Why Do Art Teachers Need A Conference Time, Anyway?

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My elementary art student: Think of the best “valley girl”-accented voice saying, “Why do art teachers need a conference time anyway?”

I’m thinking, “You seriously did not just say that to me, right?” I smiled. Actually I think I bared my teeth and took a deep breath.

Me: (think Julia Sugarbaker accent). My answer:

“Ok, We’ll just examine that question, my friend.

Let’s just talk about materials and tools for a sec, ok?

It may have escaped your notice that on days like today when we paint, when you arrive for your thirty- minute art class (that is really just twenty-five minutes because we have no passing period) that these things are already ready for you on your table:

  • twenty-four large manila backer papers
  • a paper towel
  • a mixing plate
  • and a paint plate with red, yellow, blue, and white paint on it
  • the paint rack where you store your paintings is empty and ready for you with a clothespin on the front with your class number on the side you are supposed to use
  • twelve water cups are filled and ready for you to share with your partner
  • the paint brushes you used yesterday are clean and ready to pass out
  • soapy water is in a tub for your used brushes

Now, about those pesky ideas and goals for my lesson. (I did smile again, really.)

The painting formulas for mixing secondary colors and tints are already on the in-focus screen for you to refer to and your goal for the day is posted on the white board. Ah, vocabulary; like tint, primary, secondary, foreground, middle ground, background, and landscape. Did you think the Keebler Elves handed those to me on a notecard just before class or that I planned what I wanted you to learn?

How about when I carefully taught you procedures for taking out and putting up your artwork and materials by colored table or chair number, did you think that just happened spontaneously through a light sprinkling of fairy dust? No planning involved at all? And that I do all this for six classes a day?

Does that give you a hint of why I might need a planning period?”

The room had become eerily quiet. They were all looking at me like I had grown another head.

Student: “May I have some more yellow paint?”

Me: “Sure.”

Note to self: Switch to decaf tomorrow morning.

Mom’s Dressing

Mom’s Cornbread Dressing.

“Why is the dressing green?” my husband whispered in my ear. It was his first Thanksgiving dinner at my parent’s house. “Sage, my dear, the spice of the gods.” I whispered back. One or two big aluminum foil pans of the slightly green, spicy dressing, redolent with black pepper, onions, salty bits of giblets and turkey pan drippings scented my mom’s house every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don’t know where she learned to make her dressing, she did not talk about cooking with her mom, but Lord it was good. There was no written recipe, but I watched her make this so often and tasted it for her so many times that the making of it is imprinted on my DNA. She would tell us kids, “Come taste this for me and see if it has enough sage.” knowing full well it was perfect; she just wanted to see our eyes roll back in our heads like sharks at a feeding frenzy.

Why is it that every daughter tries to recreate the taste of their mother’s cooking? I think it is one of those rites of passage that define us a family. So for this Texas girl, I try each holiday to recreate that taste, with maybe a little less sage in deference to my husband’s palate. dsc00256His contribution was this knockout smoked turkey breast. But that recipe is for another post. So this year, in my mom’s honor, I pass along the recipe as I remember it; simple in its ingredients, but layered with deep, happy memories of family gatherings. I took pictures and promise I got no kickbacks from the manufacturer’s presented. Substitute as you choose. I try to make the cornbread and the bisquick (mom called this bread pone) the day before the meal. Fresh breads are too moist and will gum up your dressing.



Get a big turkey roaster-size aluminum pan and break up the cornbread and bread pone into crumbs. dsc00248In a small pan, cook the turkey giblets in enough salted water to cover with a roughly chopped onion, a stalk of chopped celery, a bay leaf and some pepper corns. Peel away any tough parts and chop the turkey giblets. Set aside.

In a small skillet, melt a stick of butter and sauté the chopped onion until tender and translucent. dsc00251Pour the cooked onion and butter over the bread crumbs. Add the chopped turkey giblets. If you have roast turkey drippings, pour them in too. Add at least one half container of sage and salt and pepper to taste.


Mix enough of the chicken stock to moisten the mixture to the consistency you like. For me it takes one or two cans of chicken stock. When you mix this dressing, you have to use your hands. You cannot feel the consistency of the dressing through a spoon. Don’t be rough, as Emeril Lagasse says “This is a food of love thing.”



Bake in a 350° oven for 30-45 minutes. There should be just a browned lovely crust on the top. I did not take a picture when it came out of the oven (duh). Too busy eating. I’ll update it with one at Christmas.


2 packages of Bisquick

2 packages of yellow cornbread mix (not sweet)

2 cans of chicken stock

1 stick of butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 or 2 bottles of powdered sage

salt and pepper to taste

Turkey giblets cooked and chopped


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.

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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 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.

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The Daily Post – Voice

loud voice pexels-photo

It may just be me. But I am not a person who likes loud voices.

Don’t know where it came from. I’ve yelled at many a football game and at the television when the Dallas Cowboys are playing, but at work, not so much. I teach art you see, so a loud adult voice to me indicates a teacher that has just had her or his last nerve stepped on and the festivities are about to begin. Back away. Not that I have not done my share of raised voice talking (ok…yelling). No saint here, I’m always a work in progress.

It took me a few years of teaching children to realize that the normal decibel level in some households is “jackhammer” level, where my home is more “passenger car” level. It takes some time to convince a student that if my hair is blowing backward and I am blinking a lot when you are speaking, your voice level is a little too high. I now think of my group classroom voice level as “bee hive”. A little buzz is good, a sign of industrious artwork happening. Attack of the killer bees is not so good.

When I first started teaching over twenty years ago, I had a young man who both spoke loudly and spit when he talked, a dental thing I think, so someone (not me) had told him to hold his hand in front of his mouth when he talked. This was a second grade student, so it was rather dicey to talk with this young man, who had interpreted this instruction as “Hold your fist in a perfect “O” around your mouth.” This had the effect of channeling the spit right at you when he talked. His other fist he kept in the air with an index finger pointed up as if to punctuate the little shower you were getting with an exclamation point. I always imagined he went into politics.

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