Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: I get to...

Looking to connect with a positive, supportive online community? Consider sharing a slice of your life with Two Writing Teachers. All writers are welcome! 

Tuesday Slice of Life: 

I get to...

At one of our staff meetings last year one of our high school principals, Dr. Mineau, mentioned the power of this phrase, "I get to..." Dr. Mineau was referring to our mindset in how we approach situations. The idea is to replace the phrase "I have to..." with "I get to." For example, instead of "I have to be at Open House this week" you could say, "I get to meet some of my students and their parents." The second sentence sounds much more positive, doesn't it? 

For a while, I have been trying to focus on what is positive in my life instead of dwelling on the negative, especially on the factors I have little to no control over. According to author Kendra Cherry in "Benefits of Positive Thinking for Body and Mind," positive thinkers can cope better with stress, have improved immunity, can be more resilient, and can have positive impacts on overall health. I don't know about you, dear reader, but I could use all of those benefits! 

I have been trying to apply this approach to my personal life all summer, consistently applying the "I get to" phrase when I can. Honestly, I have dealt with some tough things lately, and while the "I get to" phrase has not taken away what's messy and painful, it has helped me shift some of my perspectives so I can manage in a healthier way. Ultimately, this has helped me show up as a more decent human being.

Today I get to begin a new school year. I get to work with amazing colleagues. I get to work with some fantastic students. I get to keep learning with and from my students. I get to be a part of making a positive difference for kids. I get to reflect about each day in my writers notebook. I get to see students make progress.  

What do you get to do in your life? In your profession? At home? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Slice of Life Tuesday: Ukulele Journey

Looking to connect with a positive, supportive online community? Consider sharing a slice of your life with Two Writing Teachers. All writers are welcome! 

Tuesday Slice of Life: 
Ukulele Journey

I was recently paging through my writer's notebook and found this list poem I wrote some time last spring, reflecting on my journey of learning to play the ukulele. (If I remember correctly, I believe that I was reading through Poems Are Teachers at the time, and so this list poem was likely inspired by the smart work of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.) 

Ukulele Wishes 

I wish I could
     remember strumming patterns
     effortlessly switch from chord D to Em,
     play tablature in tune 
     feel the rhythm of quarter, half, and whole notes
     read notes instead of looking at my fingers
     sing and strum 
     not fret so much about mistakes and 
     enjoy my music journey. 


A little over a week ago my thirteen-year-old son and I attended an outdoor ukulele workshop through our city's Mile of Music Festival. Although I played quite a bit last spring and took a few group lessons, I had not played my ukulele since the beginning of June. I was rusty. My uke was out of tune. In fact, it was so out of tune that I needed to ask my son in order to get my ukulele back in playing shape. 

As soon as my ukulele was in tune and my fingers found some familiar chords, I was instantly reminded how much I enjoy making music. My fingers immediately gravitated to the C and G7 chords - I still had some muscle memory in my fingers. 

Since the short workshop, I have been playing each day and I am beginning to enjoy it again. Now I can play Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers. To my amazement, my son recently remarked that he actually recognizes these tunes when I play! Win!

It feels good. I need to keep spending the time to make music.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: That Time I Met KWR

Looking to connect with a positive, supportive online community?  Consider sharing a slice of your life with Two Writing Teachers. All writers are welcome! 

Tuesday Slice of Life: That Time I Met KWR

"I didn't realize Lester Laminack was speaking at this luncheon. Is there any way I can still buy a ticket?" 

Last month I was a newbie at NCTE's WLU Summer Institute in Columbia, South Carolina. In trying to save money, initially I did not sign up for the luncheon. Apparently I did not close-read the information on the WLU website and did not realize that beloved author Lester Laminack was the keynote speaker. Every person I had newly met at the conference was attending. 

The NCTE representative gently responded to my question, "It's a plated dinner, so it is not as simple as just charging you. Tell you what, if you just hang out until the luncheon officially begins, I will sneak you in if there is an open seat."

I nodded and thanked her. From the hotel hallway, I watched as conference participants streamed in, eager to secure spots by friends. A local elementary school from Irmo, South Carolina (The Oak Pointe Bucket Band) warmed the crowd with a lively bucket band performance. 

Just when I thought that I would be dining alone at the hotel restaurant, I heard, "You're in luck. We have some no-shows, so you can attend the luncheon. Just quietly find an empty seat and enjoy." 

"Thank you SO much!" Giddy, I scanned the room to find an empty seat and ventured towards a back table with one open chair. It happened to be next to Dr. Lenny Sanchez, a professor at U of SC and a colleague of my friend Cathy. 

"Is this seat taken?" I inquired.

"Nope, please sit!" Lenny grinned and I sat beside him.

To the right of me sat a thin woman with tight, curly hair. "I'm Trina," I quickly introduced myself. 

The woman held out her hand to shake mine, "Katie." Bucket band still playing, I glanced at her name tag to be certain I heard her name correctly. In a quick glance I peered at her name tag: Katie Wood Ray.

I froze. Katie Wood Ray? I sat next to the Katie Wood Ray, author and editor extraordinaire?  

"Oh. My. God. You're Katie Wood Ray?"

"Yes." She smiled.

Like a teenager upon seeing Justin Bieber, I gushed to Katie about how I loved all her books, how they changed me as a writer and a teacher of writers. And it would have been fine if I ended the conversation here. 

Mouth moving at warp speed, tangled in my Wisconsin accent, I went on to tell her that I loved writing so much, even pulling out and showing my latest journal, as somehow proving to her that I was writing. Yup, I was that girl. 

There are so many other ways that this conversation could have gone, but I was socially awkward. I offered stupid comments. I asked silly questions. I fumbled up my words. I did not really show up as myself.

Thank goodness Lester Laminack began his keynote SO I could keep my mouth shut and listen.

The WLU Summer Institute is a small, intimate conference. After the luncheon, of course I kept running into Katie: in the bathroom, in the hallway between sessions, in the hotel lobby. Each time I found myself inarticulate.

Through it all, Katie Wood Ray was gracious.

Until I wrote about it later in my notebook, I didn't realize how nervous I was to meet her. Then, in horror, I realized how desperate I was to sound intelligent and interesting - the kind of person Katie would want to know. It's not usually the person I show up as. 


It has now been a few weeks since the WLU Summer Institute. I can now think about this conversation and laugh at myself a bit. After all, I was a bit starstruck at meeting the great Katie Wood Ray. 

In retrospect, I am reminded that we all say and do stupid, awkward things sometimes. In our personal lives. As teachers. As humans. We all do this. For me, this was a great reminder that awkward conversations (or in my case, a SERIES of awkward conversations) happen, and it's just a slice in our lives - not a reflection of who we are as whole people. 


To read past posts about how I have been influenced by Katie Wood Ray's work, you can read here and here. Even if you are a teacher of high school or middle school students, Katie Wood Ray's work is brilliant, still applicable to older learners. Her work will inspire you to serve your students better. 

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