Monthly Archives: October 2014

Grace

Celebrating with Ruth Ayers and others who take a moment and celebrate something, here. Thank you!

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This week I celebrate grace. It is in the tiny places of my day when I slow down and let it in. When I stop long enough to breathe and let things go the way they will.

I had a long and exhausting parent conference week last week. It was successful, and I tried (for the first time) student-led conferences. They were informative on so many levels. However, the week ended on a sour note with a parent who was very unhappy with me. I felt horrible, almost devastated (but not quite.) My relationships with the families I serve are very important to me, and I take a lot of pride in them. When they go south, which is a rarity, I feel lost and disconnected. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why, and what I could have done differently. I usually vacillate between “It is all their fault and I have done NOTHING wrong,” to “It takes two to tango and you need to step up and take responsibility for your part in the problem.” And then I muddle around in the in-between spaces. For a good part of a day. Or more. This is an energy-sucker.

About those student-led conferences… wow. I don’t think I will ever go back. The first thing I noticed was that I wasn’t so tired each evening, at least not in the way that I usually am after a day of talking and thinking about each student in front of their parents. Because the student had to take the lead, I sat and observed. Beforehand, I created a checklist of some things I wanted them to cover about how our day goes, and then I sat back and let them share. I was present and remembered to breathe. I listened carefully. And I gained a lot of insight.

I now understand that B finds it difficult to speak in sentences because he and his mother chirp at each other, in a short-hand version of speech. This primary relationship reinforces short blurts. No wonder. I watched V have difficulty expressing herself to her mom in many of the same ways she struggles with me. Got it. And I saw the authenticity with which J’s mom listened to her and responded with honesty. Yes, her insightfulness in our classroom is no accident.

I admired the way that so many of my students were very honest about their reading lives. And many of them shared that although they didn’t share a lot in whole group discussions, they would if some of the louder voices could leave some room for the quiet ones. I didn’t realize that, although it sounds obvious. Started working on that this past week. Step up-step back (thanks Janet and Susan!)… softer voices step up, louder ones take a step back. Let’s see how many more we can hear from. It is going to take time, but it was a good start.

The end of this week brought the sour-note-parent and I together again, and it was the polar opposite of our previous encounter. We had a chance to talk and focus on the child and her progress, and it was a beautiful half hour. What changed? I couldn’t tell you. But I think grace was present. It is often about grace, isn’t it?

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Not Alone

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My fourth graders and I just finished reading How to Steal a Dog. What a beautiful book! Earlier in the month we were noticing a pattern where characters keep wishing they are leaving, as in “I wish the earth would just open up and swallow me whole…” And then D said, “But the dad left. He didn’t wish it, he left.”

And we were awestruck. We hadn’t noticed that yet. Every character meets tough times with a buckling down to work or an attempt (however misguided) to fix it. They complain, they say they want to leave,

But they don’t.

But the dad did.

HE gave up.

And earlier still we talked about the importance of the flashback, the memory moment, when Georgina remembers her parents yelling at each other. And we inferred that perhaps her dad left because her parents didn’t get along.

And that opened the flood gates to a rapid-fire eruption of talk… almost half of my students could relate to divorce, two homes, two sets of parents. They had stories of fights. They knew fights.

And then we stopped, and took a breath.

“Mrs. Skubik, can’t we just go back to the book?”

“Of course, but we need to stop here for just a minute. The importance of this is something we have to acknowledge.

WE have just realized that we are not alone. That is one of the best things that books do for us. They help us see that other people share our worries, our fears, and our joys. We are connected to each other. That is a beautiful thing!”

They sort of believed me. Some of them did. Some of them really wanted to find out what happened next! I get that too. But the beautiful moment of recognizing the power of literature, the power of shared experience, the power of not being alone…

Keep reading my friends.
Not alone indeed.

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Thank you Alice

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Time to celebrate! (Read more celebrations here)… how long it has been since I participated in this lovely ritual… says a lot about where my head has been the past two months. The beginning of school is already crazy and busy enough. Helping our school find a new principal when ours left without warning right before the beginning of school has been a pressing and stressful job. But the big body blow has been sending my one and only off to college. Snuffle. Sniff.

But it’s a new day.

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A few weeks ago my husband, daughter and I were shopping for “new-college-clothes” and trying to decide where to grab a quick dinner. We were all tired and hungry and ready to get home. We settled on a CPK in the mall. It wasn’t my choice but I went along. THANK GOODNESS I did!

As soon as we got our table I went to the bathroom to wash up. An older woman was washing her hands while a younger woman was holding her walker, patiently waiting. I almost walked by without looking at her face, but something made me stop and look.

“ALICE TABUCHI!” I blurted out. She looked at me with a little surprise, a little confusion, and for a moment I felt badly, thinking I was going to have to explain who I was to someone who might not be able to remember me. And then she smiled. “Cathy Scott!”

I remember her like it was yesterday. When I first started teaching at 232nd Place Elementary in LAUSD, some 27 years ago, she and two other third grade teachers, Joyce Hayashi and Jean Yoshida, took me under their wings and helped me learn how to fly. I was fully credentialed, had a semester of student teaching under my belt, and yet… I was new. I had no idea what to do. I thought I did, but that first class of second and third graders taught me just how new I was, and how difficult teaching was, and how much I had to learn. Alice, Jean and Joyce, or my three fairy godmothers as I called them, showed up every afternoon, in my class, dropping little hints, propping me up, talking me down. They gave me whatever I needed, every day, without ever asking for anything in return. They weren’t getting paid to be mentors, they just knew what it took to get started and they did it.
I am filled with gratitude when I look back and realize how important they were to my career. What selfless women they were. And they always laughed and had a fun time – they showed me that teaching was an art, a craft, a skill set, and also a sisterhood. They lived that and modeled it perfectly for me.

We lean on each other, we need each other, and in these tense and stressful times – at least in my district where teachers have been under attack for the past few years –  it is the only way we can manage our way through some of the days. My students fill me with wonder and energy, but my colleagues keep me grounded, secure and moving forward. That is something to celebrate indeed.

“It’s Cathy Scott Skubik now, yes! It’s me! Alice, it is so good to see you!” and we hugged. We made our way back to our tables, and for the next half hour we caught up. Alice, Joyce and Jean are all enjoying retirement and grandkids. We promised to keep in touch. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart as I told her just what she meant to me.

Thank you Alice.

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