Tuesday, May 26, 2015

8 days, 8 stressful days

I nearly forgot it was Tuesday, Slice of Life day! The reason - I'm obsessed with all the things I need to finish in these last eight days of the school year. Why is it always like this?

The end of the year usually catches me completely by surprise. "There's three days left?! But I didn't finish this, I didn't try that new idea, we never got to..." This year I posted a weekly countdown on the whiteboard. I started this because in 4th grade reading we do self-selected reading, but students are asked to aim for 25 books, writing a brief literary response on each. My class this year was pretty laid back about turning in things. I knew we would get to the end of the year and some of them would be trying to read 15 books in two weeks. Or less. So I posted how many weeks were left. It turned out to be very helpful for me, too. It reminded me to plan ahead so we could finish all our projects, and hopefully our last read-aloud book, too.

But now, in these last two weeks, I am endlessly grading or commenting on student work, mostly written work. There are 15 research reports, 15 sets of literary responses, 15 sets of pages for a social studies book project. Plus the end of the year tests we need to give. I need to turn in report card comments by June 1. We are doing digital portfolios for the first time and that needs to be done by June 21, though if you want feedback, earlier.

In addition, my daughter had three (!) master's papers due and she asked me to proofread and give advice on them all. I did that over the weekend, and I was happy to do it. It gave me a chance to see how much she has grown as a writer, researcher, and thinker, and I felt a lot of joy, seeing how far she has come. But then I didn't work on report card comments or my portfolio.

Yes, I will get it all done. I will have no life for the next little stretch of time, but then it will be summer! A literacy retreat, a family trip to Minnesota, and later a vacation in Los Angeles. Ahhh. I'll get there, I will.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A joyful moment

Last week the 4th grade went on their yearly outdoor ed trip. We always go to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for two and a half days of learning about the environment, having fun, and growing in sometimes surprising ways. The Environmental Learning Center is wonderful - great staff, wonderful food, lovely, clean cabins, and a great program. We spend nearly the whole time there outdoors, learning about the different ecosystems (it's more than piles of sand!), how the land was used over time, and the environmental problems facing the area today.

Like many camps, meals are served family style in the dining hall. Kids take turns being "hoppers" (serving food) and weather reporters. The Learning Center staff makes weather reporting fun by letting the kids do a little skits, with costumes! It's usually pretty funny. At our last dinner in the lodge, the weather reporters gave their weather update on temperature, wind speed, barometric readings, cloud cover and type, and then the naturalist yelled, "Time to conga!" Music came on and everybody joined in the conga line, snaking around the tables! Kids and adults were dancing and laughing. It lasted only a couple of minutes, then everyone, still smiling and laughing, went back to their tables to finish cleaning up.

A great way to end dinnertime and a perfect moment of uncomplicated happiness.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

At the movies

I must have been thinking about how easy it is now to see movies. You don't need to go to the theater, you don't even have to buy or rent a DVD. You can access an awful lot of movies from your home. And my adult children do just that.

These thoughts led me to thinking about the way it was in the past. You know, when I walked 4 miles to school, uphill both ways, in the snow. No, not that past, the past I actually lived. In the real past, in my family, going to the movies was a special occasion. I can remember the first movie my mother took my sister and me to; it was The Shaggy Dog, which I think starred Fred MacMurray. That was followed by more Disney movies - Flubber, The Parent Trap, and Old Yeller. My little brother's first movie was The Music Man. He sat on the edge of his seat with huge round eyes the whole movie.

Then there was the Sunday night TV show, the Wonderful World of Disney, which often showed Disney movies, usually broken into parts shown over two or three weeks. Mostly, these were really good stories, fun to watch.

All these movies stayed with us, my brother, sister, and me. We talked about them, sometimes acted out parts. They weren't the best movies ever made, but they were certainly a lot of fun.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Slice of Musical Life

I am both a 4th grade teacher and a musician. I went to music school before returning to earn an elementary education degree. I still play (French horn) in three community groups and now and then for other occasions. This past Sunday was a special day in my musical life. The concert band that both my husband and I play in had its last concert of the year and our daughter, who also plays horn, and I were featured on a solo.

The road to this solo performance was winding and full of roadblocks.

Every fall, any band member who is interested can audition for a chance to play a solo with the band. Generally two or three players are chosen. The first couple of years it was all woodwind players and I thought the brass really needed to be represented. However, I didn't want to play a solo by myself. So, I asked one of the other horn players if he wanted to audition with me on a concerto for two horns. He said sure. He also felt that we needed to give the woodwind players some friendly competition. We planned to work on it over the summer. Well, it seemed we were never in town at the same time. Fall came and he said he just didn't have time to learn the part, which was quite challenging. End of story, I thought.

I was telling my daughter Jamie what happened and she said, "I could do it with you." Well, she's not a member of the band. She's a busy graduate student. She doesn't live with us. But she already knew one of the parts. So I said I would ask the conductor if we could audition even though she isn't in the band. Much to my surprise he said yes. She did fill in at one concert, so he said that was close enough.

The next challenge for me was that the part Jamie already knew was the part that I had planned to play. So I needed to learn the other part, which is very high, requiring strong muscles to repeatedly hit notes at the top of the horn range. Like training for a marathon, say, this required a lot of practice time to build up the endurance.

This "double concerto" for two horns was written by Antonio Rosetti, a contemporary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Rosetti was German, despite his name, which he changed, probably because Italian musicians were paid more than Germans in the 18th century. He was a court musician in one of the many small courts in what is now Germany. He had two outstanding horn players in his orchestra, for whom he wrote at least 17 concertos, plus 6 double concertos. His music is rarely played today.

We auditioned last September and were one of three soloists chosen. Our concert was the May performance.

Next roadblock: The Band music is rental only. The school district that sponsors our band ordered the music. Through some miscommunication somewhere, the wrong concerto arrived. It was only 4 weeks before the concert. The conductor told me he thought it was not possible to return the parts and get the correct music in time to prepare it for the concert. End of story, I thought.

But no, my husband was determined that we would play. He called the rental company and explained the problem so persuasively that the correct music arrived at our house two days later! We had two rehearsals with the band and then it was time for the concert.

People are surprised that I get nervous when performing, but it's true. This time, though, it was such a joy to play this charming little piece with Jamie, that my mind was only on the music and the pleasure of playing. A perfect performance? No, but I think we communicated the spirit of the piece.

Seize the moment! So many roadblocks along the way and this may very well be the only time that Jamie and I solo together in public. It's a great memory to have.