Poet Found: Ross Gay

Back in February, I bought a slim volume of poetry because I loved the cover – a bright floral abstract and the title, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay.  I flipped to the first page – a poem about figs.  Figs – my Grandpa Charlie’s favorite and my favorite too.  I often splurge and buy a basket of them when they are in season, slice them in half and enjoy them twice as long, not sharing a single one of them with anyone!  All to myself – those figs are my treasure.  So yes, I knew I would love this book.  But of course, in my true inconsistent fashion, I forgot about the book before I read all of it, and it became wedged between my countless notebooks on my my bookshelf.

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

Last week, as I was ready to go off on vacation, I was looking for a sweet summer read. I pulled out the book, returned to the figs and was mesmerized. I read on and on trying to uncover the rhythm, welcoming the repetition, wondering how this young, gay, Black professor from Youngstown, Ohio composed words in lines I wished were my own. I invite you to dip into the nectar of his words.

Gay takes mundane things: buttoning his shirt, sleeping in his clothes, drinking water from his hands and creates a cadence you can’t help but read aloud and wonder: “How does he do that?” Something about the arrangement of his words and the sounds he created encouraged me to read his words aloud.  There is something so powerful – not just in the images, but in the sounds in composed. I read the book cover to cover, and over and over, trying to get his genius to repeat in my brain. Rereading his words opened the floodgates of sorrow and beauty, and I began to write poetry again. For this, I am grateful.

Room 109                                                                                                                                                by Joanne L. Emery

The hotel used to be a sturdy and elegant bank,

On a street corner in Old Montreal:

A historic landmark, a fortress now for art:

Warhol, Indiana, Hirst, Magritte, Miro –

And there in the gilded frame

Against the pale yellow wall,

Monet’s garden peaks out:

Corner of Garden at Montgeron

Peaceful greens and blues,

Speckled pinks and dappled yellows –

Century-old paint

Brushed into being

To soothe me as I sit

In the yellow chair by the window

Anticipating sunlight.

 

 

 

 

 

A Great Way to Start the Day

For the first couple of weeks of school this year, I stared my work day in the Junior Pre-K with a vivacious group of three-year-olds.  Those morning were filled with joy.  This is my 40th year of teaching.  My first six years in this profession was happily spent in a cooperative nursery school whose mission had at its core Quaker ideals.  This was a fortunate start to my career, and I continue to be grateful for it.  It gave me a strong foundation of respecting our small ones, listening to their wisdom, and joining forces with their parents to create a wonder-filled environment.

When I first walked into the Junior Pre-K room, the children looked up and they all smiled at me.  A few called me over to their table.  One girl asked if I wanted to be her friend.  Another girl came close and offered me one of the blocks with which she was playing.  I, indeed, felt a deep sense of welcome. And so quickly too!  It restored my faith in humanity.  Graciousness and hospitality comes naturally to three-year-olds.  They want to be your friend.  They trust you.  They are open to the world around them.

One of the boys who was sorting sea creatures with me, stopped abruptly, pushed back his chair, held up his index finger and said, ” Wait here!  I’ll be right back!”  I watched him scurry over to another table where some children were coloring.  He grabbed a piece of paper and a blue crayon.  He carefully made three shaky ovals on the page, put the blue crayon back in its place, and hurried back to my table.  “I made three clouds for you,” he said handing me his paper. I smiled, thanked him, and together we wrote his name on the paper.

The next morning when I came to his classroom, the same boy hurried to make me a picture.  “It’s a bow and arrow,” he said seriously, “It will protect you.” I smiled and laughed.

“Thank you,” I said, “I definitely need protection.  I will hang it in my office next to your clouds.”

Every morning I visited that week, I was gifted with a picture.  Then one morning when I walked in the door, the boy looked happy and then worried to see me. He came over to me, “Oh… I’m sorry! Today I made a picture for my mommy.”

“That’s wonderful,” I responded, “Your mommy will love your picture.”

Signs of worry faded from his face. “Do you want to see it?” he asked.

“Yes, I would love to see it.”

He ran to his cubby and came back with a colorful picture.  “It’s a rainbow,” he said.

“Your mother is going to love your rainbow!”

He smiled and put it back in his cubby.

IMG_0003

I am struck with the generous spirit of this small boy and that of his classmates.  I was a stranger to them, but they quickly accepted me into their space and wanted to show me what they could do.  Even two students with limited command of English greeted me and wanted to interact with me.  One of them is learning English by listening to songs, and he would come over to sing to me or count to ten in English. In return, I would sing and count along with him. And we would laugh together. I  wonder how we can  preserve this sense of wonder.  I wish we could put it in a bottle and sell it over the counter to any adult who has lost direction.  It would definitely be hard to keep in stock!

If you are an adult who has lost direction, feels that the world is tilting upside-down, and that there is little compassion left in the world, take heart! In preschools all over the country — and the world, there are small ones who will show you the way.  They will smile and offer you maybe a rainbow, maybe three cloud, maybe a bow and arrow for protection.  I recommend returning to preschool; it is a great way to start your day!

 

 

 

 

 

Mindful Assessment: Breathe, Lean in, & Listen

Fall is here, and for me September and October mean it’s time for ELA assessments. The teachers, specialists, and I gear up to assess the reading, phonics, spelling, and writing skills of students to help support their learning throughout the year. It is an intensive rush to provide the best instruction possible. This year, as I begin to assess third, fourth, and fifth grade students’ reading, I feel the usual pressure to get the assessments completed quickly and efficiently. Then I remember the Zen principle of being present. Instead of thinking of all the things I need to do as I listen to a student read about early railroads, I stop myself. I take a deep breath, lean in and truly begin to listen. As I listen, I ask myself, “ What strategies is this student using to help her understand the story?” I marvel at how young readers naturally “talk back” to the text, questioning what they’ve read and re-reading to fully consider the information. Of course, I’ve been reading some of these same passages for several years, but it never fails to amaze me how each reader brings something new to the reading. The students’ beginner minds allow them to be open to the text and to create understanding together with the author. I have had some fantastic conversations about steam-powered railroads, the process of respiration, and an author’s travels to Japan. The most important outcome of these assessments is the time I spend with young readers listening to them construct meaning. I call this process Mindful Literacy, finding joy in the reading moment.

Beach Rose After Rain (2)

In the rush of everyday life, when dinner has to be put on the table and clothes need to be washed – I urge parents and teachers to take a deep breath, lean in, and listen to your children and students read.  You will discover the strategies they are learning to decode new words and to understand complex text. As they read, their words will transport you to new worlds. They will ask questions you may have no answers for and together you can ponder the possibilities. You may, in turn, want to read to them and then it is their turn to breathe, lean in, and listen with their full imaginations.

Mindful Literacy cannot only slow us down and help us to attend to what’s important, it can also help us to love texts and the subjects we know through them. This deep engagement with books can inspire in us a reverence for word and deed and for one another. It just takes a small space in the day to connect with your young reader and share a magical reading moment.