Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Walls, Clouds, and Silver Linings

Life continually takes unplanned turns.
Then, I think.
I think too much. And my thinking sometimes surrounds me with a wall, a barrier that tries to separate me from rational and irrational perils.

When I started my job as a Library Media Specialist (LMS) last year, I knew that a pink slip would come my way in the spring. It was the nature of being a new specialist in a new district (regardless of my previous years of teaching experience elsewhere), along with other new specialists including the PE teacher, the Art teacher, and several of the reading teachers. Despite doing our roles and parts as directed, sometimes leaders choose new directions. Sometimes we then have to reach and dig to find the positives again when clouds hover above.

My silver lining was comprised of mentors who helped me learn more with library and technology skills than I would have gained had I been required to figure things out on my own, supportive colleagues (some who continue to be friends), and the overall combined experiences that blessed me with confidence to believe that I truly can be a LMS.

In spite of my 16 years of experience teaching, and one year of being an LMS, I apparently am "too new" for a similar role and lack the "right" kind of experience. So, while I use this time to reconsider what I really wish to be doing in my life, I have returned to where I started in 2001. I work as a substitute teacher. The difference today is that now I can hold hands with 17 years of teaching and learning experiences, and the light I see is that I continue to learn while observing and listening in different classrooms and schools. I personally urge all teachers to consider substitute teaching at some point in their careers to gather new ideas and strategies, as well as evaluate or re-evaluate what they like and dislike about teaching. Refreshment can exist here.

After a month plus of subbing, I reconnected to my reading. And, little has changed with my preferred interests--middle grade, young adult, and picture books.

Paying attention to the greater world around me, in society today, my overactive mind often travels to dread of an impending dystopic society. I desire to believe this could never happen, but I fear that would be naive. 

Welcome to my latest read:

A Night Divided Written by Jennifer A. Nielsen (c) 2015 Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. (Publisher)

Historical fiction has become one of my favorite genres as it contributes to my love of continual learning. In  A Night Divided, the main character, Gerta, lives with her mother and one brother. The family is larger, but when a fence, and then the Berlin wall rise, Gerta's father and another brother become residents of less restrictive West Berlin, while Gerta and her other family members remain trapped in East Berlin where armed soldiers patrol and guard the wall and streets. Those who dare to publicly resist the teachings in East Berlin face possible imprisonment or worse. Those who try to escape to the west side, face imprisonment, torture, or death. Regardless, for many, including Gerta, living in East Berlin is already a prison.

One day while walking to school, Gerta spots her father and brother on a viewing platform in the west side. She believes her father "sends" her a message. Through her own thinking, exploration of parts of East Berlin, and discovery, Gerta conceives that she must dig a tunnel under the wall. Can she do this on her own? Can she trust anyone to work with her? Would her father ask her to risk her life if escape was an impossibility?

As the story progresses, the tension within me when Gerta's way of life becomes flooded by distrust, and the need to lie and play the "game" of compliance, knotted my stomach. Gerta learns, along with her brother, that anyone can be a spy for the police or Stasi--a neighbor, a teacher, a doctor, even a dear friend. If the Stasi believes a person has any connection to someone who resists the government teachings or attempts to escape to the west, that person becomes a target to watch. Even talking in one's own home provides no guarantee of privacy from the ears and eyes of spies. If a reader does not know about the Berlin Wall, I have no doubt that A Night Divided could be seen as another addition to the titles falling under the genre of Dystopian Literature.

Even after visiting Berlin many years ago and learning about the history in person, it was not until I read A Night Divided that I truly started to comprehend what had happened not very long ago. I realized how little I knew and understood about the Berlin Wall and its effect on the people it divided. Reading stories that make history real and personal, to me, is a better way to learn from history.
I recommend A Night Divided; however, if you are like me in that a high level of sensitivity touches you, and viewing or reading about suspenseful, frightening, and/or seemingly hopeless situations, affects your nightly dreams, then, do not read this book before you sleep. If you do, have a followup plan to create calm, head-clearing moments. I had several dreams involving being trapped with others, with futile and scary attempts to escape. Not exactly a contributor to restful sleep.

Despite A Night Divided  being fiction, I felt compelled, as I continued reading Gerta's first person narrative, to research articles and true stories about people who lived in Berlin (on either side of the wall) to learn more. It doesn't matter to me that this occurred in Europe. Much of it was during my lifetime, in a place that I have since visited. This makes it real. 

While the Berlin Wall was a physical wall, walls do not have to be visible to exist. These past few years have provided abundant material for building walls around ourselves as self-protection against both real and perceived threats. Walls take time to build, and can be difficult to break down. There is not a place in our world for more divisions, for the sake of ourselves, and for the sake of our children.

Just one girl's thoughts.

Today and tomorrow,


P.S. It feels good to be back!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Books, Books, and More Books!

My last post, nearly half a year ago, announced my new career. I can say, I am loving being a Media Specialist! It has a major learning curve, but looking at where I am now compared to where I was back at the start of September, I have come a long way. I am blessed to have terrific mentors, and support staff.

My school is an ENVoY demonstration site. ENVoY is a non-verbal management tool. I have learned, and am continuing to learn the non-verbal strategies for helping me to manage classroom behaviors with influence, rather than power. I had been wanting to learn ENVoY for several years, but did not have the opportunity until my new job. Click here to learn more about ENVoY. I wish I had learned this while I taught Special Education. I can see many ways in which I could have strengthened my teaching, and my relationships with my students.

But, let's not look at the past. It's time to get back to my blog! One of the joys of my job is that now I am surrounded by children's books every weekday. One of the challenges, though, is that now I am surrounded by children's books every weekday. Where do I start? What do I read first?

So, my plan, beginning soon, is to have Monday Musings where I'll share my perspectives about books that touch me again. I may do other random posts on different days as the muse to write and share strikes me.

For now, here's a preview of some of the books I plan to share more in depth in the coming days.

These are books that students have requested and I love, books that I have discovered as I continue to acquaint myself with my school's collection, and books that make great read-alouds with Little Sapling (the name I use to refer to my daughter online) and other children.

Both of these books are favorites of mine now. I highly recommend them for 3rd grade and up. In fact, every adult I know who has read these so far has loved them, so there is no upper age limit in my opinion. Visit the author, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

I read this book after the movie preview sparked my curiosity last fall. I have not seen the movie yet, so I cannot make a comparison. What I can say is that I love this book! Author Brian Selznick uses his magic again to create a story that incorporates black and white hand-drawn illustrations and text to bring the reader into the worlds of two different people and two different time periods before they merge in an unexpected, yet pleasing way. Visit the author, Brian Selznick.

I'm reading this now, but I cannot recall a novel that has made me smile, laugh, and feel as much I have while reading Humphrey the hamster's perspectives on his world as a classroom pet. Visit the author, Betty G. Birney, and meet Humphrey. 

More on these and other fabulous books to come (including the Roscoe Riley Rules series by Katherine Applegate, the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne, the Rainbow Fairies series by Audrey Meadows, and tons of picture books).
Stay tuned! 

Today and tomorrow,


P.S. If you have missed reading my voice, I did a post for Hamline's The Storyteller's Inkpot back in October. Happy reading.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A New Journey Begins...

It finally happened.
In July, after 10 years teaching special education full time (the last seven at the middle school level), I resigned from the school district where I completed my K-12 schooling, substitute taught four and a half years, and started my path as a public school teacher.

Courtesy of
Today I begin my official first day in a new school district at an elementary school. I am now a Media Specialist / Instructional Technology Teacher/ Core Support teacher in the areas of Language Arts and Math.

Through last week, excitement outranked anxiety. I am considered a "new teacher" again and completed new teacher training. I love what I have learned so far! However, today, anxiety outranks excitement. This is typical of my head each time I return to teaching after summer break. But, it is different this year. Today, it relates to the newness of my path. It relates to the not-knowing what I don't know and not fully knowing what to expect. It relates to knowing that there will be a learning curve for each role and that I am not expected to be an expert from the start--yet in my head, it also relates to the fact that I have to keep shutting down the thoughts that maybe I am expected to be great right away.

Change is scary. The familiar is safe. I could have kept doing what I had been doing for my job, but it had become a 24/7 job. It was in my head--the paperwork, the pressures to do everything "right". The pressures to place paperwork first, and teaching and my students, second. I did not feel peaceful. I told myself after my thyroid cancer diagnosis in 2015 (see past posts) that life was too short to be doing something that did not make me happy. This past school year was better. I was the Autism teacher, as well as a resource teacher in the special education department. I learned a lot from my students about autism. I also learned how little I knew. Despite being out of special education now, I carry my experiences with me. I expect to continue learning, and I wish to continue learning--only not in the role I have done for 10 years.

Courtesy of
I love teaching! I love helping children or anyone who I teach, problem solve and grow, and learn how to accomplish tasks maybe they struggled with before or maybe never knew how to do. Sometimes I wonder if I care too much. Can a person do that?

I will miss my former colleagues and many of my students. I thank my colleagues for the glowing references when contacted by my new employer. I especially thank my former principal for believing in me, recognizing that I have something to offer in what used to be my new career goal, and now supporting my decision to move on, even if it meant losing a devoted teacher at her school.

Today is the first official day of my new career. I look forward to collaborating with colleagues. I look forward to supporting my colleagues. I look forward to meeting my new students.
Change can be good.

Today and tomorrow,

~ Tamara