Affirmation of Affirmations

Recently, I listened to Jon Acuff’s new book, Soundtracks. It’s a fun book to listen to and gave me a lot to think about as I continue my own process of change. The technique he describes in working to change our thoughts involves choosing new thoughts and practicing these new thoughts by repeating them aloud morning and evening for at least 30 days.

I have been struggling to reach a particular student since school began this year. He is a fourth grader with K/1 literacy skills. He has mastered every avoidance trick in the book and uses distractions to derail lessons. Finally, I split his group and am seeing him 1:1. At first, it was the same. I felt like I spent the entire time redirecting him–trying every trick I knew to keep him on task.

However, on October 13, 2022 things changed. I decided to apply what I had learned in Soundtracks with this student. At the beginning of the lesson, I took out a mirror and had him repeat the words, “I am a reader. I can do this.” We had a successful lesson. At the end, I had him repeat again, “I am a reader. I can do this.”

As we walked to class on October 14, he asked, “Are we going to do that mirror thing?”

I said, “Do you want to do that mirror thing?”

“Yes.”

Every day since, we begin and end each lesson with the mirror and his affirmations. Today we added, “I can learn new things.” So far, that’s 7 consecutive days of affirmation and successful reading lessons.

For the first time in his life, he completed a “chapter” book. Yes, it was decodable and yes, it had six short chapters. To him, it was still a chapter book. I was so proud of him and glad that he responded to the words, “I am a reader.”

Today, when I picked him up, he was on the carpet. Reading.

Poetry Friday

July 1, 2022

A writing prompt from James Crews inspired this small poem. It is an early draft of a memory that has come often to me in recent weeks. Perhaps a longing for a more innocent world is the ground these words rest on.

Pop

Summers before air conditioning
slowed down time.
I sat on the hot pavement,
careful not to burn my bare legs.
I wore my short red sunsuit and
navy blue KEDS (you know the ones
with the square rubber toes).
Too hot to play,
we spent hours popping the black tar bubbles
that only emerged on the hottest days.
“Pffft,” they popped, a sound
so satisfying to my four-year old ears
listening for the popsicle man.

I hope your summer has some lazy days to just be.

Thank you to all the Poetry Friday Poets and to Janice Scully at Salt City Verse for the Poetry Round-up today.

It Seems Like Forever…

It’s been a very long time since I posted here, but as I’m sitting here, I can hear a woodpecker, the conversation of crows, and the little chirps of wrens and sparrows. It feels good to slow down for a few moments and appreciate the beauty of spring in Virginia. The setting sun illuminates the many shades of fresh green leaves against the blue sky. I’m grateful.

Some months ago, I wrote an article that was published in the Virginia State Literacy Association’s new online journal, The Collection. The topic was how I came to make peace with “the reading wars.”

The story I want to tell here, however, is not of the debate in the reading world, but a small story of friendship. It’s a story of a teacher who cares for other teachers as much as she cares for her students.

When I retired, the pandemic lockdown was only a few months along. I needed a way to bring closure to my teaching experience. While talking with my friend, Sally Donnelly (who writes here), she suggested that I write to process this transition in my life. Weeks went by. Finally, I had a draft which she volunteered to read. She gave me feedback, and I revised and then revised some more. Later, she sent me the call for proposals for the new VSLA publication and encouraged me to submit my article.

I had never submitted my writing anywhere except here on this blog. Sally’s encouragement helped me extend my reach. More time passed. I assumed that my article was in a rejection pile, but finally I was informed that it had been accepted for publication. Another round of edits and revision followed.

Another month or two passed. One morning, I got an email from Sally with the link to The Collection. I saw my name in print! It felt so good.

Later that week, Sally and I met for dinner. Very quickly, she excitedly pulled out a print version of The Collection. She turned to the Table of Contents, put her finger down, and said, “Now sign it.” Sally gave me my own “Dot Moment” which I will never forget. I felt like Vashti, whose attempt at art was celebrated by a wise teacher.

Whose work can you celebrate? Reread THE DOT, by Peter Reynolds and consider whose creative spirit you could nurture. You can make a difference like Sally did for me.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for this space to share our stories.

Summer Poems

Today my poem is in response to a challenge given to write a summer poem. So many poems celebrate the glories of summer. It was humbling to try to add my words. I kept thinking of the quote attributed to Albert Camus:

“My dear,
In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.

Truly yours,
Albert Camus”

The idea of an invincible summer appealed to me when I first came across these words nearly 50 years ago. I thought of summer memories and images I’ve loved over the years which have lived in me as my own points of strength. In addition, I love the form of the Praise Poem which I learned from Glenis Redmond. (You can read her lesson here). These thoughts came together in the poem which follows.

Invincible Summer

I am summer.
I am a cobalt blue damselfly
Darting here and there.
I am a lonely creek
Meandering through the hemlock-dark hollow.
I am a red-winged blackbird
Perched as a sentinel over the meadow.
I am a tiny Deptford Pink flower hidden in grasses
And secretly plucked by young lovers.
I am the slow winding down of hot
Summer days–
Sunsets that last for hours.
I am August’s crescent moon
Smiling as nature’s night songs lull
Children to sleep.
I am summer.

Marilyn G. Miner DRAFT
August 13, 2021

Thank you to all the poets who share their poems here, and to Christie Wyman, who is hosting today at https://wonderingandwondering.wordpress.com/

Dear Piano

Dear Piano,

I used to visit you every afternoon.
The hours we spent were sometimes frustrating,
But earnest in their striving.
Driven by dreams,
          I was young then.
Your response to my fingers was bliss.

Touch was a teacher of gentleness,
Of ferocity.
Weighted fingers from forearms or back
Lyrical caresses and sonorous pinched chords
          I loved the fire you stirred.
Thank you for teaching me that patterns
are beautiful.

Your black and white keys, so familiar,
remind me to use their pattern to safely navigate
the length, breadth, width, and height.
They give me a place to start
          Can I find you again?
Seated on the bench before you.

In my mind, I can hear the faint sounds we used
to make.
Music scored with memories of my lifetime.
My fingers feel the keys without touching them.
          Are you waiting for me?
I used to play you to please others.
Now, I have learned I must play first for myself.

I miss you.

A place for teacher-writers.

Inspired by Elsa

I’ve been reading Kristin Hannah’s new book The Four Winds. It is set during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years in the Texas panhandle. The main character, Elsa Martinelli, is a strong, determined woman who labors fiercely in order to provide for her children. A bleak landscape and lack of employment cause great suffering. It makes me realize that while we have faced our own hardships with COVID19, my family has been fortunate to have food, clothing, employment, and the things we need. I am grateful indeed.

Inspired by the tireless work ethic of Elsa Martinelli, I decided to attack my kitchen floor as if the Dust Bowl had been through town. The “lick and a promise” I have afforded that floor in recent months would make my mother turn over in her grave. I confess it has been a while since I cared much about housework. No one is coming over, right?

As I gathered my supplies, a memory kept flashing across my mind of my mother on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor. Back then, a good scrubbing was followed with a coat of wax. My mom knelt on a folded bathmat to protect her knees. I saw myself as I used to see her. I wondered why I never offered to help or do it for her. (She probably wouldn’t have let me.) I remember her saying that if you wanted the floor to really be clean, you had to get down on all fours.

So with Mr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, a bucket, a brush, a sponge, and several cloths, I got down on my hands and knees and started scrubbing. First, I put extra soap and water all along the grimy edges where the floor met the wood moldings. I let that sit for a few minutes. Then I began the attack. I scoured that seam with a vengeance. An old toothbrush helped. Then I scrubbed a row of tiles with the sponge, followed by a wipe down with clean water and a wet cloth. Then I dried the floor with another clean cloth. I repeated this process for the next hour as I moved the trashcan, chairs, and recycling bin out of the way taking care not to bump my head under the table. Man, I worked up a sweat!

Somehow, when it was all done, I felt my mother closer. Maybe she was even a little bit proud.

Happy to be here. Thank you Two Writing Teachers.

Too Sad

I learned this morning that my oldest son’s best childhood friend passed away. I don’t know any details, but I don’t really need to. It’s a tragedy no matter what the cause. Only 42. The boys met in Kindergarten and became fast friends all the way through high school. Always welcome at each other’s houses. Always hungry. Always laughing, wrestling, listening to music.

I’ve been sad all day. I considered not writing, but I know writing helps. I’m sad my son lost a part of his childhood. I’m so sad for our friend’s parents. I think that is the part that I am carrying today. How do people go on when they have lost a child? One breath at a time.

It’s late. Be safe. Sleep well. All my love.

Thank you TWT. You make a difference.

Come, See

A friend introduced me to the Blitz Poem, a form you can read about here. I began the process with a simple line and was surprised by where the poem ended up. It was a lot of fun to play with. I hope you enjoy my first attempt at a Blitz Poem.

Read a book
Read a poem
Poem of love
Poem of joy
Joy in smallness
Joy in sound
Sound the trumpets
Sound the drums
Drums of gladness
Drums of warning
Warning against hate
Warning of storms
Storms inside minds
Storms clearing air
Air for breath
Air for space
Space for all
Space to be
Be just
Be brave
Brave to share
Brave to give
Give light
Give joy
Joy in sorrow
Joy in silence
Silence to honor
Silence to revere
Revere what’s good
Revere what’s true
True kindness
True to you
You are mine
You are song
Song of birds
Song of mothers
Mothers who walk
Mothers who run
Run to truth
Run to rivers
Rivers over rocks
Rivers through lowlands
Lowlands toward oceans
Lowlands looking back
Back to children
Children skipping rocks
Children playfully calling
Calling Hey Mom
Mom come see
See me

I think this exercise, or form, would be fun to do with small groups or even a whole class. There is so much unexpected pleasure in making the last word, the first word. The possibilities are endless!

Reading with Alice

In August, I asked my son if I could practice my teaching with technology skills with my granddaughter, Alice, who is a home-schooled 6-year old. I was thrilled when he and his wife agreed. Alice is the fifth of six children and has a spunky (sometimes sassy) personality. I figured I could help her with her reading as I became more comfortable with Zoom-style instruction.

We now have a routine to work together four mornings a week for about 40 minutes. I sent her a box of reading tools. She has magnetic letters and a tray, a mini-whiteboard, a “bumpy” board, crayons, markers, and a composition book. I also sent her some decodable readers and emergent readers to get her started.

One day last week, we were working with the word, “come.” I knew she would be needing that word soon. First, we tapped it on our left arms and said the letters, c-o-m-e/come. We repeated that several times. We wrote it in the air, on the whiteboard, and with our eyes closed.

I said, “Alice, can you build the word come?”

Immediately, she sat up tall. She pushed the laptop back a little. She moved some papers, and wiggled her bottom in her chair. Finally, she let out a big sigh, and said, “Okay, let’s DO this!”

Whereupon, she built it. I’ve never seen a prouder smile on a child’s face. She turned her tray to the camera to show me “c-o-m-e.” It was perfect.

Next, we got out our book for the day.

I said, “Alice. I think you know a word in this title.”

“Come!” she squealed.

A reading teacher grandma’s delight.

Not the first day of school

If I had not retired,
Today would have been the first day of school.
Today I would have had the jittery joy of a new beginning.
I would have combed my shelves for just the right book to read.
I would have had new markers and notebooks to share.
I would have worked hard to learn new names and remember names of former students.
I would have dressed up and put on lipstick.

But today is not my first day of school, so I spent the day imagining it.
September, 2020 marks a shift in what school is and what it may become. I hope that school will open like a dahlia bloom with every petal having its place in the Fibonacci sequence. Each petal important to the shape, color, and size of what is possible.

It’s not my first day of school, and I miss it deeply. September beginnings are in my blood. This is my time to find out what the school of life has to teach me next. Perhaps it can be my first day of school, after all.