The Best Model

Recently, I read an article on the Farnam Street blog, “Mental Model: Hanlon’s Razor,” that presented a way of orienting ourselves to others. Hanlon’s Razor is a mental model:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.

I immediately thought of my 4th graders. They needed this quote. Developmentally, they are prone to think the world revolves around them and that anything negative that happens to them must be intentional and part of some diabolical plan. When they can’t find something: “Someone stole my fidget.” When someone mistakenly bumps them, “He hit me.”  I calmly tell them not to assume someone stole their belongings. “Perhaps, he mistakenly brushed up beside you.” It doesn’t help that he doesn’t immediately apologize after the inadvertent bumping, but that is another lesson. After arming myself with this quote, I share it with my students, explaining each word. I give them examples. As days pass, I often refer to it. It is emblazoned on the board.

One day, I notice my eraser is missing. It is a layered eraser. The soft fabric can be removed when the underside becomes over soiled and ineffective at erasing. There are layers lying around but no eraser. During indoor recess, I recall how certain students love playing teacher using the easel, dry erase markers, and my eraser. I ask one student who loves playing teacher if she knows where it is. I mutter to the class how someone pulled off all the layers and probably threw away my the top. After mentioning the missing eraser one other time, I move on. My eraser is a casualty of one of my students.

A few days later, I escorted my class to the computer lab for. As I was explaining something, I reached for an eraser to clear off the board. The name written on the eraser was mine! Here was my “discarded at the hands of my students” eraser. I immediately picked it up, and basking in my chagrin, I apologized to my students and waved the eraser so they could see. “Oh my, what a great example of Hanlon’s Razor,” I gushed, “It was my neglect that caused this. It wasn’t you!” The class erupted in applause. I’m not entirely sure why they applauded, but I knew in that moment that I had given them the most authentic example of this quote or how not to exemplify it. I, the teacher, modeled the behavior I wanted them to change. I was the best model of what not to do. Maybe they applauded because they had both forgiven me and been transformed in that instant.

Spring Break and Numb Eyes

Spring Break is almost done. I’ve spent the majority of my time off neck deep in copyediting dissertations, three to be exact. After my last edit, a peaceful satisfaction settles, second only to the receipt of payment. My eyes go numb as well from the intense concentration. 

When my time comes to write my dissertation, this practice will only sharpen my own research and writing skills. I enjoy this work. Now, I must rest these tired, numb eyes. How can I when reading and writing are my hobbies and that which I need rest from…

Contact me if you need a copy editor or writing coach. 

My students need your help!

Please consider giving to my Donors Choose project. Little by little becomes a lot… This project will fund 6 devices which will enhance my instruction. We have a bring your own device program at my school, but many students don’t have devices other than cell phones. Please click on the link to get more information. Thank you!


Everything in one Equation

When I landed my first teaching job, I was excited beyond words. I become consumed when I am passionate about something, soaking up everything about the object of my passion.  On one particular evening, I was reading the employee calendar when something caught my eye. In the bottom left corner of each calendar block were two numbers separated by a slash. For example, 3/2 or 6/12. I was unsuccessful in trying to figure out these numbers so I flipped to the front of the book. I found an explanation.

Numbers in the bottom left corner of each school-day block denote the instructional day. The school year is made up of nine instructional months and 20 days each, for a total of 180 instructional days. For instance, 4/17 on December 2 is the 17th instructional day of the fourth month of school.

After reading this paragraph, I surmised there had to be a way determine the day of school (1-180) using those two numbers. I played around with different equations. My husband and daughter tried when I enlisted their help, but they couldn’t figure out an equation that would work. I can’t remember how long it took me, but I figured it out that evening.

The equation is: (IM-1)20 + ID= Day of School. That is if you take the instructional month subtract 1 and multiply the difference by 20 and add the instructional day, it would yield the day of school. I eagerly shared it with my class that first year. Considering that my students were only 8 and 9 year olds, I knew it might be difficult for them to understand. I did have one student who grasped the equation to my surprise.

As years passed, I shared the equation with my class, albeit later in the year when I had taught more math concepts. I was met with glassy eyes. My explanation didn’t go over any better with teachers. At the beginning of this year, (my 5th year) I made a commitment to teach this equation at the beginning of the year and require that students figure out the day of school every day. My efforts have reaped much fruit. Every day, I write the IM and ID on the board. Students use these numbers to figure out the day of school. This is their morning work. I’ve also added the expectation that they take the day of school, subtract it from 180 days using the standard algorithm or using mental math. Then they have to write the days we have gone and the days we have left as two fractions of the whole. Lastly, they have to draw a graphic illustrating all this. The graphic is a 3 X 3 grid. The 9 squares stand for each of the 9 instructional months. As we reach 20 days, they shade in a box.

From this simple equation, I can teach much of 4th grade math content: Number & Operations, Fractions, Geometry, and Decimals. This equation that came out of curiosity is a fruitful and authentic math resource. I get so much, veritably, everything in 4th grade math, from one equation.

Stay Strong, Hill..

When Hillary Clinton was running for president against Barack Obama, I was decidedly on Obama’s side. I wrote missives against her candidacy. 

After the long battle, I was happy when they became allies and she accepted his offer to be Secretary of State. Now during her second run for president she is looking a lot like Barack Obama in terms of how the media, opponents, and the populace at large is treating her.

Hillary is the new Barack, subject to all manner of double standards, hateful speech, and scrutiny. She shouldn’t get a free ride, but the email and server controversy is being run in the ground. 

This double standard is so stark when compared to the treatment of her opponent Donald Trump. He has been a horrible candidate by every measure. A small man who incites, invites, and broadcasts racist, sexist, classist, (any ism) speech. He is tapped on the wrist and dismissed as a plain talker. He is uninformed, mean-spirited, dishonest, vulgar...I could go on but Slate gives 153 reasons he should not be President. Aside from all these, he is grossly unqualified with an unwillingness or desire to learn. 

The media holds Hillary Clinton to a different standard. This weekend when she became ill at the 9/11 memorial I was sicked at how the vultures (media) circled. They don’t ask the questions of Donald Trump like why don’t you release your taxes??!?! 

When she characterized 1/2 of  his supporters as a “basket of deplorables” she was only half right. It should be all. The media pounced on her. Unlike Trump, she clarified her statements. Are these folks that way because they are uneducated? I don’t know. They need a scapegoat and blacks and browns are easy to scapegoat. Make America great again is a rallying cry to make America hate again. Bring back a time when blacks and Browns knew their place, where whites can look in the mirror and say, no matter what happens as long I am better off than those beneath me, all things are good.

Despite the hate Trump peddles, he won’t be a good President for anyone but himself and those willing to do his bidding. On Election Day this year, I hope we vote for the America of Liberty, justice, and equality. 

Musings from My Sick Bed

Swallowing should never be overrated. That is crystal clear when streptococcus invades your system. 

Thanks to a cocktail of steroids and antibiotics given in my butt cheek  (ouch!), I began felling better hours later. I had to prepare lesson plans for my students and secure a substitute teacher. This took a couple of hours as usual. Had I not been contagious, I would have gone in. 

I’m following my husbands directions and staying in bed till noon. It is difficult to do when my list of things to do is very long. Even though experience has taught me I’ll never conquer my list, I still try, often to my own peril. During the Labor Day holiday, I pulled an all nighter in an attempt to get all my papers graded. I think that put a chink in my immune system, opening me up to the flora and fauna of germs. 

I’m going to learn the lesson. No amount of work martyrdom will get me anything but run down and sick. There are no accolades for working hard. No one notices, but me, my dogs, daughter, and hubby. I will continue to try as hard as I can to educate the students in my care, but smarter and with more self-care.

New Laws not National Conversations

It is the normal course for politicians and national leaders to call for a national conversation on race in America when a racially infused incident occurs. The call has become filler with no real intention of being carried out. What would such a conversation look like?  What would it accomplish? Nothing. Americans are having conversations on race every day but not across race, not engaging in those uncomfortable confrontations that we hope might lead to the real change. We do not need conversations on race. We need new laws.

In the face of the slayings of two black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN by police officers, the problem of racially motivated violence against blacks by police is again in the headlines. When President Obama addressed these killings, it was obvious he wasn’t talking to black people. He was trying to convince whites that these killings were wrong, essentially saying that black lives matter. He quickly assured law enforcement that they were honored, celebrated, and appreciated for the work they did daily. The president’s quick pivot to celebrating law enforcement was telling. After peaceful protests in Dallas, a lone gunman, Micah Johnson, fired on police, killing 5 officers and injuring others. The shooter was black and he expressed anger at the recent shootings and the desire to kill white people and officers as his motivation. This disturbed individual’s horrific act was a deadly exclamation point on this week. Violence is never the answer.

It has always been the job of black folks to justify their right to keep their lives, not to be killed. Unfortunately, this sort of explaining is still required even when videos clearly show the victim powerless, non-threatening, and in many cases dying while the police officer brandishes a gun and fails to render in aid. The only way this will begin to stop is if the bar is lowered for prosecution of these police. Currently, it is too difficult to get a conviction when a police officer kills while on duty. That needs to change. There needs to be meaningful gun reform in this country. The paralyzing hold the NRA has on politicians stands in the way of this reform. This needs to change. National conversations won’t work.





youreoverreactinynavy_fullpicI received an e-mail alert from the public library. My account was being charged for a damaged book I had recently returned.

This e-mail came on a leisurely Saturday morning. I’d slept in and had a plan to write most of the day after breakfast. Once I received the alert, my calm spirt left, replaced by a reactionary, anxious spirit bent on righting this grave injustice.

My mind recalled what has happened. I had reserved 4 thick SAT preparation manuals for my daughter. They sat on the dining room table for days until I forced her to begin studying using the volume I gave her. One of the manuals was for the redesigned SAT. This and the other books were never opened because she was talking the current SAT. Some time later, we returned all the books except for the one I gave her to study.

How could we damage a book we never cracked? Aha! Someone else had damaged it and returned it to the library. The personnel didn’t notice until I returned the book. I phoned the library branch to get to the bottom of this.

I must include some background. For almost 8 months, I worked at the public library part time. I know how something like this could have happened. Surely if I spoke with someone there, they could help me. I phoned the workroom. When the person answered, I launched into an explanation. The speaker cut me off. Apparently the library wasn’t open. She directed me to call back at 10 am. I name dropped, asking for the branch manager, but she wasn’t available. The person I spoke with was the Assistant Branch Manager, who began working there after left.

My breathing was shallow. My heart was racing. I had to right this wrong. I couldn’t sit down to write because I was too wound up. Instead, I made some breakfast and my coffee. Then I began practicing my monologue. Remembering that I knew some people on the inside, I texted a friend who worked there and asked if she was working. I briefly explained what was happening and then asked if the branch manager was in too. She told me she wasn’t working and she wasn’t sure of the manager was working that day either. Explaining that the branch manager was very stern on these issues, she didn’t give me hope that it would be resolved in my favor. I assured her I would be a pest about it.

Finally at 10 am, I phoned the library explained my situation and the person on the other end removed the fine, blowing all the winds out of overreacting sails! While I was happy for this outcome, I realized that my reaction was not appropriate to the situation. There was no need for my elevated breathing, anxiety, and willingness to argue this to the ends of the earth. No one should be made to pay $25 for something they didn’t do, but I hadn’t even given the organization a chance to right the wrong. That I corralled a former coworker in the fray was not good either. After calming down and asking her how she was doing, I learned that she didn’t even work at that particular branch anymore.

This over the top reaction gave me a temperature of my own inner atmosphere. I am subject to flights of irrationality at times especially when my sense of right and wrong are threatened. I immediately gear up for a fight expecting that “there will be blood.” This is not good. I am generally even-tempered and calm. At times, though, I do overreact at least internally to misunderstandings like this. I’m going to do better. Recognizing this as an area of growth is key. Awareness is good.

Conversation Partners

conversation partnersAbout 4 years ago, I began writing fanfiction for the ABC drama Scandal. This became my writing sandbox, the place I could explore plot, characterization, dialogue, and words. One highly addictive aspect of this practice was receiving reader reviews. The lauds, the praises, and petitions to update were okay, but I loved it most when a reader really engaged with the text and wrote a review showing that engagement.

It was akin to the feelings a teacher felt upon reading a student’s well written, fully engaged paper. That was only partly true though. My words, once they were read and reflected upon, were no longer my words. Something happened between my writing and the reader’s consumption. It was magic. Reading the reader’s reflection became my way of talking about the writing. These faceless and in some cases nameless readers (guest) were my conversation partners. It was addictive.

I still write fanfiction. I’m less addicted, but I do love reading reviews, though I am less compulsive about receiving them. I am a writing coach, editor, and consultant. My current client and I are working through his manuscript. We talk every two weeks about his progress and my edits to his manuscript. I enjoy these conversations immensely because they give me the opportunity to help the writer articulate what is on the page. It is self-affirming, sharpening the writer’s words through this active dialogue. This is an important part of the writing process.

Since I’ve recently updated on of my stories, I had a eureka moment this morning.  I realized what I was looking for in my reader’s reviews. Reading others’ thoughts about my writing often helps me clarify. Many times I simply marvel at their perceptions and insights which sometimes go beyond my own.

You are the memory

One of my former students contacted me on Saturday via Messenger. He sent me a pic of a card I gave him for Christmas 3 years ago. I’m floored that he kept it. 

As he chirped on and on about his life, I grinned and reminisced. I remembered his obligatory hugs and requests to teach the class a “science experiment.” To know you made a difference in a child’s life is bliss. 

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