A spring haircut – #SOL21 Day 21

A new haircut.  The last time that the gray hair on the top of my head was trimmed was in November.  My son loved my “flow” and wanted it for lacrosse season (so it would flow out of the back of his helmet).  My wife hated it because the hair grew so long that it was hiding my ears.  My mother, who only says kind things, keeps saying, “Andy, your hair sure is getting long.  Has it ever been this long?”  Hint.  Hint.  Because my locks are so heavy, I was even struggling to keep my head up straight (okay, maybe it’s not that heavy, but it is heavy).

As the Supercuts hairdresser ran the trimmer through my hair for one last time, she said, “You probably feel ten times lighter.”  It was thick.  And, yes, I did feel lighter.  When I stood up from the chair, I cringed at how much work she’d have to do with the broom to clean up all of my hair.  Don’t worry, I tipped her extra.  She wished me a good night and told me to enjoy the cool air on my head.  I did.  I walked on air to the car.  I skipped through the afternoon (I was walking, but feeling like a skip).  I’ve been smiling ever since.

I’ve got my first two runs of spring in (both in shorts) and now I have my spring haircut.  I’m ready for sunshine and warmer temperatures.  My wife keeps telling me that I may have to put sunscreen on my head for my after school runs.  I sure hope so.


Running in shorts – #SOL21 Day 20

Running in shorts.  After running in pants and tights for four months, there is nothing like it.  Today, my legs (and my shorts) took me to the trails in a beautiful park that is west of Syracuse.  It is truly a hidden gem with trails, ball fields, an awesome playground, and a fast moving creek.  It sits back away from the busy road that takes you to the next town and it can barely be seen from the road (if you’re not looking).

When I arrived, I jumped on the trail that takes you around all of the baseball fields, tennis courts, beach volleyball pit, and picnic table area.  Because it was sunny and in the low 50s, I passed so many happy walkers and runners.  You know that it is one of the first nice days by the mood of everyone walking and running.  I was met with “good mornings” and other greetings by every walker and runner that I passed.

As I entered the wooded area, I found the only snow left in the park (chilly in the woods), but the trails were in excellent shape.  Wanting to get muddy, I left the trail after I circled around back to the park and the ball fields in the back of the park.  With mud kicking up and my footing unsteady, my pace slowed but the fun began.  I splashed down the muddy trail that ran along the creek and took the bridge to the other side of the park.

I headed back into the trails on the other side of the creek and the trail took me into the small town.  I turned around on Main Street and headed back into the woods for one final time.  This trail was going to lead me back to my car.  At about three and a half miles into the run, I looked ahead to see something in the creek.  As I got closer, I discovered three deer crossing the creek to the other side.  It was the only time that I stopped running today (to take a picture).  The deer citing reminded me of why I love early spring running.

I climbed the final hill and traversed down into the final wooded part of the run.  While crossing the final bridge, I felt invigorated (my one word of 2021) and exhilarated by my first run of the spring, which was only six hours old.  Before I got into my car, I realized that my legs were caked with mud and my shorts had dried splashes of dirt all over the back of them.  The first 4.3 miles of spring running are in the books. 

Much needed reflection – #SOL21 Day 19

We are one week away from our spring vacation, which we always called the April vacation (this year it starts on March 27th – so strange).  As I begin to prepare for this final week before vacation, I can’t help to think about how much we have covered in ELA during this school year of hybrid/remote learning.  We will come back with twelve weeks to go, and with most students coming back, the expectations are going to be so high.

There was no flow for the first three months of the school year, and the kids (and teachers) struggled.  Come December, we started to find a rhythm, but everything still felt choppy and discombobulated.  When we returned to school after the holiday vacation, we started our poetry unit and everything began to change.  While reading and writing poetry, we read the novel entitled The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, and we were in a rhythm.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed The Watsons, and we closed the poetry unit with a virtual poetry reading night (on Zoom).  The students invited family and friends, and the kids read their poetry to about eighty people.  As we started our February vacation, we were rolling.

Over that February vacation, I was excited to plan for the five weeks of uninterrupted learning/teaching.  I took all of the data that I have collected on reading skill needs of the students and tweaked my short story unit.  While we progressed through the short story unit, the students worked in literature circles to read a novel together.  There are six different books and groups.  The students are loving the books that they are reading in literature circles and the short story unit has been a success.  The students are turning into active readers that can talk about literature.  We are exactly where we need to be with thirteen weeks left in the school year.

It may have taken three to four months (about fifteen to sixteen weeks) of school to find the rhythm of school, but I am grateful that we have found it.  We will keep it flowing next week, and towards the end of the week, we will talk about the reading AND writing expectations when we return for the final twelve weeks of sixth grade.

Wednesday lunch runs – #SOL21 Day 18

Wednesdays at our school are all remote.  It gives the kids a day away (to catch up or review content) and the building gets an extra cleaning, which is strange because I never see any extra cleaning going on, but then again, our custodial staff does an awesome job keeping the building clean.  So Wednesdays consist of meeting with my students remotely, which is no big deal, but it is also a day of teacher/administration meetings.  Ugh!  It is hours spent in meetings where nothing gets accomplished and they are all over Zoom.  After six Zoom meetings (only three consisting of students), the teachers are exhausted.

The day is supposed to be for teachers to catch up on grading or get ahead with lesson planning for the hybrid/remote learning model.  THIS NEVER HAPPENS.  I have not had a productive Wednesday all school year, and because of this, I have left the building each and every Wednesday in a bad mood.  That all changed four Wednesdays ago.  Four weeks ago, I began using my lunch break to go for a four mile run and my entire mood changed.  It has been a great way to burn off the negative energy in the middle of the day and set me on an afternoon path of accomplishing things (sometimes during Zoom meetings:).

The run route takes me down to the university that is about two miles away.  There are rolling hills and an awesome climb on the way back to the school.  The gradual, but long, climb is grueling at a nice pace and I am beginning to notice that this is exactly where I burn off the negativity.  As I make the final smaller climb back to the school, I feel refreshed (tired, but refreshed).  I wish that I could do this everyday, but when the kids are in the building I’m lucky to find even forty seconds to use the restroom or scarf down a sandwich.

All of the students will be coming back to school in the beginning of April, but we will continue to have Wednesday as all remote days.  I plan to continue my lunch runs and hope for productivity in the afternoon (even if it is during a time that I should be listening in a meeting).  As the weather continues to improve, I may even begin looking forward to Wednesdays.

Date Night – #SOL21 Day 17

Is it Friday yet?  The Tuesday drive home consisted of quiet.  No music.  No talk radio.  Quiet.  As I sat at the final traffic light about a half mile away from home, I came to the realization that I can vaguely recollect the route that I took to get to this light.  My initial thought was slight panic.  My next thought was “thank goodness that I drive the same route home each and every day.”  I blanked.  I let the struggles of teaching reading comprehension, the annoyance of kids not reviewing the scoring requirements against their project before handing it in, and the fact that we (the teachers) are blamed for everything fog my thoughts and distract me from my only “twenty-minutes of me time.”

As I placed my work bags next to the table (for some evening grading) and untied my tie, my wife approached and spoke those magic words.  She said, “I was thinking that maybe we could get away for a few hours on Friday nights for a DATE NIGHT.”  Those are the magic words – date night.  Those words have not been spoken in a long, long time.  With restaurants and bars closed, we had nowhere to go.  Before that, Friday night consisted of driving our children to sporting events, outings with their friends, or friends’ houses.  It has been so long since the words have been spoken that I forgot that feeling that I get.  The chills.  Dizzy happiness.  Euphoria.  The words that make me forget all of my troubles.

My hectic weekend filled with school work and a dark mood was remedied when “my” team’s name was called for the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It got me through a Monday, but couldn’t muster enough to get me through a long Tuesday.  BUT, those soft spoken words that my wife greeted me with after work yesterday was  just what I needed.  Date night is better than any of my favorite teams getting in a championship tournament (even winning a championship game).  Date night is better than happy hour.  Date night is better than a long run.  Date night is better than a concert.  Date night is better than a round of golf.  Date night is better than anything I can think of.  It is time away from the kids (I love them, but I have been with them nonstop for twelve months).  It is time to actually talk and listen to my wife (without complete chaos going on around us).  It is time to enjoy each other’s company like we did before the four kids came along.:)  There is nothing like date night.

So, with three days of school before our Friday night date night, I have new hope and new energy.  Something to get me through the week.  And when I didn’t think it could get any better, she followed up the date night request with, “And we will definitely get home in time to watch the game.”  Wow, I’m lucky on this St. Patrick’s Day!

Things that stay exactly the same… #SOL21 Day 16

On this morning’s bitterly cold walk through the neighborhoods, my thoughts kept me warm.  I thought about everything that I like and miss about the classroom (since Covid-19 modified the schedule).  The list turned into a poem in my head and I rearranged the lines a number of times, but when it was time to sit in front of the computer and type, this is how it looked on the page.

Things I like:

Less than twelve students in my classroom,

quiet hallways,

organized and manageable cafeteria,

being the only class in the library,

small study halls (to work with kids),

a classroom not cluttered with manipulatives,

grade levels passing at the same time.

Things I miss:

Full classrooms,

loud hallways,

crazy, chaotic cafeteria,

students in and out of library,

large, lively study halls,

manipulatives all over the classroom,

tons of kids passing in the halls.

Things that stayed exactly the same:

The sound of learning in every classroom,

morning announcements,

delicious school lunches,

the unique smell of a middle school hallway (especially in the spring:),

teachers helping kids.

The “things that stayed exactly the same” were added during the typing of the poem.  While thinking about what I like and miss about school, the thought that some things stayed the same never crossed my mind.  It’s the “things that stayed exactly the same” that is giving it a sense of normalcy (albeit, a new normal:).  Every line, all of it, is the reason that I enjoy going to school each and every day.

How strange? #SOL21 Day 15

How strange?  On my way home from work today, I passed two football fields with teams practicing football.  As I pulled into my neighborhood, the runners were heading into the trails.  Fall sports are starting in the middle of March.  Where is baseball?  Where is lacrosse?  Where is outdoor track and field?  At the same time, my inbox is filled with March Madness bracket information and my alarm clock scared the you know what out of me this morning because somehow I lost an hour of sleep.  And to top it all off, the sun is shining, but the temperatures are in the teens.  Is it almost spring?  OR are we still in fall?  AND where did winter go?

If there is going to be football, can’t we get those yummy fall drinks that Dunkin’ Donuts is so famous for?  The only time that I even go to Dunkin’ Donuts is in the fall.  Why do I crave a fresh apple picked from a tree?  I keep thinking about a pumpkin donut.  It is all so confusing.  It is the middle of March, but my children are playing the fall sports that they missed in the fall.  Here is the crazy part – my son played soccer in the fall.  He’s using this new fall season to run.  Four sports during one academic year?  All of these changes make me thirst for a more normal school year that will hopefully start in September.  Speaking of thirst and the fall season, I wonder if I could get a tasty Octoberfest beer at the store?  Wishful thinking.

As we progress through the middle of March (the Ides of March), I may be confused about the season, but I am not confused by the approaching St. Patrick’s Day holiday, the start of championship college basketball, and upcoming change of season (for real – it’s about to be spring).  So, I will use today and tomorrow to get ahold of this rollercoaster ride of a school year and to come to terms with the fact that it is not the fall season, and then, I will coast (it is likely that school will through some little hills in my way) to the spring vacation that begins next Friday.  We tend to call it the April vacation.  Figures that this year, it starts at the end of March.  Fitting really.:)

When your team goes dancing… #SOL21 Day 14

Sundays are long days.  In the fall, I broke up the day with a round of golf, a run, or a walk with my kids, but in the winter (even late winter – it is COLD today) it has been difficult to break up the day.  I find myself sitting in front of my computer for hours preparing for the week.  Today was no different.  I woke up late because of “springing ahead” and had lots of running around to do this morning.  Then, I sat in front of my computer for six and a half hours doing schoolwork, and finally, I talked myself into bundling up and going for a run.  During my run, all I could think about was school.  This was not a “high” day of the past few weekends.  It is going to be a long week.

Then, everything changed when I learned that my team was “dancing” in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It is not going to be a long week.  In fact, now, I can’t wait until Friday to watch my team play.  Who cares about putting in over six hours of work today?  I have another two hours in me.  Maybe, I’ll go for another run (well, maybe that is a little far fetched:), but there is no doubt a new feel to this weekend and this week.  I’m not sure if it is because there was no tournament last year or that I was unsure if my team was even going to make it into the “dance”, but I feel relieved and excited.  I am fired up.

So, instead of getting my lunch ready for school tomorrow and helping the kids get ready for the week, I am taking a little break to lay out all of my orange clothing for the week.  I am texting my family and friends to get excited for Friday – there are lots of smiley faces, hearts, and basketball emojis.  I am helping the kids find their orange clothing for remote or in-person school, and I’m trying to map out each hour of my day on Friday so that I am ready for the game.  I am REALLY hoping for a late afternoon or evening game, but at this point of time, I will be happy with anything.

When your team goes dancing… Life is good!:)

When the music returns… – #SOL21 Day 13

“The day the music died.” – Don McLean American Pie

Every time that I hear this tune on the classic rock station that I listen to, I think about this past year.  I know that the song was written to remember the day that Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” tragically died in a plane crash, but with the cancellation of concerts and festivals, I can’t help thinking that for a time (the last 12 months) the music has died.  On my wonderful, exciting, and well-deserved exit of the school building on Friday afternoon, I ran into my friend, Amy, and we talked about how much we missed festivals and concerts and how excited that we are for them to come back.

This conversation led me to spending my twenty-five minute ride home thinking about all of the concerts that I have been to since I was a teenager.  As an adult, I have stopped going to indoor concerts because I don’t love the acoustics of indoor venues, but I will share that this coming year it is likely that I will be back to attending the indoor concerts because I have missed the music so much.  I can’t wait to hear live music and see the crowds around me dancing and singing along.

After I arrived home and got the kids to all of their Friday night events, I went into the basement and found a box of tickets (and other things) that I have kept as memories of concerts that I have attended. The box contains over one hundred concert tickets from the Pointer Sisters and Tone Loc to The Police and the Grateful Dead.  As I perused carefully through all of the tickets, I had forgotten about some of the amazing singers that I have seen live on a stage, like Edie Brickell, Natalie Merchant, The Samples, and Leftover Salmon.  I’ve seen Dave Matthews perform when Big Head Todd and the Monsters were the headliner, and I’ve traveled as far as Red Rocks, Colorado for a week of concerts.  Music and concerts have been a huge part of my life, but I did not even realize this until the shutdown of COVID-19.

Last June, I was supposed to attend a Dave Matthews concert with two of my older children.  This would be our first concert together.  It has been put on hold until this summer (I hope) and I can’t wait because I am hopeful that I can instill in them a love of live music.  There is a culture at a concert and festival that is unique, entertaining, and unforgettable.  I can’t wait for the day that I am standing on a sloped lawn watching a singer belt out a tune to a dancing crowd.  This will be the day when I know that life is back to normal.

Reading and writing in the synchronous classroom – #SOL21 Day 12

The need to go synchronous in the classroom has made teaching the writing process very difficult.  Truly, it has made it nearly impossible.  The one-on-one writing conference is gone (even in the classroom because of the need to be 6 feet away from each other), and the writing feedback relies solely on comments on a Google document, which my students either skim or don’t read (they are in sixth grade).  We are writing in Room 101, but it is NOTHING like we write in a normal school year.

As we struggle through the writing process and all of the obstacles that remote teaching creates, reading has not taken a back seat.  The students are becoming active readers in front of my eyes (some over the screen:).  They are reading some awesome books (from different perspectives) in literature circles and the discussions are WONDERFUL.  They are capital “wonderful” because they are happening over Zoom.  They are reading short stories with each other and discussing the story plot, figurative language, and the subtle inferences that some of the stories contain.  They are talking about literature.  And again, they are doing it over Zoom.

Like anything, the more you do something, the better you get at it.  When I pop into a breakout room, I hear the kids talking back and forth about the stories and working together to complete short comprehension assignments that are a follow-up to the reading.  They are becoming more comfortable with each literature circle and each short story reading with a friend.  Unlike writing, reading is manageable over Zoom because you can do mini-lessons on active reading strategies that the kids can use while reading.  It’s easier to give feedback on individual assessment of reading comprehension (shorter and more direct comments than provided on writing pieces).  With this constant practice since September, they have the confidence to read on their own, which is much more difficult with writing (for sixth graders, and I’d even write any grade level – writing is not easy).

As I search for the silver lining, I look to the growth of my students as readers.  With the possibility of many students returning to the classroom soon, I look forward to ending the year with lots of writing practice.  They may not be as well prepared as writers as the students that came before them, but I am hopeful that their reading skills will provide them with the confidence to take chances with their writing next year.