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Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 40

Posted on October 11, 2014 8:00 am in Blog | 0 comments



Day 40“What do you hear at the beginning of your name? D- D- David?”

“Nada,” he says, mouth barely moving, staring down at a dirty fingernail.

I think to myself, “Nothing? You don’t hear anything? How, after 102 days, can you not hear any sound at the beginning of your name?” Instead I say, “‘D’ is the sound at the beginning of your name. Look at my mouth when I say it. ‘D,’ ‘D.’”

He looks up briefly from studying his fingernail and whispers it softly, barely audibly, “d.”

“What does ‘d’ look like?” I ask hopefully, now that I have his attention.

But he looks down again, shakes his head and says, almost angrily, “Yo no sé.” I don’t know. It is as if he is saying, why would I know something like that? As if asking him about the letter his name starts with, the letter I have worked for weeks with him on, was the most boring thing in the world, completely unrelated to him and his life. He clearly had better things to do than to sit around remembering lines with humps and nonsensical gibberish like “d” “d.” (more…)

Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 39

Posted on October 10, 2014 8:00 am in Blog | 0 comments



Memoir, I have discovered, has an arc: it moves from awkward and tentative, to skeptical and resistant, and finally to powerful and intense. Sometimes a class gets stuck at one of the early stages. Sometimes it circles back. By the end of a semester, however, souls have shifted.

I had longed to teach this class, then wanted a second chance at it—to correct some of my blunders and to build on some of my discoveries. After two rounds, when I am almost getting the hang of it, it has been taken out of my schedule for next year. I will miss the lives that are revealed to me through this form.

I have seen the biggest gains in writing come in Memoir. Student writers become craftsmen, begin to relish the power of their own stories, sometimes free themselves from demons and sometimes open old wounds. It’s not pretty. In fact, most of it is gritty.

We don’t use rubrics. No, in fact I rarely grade, score, or assess anything beyond participation, really. How does one score a life? Students write, share, talk—they get full credit. This spring I had a Type A student (a sweet girl, a hard worker) who nailed a 100% average. Rare, but not surprising. Everybody passed. Even the girls who fell off the planet for days or weeks then came back and busted their butts to catch up. (more…)

Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 38

Posted on October 9, 2014 12:21 pm in Blog | 0 comments



“Oh, you mean you didn’t know?” the veteran, mentor teacher asked later in the hallway.

“How could I know? No one told me,” Miss O’Sullivan said

“Oh, well Nate probably said something about his father. See, his father…” the veteran teacher continued in the cool dark hall of hushed tones.


“Student confidentiality,” the guidance counselor said when Miss O’Sullivan asked why she hadn’t been told.

“But I’m his advisor,” Miss O’Sullivan said. “I’ll be seeing him three times a day. Don’t you think it would be in at least his best interest to share that information with me?”

“What could I do? Our hands are tied. It’s simply a case of student confidentiality.” The guidance counselor left the room with her burgundy leather portfolio tucked against her chest, shielding her heart. Miss O’Sullivan stood alone in the sunlit office staring out the window.

*** (more…)

Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 37

Posted on October 8, 2014 8:00 am in Blog | 0 comments



Day 37As I look up from my lunch, a tiny black face with a big smile pops into my door. “You gonna be at recess today?” she asks.

“Um…yeah I am!” My eyebrows raise objecting to the mere suggestion I would skip recess.

“You got the music?”

“Uh huh, I’m ready! I’ll meet you down there Akila.”

“Come soon, Ms. Eagen!” she begs walking quickly out of sight back to the cafeteria where lunch will soon be ending.

I take a few more bites of my meal and wrap my ankle-length, black wool coat over the wool scarf I’d put on just before Akila came in. Still chewing, I slip my feet into my sherpa lined boots. I remember how cold it was walking in to school from my car. I do not like the cold at all. I grab my head wrap from my desk to cover my ears and start down to the cafeteria. (more…)

Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 36

Posted on October 7, 2014 12:00 pm in Blog | 0 comments



In September, he was an unbroken horse,
cowering in the corner,
lashing out at anyone who stepped too close.
In his first four years, he was the man of the house,
he shielded his mother
and rocked his baby sister,
saw his “old dad”  drown their cats.
His gaze was hardened by the ripe age of five.
He prided himself on keeping in the tears
when he skinned his knees on the playground.
Its okay to cry, I told him.
Said he would protect the kids outside because he was tough,
and wouldn’t cry if someone hurt him.
You are safe here. It’s okay to cry. (more…)

Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 35

Posted on October 6, 2014 2:36 pm in Blog | 0 comments



Last year, my school was abuzz with anticipation after a new master schedule was adopted. This meant new classes would be developed, and many teachers would be assigned new grade levels. I had been teaching 9th grade English for several years and told my administrator that I was eager for something new. As rumors about new courses trickled down to the student population, they soon figured out that they may be reunited with previous teachers, likely ones from their freshmen year. Most groaned at this, as did I, thinking of reunions that may prove to be less than joyous. Making my way through the crowded hallway on the way to my prep office one afternoon, a boy named Tyler, a former freshmen of mine, stopped me. “Ms. Landry,” he said, his ice blue eyes dancing. “I heard that you’re teaching juniors next year, is that true?” I told him that I hadn’t been officially assigned my classes yet, but that it was a likelihood.

“Wow, I really hope so. You were the best English teacher I ever had,” he said, shrugging into his backpack, turning and leaving me stunned. From then on, anytime I saw him in the hallway, he would ask if I knew yet, would I be teaching juniors next year, would I be his teacher again? My cynical self concluded that the kid was bullshitting me, that my course was probably too easy, or that he knew he would be able to get away with having his cell phone on his desk during class and that my late work policy was flexible. My optimistic self was assuring and concluded that maybe he was truly vested in the chance to sit in my class again, just like I was given to the opportunity to sit twice in Mrs. Harrington’s class during my time in elementary school. (more…)

Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 34

Posted on October 5, 2014 3:36 pm in Blog | 0 comments



Day 34We met in Bass Hall, a room as steeped in history as dark, rich tea—not only the town history, but my own. In this room, I once participated in ballroom dancing lessons, stood stiffly with the other girls on one side of the room, waiting for the equally uncomfortable, pre-pubescent boys to cross over and choose us. I also gave a performance here in a community play when I was ten years old. I have returned to this room in the Peterborough Historical Society now to teach a course once a month for teachers called “Power and Place,” in which we investigate the social class dynamics of this small region of New Hampshire through literature and writing. The group is diverse and friendly. Last month, one of the participants did an impromptu birthday party for another. We look forward to these classes, and the full days pass quickly. I don’t even mind the hour and a half drive each way.

This Saturday morning, we have gathered, as we do every month, around folding tables and chairs, grouped together in the middle of the ornate salon, named for the benefactor, later congressman, who donated money for its construction. The walls are wainscoted to a level far above our heads in rich, honey-colored wood. Above us, a balcony houses a spinning wheel and an enormous portrait of the benefactor’s mother, in formal dress, who almost seems to gaze down her nose at us. (more…)

Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 33

Posted on October 4, 2014 1:04 pm in Blog | 0 comments



Day 33The cafeteria is full of family, friends, and staff all dressed in their best with cameras in hand ready to snap shots of memories to be shared for decades to come. All seating that has been provided is filled, and the perimeter of the room is blanketed with even more people standing. All eyes are on stage including mine. I stand in the doorway looking up to the podium where little Miss Hannah Banana stands barely tall enough to see over the top. Her hair, the color of goldenrod, slicked back into a simple ponytail. Her dress, vibrant, just like her. She is so beautiful and so proud.

She deserves to be proud. Hannah walked into 5th grade with attitude. Spunky and fire cracker were words often used to describe her, but, as much as Hannah’s attitude was a challenge for most teachers to handle, she needed it to survive. She spent most of her 5th grade year homeless, moving from families’ to friends’ houses constantly. One morning, during share, she told us about spending the previous night collecting her belongings from the curb outside her “old house.” Her most permanent residence was the seventh floor of the Landmark Inn. Hannah’s father was not in her life, and her mom had been arrested on numerous occasions for drug and assault charges. When Mrs. Martin asked Hannah why her mother would not attend parent teacher conferences or why her mother wouldn’t return her phone calls, Hannah replied, “My mom doesn’t like you.” After the initial shock, Mrs. Martin began to investigate, and she found that Hannah’s mother was caught forging checks in her family-owned store. There was a warrant out for her arrest, and she was in hiding. At one point, a local police officer suggested that Mrs. Martin attempt to lure Hannah’s mother to the school so the police could arrest her, but Mrs. Martin refused. “My responsibility is to Hannah,” she said. In order to educate Hannah, Mrs. Martin needed Hannah’s respect and trust, and with a full class consisting of typical students and five other students with special needs, Mrs. Martin needed help. (more…)

Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 32

Posted on October 3, 2014 2:18 pm in Blog | 0 comments



As I trudged through sand and snow to the SAU office where our meeting was to be held, I wondered what it would be like to meet him face to face. My co-workers who knew what I was doing thought I was nuts. Another teacher told me that she would never volunteer to do this, but I knew I had to. I knew that, if there was a moment that was meant to teach me something or show me something, this was it.

We couldn’t meet at school because he wasn’t allowed in school. The walk to the SAU was short, but that day the January wind knocked the air out of my lungs. I was late, mostly because I didn’t want to be the first one there. I pushed through the glass door into the lobby, nodded at the secretary, and made a quick right into the conference room. Everyone was there. The principal of special education leaned over in conference with the guidance counselor. I took a seat in one of the orange chairs, vaguely wondering about the 70s décor, and slowly brought my eyes up to meet this young man I had heard so much about.

My first in-person look at him revealed a nice looking teenager with a dark, studious face. Rectangular, dark-rimmed glasses framed his face. He quietly regarded everyone with a distant interest. His mom sat next to him, her face set rigidly. Barely over 40, she had a youthful appearance to her features, but I sensed a storm passing under her skin. Being near her was electric. (more…)

Forty Days of Teacher Lore: Day 31

Posted on October 2, 2014 5:43 pm in Blog | 0 comments



Day 31BWhenever I go into the back room at the Basket Company store to rummage for bargains among their seconds, I inevitably run into Hawk. He was one of my seniors my first year of teaching. Since he graduated, he has worked on the production line in the basket factory. That is, when he hasn’t been in trouble. It seems to me that I read in the papers some time ago that he may have spent some time in jail, and I’m pretty confident that he lost his drivers license long ago as a habitual offender.

Hawk begins every conversation the same way. “You still teaching?”

I answer in the affirmative, and he begins to chuckle, recalling how he and his class put me through my paces that first year. He reminds me of how sentimental I was with them in the spring of that year when I told his class that no matter how long I taught, I would never forget them and that thanks to them, I was prepared for anything. Both of those sentiments proved to be prophetic. (more…)