Tag Archives: Education

Happy First Day of School

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Happy First Day of School

It’s the first day of school, and I’ve been called in on an emergency basis to fill in at the elementary school where I used to teach. Since I’ve been gone, the entire staff has left and been replaced by people I don’t know. Also, the locations of all the classrooms, offices, cafeteria, and library have changed. I can’t find my music classroom. I don’t have the main office number listed on my phone.

When I finally locate the music room, it’s filled with unruly students running around and using the ceiling light fixtures as trapeze swings, no responsible adults in sight. They’ve just been dropped off, and I have no idea what grade they are or when they will be picked up. I have no class list. I have no schedule. I don’t know what books, supplies, or instruments I have or where they would be located. I have no strategy for getting the students under control, no first-day activities planned.

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No, this didn’t really happen, but it is a recurring dream I’ve had frequently in the five years since I resigned from teaching. I’ve also had variations on this dream: my new classroom is a cabana on the beach and I have to keep my kindergarten students from drowning in the surf; it’s the day of the big musical performance and I’ve forgotten to cast or rehearse it.

And it’s similar to dreams that even veteran teachers have about being unprepared for the first day or for back-to-school night.

I actually always loved the first few weeks of school. Everything was fresh; the students were well-behaved, confident that this new year would be the best yet. The students at my school had new clothes and backpacks and pristine supplies to begin their classes. The impetus of novelty continued while the kids were challenged to progress to the next level.

This is the first year that I didn’t have a pang of regret on the first day of school. I like retirement enough that I’m not missing the back-breaking labor of setting up my classroom (teachers spend the day after the last day of school clearing their classrooms so that annual maintenance like deep-cleaning and painting can happen over the summer). I still miss the vibrance of working with kids, but my students who were kindergarteners when I resigned are now in sixth grade (not my favorite age group). I don’t think I could pick up where I left off.

The schools in my neck of the woods opened a few weeks ago, but when we lived in New Jersey, the traditional start of school was the day after Labor Day. Best wishes to all who are starting out this week. Give your teachers a hug for me.

From the Creator’s Heart #201

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From the Creator’s Heart #201

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught (Isaiah 50:4 NRSV).

Video of the Week #189: How to Get Black Boys to Read

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Click here for more information about: Barbershop Books.

Video of the Week #177: Why to Read Aloud to Children

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All About Author Visits

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All About Author Visits

Today’s article is for teachers and librarians and media specialists as well as for authors of books for children and teens.

When my children were in school, occasionally a form came home explaining that an author was visiting the school and my child could purchase a book which would be signed by the author.

We never bought the books. We were on a budget. Most of my childrens’ books came from the library or the Scholastic book club flyers. I didn’t really get what author visits were all about.

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Author Jeff Kinney visits Malcolm X School; photo by Mark Coplan; used under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

The next time I heard about author visits was in 2004 when I attended the Maui Writers’ Conference. I heard a talk by Christopher Paolini, who wrote Eragon when he was a home-schooled 15-year-old. His family originally self-published the book, and they traveled around to Renaissance festivals to market it, often standing in the rain all day to sell two books. Somehow he stumbled on the idea of offering to do a presentation at a school. His appearance was a success, and word spread among school librarians, who were happy to have him come to talk to kids about writing fantasy in exchange for book sales. The audience for his book multiplied, buzz got out, and Alfred A. Knopf snatched up Eragon and gave Paolini a contract for three more books.

After I returned to teaching, I got to attend some fabulous author visits at my elementary school. Now I understand what a win-win-win enterprise author visits are for students, teachers, and writers.

The best author visits are the ones where a large portion of the students have already read at least one of the author’s books (which are especially beloved by children of all ages and their teachers and the media specialists because they are so well-written and relevant), and the teachers have read at least portions of a book to or with their classes, and the author is prepared with an engaging educational presentation and activities that tie in to the state standards.

Author visits can be arranged through several different avenues:

  1. Through publishers. Most large publishers maintain lists of their authors who are willing to visit schools and libraries. There is a cost for this service: an honorarium for the author (somewhere between $200-$5000), plus travel expenses, including mileage or transportation, lodging, and meals, depending on the distance the author travels and the length of the visit.
  2. Through bookstores. When publishers send well-known authors on book tours, each bookstore they come to for a signing has the option of arranging school visits. Since the publisher is paying the author’s expenses, no honorarium or expenses are paid by the school, but they must order a certain number of books. These can be bought by the students to be signed by the author, or purchased for the library, or for classroom sets, or any combination therof.
  3. Directly through the author. Many authors are published through small houses which do not have the resources to set up visits, or are self-published. These authors may seek out schools and libraries that they are willing to visit, or list their availability on their author website or other websites and publications. They determine their own requirements and rates for honorariums and expenses.

Author visits can take a variety of forms:

  1. The author reads and/or talks about his book.
  2. The author talks about his process of writing, where he gets his ideas, his pathway to getting the book published.
  3. The author conducts a workshop to help the students write stories or poetry.
  4. A large scale presentation in an auditorium for several grade levels.
  5. A small scale presentation for a single class.

One of the best author visits I’ve ever seen was a presentation by Jack Gantos, who wrote the Rotten Ralph and Joey Pigza books. He’s kind of nerdy-looking in his narrow tie and eyeglasses. He had a slide show with illustrations on his computer that was projected on a screen while he told stories like this one. He had our students rolling on the floor laughing.

Author visits are excellent avenues for authors who write for children and teens to promote their books. They’re great for students, especially those who have already read the books, to see that ordinary people can write meaningful stories that touch people deeply. And they’re worthwhile for teachers, because they support and enhance the teachers’ writing and literature instruction.

Author visit resources:

Do you know of an author who does wonderful presentations at schools? Do you do school visits? Have any tips? Please share in the comments below.

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Shel Silverstein

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Shel Silverstein

One of my favorite poet/illustrators is Shel Silverstein (1930-1999). I find his rhymes and accompanying drawings delightful. They were enjoyed by my husband’s elementary school students and by our five kids, and adults and children alike.

Not only did he write poems and draw illustrations and cartoons, he also composed songs and wrote plays.

Preparing to write this article, I could only find two volumes of his in my well-organized (—not!) library: The Giving Tree and A Light in the Attic. I’m sure we had more; who knows where they went.

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From A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein.

The Giving Tree is a picture book. It tells the story of a tree who loves a boy and over the years gives herself to him completely. I interpret it as a metaphor for mothering.

A Light in the Attic is a collection of poetry. I’m sure we also had Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.  As someone who writes poetry and most often defaults to free verse, I am impressed by the quality of Silverstein’s rhymes. Sometimes he takes liberties (like rhyming water with oughtter), but the rhymes never feel forced or contrived.

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From A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein.

Silverstein’s whimsical illustrations remind me a bit of Dr. Suess, in that they are in turns amusing and a little nightmarish.

I remember three of his songs in particular, though I forgot (if I ever even knew) that he wrote them. “A Boy Named Sue” earned him a Grammy.

That one and this one, “The Unicorn,” got way too much airtime during my high school years. (Enough to almost make me think unicorns are dorky. Almost, but not quite.)

One song I love and that I sang with my kindergarten students when I taught music:

His work remains popular today. The Shel Silverstein website has resources for teachers to inspire their student poets, writers, and artists.

 

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Video of the Week #148: Sarah McLachlan’s Schools of Music

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As a former music educator, I am so grateful that Sarah McLachlan started three music schools in Canada.