Your Turtle is Loose SOLSC 22

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If you’ve been a teacher for more than a few days, you’ve been here: You’re in the middle of a lesson, you’ve got decent student engagement, you’re feeling pretty good about what’s going on, and…

The phone rings.  Really?  I mean, really?  Yep, just yesterday.

Caller ID showed that it was the front desk, and I answered with what I hope was a friendly, “Hello.”

“Mr. Gels?” our receptionist asked.

I’m not trying to be snarky here, honestly I’m not, but I always get a kick out of it when people ask, “Mr. Gels?” when I answer the phone.  I’m the only male teacher in the school, and no one’s ever accused me of having an feminine voice. “Mr. Gels?” Of course I’m Mr. Gels.  But I digress.

So I’ve already got that goofy grin on my face as our conversation starts (I really do love our receptionist–she’s great, and there’s a chance she might read this some day).

She continued, “Your turtle is loose.”

Awkward pause as now I am looking for a snarky response as well as wondering just what Tina might be talking about.

“One of the coaches told me that there’s a turtle by the fifth grade door.  Her class saw it when they came in from PE.  She asked me to let you know,” she elaborated with a smile in her voice.

Ah.  The outdoor classroom (I’m the coordinator).  The turtle from the pond.  Got it.  I love my job, I really do.

After saying that I’d go out and take a look as soon as I was able to, I got back to my my lesson.

And stopped again when the coach herself came in to tell me that my turtle was loose.

And stopped again and again when two different fifth graders came in to tell me that my turtle was loose.  Sigh.

So, the turtle.  Our pond is a small body of water that a fantastic volunteer with a backhoe dug for us seven or eight years ago.  It’s home to an assortment of fish (that we put there), snakes (!), insects, and random turtles that appear every now and again.  I say that about the turtles because it’s virtually impossible to imagine that they got there on their own.  In “the wild,” aquatic turtles of our sort don’t travel miles from the nearest body of water in search of our 10 square yards of water surface.  More than once, I’ve had students or parents let me know that they donated a pet or an animal they rescued from the road…hence, “appear.”

While I guess you can tag me with responsibility for the pond, the same can’t really be said for the turtles.  They live there, but they’re not technically captive.  There’s a fence, but it’s not turtle proof (it does, however, satisfy the legal requirement for our pond).  Why does an aquatic turtle suddenly take up wandering?  With my grin back, I’ll just say that it’s the season for reptile love and leave it at that.

Anyway, during lunch I went out, found the turtle and returned it to the pond.  Has its wanderlust been satisfied?  I don’t know, but if you see it roaming around, just let me know.  I’ll go out and get it–that’s what I do.

Quick springtime note: If you feel the need to rescue a turtle from the road (and I’ve done it many times), please be safe as you do so.  Help the turtle get to where it’s going–don’t take it back to where it was.  Its instinct is telling it where to go and it will just try again.  Finally, turtles have a home range and suffer if taken from it.  Please don’t bring it to me.  Thanks!

Spring, Apparently, is Here SOLSC 21

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Spring, or, as we call it in Alabama, the three hours between winter and summer, appears to be in the air.  The air is warm (80 degrees yesterday!), the birds are nesting, the trees are starting to get leaves, and our daffodils have already faded.

As I headed out to the playground today with my third graders, it was wonderful not to have to walk over to my cabinet to get my coat.  Nope, spring is here.  There’s also a feeling of excitement around the school because spring is, of course, followed by summer.  And summer means summer break.  (Out of principle, I call it a “summer break;” if I was getting paid, it would be a vacation…minor distinction.)  Honestly, I’m not counting days.  Yet.

Of course, there’s another side to the end of the year, and that’s the feeling of oh-my-gosh-how-am-I-going-to-fit-all-of-this-in?  Just as the air warms, the birds nest, and the trees leaf, I’m sure we’ll get everything done.  No worries.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go cut my grass.  Spring is here!

Thank You, Amy SOLSC 20

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Just a few thoughts about Amy helping to make me late for work this morning.

First of all, this isn’t the first time that “Amy” and “late” have been used in the same sentence.  My least favorite sentence, albeit the most relevant, is “I was late to the Amy party.”  I’ve had an awareness of the works of Amy Krouse Rosenthal for years now, but was always distracted by something else and never really explored her stuff.  My loss, but better late than never, I suppose.  The lost years…the lost years.

“Amy.”  From what I’ve read on other people’s blogs and websites, I’m to use her first name like “Cher” or “Bono,” as if the last name isn’t really necessary.  How cool is that?  (“AKR” and “akr” are now initials I recognize as well.)

Her loss, brought to most of the country’s attention through her viral essay, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” is a source of increasing sadness as I get to know her better through her works.  I, along with the rest of the world, will move on, but as with all losses of this sort, it’s not easy.

So, I was late (but not too late) to work this morning.  I know it’s really my fault, but Amy’s book Textbook certainly played a part.  Wow, what a great work.

I think I might come to rely on what I call the Textbook relationship test.  It starts with me giving you a copy of Amy’s final book to read.  If you find yourself also late for work because you stood in your kitchen reading just one more page until there wasn’t one more page, I’m fairly certain you are the sort of person I can call a friend.  She probably would too.

Thank you, Amy.

Has Anyone Seen My Routine SOLSC 19

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Would everyone please check your pockets?  I’ve lost my routine.  I know it was here just a while back, so I’d appreciate you helping me find it.  Thanks!

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting in my classroom writing this slice instead of getting ready for the upcoming week.  Oh, I’ll have time for that later–right now, I’m just trying to reabsorb the classroom groove.

I have about 16 hours of spring break left (and I’m spending it in the classroom–doh!).  My students will come in tomorrow, excited to see their friends and compare notes on how they spent the last week.  We teachers will have made it in a bit before they do, but we’ll do the same comparing-notes exercise.  Some of us made it to the beach (I live in north Alabama), some, like me, actually travelled north, and some–the lucky ones, I sometimes think–just stayed home and relaxed.  All of us are keenly aware that there are only 10 weeks left in the school year, but the excitement of the home stretch is tempered by the knowledge of all we’ve still got left to do.

I’ll be glad to have my routine back.  I look forward to each of my students coming through the door (even that one or two), and I’m eager to hear their stories as well.  I’m ready to dive back into our units of study, hopeful that they haven’t forgotten too much.  The thrill might wear off before the announcements are over, but for now I’m ready to go.

I know my routine is here somewhere.  Maybe it rolled under the desk…I thought I heard something fall a few minutes ago.

Questions I Would Ask SOLSC 18

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Interstate 65, southbound through Kentucky and Tennessee

Questions I would ask, if I could bear the pain

To the last family that lived in the dilapidated house just off the right of way, what was it like before the interstate came through? Was it quiet before the constant sound of engines and the smell of exhaust?  Where are your descendants now, and do they know your stories of the homestead?

To the gentleman driving the truck with all of those bumper stickers, do you really want to express those sentiments toward that politician, and if so, what motivates you? What have you lost? What anguish have you suffered, and can it ever be made right?

To the officers who served with the trooper for whom that stretch of highway is named, what was he like? Could he crack a joke to ease the ever-present tension? Was he an inspiration to those around him? Do you still keep in touch with the family, and can the grief brought by that kind of loss ever heal?

To the farmer walking the hillside field eroded from the heavy rains that followed so many weeks of drought, how do you recover from a loss that’s measured in acres?  Will crops grow in soil that won’t be revitalized in your lifetime? Can a chemical spray truly negate the damage?

To the family who maintains the roadside monument with yet another new teddy bear and the fresh pink balloons tugging against their moorings in the afternoon breeze, how do you drive this stretch of road, feeling the heartache that can’t ever go away?

To the vultures circling overhead in the thermals rising off that much asphalt, do you, one of the only species of birds with a sense of smell, find yourselves drawn to the essence of loss below you, or are you simply riding the winds of a beautiful day, unknowing and unaffected?

Questions I would ask, if I could bear the pain.

Wild Kingdom SOLSC 17

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In the community of naturalists and environmentalists, there’s pretty much so always been an active discussion about the merits of backyard bird feeders.  This might come as a surprise to some of my readers, but it’s true (really!).

Bird feeders (the pole-mounted kind as well as the people) provide important food to local wildlife, some say.  Others say that putting out food detracts from a wild animal’s ability to forage for itself.  Some say there’s no harm–the impact isn’t that great–while others say any amount of intervention is significant.

The argument is totally lost on my mother.  It just doesn’t matter.  She’s a bird feeder (not the pole-mounted variety).

Since moving from my childhood home, my parents have always had a birdfeeder, or two, or three, and maybe a squirrel feeder in their back yard, just outside of their kitchen window.   Oddly enough, there are rarely birds, though.  Squirrels?  Now that’s a different story.  

The occasional bird comes through, but the most common consumer of bird seed outside of my parents’ kitchen window is the eastern grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis.  (At this time, the reader is supposed to say to him or herself, “Ooh, he took the time to look up the genus and species.”  If you haven’t done that yet, go ahead…I’ll wait.)

Grey squirrels.  Lots of them.  They come In two varieties: Eating, and looking-put-out-because-the-feeder-is-empty.  I’ve spent more than a little time watching them over the past few days (road trip!) and enjoy them a lot. I walked outside yesterday and actually had one of them give me a healthy dose of what for, but other than that, it’s been a positive experience for all parties involved.

My parents’ suburban nature sanctuary attracts other animals as well: Chipmunks that have gotten out of bed way too early with the flirtation of spring-like weather, a growing family of rabbits that resides under the shed, possums that wander through late at night, and a monster-sized raccoon that comes from who-knows-where. In addition, there’s a red-tailed hawk that is fond of sitting in the pine tree in the adjacent yard.  (My mom has kept a few pinecones just inside the door in case she ever has to throw them in defense of the smaller mammals, but I’m not sure she’s ever actually pulled that one off).

It’s a regular wild kingdom out there.

The for-or-against argument?  Sure, it’s there.  For now, though, I think I’ll pour a cup of coffee, take a seat, and watch the show.

Road Trips SOLSC 16

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Road trips are:

  • Packing and double-checking, knowing you’re going to forget something anyway
  • Airing up and topping off
  • Deciding on snacks, coffee, and a playlist to get started
  • Setting off with the early-morning sun in your eyes
  • Turning it up and singing along
  • Gas stations and fast-food restaurants
  • Eating what you probably wouldn’t eat at home
  • Driving on, long after the conversation wanes
  • Stiff backs and a sigh of relief when you’re there
  • Hugs, handshakes, and hellos
  • Just a quick trip down the hall
  • Love, laughter, and catching up
  • Quietly mourning those who were here last trip, but aren’t here now
  • Sleeping in a not-quite-like-at-home-strange bed
  • Missing those who couldn’t make the trip
  • Packing and double-checking, knowing you’re going to forget something anyway…then working your way back through the rest of the list again
  • Home, sweet home