Every Once in A While


This is the long haul in teaching. From the enthusiasm and excitement of the first day of school in late August until the Fall Break in November. More and more on weekends I turn to my husband,who is a retired teacher, and say, ” Listen.” He says, ” I know, no one is saying your name, asking a question, tugging on your  arm…it’s quiet.”  I smile. He understands.

But yesterday, something happened that shook me out of my ” Oh my gosh, what now…” mindset. A small quiet fifth-grader, a slender wisp of a boy, did something so grand…..

We were at recess playing a game called ” Steal the Bacon”. Two classes line up at either end of the gym and when their number is called two children from either side run up and try to grab the “Bacon” (a cloth bundled to look like a slab of bacon ) and run back to their side without being tagged.  All children are included in recess games, so several students that have special needs are in the line-ups.

Not once, but twice, this quiet young man was paired up against a special need’s child. Both times, he let the special need’s child win, in a moment that was not too obvious but full of understanding. Both classes in the game applauded, no complaining. It was one of those moments in teaching that happens every once in a while and takes your breath away with its compassion. And in this bitter election season it gives me hope for humanity.

I asked the quiet boy privately why he did what he did. He looked up at me and said,” My mom told me that if someone is like that, it is my job to take care of them, to let them win if they can and feel good.” Good job Mom. I told him I was proud of him and gave him a 200 club ticket, something we do to promote unsolicited acts of kindness. So in this long haul up to Thanksgiving I am thankful to teach a child like that, to experience those moments and learn from them.

Image Pixabay CC0 Public Domain




Seen in the Hallways

There is magic in the beginning of school. As an art teacher, I am always astonished by the creativity of the teachers around me. Those who profess, “I don’t know anything about art!” or ” I can’t draw a stick figure.” come up with these dynamite bulletin boards and doors. And those who don’t do the hallways spend HOURS arranging their room for the easiest traffic flow, the best group seating arrangements or the best access to technology or reading centers or anchor charts or manipulatives; whatever gives their students the best opportunity to learn. Give a teacher some blue painter’s tape, a few trips to the Dollar Store, file folders and plastic packing crates and you have classroom magic. Architects could not draw up a better blueprint for a learning environment.

Our theme this year is “Travis Students are Blazing New Trails.” Best theme EVER in my opinion. Western theme artwork and messages abound; this is Texas after all and a school in a town like Mineral Wells, rich in a past western heritage. And more importantly those bulletin boards have content. They inspire, they illustrate, they explain, they show respect, love, rules, information and the quality and caring of my intelligent, compassionate colleagues. So congratulations to all those teachers who spent hours in the hallways and in their rooms organizing. While I don’t have a picture of everything you did, I know you outdid yourself again.


Ten Things I’m Thinking Before School Starts


If you are a teacher, your mind is running at warp speed right now. I end up talking to myself. So here I am writing those rambling thoughts down on paper to get them out of my head.

  1. Do First Things First – I’m a big fan of Stephen Covey and while I will never be that organized I still remember to make a list each day and prioritize. What to do first? Things that will help your students succeed and keep you sane. The rest will wait.
  2. Ask the Question – At the Scavenger Hunt to introduce our newly arriving fourth graders to a new building I met a lot of parents and a few siblings I’d had in my class previously. I jokingly asked a big sister if there was anything I needed to know about the little sister. The mother then told me a vital piece of health information that I really needed to know. I would have received that info later with other documentation, but now I know early. Ask the question. “Is there anything I need to know about your child?” You will be amazed at what they tell you.
  3. The Two Things Kids are Most Afraid of the First Day of School – 1) Am I in the right place? I’m a Fine Arts teacher so students come to me from their core room. 2) Will the teacher pronounce my name correctly? School can be an overwhelming place for many elementary school age students. Harry Wong’s great book The First Days of School always helps me remember that. Check their schedule at the door and ask them how to say their name – takes care of Number 1 and 2. Put your name and your class someplace big and visible. Introduce yourself.
  4. Tell them. Practice. Make them tell you. – Imagine a little marquee running across each child’s forehead. It says, “What do you want me to do?” Answer that question. Make sure they understood by having them show you and tell you. Routines are your friend.
  5. Negative People are Energy-Sappers-Stay away from them. And don’t be one. Enough said.
  6. Have Patience and Compassion – Adults and children have reasons for what they do. Very often you don’t know the whole story. See number 2.
  7. Treat the Secretaries and Janitors with Respect – They run the building and can save your life in a myriad of ways. Besides it’s just the right thing to do with anyone.
  8. Teaching is a service industry. – You are there to serve a lot of customers. The students. The school administration. The parents. The community. Serve. That’s what they pay you for.
  9. Communicate – Talk to your coworkers and principals. Tell them what you are doing. Ask them what they are doing. They cannot read your mind and they are just as busy as you are. Listen more than you talk.
  10. Have Balance – Every day know that you did the best you could and that you now need to leave the worries and work at school. The people waiting for you at home deserve your best too. You will not be any good to them if you are exhausted or not mentally there. Be healthy. Do something for yourself every day. Sleep. Laugh. Work with a happy heart.



Our deer population at my small Texas homestead feels the summer heat, just like my miniature donkeys. This tender-looking doe discovered the mineral block we recently put out for our donkeys. I look at her long, elegant face and wonder at the natural beauty around  me. I’m hoping to see fawns with her soon.



The strangest of color signs this morning. Our yellow lilies, which have been a frothy yellow tide this spring, suddenly added a cousin with blood-red hues.

Orange Lily

Then as I was drinking my morning coffee, the neighbor’s peacock made a haughty appearance in the yard, complete with Edward Goreyish unearthly cries. Hmmm… a mystery is afoot.


PC Beauty




The little white lie, the unconscious or sometimes conscious offensive turn-of-phrase can wound, but let’s face it, it won’t kill you. It is a disappointment. In the grand scheme of things, the person who gossips or cuts me off in traffic is not my biggest worry. The safety of my family and the core beliefs I hold are worth defending, but if you need to go faster than me on I-20, knock yourself out. However I will be hoping that the DPS will give you a big, fat ticket as you speed by me.

It is an entirely different thing when children disappoint you. Over the past twenty-one years of teaching I have seen some kids say and do some pretty awful things to each other. I vacillate between instantly swooping down with “the appropriate thing to do” and waiting to see if the aggressor and intended victim can work it out themselves. Kids have a highly developed sense of justice. Watch them divide candy and you’ll see what I mean. I am always optimistic that they can learn how to treat each other kindly. If not, I am there to intervene. Quickly.

Good behavior, defined in my class as what you say and what you do, should be modelled first by me, explained carefully and specifically and followed up on consistently.  Sounds easy, but it isn’t.

Testing the “truth” boundaries is a normal part of growing up. I think of kids lying to me as a kind of, “Let’s stick my finger in this electric outlet and see what happens.” sort of moment. If the lying has consequences, then a child learns not to do it again.  But your response to lying has to be smart and appropriate to the offense.

These favorite teacher phrases produce very predictable results.

Did you do that? ”  I didn’t do anything.” (What did you think they were going to say? ” Yes teacher I did it. Take me away.”)

Were you running? ” I was just walking fast.” (Teacher, did you define running, skipping, hopping and other modes of movement as off-limits? Yes, I have actually had a line of students practice walking. Sigh.)

Were you talking? ” He was talking to me.” (Did you define talking? Which in my room means talking, whispering, singing, humming, making sound effects and talking to yourself, your friends or your imaginary friend.) A footnote here is the uncanny ability of kids to drum or make noise with ANYTHING. I have a theory about this. Each child that drums on stuff is creating their own identifying sound, like animals saying, “Here I am.” in the muffling noise of a forest. No proof, just a theory.

Did you take it? ”  No.” (What did you think they were going to say? Even when it is hanging out of their pocket.)

Did you hear me? “No.” (What did you think they were going to say? Duh.)

But recovery, forgiveness of the lie, is  an integral part of the learning. It says , “Your behavior was bad just then, but I still like you.” I can usually muster up that feeling when looking at a sweating ten-year old who just got caught in a lie.

I hope that when I handle these situations correctly, maybe we can avoid that adult who thinks it’s ok to go through the fast check out lane with fifty items instead of ten or to park in the handicapped place when they are able-bodied. The bigger stuff adults will just have to reason out on their own. And quitting drumming on the table.

Photo CCO license






There is a lovely book out there called Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces by Carrie Stuart Parks. She is an author, watercolorist and forensic artist and instructor.

The images you see are drawn by sixth graders after exploring her drawing methods in my class in 2009. I’ve read that the arts are not important in the grand scheme of things these days in public schools. I’ve also heard that on average, people give up drawing after the sixth grade. That is so sad.

I look at the beautiful work by these students and it haunts me that some people may think this is not a skill worth teaching. Look in the eyes of these portraits and I dare you not to see the intensity there. They are amazingly telling about the artist and the subject.