Next Year

“Sure, let’s go to my office; there’s something I want to talk to you about as well,” she said without breaking stride.

40 ) Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening. Alabama Course of Study: English Language Arts [L.4.3]

I had just met one of my principals in the hallway of her school (I’m an itinerant STEM coach).  I was going one way and she was going the other, but with my quick spin we were suddenly going the same direction.  

7 ) Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text…   [RL.4.7]

As we approached each other a few seconds ago, I asked to talk to her about next year. I knew my topic of conversation, but didn’t know what she wanted to talk about.  I had my hopes, but wasn’t sure.

36 ) Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate… [SL.4.6]

As we settled into chairs across from one another, we talked about my subject first.  I was happy to share my thoughts about next year’s STEM program, but kept my ideas short because, well, I really wanted to get to her topic.

24.b. Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations. [W.4.3b]

“Well, I’ve made a decision about next year.”  

1 ) Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. [RL.4.1]

My pulse quickened just a bit and I probably shifted in my chair, despite trying not to.  Here’s an important detail I suppose I should include in this narrative: we were sitting in her office, but we were also sitting in the school at which I hoped to teach next year.  My coaching job was coming to an end, and I wanted to return to this school that I left some four years ago.

11 ) Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text. [RI.4.2]

“I’m going to put you in the fourth grade.  Do you think you can live with that?”

20 ) Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words. [RF.4.3]

I let her words soak in for just a moment as I felt the smile grow on my face.  Yes, I can live with that…I certainly can.  Next year is going to be a great year!

Notebook: Revised

Around this time last year, I posted a version of this poem to my blog. I stumbled upon it recently when I noticed on my website dashboard that someone visited that post.

As I re-read the post and the poem, I realized that my attitude has changed over the last year, and I like writing in my notebook more than I did back then. Look at me, growing and stuff. Anyway, I rewrote the last stanza to reflect my new practice.

Notebook: Revised

A pencil on paper
A mark on the page
It’s like watching live music
Or an actor on stage

It’s not fingers on keys
And there isn’t a screen
It’s real, and it’s physical
Do you see what I mean?

Is it good? Is it better?
This writing by hand?
Does this scribbling unplugged
See my vision expand?

Well, maybe it just might
I have to confess
Perhaps I’ll pen more —  
And keyboard a bit less

Yet Another Weather Day

Yesterday was another rough weather day in Alabama, and it’s only the end of March.  We still have April and the beginning of May to go.

Did you ever see the movie, Napoleon Dynamite

A friend of mine once said of that movie, “Well, that’s two hours of my life I can’t get back,” but I found it amusing.  I’m from the midwest, so it kind of resonated.

This post isn’t about the movie, but that film did give me a quote that I use often.  It’s kind of sing-songy, and I don’t remember the tune, but it goes like this: “I love technology.”

Sometime yesterday afternoon, after the second round of storms (second of three) moved through the state, a friend of mine decided it was time to post to Facebook.  She wrote something along the lines of, “What did people do before the news media was here to sensationalize the weather?  It’s just a thunderstorm, and I love listening to the rain.” 

I can’t be sure of her quote, because she took it down an hour or so after posting it.  My guess is she saw pictures of the flood damage to her town, but I don’t know that for sure.

I’m not sharing that story to put her down, because I do think the media gets a little (okay, sometimes a lot) carried away with their weather coverage. I’m sharing it because it brought to mind how much I love the technology that allows them to do so.  I’m so appreciative that our meteorologists can say, within a few miles, where tragedy is about to strike. I do not doubt that lives are saved by that ability each and every storm.  

Parts of my state are starting to rebuild today.  Tornadoes are a part of life here (as they are in a huge part of the rest of the country), and we will move on.  I’m thankful it wasn’t worse.

The Bear

“Look at that bear!”


Now, when we’re out hiking and a few miles from the car, there are a lot of things my wife can say to get my attention, but, upon reflection, very few of them are as effective as, “Look at that bear!”

Quick aside: why don’t exciting things on the trail happen near the car?

Anyway, she might say, “Hey, Tim, take a look at this,” or “Hey, Tim, look back at me.”  She could even leave off my name, and just say, “Hey,” going so far as to leave off the exclamation point, and I’d still look back.  She would have my attention.

But, no, “Look at that bear!” is what she went with last night.

When I heard her, I immediately spun around, but–kind of in mid-spin–I was already thinking, “Wait, there’s not a bear up here.”  I mean, theoretically there could be, but I’m pretty sure we’d have seen it together, as bears aren’t known for their quiet nature.

Then I thought, “Oh, she means a bare spot on a tree where a buck has rubbed.”  That’s a common occurrence, and we’ve seen them often.

But, no, as my eyes fell upon it, I realized she meant a bear.

Well, sort of.  

It certainly looked like a bear: a very small bear, maybe 18 inches tall, jet black, in a sitting posture, looking away from us.  

Unable to control ourselves, we both moved toward it.  It didn’t move, which wasn’t a surprise, as it quickly became apparent we were looking at a piece of lawn statuary.  

And it wasn’t a bear at all.  It was a dog; it sort of looked like a lab, but it was hard to tell.  The paint was flaking off, the bone in its mouth was broken, and a welcome sign hung nearly out of site between its legs.  There was a piece of cord around its neck, with a large blue chew toy affixed to it.  A small silver cylinder was visible inside the toy, just barely visible.  

It was a geocache.

Props to the person, or, more likely, people who carried that thing nearly two miles up the trail with around 400 feet of elevation gain.  Lisa took a look inside the cylinder and discovered that the cache had just been placed a few months ago.  It’s a good one, definitely worth the walk. 

If you go looking for it, be aware that once you spot it, it will have your attention!

Lisa and the Bear

Learning New Things

For the last four years, I’ve been working as a STEM coach in a few different elementary schools.  It’s been a job I’ve enjoyed, and one of my favorite aspects of the job is the lack of routine.  Over the years I’ve done a lot of things many times, but it’s rarely been two days in a row.  

Quick aside: I’m going back into the classroom next year, and one of the things I’m looking forward to is the routine.  I’ll let you know when I figure out what that’s all about.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve done this year is help some teachers by collecting materials they can use with their ELA curriculum.  The topic I collected material for yesterday was space and astronomy.  Curating a collection of videos and websites took up most of my day.

I like doing that sort of thing because I always learn something new.  Even though I’m gathering material for an elementary-age audience, the material is interesting and in-depth.  Now that I think of it, I’ve always said one the best parts of being a teacher is the learning–I love it!

Said vs Heard

Communication, especially the spoken word, can be a tricky thing.  Most of the time, it’s simple: one person says something, and another person hears it and responds accordingly.  This happens dozens, if not hundreds of times a day, and we don’t even think about it.  Well, I don’t.

Sometimes, though, what is said isn’t what is heard.  For example, my wife might say, “The garbage needs to be emptied.”

That’s pretty straightforward, but what I actually hear is, “Sometime in the next few days, one of us is going to need to consider emptying the garbage can.”  

Now, responding to what was actually said rarely leads to strife, but that interpretation?  Well…

So, last night a friend of mine said to me, “Oh no, I dropped my phone.”  Six words, only four of them actually communicating the situation: pretty straightforward.  

What I actually heard was, “Hey, I know we’re 45 minutes from the trailhead and there are only 60 minutes of daylight left, but we need to go back up the path to find the phone that I dropped.  Also, the last time I knew I had it was fifteen minutes ago, and–just to make things fun–it might have fallen in between rocks or into the brush on the side of the trail, so this search might just take a while.”

What he said was not what I heard, and what I heard caused my pulse to quicken even more than the hilly terrain had.

Ah, the joys of a weekday hike.

I pulled my phone from my pocket and called his.  The sounds of the breeze in the trees and birds in the distance are beautiful to listen to, but I was hoping to hear something else.  We started back up the hill.

Twenty five yards later, I dialed his number again.  Silence, except for the aforementioned breeze and birds.

Twenty five yards and another attempt…yes!  

“I see it!” he said, jogging ahead to grab it from the leafy debris it had fallen into.

For the record, no flashlights were needed to finish the hike.  Beautiful weather, a nice trail, and good conversation all contributed to a wonderful evening.  Fortunately, it wasn’t nearly the story it could have been.

No Such Thing as a Weed

This is the time of year when many yards and empty fields are bright with a variety of flowers.  Where I live in the southern United States, I’m easily able to spot the lavender-colored henbit, the deeper-purple grape hyacinth, and of course the bright yellow dandelion.  

I know my attitude isn’t shared by everyone, but I love seeing these flowers, especially in my own yard.  I respect the right for folks to make their own decisions, but I fall into the camp that doesn’t care for the idea of the monoculture that we call a lawn, and the chemicals required for that to happen.  ‘Nuf said about that.

I haven’t always been a wildflower-in-my-yard person.  Growing up, my family had a few of those “weed pullers” that we used to try to pull up dandelions.  It was a tool about 12” long with a forked blade on the end.  The idea was to dig deep for the root, but I’m not sure it really worked all that well.  Regardless, weeds didn’t belong in your yard.

My attitude changed, oddly enough, when I spent some time with the Army in Germany, thousands of miles away from the nearest American lawn.  My wife and I had a friend from work whose name was Libby.  Honestly, all I remember about her is she rode a Harley when she was stateside, she had red hair, her name inspired us as we sought to find a moniker for our cat, and she questioned the word “weed.”

“Why do you call it a weed?” she asked with a degree of sincerity that was a bit discomforting. 

I remember not really having an answer.  I didn’t have the beliefs and attitudes I have now about the natural world, so that was something new for me to think about.  

If you ask me now, I’ll tell you that a weed is simply a flower growing where it’s unwanted.  I really do think it’s as simple as that. 

Thanks, Libby.  I don’t have a clue where you’re at now, but I don’t doubt that, like me, you’ve got flowers in your life.  Maybe not the kind everyone wants, but we’ve got flowers. 

A Walk in the Woods

It almost sounds like the beginning of a comedian’s gag: a naturalist, a science writer, an environmental science graduate student, and two science teachers walk into the woods…  

Nah. Too wordy.

But walk into the north Alabama woods, we did.

We walked among the loblolly pines and the towering oak trees, discussing the life cycle of elephant mosquitos and the way rainwater dissolves limestone to form caves.  

We climbed hills of sedimentary rock that showed the record of an ancient aquatic past.  Along the way we talked about the difference between shaggy and scaly tree bark, and examined Aralia spinosa, commonly known as the devil’s walking stick because of the needle-sharp thorns that cover that tree’s trunk.

We hiked among the red cedars and the red buds, shaking our heads at the difficulty of distinguishing between green and white ash trees.  We cursed the presence of the invasive honeysuckles while praising our native, albeit absent-on-that-trail species, the scarlet honeysuckle.

On hands and knees, we confirmed that trillium flowers smell like bananas and examined horn coral fossils formed more than 5 million of our lifetimes ago.  We traced deer tracks with our fingers and looked under the leaves of mayapples to see if they were boys or girls.

As our boots traversed miles of trail, we pondered the hybridization of white oaks, listened to the distant call of a barred owl, and discussed the merits of modern day forestry practices.  

We talked of children and grandchildren, of books and teaching and writing and sharing, and we enjoyed the company of like-minded friends.  We walked, content in the moment, in the foothills of the Appalachians on a gorgeous afternoon in the month of March.  No joke.  

Spring is Here

It’s impossible, I believe, to finish this sentence in a manner that pleases everyone: “The hardest thing about the pandemic has been _______.” 

People have lost so much, and those losses are, in many ways, both alike and different for everyone.  Lives have been lost, health has been lost, jobs have been lost, and families and friends have been kept apart for the common good.  In addition to these few examples, there are many other situations, some of them unique, but most of them shared in some manner by others.

That said, the last loss I mentioned–the loss of community–is starting to make a comeback.  Sometimes I think it’s growing stronger because of the shared sense of responsibility to do it in a way that seems right.

There are, of course, a variety of relatively new ways to communicate through the use of technology, but the last few days have reminded me how some of the older methods are still valuable.

I’ve seen people sitting together outside.  That’s a lot easier here in the south, but I’ve heard accounts of it occurring in the colder climes.  If we want to be together, we’ll figure out how to do it.

I’ve seen people engage in outdoor activities.  The hiking trails in my area haven’t seen this much use in, well, perhaps forever. Bicycle stores and outdoor equipment stores are seeing more business.

In my limited experience with them, even online groups are seeing their sense of community growing through offline avenues.  I’ve sent and received cards and letters (one just yesterday!) from people with whom my relationship would probably have stayed virtual were it not for a heightened sense of connection brought on by our shared experiences. 

This first day of spring is, metaphorically speaking, not just a time of renewal after a long season of meteorological winter.  These days hold a sense of hope that a figurative winter is ending as well.  May that be so.