Snow Day

My school district announced last night that we would be closed today because of ice and snow. I had already planned to miss school because of a dental surgery appointment to fix a cracked molar, but it looked liked my students wouldn’t be going to school, either. I slept through most of the storm, oblivious to the ice pellets and sleet that blanketed our neighborhood in solid sheets of ice.

photo

My phone woke me at 6 am. The dentist’s receptionist was calling to cancel my surgery because my dentist and her staff couldn’t get to the clinic. Disappointing, but at least I wasn’t faced with pouring hot water under my car tires and finding my ice scraper. My bed was warm—a nest of husband, pets, and blankets, so I went back to sleep.

Waking up later, my mind automatically went through the endless to-do list of tasks I could possibly accomplish with a free day. I could get so much work done! Empty my email inboxes. Finish an article that’s due next week. Write lesson plans that will take me to Winter Break. Sign and address Christmas cards. Clean. I could always clean something.

Before I drank my first cup of coffee, I had filled my snow day with work plans. In other words, I turned it into every other day. Not satisfied with booking up my own day, I suggested several tasks that Don could accomplish since he would not be going to campus to take his Statistics final. Good-natured (and used to my ways), he only grumbled a little.

I am, by Nature, a worker bee. My mother raised me to believe that if you are in bed after 8 am—even on holidays and weekends—you better have a fever. I also suffer from the insecure notion that my value is linked to what I do and how much I do for other people. It is hard for me to relax. Don is a self-proclaimed slacker. He has no trouble lounging. The Grasshopper and the Ant. We joke about this, mostly. Don urges me to rest and enjoy myself and I push him to be more motivated. It’s a delicate tension between us.

I stalled about getting out of bed. Faced with a day full of work, I just wanted to go back to sleep. What would I be doing today if it wasn’t a snow day? I would be lying in a dentist’s chair getting a root canal and spending the rest of the day sleeping off anesthesia and pain. Was that the only thing that would keep me from filling every day with work? Surgery?

I made a decision—a snow day is a rare gift and I wasn’t going to waste it by being productive.

Don was thrilled. My decision to lie around all day liberated him, too.

I made new plans.

After a shower, I put on clean pajamas.

I pulled out a pile of books and journals to read and found the TV remote.

I got back in bed.

Don wandered through on occasion, checking in to chat and bring me more coffee (or cocoa, or chili, or grilled cheese sandwiches).

We watched three weeks of Walking Dead, then three days of Stephen Colbert and John Stewart.

We spent all afternoon reading–advancing though pages the only evidence of productivity all day.

Besides pet maintenance and food preparation, we didn’t do anything else.

Checking Facebook and Twitter, I admired my friends who were working harder than me today, but I squashed any urges to join them.

It was glorious.

I will tackle that to-do list tomorrow, but I must hold the memory of this lazy day. I need to remember that I can’t be productive every minute of every single day. Here in Texas, we don’t get snow days more than once or twice a year. Maybe, I need to declare my own “snow days” more often.

Bah Humbug #slice2013

slice of life

One exciting thing about writing my own blog now is that I can participate in blog events and celebrations like the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up your Slice of Life Story Post on Tuesdays or you can visit the blog and read other people’s stories. For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

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Digging through my dresser, I pull out t-shirt after t-shirt and begin stacking them on the floor. Don peeks into the bedroom when he hears my dramatic sighs and drawer slams, “Are you OK?”

I said, “It’s another theme day at school. Today, we are supposed to wear Christmas attire for the staff holiday photo. I am looking for that Charlie Brown’s Christmas shirt I used to have. I thought it was in here somewhere.”

Don rolled his eyes, “Another theme day?”

“I know. This is the fourteenth one this year. (Yes, I am keeping track.) It’s ridiculous.”

It might surprise you to learn that I am clothes horse (shoes, too). My conference roommates can testify. I feel more professional and put together when I dress up a bit. Growing up, my mother taught me that when you are “a curvy girl” you need to “try a little harder” when choosing outfits, so that you don’t look like “a slob.” She still expresses her dismay that I don’t wear hose and a slip every day.

I am more relaxed at school than I was when I worked in a office, but I want to choose my clothes based on weather, personal taste, and mood–not theme days.

Don helps me unfold shirts looking for Charlie Brown. I continue ranting, “Today is Christmas colors–red, green, gold, silver, white or purple (?) clothes. Thursday is Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. Friday is Polar Express Day. We are supposed to wear ‘school-appropriate’ pajamas. I bought school-appropriate pajamas for Pajama Day. I guess I need holiday pajamas this go-round.”

At my school, we are expected to participate in school-wide events and celebrations. I know that kids enjoy it when their teachers wear fake mustaches (Mustache Day),  slippers (Slip Past Drugs Day), and university gear (Generation TX Week) along with them. It’s fun. The school year is long. Fun is good.

Concerned that teachers are weary of the endless theme days, our administrators have offered an additional perk. If we participate, we can wear BLUE JEANS. I’ll wear anything to school if I can pair it with blue jeans. Said no teacher ever.

We still can’t find the Charlie Brown shirt. I look at the mound of school shirts spreading across the floor–field trip t-shirts, Field Day t-shirts, UIL Team t-shirts, blood drive t-shirts–all shirts I only wear for school, usually once on the day of the event. Since I am looking for my Christmas t-shirt in here, I must have classified it as a school-only shirt, too.

Frustrated with the entire exercise and running out of time, I decide to opt out of Christmas Attire Day and suffer my colleagues’ ribbing all day because I ‘m not participating. I am sure someone will take pity on me and loan me their extra elf hat.

I can’t tell you how excited  I am about this. No really, I can’t tell you.

I think teaching should be fun because teachers enjoy the work we do. If the only enjoyable days at school are the days we could wear our pajamas, there’s a problem. Perhaps, I just resent the loss of one of the last pieces of autonomy many teachers still have–the ability to choose what we wear to work.

My husband and I worked our way through school, taking low-paying food service and hospitality jobs. I have done my time wearing the same clothes as my co-workers. I want to wear my nice clothes.

As I leave for work, I show off my black pants and sweater to Don, “Hey, the sweater has a little green it. This counts, right?”

Little Red Goes to School (By Way of Boston)

Some people name their cars. I name my suitcases. My big suitcase is affectionately known as The Pet because my husband claims I drag it around like it’s on a leash. My new carry-on—purchased in a futile effort to pack less—is named Little Red. Here she is:

little red

Little Red, along with The Pet, accompanied me to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Conference on English Leadership (CEL), and Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) annual conferences in Boston last week. She was almost empty when I arrived in Boston, but Little Red was crammed full of books when I left.

The first time I attended the NCTE conference (New York, 2007), a friend told me that I needed to leave room in my suitcase, so that I could bring a “few” books home. In my mind, a few meant five or six books–no problem. I was ill-prepared for the piles of low-cost and free books offered by generous exhibitors. I wound up purchasing a cheap duffle bag in Times Square, so that I could lug books home.

(I also stood in line with TWO people, so that Suzanne Collins could sign and stamp a copy of her newly-released book, The Hunger Games, but that’s another story.)

I learned my lesson. While I don’t feel the need to grab mountains of books in the exhibit hall, I manage to acquire a “few” during the conference every year.

Explaining to my students why I would miss three days of school right before Thanksgiving, they were curious, “Will you meet any famous authors while you are there, Mrs. Miller?”

“If you see Rick Riordan, will you ask him to sign a book for us?”

“Are you going to see where the Boston Tea Party was?” (I teach American History, too, so this isn’t as random as it seems.)

“Is Tom Angleberger going to be there?”

Trying to answer their questions as best I could, I told my class, “I am not sure who is going to be there, but I imagine I will have some new books to share when I get back.”

I had spoken the magic words: new books.

I wish every children’s author could have heard my class in that moment.

I wish every naysayer who says kids don’t read could have heard the children cheer when I told them we would have more books to read and share.

Mason asked, “How many books do you think it will be? How will you carry them?”

“I guess I will put them in my suitcase, Mason,” I assured him.

Mason grinned, “You should bring your suitcase to class and we can help you unpack it!”

This morning, I loaded up Little Red with books I picked up during my trip, as well as some books I found for the children during the break. Wheeling my suitcase across the school parking lot, no one gave me a second look. I guess teachers bring all sorts of weird props to school.

Parking Little Red by my desk, I greeted my students as the came to class. It didn’t take long for them to notice a bright red suitcase.

Kenzie shook her head, “You really did it. You brought us a suitcase full of books, didn’t you?”

I whispered to her, ” I found a copy of Who Is Michelle Obama? in a bookshop. I know you’ve been waiting for it. Let’s get it out.”

Kenzie beamed and fought off classmates eager to see inside Little Red.

gifts from Little Red

Looking for an orderly, but fun way for my students to investigate the books, we conducted a musical chairs-style book party. It’s a lot like my friend, Colby’s speed dating with books idea or Janet Allen’s Book Pass. Students carried their to-read lists and a pencil. I placed one book on every desk. We sang holiday songs and jingles at the top of our lungs while moving around the room.

When I rang my desk chime, students stopped at the nearest desk. Students examined the book at their desk for two minutes and recorded the title and author of any book that interested them. After two minutes, we repeated the process–moving around the room and looking at books. We had a blast. Everyone added books to their lists and all of our new books were previewed.

As my students filed out at the end of class, several patted Little Red and complimented her, “Thank you, Little Red, for the great books!”

The symbolism of a bright red bag full of gifts for children was not lost on me in that moment.

Thank you, Little Red. Every time I pack you, I will remember this day and smile. You helped me show my students one more time that reading is worth celebrating.

My #nerdlution: Start a (New) Blog

I fell asleep early on Thanksgiving night. Too many side dishes. Too many glasses of wine. Too many relatives. When I checked Twitter on Friday morning, it was clear I had missed a great conversation. Friends Colby Sharp, Katherine Sokolowski, Franki Sibberson, and Chris Lehman challenged each other to set goals and support one another for the next 50 days. Dubbed #nerdlution by its founders, this public commitment creates a community that encourages participants and holds them accountable. In just a few hours, #nerdlution tweets and posts popped up everywhere as bloggers and tweeps joined the movement. Yes! I should have goals.

What are my goals?

nerdlution

I can commit to walking more. My family enjoys our evening walks, but we lose our motivation when the thermostat rises above 90 degrees during the summer. We let our walking habit fall away for months at a time. Sarah, Don, and I updated our Zombies, Run! app and plan to run tonight. Running from moaning zombies in the dark. That’s motivating!

I don’t like exercising, but I know I feel better when I do it. Besides, walking frees my thinking. Ideas for writing often bubble up when I spend time outdoors.

About the writing.

I began my professional writing career as a blogger for Teacher Magazine. When invited to blog after a successful run as an “Ask the Mentor” columnist, I remember thinking, “I won’t tell them I don’t know the first thing about blogging.” Looking back, I think of “The Book Whisperer “blog as a column. I spent hours each week crafting essays about teaching and reading. Not casual writing–like I imagine blogging.

I got my first book contract because of Teacher Magazine and I tried out a lot of ideas on the blog that later wound up in the book, The Book Whisperer. I found the blog limiting at times. I internalized a need to write about “big ideas” all of the time–poor education policies, new research findings, the sorry state of reading instruction. Sometimes, I just wanted to write about how much I loved Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. When Teacher Magazine and I amicably parted ways in 2012, I rarely posted anymore.

By this time, The Nerdy Book Club was roaring along and I devoted my infrequent blogging impulses to our community blog. I was working on Reading in the Wild, and I felt urges to write something that wouldn’t pass through a copyeditor and production designer before anyone read it.

Colby and Cindy still allow me a monthly spot and trust that I will turn in something decent. I know I give them heart attacks because I usually begin my posts three hours before they are due. Nerdy is a good place for me–I can tie anything (and I mean anything) back to reading. I can talk about my students and our shared book love. It’s a nice home for an itinerant blogger. Nerdy doesn’t give me everything, though. I still like questioning education policies. I still like the immediacy of writing when I am inspired.

Six years as a “blogger” and I, Donalyn Miller, have never had a blog that is completely mine. Looking at the blogs of dear friends and colleagues, I am confident every topic I might explore is in good hands,  already.  Teri Lesesne switches between education policy rants and book reviews on two different blogs. Katherine writes beautifully about her classroom. Colby and John Schu celebrate books and the authors who write for young readers. The world doesn’t need me to blog.

But I do.

I miss opening my brain and my browser and putting something out there. I miss working my way through seedling ideas. I still don’t see myself as a blogger, but I can make a #nerdlution to try.