Note Catcher Surprise

#sol22- May 24, 2022

I have some skills that benefit me as a fifth grade teacher- one of which is I am pretty good at catching note passers. I don’t purposefully look out for notes, but I do notice them. Today I saw a green scrap of paper being passed and I walked over and held out my hand, “Noooooo,” A said.

I said nothing but held out my hand. I waited.


“I’m not going to read it yet,” I said as the scrap was dropped in my hand.

I walked across the room and put the note in plain view in a pencil cup on the counter and promptly forgot about it.

Later in the day, A was over by the counter looking guilty as he tried to retrieve the note. “Nope, that’s mine now. Leave it there, I said.

I promptly forgot about it again.

At the end of the day while packing up the note caught my eye.

I unfolded it.

” Do you like Ms. Erika?

Yes/No” it said with a column for respondents to add their name to the correct column.

Hmm, I thought, it is that time of year. We are all getting a little nostalgic about the year ending while feeling ready. We have 7 1/2 school days left.

Then I looked again. There were only about 6 names there and they were all on the “yes” side. I nodded my head. Yep, I like them too! Maybe it is lucky I caught the note before more names were added.

What a year it has been and I am ready for a break, but I really love this group! Sigh!

Making a List and Checking it Twice

#sol22- May 17

It is that time of year! I have to admit when I learned last year that I would be moving to fifth grade part of my wariness was spring. Spring in all schools at every level is busy- spring in fifth grade is next level. Between budding hormones, getting ready for secondary school, and the PYP Exhibition there is a whole lot going on.

This week a few more things are getting checked off the list- today was class placement. We (the grade 5 homeroom teachers, grade 5 EAL teacher, grade 5 learning support teacher, elementary assistant principal, elementary guidance counselor, and secondary assistant principal) all met and learned about the parameters of grouping, then began the process- checking for balance (gender, nationality, home language(s), needs, strengths, engagement level, and more. It actually went fairly smoothly- who knows what changes are still to be made. The secondary assistant principal said goodbye with this thought, “It was easy to see the care and knowledge you were using to make these decisions.”

This group is a special one and this was another check on the long list of things that has to get done.

We then went on to organize more of the celebratory checklist. The fifth graders are actively involved in planning their own Moving Up Ceremony. They have decided they would like to have students speak from each class to deliver speeches written by a small group. The ceremony itself will end with a smoke machine, as per their request. After a celebratory breakfast with the parents we will host different activities of their choice before a pizza lunch or sundae party (the fifth graders have to decide on one) and then a pool party in our school pool. We adults confirmed the details the students had set and made plans for how to get the next steps actioned. By the time that day is over I fully expect that almost all, if not all of the seemingly endless list of things we have to do to finish the year will be done and we will all be ready to celebrate our fifth graders, but it sure feels like there’s a lot to do between now and then (starting with tomorrow’s student led conferences, proofreading a teammates reports, copying and pasting my report comments into Managebace, etc., etc., etc.). Oh yeah, Thursday we start teaching our puberty unit:)

We’ve got this!

For the First Time

#sol22- May 10

Today, for the first time since March 2020 a group of parents were on campus,

66 proud fifth graders and their lucky teachers were there,

Covid restrictions have changed and we made it work,

Today for the first time, 1/3 of the parents came today- the rest will come in the two days following,

the day ended with students reading feedback shared,

before that fourth graders came to hear them present,

before that, some parents and mentors heard them share their learning,

before that our fabulous music teacher led them in an amazing opening song (“A Million Dreams”- some tear-inducing soloists- vocal, violin, ukulele, and keyboard),

before that, there were months of hard work where fifth graders explored their passions and interests, narrowed it down to six, then three, then one

matching their final choice to a transdisciplinary theme, a sustainable development goal, choosing a guiding question or central idea, crafting lines of inquiry- researching, researching, researching- deciding how to share their learning,

all leading up to today, for the first time,

we were almost afraid to plan for in person, after the previous two PYP Exhibitions were online,

today made it all worth the time and energy and Wednesday and Thursday will be the frosting on the cake as the rest of the parents and many more students get to celebrate these amazing fifth graders. Their topics were as varied as they are- gender equality, plastic pollution, coral conservation, street animal abuse, and so many more.

So grateful for our learning community!

Four Friends Reminiscing from Three Countries

#sol22- May 3

While I was teaching today I missed a string of Facebook messages. Maybe 5 years ago four of us went to Khao Lak, Thailand for a week. This week two of the group members returned to the same town, but a different hotel. What follows is the combined recollections of L, H, and M. L and H are there now, M has retired to the US, and I was teaching and ended my Tuesday laughing over these memories! I hope I can travel with them again soon- a fun time for sure!

L- It’s killing me not to know where we stayed. Not necessarily the hotel exactly but I’m curious to know if we are in the same area now. It looks similar but can’t tell if we were here and it has changed bc of pando or if we are 100km down the coast from where we were last time.

Questions: 1. Were we about an hour from Phuket airport? 2. Did we go to a night market? 3. Did we walk there or taxi? There is no market near where we are and I’m wondering if we were even here at all. 4. Were we definitely in Khao Lak?

Also I have no fb posts tagged from Khao Lak.

Mystery, indeed!

from H

Sundowning with sundowners #alliswell

L- Heidi found it! It was here!!!

L- Okay questions 2 & 4 have been answered.

We were here at a hotel up the street, which now has a new name

Anyone have memories of the market?

Alleged market.

M- We did go to a night market – I think. It was a very long walk as I recall. I think our hotel was at the end of the beach. There were stairs to get up to our rooms and the massages were divine.

L- And an elevator. And a ‘drag show’ at a sketchy roadside bar. Right?

It’s all coming together…

M- Yes!

L- We can NOT find that market. Did it have lots of shops and was on a street w cars and food, etc? An intersection also perhaps?

There is a small food-only market up the street now. Could be covid. Could be dementia.

I remember breakfast at the beachfront and talking about the tsunami.

M- Maybe we took a tuk tuk kind of transport back from there – it was on the left side of the street, down hill a bit. Wasn’t it close to the drag show?

L- And a tsunami ‘museum’ in a guy’s garage that had pictures and broken things.

M- We had a lot of salad for breakfast.

L- Impressive, Margaret.

M- Yes across the street somewhere.

L- Yes

And a smaller pool up by our elevator rooms that was made out of pink bathroom tiles!

M- Yep several pools. The one by our room was less crowded.

L- But the market. They’re saying the nearest is an hour up the coast. I can’t imagine the four of us agreeing to a two-hour ride in the back of a pickup truck.

M- No that night market must be gone.

Joy Ride

#sol22- April 26, 2022

Last Wednesday we had our faculty meeting- busy reflecting on this year’s units and making some preliminary plans for next year. It was a happy surprise when we got through the agenda, as there was a LOT to do. I walked out of school on autopilot and hopped in my tuk-tuk. The ever capable Mr. Bo was at the helm, so I settled back in my seat for the ride home (10-15 minutes). We only got a bit down the street when we stalled…

A minute later Mr. Bo had his moto going again and we went on our way again when…we stalled again. This time Mr. Bo got out a screwdriver, jiggled wires, and more, but no luck. Oh, no!

This being Phnom Penh, within two minutes another tuk-tuk driver pulled over, eager to scoop up a passenger (me). Mr. Bo was negotiating with him in Khmer- sorting out price, location, etc.

“Are you okay, Erika?” I heard a minute later.

It was Chett, My colleague, who was passing by on his motorcycle. He pulled over to check on me.

“Do you need a lift?” he asked.

“Oh, no, I am fine.I think this tuk-tuk can take me,” I assured him.

“Why not hop on here?” he said, patting the seat.

“Um…” I hesitated.

“I have only ever been on the back of a motorcycle a few times for a few blocks,” I said. “I’m too wimpy!”

“You can do it! I will drive extra slowly and carefully,” he said.

Mr. Bo nodded approvingly, he seemed to prefer this solution.

“You don’t have a helmet for me,” I reasoned- trying to gracefully extricate myself from this scary scenario.

“Oh, yes, I do,” he said, pulling his wife’s pink helmet out from the storage compartment.

A minute later and a quick strap adjustment and I was all kitted out.

“Bong, can you take our picture?” Chett asked Mr. Bo (bong means ‘brother’, but is slang for ‘guy/dude’).

Thus, I have a picture of me sort of smiling before taking off on my terrifying ride home. On reflection, Chett did drive safely (I assured him I was not worried about his driving, but the driving of those around us) and I was happy to pay him in mangos (Mr. Bo had given me 8 mangos from the province and I shared the treasure equally with Chett). I am grateful to have been rescued, but I am glad to not ride a motorcycle regularly.

before the ride
the sweet reward afterward

The Cull Begins..

#sol22- April 19

The things I do when there are things I don’t want to do… My procrastination can sometimes be productive- just not in the way that I should.

Today after school I could have done some work on reports, some planning, or so many other timely things-instead I weeded.

It started when I mentioned to our TA that I thought I could weed 200-300 books in June before the end of the school year.

She laughed.

“Remember in August, I culled more than 250 books,” I reminded her.

“Yes, but…” she doubted me.

I like a good challenge, but I DO struggle to part with books. I decided I would spend a few minutes “looking through” the nine boxes of books that do not even fit in my classroom. There is a shelf in our grade level piazza that holds fiction picture books with author’s last names A-G (That alone, may tell you, the struggle is real. I have a lot of books and it is hard for me to pass them on.).

I made surprisingly quick work of those nine boxes (filling 2 1/2 boxes with discards) and decide to “just do three more boxes in the classroom.” Well, three more morphed into 6, so it was another complete shelf (H-M, to be exact).

The total was 149 books!

“As soon as we can black out my name in all these books I will let teachers and TAs know that they can pick up what they would like,” I said. “Maybe Thursday or Friday after school.”

“Oooh, people will be so excited,” she said. “I have seen a few I would love to take home for Oscar,” she said (her son).

“Of course, you don’t have to wait!” I assured her.

Just then another teacher happened by and we told her about the number weeded. Of course, she wanted to have a peek (she has twin 3-year-olds who have finally stopped eating books and are really enjoying books of all sorts).

She ended up with a large stack and a big smile on her face.

“I better message W,” our TA said. “He’ll be so mad if he misses this!”

She is right. W is a huge picture book fan and often borrows books from me to read to his nephew over the weekend. I made her promise that she would let him know.

I actually will be surprised now if we will have any left to give away by the end of the week.

Before I left this afternoon I said, “”I have changed my mind. I’ll bet I can weed another 500 by the end of the school year.”

“Doesn’t it hurt your heart?” she asked.

“It sure does, but I want the kids to see the books they want to read, not just tons of books. If they are not reading them, I should pass them on.”

Of course, it is hard. I have so many memories tied up in so many of these books, but I have to be strong and try to not dwell on the money I have spent on these books over the years, but instead focus on the joy they have brought and can continue to bring, in another home.

Now I just have to wait until another afternoon when I have some tasks to avoid doing… Procrastination for good!

Covid Cautious Baby Steps

#sol22-12 April

When Covid first reared its ugly head I got cautious, super careful. At 13 I had half of my left lung removed and although it expanded to fill the space I have always been prone to lung issues. I have had bronchitis at least three times and a winter cough for as long as I can remember. At the time of my surgery the doctor told me that at the first sign of congestion I needed to take decongestion, but I hate medical intervention, so I resist.

I decided the best thing for me during Covid was to be careful- extra cautious, and I have been- to an extreme.

I have not traveled beyond the city limits in more than two years- I have not spent a night away from home. I wear a mask whenever I am out, I wash my hands compulsively. I have had four vaccines (the first two were Sinovac, then Astra Zeneca, and most recently Pfizer).

I have missed out on a lot in the last 2+ years. I have not seen my aging parents in nearly three years, nor my sons in 2 1/2 years. This summer I finally feel it is safer to visit the US, so I recently booked my ticket, but I knew I needed to do some other things to poke my head out of my hermitness. A few weeks ago on a drizzly evening, the restaurant I was meeting a friend at would not seat us outdoors- my first indoor restaurant experience in all that time checked off. It is break right now and friends are traveling all over. Taking my baby steps strategy to the next level I have booked a hotel in another part of the city for two nights. This marks the first suitcase packed in more than 770 days. The first time I will sleep away from home. I am feeling anxious, but I know I need to take this next step (with my mask on)…

Our Surprise Class Pet

#sol22- April 5

If you look very closely you can see them.

I live in the tropics, so it shouldn’t surprise me, but it still does, when I see a gecko. Monday morning when I got to school I washed my hands and there on the windowsill was a gecko. It didn’t skitter away while I scrubbed, so I kind of assumed it might have been the same one we saw on Friday up by one of the air conditioner vents. It stayed there all day so the kids decided it might be dead. Probably this was the same one and now it had fallen and was truly dead.

I went about my business for a while and decided I would be brave enough to scoop up the dead gecko with some tissues and throw it out the window before the students came in. I got a healthy stack of tissues and went in for the grab… and it moved. Not in a typical energetic dash, but it definitely moved away from where it was. Maybe it had been inside on Saturday when they spray whatever the “Covid won’t grow on the surfaces for 7 days spray” they spray each weekend and it was debilitated?

When the students came in later I told them of my gecko sighting and adventure and throughout the day we spied on it, staying right near a glass jar holding a plant cutting. To my surprise Tuesday morning I saw it again and so did many interested fifth graders.

“We’ve got to name it!” they said.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” they asked.

“I don’t know how to tell- we can use a gender-neutral name,” I suggested.

L quickly grabbed a plastic bowl and said, “We can put our ideas in here.”

“Great idea,” I said, “Put any suggestions in before library and we will vote before recess.”

I assumed we would get a few names.

Imagine my surprise when I went to the bowl later- many scraps of paper were there. While there were many creative names the overwhelming majority said “Bob”- the name I use for lots of my examples when I do not want to call out a student by name. “Gecko” also appeared a few times.

We did an eyes closed hand up vote and “Bob” won.

“What if it is a girl?” T asked.

“I had a friend who was named Roberta and she was called Bob or Bobbi sometimes,” I assured her.

“How do we know whether to say she or he?” one asked.

“We don’t, so we can use they,” I reminded.

“Yeah, we can.”

So, we have a new class pet. Some students suggested we get a cage, but I reminded them that the gecko might not like that, but we hope they will still be nearby tomorrow.

Pass It On!

#sol22-31 March

The last day of March is bittersweet when the SOLSC is ending. I blogged yesterday about some of what I will miss and not miss. Today I am thinking about how I can pass on the good from the month. It started today when I officially introduced the April Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge to our fifth graders. Because we cannot gather in groups larger than a class size I shared it via Zoom. I shared some of the resources the fabulous Kathleen has curated and talked a bit about my own experiences and the fact that when I started the challenge eight years ago I was so nervous and found support in having my class join too. Now that the two challenges are in separate months I can focus more on the student writers this month. We decided that everyone would slice on day 1 and that after that it was optional. Because we are busy tomorrow we wrote for day one today. Some students posted already and it filled my heart when nearly half the grade said they wanted to try the challenge. (I know some will not stick with it, but merely by saying yes they are taking a step in growing their writer identity)

My biggest takeaway this year in SOL is to pass it on- (with eight explanations to mirrow the eight years I have been writing here).

Pass on a love of writing,

an appreciation of stories,

making connections,

in a community- we all need to be a part of several,

a can do attitude that will take you far,

the eyes of a writer help you live life with more presence- looking out for what ifs and possibility,

progress not perfection,

because sometimes showing up is enough!

Thank you SoL community! See you next Tuesday!

What I’ll Miss

#sol22- 30 March

A few of my students have been enjoying writing the morning message- today it began, “It is almost the end of March. Did that go fast or was it because February was soooooo slow?” That inspired me to write a little farewell to March (admittedly a little early).

Dear March,

I will miss the predictability of slicing every day, knowing I will “read” old friends’ words and discover new gems. I will miss looking for inspiration in the everyday.

I will not miss the feeling of disappointing myself- either when I wish I commented more or when I really knew my writing was meh. I will not miss the decline of my reading life, nor the pressure I put myself under as I refuse to draft ahead. I won’t miss feeling stuck.

I will miss the community, the surprising connections, the fun of reading comments, the amazing storytellers, and the many new ideas I have collected.

You were a long month in many ways, but I know the hard work will help me grow. April will bring on new challenges, so the story side may quiet, but never be snuffed out.

Enjoy the last little bit of March.