Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Mom’s Cancer Story

moms story

My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 58, just days before my 40th birthday. My mom had a huge bash planned for my birthday, because she was the type of person that made every special occasion, extra special. We debated on whether or not to go through with the party then finally decided that we needed the distraction. It was a great party that is now an extra special memory.

She had a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. All of that went so smoothly. Aside from her loosing her hair and being tired, she had no horrible side effects from the chemo. Her initial check up after all of that was cancer free, but we had to wait the allotted amount of time to say that with complete certainty. We were all very hopeful.

Our hope was soon shattered when they discovered that the cancer had already metastasized to her liver and bones. We were heartbroken, but up for the fight. Knowing how well she handled the chemo the first time we were confident that she would be active through the fight.

For the next 2 and a 1/2 years she was on and off chemo with little to no side effects. Her tumor marker numbers would be good after one round of chemo, then by the next one they would spike. We just couldn’t seem to get a handle on it. It was getting harder and harder for my mom to stay positive and focused on beating the cancer because every step forward she took, there were 2 steps backward.

During the 2 1/2 years we enjoyed life, did everything we could because we just didn’t know what was going to happen. Then, last October, she took a turn for the worse. Within a matter of days she went from coherent conversations, to mentally being gone. We got her to the hospital where they finally informed us that it had metastasized to her brain. It was so sudden, so unexpected and so wrong!

My beautiful, 61 year old mom was not supposed to die yet.

Within the week we got her home and on hospice care. We invited our immediate family over to say their last goodbyes because we knew it was going to be soon. We kept telling my mom that my brother was on his way, so she needed to hold out till he got there. She did not acknowledge this in any way except for the fact that she held on till he got there. He arrived Sunday afternoon and she took her last breath Monday afternoon, about 5 minutes after I walked in the door from work.

We had a celebration of life party for her a couple weeks later when my brother could come back out with his family. We had all of my mom’s favorite things at the party. A words with friends table set up for everyone to add a word that described my mom, a martini bar, a little gambling with the LCR game (all proceeds were donated to a breast cancer organization), a guess how many tea cups she collected with of course a prize, and of course the friends and family that loved her. It was a party my mom definitely would have loved.

This past year was a year of many firsts. The first Thanksgiving without my mom, the first Christmas, the first time her birthday came and went without a celebration, the first time my youngest daughter (who was the closest person to my mom) graduated from high school. The first time we went motorcycle riding in the desert without her organizing and planning all the food and the first time I had a breast cancer scare.

Not 4 months after my mom died I discovered a large lump. It was determined that it was a complicated cyst and needed to come out right away. I knew it would be okay but I was angry and questioned why I was having to deal with this right now, without my mom to talk to and support me? 2 weeks later I was in surgery and had the lump removed. To my relief my 3cm cyst was not cancer.

I cannot stress enough how important self examinations are and regular mammograms. Early detection is the key, had my mom gotten to the doctor sooner than she did, the cancer would not have been stage 4.

In 16 days it will be the one year anniversary of my mom’s death. My heart aches at how much I miss her. This year Thanksgiving and Christmas will be especially hard, last year we were all so numb and on autopilot that I don’t think we fully comprehended the holidays without her. This year we will be figuring out what our new normal is going to be.

My friend Vicky from Teaching and Much Moore  has shared her cancer story and has teamed up with Katie Knight from Teacher to the Core to have an awesome giveaway. Be sure to head over and enter to win the Go Pink Goody Bag, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Common Core, What is it we truly hate about it?

The Picture Book Teacher's Edition common core

I have been reading many articles and opinion pieces about Common Core. I recently read and shared this opinion piece on my Facebook page called Why I Want to Give Up Teaching by Elizabeth A. Natalie.

Natalie writes about wanting to quit teaching because teaching is not what it used to be. It is now filled with data and a teacher’s worth based on that student data. She states that “…in English, emphasis on technology and nonfiction reading makes it more important for students to prepare an electronic presentation on how to make a paper airplane than to learn about moral dilemmas from Natalie Babbitt's beloved novel "Tuck Everlasting."”
This statement makes me sad. Don’t we want to teach children to love reading? If we just concentrate on nonfiction aren’t we going to lose that? What happened to moral, social and emotional conversations that come naturally from reading the same book as a friend. I know I enjoy reading more when I have someone to discuss the book with. The emphasis on Nonfiction texts leave us nothing but facts to process and sort and understand. Too much of that and boredom is sure to set in.
Natalie also says, “I no longer have the luxury of teaching literature, with all of its life lessons, or teaching writing to students who long to be creative. My success is measured by my ability to bring 85 percent of struggling students to "mastery," without regard for those with advanced skills. Instead of fostering love of reading and writing, I am killing children's passions — committing "readicide," as Kelly Gallagher called it in his book of that title.”
I have a friend that was talking about Common Core and she said that all they are now teaching children to do is “regurgitate facts” and not think for themselves. It’s true, my new mantra now is “Where’s the evidence?”, “Where’s the evidence?” I am not sure how many times a day I say it.
When I get done with Natalie’s opinion piece, I am sad and frustrated at how and where education is moving. Then I read an article like this one called What’s Right About Common Core by Robert Pondiscio.
Pondiscio says “…I come neither to praise nor bury the Common Core State Standards, now widely regarded as a “damaged brand” and a political piƱata. But I do wish to point out that the standards enshrine several sound education ideas…”
The first idea is Reading to Learn. Being able to read is key to getting by in the world. We all wish we could just spend our time reading the genre of our choice but the truth of the matter is we have to read a plethora of different genres. We have to read recipes, instructions on how to put something together, a contract, medical news, political views, sales ads and disclaimers, and reasons for or against something. My day is usually filled more of this than what I want to read. It just makes sense to have students read more nonfiction.
Pondiscio also says “Broad general knowledge of the world correlates with reading comprehension — the more you know, the more you take from reading.“ We as teachers see this every day, our low income babies are definitely at a disadvantage when it come s to exposure to vocabulary, conversation, and experiences. Shouldn’t we as teachers expose children to everything, rather than limiting it to one genre?
The second idea is Content Matters. One of Common Core’s main purposes is to achieve a knowledge rich curriculum. Now, you have to remember that Common Core is not a curriculum; they are just the standards that are common across the states in which districts develop and mandate a curriculum for teachers to teach. Ask yourself this, has your district given you quality content?
The last idea that Pondiscio talks about is Show What You Know. He writes, “If kids enjoy writing, the theory goes, they’ll write more. But too many teachers tend to be far more concerned with “voice” than with structure or grammar.” The “show what you know” is very hard for some kids; it takes too much effort to add that in. They know what they are thinking but they don’t show what they are thinking. What would happen if this becomes the “norm” expectation starting as early as possible? I would love to start hearing “David always gets into trouble because he doesn’t follow the rules at school” instead of just “David always gets into trouble”. Adding in the “why” as early as possible simply makes a more literate, knowledgeable person and just imagine what could be produced if this was the “norm”.
Common Core also focuses on phonics, a very important foundation for our young emerging students. It is probably safe to say that without a good solid phonics curriculum our babies will struggle and hopefully that is an already established curriculum in your district.
Math standards within Common Core probably are pretty similar to the old State Standards with the biggest change on how to solve the problems. The complicated, convoluted, abstract way of solving simple problems is mind boggling. Why are we making things so confusing? But when I really think about it and look at the different ways our minds work it starts to make sense. A few years ago our district had a math program that taught each concept one way and one way only, that way when they got to the next grade the teacher would review the same way the concept was taught the year before. The problem was, that one way didn’t make sense to all of the kids. We as teachers ended up showing the kids multiple ways to solve a problem. Isn’t that what Common Core is asking us to do? I was taught one way to solve multiplication, and that is how I still solve multiplication. My husband on the other hand can do math in his head, by grouping and sorting and making 10, etc., etc., etc.,. He always tries to explain it to me but it is all gibberish. He was never taught that way, he had to figure out on his own how it all went together, that is just how his mind works. So looking at Common Core math I realize that I may not understand all the “strategies” for solving a problem, but shouldn’t I share all those strategies with my students so they can find the one that makes sense to them? Won't this help make math easier for them?
So, after reading both of these articles, I am a bit more confused about Common Core.
Do I hate the Common Core Standards or the curriculum (or lack of) my district has given me?
Do I hate the Common Core Standards, or the data that my district, the state, and the government are requiring me to track?
Do I hate the Common Core Standards, or the fact that I have to teach areas and content in which I am not used to or uncomfortable teaching?
After talking to a teacher that I highly admire, I have come to one realization, the truly great teachers regardless of location (low or high income schools), take what they are given; the Common Core Standards, the district curriculum, and their passion for teaching and learning with their students, and they make it all work. They take the standards, the curriculum and what they know is right and they just teach. They are having meaningful discussions about fiction books, they are using technical vocabulary when reading nonfiction texts, they are talking through different strategies for solving one math problem, and they are showing what they know in their writing and answers. It is truly an awe inspiring sight. These teachers have not given up on what they know is good teaching, they have just incorporated what has been handed to them and made their teaching even better.
My daughter who wants to be a college English professor read the first article and came to me concerned. She was concerned about what kind of students would be coming to her in college English. She said, “If nonfiction is the focus, what kind of work and discussions am I going to get when we have to analyze a piece of literature?”. Let me first say that I love being able to have these kinds of conversations with my own daughter. I told her what I thought. I think the good teachers are still going to teach and discuss literature, but now with Common Core they are requiring students to always prove it. I think the fact that students are being exposed to many different genres will add more interesting layers in the discussion of literature. I think students that are shown multiple strategies to solve a problem will be able to creatively think outside the box when it comes to analyzing the nuances of literature. I think regardless of a child’s mastery level in elementary and high school, if they had teachers that used the Common Core standards and what they know is right, the students taking your English class will give you a run for your money (she was not taught under the Common Core standards).
So, I go back to this question, Is it truly the Common Core Standards that I hate?
Just my rambling, wondering, two cents.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It’s Time to Stock Up

The Picture Book Teacher's Edition stock up sale October 7 & 8 in my TpT store

It’s time to come by and stock up on all those beloved holiday book Reading Skills and Strategies packets. The best way to incorporate these books into your day is to have meaningful activities to go along with them, its a win win! Just click on the TpT below to take you to all the savings!

My TpT store.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I just finished this book; it only took me a matter of days because I just couldn’t put it down. I LOVED this book; it is now on my top 10 all-time favorite book list, along with The Book Thief and To Kill a Mockingbird.

So instead of telling you about this book I am going to tell you a story about when and where I finished this book. I finished this novel on a plane, traveling by myself. So let me set the stage for you…
“Alaska Airlines flight 830 to Portland, final boarding call”. I stand in the boarding line, backpack on, phone in hand and book tucked under my arm, excited to have two hours of uninterrupted reading, and of course to see my husband who has been in Portland since Tuesday (we are spending our 22 anniversary in Portland).
“Good morning!” I say to the flight attendant as I board, smiling she replies, “Welcome aboard”. Walking and waiting, walking and waiting, it takes about 5 minutes for me to get to my seat, bags up, bags down, overhead bins open, overhead bins closed…and on and on. I finally get to my seat, 28C, aisle. The two ladies I am sitting next to are already in their seats so I quickly take my backpack off, take out my glasses and tuck it under my seat.
I get settled into my seat buckling my seat belt. I take a quick look around at the many faces surrounding me. They are talking to their traveling companions, looking at their phones, talking to the flight attendant trying to get their bags in the overly crowded overhead bins. I am content with my surroundings so I open my book and begin to read.
I’m starting a new chapter. Via and her mom are in an argument about her play, Auggie gets upset and runs to his room. He waits and waits for someone to come check on him, no one comes. Finally Via comes and gets Auggie because Daisy is sick…
Now at this point, people are still boarding the plane, movement is going on all around me, and my eyes are tearing up. I look away from my book and get the tears under control, I start reading again, Via and Auggie must say good bye to Daisy…The tears have now left the building! I am trying to cry silently, I am trying to control the mascara that has been perfectly placed. I stop reading again, regain some control and think I really should not read this now, but I have nothing else to read and we haven’t even moved from the gate yet!
I decide to try and skim this part of the book, because there is no way I can get through it without making a mess and a scene.
No good, I can’t skim, I read every heartbreaking word and I am now a blubbering waterfall. I finally remember that I do have tissue in my bag so I pull out my backpack and grab one, ONE…what was I thinking? In a matter of seconds that ONE little tissue is S.O.A.K.E.D.
I blow my nose, pat my eyes trying not to disturb the make-up and I discretely look around to see how many people around me are wondering what the heck I am reading, it seems that they are paying no attention to me…which disappoints me, I want someone to look at me, ask me “What is wrong?” or “What are you reading?” I want to tell someone about this book that I am reading, but alas I continue by myself in the solitude of my book.
I finally get through the chapter about Daisy and read about the overnight field trip, the bullying and the rise of true friendship from characters that were not so friendly.
I smile.
I am in a happy place right now, one with my book, enjoying my time.
The drink cart comes around; I get some water and enjoy their little salty snack that they still hand out for free. I take off my glasses, and pull out a tiny mirror to check my eyes, make sure they are not big black raccoon eyes, they are not. I surprise myself at the “carefulness” of my crying and wiping, I am good to go!
We finally have about 30 minutes left of the flight and I am just about done with the book, the timing should be perfect!
I put my glasses on, open my book and continue reading. Alas, I get to the end, graduation, Auggie made it. He is happy, he has friends, his parents are proud and then Mr. Tushman gets up and speaks. He speaks of kindness…Tears once again start falling, this time I cannot control the nose and the tissue in my hand is useless because it has become a limp soggy piece of nothing.

I finally go into my backpack and grab another tissue. I blow my nose and get that all under control and I finish the book just as wheels are touching down. 
I look around again, and still, no one has noticed that this stranger sitting next to them was taking a different trip then they were. While everyone was flying to Portland, I was on an emotional roller coaster, one filled with, empathy, sadness, caring, understanding, frustration, and love.
I get off the plane and head to the bathroom to really check my face. My eyes and nose are slightly red, but I am happy. I have just experienced a literary piece of excellence.
As a teacher it makes me want every student to read this, to see the different perspectives of all the people affected by something that is not “normal” and what it means to be a true friend.
As a parent to two healthy girls it makes me to see that I sometimes forget that there are families out there that are dealing with things that I just cannot relate to but that in the end we as parents love our children unconditionally and always want them to be safe and happy.
As a human being it makes me see that there really are a lot of good people out there but because of those rotten few it sometimes takes a little bit for that kindness to come through. 
Therefore, it is our job as teachers, and parents, and most importantly human beings to teach and show by example what it means to be “just a little more kind”.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Throwback Thursday Book Review

The Picture Book Teacher's Edition - The Hallowiener TBT Book Review
This is one of my favorite Halloween books and it is an amazing book, not only does it have a great lesson, but there are so many reading skills and strategies that are fun to teach or just practice. Check out the book review and get started with those lesson plans. Click the picture below to take you to the review.
The Picture Book Teacher's Edition - TBT Book Review Button
Congratulations to this weeks Surprise Prize Giveaway winner,
 Emily Levine!


Monday, September 8, 2014

Surprise Prize Giveaway #3

The Picture Book Teacher's Edition surprise prize Giveaway Ends 9/14/14
It is time for another Surprise Prize Giveaway! Enter to win the Reading Skills and Strategies packet that goes with the TBT book review I will post on Thursday 9/11/14.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Throwback Thursday Book Review

The Picture Book Teacher's Edtion - Beatrice Doesn't Want To TBT
This books is such a great book for introducing students to all the wonderful things books have to offer, a definite must for the beginning of the school year. Check out the review I did back in September of 2012, just click the button below.
The Picture Book Teacher's Edition - TBT Review Button
Happy reading!


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