Fire the Judge-Hire the Witness

I may be able to do anything, but I can't do everything.

Writing Students’ Stories — February 7, 2021

Writing Students’ Stories

A memory popped up in Facebook on Friday that truly made me smile. That’s one of the advantages of Facebook–you get a chronicle of life events that you’d forgotten about. You get to celebrate again the victories, cherish the moments of happiness and love in days gone by, and revel in the fact that you might have been broken momentarily, but you didn’t stay broken.

The memory that popped up was a teaching moment. A moment I shared on Facebook because it was the kind of moment all teachers celebrate. The kind of moment that fuels the teaching passion to keep pressing on, that makes all the late nights grading and planning worth it, the kind of moment that makes a teacher say, “This is why I do this.”

Of course, one year ago, in February 2020, I had no idea how the profession of teaching would be turned sideways and upside down and inside out. Virtual teaching, remote learning, asysnchronous, synchronous, weren’t born yet. But the moment that happened was identical to a few moments that happened for me this week, even though I was in teaching in a completely different setting with entirely new challenges.

Let me share with you a few victories that happened this week and culminate with the 2020 memory.

TNT’s story

In my 4th grade virtual class, I have a set of twins. T and T, or TNT, as I affectionately think of them. This brother and sister team are great kids, attend Zoom lessons faithfully, and truly try their hardest.

However, their first semester grades did not reflect their work ethic. For some reason, their hard work during Zoom didn’t transfer to their time away from Zoom. Missing assignments, incomplete assignments, or poorly done assignments brought their grades down into the D and F zones. I tried all of the normal things–parent phone calls, invitations to redo assignments, proposals to come to Office Hours time that would allow me to check over their work and make sure they had what they needed, or to clear up any misconceptions.

For the first 20 weeks of school, these attempts fell flat. Assignments would be turned in, but incomplete. “Missing” still dotted their grades in PowerSchool. They would give enthusiastic promises to come back to Zoom in the afternoon, but then wouldn’t show up. I felt powerless because I knew that what the gradebook showed, wasn’t their story.

So I tried one more time. I made one more phone call. I was confident TNT and their mother didn’t want their grades to be their story either.

This time it worked. This time it clicked. This time there was a consistent dedication from both of them to show just as much enthusiasm and effort away from Zoom as they did on Zoom.

This past Thursday, they both returned to Zoom in the afternoon so I could review adding mixed numbers. While they were there, I took a moment to review the grade book with them. Friends, tears welled up. Both of them had all of their assignments submitted. Both of them had catapulted their grades from D’s and F’s to B’s and C’s and even a few A’s. But more important than the grades, both of them saw the reward in focusing their independent time resulted in what their story truly is–two hard working, dedicated students.

H’s story

H’s story starts out happily. She began the year thriving in virtual learning. The environment suited her learning style perfectly. H quickly earned her title as “Teacher Tech Assistant” because she able to problem solve with me on the fly when students had problems with Zoom, websites, screen sharing, or using the online tools. Her parents said she was having her best school year ever and school had been a joy for her.

However, as the year progressed, that initial spark of joy was diminishing. She was getting frustrated more easily and shutting down often. She was frequently using the phrase, “I’m confused.” Moreover, H has terrible test anxiety. Assessments would often take her double or triple the amount of time. H is a good student, frequently demonstrates that she does understand and is very capable, but she was getting lost quickly.

Through private conversations in Zoom Breakout rooms, shared screens, and a few diagnostic tools, a new light began to glimmer for H. First, I proposed that she stop using the phrase, “I’m confused.” Using that phrase gave her permission to be stuck. Instead, I asked her to pinpoint where the moment of confusion was. It was often observed that H was jumping ahead to step 5 and 6 in what we were doing, rather than completing tasks in order. I coached her that if she completed the steps in order, step 5 and 6 would reveal themselves. Basically, H had trouble with the big picture of an assignment or task, but when it was broken down into the steps, she was successful. After a few sessions of breaking tasks down, H used the phrase, “I’m confused” less often.

Another victory occurred when she and I tackled her test anxiety. It didn’t matter if it was a short 5 question quiz, or a longer 30 question assessment, H would shut down for long amounts of time. And timed tests? Forget about those. I could feel her anxiety ooze through the bandwidth.

The hard part was I didn’t know at what point she would shut down. It could be on the first question or the fifth or the last question. I recall on one test, she had been stuck for 30 minutes on the same question. Once I determined how paralyzing assessments were, she and I developed strategies to help her. The first was a typical test-taking strategy: if you don’t understand the question or can’t figure out the correct answer quickly, skip it. I coached her that giving prolonged energy to a question she wasn’t sure of was defeating and stressful. It’s better to move on and use her energy on questions she was sure of. This helped, but it wasn’t the end all.

Another strategy that happened more recently, is that I set a timer to check-in with H. Every 7 minutes I would ask her which question she was on. When she realized that each time she told me how she was progressing, it boosted her confidence and helped her to continue the mental momentum. The added benefit was as other kids heard me check in with H, they also joined in to update their status. Students would unmute themselves, tell me where they were, and then continue. I cheered on every update and praised their focus. I’m convinced this also helped H because she saw that she wasn’t the only one who needed to build her test-taking stamina. Knowing you’re not the only one who struggles helps to alleviate the struggle.

But that’s the end of H’s story. I’m overjoyed to share that this week, H’s effort and dedication to allowing the strategies to help her paid off. This was one of those weeks when multiple assessments landed in the same week. Two standardized math tests, a short ELA test, a 43 question science assessment, and a timed math fluency check. Normally, H would be stressed to the max. Not this time though. H embraced the challenge of each one and strengthened her stamina. She independently used what she had been coached. And the result? On her science test, she finished BEFORE some of her peers, with a 100%! But it doesn’t end there…

H has had the accommodation that she can take her timed test privately, during a time that was different than others. When I gave the students the test, I expected her to ask to take it at a later time. She didn’t ask, and I got side-tracked so I didn’t remind her of the opportunity to take it later. When the three minutes were up, students started telling me their scores (I don’t ask them to report it–many just volunteer it).

I was floored when H unmuted herself and reported her score. Two weeks ago, taking a timed fluency test would have been impossible. But with new strategies in place, a new mindset about tests, and a new sense of confidence, H voluntarily took the assessment with her peers.

I immediately stopped what I was doing and we all took a moment to do our Zoom cheer for H. We all witnessed H write a new chapter in her story.

C’s Story

C’s story was written last year. It was the memory that popped up in Facebook for me. I don’t think I can retell her story any better than I did on February 5, 2020, so I am going to share what I wrote then:

Every year, a teacher is blessed to have “that student”. “That student” who challenges you. “That student” who drives you crazy one minute, and melts your heart the next. “That student” who gets in her own way. “That student” who wants help, but doesn’t know how to take the help. “That student” who who will take two steps forward, then three steps back.

And when you start seeing progress with “that student”, and she starts believing in herself, you know as an educator, this is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Not a test score. Not a grade. True success is measured by helping a child that didn’t know she had the ability all along, realize it for herself.

This happened yesterday. My “that student” was taking a unit assessment, and seated next to me at my teacher table. She had a test score goal written on a sticky note next to her. I got up to help another student. When I came back, I saw she had taken a new sticky note, and written this message to herself. I teared up. She found her strength. She believed in herself. And I was on Cloud Nine for the rest of the day. The icing on the cake…she passed her test!

Rereading her story made me realize that although SO MANY things have changed since then, SO MANY things are the same. Teachers are the ultimate problem-solvers. We might be defeated or unsure of what to do. But we don’t stay in that place. We figure out what each student needs, what works, what doesn’t, what needs more time, and what needs to be abandoned.

The blessing of being a teacher, whether it’s during a pandemic or not, on Zoom or in the classroom, is that we have the honor of helping students write their life stories. I’d argue that it’s the best kind of writing there is.

The Greatest Gift We Can Give Our Kids — January 25, 2021

The Greatest Gift We Can Give Our Kids

What do you consider to be one of the best gifts you can give your child? What comes to mind?

Of course, we want to give our kids everything they need, and then more. Lego sets, electronic devices, Robux, and VBucks, just to name a few. Not to mention trips to Disney World, Universal Studios, and amusement parks.

But what about the things beyond material possessions and excursions?

What do we really want our kids to have in their possession, not only as a child, but as they go through life? I hope the qualities of compassion, empathy, resilience, integrity are at the top of your list.

I have another gift to add. A gift that I’ve been working on giving myself. A gift that might seem like it’s not a gift at all, but a burden. And truly, it can be either. It just depends on how you unwrap it and how you use it that determines whether it’s a gift or a burden.

The gift I’m giving myself, and teaching my son that it is a gift, is the gift of failure.

In the last few months, I’ve been reading and reflecting a lot about failure. Currently, I’m reading Failing Forward by John Maxwell. In this personal quest, I am learning so much about my fear of failing, my deeply-rooted conviction that I need to succeed on my first try, and my paralysis at trying new things or establishing new habits because of a fear of failure. There are far too many areas of my life where I hide in the shadows of comfortable complacency, rather that strive to improve what I really desire, because I’m terrified of trying my hardest, and failing.

Truth be told, it’s not the failing that really bothers me. It’s the inaccurate perspective that I have that if others see me try and fail, I will be scrutinized. Judged. Humiliated. A disappointment. And without realizing it, I’m passing that burden of unrealism down to my son. That is why I must give him the gift of failure.

I must teach him that it is completely acceptable to give it your all and not succeed the first time. Or the second time. Hell, the 100th time. What is not okay is to not try. It’s not okay to get so wrapped up in the failure that you don’t recognize the effort or the lesson or the opportunity to use what the failure taught you to actually make more substantial progress. An example of this kind of progress happened last night.

My 10-year-old son, Tommy, has a lot of things he’s passionate about pursuing. Reading, vlogging, Roblox, politics, Southwest airlines, raising chickens, and tending to gerbils are a few. He is also passionate about cooking and baking. We’re not talking about simple recipes either. All day, use-every-bowl-in-the-house, beat egg-whites-into-stiff-peaks, type recipes. Usually I would be near to give advice (usually unsolicited), or step in when things got difficult or I could see a mistake was looming.

But yesterday, I took a different approach. I stayed out of the kitchen. Completely. He didn’t ask for help and I didn’t muscle my way in to make sure he was doing things the right way. Was it in part because I have grown weary of these kitchen marathons? Absolutely. But there was another reason. If I am there every step of the way, how is that ultimately helping him? How will he really learn if I intervene every time he’s about to make a mistake? What am I going to do, hold his hand every time he cooks to make sure he doesn’t make a mistake? No thank you, Marie Barone.

So I stayed out of it. And things were going well for the 6 hour cupcakes. That’s right, 6 HOURS. Tommy began the final step of piping his homemade chocolate buttercream frosting on each cupcake. I passed by as he swirled over each one and averted my eyes from the kitchen disaster. (Another gift I’m giving Tommy is Mom Doesn’t Clean the Kitchen After You Cook. More on that in another post.)

Suddenly, I heard a yell. Rushing back to the kitchen, I expected to see a horrendous disaster. Cupcakes on the floor or frosting on the ceiling–you know the typical signs that a kid is cooking. But the only thing I found was Tommy standing by his cupcakes, silently shaking his head. When I asked what happened, he replied, “Just look at them.”

Friends, I’ve seen cupcakes that were in worse state that those Tommy had made. I’ve MADE cupcakes that look worse. His cry of frustration was because his frosting had not held the form from the piping bag. It oozed and lost all shape and became more of a glaze than a frosting.

“Is it because your frosting lost its shape?”


I started with my usual pep talk, “You’ve Never Done This Before So Don’t Be Hard On Yourself,” but then thought about my own efforts to grow from failing. So I switched it up.

“Tell me how you made your frosting. Did you follow the recipe?”

“Yes but it said only 2 tablespoons of milk and it was still really powdery so I added more.”

“How much more?”

Shoulder shrug.

And there’s the moment. The lesson. The piece that will go with him into future baking and frosting sessions that will help him progress because of his failure.

“You probably did need more milk. But when you add milk, you can only add a little at a time. Otherwise it becomes too runny. Congratulations, you just made a mistake that will make you a better baker.”

But the exchange didn’t end here. Tommy followed up with this comment which proves I need to continue to fail for his sake, as well as mine.

He said, “I just don’t want to disappoint you guys.”

Oh dear heart. Disappoint? How could you disappoint? You just attempted a complicated recipe by yourself, and besides a slight misstep, you succeeded. You stretched your culinary skills independently. You made decisions, that didn’t lead you to what you had pictured in your mind, but will lead you to the correct decisions in the future. That is not a disappointment. That is progress. That is success.

And what did your mother learn? Your mother learned she could take a step back. Your mother learned that for you to succeed, she has to let you fail. She learned that if she hovers and intercedes at every crossroad, she will ultimately steal your chance to build resilience. She learned through you that she too can make a misstep and she is not disappointing anyone. She is finding her own path to progress.

In the end, failure can be the gift that keeps on giving.

Dish Washing Lessons — November 18, 2018

Dish Washing Lessons

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but this week a bargain brand dish washing liquid made me have one of those stop-me-in-my-tracks, whoa-wait-a-minute, mind-blowing experiences this week.  Yes, folks, Ajax, the so-called conquerors of all things grease, gave me an epiphany. 

How, you ask?  How could a dish washing liquid perform such a feat?

Let me explain.  Once upon a time, two and half months ago, we had a family barbecue.  This barbecue also featured games and a 25 foot slip-n-slide.  Well, we all know that gravity and wet plastic make a fine slide, but add a little dish soap, and you’ve got a mega-fun, slippery, good time. 

So, when the sole purpose is to lubricate a slip-n-slide, and when one is at the grocery store, standing in front of all the dish soap choices,
one does not invest in premium liquids like Dawn or Palmolive (No thanks, Madge). And you get an internet high-five from me if you know who Madge is!  No, one buys from the cheapo bottom shelf.  And nothing was cheaper than Ajax.

Let’s be fair to Ajax.  It did its job with the slip-n-slide.  The children flew down the plastic at a higher rate of speed and everyone lived happily ever after that day.  Thank you, Ajax.

Fast forward about a month, and it is now the beginning of October.  It is dish washing time, and the last sapphire blue drop has been squeezed from the Dawn dish soap bottle.  The only soap in the house is the left over bottle of Ajax.  So Ajax takes its place on the sink, to the right of the dish sprayer.   And the Reign of Terror has begun.

Every time we did the dishes, we thought we were getting the dishes clean.  Until it was time to put them away.  Then we noticed the pans still had a white film of grease.  The forks still had bits of food stuck on them.  And plastic containers.  The bane of any dish soap?  It’s like they had only gone through the rinse cycle.  With cold water.

But what did we do?  What was our response to this nonsense? We noticed.  We rewashed.  We wiped out the grease.  We lamented with our hands resting across our foreheads in full damsel-in-distress style, “Why, oh why, Ajax?  Why cannot you not be like Dawn?  Whatever are we to do about our dishes?”

This lasted six weeks.  Six full weeks.  That’s 42 days, people.  42 days we washed dishes with sub-par liquid. It was like the Lent of the dish washing year. 

But Easter came yesterday.  Easter came when I finally used the remaining remnants of the bottle of Ajax.  I squeezed every drop out and declared independence. “Finally order will be restored!  Finally we are free from this wretched Ajax!  Finally we can now get some Dawn in this house!”

Actual photo of the real life, used up, thank-God-it’s gone, bottle of Ajax.

And then I heard a little voice whisper, in full Glenda the Good Witch style, “You know you could have all along.” 

Shut.the.front.door.  Wait one-Dawn-deprived minute.  All along, I could have just simply bought a new bottle of Dawn.  All along I could have decided that if the Ajax wasn’t working, I didn’t have to keep using it?  All along, because I am a grown up woman, and the boss of my dish washing decisions, I could have decided that it was okay to forfeit the $1.19 that I invested in the Ajax, and spend $2.44 and get the dish soap that I coveted and I DIDN’T HAVE TO WAIT TO USE ALL OF THE AJAX FIRST?????


But here’s the thing.  My dear, sweet, washes-dishes-even-more-than-I-do husband, didn’t think about cutting bait on the Ajax either.  It’s like we both signed in our own blood a legal document that we would sacrifice our souls if we didn’t finish that bottle of Ajax before we bought another.  It’s like there was a sign above our door, “Welcome to our home.  Even if it’s lame shit, we’ll use it because we bought it, and damn it, we’re not wasting our money.”

Which leads me to the other thing.  That’s the generation my husband and I are from.  We use what we buy.  If we don’t use it, we feel guilty.  Let me tell you, it’s painful when it’s garbage day and it’s time to check the fridge for food  that’s crossed over the Expiration Bridge.  And when we do finish a loaf of bread, or gallon of milk or A BAG OF POTATOES BEFORE THEY’VE SPROUTED WHITISH GREEN DIGITS, it’s like a party up in here.  “Honey!  We finished the potatoes!  Before they went bad!”  That’s some real grown-up adulting going on.

So when we do make a monetary commitment to something that won’t “go bad” or expire or grow fuzz, it feels like a Must-Do to finish it.  Even if it sucks beyond measure. There is no alternative.  There is no escape.

I have to admit it though.  It was so liberating when I realized that all along we could have cut bait on the Ajax, but we didn’t.  Realizing that there was a power there, but that power wasn’t used, wasn’t even considered, is surreal.  We could have easily added Dawn to our weekly grocery list and let it take its rightful place next to the sprayer.  We could have even spared Ajax from the trash and just demoted it to cabinet under the sink, to be used in dish washing emergencies.  But we didn’t.  Yes, we needed better, we deserved better, but we used what we had.  It’s a little thing, but it’s not.  For it is in the little things that we learn big lessons.

So, to Ajax, I thank you.  You might be the crappiest, most ineffective, poor excuse for dish washing liquid on the planet, but you were the tool to teach me a lesson.  I guess you’re kind of powerful after all.

Southern Charm — November 12, 2018

Southern Charm

Since returning to the weekly blog scene, the topics have been little heavy lately.  It’s time to soften the mood a bit.  Here’s a light-hearted topic that has been rolling around my brain:

Word Art

Southern Colloquialism:  Y’all, I’m in love with the southern way of speaking.  I’ve got a thing for speaking in different regional and foreign accents anyway.  Spend a little time with me and you’ll know that to be true.  I love busting out a crisp British accent, or an Irish brogue, or a thick Jersey style.  My all-time favorite phrases are, “The chraffic in New York is bumpa da bumpa,” “The dingoes ateya baby” and “Put the ca in pock”.  (Excuse my attempts to spell the accents.)

I’ve also always loved the Southern drawl.  I know it varies by region and in the region that we live now, I think it’s especially charming.  But it’s not just the drawl.  It’s the colloquialism too.  All those words and phrases that add a layer of history and charm and a level of complexity when conversing in the South.  Here are my top favorite phrases I’ve heard since moving here.

“It’s been a minute.”    I believe the meaning of this phrases is ACTUALLY the opposite of what is stated.  I think the meaning behind the phrase is “it’s been a while”.  Let me show you:

ME:  Lisa, can you show me how to upload something to this website?

LISA:  Yes.  (Pauses).  Hold on, it’s been a minute since I’ve done this.

Now, I’ve done a little research on the interweb and this example is NOT included on the top 20 Southern phrases.  Mind you, I only looked at three sites and then gave up, but I consider searching three different sites to be conclusive enough.  And we all know that if you can’t find it on the Internet, it must not exist.  It surprises me that it’s not on any of the lists that I consulted because I’ve heard the phrase used multiple times, in multiple settings.  I can tell you though, that I have not once heard, “I declare” or “I reckon,” and those are in the top 5.

I can also tell you I’m kind of in love with the phrase.  It’s oddly comforting to me for some reason.  It’s like it saying,  “I know it.  It’s familiar to me. It just might take me a moment.”

“I tell you what.”  I love this one too.  It’s another phrase that didn’t make The List, but I hear it all the time.  There is no other meaning behind it; it’s for emphasis.   I especially paid attention to it when my youngest son started to work it into his speaking patterns.  Just four days ago, he was recounting what happened on the morning bus ride, when he used it.

Tommy:  And Mom, it smelled so bad, I tell you what, we had to put our sweatshirts over our noses!

Now, I’ll tell you what.  When I heard Tommy say that,  I thought it was cute and endearing. Not about the smell.  About how easily he had adopted that phrase.  I considered it a sign that he’s not only listening to people he’s encountering, but he’s listening in a way that is open and accepting.

“Fixin’ To.”  This one IS on The List.  It’s as common as y’all, which I’ll get to in a minute.  Not a Southern “in a minute” but an actual minute.

Fixin’ to is Southern for “about to” or “getting ready to.”  For me, the most commonly heard use of fixin’ to is when someone is preparing to leave a location.  “We were just fixin’ to leave.”

But other applications occur often as well.  In that same bus story mentioned above, Tommy was telling about a girl on his bus who was about to get sick.

“Mom, she drank coffee this morning.  She did NOT look good at all.  So all the kids were yelling, ‘Mr. Sam, Violet’s fixin’ to get sick!  And then, ‘Mr. Sam, Violet got sick!  It smelled so bad, I tell you what.”

I tell you what, I love fixin’ to, too.  I’m fixin’ to use that phrase all on my own.

“Y’all.” I have to admit it.  Y’all has already crossed over into my conversational vernacular. I know there is no need to explain its meaning or its use.   I remember the first time I used it.  I was pulling into the Dollar General parking lot before school one morning and couldn’t read their store hour signs without getting out of my car.  A DG worker was sitting on the bench outside, having a smoke break, and I yelled out to her, “Are y’all open?”  As soon as I yelled it, I thought, Well there it is.  I’ve arrived.  This was more proof than my Tennessee driver’s license.  I was now a resident.

But I also know some Michiganese will forever be a part of me.  A diet Coke will always be a pop.  A buggy will always be a shopping cart.  It will always be a fridge.  A crayon will always be a cran.  And the question will always be “Didja eat?” All in all, I’m fixin’ to embrace this dialectally delightful blend of Midwest and Middle Tennessee.


Try #12 — November 4, 2018

Try #12

I have a confession.  I have started this post 12 different times.  I have proof.  I started keeping track and we’re on Try #12.  Look, I even took its picture.


For Try #12, I’m establishing some rules for completion.  I cannot have a Try #13.  Try #12 has to be The One.

So, here are the rules for Try #12:

  1.  I cannot erase.  I’m second guessing every thought I write and then erasing it.  This is not helpful.  This is Backspace Key abuse.   I recently read something that Jen Hatmaker, one of my writing heroes, quoted from Jodi Picoult.  “I can edit a bad page.  I can’t edit a blank page.”  So no more erasing.  Pardon me for the rambles, the terrible ideas, or any other writing catastrophes I’m about to commit, but it’s time to quit quitting.  And let’s not pigeonhole this piece of advice into just the act of writing.  You can’t edit anything you don’t try start.  Sometimes the bravest, hardest, scariest thing we do is start.  And in a close second for being Brave/Hard/Scary is to keep trying when it gets difficult.
  2.  I may strike through to remove or adjust a thought.
  3. I’m giving myself a time limit.  It’s already 12:04, Central Time, and I’m about 2 hours later than I like to be for a Sunday morning post.  Not to mention that I had an extra hour today.  So Rule #3 is that I will be done by 1:15 1:30.
  4. No more Facebook or refrigerator breaks.  Sorry FB, I cannot be your friend right now.  As much as I enjoy seeing all the “Daylight Savings Time Ending” memes mixed in with the political opinions, I have to leave it alone until I’m done.
  5. No more refrigerator breaks.  I am not hungry.  I am NOT hungry. I’m just procrastinating.  Or, to be completely honest, I’m just shoving food in my pie hole to soothe my self-doubt.  That is not the answer.  Facing my self-doubt is.  Here’s the thing.  I have a gigantic case of “You’re-Not-Good-Enough-Nobody-Likes-Your-Writing-You-Should-Just-Quit-itis” right now.  I’ve noticed that in the last few posts, the reaction hasn’t been the same.  There hasn’t been the same amount of comments.  My views have gone from about 200 per post to 40.  So I took the disappointment from the last few weeks and So the Judge takes that information and uses it as a weapon to tell me to quit.  And when I don’t quit, he doesn’t either.  He makes me doubt every word I write.  “That’s not good enough.  You sound whiny.  No one cares.  You’re going to push even more people away if you write that.”  All those words are whispered in my ear as I write.  So I try to deflect them by eating. So far it’s been a Reese’s cup, miniature Almond Joy, a snack bag of Cheetos, a snack bag of Chili Cheese Fritos, and 5 6 7 8 strawberry bonbons.    Here’s the proof:writingfood
  6. Refer to Rule #1 regarding Rule #5.  Do not erase it even though it’s long and rambles.  Leave it.  Embrace the imperfections.
  7. Share your plan to improve your blog.  Here’s the next thing.  Everyone has something they want to improve on b.  The self-doubt isn’t going to go away unless there is a plan to get rid of it.  A solid plan.  A plan that has parameters and guidelines attached.  An action plan.  I wrote it down before I started Try #12.  Here it is:writingrules
  8. Invite your readers to share their thoughts with you.  Ask them to share their goals for themselves with you.  Offer the solemn promise to support and encourage them as they pursue their dreams.
  9. Ask your readers to share their thoughts with you and give feedback about your writing.  Maybe there is a disconnect that happened.  Maybe there is something that is missing or gone.  Be brave enough to ask with the genuine promise to hear their feedback and use it.  Thank them for their gift of reading and offering suggestions.  The only thing worse than not writing, is not having an audience.


Thank you for reading my crazy ramblings in this post.  I truly appreciate each response, each view, each share.

And to Try #13, sorry, NOT SORRY, you will never be.

Dear Tired Teacher 2.0 — October 28, 2018

Dear Tired Teacher 2.0

Almost two years ago, I wrote this post, Dear Tired Teacher, but I wrote it from the administrator point of view.

Almost two years later, my roles have flipped and I’m on the other side.  I AM the Tired Teacher.  I am the one who feels everything that I saw as a principal, and included in that post.  I am the one who can experience in the same day, often the SAME HOUR the agony of defeat and the joy of success.

I am the one who will only take a microsecond to celebrate that something got crossed off my To-Do list because there are 17 other things on it.

I am the one who will fight back tears at work, and sometimes lose, because I just don’t know how I can keep doing it all.

I am the one who sees the stack of papers to grade, the data binder that needs to be updated, and the desks that need to be rearranged, but I am the one that walks out of my classroom to go home anyway, because I’ve already spent nine hours at work and I have the most important loved ones at home who need me and I need them.

I am the one who lies awake at night trying to figure out how to help my most hurting, neediest, uncooperative students.  The explosive ones.  The quiet ones.  The ones who try their hardest and still fail.  The ones who are done in 10 minutes and want to know what  else to do.  The ones who have parents that don’t have a voicemail set up and there are no other numbers to contact them.  The ones who yell at you that they hate school and they hate you and you know there is something deeper inside causing their pain.

I am the one who stopped dead in my tracks when my colleague shared a story with me.  She said that someone had given her the Dove Chocolate wrapper that had some advice written inside.  The wrapper said, “I may be able to do anything.  But I can’t do everything.”


True that.

I can’t do everything.  I CANNOT.  So I’m going to choose what my anythings are.  My anythings are going to be the tasks that help my students succeed.  My anythings are going to be the policies I put in place that help my kids feel safe, and successful, and confident, while also respecting me.  My anythings are going to be the things that also allow me to turn off school for a while to be present for myself, for my family, for my friends, and I’m going to repeat it in the same sentence, FOR MYSELF.

We have got to stop asking ourselves to be EVERY THING for EVERY BODY.  It’s not physically possible.  It’s not mentally possible.  It’s not emotionally possible.  And at the end of the day, it’s exhausting to lay in bed and think about all the things you didn’t do.

So I’m going to end this with the invitation to please read the Dear Tired Teacher post and know, my dear tired teacher friends, everywhere, I still see you.  I see myself.  And I want you to give yourself permission to not be everything.  I know there is an intense amount of pressure with testing, and evaluations, and public scrutiny.

Instead I want to emphasize that the teachers I have worked with, and the teachers I work with now, choose the right things.  Thank you colleagues, past and present.  Thank you.  Now please do yourself a favor.  Go to a mirror and tell yourself that you see yourself.  You are choosing the right things.  You can do ANYTHING but you don’t have to be EVERYTHING.

True Colors — October 21, 2018

True Colors

Is there something in nature that you have a spiritual kinship to?  Something that when you gaze upon it, it seems to connect to your soul?  Something that brings a sense of calm, a sense of inner peace, a sense that you have an unexplainable, but deeply rooted, connection to it?

For me, I have discovered over the last several years, that I have a strong connection to trees.  I love them so much, that I have a wall of art dedicated to trees in our dining room.


My Tree Wall


I love them so much, I have a timer set on my phone to take a picture of the view of the valley of trees every day, so I can capture the progression of fall.

The Valley View

I love them so much that I can lost in the view of a single tree, or a forest of trees, for hours and it doesn’t seem like any time has gone by at all.

To be specific though it’s not all trees that I adore.  To be precise, I prefer deciduous trees.  Maple, to be even more exact. (Shout out to my second grade teacher, Mrs. Clark, for teaching me the difference between deciduous and coniferous!)

I love every aspect about a glorious maple tree.  It is amazing to me that a maple tree  has the gift of being able to be dormant and bare and vulnerable for months and then with a bit of nurturing and light, it bursts with new growth every spring.  Then, with a little more light and rain, those leaves and branches flourish, until they have stretched to their limits for the season. Finally, they are given the gift to enjoy the sun and the wind and the rain.

But that’s not the end.  Then there is autumn.  During autumn, the maple tree gets to do some regrouping.  It gets to slow down.  It allows the chlorophyll that has been in charge of its wardrobe for five or six month to go into summer storage and let the fall wardrobe out.  For it’s the fall colors that are the leaf’s true colors. 

I’m going to repeat that.  A leaf’s true color is the shade of yellow, or orange, or crimson that it turns to in the fall.  (Virtual high-five if Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” popped into your head as you read that.)

Isn’t that amazing?  Think about how every spring a leaf is born, and grows, and becomes strong, but it is not necessarily its true self.  What’s true about the leaf is what happens after the growth.  After the busy-ness of the long days of sunshine, the leaves get a chance to catch their breath.  The leaves get to slow down and take a look at what is underneath.

And that is one of the reasons why I love trees so much. Their leaves’ yearly transformation speaks to me.

What lies beneath my chlorophyll coat of  green? What do I want to uncover as my true color?  Not the green coat that matches every body else.  Not the coat that says I am Super Woman, even though I have the unrealistic expectation for myself that I have to be.  Not the coat that is shoved in my face by advertising and Facebook and Pinterest and anything else that says this is how you can be all.

Because I can’t.  I can’t be all.  Some days, I can’t be anything.  Some days I can only be.  That’s it.  The only color I can be is mine.  Not Facebook’s.  Not Pinterest’s.  Not Instagram’s.  Not anything I see on TV.

Just my own true, beautiful, vibrant, one-of-a-kind, Crayola-doesn’t-even-have-a-name-for-this-crayon, color.  The color that God and Mother Nature and the Universe gave me naturally and, more importantly, the color I allow myself to show.  After the growing season.  After the stretching towards the sun. After the rain and wind.  After the light and the harshness of heat.  What is left is my true color.

And that color, is my favorite color.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Let Cyndi ‘splain it to you too…

Landmarks — October 10, 2018


Three and half months ago, my family and I moved from Michigan to Tennessee.  To say there  are a lot of annoying, stressful things about moving is an understatement.  (Insert “I love moving,” said No One Ever meme).  One stressful thing about moving happens after the move is officially over.  After the U-haul truck is unloaded.  After all the boxes have been lugged to their appropriate rooms and the furniture has been pivoted into place.  (Silent salute to Ross Geller and his epic “Pivot!” order).

When the moving stress is over, a new stress kicks in:  learning your new location.  Learning where the Walmart and Lowe’s and Bank of America is.  Learning which lane to get into when turning right onto College Avenue.  Learning that there is a shortcut to Lowe’s so you can bi-pass a huge section of the always busy Madison Street.  Learning that Wilma Rudolph Boulevard is a nightmare on Saturday afternoon.

In the last eight years I’ve moved four times and whether it was 5 miles, 50 miles, or 500 miles, there’s always something to be learned when it comes to moving to a new area.  And one of the things that I have solidified for myself is how I navigate a new area.   I am a tried-and-true Landmark Navigator.  Tell me to go 5 miles west and then turn south and I’ll respond with a deer in a headlights look.  Tell me to go until you pass Kroger and then turn left, and you’ll see me waving in the rear view mirror.

I know I’m not the only one.  In fact, I’d place some heavy bets that there are more drivers like me, rather than the Compass Rose Captains.  I rely on landmarks so much that even when I have Google Maps up on my phone with specific turn-by-turn directions, I find myself noticing the landmarks posted on the screen instead.  “Okay, turn left at the Dairy Queen,” is much more comfortable and stress-free than, “In 100 feet turn left at Heritage Place.”

I suppose that’s what makes the location by landmarks my preferred method–it’s comfortable.  Because let’s face it, navigating is what makes learning a new location stressful.  That’s why we turn the radio down.  That’s why one of the first mainstream tools of technology was a GPS device.  That’s one of the reasons why, I’m positive, road rage occurs.  Because when you’re trying to get somewhere and you don’t know exactly when and where you’re going to be there,  your stress level accelerates.

Life gives us figurative landmarks too.  Touch points to seek out when we’re stressed and anxiety has gone from 0 to 60 in six seconds.  The trick is knowing when to turn on the internal GPS if we start feeling lost or scared or anxious.  Knowing which tool is the right one to guide us into a state of comfort and enable us to pull into the correct lane and make the right turn.  Knowing that we’re on the right path or need to recalculate for some reason.

Landmarks can also pop up out of nowhere with the message that everything is okay.  The path is still safe.  My sweet husband seems to always know when to send the “I hope you’re having a good day. I love you.” text.  My BFF Cassie  sends me cards with genuine handwritten messages that encourage and inspire.   And I swear my daily devotions are often written just for me.  All of these landmarks remind me who I am, inspire me, and encourage me to keep going on my path, despite the difficulty.

Two of the first landmarks I used after we moved were emotional landmarks.  It’s not easy to make the decision to move away from what is comfortable and known.  There are still things we are figuring out every day.  But there are two landmarks that bring me comfort.  They are both road signs, Southgate Lane and Ball Road, that are for crossroads that I go by on my drive from our country home into town.   It’s more than a coincidence to me that in the last year we changed our location from Southgate and I traded my maiden name, Ball, for my married name Lay.   Those are my crossroad landmarks.     I salute those landmarks when I go by as I keep my eyes forward on my new path.



I’m All Done With — October 22, 2017

I’m All Done With


Now that I have a seven-year-old boy, I feel confident in declaring Things I’m All Done With.  I’m making these declarations as a Mom who wants to preserve her sanity, and support the Cause for Common Sense that seems to be severely lacking these days, and ultimately regain control.

My list of Things I’m All Done With:

  1.  Slime.  I don’t care if it’s of the homemade variety or one that comes in a can trying to be all Playdohey, I’m All Done with slime.  There is no good kind.  Don’t be fooled by anything that claims it won’t make a mess.  I really wonder who decided that enticing children with fluorescent pots of oozy, sticky concoctions was a good idea.  More importantly, WHY DID I EVER ALLOW IT TO ENTER MY HOUSE?  Why did I ever buy the promise of “I WON’T MAKE A MESS”?  Impossible.  Parents, everywhere, we need to band together and stop this slime nonsense.   There is no valid reason for slime’s existence.  We need to shut that shit down and make it stay down.
  2. Bunch Ems, Orbeez, Aquabeads and any of their distant relatives.  I blame Nickelodeon for this one.  Tommy had no clue about these “creative toys,” until he started watching a channel that had commercials.  I’m sad to say that my son is a marketer’s dream.  He buys all of the false advertising that products like Bunch Ems and Orbeez promise. What’s the real truth about what these products offer?  15 minutes of novelty that quickly morphs into a big fat mess.  Bunch Ems are the velcro third cousins of Legos.  Orbeez and Aquabeads are at least 600 tiny little balls, that just end up everywhere other than in the creation that they were intended.  And you can never get rid of all of them.  They’re like glitter and Easter basket grass.  Just when you think you’ve captured every last piece, and you’re finally rid of them, one rolls out from the couch.  For these reasons, I’m All Done with itty-bitty piece creative toy kits.
  3. Birthday Party Favors Parents, can we just make a pact?  Can we all come to a collective agreement?  If you invite my child to your child’s birthday party, I am happy to buy your child a present and have my child attend.  I hope you feel the same.  But can we put an end to a social formality that really is just a pain-in-the-ass in disguise?  You won’t break my heart if you don’t offer my child a party favor.  In fact, I confess that there have been times that I’ve “accidentally” left the favor cup behind. I understand that this is how Party City makes their bread and butter–with all the different character cups, mini erasers, mini kazoos, sunglasses, and bulk candy choices.  But let’s be honest about what happens with the favor bags or favor cups or whatever favor vessel is used to house the tiny “thank you for coming” trinkets.  The recipient immediately opens the vessel.  The recipient excitedly pulls out each item and reports what it is.  The recipient sets each item aside unless it’s a favored piece of candy, and then it is immediately consumed, and then the wrapper is the only evidence.  All of the favor items remain in the backseat of the car, waiting for their ultimate demise of the car wash or gas station trash can.  So, parents, can we all just save our hard earned money, as well as some time, and just end this practice.  Party favors, I’m All Done With You.
  4. McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys  Do I really have to say anything more?  I’m All Done with Happy Meal Toys.  And I’ve decided that that age 7 is the expiration age for Happy Meals.
  5. Crap Prizes from Chuck E. Cheese, Stevie B’s, Zap Zone, etc.  I am so, so, so tired of shelling out $20 for my kid to play games for 10 minutes for tickets that regurgitate from a machine which are traded for a 10 cent smiley face eraser.  All done.  I’d rather buy a $5 Hot-N-Ready and go shopping at Dollar Tree.  “Here kid, here’s $5, Knock yourself out!”  At least I’d feel like he was getting his money’s worth.

Maybe I’m just getting old.  Maybe I’m just grumpy.   Back in my day all we had were Legos and Barbie shoes to torment our parents with.  I’m sure there are tales my mother could tell about the things she was all done with, but they can’t be near to what we’re battling.  Modern toy technology, social media, a bazillion TV channels and YouTube have brainwashed the kids of today into believing that what is out there is what is important.  It’s time to reclaim our control.  It’s not what’s OUT there.  It’s what we allow IN.  Don’t forget parents, WE are the BOSS.  WE get to decide.  We can say No.  We get to say what we’re all done with.  And we can use the best parent line ever to justify ourselves.

We get to say, “Because I said so.”

Please Press Play — September 17, 2017

Please Press Play

FullSizeRenderI’ve been MIA on this blog for a while.   Some might say I pressed “Pause” and forgot to resume.   Although I want to say it is for a variety of valid excuses, there’s really only one.

I listened to The Judge.

You see, I could have said that for the following reasons, I wasn’t able to write.  My life changed quite a lot in the last few months.  I found my gardener, (see The Garden of Hope) and we decided to combine our gardens together.  That happened over the summer.  Along with a kitchen renovation, and a few weekend getaways.  Combine that with moving and blending two families, life got pretty hectic. And routines changed, including my usual Saturday night writing routine, and I didn’t discipline myself to make a new one.

But more importantly, not only did my routine and life change, I listened to the Judge.  The Judge was telling me over and over that I have nothing to write about.  I have no new ideas to share.  My viewpoint, my perspective, my outlook seemed dried up.  Writing ideas used to pop up out of nowhere and scream in my head until I was able to capture them and write them down and all of a sudden they vanished.  And the Judge seized that opportunity to convince me that my writing days were over.

And I listened.

And the longer I listened, the longer I stayed away from my keyboard, the more I believed the Judge’s lies.

It makes me think of how I’ve done with other strong starts in my life but failed to persevere when Life gets in the way.  I used to be a committed runner.   I have had so many ups and downs with weight loss and weight gain.  At times I strive in my career, and then I get into a funk that makes me want to be a Wal-mart greeter (trust me, I’ve actually looked at the possibility).  Even now, as I write this I feel like I am revolving around in a chaotic stream of thought that if anyone reads this they would think I am batshit crazy and they’d never look at me the same way again.

Thank you, Judge.  You’ve done a number on me.

And so I have to slowly unravel my way out.  I have to find all the positive things that counteract the Judge and remind me that he is a liar and not worth listening to.  I have to crawl my way back from the self-doubt.

It’s not easy.  Because in that self-doubt there’s also self-loathing.  There’s the disappointment in myself that I didn’t make the time to try to fight the Judge and his lies.  As I think back now, when I wrote often, there were weeks when I didn’t know what to write, but I gave it a shot anyway and something came out of it.  When I disciplined myself, I found a way.  When I listened to the Judge,  it was easy to make an excuse and then believe the excuse.

It makes me think of a quote that one my favorite priests of all-time (he was the GOAT as all the kids are saying now) said in one of his prolific homilies.  He stated, “What we take seriously, we discipline.”

It’s not always easy to do what I love and have a passion for.  Sometimes, especially if it makes me vulnerable to the opinions of others, I stop.  Or sometimes I let the Judge use the Obstacles of Life to convince me to stop.  Or at least press Pause.  The problem with that, is I tend not to press Play again.

Not this time.  Not for me.  I found myself when I wrote.  I found things hidden that I didn’t know existed.  Self-reflection is a powerful thing.  It’s also scary…to the Judge.  Because self-reflection is a powerful armor against him.  Self-reflection allows the lies to be revealed.  Self-reflection allows a new game plan to form, one that doesn’t rely on self-doubt and self-loathing.

So I’m going to press “Play” once more.  It’s not going to be easy.  Nothing worthwhile ever is.  But staying in this paused state of mind doesn’t work either.  It’s time to play.