Highway to Heaven

Today was the fifty-sixth day of school. During our daily Number Corner mathversation about how many days we have been in school, a woman child said, “hey! I’m noticing something!” as we did a “close reading” of the numeral. She confidently marched up to the front of the room and said, “it looks like when we’re counting. First five, then six. Five. Six.”

“Hmm,” I thought aloud, “I wonder what would happen if we started at one and tried out what you’re thinking.” I scrawled 12 onto the board. “One is in the tens place and two is in the ones place. One. Two. But is that how we read that numeral? What is that?” A chorus of students sang, “twelve.” I kept going. They kept responding. Two, three. Three, four . . . Eight, nine. “Oh dear! If I keep going and write nine and then ten, I’m afraid that numeral is going to be too tricky for us. What are we gonna do?!” I said as I wrote 910.

As I expected, a few kids said that’s ninety-ten. “Do you guys remember the other day when it was the fiftieth day of school and we talked about needing a new column in our place value chart for hundreds when we get to the one hundredth day of school?” I asked. All the tiny heads in the room nodded back at me. “I think we need the hundreds column to help us read this numeral, too,” I suggested. “Let’s see, nine is in the hundreds place. One is in the tens place. And we have zero ones. Hmm . . .” Eyes squinted and fingertips met chins in deep thought across the room.

“I think I wanna give it a try. I think I got it,” a big voice shouted from a little body across the meeting area. “Oh my gosh! YOU’RE SO BRAVE,” I exaggerated. He took a deep breath and said, “nine hundred (another deep breath) ten. NINE HUNDRED TEN!” “WOOHOO! Ooh, chile! You’re a genius. They seriously gave me all the geniuses this year! Is this even kindergarten?!” I exclaimed while doing my signature, five-year old giggles inducing black church praise dance. “Seriously,” another child shouted, “you are so smart. You are so brave. I think he gets five jumps!”

Jumps. These are the kindergarten equivalent of hitting the jackpot. “No, girl, he gets fifteen jumps on the trampoline! Go! For! It!” And boy did he.

This wasn’t on my lesson plan for today. Reading three-digit numerals isn’t even a kindergarten standard. They tell me I should post and articulate a content, behavior, and language standard every day to be an efficacious teacher. I think we did okay today with a few manipulatives and lots of bright, inquisitive five-year old minds. I don’t do what the big people tell me to do. Or even what I want to do. I go where the children lead me. That always seems to be the right destination, the highway to heaven.



Choose Hard

I opted not to purchase a car when I moved to San Jose because, quite frankly, I hate cars. On average, a car’s value depreciates 19% within the first year of ownership. They insist that you care for them as if they’re living beings – feed me, clean me, insure me – and Mother Nature doesn’t respond well to the pollution they cause. While I understand the need many folks have for car ownership, I live in a big city where, most of the time, it’s just not necessary. Public transportation is reliable (and a dream for this writer/people watcher). It requires more thought, more planning than just walking into the garage, but it’s worth it!

I’m not suggesting that the pedestrian lifestyle is easy. Twice this week I’ve hurled materials for my classroom onto my shoulder(s) and trudged from stores to bus stops to school. We must have pumpkins for our pumpkin study, you know. And birdseed must replace the fall leaves in our sensory table as we delve deeply into understanding the lives of those plants that, we’ve recently discovered, produce their own food. But how, oh how, did those plants get there? And, dang, why is all this learning so heavy?

When I arrived at my classroom today – of course I work on Saturday – I was downright exhausted. While I was in the garden supply store, it began raining. On my journey from there to school I had to stand in the rain while waiting to transfer to another bus that doesn’t come as often on the weekend schedule with twenty pounds of birdseed in tow. And, because my middle name is klutz, I slipped on the sidewalk right in front of the school and got more intimate with the birdseed than I’d planned! As a woman who has six screws in her ankle and spent weeks teaching small children from a wheelchair, every tumble is a trigger that fills me with the fear of re-experiencing post-orthopedic surgery pain. . .

After catching my breath, I poured the birdseed into a sensory table and ran my hands through it. Ahhhh! It was pure ecstasy, learning joy. “My babies are going to love this!” I thought. And that was it. I didn’t spend one more second thinking about the long, uncomfortable, and treacherous road that brought seed to table. I fast-forwarded my thoughts to the joy of watching thirty-eight tiny, perfect hands attached to nineteen tiny, perfect humans enjoy a sensory experience that will lead to new questions and deeper learning.

This got me thinking about the journey of learning itself. I encounter so many folks who think teachers and kids can just hop in a speedy vehicle made of scripted curricula, sentence stems, behavior charts and standardized tests (to name a few things) and head straight for the glorious destination of learning. But that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works. That vehicle comes with consequences. As soon as those lessons are over, those scaffolds are released, as soon as that vehicle is driven off the lot, its value depreciates. And the pollution destroys the very foundation of our great nation.

Only 83% of America’s students graduate from high school, while 73% of jobs require at least a high school diploma. Despite more than fifty years of attention, the achievement gap between students of color and those who are white persists. School-to-prison pipeline statistics are astounding:


I get it! Teachers come and go. Teachers NEED lives outside of work. Libraries filled with real books are expensive. And authentic experiences that create opportunities to acquire language in natural ways cost even more! Attending to the actual needs of children whose lives are being destroyed by traumatic experiences at home is hard work. However, if we want to do what is right for children, we won’t allow ourselves to be seduced by the wiles of expedience and we’ll opt to take the long, uncomfortable, treacherous, and, yes, costly road instead. If we want our kids to experience the ecstasy of deeper learning, learning joy, we must choose to be more thoughtful. We must choose the path that requires more planning. We must choose to do the heavy lifting. We must choose hard.

And when the children “arrive,” our thoughts won’t be fixed on the journey. We’ll just be thinking, “it was worth it!”

Kinder Bender

Fifty-one school days . . .

About this time last school year, nineteen years into my teaching career, I decided to take a deep breath, lift a glass I’d been holding for years to my mouth, close my eyes and chug. I spent the whole of the second semester reading, writing, observing and thinking. I was going to be prepared.

The month of May came and brought conviction with it. I resigned from my teaching position. It was a difficult decision, but six months later, I still am confident it was the right one. Unemployment, particularly by choice, has a way making us hasty. I threw myself at nearly every job opportunity with which I was presented, but, to the frustration of many, I ultimately rejected every single one. Something just wasn’t right. My desire to be right, in complete alignment with the Universe’s plan, trumped my need for security and, let’s be real, even food.

In June, I took a leap of faith and made the decision to move to San Jose, CA in July with nothing but a nest egg, a place to rest my head, and a friend who said her friends would certainly become mine. I pored over job ads in anticipation, but still nothing piqued my interest. “I’ll get a job teaching something,” I eventually conceded. “It won’t be what I’ve been obsessing over for months, but I won’t starve. I’ll pay my dues now and get what I want later.”

On July 7, I boarded a jet bound for SJC. Upon my arrival, a woman I’d never met opened her door, and her heart, to me. At her house, the very next day, I met the woman who would eventually open the gate to my path. She introduced me to a principal who had one opening for which I am qualified at her school. As fate would have it, it was the exact role for which I had been preparing myself for months.

I engaged in the requisite stalking, including googling and driving slowly past every side of the school, which is a short 1.5 miles from my house. It was love at first sight! I interviewed for the job and was hired the same day. In my twentieth year as a professional educator, after years of consideration and months of thoughtful preparation . . .

I was finally going to be a kindergarten teacher!

Fifty-one days of school later, I’m absolutely intoxicated. I’m drinking daily, at all hours, from the glass of five-year-old giggles, hugs, innocence, brilliance, awe, and passion for life. You guys, I’m on a Kinder Bender and I don’t care who knows!