Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Simonds High's Finest

I am on a bit of a roll (knock on wood) with my WIP. But I just got a text from my blog coach(daughter) so I will stop writing for a few minutes , begin an entry and see where it leads me. One has to keep her fans happy even if it is only my daughter, who must be having a fairly slow day at work. My last entry was a bit of a whining fest. I had not had a wonderful, ego stroking school visit and was disappointed by the experience. I have since put it in clearer perspective and even received some written responses from the kids and realize I may have underestimated the success of the day. I remain convinced that kindergarten and grade nine students present a challenge quite different from the other grade levels but apparently their body language ,showing complete disconnection is not entirely to be believed. Still haven't seen evidence of this from kindergarteners but the e-mail containing many kind remarks that the teacher sent me yesterday definitely disproved my belief that no one was listening. I will share a few of my favorites. 'The entirety of her presentation had my full attention because it was so interesting.' ( me thinks that he protests too much)'Her story about school made me realize I should try in school and I enjoyed hearing it.' 'I like this author because she tells some really good tips on life, and I think everyone should take the tips she gives.' 'I liked the stories she wrote.' 'It was an interesting visit and I hope she comes back again.' Well I don't know about that but at least now I have not sworn off school visits forever. I sometimes forget that when I was teaching I came home at least once a week convinced I was wasting my life and every attempt at reaching my students was useless and downright impossible. I always rallied from those dark days too. How would we ever recognize success if we didn't experience failure? This might be my favorite remark. "Susan White is an example of Simonds High's finest.' I am sure that in that grade nine audience some of Simonds High's finest are hiding as well.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lionel and I at Simonds High

I have debated with myself whether or not to blog about yesterday's school visit. I usually write about how wonderful they are and how much I enjoyed them. Yesterday was a disaster as far as I am concerned and considering how many good ones I have had I suppose I was due for a stinker. I realize in the scheme of things and the horrific happenings in the world around us my experience visiting a grade nine classroom is nothing in the big picture. I am determined to let it go but first I will give voice to what it was that frustrated me about my day. First of all I will take the blame for being under prepared. As a teacher I know it is better to have an overly ambitious lesson plan. Usually I conduct writing workshops with a group of keen students hand picked by their teachers and even then I sometimes struggle with getting them to let go and write. So imagine a group consisting of a couple of keen students, lots of less than keen and some even bordering on whatever is the most opposite of keen . Add to that a difficult topic , open ended and vast and not conducive to easy expression. Then throw in an age and grade level I have little experience with except when I was that age and every bit as non-compliant as the most non-compliant student in the room yesterday. Then throw in cell phones. As an elementary classroom teacher I set up conditions in my classroom to maximize attention. All distractions were carefully managed. I found distractions were probably harder on me and my train of thought than on the kids. This has always been challenging for teachers. Debates over food, gum, hats. doodling, and many other distractions have always been part of classroom management. So to a teacher seven years away from the system, the cell phone challenge completely overwhelms me. I know the challenge of wrestling the I pad from my four and seven year old grand daughters. Technology has pushed its way into all of our lives. Last night at our after supper card game my son said "Mom this is family time , put your phone away." Surely we must require our students to put their phones away. I am not judging the kids or the teachers I am just saying for me it is too much to try and compete with the attention a device in the hands of most of my audience takes away from my concentration . Next time I will prepare better for the age group and crowd I am presenting to and I will ask for the cell phones to be put down , put away and will try harder to completely engage the kids that sit in front of me.So with that said I will put Lionel, my Simonds High mascot back in the girls room and get back to work. PS- I finally took the time this afternoon to read the writing some of the kids passed in to me at the end of their classes. As I always discover when doing writing workshops, there were some good writers in the group. Writing is a process and a personal journey through words. Thank you to the students who joined me in doing that yesterday.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Net Flix vs books

It occurs to me as I start this entry that it may end up being a rambling observation of many things. We shall see. Ashlie and Caleb gave us a device for Christmas so that Burton and I could broaden our viewing pleasure by accessing Net Flix. To say it has changed our lives would be an exaggeration but it has altered it somewhat to be sure. We have watched with much interest several BBC dramas and the whole binge watching phenomena intrigues me. I see it somewhat to be what reading was for me at one time. I remember being caught up in a good book and being so anxious to return to it. A page turner they call it. When Burton and I watch three of four episodes of a Netflix drama then reluctantly turn the TV off after midnight we can barely get through supper the next night we are so anxious to return to the story . Not having to sit through commercials helps a lot too. I used to always have a book on the go and I still do I suppose, but my reading has changed. I find myself too often caught up in the analysis and possibly even the dissecting of the writing. In some ways that takes the pleasure away from the reading. Once in awhile I stumble on to a book that grabs me so completely that I don't tear it apart , I just let myself get caught up in the story , the words and the magic. I went to a writing workshop yesterday with author Michelle Butler Hallett. She has just published a book entitled 'This Marlowe' with Gooselane. I am reading or re-reading 'A Measure of Light' by Beth Powning. These two authors write ambitious historical fiction that is smart, edgy and intriguing. I consider my writing beside these works as less ambitious but hope in its own way it is smart and important. I just read about the fact that Beverly Cleary is turning 100 next month. If you don't recognize that name you probably didn't teach elementary school or have any young readers in your home. I have been quoted saying my goal is to write a book a year for twenty years. Beverly Cleary has written a book a year for the last fifty years. Her style is simple , smart and has impacted the lives of children since she published her first book in 1950.She has sold 91 million copies so in her simple, honest approach she has certainly done something right. Yesterday in discussion with author Robert Rayner we talked about who we write for. A majority of both our books are marketed to the middle level , young adult or teen audience . We both have books more suited to adults. I believe I write for myself. I attempt to write a story that matters to me hoping it will matter to readers as well. What is it that attracts Burton and I to the dramas on Netflix? A good story well told, sometimes complicated and multi layered. A story we care about enough to stop everything else and give it our undivided attention. Books can still do that and for that I am thankful and will keep working away at the craft.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In the Halls of Learning

Yesterday I did an author visit at my old high school. I drove in the driveway where almost 42 years ago I drove out with my parents the night of my graduation. I wasn't sure what to expect and I'm not sure what I got from the day. I told my story to classes of grade nine students . The first class seemed detached , unimpressed and very much caught up in their own present day not overly interested in my ancient history. It may just have been the time of day, the time change or a combination of several factors. The following group was much more engaged and welcoming. But what exactly was I looking for? I am always pleased when kids read my books and they had done that. The media studies group had gone all out to create impressive book trailers and that was wonderful. The day brought some thoughtful questions, a connection or two with students that had heard me present in their elementary school or their middle school. A former peninsula girl was pleased to claim that connection and I had a boy come up to me telling me his grandmother said to be sure to tell me who he was. He was the grandson of a long time family friend and I was so pleased he had introduced himself. The school had previously purchased 40 books which was terrific. The teacher who invited me in has been a huge support and a lot of my WISP visits have been due to her enthusiasm. So the ghosts I brought along with me that colored my day were my own. My lacklustre high school career was mostly of my own making with a small part due to the system and the streaming that had me slotted for failure. That sounds a bit harsh but I was convinced as a student that I had no future and no capacity for greatness. The other day on my walk it occurred to me that confidence comes not from being told over and over again that you are the best, but from telling yourself over and over again that you are good enough and quite possibly just as good as anyone else. I look at grade nine students and see them floundering with the truth of that message. Some appear filled with the bravado that gives the impression they believe they are pretty special. Others timidly conform not stepping up to their true potential. Before I left the building I took a walk down the halls and peered into the classroom windows where for three years I walked and ran away from greatness. I underachieved to a art and I settled for very little. I came out of those years feeling less than I could be, but still carrying a deep desire to be something more. I found my way to get what I desired. I finally accepted the self talk that told me I was good enough and that I could do whatever I set my mind to. I let the doubt and anger I had built up in those halls go and chose to believe in the possibility of my own success. I lay no blame on the experiences I had at Simonds High but am thankful I chose to fight the feelings of inferiority they gave me. I found halls of learning when I was ready for them and for that I am truly thankful. I returned to Simonds High School yesterday after 29 years of being the teacher I dreamt of being in the childcare lab in 1973, as an author and as the person of value I always knew myself to be . I did not let high school defeat me. Whether or not the students got that from my story yesterday, I truly hope that 42 years later they can proudly say the same thing.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Moncton, memories and meetings

I was born in Moncton and even though we moved when I was three I traveled there often with my family. My brother used to say we were going to Monkey Town. We headed to a red house on the corner of Milroth Ave in Lewisville. My mother could not get there often enough because in moving from Moncton she moved away from her youngest sister. I have been quoted saying that 'Mom doesn't have a thought until Lois has it for her." That may sound mean but my Aunt Lois in my opinion has always been a wise , thoughtful and compassionate person who usually has a meaningful take on everything and Mom looks to her for guidance. I always sought her counsel as well and felt enveloped by her love and concern. In the hours after Zac died I remember instructing my sister in law to call my Aunt Lois. I knew she would come to me. I had an Aunt Lois on my Dad's side too and by mistake Louisa called the wrong one. I loved my other aunt too but I knew from Louisa's account of her response that the wrong one had been called. She then called the right one and her response did not disappoint me. My aunt and uncle got right in their car and came to me. Arriving at that red house always meant being welcomed and received like I was someone very special. My uncle still tells the story of opening the door one stormy night to five travellers looking for a place to wait out the blizzard they had just driven through from a shopping trip in Halifax. They welcomed me and four of my friends and our night spent there being well fed and cared for has never been forgotten. I used to always go to Moncton in late August to shop for back to school, teacher clothes. I remember the year I was pregnant for Meg I was in the throes of morning sickness during my August visit. Aunt Lois ministered to me with toast and entertained three year old Zac. Needless to say my kids have the same good feelings about visiting Lois and Bernie. One night I almost had Burton convinced to go get me Chinese food but Lois warned that it would be a waste of money since I would just vomit later. My Aunt Lois is one of my biggest fans and supporters. She proudly sings my praises in Moncton and saves every newspaper clipping. She always asks about my writing . I love my aunt and uncle and dread the day I will have to say my final goodbyes. Friday night I got to visit them in their new home. They left their red house a few years ago and moved to an apartment in Peoples Park Tower. In December another move took place. Lois moved in first to Briar lea Nursing Home and Bernie followed in January after being in the hospital for several weeks having gone in in such a state he wasn't expected to survive. They are in a beautiful home being well cared for. I was very impressed and was so happy to see that they are comfortable and happy. Yesterday I spent the day in a board of directors meeting for WFNB. It was a productive and encouraging day. I left Monkey Town feeling good about having spent some time with my cousin Joy and her husband John, seeing my beloved aunt and uncle and doing a small part to keep an organization that supports writers and writing rolling along.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Every Home has Story

I love a good story. Sometimes I get one and run with it and everyone around tires of hearing it. Story comes from connection and telling stories connects. Family is connection and rich story shows deep connection. If that is the case I feel so blessed with the story and the connection of our home and family. Some of our best stories come from our young. Everyday Emma and Paige add to the bank of story in our family. Emma and Paige live almost the width of our country away. Luckily I have been where they live and they have been where I live enough to have a deep understanding of each other. Whether near or far that is the important thing about building a relationship. Paige can now press the numbers and phone us 'all by myself'. It is a joy to hear her little voice when we answer the phone. Last night when I asked Emma what she did at school today she went into a long story about the day's Science class. They were given substances to smell and identify. She said she guessed mint and it was peppermint, she guessed brown sugar but didn't know how to spell it. Then she said" I told my friend that you had no good smell. She was worried." That little story thrilled me and made me chuckle and smile and feel deeply connected to my darling granddaughter on so many levels. She was sharing a bit of her day and her life with me , she was sharing a bit of her grandmother with her friend and she knew that her Monkey has a terrible sense of smell. At almost seven she is deeply established as being a special part of a family that loves her. She then said " I wish Mom's family all lived in Sherwood Park" I said ." I wish your family lived in Kingston. I wish I could stop in to your house every day , stay awhile and then come back home" I do wish they lived closer but the reality of it is no matter where they physically live the most important place we live is in each others hearts. It makes me very happy that every day I see evidence that we are doing just that in a very special and long lasting way.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Day at Hampton Elementary School

Yesterday I spent a delightful day at Hampton Elementary School. From the moment I walked in the door I felt nothing but the warm and enthusiastic welcome of staff and students. I was met by the welcome team of Hillary and Colton, two grade five students. They had my day covered in every detail. The responsibility of showing me around , taking me from place to place, making sure I had water, briefing me on each group and then introducing me was put entirely into the student's hands and they did an amazing job. They were friendly, helpful and as efficient as you could imagine anyone being. I felt like a real celebrity. I also felt the positive energy throughout the entire school and was so impressed with the student centered atmosphere. I did my practise teaching in that school thirty six years ago and the values and vision that school possessed back then under the direction of principals like John Hooper and Neil Scott, and teachers like Barb Foss and Meg( can't remember her last name but I named my daughter, Megan because of her) is alive and well today. I did not know any of the current teachers but I came away feeling that the students of 2016 are in excellent hands. I presented to every grade level and also conducted a Writing Workshop for 25 students. The interest and enthusiasm was wonderful. I often say I am able to enjoy the things I miss about teaching when I do an author visit and yesterday was no exception. The students were engaged, polite, respectful and excited. It is fun to watch them descend in a throng to get their bookmarks signed after my presentation. If I wished for more from the day it would be to wish I had more time to talk to the kids one on one. There were as usual budding writers looking for encouragement and advice. I hope I was able to provide that in some small way. The best question of the day was a grade three student who asked ' How dull does your pencil get when you write?' Another great question that ended the day was 'How long are you going to write books?' I always answer,'as long as I can. My goal is a book a year for the next twenty years.' Perhaps I should change the answer to ' as long as I can find a sharp pencil' Thank you students and staff of HES. Thank you for the bottle of jelly beans and the feeling I came away with, that having the opportunity to do what I love to do and being invited to share it with students does indeed make a difference.