNAL ENTRYDownload a PDF of this diagram here:
HOW TO WRITE A JOURNAL ENTRY.

Here’s an entry I wrote based on this format, without taking any of the optional tangents:

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See? Until the robot swung the baseball bat and uncovered the hidden scorpion, there was nothing earth-shattering about this entry, but someday I’ll be glad I mentioned how Gabby used to insist on laying in my lap, and I’ll probably laugh about how excited I was over my first Roomba when I see what the robots of the future can do.

So give it a try. Grab a favorite pen and find a comfy spot and write something that future you will enjoy reading. Most importantly, have fun.

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One last thing: Don’t ever feel like you have to fill up a whole page. Even short entries can have a lasting effect.

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Terrible handwriting aside, that’s quite a nice little nugget. 🙂

 

Posted in Writing

Two Stories and a Poem

It’s been a while since I’ve had any publication news to share, but when it rains, it pours. (Or, as we say here in Texas, when it rains… we run outside and spin around in it, because it feels a little like magic.)

If you’re looking for something to read on a rainy day or on a day too hot to go outside, consider choosing something that includes one of my stories or poems.

Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things

Ember_3.1_Cover_a8cd13ad-4eda-41c5-8153-9a3dfb9111cf_1024x1024Volume 3, Issue 1 of Ember is now available, and inside you’ll find “Teardrops and Watermelon Seeds.” This magical realism story was first published a few years ago in Spark: A Creative Anthology. It’s about a fourteen-year-old girl who goes through a summer of changes and is holding on to her memories in a unique way. I’m thrilled that E&GJ Little Press decided to publish it again because it’s one of my favorite stories. Plus, this time it’s paired with a beautiful illustration the talented Casey Robin and can be read alongside other stories for YA readers, including a few written by teenagers.

You can order a copy of Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things for yourself, your classroom, or a friend here. There are two print versions, one for $20 and one for $30. This journal is a little pricey, but it’s worth it. (Psst! If you plan on buying one, email me and I’ll give you a discount code for 35% off!)

Texas Poetry Calendar

TPC-Cover-PossI have been honored to have poems in the Texas Poetry Calendar eight times since 2009. These useful desk calendars, which have a weekly planner on one side of the page and a poem or two on the other, used to be published by Dos Gatos Press, but are now available through Kallisto Gaia Press. The 2019 volume includes my poem “Yellow,” which is about oak pollen. You can purchase one here. (Psst! I also have a poem in the 2018 calendar, and Dos Gatos Press has a few left. Get one here before the year is over!)

Entropy

goose-3190744_1280-1170x771If you don’t need a planner or are low on cash, you can still read one of my recent stories for free! “The Mayor” was published a couple of weeks ago in Entropy’s series titled “The Birds.” “The Mayor” is fiction, but is based on a true story. Read it here.

Coming Soon:

tales-to-terrify-logoI have one more story coming out soon. My clown horror story “Makeup,” which was a finalist in a Wattpad contest a couple of years ago, will be available for your listening pleasure on the Tales to Terrify podcast sometime in the next few months. I’ll keep you posted with the details when I know more.

I hope you enjoy perusing my work. Now, it’s time for me to get back to it…

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(To see a list of all of my published writing, click here.)