The Laundromat

When my family first arrived in the U.S. from Cuba we had very little that we could call our own. Not only did we rent a small apartment, but whatever furniture we had in our house we either begged, borrowed or stole (the last one metaphorically speaking, of course).
In fact, if you sat in the living room of our home, and all the doors to the rooms were wide open, you would be able to see into the two tiny bedrooms, the kitchen and the bathroom. I shared a bedroom with my older brother. It was all we could do to walk around the bed without bumping into each other or the bed itself, the only furniture in the room.
Needless to say, we didn’t own a car.
And, then there was the laundromat.


Because we didn’t own a washing machine or dryer – and even if we did there was no room to put them in our apartment – we took a weekly family trip to the laundromat. We did own a shopping cart that did double duty for hauling groceries and laundry with equal ease. I don’t remember my brother ever accompanying us on these trips. In fact, my brother was pretty much absent for most of my growing up years.

After we arrived at the laundromat, we would sort clothes into several washing machines but not before my mother cleaned them out carefully to rid the insides of invisible, but deadly germs. Then, the wait. Twice, first for the clothes to wash and then to dry. I don’t remember how I passed the time away but it’s very likely that I read while I waited. Finally, we would fold the clothes, put them neatly in the shopping cart – my mother wouldn’t have it any other way – and head back home.
I don’t have many vivid childhood memories and this one had been deeply buried until it resurfaced at an NCTE annual meeting session entitled, Writing Workshop is for all Students: Using Visuals, Oral Language, and Digital Tools to Maximize Success and Independence for English Language Learners. It was at this session where I ran into Stacey Shubitz and all the memories came flooding back. 
Presenters Maria Paula Ghiso and Patricia Martinez-Alvarez, both from Teachers College, Columbia University, were describing how by putting cameras in the hands of young children and asking them to take photographs of their families and neighborhood revealed a great deal about the children and their families. 
At that moment, I saw myself as a little girl again, making that weekly trek to the laundromat. I wish one of my teachers had valued me then in the way that these teachers are valuing the lives of their young students: rich with family experiences that don’t often get to be seen in schools.
Thanks to Stacey for encouraging me to write about this. It feels unfinished but that’s how it needs to be for now.

Writer’s Block

I’m experiencing writer’s block.

                                                  It’s good to have this happen once in a while.
                                                  So I can keep in mind how students feel at moments like this.
What do I write about?

                                                   I have no ideas.
                                                   In fact, I don’t want to write anything.

I’d rather read.
                                                  Or play around with the spacing of this poem.
Writing is so hard sometimes.

And, now I’m done.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers – Tuesday Slice of Life

Driving and Letting Go

I think I’m a good driver. 


I’m careful, alert and follow traffic regulations. That’s why I get annoyed when other drivers aren’t the same way. When someone cuts me in traffic without signalling, speeds down a busy intersection, or is reckless in their driving, I get mad. But, I don’t just get mad and then move on. After all, I have to pay attention to the road. No. I stay mad. I start cursing under my breath and I look around me, wondering why the other drivers aren’t visibly foaming at the mouth, too.

But before I go much further, I guess I should explain that driving in Quito, or in many other parts of Ecuador, can be challenging. Up until recently, many drivers didn’t go through a certified driving school, have a “real” license, or follow, much less know, the traffic regulations in the country. There was no speed limit and getting to where you were going faster was the only law of the highway. However, things are changing. There are now known speed limits and hefty (for here) tickets for not following the speed limits, and a culture of courtesy is being cultivated on the road. After having been away for six years, and having returned now for almost two, I can tell the difference. In fact, the country’s slogan, accompanied by a variety of programs and carefully crafted advertisements, is “Ecuador del buen vivir”. Roughly translated, this would be something like, “Ecuador, a place for living well”.


So, in this year of “letting go of what’s not working’, and embracing the idea of “living well’, I have decided that getting angry at other drivers just doesn’t work. Just like constantly trying to figure out why people, particularly administration, do certain things at school that don’t make sense and make life for everyone less than pleasant, doesn’t work either. First of all, the mental space that is used up worrying or being angry, takes my full attention off my driving (teaching). Getting even a little distracted by my angry thoughts could potentially cause me to make a mistake resulting in an accident (or an angry word to a student or colleague, which sometimes can’t be taken back and can cause unnecessary damage). Second of all, it makes the start to my day less than pleasant. Driving (Teaching) can be stressful enough. I don’t need another trigger to make it even more stressful. Third, I have found that if I do the things I want others to do, such as being courteous, then others will start doing them too. And if they don’t, then I can practise forgiving them for not being ready to do so. That is so much more pleasant than not letting people pass you on the highway just because you don’t want them to (or letting their words or actions interfere with effective teaching and learning), and accepting where they are in their spiritual growth.

Without meaning to, I am getting closer to writing about some other sensitive topics that I keep avoiding. It’s curious how a post that started out about driving has turned into so much more. The potential of writing to reveal thoughts, feelings and ideas you didn’t know were there is incredibly powerful. And, that is leading me to a lesson I might do with my students this afternoon in writing club. But I’ll stop here before this post segues into something else entirely. Maybe for next time…

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesdays

Writing Club and Letting Go

Tuesday, after school, was the first day of writing club, an after school activity modelled after writing workshop. I had four students, three girls in grade 3 and one boy in grade 4. Whenever I’ve sponsored a writing club in the past, I’ve gotten at least 40 kids. This was in my previous school in Calgary when I offered writing club during the lunch hour. This is the third time I’ve offered writing club at my current school and to have a total of four students register, again, was disappointing to say the least.

Nevertheless, I decided it was important to offer these students a quality writing club experience so I pocketed my disappointment and planned for the first day.

I modelled how to choose a topic by writing down two or three big ideas and smaller, more manageable sub-ideas below these. I used a think aloud strategy so that my students could listen in on how a more experienced writer selects a writing topic from a sea of potential ideas. Then, I had my students do the same thing and share their list with a partner. Next, we wrote silently for the first 10 minutes of club time. I believe it’s important for writers to have a quiet writing time during some portion of the writing workshop. At the end of the 10 minutes, we shared our writing with a partner.

During the last 15 minutes, the students had a choice to continue writing or drawing, or to start working on something new. This is my time to confer with students about their writing – the most important part of writing workshop for me as a teacher.

This predictable structure – focus lesson, 10 minutes of silent writing, sharing with a partner, writing (alone or with a partner), teacher conferring with students  – will remain the same throughout the writing club sessions to allow students to plan for their writing.

I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction at the end of writing club, not only because all four kids were writing and engaged but because I practised letting go of something that never works for me – holding on to disappointments or resentments (in this case having only 4 students register for writing club) and finding what works: accepting what is and planning for that, enjoying my students, and celebrating writing.

More Homework Meme (AKA Sunshine Awards)

Thanks to Bill Ferriter, who tagged 10 bloggers and then opened this up to any of his readers who were interested, I decided to take the challenge and participate in this blogging challenge.

Here are the rules:

  • acknowledge the nominating blogger (Bill Ferriter)
  • share 11 random facts about yourself
  • answer 11 questions the nominating blogger has for you
  • list 11 bloggers to nominate
  • post 11 questions for the bloggers and let them know they have been nominated
  • don’t nominate the blogger that nominated you
  • post back to the nominating blogger with a link.

So, here it goes.

11 random facts about me:

  1. I worked for three months with ACORN (Association of Communities Organised for Reform Now) right after graduating from college in 1981. I was based in Durham, N.C.
  2. I was born in Cuba and am fully bilingual.
  3. I have lived on two continents, three different countries, and 10 different cities during my lifetime.
  4. I have two daughters and one son aged 26, 22 and 9, respectively – all from the same father.
  5. It is true that I was the one that asked my husband to dance when we first met at La Peña in Berkeley in 1985.
  6. I spent my first New Year’s Eve in San Francisco blowing up helium balloons for downtown parties.
  7. I like reading romance novels every once in a while.
  8. The only book I’ve read twice is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, first in English and then in Spanish.
  9. I am afraid of heights. ‘Nuff said.
  10. My first cell phone was a 1996 clunker that my husband bought for me so we could communicate while he was interviewing for a job in Ecuador and I was in New Orleans.
  11. I survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco; an incredible dust storm between Los Angeles and Bakersfield in 1991; Hurricane Andrew in New Orleans in 1992; two volcano eruptions in Quito, Ecuador in 2001 and 2001; and six harsh winters in Calgary from 2006 – 2012.

Answers to Bill Ferriter’s questions:

  • Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black?
    • I prefer House Blend Black. Just getting my head around what all is in the Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip makes my head spin. I wonder what that says about me?
  • If you were going to write a book, what would its title be?
    • All of the Things I Leaned About Working in a School that No One Dares to Talk About or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of School Administrators. Can you tell I’m going through a low period right now?
  • Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.”
    • I don’t generally read graphic novels but many of my students do and love them. So, just based on that I would give them a 10. Graphic novels have turned around many reluctant readers I’ve taught.
  • What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?
    • This is a hard question to respond to because I can’t name just one so I will pass. Coward? Yeah, I know.
  • How do you feel about the holidays?
    • I am conflicted when it comes to the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. In some ways, this is my favourite time of the year because all five of us are together. On the other hand, it is a stressful time for me both in and out of school. I am glad when they’re over and we have January to recuperate but then I miss my daughters when they leave.
  • Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version).
    • Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  • What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten?
    • The best gift that I’ve every gotten was when my husband surprised me and flew my daughters from the US to Calgary for my birthday. 
  • If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to?
    • I would give it to Doctors Without Borders. They are my heroes.
  • What are you the proudest of?
    • I am proudest of my children. They are amazing human beings with big hearts and a clear sense of what’s right and wrong.
  • What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child?
    • I generally didn’t get into trouble as a child. I was definitely a goody-two-shoes. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started rebelling.
  • What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry?
    • I think the last blog entry I left a comment on was in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life. One of my goals is to start blogging on a schedule (not there yet) and this is one place I go to every week for that.

11 bloggers to invite:

  1. Two Writing Teachers
  2. Raki’s Rad Resources
  3. Margotmania
  4. Peg with Pen
  5. Tech Transformation 
  6. Zenhabits
  7. Marcie Flinchum Atkins
  8. Ali Edwards
  9. Kevin’s Meandering Mind
  10. Mile High Reading
  11. YOU (following Bill Ferriter’s suggestion since that’s how I got to write this post)

My 11 questions for bloggers:

  1. Who is your favourite author and why?
  2. What is something you’ve done that you’re not so proud of?
  3. If you could change something about your current situation, what would you change and why?
  4. What advice would you give a young teacher coming into our profession?
  5. What is your one guilty pleasure?
  6. What is the best gift you’ve ever given and why?
  7. If you could thank a teacher, whom would you thank and what would you say?
  8. What book are you currently reading for pleasure? Professional read?
  9. What professional book has had the most influence on your teaching practice? Why?
  10. What would be the perfect vacation? Why?
  11. How has your spirituality or religion influenced who you are as a teacher? If you don’t consider yourself as a spiritual or religious person, then what out of school influence has had an impact on who you are as a teacher?