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.

Credit or Blame- Depends on Your Perspective

#sol22- 29 March

Today my son returned to the US for only the second time in five years. Five years ago this month he left Boston for Suwon, South Korea. He had a TEFL certificate and wanted to travel- so off he went. He stayed at that center for three years, before moving on to a private school in Seoul, which offered better hours, salary, and experience. He went back to Boston for a few weeks in between.

As time went by and he used any spare moment to travel- all around Korea and many other countries it seemed like he might really be ready for the next step- teaching at an international school. He got his teaching license in EAL K-12 and elementary and joined one of the big recruiting agencies for international teachers in August. Being the mom of adults is an ongoing transition. I worked hard to not overstep my bounds but offered advice when asked.

The world was his oyster and I had high hopes for him. I was excited as he looked through options, applied for jobs, and in the end super proud when he had two offers to consider. I learned it is more fun to be an observer to the process than the stress of going through it myself. He ended up choosing a position at a small school in Bangkok as one of two EAL teachers. I am so proud of him for working toward a goal and achieving it. In a non Covid world we will be only a 45 minute flight apart and could meet up for a weekend whenever we want. Many of our holidays will align, so we can travel together for longer jaunts too. Let’s hope that will be our reality.

This “boy” of mine definitely has itchy feet and I know that even though I have been living in Southeast Asia for nearly 8 years he will soon be more experienced in travel in the region. I take some of the credit for his traveling ways- by the time he was three he was living in his third country (also his third continent) and he has added five more home countries since then. It actually seems to be a genetic thing- my mom loves to travel (still, at almost 81) and her mom did too.

Today I am thinking of him as he returns to his passport country for a few months before beginning his next adventure. I am not sure he knows how strange it will feel to feel like a visitor there. In 2 1/2 months, I will see him there and we can compare notes together (it will by then have been three years since I have been back). I take some of the blame for that strange feeling but know that it is part of this lifestyle we have both chosen.

It Was a Monday- First Days

#sol22-28 March

Last week on Tuesday when I Zoomed with the online kids T casually mentioned, “I’m coming back to campus on Monday.”

After I whooped with excitement and did my happy dance, I said, “That’s a great day to start- we have swimming.” I know T loves swimming.

“Hmm, I’ll check if my mom will let me swim,” she murmured.

“Oh, she will,” I said, silently cursing myself for bringing up a possible objection.

We finished up the Zoom a few minutes later and after recess I told the class the good news. A cheer went up and two students volunteered to be her buddy to help her settle in.

Fast forward to today- T was waiting downstairs when I went down to pick up the kids and gathering lots of attention.

“You look so different!” many classmates said, and it was true-she has been on a healthy eating kick and really looked happy and healthy.

During Morning Meeting we were in the middle of “Top Tips for 5EV” to let T know things we thought she needed to know when the fire alarm sounded- so much for my calm start to the day for T. After more than a year online, I knew that the first days back would be both exhausting and overstimulating- she got thrown into the deep end- a fire alarm (turns out some batik wax in the art room was smoking) and swimming all in one day.

She handled it all like the champ she is- learning new routines, with plenty of questions along the way.

Just before dismissal, I asked, “Did you have a good first day?”

“Yes!” her smile said it all.

Tomorrow she will have more firsts, but I am sure this beginning will be imprinted on her for a while- not quite the calm and quiet she might have imagined, but it sure did feel like a day of in-person school. I could almost hear T telling her future grandchildren all about her wild return to school near the end of fifth grade.

Six Word Memoirs

#sol22- March 27

I was inspired by Clare Landrigan who tried to find six words to sum up her personal and professional life over the last two years.

I had trouble choosing one set, so I leave you with a few:

Lessons learned I could have missed.

Online school is not for me.

I self isolate a lot regardless.

Cameras on should always be optional.

Comfortable clothing is not less professional.

Technology both connects and divides us.

I can’t wait to hug family.

Happy Sunday!

Love, Capaciousness, Community, and the Power of Story

#sol22- March 26

Somebody told me to listen and I waited until I really had time to listen without being distracted, with my heart and notebook open and it was so worth an hour of my time. Kate DiCamillo writes books that speak to my heart and today she was on point as I listened to her on On Being with Krista Tippet: Kate DiCamillo- For the Eight-Year-Old in You.

I always enjoy Krista’s discussions anyway, I have heard Kate speak several times, yet this felt like I was eavesdropping. From the very beginning, where they speak from two different locations, with humor and seriousness. I heard stories again- Kate’s early life riddled with sickness, an absent father, and early reading struggles. She shared moments from some of her stories. She talked about the power of stories. They discussed how all-knowing children are and how Kate honors this in children. How 8-year-old Kate is a part of her writing and always wanted to feel invisible or protect the adults from their lies.

Other memorable moments from the podcast include her discussion of the power of noticing, how children deserve to have both heartbreak and hope cultivated in them. Kate read aloud (for the first time) her response to Matt de la Peña about what the responsibility is of writers for children in regards to “protecting” them from hard things-telling them the truth. She talks about how people who have the “sacred task” of telling stories for the young have a duty to tell the truth and make the truth bearable for them and love the world. They talked about reading being communal and this is so true for me. I read and think about who I need to pass books on to, which is so fun. Kate’s wonder and amazement of the world adds such depth to her stories.

They talked about the dichotomy of living in wonder and living in a world with a lot of “reasonable despair”. They also spoke about the connection to animals and the fact that as readers we may let down our guard more with characters who are not human. They talked about art in Kate’s books as another shortcut to the heart. I love her propensity for using complex vocabulary in ways that make the language accessible to readers. “Capacious” is a word that I automatically associate with her. She writes books to make hearts more capacious and we feel that! They also discussed “home”- something I am always considering- maybe that is why her books always hit me so hard!

Just like her books feel like they are written for each one of us- this interview felt like it was just what I needed on this quiet Saturday afternoon. This is the first year in a long time I have not read aloud a Kate DiCamillo book, but I have passed on her books to many this year- the magic in her books is timeless.

I ended up having to listen to the podcast twice- just because. I hope you enjoy it too. Spoiler alert- there were tears (Krista’s, Kate’s, and mine, at a minimum) but you will be better for listening.

Multi-lit Every Day in 5EV

#sol22- March 25

Teaching in an international school for most of my career means that I always have multilingual students in my class. I remember the days of “English is our shared language” being up all over the school, as the school tried to encourage teachers to nudge more English than their home language in class and in social interactions.

We have more research today to support translanguaging as an effective way to leverage all languages to support each other, so happily students are now encouraged to use all the languages they have. Yesterday I was talking with A. The topic he is working on for Exhibition centers around the war between Ukraine and Russia- he wants to know more about how wars start and how to prevent/end them (don’t we all?). He has been talking about this with his mom and he was trying to tell me more, but was stuck.

“Can I get a translation?”

“Of course,” I answered.

He ran off to grab his laptop, typed in a few characters and then was ready to continue the conversation.

“My mom says all countries want to be self sufficient.”

What a great way for him to be able to continue the conversation at the intellectual level he wanted without having him resort to simpler ideas. That same student was surprised earlier the same days as the students were collecting possible resources for their topic.

“Don’t forget, many of you may be doing some of your research in your home language,” I reminded them.

“Whaaaa? Why would we do that?” he asked.

“Because there are great sources that can help you learn that are in many languages. You might as well use all your languages to help you be more complete,” I said.

“Oh, right.”

Later we were adding adjectives to a passage with the EAL teacher and we came across the word “veranda”. Most students had no idea what it was and the meaning was not clear from the text, so I defined it as “like a balcony on the ground” and the EAL teacher projected an image.

“Oh…” two students said, “It is that word in my language too,” as they then said it in Khmer and Korean and we could hear the similarity. Without that pause, though, they may have just bleeped over that word, as just another word they did not know. I am always grateful to learn with these kids!

Keep, Change, Chuck

#sol22- 24 March

More than two years after the start of Covid there is a lot of discussion of what changes it has brought about and what we should keep, change, or chuck as a result of what has happened.

Superficially, today I was thinking about a few things that are changes that I am definitely keeping. One thing that has made me a healthier person is exercise. I was never involved in exercise at all and I pretended that the incidental walking I did was enough. When the school first went online and we were teaching from home I saw even that disappearing, so I bought a stationary bike and started my exercise journey. This I will keep.

Today is Thursday and I indulge in another new routine that I will keep- online grocery shopping. In Phnom Penh, we have many options for online grocery shopping, including one app that strives to be as eco-friendly as possible, including organic produce and more. I do not have a car, so grocery shopping can be a project, but now each Thursday I create my list and schedule the delivery for Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. You can set your preferences as to shat they do if a product is out of stock (common here)- I prefer that they contact me rather than substitute, and the employees who contact me and the employees who deliver could not be more polite and kind. I am happy to pay a small surcharge for this convenience (and honestly it is a small surcharge).

I am sure there are other routines that I will keep (and plenty I will change or chuck), but these two are influencing me positively today and sometimes I need a reminder that there have been some good things that have emerged.