Who’s Driving Your Train? Why?

My absolute favorite piece of music of all time is Buddy Morrow’s “Night Train”. It’s an iconic piece of jazz genius that pulls me into my FLOW from the first measure. I lose track of everything else almost immediately. My body starts to sway with the rocking rhythm and when the cadre of horns, led by Morrow’s smooth trombone, comes rolling through I am ON THAT TRAIN (Minute 14:25 on the Mercury recording 1959 – but the whole album is an incredible experience.) When it comes squealing to a stop, I feel like I have traveled outside of myself and really gone somewhere. If you get a chance to treat yourself just once today, give it a listen.

Many important train metaphors are embedded in my identity.  One of my first memories is of riding the Georgetown Loop with my amazing grandmother, whom I admire for her convictions as much as her compassion. Reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time at the impressionable age of 19 left indelible images and deep connections to the metaphor of trains, the motors that propel them, and the kind of people that make them possible.  Living mere blocks away from train tracks these days gives me a daily dose of the sounds of forward momentum and continuous journey.

Recently the train metaphor has become really important for me in another way. I happened to need a writing surface last night and I pulled a copy of The Polar Express off my bookshelf. I used it as a surface to pen my first goals for my new business endeavor. Only after sitting down to visualize my objectives and put my goals on paper did I really notice which book was supporting my work.

I joined Rodan + Fields yesterday as a consultant. And I’ve got a ticket to ride the train. Check it out – it’s a golden ticket! 

I thought it was perfect that I had chosen, inadvertently, The Polar Express. It is a perennial family favorite since my boy was little, representing sacred time with my family. It is filled with beautiful artistry, a message about the possibility of magic that lies beyond serendipity, and some deep questions about what kind of grown-up it takes to have faith and take risks.

Don’t get me wrong: if I didn’t BELIEVE in Rodan + Fields and the quality of their products after trying them for a year, I would not have gotten on the train. Res ipsa loquitor: the products speak for themselves. But just having a great product is not really the only reason I am joining this company.

Rodan + Fields puts me on a track and gives me a ticket to go do the thing I think I might not be able to do, and I do love a challenge. The support network is impressive. It means meeting new people, and learning about their personal journeys along the way. It means I will grow new areas of expertise and be able to help others. It is an investment in the health of my skin, the health of my family, and the health of my social network. And those are my WHYs.

I hope the train metaphor will continue to inspire me to stay diligent and focused on the sunset on my horizon, give a rhythm to my forward momentum, and remind me  to sound the horn loud and proud.

P.S. Thanks for supporting my WordPress blog here as Tarbox’s Curious World of Teaching. For those people following, please know that this blog is probably going to deviate from its original purpose, and become less focused on the nuances of teaching, and more focused on wellness in general. Teaching middle school will always be part of my human lens, but the focus of the blog is changing a bit. I am going to promote Rodan + Fields, so if that’s not your interest, no hard feelings if you stop following. I’m also considering changing the name of the page soon to better reflect the audience I hope to cultivate. I hope is still has things to offer you as a reader and I hope you stick with me for at least a part of the voyage.






Liminal spaces

Is there anyone else out there who checks their horoscope daily? I am going to admit that as a scientist, I consider this topic a personal conundrum. I am obsessive about reading my daily and monthly horoscope but admit there is no rational reason for me to do so. I have settled on a couple of sources because I like the language they use, but admit that one is really as accurate as another. I actually even go back and read the horoscopes from the previous days in the week just to confirm that it was all nonsense anyway. But I keep right on reading them each day.

Today, instead of thinking about all the stupid and awful, news (or fake news) headlines, I checked my horoscope and learned a new word. And it got me thinking.

Yahoo’s Lifestyle horoscope for Aires (for tomorrow, July 11th) includes this advice: “The liminal area is where all breakthroughs occur. For maximum results, stay on the razors edge.” I had to look it up because I’m looking for breakthroughs as I start my new business.

“In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.” This is the definition that Google pulled up for me from Wikipedia. And as you know if you are a teacher, you NEVER stop at Wikipedia for your research. But when I went further, I found affirmations of this basic definition, as well as a few interesting resources.

I found a blog called Cognitive Edge, and the writer, Dave Snowden, says that “one of the things that makes is human is the ability to remember the past and imagine the future so it is all part of the rich tapestry of life.” I feel better about obsessing about yesterday’s and tomorrow’s horoscopes after reading this.

Liminality is defined in may spheres: medicine, sociology, relationships, etc. I also found a couple of perspectives on more global and social movements and the idea that liminality is a defining feature of where we are as Americans as we struggle to define our common values. All the social movements, shifting paradigms, generational comparisons, and political upheavals seem to affirm that we are living in liminal space. Astrologically speaking, we are at the dawn of the age of Aquarius, which really is a liminal space, too!

All of this is very interesting, and I had to stop myself from going down the rabbit hole and reading all afternoon about each of the facets of this incredible new term so I could actually make my goal of writing words today.

I’ve just joined on as a Rodan + Fields consultant and am absorbing training videos and working with my sponsor every spare moment to transition and explore the business. I definitely feel like I am in the midst of a rite of passage as I work through being a “newbie”. I’ve been so impressed with the trainings and the way Rodan and Fields embraces this liminal space when on-boarding new consultants. So, should you also be thinking about how Rodan + Fields might support your goals of entrepreneurship, be assured that there is a special place for us “newbies”.

Built into the business is an expectation that we need not be experts right away, a tangible sense that we are responsible for helping others travel through this liminal space, and that this journey is transformative. It’s a good space to occupy.

My last connection for today happens to be to the tarot card I pulled today (favorite website is Llewellyn.com) was the Wheel. Now the card doesn’t need much explanation – what goes around comes around. It applies to a lot of things in life. But it’s great to remember that the spin of the wheel is easier to handle the closer you stand to the center. So as I ride this new wheel I’m trying to stay close to the hub, and that’s a good R+F lesson, too. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, just ride along, but try to stay centered.











The “State of Colorado v.s. Public School Teachers”

I am a teacher. This Sunday evening, instead of grading essays, I am reflecting on the “State of Colorado v.s. Public School Teachers”, also known as SB18-264 in the Colorado General Assembly.

The prime sponsors of this legislation are Senator Bob Gardner and Representative Paul Lundeen, both representing El Paso County. I’ll provide their contact information at the end of my reflection, in case you want to get in touch with them on your own.

I am saddened, but not surprised, that a minority are voicing ugly comments on newspaper websites and in chatrooms and on social media sites, like Twitter. These platforms are always a stage for righteous indignation, with or without facts and evidence. A passionate subject like Education is bound to draw out these voices. Consequently, my shock over these sentiments is minimal.

However, I am shocked, grief-stricken, and nauseous over the thought that Legislators in the Colorado General assembly are proposing felony charges, jail terms, massive fines, or both for public school teachers who “directly or indirectly induce, instigate, encourage, authorize, ratify, or participate in a strike against any public school employer”.

This is a slippery slope of perspectives, classist at best fascist at worst, on serious endemic problems that deserve Colorado’s most brilliant minds. We face a teacher shortage of troubling proportions. “An analysis of Colorado’s teacher shortage areas reveals problems resulting from a decline in interest (enrollment and completion in educator preparation programs), retention of existing teachers, and retirement of veteran teachers that has lead our state to recruit 50 percent of our educators from out-of-state (Colorado Department of Education, 2017).” *

We face a wave of violence in our schools that has persisted for more than two decades and become part of my normal understanding of what it is to teach in a classroom. After years of Legislative inaction, students on the other side of the trigger finally threw up their hands and screamed, “ENOUGH”.

They were heard. They are still being heard. Now teachers, hearing a call to action tied to legislation that affects their today and their tomorrow, are receiving ridicule, venom, and retaliation. There are many who deeply disrespect and distrust education in principle.

Teachers, who have now endured for years the snide, backhanded comments from people who grossly misunderstand the profession are facing a serious threat to dignity, livelihood, and freedom.

No matter your opinion on the challenges of our state pension, PERA, or on the relative arguments for and against active shooter drills, or whether it is better to have a bucket of rocks or a table barricade when the shooter arrives, or the myriad debates that envelop Education, you should throw down the gauntlet against SB18-264.

Colorado’s education system needs brilliant minds to help analyze the dangerous slope we are perched upon. Please use your most critical thinking to carefully comb over this proposed legislation. Solicit every opinion you can get from every stakeholder you can find. Make a point to really listen to every perspective. If the Colorado Legislature shuts off Colorado Public School Teachers’ voices, takes away their right to protest, and makes criminals out of them, our education system will sustain damage, possibly beyond repair. The people who know the most about the challenges of teaching in Colorado will be muzzled.

Silencing teachers who choose to express their professional opinions on the problems and solutions of this complex puzzle will collapse our system. I can guarantee, for one, I will leave the profession and actively advocate for everyone I know to avoid the public education as one avoids known poison. I won’t wait to be blighted and branded as a criminal in defense of my career. I have had dozens of such conversations with colleagues in this school year. I am not alone in these sentiments.

The sacrifices Teachers make every day, in capital, energy, and respect, are substantial. If you doubt it, please come spend a week in my classroom. I guarantee you will add to the depth of your experience in ways that will surprise you.

The daily derision, the jokes with lame punchlines, the ignorant comments, are all easy to brush off, but this assault on the rights of the public school Teachers of Colorado is impossible to ignore. I hope I am able to persuade you that your position on SB18-264 matters today, and it matters long into the future. It matters for teachers. It matters for students. It matters for the future economy and stability of Colorado.

If you care to embrace the challenges of public education and serve the families of Colorado with integrity and tenacity, I welcome your partnership. It takes a team. If you choose to accept this proposal without a fair examination of every possible consequence, then you have no business participating in the discussion. Consider your position on this issue carefully.

So, now to make myself extremely clear, before it is illegal for me to do so, THANK you to Dr. Gledich, for closing District 11 next Friday. Thank you fellow teachers. I SUPPORT, ENCOURAGE, and RATIFY your choice to speak loudly, clearly, and forcefully in defense of Colorado’s present and future. Way to go!

Jennifer Tarbox, D11 Teacher

  • Senator Bob Gardner (R.) District 12, El Paso County
    • bob.gardner.senate@state.co.us
    • (303)-866-4880
  • Representative Paul Lundeen, (R.) District 19, El Paso County
    • paul.lundeen.house@state.co.us
    • (303) 866-2924


Thanksgiving Thanksgaming

Vacations take on a predictable rhythm when you work in a school. If you are on the teaching calendar, those intermittent breaks in the all consuming flurry of busy classrooms are like the eye of the hurricane. School months begin with a fervor in August and September, then grind like a granite stone pulverizing wheat in October. Some lucky teachers might get a fall break of some sort, but by November, all teachers are tired. Many are ill.

Over Thanksgiving I appreciate the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate. I made sure my major assignments were complete. I was almost healthy going in to the break; that awful virus that ravaged my entire school continues to hold on.

Nonetheless, I almost always enjoy Thanksgiving. One of my favorite things about this time of year is games. Actually, playing games over a break is a big part of a successful recharge for me.

I grew up in a bridge family. My grandparents, who lived next-door, were weekly players. They sometimes had 8 people playing. My mother was happy to jump in but my dad, less likely. My brother and I were responsible for refilling the peanuts and emptying the ashtrays at the corners of the tables. There were always lots of funny stories to overhear shared by intimate family friends. The atmosphere was charming and fun to be around. A bridge day was usually fun.

While the adults played the afternoon away, we were mostly expected to stay out from underfoot and to not interrupt too often. Grandma and Grandpa had this amazing drawer full of candy and a seemingly endless supply of Dr. Pepper and Squirt. We were perfectly content occasionally pilfering peanuts and mostly retreating to the front hallway where we played our games and ate candy. (Maybe this is why bridge days were fun.)

I never learned to play bridge but I did play cribbage, backgammon, and dominoes. Sometimes while the adults played, we would just build big mazes and flimsy structures out of cards. Their cream carpet had enough texture to hold a foundation to really sink a card in. And there was an entire drawer full of decks of cards. Our creations were expansive.

Dominoes were played to 500 or 1000. We had more fun counting than we did knocking them over. I remember playing with tangrams and recently, I was reminded of a game called Emergency! that I played with almost every time I visited. It was this awesome game, based on a goofy t.v. show, where competing Emergency responders saved people around the city.

More recently, my gaming has evolved. I’m adept with an xbox controller. I can Sonic Race with the best. My favorite relaxing mindless pursuits are Angry Birds and Lego games. I love knocking over ugly pigs and smashing things to get millions of shiny coins.

My favorites are not video games, however. I am a board game lover. It is a welcome challenge to give my 8 year old the experience of playing games that don’t require a screen. Some days it’s difficult to convince him to disconnect in order to connect. But it is always worth the effort….unless we play Monopoly….which he always wins in demoralizing fashion.

Our favorite classic games at home are backgammon, chess,  Battleship, Connect 4, Trouble, and Scrabble. They all get played at least once over a holiday break. Our favorite esoteric games are King of Tokyo and and the Mad Magazine game (which is actually ridiculously fun). The most unusual game we own happens to be…the Tick. Based on the beloved cult classic animated show, it is the most confusing game I ever tried to play. We’ve moved it between four houses, even though we never play. I can’t bear to part with it because it is so weird and colorful!

Of course, we also try to play outside games over the holidays, when the weather allows. Recently we’ve enjoyed tennis, frisbee, and football. Unfortunately, we decided yesterday the conditions were poor for kite flying, as the gusts were unpredictable. They would have torn our bat kite apart.

Typically, my brother and I play cribbage whenever we see each other. A couple of times per year I teach a student to play cribbage, in hope of keeping the game alive. I hear it is very popular in parts of the world beyond the United States, but I rarely run into other people who play. I learned to play when I was 4 years old. My grandmother taught me, like she taught my father, and my brother. I learned to count playing cribbage and it is inexorably tied to memories of my grandparents.

As we come in to Thanksgiving, I’m really looking forward to even more games with my family. And the best part is that the Winter Break is right around the corner. Happily, this means all the puzzles in the house can be assembled soon, because the big table will be unavailable this Thursday for puzzles.



Put it in the bank account for later

I haven’t had the mental facilities to complete many sentences since students returned two weeks ago. I am beginning to find time and words again. If you work in a school……

For those of you who have ever had a burning curiosity to know what it actually feels like to experience the first weeks of school, it feels a little bit like this for me. ( I encourage all you school friends, chime in if you have any good metaphors or similes!)

The first two weeks of school are like –

  • wearing an egg beater for a hat. By the time you get home your brain is scrambled.
  • living only in your short term memory. There is so little time to reflect that before 30 seconds is up I typically have heard 3 more conversations and at least that many questions. Moving information from short to long term memory gets hard!
  • taking a trip to a very noisy desert – I am turning into a prune because I can’t get enough water.

I am a whirling dervish waiting for the copier to spit out the papers I swear I pushed the button before coming all the way down here to wait but perhaps I should go back to my room and push print again I might as well stay but they aren’t here yet so I will turn and go all the way back but wait, was that the copier I heard coming to life?

Teaching forges a spiritual bond between people – there comes a point that you will see a fellow colleague across the hall or across the table and you will share the exhausted, empty stare that confirms their brain can’t process any more information either and both of you will instantly know that neither of you is actually conscious on this plane of existence but somehow you occupy the same alternate dimension.

These metaphors have been fun and I am excited to hear others! I love to write and it is such a pleasure to find my words again.

I love to share my love of writing with others, too. I have to be careful sharing my enthusiastic bias with kids because I forget that writing is NOT something some of them enjoy. In fact, some of them “DON’T LIKE” to write at all. I was vehemently reminded as such today while trying to get a paragraph out of my students.

  • The first two weeks of school are like being a dentist. You know that sentence is ready to come out but you have to wrap a string around it and pull really hard when they least expect it to get it to pop out. But then you get to be the Tooth Fairy and give students a reward (that is valuable to them but hopefully doesn’t break your bank).

I got to be the Tooth Fairy today. Today a kid, who showed me on day 3 that writing was really hard for him, pulled that metaphorical paragraph tooth all by himself. He worked so hard to make that paragraph appear! He, of his own volition, gave up 7 extra minutes of recess while his classmates played ultimate tag and pulled that paragraph out of his head, without my string! I was so proud of him!

When I called home this afternoon, his mother answered with the hesitant hello of typical of someone who is accustomed to getting fierce conversations about their boy at the end of the school day. She was surprised that all I wanted to say was how proud I was of her kid who has such a difficult time writing (or sitting still or not using scissors for strange tasks). I am going to confidently predict that kid is going to show me his very best writing on the beginning of year assessment tomorrow.

And that brings me, rambling, to this week’s best bit of advice for teachers.

Don’t forget, early in the year, to call the parents of your hardest kids (you know who they are going to be by now) and put a little in the bank for later. Really see their kid for the child that they can be and want to be and praise them genuinely to their parents. Later, you are going to have some hard conversations with these parents and they will remember that from the start you knew exactly what their kid has inside them to be amazing.

It is money in the bank for later; you are really going to need that parent’s support and expertise when that same kid is making you feel confused, frustrated, insane, or (fill in the blank). Instead of questioning the choices that brought you to this crazy profession, you’ll be able to draw on that resource you planted in September and harvest a positive outcome for a gummy situation.

I promise that it will pay off with interest if you just think about those kids now and make an effort, before the week is out, to make the investment.

What keeps me up at night

One of the most challenging aspects of going back to school is readjusting my sleep routine. I assume most people can relate to that. Summer nights are Colorado’s nectar. And binge watching adult television is a luxury that happens after my young son goes to bed, throughout the year but especially in the Summer. I love catching up on all the superheroes, dystopian drama, and mystery shows I missed last fall while drafting emails, cross checking standards in my lesson plans, or crunching data.

Going from having so little empty time during school (like 5 minutes to eat while standing- yeah, that’s a real thing), to so much empty time in June can leave my brain feeling clunky. By the time August rolls around I usually have managed to slip comfortably into a routine that certainly does not include going to bed before Midnight or waking up at 5 a.m.

So here we are. It’s August. I have just completed my first week back to school and I am tired. I haven’t done a lot except attend meetings and bond with the new staff. I’m not so tired because I can’t handle the rigor of the day, yet. It’s just hard readjusting my sleep schedule. I don’t really want to be awake before dawn or go to bed at a reasonable hour.

So, what keeps me up at night this time of year? Until utter exhaustion and routine kick in sometime in October, it might be thinking about a kid’s anxiety over seating. Ruminating over a kid who I suspect knows more but won’t show it to me, no matter how nice I am will probably keep me awake.  Pondering how to group kids for a challenging activity so they don’t melt down definitely keeps me awake.

And this brings me to my inspiration for today’s blog. It’s Sunday morning and I was reading the news and came across another story of Senator Cory Booker inviting conversations on the U.S. Capitol steps and live streaming the events. What I think of Booker’s politics aside, I admire his efforts to bring respectful discourse to more Americans. I watch the enthusiasm of the audiences his impromptu meetings attract and get all weak in the knees when those audience participants become leaders of the discourse as the live stream rolls on after the career politicians go back to their offices.

Let’s be clear – I don’t talk politics in depth with most people and never my students. As a teacher, I must maintain very clear boundaries and objectivity in many situations.

I definitely teach American Civics, forms of government, and the historical context of our current political climate, but my personal politics have no place in the classroom. That can be a very difficult thing to navigate. Last year was an election year. The student conversations around politics were fascinating ( I teach middle schoolers). Most students don’t yet have the tools to practice respectful discourse and they tend to mirror their parents’ views. This August, keeping me up at night is a determined brain wanting to encourage skilled discussion and mutual respect for broad perspectives in my classroom.

This year will provide fertile ground for debate if today’s news headlines are an indication. I hope I am skilled enough to guide their conversations to be productive and respectful. I have a couple of go-to resources that I really love using.

A Socratic seminar is typically an excellent tool when implemented skillfully. It provides a structure that is predictable and layered in its complexity, requires participation from students who are not speaking, and can be used when talking about ANY topic where someone has an opinion to share.

Another great tool is respectful discourse sentence stems. I have them available from the first day on the bulletin board or students have them in their hands when we use discussion as a learning platform. When kids don’t know what respectful debate sounds like, they don’t independently generate it in their own interactions. It really is like Lord of the Flies teaching in a class where respectful discourse has failed and toxic conversations are the norm.

Hats off to Senator Booker for seeking to invite discourse on our nation’s toughest issues. Hats off to the people encouraging the healthy debate of complex perspectives and for doing it on the Capitol steps. I would encourage those who disagree with Senator Booker to join the debate instead of deriding it. Live streaming these conversations allows the millions of teachers going back to school rich primary sources to share with kids on how adherence to respectful discourse advances, not only our representative government but productive society as a whole.

It is typical that as adults we typically seek the company of people who believe the things we believe and who value our values. As we return kids to classrooms where they have the unparalleled advantage of sitting in rooms with broad perspectives and backgrounds, let us dedicate ourselves, as teachers and parents, to a little bit of lost sleep over how to encourage them to hear all sides of an issue, vigorously defend their viewpoints, and incorporate each other’s perspectives into their growing understanding of themselves.





The School Supply Blues

Shopping for school supplies is a ritual that some meet with excitement and others dread. No doubt about it, it is packed with emotions. There is the pure overwhelming joy that a 7-year old might feel about sparkly folders covered in Bulldogs wearing sunglasses. There is the calm repose of a parent deciding which supplies to leave off the list, for now, because providing a healthy meal for this weekend is more important. There is the absolute frustration of a parent whose kid tells them, “We don’t even use those things at school!”

I fall somewhere in between, being a parent of a kid who is obsessed with combination locks and tape dispensers and being a teacher who really gets happy tingles when I see a deal on bulk composition books in rainbow colors.

Recently a friend was shopping for school items and overheard some parents complaining about having to buy so many supplies. They lashed out at teachers for asking so much. They expressed indignance at buying supplies they assumed other children would use. Their kids heard them complain as they filled their carts. My friend was understandably upset. Her cart was full of items for other people’s kids, being an Administrator without kids of her own. A debate ensued on social media about what kind of life lessons were embedded in this experience for all involved. All of these perspectives have value and a foundation in reality but they really all boil down to the concept of trust.

I get it – in today’s political and social climate, it is very hard to have trust for people we do not know well. There are important implications for trusting people. It makes us feel vulnerable and protective when we put our trust in people, and sometimes it doesn’t work out for the best.

I never quite understood how much a parent has to go through when they drop their kids off at school until I had a child of my own. They are trusting us with their most precious nonrenewable resource. They will have fewer opportunities each day to speak to or hug their child than an almost complete stranger. We are asking a lot of parents to put aside their protective natures and trust us, from the first day we meet.

I have been so fortunate to have my son at the same school where I teach. I can feel a visceral clench when I think about how hard it would be for me if I did not have that luxury. As he gets older I know I will look back on these elementary days and be so grateful I had him close. I know where my child is at every moment of the day. I have confidence in my colleagues because I am confident in their training and their intentions.

I can stop by his room for a quick hug and there is almost a daily opportunity to wave across the hallway as we pass each other in transition. I can walk him to his classroom door instead of kicking him out of the car at the curb. I can meet him in the nurse’s office if he is hurt and hold the iced sponge to his injury and celebrate with him when he decides he’s okay to return to class.

To each and every parent who will trust me with their child this year, I promise I am here to do my very best for them. I will gladly make sure they know someone cares for them if they fall. I will tell them I believe they are capable until they feel more confident. I will hug them if they need a hug. I will cry with them if they need to cry. I will wave at them in the hallway and smile back when they smile. I know your trust is a priceless gift. I can count on one hand the number of teachers I’ve worked with who didn’t share this feeling.

But trust goes both ways. If you can trust that your child really does need 5 different colors of composition books and a boatload of pre-sharpened pencils, then I can promise you I intend for your kid to use every supply we’ve asked them to bring.

If you trust me enough to talk to me about the difficulty you might have in providing everything on the list, I promise I will make sure your kid gets what they need without passing any judgment. Every day – even in March – if I have to go walk the halls and scrounge for pencils in forgotten corners, I will make sure your kid has what they need. If I can’t find it, I will ask someone else to help me provide it.

If you trust me enough to keep your kids safe through tornadoes and floods, traffic or teasing, you can certainly trust me to create a school supply list that is intentional and necessary.

I am not suggesting that school supply lists should be accepted without question. If I don’t understand the need for something I am reluctant to spend my grocery money on it. But please, don’t complain about it in front of your kids while standing in line at Target. Don’t buy that supply that is making your wallet hurt or your forehead crease.

Trust that when you come to school on the first day you can ask me why something is necessary and seek justification and I won’t get upset. Show your kids that not only do they have the right and responsibility to question the status quo, but they have more power to change situations when they stop complaining and seek communication.

Choose to show your kids how navigating hard financial choices can be easier if we see each other as partners. Instead of grumbling out loud to your kids, stifle your frustrations, put the supplies back you can’t afford, and talk to me about what you need or ask me why something is necessary.

Don’t let shopping for school supplies taint your trust before we even have a chance to work together. Choose to show your kids how making hard choices can be easier if we see ourselves as partners and we seek to build trust in the big things instead of tearing it down over the little things.




Oh, snap! I haven’t cleaned the baseboards yet!

I am making a list of all the things I think might be possible and are probably necessary before summer break is over and I return to my classroom. I mentally cataloged all the little things that are so wonderful in the summer that tend to not happen during the school year. I get a little nostalgic as July comes to an end. Here’s what I love and will miss most about summer.

  1. My kid is the most important kid in my life.  Spouses and children of teachers reap excellent benefits and make countless sacrifices. People ask me why I chose to only have one child and the very real answer is that for 10 months out of the year, other people’s children get much more of my attention than my own. I am helping to raise hundreds of other people’s children and in the summer it is so easy to make my son the center of my attention. In a week I will begin strategically planning my days so he gets at least an hour of my undivided attention and we get to read together before bed.
  2. I get to make breakfast for my husband. Summer is a wonderful chance to make sure my best friend eats a great breakfast. I’ve always been much more of a brunch lover than a breakfast eater and summer allows us to share many more meals together. During the school year, I am usually out the door before 7 a.m. and often on a sparsely fed stomach. I have time to make sure my kid gets breakfast before we go, but I miss the satisfaction of everyone eating breakfast together.
  3. I read guilt-free for fun. When you work 60 hours per week (and I usually do), it is so hard not to pick up a novel or a “cheeseburger book” instead of grading essays or math tests. During the year it is so difficult to deny my most favorite activity. I don’t check out books from the library or talk to people about what they are reading. I make sure all my own favorite books, the ones I have read a dozen times, are not on bookshelves where I will see them. If I allow myself reading time, I will choose it every time over the hundreds of individual student papers I have to read each week. And reading before bed is harder, as I will choose books over sleep. I’ve happily read thousands of pages this summer (more to come on that topic soon).
  4. Watching t.v. for mature audiences is possible. During the school year, there is certainly isn’t much television at the house. However, programming that isn’t suitable for my 8-year old is non-existent during the school year. After a typical 10 hour day at school, we come home (that’s if there are no errands, to be done after school) and dinner needs to be made, pets cared for, laundry needs to be done, homework, showers, bedtime. By the time 9 p.m. rolls around I haven’t sat down much all day and as soon as my rear hits the couch I can barely follow my own thoughts, much less a complicated storyline. This week I am binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale. The challenges involved in watching a series like this all at once are self-explanatory.
  5. Planning my fluid intake and bathroom visits strategically is challenging. If you teach, you already know this is no joke. This is the schedule that sort of works for me during the year. As soon as I wake up I down 16 ounces of water. Then I drink 1/2 to 1 cup of coffee. One hour later I visit the bathroom just before leaving the house. As soon as I get to school I drink 8 ounces more water and then 2 minutes before the door opens I visit the bathroom. I then hope that I am sufficiently hydrated to make it through the morning. During my 15-minute lunch, going to the bathroom is necessary, and I also have to drink enough water to allow me to converse for the next two hours but not enough to need the bathroom for that time. All this depends on my actually remembering to drink water while being interrupted dozens of times and having to make several hundred other important decisions each day. If you are fortunate, you have teammates who are willing to coordinate bio breaks so that you don’t have to choose between bladder infections and supervising your class properly. The struggle is so real.
  6. Watching the birds out my window in the morning is a wonderful way to wake up. Though the birds are active at dawn with me in the early mornings between August and May, the absolute splendor of listening and watching the bluebirds, towhees, hummingbirds, and migrating tanagers in the gamble oaks outside my bedroom window between 7 and 8 a.m. is a special activity that epitomizes summer break for me.
  7. I might write a novel before I retire. It’s been 8 years now since I started my novel and it didn’t get done this summer either. The 10 hours per week I now spend blogging and writing creatively is soon to be filled with about 10 hours per week of writing lesson plans, newsletters, learning objectives, parent communications, and individualized education plans: dusty dry stuff. I will give the juicy writing one more go this week, as I participate in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Novel-o-Rama, encouraging writers to pen 25,000 words in a weekend. My 8-year old novel (now at 20,000 words) will hopefully reach a total of 25,000 words by Monday.

There are other simple joys of summer that could make this list, but if I spend too much time writing about them, I won’t go do them. I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and going back to school and I’ll let you know all about that as I transition. But for now, I need to go clean the baseboards in the kitchen, because that certainly won’t happen before Thanksgiving break if it isn’t done now. Cheers!



“Waltzing with bears…”

Three days ago, as the rain fell softly on my mountain house after dinner, I looked out the window and made eye contact with our resident juvenile neighborhood bear. “Hi bear!” I said. The wet bear looked right at me, smiled I swear, and playfully romped up the hill to my driveway to jubilantly enjoy a butcher paper wrapper before skipping on. I was glad to be inside.

I’ve never seen a bear up close, but it was the happiest bear I’ve ever seen. Last night it knocked over the dumpster across the street. Naughty Bear! So, today I have outdoor safety and learning on my mind.

As a scientist, I am a supporter of outdoor learning. There is just so much world out there! As a 4th generation Colorado native, I believe quiet time in nature is something that is essential to growing up in any region. However, kids growing up in Colorado will have to face some intense challenges. Kids we raise in the Rocky Mountains will have to care about outdoor issues, like water conservation, manage the balance of 9 separate but evolving ecosystems across the state, and guide how human increases in development will impact the plants and animals that also live in Colorado if we want that balance to remain sustainable. They will need to know how to “waltz with the bears!”

In the interest of encouraging teachers to get their kids outside this year, away from ceilings and carpets, consider this first installment of ideas on how to incorporate outdoor spaces into rich learning experiences.

  1. Start and maintain a school garden. More on this subject to come.
  2. Walk the perimeter of the school, using compasses to find little geo-cached items. Great to reinforce following step-by-step directions, orienting by local geography, describing locations and conditions, looking at local weather patterns, or measurement. Can be incorporated into mapping, narrative writing, vocabulary building, and team building.
  3. Looks for bugs. This is self-explanatory! You can work in population counts, area surveys, food chains and webs, birdwatching, nature journaling, poetry readings, or scientific classification studies.
  4.  Take a texture walk outside. Kids use a crayon, broken and without a label, to create rubbings of things like sidewalks, pavement, tree bark, leaves, or engraved words. Texture rubbings can be works of art for their own purpose or can be an introductory experience before writing with textural sensory language. Discuss what makes the sensory experience of the world through texture and touch distinct from the senses of taste and hearing or consider how senses overlap. Collect natural objects with both visual and tactile textures.
  5. Sit quietly and do nothing for just a few minutes. If you have a welcoming spot on your playground to have kids just sit and listen to the sounds around them or transition into calm from recess, allow them just a few extra minutes outside listening and watching the sky. Try making a sound picture! I learned this activity at the Keystone Science School. Draw the sounds you hear while sitting. What does the sound of traffic look like? How can you show the buzzing of a passing bee? What kind of line would you draw to show the Doppler effect of a passing motorcycle? Learning needs to connect to the larger world.
  6. Invite students to create original animals who are specially adapted to your playground habitat. How would this imaginary animal get food, shelter, water, and space? You might also encourage students to consider how your school mascot would be able to live on your campus. What would a loyal school tiger need to live on your playground?
  7. Make observations of real animals that visit your campus. Discuss with kids how to attract animals like birds and butterflies, while discouraging mice or raccoons. Discover the debate on responsible practices for dealing with animal populations that cause problems on school grounds, like redtail hawks and groundhogs.
  8. Use a duck call, or some other natural sounding instrument, to call your students in from recess. I used to see falcons and hawks regularly when I used a duck call. My students loved the novelty of a non-shrill sound, and they got to see our school mascot, the falcon, watching over us, curious where we were hiding the duck! Whistles are tools of behaviorists, coaches, and drill sergeants.
  9. Enjoy music inspired by the outdoors. I first heard “Waltzing With Bears” done by Gordon Bok, Muir, and Trickett but also found it attributed to Seamus Kennedy, who gave music to a poem by Dr. Seuss by the same name. Teach kids what a waltz is, or learn music associated with animals on different continents. Play some musical instruments outside and add your rhythm to the neighborhood.

“I gave Uncle Walter a new coat to wear,
When he came home he was covered with hair,
And lately, I’ve noticed several new tears,
I’m sure Uncle Walter goes waltzing with bears!

He goes wa-wa-wa-wa, wa-waltzing with bears,
Raggy bears, shaggy bears, baggy bears too.
There’s nothing on earth Uncle Walter won’t do,
So he can go waltzing, wa-wa-wa-waltzing,
So he can go waltzing, waltzing with bears!”

This subject is ripe with possibilities and I’ll probably come back to it. Should you have any ideas to add, please feel free to comment and share. Like most teachers, I am eager to share and borrow all the best ideas that bring deep and meaningful learning to kids of all ages.

Waltzing Matilda

Sometime in the last few weeks of school my tenth year of teaching, I was complimented by a dear friend while stopping by the front office. I had known her a decade as a colleague and friend, but until that year, she didn’t know I love to sing. Several hundred kids in the building have had me serenade them over cleaning the floor, transitioning to new activities, and for moments of stress relief. I realized that most of the adults I work with don’t know that part of me.

At that moment I started to think about all those places where my different lives intersect. I wear so many hats in the course of one day. I am a mother, a wife, a professional, and an artist. These are the most prominent of my roles. Of all the parts of my personality that have persisted since childhood, being a singer has enriched my educational life deeply. I say that confidently. It is a thread that runs through every chapter of my life. As a kid, I learned to read music and learned work with an instrumental ensemble early.  I was never on fire for the clarinet, so in high school, I started singing in choirs. I participated in a jazz choir and a chamber choir, and in college, I helped establish a student -directed a cappella group that, 25 years later, is still producing amazing music as it evolves.

We started as a group of kids who just loved to sing and when we were on, we sounded pretty damn good together. Our group coalesced through experiences of rehearsing and performing together, over disagreeing with each other, and by harmonizing with each other. We were the first to prove the campus was bursting with musical talent, as two more a capella groups were created in our wake. It is an incredible thing to go back to a Room 46 concert after 25 years and meet the new kids: to know that they will always have these powerful memories of performing and how that one decision we made as youngsters, to participate in a group in creating something out of nothing, has changed hundreds of lives since. I can’t help but want to share that in some way with my students.

Even if you don’t have an angelic voice, you can encourage kids to sing together. It’s a great way to transition them to something new or be silly for a moment. Song can sooth them after an active recess. Instead of bells and buzzers, we use music to transition kids to new class periods at my school. We welcome them in the door in the morning with a song. I feel less like Pavlov running a kennel and more like a human being teaching other human beings about all the amazing things human beings can do; it’s a stroke of genius.

Likewise, working on a common purpose, like learning to play music as an ensemble, brings out amazing qualities of cooperation and cohesiveness in a group. My favorite moment from last school year was attending an informal handbells performance. My 20 students, who normally barely went 10 minutes without challenging each other’s ideas, didn’t argue or incite each other for an entire hour. It was the most wonderful example of synergy I witnessed with this group of kids all year.  Handbells, of all things.

Music is so easy to incorporate into a classroom these days thanks to technology. If you want your kids to remember their multiplication tables or learn the structures and functions of cells, or the order of operations, go find those things on the internet and play them. Want to motivate your students to complete a project, reward their diligence with a DJ day,  when they can suggest music to play while working or during a break.

A word to the wise, always, always, ALWAYS preview the music suggestions before playing them for a class. (I’ve been duped before).

As I get ready to go back to school in a mere two weeks, I’m preparing lots of things. I have a new literature I want to introduce, a revised structure for my math class, exciting new technology for myself and my students to master and incorporate.  I’m listening to plenty of new music and seeking out new artists so I can share that part of our culture with my kids. I am also warming up the pipes and dusting off the classic tunes when I’m in the car or doing dishes because, surprisingly, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ continues to be a big hit with the kids.

Below are two related blogs that I enjoyed while musing over this post today.  I offer them to you, in case you are also on summer break and looking for some harmony. Enjoy!