Fresh Starts

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It’s back-to-school time in my community and in so many others around the country.  Teachers, students, and parents have been preparing for weeks.  Teachers are returning with renewed passion thanks to summer training and summer rest.  Students are returning, reluctantly perhaps, excited about new school clothes and reuniting with friends.  And parents.  You’ve seen them on television ads and social media.  They skip joyously through the school supply aisles, meet in the driveway for a mimosa toast, and perform celebratory dances as the school bus pulls away on the first day.  It’s a fresh start for everyone.

There is one group of parents you won’t see skipping, toasting, and dancing, however.  Those are the kindergarten moms.  Those moms are fighting back tears, lingering too long in the hallway, and worrying about everything from new friends (or lack thereof) to the complexities of navigating the lunch line.

My mom was one of those.

When we entered my kindergarten classroom for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the sights and sounds before me.  There were children everywhere, more than I had ever seen in one place.  The perimeter of the room was lined with bins of blocks, crayons, scissors, paste, workbooks, and packages of paper.  OH!  The paper!  Paper with lines.  Paper without lines.  White paper.  Colored paper.  Manila paper.  So much paper!  I was giddy with the possibilities awaiting me in kindergarten.  I turned and waved at Mom.

Mom was not giddy.  In kindergarten terms, she was sad.  She expected me to be shy, reluctant, clingy, my normal approach to anything or anyone new.  She expected tears, mine as well as hers.  Instead, she got a wave and this cheerful announcement: “You can go now!”  That was almost 50 years ago.  She’s over it now.  I think.  But she still tells the story when conversations turn to kindergarten.

I never stopped loving school, especially those first days when everything is new and possibilities are endless.  We are lucky that the calendar provides us with many other opportunities for fresh starts.  In January we start anew with grandiose plans for all kinds of improvements.  We all start a new year of our very own on our birthdays.  For some, each new month is a time to review progress and begin again.  And Mondays!  We don’t usually look forward to them, but you have to admit, they provide us with 52 fresh starts each year.

You may not realize it, but you can have a new beginning at any time.  Just call it.  The same way you call, “Shotgun!” or “Not it!”  Try it.  “Fresh start!”  Tell others so they can try it too.  It really works, even for kindergarten moms!

If you are an educator or a student, I wish you the very best this year can bring.  If you are a kindergarten mom, I wish you an extra measure of grace until you are able to dance behind the school bus.  For everyone, I wish you fresh starts, new stuff, and endless possibilities.

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And the winner is…

winner girlThanks to everyone who participated in the comment contest!  Your comments were both fun and funny, and as always, thought provoking.  There were straight answers and qualified answers, smart answers and smart alecky answers.  I’m so glad it turned out that way, because that’s exactly the kind of community I want to be part of, and it reflects what I suspect happens with students.  Some of them follow the expectations, because, well, that’s what’s expected.  Others feel the need to add more.  Maybe they know more and feel limited by the test.  Maybe they feel the need to rebel just a bit by making a point or adding humor.  I remember a biology test in high school where I defined goiter as a hump, a lump, a mump, or a bump.  I couldn’t explain it in biological terms as was required, so I opted for humor.  I wasn’t going to get credit either way, but I thought I could at least amuse my teacher.  I’m not suggesting we should advance students based on their ability to make us laugh.  I am suggesting, however, that there are so many ways achieve and to assess achievement.  Hopefully the educational pendulum will start to swing back the other way sooner rather than later.

The official winner of the $10 Starbucks gift card is (imagine drumroll here)…

Martha!

Congratulations, Martha, and thanks so much for participating!

At this point I have to admit that conducting a contest is no easy task, especially when the comments were so supportive and so much fun.  Once I drew a name I didn’t want to quit, so I picked a second place winner.  I don’t really remember who it was because after that, I just kept drawing and drawing until all the names were drawn.  So, if you commented and your name isn’t Martha, congratulations!  You are a second place winner and will receive a $5 Starbucks card!  Please email me at idageschke1@comcast.net with a current email address.

Thanks again to all of you who follow my blog and support my writing efforts with your attention and kind words.  I truly appreciate each of you.

On Writing and Testing

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You might have noticed I’ve been away for a while.  I’d like to tell you I was on sabbatical, traveling the world and learning all kinds of amazing things.  The truth is, I’ve been more like Ross and Rachel: on a break with intermittent surges of writing, some of which were blog related and others not.

I have been working on my book project, though I have to admit, not with the intensity it deserves.  Once the manuscript was complete, the fun part was over, and I was faced with what Terri Hendrix would call “the part that ain’t art.”  Trying to figure out how to get the work from my computer to the outside world, beautifully presented, on a limited budget, using technology far outside my comfort zone is intimidating to say the least.  For a time, the enormity of the task became overwhelming, and I turned my attention to other things while I gathered my inner resources to start again.  Luckily, I have some incredible “outer” resources who provided much needed encouragement and direction.  As it has before, Big Magic also stepped in and uncovered some hidden resources at exactly the right time.

I have also been teaching writing.  To fourth graders.  In Texas.  Where they will take a high-stakes standardized test very soon.  Few things bring me greater joy than writing with children. And few things can destroy that joy faster than high-stakes testing.  We are working on revising and editing skills: punctuation, grammar, word choice, and such.  It’s tedious work, beyond their developmental level if you ask me.  Of course, no one asked me.  My students are frustrated by a task that would, under different circumstances, help them find their voices and express their ideas to the world.  Luckily, children are resilient.  While they are not thrilled with the almost constant repetition of comma rules, they humor me, searching their mental data bases for why we should use a comma here instead of there.  In a few weeks the test will be over, and the mechanical workings of the English language will fade into the background.  Until they are in seventh grade.  When they take the next writing test.  Big Magic, if you’re listening, we could use some help here.

Which of the following BEST explains the frequent use of sentence fragments in the previous paragraph?

a) Rhetorical emphasis

b) Passive aggressive behavior toward high-stakes testing

c) All of the above

If you can answer this question correctly in the comments below by midnight CST on March 8, 2016, your name will be placed in a drawing for a $10 Starbucks gift card.  Low-stakes.  As it should be.

If you are an educator, I hope you survive testing season with your sanity and passion intact.

No matter who you are, I hope the approaching spring brings you warmth, joy, and renewal.  And blessings.  Many, many blessings.