Sunday, July 26, 2015

What I want you to know about me (Dear ELA 9 Students)

Dear ELA 9 Students,

Today is July 26, 2015.  You start the 2015-2016 school year on September 8.  That's not for another 43 days.  But today, I looked at your class roster.  Today, I looked at your names and your pictures.  Today, I wondered about who you might be and what unique gifts you will bring to our class this year.  Today, I also thought about what I want you to know about me, your ELA 9 teacher.

In Room 202, you will probably call me Mrs. Howe.  You might call me Frau Howe, if you or your friends know me from German class.  Either one is fine with me.  They're both names I go by around here at Lake Orion High School, because I have the opportunity every day to teach students English, German, and Reading here at LOHS.  I graduated a little south of here as a Highlander.  Four years later, I graduated a couple hours west of here as a Briton.  During my time as a Briton, I lost my heart in Heidelberg.  Then I graduated just a bit farther south of here as a Warrior. After a couple years as a Thunderbird, I've now been a Dragon for thirteen years, and I couldn't be more excited to start this school year with you as your teacher.

When I'm not in Room 202 or hanging around LOHS, I probably answer most often to Mom, Chelsea's mom, or Katie's mom.  My husband and I have two daughters.  Chelsea is turning eight and starting the third grade (in 43 days!) at Auburn Elementary school.  Katie turned five this summer and is starting kindergarten (also in 43 days at Auburn Elementary School).  We've had a busy and fun summer playing baseball, doing Hip Hop, and being Explorers in Downtown Rochester.  During the school year, we also work in Girl Scouts and swimming!  I love taking adventures with my girls.

I am a reader, a writer, a thinker, and a traveler.  I'm always looking for book suggestions, so if you've recently read something great, please share it with me.  Check out the back bulletin board to see what I've read this summer.  I don't write as often as I'd like, but I excited to write with you every day.  I love reading and writing in two languages--English and German!  I enjoy thinking and often have many more questions than answers.  I'm looking forward to what you have to teach me this year.  I also enjoy traveling.  These days, I stay closer to home.  We visit family in Ohio, head to Chicago every now and again, and go to Y Camp and Petosky in the summer, but I've been to several states including Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Virgina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and California.   I've also traveled through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and Canada.

While the paragraphs above tell you a bit about who I am, what I really want you to know is that I am excited to teach you.  I'm looking forward to learning about you.  I'm looking forward to reading, writing, and learning with you each day.  I believe in you, and I'm glad you're here (or will be here in 43 days)!

Mrs. Howe

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I Hate Shopping at Walmart

I hate shopping at Walmart.  I am a Meijer shopper.  Everywhere I have lived, I have found a Meijer, learned the layout, based my grocery store list off of the layout, and met my needs and later my family's needs at Meijer.  However, sometimes Meijer is out of what I need.  And Walmart is around the corner from Meijer.  Even though I know I'll have to search around the store, wait in a long line, or deal with a malfunction at the self checkout, sometimes I go to Walmart.

This summer, my daughters and I had been to the beach.  My daughter wanted some cool pool floaties for our next beach trip.  Since it was July, I figured we'd hit Meijer and see what discounted pool/swim items they had.  It was already nearing 8:00PM, and we'd had a long day at the beach, but the girls were behaving well, so we stopped at Meijer.

Meijer had discounted squirters, the kind the girls had used and loved at Jesse's party.  Meijer also had discounted life jackets, and Chelsea needed a bigger one.  But Meijer was out of floaties.  So after finding everything where we would expect it to be and after a successful trip through the self-checkout, I said, "Do you girls want to make a quick stop by Walmart and see if they have any floaties?"  The girls agreed, and we drove around the corner.

Katie's five, and she knows parking lot rules, but she often wanders.  So as we were walking in to the store, my eyes were less on my surroundings and more on her.  I think Chelsea was on one side of me, and Katie was on the other.  As we walked through the first set of a doors, a group of three or four men were standing around a cart.  A Walmart greeter asked, "Do you got a receipt?"

I heard, "Don't do it!" One of the men charged the greeter and I saw the greeter fall against the far wall.  I grabbed both of my children and walked into the store.

As we reached the Self Checkout, I loudly told a women I believed to be an employee that a man had just slammed the greeter into the wall.  Her blank stare told me she wasn't an employee.  So I yelled louder to a woman in Walmart vest. "Ma'me, a man just pushed one of your workers into a wall over by the door."  She looked confused, and I probably sounded hysterical, so I repeated myself louder.  When she looked over and saw the greeter, I pulled both of the girls along with me farther into the store.

"My heart is beating really fast," said Chelsea in a voice that seemed way to calm to me.

"Mine, too," whimpered Katie.

"That was really scary," I said.  "I wanted to get you away from there.  At least we found someone who could..."

"Help," interrupted Chelsea.  I was so relieved to hear her finish my sentence.  I'm not sure what I would have done, had I been alone.  The men around the cart were bigger and stronger than I, and my actions had not been driven by any conscious thought.  I wanted to get my kids to safety, and I wanted to help.  Had I been alone, perhaps I would have stayed in the entryway, screamed from there, or fished for my phone to call for help.  Who knows?  But I wasn't alone.  I had two small people I'm supposed to keep safe walking with me.

We quickly passed through the grocery section, the clothing section, and reached the toys/sports section.  Since it wasn't Meijer, I didn't exactly know where to find what we needed.  We walked through several aisles and ended up with two tire floaties.

As we headed towards the checkout, Katie started whimpering.  She didn't want to go back through the door.  "The police will be here by now.  The door will be safe, and I'll go through first and walk right by you," I reassured her.  I hoped I sounded braver and less worried than I felt.

I didn't have enough patience for the trials of the self-checkout.  Besides, the self-checkout had a view of the door.  So we got in an Express Lane.  The lane didn't live up to it's name because the customers in front of us insisted they were told the Disney bike helmet they wanted to buy cost only $2.00.  While a man ran back to do a price check, we waited.  The customers in the line next to us also waited, because a woman wanted ten percent off the price of a bike with some scratches on the paint on the handlebars.  Normally, I would have been impatient about the wait and reminded myself why I hate Walmart, but at that moment, I was thankful for some extra time for the situation at the door to be handled.

When we finally walked out of the store, there was a police officer talking with the greeter, and there were two police cruisers parked at the front of the store.  As we walked to the car, I told my children that the police were here to help and keep everyone at Walmart safe.  Once we were locked in the car, I asked the girls if they could describe any of the men we had seen.  Chelsea said, "I can see one man in my head, but it's really hard for me to tell you what he looks like."  I slowly began driving out of the large parking lot.  I saw a women talking to the police officers by the cruisers.

"Do you think you could tell the police anything about him?"

"Not, not really.  Why are you asking, Mom?"

I hesitated.  I wanted to go home.  "Because if we could describe any of the men, that would help the police find them, and I would drive over the police cruiser, so we could talk to them.  That would be another way to help.  But it won't help them if we can't remember.  I didn't get a good look at them.  Did you?"

"I don't think I can describe him," Chelsea answered.

"Okay, let's go home."

The girls had been pretty brave in the store, but when we pulled into our driveway, they were suddenly terrified.  Since we'd been at the beach, I had to make three trips in to the house with all of our stuff.  The first time I walked in, they jumped and screamed.  So we made a deal that I'd take my keys, lock the door when I was outside, and unlock the door and say who I was when I came in.  Our detached garage is probably twenty feet away from our front door, but this didn't seem silly.  To them, it seemed safe.  They had to have their baths together that evening.  And we all had a giant slumber party on the sleeper coach in our tv room.  Chelsea needed a heating pad and loud music playing to fall asleep.

Katie said she's never going to Walmart again.  I told her to remember all the times we have been to Walmart when no bad things happened.  And to remember that people were around to help everyone try to stay safe.  I told her when we go back again, another bad thing probably won't happen.

I hate shopping at Walmart.  But what I really hate is the realization that no matter how much I love my kids, they are growing up.  And they are growing up in an imperfect world where sometimes bad things happen.  I hate that as much as I would like to keep them safe, sometimes the best that I can do is to teach them by example to stay safe and help as much as they can in a bad situation.  And I also hate that teaching them to face their fears means I might just have to take them shopping a Walmart again, sometime.  But I can always hope that maybe, my Meijer's won't be out of what we want or need for a while. 

Life happens; catching up again

Mike was in Italy last week, and I barely looked at Teachers Write!  The kids and I did have an experience that I think I'll start writing about soon and use with my ninth graders, though. 

So tonight, I'm hoping to catch up again.  Here's what I'm learning from going through the last week's posts. 

From Amy Fellner Dominy: 
Writing a book is ridiculously hard. Character mapping helps you work with characters.  Begin your map with the thing that defines your character and then branch out.  Take an attribute and flip it.  That might lead to the conflict in your book. 

From Anne Nesbet: 
You can get into your main character's head through Quoted Monologue, Psycho-Narration, and Narrated Monologue. 

From Sarah Prineas: 
The protagonist must protag. 

From Steve Sheinkin: 
The opening scene makes or breaks a book, especially non-fiction.  So start by thinking of scenes with a little bit of action that involve your main character and set the mood.  Go for 600-800 words. 

From Heidi Schulz: 
To make your characters come alive, know your characters.  Get to know your characters by creating scraps and scenes that have little to do with your plot, but help you to explore your character. 

From  Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich:
You can move from personal narrative to memoir by infusing memory with meaning.  Writing a memoir is about taking the small things and asking big questions.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What I missed...

While I was celebrating and recovering from my five-year-old's birthday party, I missed a few Teacher's Write! posts.  As I quickly go through them today, here is what I want to remember. 

Sage writing advice is write what you know, not write who you are.  Any writer can write about diverse characters.  He/she just needs to know/learn about them.  Thank you, Christina Diaz Gonzalez!

In fiction, we have the wonderful ability to place our characters and conflicts in just the right setting.  Thank you, Elana Arnold! 

Rhyme's not super-duper easy, but it's also not way too hard.  It's also less important than meaning.  Thank you, Liz Garton Scanlon! 

Books are unlikely to hurt kids, even if they do scare them out of this world (adults too?).  Thank you, Laurel Snyder!

Every character in a book should have a strong voice, even if they only appear for a moment.  Thank you, Tracey Baptiste! 

As I write (fiction), I also write myself.  Thank you, Martha Brockenbrough! 

People Make Wonderful Prompts

This is the line that stood out for me most today in the Teachers Write! mini lesson.  We are only two official days into Teachers Write!, but I see intentional daily free-writing popping back into my ELA 9 lessons.  This would be a great prompt for students in the beginning of the course.

When I think of writing fiction, my first thought is usually, "Yeah, right?!" But sometimes I overcome that first thought and continue to think about writing fiction.  Sometimes I want to explore Grandpa and the letters he wrote to Grandma during World War II more.  Most of the time, I think about exploring the lives of my own children and their adventures.

As someone who loves to read, it seems so natural that the people all around us inspire characters.  It also seems natural that the characters we find most interesting, intriguing, or identifiable are real characters, so paying attention and being inspired by what you see is one characteristic of a good writer.  I'm not sure I'll be back to this blog or task today.  My life often seems to be running ahead of me, but my hope for today, is that I can slow it down a bit to pay more attention to the who/what around me. 

My baby turned 5!

Katie turned five last Thursday.  I'm not sure how that's possible, proud of how she's grown, and excited about what's to come all at the same time.  On Thursday, we met friends at Open Jump at Pump It Up, had an impromptu lunch party at the Rainforest Cafe, took Chelsea to Hip Hop, hit the sidewalk sales to become Explorers, and opened family presents.  Friday was movie day (Minions), get ready for the party day, and go to fireworks on the lake day.  Saturday was the party.  This week has been filled with trying to relax, writing thank you notes, and taking Chelsea to Wildcat camp.  All of that means life has been busy and full of blessings, but I fell behind in Teachers Write! again as I have the last two summers. 

What I'm hoping will be different this year is that I have a few moments today to catch up.  Or I hope if I don't catch up, I just jump back in and keep writing! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

All About Me

I discovered my "All About Me" book from Mrs. Slisinger's 5th grade class.  I completed the book in April 1987.  It includes a birth certificate, family tree, wanted poster, my story, firsts for me, hobbies and interests, facts about my school, all time favorites, my friends, what I want to be, likes and dislikes and special letters. 

I thought it would be neat to read some of the book and answer the same prompts now.  I also think an "All About Me" journal might be one of my 9th grade students first journals this fall. 

Here's my "Wanted Ad" from 1987:
Here's what my Wanted Ad would say today in 2015: 

Name:  Jennifer Lynn (Taylor) Howe

Serial Number:  123456788

Alias:  Jen Taylor, Jen Howe, Frau Taylor, Frau Howe, Mom, Chelsea's Mom, Katie's Mom

Address:  Auburn Hills, MI

 Birth date:  December 8

Born:  Kettering, Ohio

Height:  5' 5"

Hair Color:  brown

Eye Color:  brown

Interests:  reading, writing, teaching, traveling

Hobby:  taking adventures with my girls

Last seen: at the playground at McGregor Elementary

Wearing:  faded blue jeans, black tennis shoes, and a t-shirt that says, "full-time TEACHER/all-time MOM/Sleep?  What's that?"

Special remarks:  Often heard speaking German or seen running after two curly-haired kids

Hangs Around With:  Chelsea and Katie

Favorite Subject:  Life

Car She Drives:  Silver Dodge Dart

Favorite Food:  Pizza


Here's my "What I Want To Be.."  from 1987


Here's my reflection on that today:

I think I'm grown-up.  I have two kids of my own and am responsible for classrooms full of kids.  I'm turning 40 in December.  Looking back, I see that my 11- year-old self had a few things figured out. 

1.  I am an actress. I'm not in movies or on television, but each day I look myself in the mirror, wonder if I'm ready for the world, and am "on stage" for a small audience of the two small children in my house or for a larger audience of the high school age students in my classroom.  I'm okay at following a script, but I'm way better at improvising as things come up (and something unexpected always does!).  Sometimes I do a great job of staying in character as a calm, patient, responsible adult.  Other times (most of the time), I'm just real, and you get what you get. 

2.  I'm also a teacher.  I teach the two small children in my home and I teach high school students Reading, Language Arts, and German.  I live some of their high school drama, but I try not to teach that!  Instead you can find me sitting up front for most of Lake Orion's theater performances.  Teaching is part acting, part managing, part leading, part facilitating, and part stepping back and letting your students prove they don't need you any more.  It's ALL heart, and it's all real.  You get what you get, and I get a whole lot more back than what I give. 

3.  Being an actress/teacher/adult is hard, but with a lot of grace and support, I seem to be handling it. 

Here's something my fifth-grade self didn't think of.  We are all always learning, discovering, changing and growing.  I still don't know exactly what(who) I'm going to be, but I have some good ideas. 

Thank you, Mrs. Slisinger, for pushing my 11-year-old self to reflect on this.