Creating Cairns

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I took this picture in Vancouver, British Columbia on our honeymoon trip almost fourteen years ago. Along a coastal walking trail, there were several cairns like this one, rocks balancing on top of other rocks, seemingly defying the natural consequence of gravity.

Over the past few months, I’ve felt like someone trying to create these cairns, as though I’m trying to balance everything in my life—work, family life, writing life—without letting anything fall into the water. And I can tell you, I’m not doing well. The rock of this blog fell in the water a while ago. So now, I’m wading back out to try to place it somewhere back on the pile. It may take a few tries to keep it all in balance, but hopefully you’ll be around to see the beauty in the different attempts.

What are you trying to balance?


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Read Harder 2016

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Are you up for a challenge in 2016? Bookriot has a list of 24 different genres to keep you reading throughout the year. If you’re like me, you fall into the rut of favorite authors, the usual topics, and gleaning picks off the best seller’s list. Bookriot pushes you to read past your comfort zone into territories you might just discover you love. Does the challenge sound like a pushy-but-adorable teacher from your past? If so, you may have had Donalyn Miller as your teacher.

Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, has used the technique of having students choose from different genres to increase students’ independent reading for years. If students read independently and can self-select books, we know they’ll improve comprehension and learn to love reading, which provides all sorts of benefits such as stronger analytical skills, improved empathy for others, and increased knowledge to name a few. Having students read outside their favorite genre forces kids to take risks and have a chance to fall in love with books they wouldn’t normally pick up. And this might lead to picking up more and more books. Isn’t that what we want students to do?

If reading a book about horror or reading a play gets you outside your comfort zone, join me in a year of reading. You never know what book could make you laugh, mend a broken heart, or make your all-time favorite list. I’ll post my list at the end of 2016.

What do you love to read?



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The Sweet Smell of Success


A co-worker and I are teaching a mini-unit on Holly Holm, and in class the other day, we watched an interview she gave after she won the fight against Rousey. The interviewer asked about a past fight where Holm was KO’d by an opponent. In that fight, she’d been pushed up against the ropes and pummeled. Not only had her opponent won, but she’d bruised Holm’s pride.

After being KO’d, Holm said what she learned wasn’t necessarily about boxing, “I really learned a lot about myself and about other people.” Most challenges in life seem to be this way. When we’re pushed to a breaking point, it’s then we see the strength not only in ourselves, but in the people around us. We witness who is there to comfort and encourage and who keeps their distance (or even relishes in our faltering). We notice the small and large kindnesses, and we’re able to put our ambition in perspective. In the interview, Holm explained the impact of those who supported her re-match decision, encouraging her to try again. The second time, she won.

Like Holm after that KO fight, a year ago I felt beat up by the process of trying to earn my National Boards, but a number of people supported and encouraged me through another round. Sometimes help consisted of listening through an idea (for the hundredth time!), looking over a draft, or asking questions to challenge my reasoning. Sometimes it consisted of simply saying, “You can do it.”

And, the second time, I passed.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for second chances, and all of the people who supported me while earning my Boards. It’s a little moment in a bigger life, but I’m grateful. And like Holm, I know who has my back.

Who are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?


*quote taken from


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A Change of Scenery


This is a shot taken outside my barrack classroom. My first year here, landscaping crews planted this tree by the field and tethered it to protect the sapling from the wind. Now, you can see the lines have long since been taken down, and the tree is large and sturdy.

When I was in college, I visited my grandparents in Arizona, where they wintered, and they took me to the Biosphere 2.0. It recreates different ecosystems indoors in order to perform research. The researchers added foliage and crops among other environmental elements like humidity and rainfall. They didn’t add strong winds because they thought it would be nice to avoid that condition. But several months later, the trees slumped over; they weren’t growing. Scientists realized, in order to grow, trees used the wind to build strength.

The past couple of years, the increasing pressures of the evaluation system, coupled with various additional mandates, feel like a gale threatening to topple me over, rather than produce the desired effect of making me stronger. But I do feel like I’ve grown at this job, though I wish we could see in ourselves the same growth we so obviously see in trees.

When I first started teaching, I worried about every decision I made. I second-guessed myself and spent far too much time processing each troubling encounter, each activity’s usefulness or drawback, and each success or failure of the day. I still question my decision-making, but I’ve learned to ask myself two questions, especially when facing difficult students:

1) What would I want for my own child?
2) What is best for this child?

Sometimes I can’t make certain things a reality for students, like when a student needs outside counseling/doctors/medicine but can’t afford it. Yet, these two questions keep me steady against the winds of outside influences.

Each day, I stand outside and greet students and see the tree change from autumn colors to bare branches to buds, and then back to green leaves, again. It’s a predictable cycle, like the rotation of students throughout the years, but one that seems just a little different each time.

How do you grow at your work?


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A Writer Affair

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 6.09.27 AMA long time ago, I fell head over comfortable shoes in love with an intelligent, thoughtful, quirky guy, and it’s not who you think. Sure, there’ve been others who’ve lead me astray with their wit and sophistication, but none are quite like my long-time favorite: Poe Ballantine.

This weekend, I finished Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere. It takes place in the small town of Chadron, Nebraska, not far from where my Gram lives and where my sister and a half-dozen high school friends attended college. It’s always fun to read a story and think, “I’ve been there. I know that grocery store. I’ve walked up that dorm’s staircase.” It’s a true-story-In-Cold-Blood-esque book that analyzes a murder and the possible suspects—but who had the motive and opportunity?

It has everything you need: strange bedfellows, a complicated love story, an innocent (seeming) victim, an off-beat writer, who happens to have a sketchy past, a Mexican-immigrant wife, and a possible Autistic son. Plus, Poe Ballantine wrote it—one of my absolute favorites (My Gram actually met him!! She mentioned it casually, saying, “Oh yes, he read at our library’s brown bag once. He’s very interesting!”) There’s even a documentary out that I have to find.

Okay, enough about my school girl crush already. What author are you in love with?


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She Me Love

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A few weeks ago, a job opportunity presented itself. It would allow me to use all my different areas of expertise: ESL teacher, dual language supporter, and writing background. The company has a supportive community, and I already know and love many people who work there. In many ways, it’s a perfect fit that might not come around again—or at least not for a long time.

It’s been a tough decision for me, and I’ve been spending a lot of time weighing pros and cons, really trying to ask myself if I’m ready to leave the classroom. Would the lessening of daily stress level be better for my health? Not that there wouldn’t be stress in the new job, just a different kind that might not be so overwhelming—or at least so overwhelming on a day-to-day basis.

At first I thought I couldn’t give up having summers off, but then I learned pretty much everything would be the same—similar summers, similar breaks, and similar money. Everything seems equal, which only makes the decision that much more difficult.

Some days, with changes to education (tying test scores to teacher pay, funding issues, constant additions to the workload), I think about how I can possibly stay. How many more years will I have enough energy to continue working so hard and feel such little gained while testing more and more and more?

For someone who has never worked outside the bell system, even the lure of having a true lunch, where I’d have enough time to leave campus, would be an exciting proposition. Besides changing up my duties for another form of challenging work, I could have lunch with my kids or be able to volunteer in their classrooms once in a while. And, I’d be lying if I didn’t daydream about heading off to yoga on occasion with the more flexible schedule.

And then, while giving a state-mandated test—which I abhor—I looked down at a test booklet. It was for one of my newcomer students who’d only been in the US for about two months. She’s sweet and hardworking. The sentence she needed to fill in was about a teacher she liked. She’d chosen to write about me, and on the line that said, “I like this teacher because__________” she wrote: “She me love.” She’s right. I do love her. And suddenly, I couldn’t imagine leaving.

What helps you make up your mind?


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Sophie’s House of Cards

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Back in December, I had an amazing conversation with Sharon Oard Warner. Want to feel like you were there? Check out  my interview in Bookslut.

What questions have you asked and answered lately?

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