Writing Time

So here it is Nov. 30. I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo. I always participate. I’ve had clubs time for students to participate. It’s just one of those things I do, but this year has been crazy, so in early September I put the manuscripts away and said writing had to wait. I’m at work until 5 and then the grading and planning starts. I’ve let me job work me instead of me working the job.

I thought taking writing off my plate would make things better. Wrong.

Instead I miss the books and resent the time I’m not spending on the books I love to read and write, romance novels where sex is not a bad word 😉☺️😘, where my villains are evil and sometimes my characters drop effff into their dialogue. I love creating stories about the people that wander through my mind suddenly appearing fully formed and demanding I give them a voice.

I blame Nora or maybe Johanna Lindsey or Debbie Macomber or hundreds of Harlequin authors who have written so many amazing books that I’ve loved reading over the years. I fell in love with romance when I was a kid, and I’ve loved writing it for as long as I’ve written novels for others to read. Those first books I wrote were for my friends. I wrote serialized teen romances in spirals and passed them around to my friends who demanded I write faster.

Not writing didn’t make things better. I might not have been as tired some mornings because writing until 2 a.m. to finish a scene that had to be done hasn’t been part of my life, but the tired I am, the psychological tired of forcing myself not to write, has been a real drag.

Sooooo, I’m done with that. It’s back to the writing world of a self-published romance author. I’ll still write the Sharlene books too. My guardian angel needs to solve her mysteries, but romance will be my focus.

Liz Lee took a break. It was a trial, just to see if maybe first semester would be better if she spent some time on the shelf while Mary Beth Lee worked the day job into the nighttime hours. Bad idea. Lesson learned.

Praying for Paris

Praying for Paris.

Praying for Paris.

I’m sitting here watching the news, and my heart is breaking.

I love Paris. If you’ve followed this blog for long you know that. Paris taught me the power of a dream. How a 14-yr-old girl can imagine sipping coffee and people watching under the Eiffel Tower all the while knowing it will never happen but wanting it so desperately anyway. Taking French in college and dreaming about “one day.” And then actually going for the first time in 2008.

Last summer when we were there Paris felt different. I’m sure the massacre sat there in the back of my mind stalking my thoughts and changing my perceptions the whole time. I still loved Paris, but I was scared.

I don’t understand hate that leads to terror attacks, but I know we can’t let fear control us and we can’t let it lead us to hate. That’s how the terrorists win.

Prayers for Paris.

Grrrr, argh

Sunday was so airy and light

Posting a blog about how you’re going to focus on the positive is like waving a red flag at the universe with the challenge of throw everything you can at me. I refuse to be a B.

And dang it, the universe won.

I forfeit, universe. Forfeit. You win.

I’m going to focus on one freaking minute at a time.

Positivity is a Choice

This sweet girl helps me find the positive to focus on. ❤️❤️❤️

This sweet girl helps me find the positive to focus on. ❤️❤️❤️

I choose my focus.

I choose to focus on the good that surrounds me at my job, at home, in life.

That doesn’t mean I lie to myself or accept things that can be changed or ignore the negatives. It means I will take those things in stride and do what can be done, but I will focus in the positive, on the yes, on what is right.

This is my affirmation. It’s something I’ll have to tell myself again and again. That’s a good thing.

I choose my focus. Every minute, every day. I choose.


No multi-tasking here. DH and I enjoyed the Dallas Stars win last weekend.

No multi-tasking here. DH and I enjoyed the Dallas Stars win last weekend.

Break your list down into chunks and attack it one thing at a time.

I never realized how important teaching this skill was. I mean my editors have lived by the list forever, but other than me saying make a list so you can cross things off of it, I never really thought of this as a learned skill.

And then this year happened.

Last month we assigned newspaper three stories at once. The result: crash and burn. Most of the students tried to do three things at once. They didn’t understand the list, prioritizing, doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is embedded into who they are. They couldn’t turn it off.

Yesterday the same thing happened. Photographers were  given a list of assignments and they got the photos taken but they lost them before they were uploaded. They were doing too many things at once and work had to be redone because of it.

I’ve caught myself doing the same thing. A couple days ago I was at the Y on the elliptical, listening to a book and a CNN story caught my attention. When the reader announced the book was done, my attention snapped back. I had no idea what was in the book, but I can tell you about the electronic music culture, the rave law and how EMTs at music events try to address the drug problem without making it seem like they condone drug usage.

We’re so busy today it seems like multi-tasking is a must, but the quality of work suffers because of it. Sometimes it seems like multi-tasking is a must because our lists are so long.

Multi-tasking while working through a long list only makes a mess.

My editors get this. They’re masters of the list and amazing at delegating.

I think they’re better than I am with this is a lot of ways.

The list is a lesson I’m teaching from now on, and it’s something I’m going to live as well.

This crazy busy world we live in is just too overwhelming without the list. Multi-tasking makes it worse.

Storm clouds on the classroom horizon

stormcloudsExhausted after a crazy deadline, I walked into my house to find my husband watching the news. Instead of the normal, “Hey Babe,” he said, “I guess you heard the news today.”

The dread that hit was hard and fast. I hadn’t seen the news. I turned off my news notifications a year ago after yet another school shooting. I was sure he was going to tell me there’d been anther Sandy Hook.

I was wrong. Instead he told me a story about a girl with a phone in a classroom that ended up with her being tossed across a classroom floor for non-compliance.

By now everyone knows about that incident. If you don’t, feel free to click the link.

When I first heard the story, I’m going to be honest, my immediate response was what the heck? What child thinks it’s okay to ignore and defy the teacher, ignore and defy the principal and then ignore and defy a police officer? And I put the face of some of my defiant students over the years on that kid’s face and thought, man, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could see a kid get put in their place for that kind of behavior.

But then I saw the video.

And then I had a few hours to let that video sink in.

And then I felt real shame for my initial response.

The next morning I heard a great interview on NPR. The sheriff of the town explained that he didn’t believe his officer should have been placed in the situation, but once he was, he should have known better than to lay hands on a non-violent offender. End of story.

I’ve watched the ensuing media coverage of the incident with interest.

I don’t know what was going on in that classroom. I don’t know that school’s disciplinary process.

More than anything I know when you walk into a classroom as a student, you are entering a social contract with the teacher. School is a social contract. Students are choosing to follow the rules, to obey, to take part in their classes.

If they choose not to enter the contract, frustration follows and that frustration can lead to confrontation. And if a confrontation gets ugly enough, we lose the kid. It’s over. They’re done.

I try to act before I lose the kid.

Some kids are lost before they walk in our classrooms. We have to try to change that. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we fail.

I don’t have a clue where that kid on the video falls on the spectrum of discipline issues. Does she have some disorder where the mere suggestion of reprimand sets her off? Was she used to doing whatever she wanted no matter what? Is there a known set of consequences to the students for non-compliant behavior?

Her peers were videoing the incident, obviously with phones. Were other children allowed to have phones while she wasn’t? The list goes on and on and on.

Phones are a problem at school. Even with a lenient phone policy at school, phones are a problem.

Kids want to be on them when they’re done working. Many don’t know how to fill time without their phones. But shoot, how often do you see adults on their phones in church, on dates, at the movies? I’ve seen adults take phone calls in the middle of meetings and TALK while a speaker was presenting. Phones are a problem period.

But phones aren’t the biggest problem in this incident.

I asked my beginning students how many of them have been in a class where a kid decided they weren’t going to comply with the unspoken agreement between the teacher and her class. 100% of them raised their hands.

This is nothing new. Kids have been bucking the system since schools began. But the numbers showing blatant disrespect and defiance are definitely on the rise.

I don’t know what the answer is, really. If I did, I would be a millionaire.

I know the problem is larger than the talking heads are reporting. Defiant and disrespectful students are part of our everyday lives now. We can’t be calling police on them and seeing them tossed across a classroom. We need policies in place that put consequences into play immediately, but those consequences need to be disciplinary SCHOOL consequences.

We can’t be okay with disrespect or defiance from our students, but we can’t be okay with violent responses to non-violent behavior. We just can’t.

Something Unexpected: The Power of I WANT

I don't have all my photos from this trip on my computer. That is so weird. But I have this one. <3

I don’t have all my photos from this trip on my computer. That is so weird. But I have this one. <3

When I was a high school freshman, my French teacher had us write down an I Want list.

Back then I lived in books. I saw the world in books. I conquered evil through books, found magic in books, played make believe in books.

And more than anything my books helped me know I wanted to go to Paris one day.

Back then me going to France was as probable as me playing for a state winning sports team. If you’ve ever seen me walk and talk at the same time, you’ll understand that.

Still, my teacher told us to write the I Want down even if the I want was impossible. I don’t know if she knew it, but way back then she was teaching me the power of releasing something to the universe. I released that dream to the universe, along with a ton of others, then got back to the business of being a kid.

Life happened.

And suddenly it was 2008 and the summer after my daughter’s graduation I took a group of students on a tour to….

Yep. Paris.

I remember walking out of the train station and staring in wonder at the beauty that was this city often considered the most magical place on earth and drinking in the flowers on balconies and the coffee shops and the Parisians. It was all so unreal and beautiful and amazing. But it didn’t really hit me until the next day when our group walked into Notre Dame.

I stood outside those gorgeous doors in awe of this sacred place that had become a tourist destination and grumpily wondered why it was so hot and smelly. Seriously. The place was crazy with traffic and kids were running all over the place screaming and I was hungry and those stupid cobblestones were a pain in every part of my feet. The birds, God, the birds. They were so gross. And people smoke in Paris worse than they do in the Oklahoma casinos.

I mean I said all the right words. “Cool.” “Wow!” “I can’t believe we’re here!”

But they were a front for what I was really feeling, which isn’t appropriate for this conversation.

But then we walked inside and everything changed.

Walking through the doors into the Notre Dame everything changed. The hair on my arm stood on end as I entered this place that is still holy even though tourists visit in droves. I looked at those arches and those statues and those candles and the floor and the rose window, the glass…truly breath taking. Tears filled my eyes and I was so thankful. Thankful to God, thankful to my daughter and her friends and my mother-in-law who was there with me. Thankful to my friends and fellow teachers who were there.

I remembered that kid sitting in French class in Burkburnett, Texas writing down I want to go to Paris on a list of impossibilites. And with that, I lost it. I boo hoo’d like a baby. Tears streamed down my face, and I’m pretty sure I embarrassed my mother-in-law.

I don’t think I understood the power of the I Want list, even then. But over the last few years of studying The Success Principles and The Artist’s Way and The Secret and the bible, I’ve learned our words have incredible power for good or bad. When we release them to the universe, the universe will answer. Even if we don’t really believe that.

So yeah. The lessons I spent twenty forevers building for week one dealt with goal setting, visualization and affirmation. We hit goal setting hard and talked briefly about affirmation and maybe, maybe, two kids wrote affirmations.

But the I want list was a big star of the show because some of last year’s kids still had their’s and they were able to say, “Hey, I crossed some of my I wants off my list since last January.”

I was able to say I crossed five off my list.

And even if the newbies didn’t believe in the power of an I Want list, they were, for the most part, willing to give it  try.

I understand the reluctant ones. God, I understand them. The disbelief in the supposed truth that anything is possible. Life makes it easy to NOT believe sometimes. And it’s not like you can wiggle your nose and WHAM, the I want happens. You have to work. YOU have to work hella hard sometimes.

But when you put that I want on paper, you have a destination. You know where you want to go. Now you just have to figure out the right way to get there.

That’s what we did last week.

We looked at where we want to get personally and with the different staffs. This week we’re figuring out how to get there.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ickiness on the road to a goal. The pain and heartache and no’s and failures and drama and conflict and testing and interruptions and the news and cell phones and PDAS and all that jazz. But I hope starting with this will help us all work together to start every day with a destination in mind. I know it will help me embrace the journey.

A Failed Experiment

child's storyWhen I stand up at the front of my intro class and tell them they’re not getting regular grades on their writing, they look worried. When I show them the revision system, they freak out a little more.

If I put a grade on a kid’s paper, they’re done. But I don’t put grades on the papers. I use check plus, meets all objectives; check, meets most objectives needs correction; check minus, needs revision; X, needs tutorial session because there’s a complete disconnect with what’s supposed to happen and what happened.

Students must revise until they reach a check plus.

I usually end up with a lot of As in my intro class because of the system. They do until they do it right.

Last semester I added a new component to the system. I required the students to use Google Drive to create documents and turn them in. It seemed like a no-brianer. Moving to paperless was a responsible decision, students wouldn’t lose their work, we met in a computer lab so technology wasn’t a problem. Yay Google Drive.

Enter the real world of constant connection. Two big things happened. One, students were easily distracted by the Internet. That’s relatively easy to address, but it required constant supervision. If that were the only problem, I wouldn’t be revamping for this year.

The biggest problem I found was kids did not respond to Google edit comments the way they do to written comments. I thought they would love edit comments. No more worrying about my handwriting because the comments were typed. No more forgetting to address an issue because the issue is clearly marked on the paper.

What I found was students did not respond the same to edits on screen as they did to edits they can touch. They did not respond to my words as something I clearly took time to work on. Even when I added notes to the bottom of the page and did individual conferencing after each writing assignment, the process felt cold.

In the end, last semester’s intro class did not perform to the level of past classes, and I worked a LOT harder.

I’m going to use Google Drive again this semester. But instead of having them turn the story in there, I’m going to have them print the story and I’ll comment the old fashioned way. I’ll still have them share their stories with me while they’re in the creative stage, though, because I can see the work in progress. The class will help come up with consequences for Internet distraction.

I thought about throwing Google Drive out for the intro class, but I don’t think that’s the right answer. It didn’t work, but instead of tossing it, I’m adjusting the system. Students NEED to understand Drive. It’s part of the world we live in today. They NEED to know how to work on the computer without getting distracted (Shoot, I NEED to learn this!).

We’ll see how it works. :)

It’s going to be a GREAT year!

DGD Makes An Appearance

It happened. Actually it happened quite a while back now. I’m a grandma, and I finally understand all the talk about how amazing and wonderful that miraculous journey is.

People have always told me nothing beats being a grandma. Now I know it’s true. For future reference on the blog this will be DGD (Darling grand daughter). You can see from the photos that we’re kind of in love with this sweetie.


Thank You: Teacher Appreciation Week

apple-256262_640Teacher Appreciation Week means it’s time to say thank you.

There’s no way I can say thank you to all the teachers who’ve impacted my life, but I want to at least point out a few.

Mrs. Tagee from Valley View Elementary. It’s crazy to think back to the lost little kid I was when I moved to Columbia Heights, Minnesota. I don’t remember a lot from those days, but I do remember not reading and how desperately I wanted that to change. Mrs. Tagee helped that wish come true.

Anne Gillespie from Burkburnett High School. Mrs. Gillespie crushed my dreams when she told me I couldn’t be in yearbook. Thank God for that because instead she helped me fall in love with journalism, advising and all things UIL. She changed my life, and I can never say thank you enough for that.

Dr. Thomas Hoffman from Midwestern State University. Dr. Hoffman made me believe in me. He helped me believe in my words and my ability to excel academically. He encouraged me to continue with my education when I finished my BA, and he didn’t laugh at me when I freaked out at that first paper I had to write while pursuing my MA. I’m not sure if I’d still be writing today without Dr. Hoffman’s encouragement and support.

Sandra Scheller, Rider High School. I met Sandra during my first semester working toward my teaching certificate. She taught journalism at Rider, and she was willing to let me observe her class. From the moment she informed those kids I was her probation officer to the last few months while I’ve watched her prove she is one of the strongest women I know, Sandra has been a true inspiration. She leads her classes with laughter and gentle guidance, and her students know she truly appreciates them. She makes connections that last a lifetime, and I’m proud to call her a colleague and a friend.

Sheila Curlin, Birdville ISD, (but still a Raider). I’m not even sure how Sheila and I first became friends. I think it might have been fashion/shoe envy on my part. Sheila has always inspired me to be a better teacher. We spend hours talking about education and actually enjoying those discussions. One of my first critique partners, Sheila constructively criticized my fiction and called me out when I took shortcuts with it. Sheila helped mold me into the writer I am, the teacher I am, the person I am today. When we see each other now, it’s as if we are still right down the hall from each other. I miss her, but she’s just a phone call away. :)

Debbie Begley, Keller ISD, (but still a Raider). I suffer from a serious issue: I’m a shy extrovert. I desperately want to talk, but I’m terrified to do so. For years I wanted to be an education advocate, but that meant actually talking in front of my peers. It took a few years, but Debbie gave me my voice. I’m not sure she even knows that. With her constant encouragement I finally spoke up at a faculty meeting. Since then I’ve spoken at board meetings, marched in Austin, spoken at local rallies and Lord Help, if you ask me a question about education reform. Thank you, Debbie, for helping me claim that dream. I hope to do more with it, and every time I speak, I will say, Debbie Begley helped make this happen.

Scotty Coppage, Rider. How incredibly cool is it that one of my former students now teaches with me?! But that’s not why Scotty is on this list. Scotty is an incredible teacher who challenges me to be better and do more. He teaches from the heart and runs his classroom the same way. But even that isn’t why Scotty is on this list. Scotty’s on this list because when he came into my classroom all those years ago and asked me if I was still writing and I said, well, I’ve been kind of busy and not really, instead of letting that stand he asked if I wanted to workshop The Artist’s Way with him that summer. That summer I learned Scotty was more than an incredible teacher and writer. He was Rock Star. That summer changed my life. I was miserable when I wasn’t writing. Scotty helped give that back to me. He didn’t have to do that, but I’m incredibly thankful he did!

Nikki Looper, Burleson Centennial (but still a Raider). Nikki was the first teacher I ever mentored. I’m not sure why they had me mentor her that year. I think it was because I was across the hall from her. Since that time (a million years ago!), Nikki has challenged me to be a better teacher time and time again. I don’t see Nikki often, but I did at the last UIL Regional meet in Lubbock. Once again she spoke truth about education. Life changing truth. She helped me remember that comfortable isn’t a good thing when it comes to teaching. Those years we worked together changed me as an educator, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.

There are so many others I should mention. Jan Adams, my cooperating teacher who was here for two years and then moved back to Arkansas, helped me understand the power of revision and how simply doing the work and giving it a grade wasn’t enough. Mrs. Bo who made English fun. My eighth grade English teacher–I cannot remember her name and that is awful!–she taught us step by step how to do a real research paper and refused to let us write a word without a complete outline. I used those lessons from then through my MA, and I use those research lessons when I’m writing today. She also told us not to get rid of our favorite clothes when they went out of style because style was cyclical. She was so right. Mr. Brown who told me every day that I could do math, I was just afraid of it. He showed me the power of encouragement and believing you can. It took me several years to understand that lesson. Rhonda Arnold who made me see the importance of loving your school not just working there.

Looking back, I could go on and on and on with this post, the first I’ve written in months, but at some point it has to end. I know I’ve left names off this list that should be here, but I need to push publish. :)

The one thing I see again and again in these names is that these teachers changed my life. Teachers hold so much power in their hands. Yes, teaching is a job, but it is so much more than that. I need to remember that every time I walk into the classroom. <3