Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I'm Baaaaack!

I am back from spending two glorious weeks in England! My trip was so wonderful I find it hard to put into words! I am going to tell you all about my trip, but not yet. You see, I'm still taking a couple of trips around my own country before settling in for a bit. I also need to go through the 3800 pictures that I took and choose just a few to share on here. (No, I'm not joking,...I really took that many pictures plus a few more!)

For today's blog, though, I would like to share some things I bought in England. Can you guess?

That's right, books! I don't call myself a born bibliophile for nothing, you know. In case you're thinking to yourself that I could easily order the same books online, and even get them from a bookstore in the United Kingdom, you would be right. It wouldn't be quite the same, though - not to me.

There is something special about going in to any bookstore, but it is even more wonderful to go in to a bookstore you're not familiar with. It is interesting to see what they focus on or show on their display cases the most. I found the English are quite proud of their history, as they should be, and they have a vast amount of history books displayed beautifully.

When I went in to Waterstones Book Sellers in Loughborough, I was looking for a specific book. A friend of mine told me about a book her husband's relative had written that was only available in the U.K. The book I wanted was My Secret Sister by Helen Edwards and Jenny Lee Smith. It is a non-fiction book about twin sisters who were separated at birth. I was pleased to find the book easily and to find it is very popular in England.

While looking for this book, I happened to glance up at another shelf and found The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton begging me to take it home. Truth be told, I was attracted to the cover before I even noticed the author's name in large letters on the front. I have all the other Kate Morton books except for this one, and it had a cover that reminds me of the lovely English gardens I had been enjoying in my journey across England. I'm sure it was fate. ;)

After finding the book I wanted (and the one I didn't know I wanted until I saw it), I found myself going to the children's section. I do love a good children's story! The bookstore had a display of books I could not resist! I had trouble choosing just two and made sure I took pictures of the rest to order later. (I mean, let's be reasonable,...there's only so many I could fit in my already overstuffed suitcase,...along with the English china I bought and had to get back without breaking.)

I can't say enough about the two children's books I bought: The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie and The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle! They are wonderfully written and illustrated. If you don't believe me, I can already give you a second opinion. My daughter, Katie, is 22 years old and loves a good story. When she saw the two books in my library, she was instantly attracted to them. She wanted to read them, so I asked her to read them out loud to me. I watched her as she read and her face lit up at the story and the pictures. She commented on how she liked the rhyme scheme, the characters, and how the illustrations were different in each book but suited so perfectly for the stories. I would say that's "two thumbs up" from both me and my daughter on both books. :)

I'll let you know my review on the other two books once I've had a chance to read them. I did finish The Wise Man's Fear on my holiday, but that's a story for another day. I promise to talk about that book next time. I will also share some of my stories and pictures from England over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I'm On Holiday!

I am currently on holiday in England. I meant to blog about it before I left the States, but was rushed at the last minute and forgot (that is another story to tell you when I'm not blogging from the keyboard of my phone). I did not bring my laptop with me, as I did not want to worry with it while traveling around England. Besides, when I write, it seems to suck all my time away, and I'd rather forgo the temptation and enjoy being outside in the English countryside and coast.

I look forward to sharing some of my adventures and photos with you when I return next week!

Cheerio!! :)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Saying Goodbye

One of the ways I help my students say goodbye at the end of every school year is by helping them understand what their yearbook/annual is for. The first year I taught sixth grade, I noticed that when students got their yearbooks, all they did was sign their names on one another's pages. They had no understanding about the importance of saying goodbye in writing, of sharing their thoughts on paper to mark the end of their sixth grade year, or telling their friends what they meant to them.

I also noticed that my students were always surprised how long it took me to "sign" their yearbooks because it took me awhile to write what I had to say. What I wrote to each student was specific to them, not a general statement. When they read what I'd written, it meant a great deal to them because it showed I really knew them and noticed the things they'd done all year.

After a couple of days of watching how they struggled to understand what they should do, I decided that the best way to explain was by giving examples. I started my own tradition that first year, and I have found that it helps my students to share their thoughts in writing with each other at the end of the year.

Every year I bring in all my high school yearbooks (10th grade - 12th grade), and I show them to my students. I read some of things my friends wrote to me, and I say how much those words still mean to me. Sometimes I tell a story about that friend and something fun we did together, or how we met and became friends. I always point out how even after all these years, the words my friends gave to me back then...are still treasures that make my heart smile. My friends loved me, and I loved them. Time and distance doesn't change the love we shared or the experiences we had together.

My students are always impressed with how well my friends wrote, how funny they were in some of the things they said, my personality and who I am hasn't changed much from the way my friends described me. I sometimes think that is my students' favorite part. They love hearing my friends describe me in the same way they see me. I wasn't a different person at seventeen than I am now. I am older, more mature, and (hopefully) wiser - but I am still me. My students find comfort in that.

This year, when I brought out my yearbooks in class, I realized that my senior annual was now thirty years old. Wow. I hadn't really thought about it until I held it up to my first period class. One of my students pointed out how thirty years is a reeeeeally long time. I had to chuckle. Yes, I suppose it is, but - I pointed out to my students - look how long my friends' words have stood the test of time!

What words, I always ask, would they want someone to look back on in thirty years and be glad they were friends? What words could they say that would reach through time and distance and still make someone's heart smile? It makes them think, it makes them want to write something special to their friends, and it helps them say goodbye to another chapter in their lives.

I do believe that words are a special kind of magic, and I would like to thank all my high school friends for helping me to teach this lesson to my students every year. Most importantly, I want to thank them for sharing their words with me all those years ago. I still treasure what was written and the wonderful friendships we shared! :)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Lessons in Letting Go...

Normally, I try to blog once a week (at least) and usually try to do it on Sunday. This weekend, though, I had my hands full doing a number of things - some of them fun, some of them work (but still enjoyable). It's a busy time of the year for me.

You see, our school is almost out for the summer. My classroom needed some "pre-purging" on Saturday, and I needed to prep more than usual for this week's classes. It gets a little complicated the last week of school. Not grades, really, more with students needing my time and attention...and assurances.

Let me explain. I teach sixth grade in a middle school. Contrary to what you may have heard about students in this age range, they are a joy to teach if your heart has a calling for these precious and awkward children stuck in those "tween" years. My heart doesn't just have a calling, it has a solid commitment and love for these students. On my worst day, I love my students and love what I do! The day I don't feel that way, I'll quit...because they deserve better.

The reason they need more of my time and attention this week? For all their hoopla about summer vacation almost being here, they begin to worry about leaving me behind. They have already started getting a little long in the face, hugging me more than usual, smiling sad smiles, drawing me more pictures, and writing me notes. It is all very touching, and I love them for it.

This happens every year, and I know it's coming, so...I do my best to prepare to be more available to them. This isn't a time to need to do last minute grades or rush them through something or be too busy to stop in the hallway. No. This isn't an ordinary week for them. They need me to help them through the process of letting go and help them know they'll do great when they move on.

Now, don't let me fool you. As much as I love summer vacation, it's also a difficult time for me. I will miss them. We have shared our days together for the last nine months. I know from looking at one of my students if they are having a good day or not. I know which ones need extra encouragement, and which ones need a lesson, from time to time, on how they should treat their friends or mind their manners. I know which students I need to make sure ate breakfast in the morning and which ones might need money for lunch.

There is so much teachers do outside of actually teaching and grading and lesson planning. We have our ear to the ground and our finger on the pulse of our community of children...always. It's important. They are important.

I am sad that my time is over with this group of young people, but I love that I get the pleasure of watching them continue to grow in seventh and eighth grade. I'll get to pass them in the hallway next school year, share a smile now and then, cheer them on as they branch out into different interests and areas along the way, and - yes - I will always ask how they're doing, and if they're keeping their grades up. What can I say? Once their teacher, always their teacher. ;)

By the way, my students are unaware I am teaching them lessons in how to let go...

and, every year, I am very aware that my heart never does.