Following the Music

Slice of Life 2019: Day 15

Today, I am grateful to follow the music where my son is playing.

My 12 year old attends a once-a-week music program for home schooled students where parents play a major role and are required to stick around during classes. I can sit in the noisy cafeteria here or sit in a Jazz class where they are practicing Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” and “Over the Rainbow.” I bring my laptop and write while the music plays.  I follow the music.

percussionists are cool

Naturally, my volunteer job here is the band mom for concert band.   I’ll be fetching music and taking attendance while our intrepid director works magic with these 25 music students. The student ages in this class range from 11 – 17, although everyone had to audition for their seat.

I’m drawn to the percussion section.  They are an eclectic bunch and chit chatty, so they get fussed at frequently. Yet, this section is immensely important, providing the rhythm and often the mood for each piece of music. A good director knows how to reign them in and keep them focused.

From my vantage point as band mom, I see the give and take an adept director must allow.  Working successfully with this age group, encouraging them to practice when you know they can be slackers, meeting each student where they are in their skill level, requires a special gift.  Our director has this and more! She has serious energy, never yells and possesses the patience of Job. Plus, she prepares them for two decent concerts a year.

She does all of this in one hour a week!

Now that is incredible.

Dang! I get thankful for the people who have poured into my kids and helped them grow up and develop talents. You realize they are all around when you begin looking.

An Introduction to Shakespeare

Slice of Life 2019: Day 13

So, teaching Act I of Romeo and Juliet to a class of mostly ninth grade boys at nine am on a Wednesday the first week of Daylight Saving Time went better than expected. Of course, everyone was half asleep upon entering the room. I saw some nasty looks, like I had ruined their life by assigning such a boring and useless piece of literature. One student’s eyes were half opened while he leaned into his chair and yawned.

“What have you heard about Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet?” I asked.

My class of fourteen and fifteen-year-olds responded with this list:

I hate Shakespeare

The language is confusing

The language is complex

Shakespeare stole his ideas from somebody else

Shakespeare worked with another person to write his plays

Reading Shakespeare is like reading a foreign language

R & J has too much drama

The lovers are too young

I can’t understand any of this

My mom let me listen to it on Audible

I knew with a list like this, I had my work cut out for me. The first challenge: give a quiz to find out who finished the homework reading of Act I. Just as I suspected, only about two students understood the plot. I took off my jacket and got to work.

Next, on the board, I projected the article, “10 Reasons To Try Reading Shakespeare, If You’ve Somehow Avoided It Until Now” by Charlotte Ahlin over at This media piece has fun images and basically states what we all know is true: Shakespeare is relevant because you already use his language and watch shows inspired by his plots.

After demystifying Shakespeare’s sentence structure, word choices and poetic language, we talked about the sophisticated nature of his audience. Only men were actors. Plays took place during the day. People got married at 14 and 15 back then because you only lived until 49. A Shakespeare play was their Game of Thrones. Now everyone was awake.

Then, it was time for some reader’s theater. I had more volunteers than I had parts. They read Tybalt and Benvolio’s part with vigor and excitement! The class was roaring with laughter when we got to the bawdy scene in Act I where Gregory says, “Draw they tool! here comes two of the house of the Montagues” (1.1, 31 – 23) and Sampson answers, “My naked weapon is out” (1.1, 33 – 34). They got it and faces were red. I kept my mouth shut, turned the page and smiled.

After wrapping up the oral reading, we watched the 6 minute opening to Franco Zeffirelli’s R & J where the street brawl, complete with swashbuckling sword fight, comes to a head on the streets of Verona. They were hooked.

At the end of the period, I saw bright eyes and smiles along with laughter and few jokes on the way out the door. I think they are now ready for Act 2.

Next week, I’m hoping a good dose of Shakespearean punnery and insults will again rouse the class from its slumber.

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Let Them Drink Tea

At a coffee shop recently, I was economizing a second cup from a tired, green tea bag and pondering the long stretch ahead on the calendar. Punxsutawney Phil had already missed his shadow and Valentine’s Day was knocking at the door.  

“We’ve got to get through February and all of March before we have a break,” I thought.  “How am I going to keep these writing students motivated during the dreary, wet weeks ahead? How am I going to keep myself going?”

These questions and more revolved around my brain as I gazed out a window, a dreary grey sky lingering there. All of nature was hibernating, it seemed, taking a break from productivity and movement. Some humans had taken a cue from the red maples: A sign on the nearby ice cream shop said, “closed for the season.” Yet some of us plow ahead, a caffeinated beverage in one hand, a raincoat in the other.

After more contemplation, a bright light ignited in my head.

We will have tea.

“Tea makes everything better,” says Bindi Irwin. “Where there’s tea, there’s hope,” says Authur Pinero. I’m not sure who these people are that said this about tea, but I liked what they said!

Yes! Let them drink tea!

So, the idea that formed in my February brain grew into an event. At our next class, I announced that we would have a tea party during our read-a-round session.  Everyone signed up to bring  something from home: a snack, a jar of sweetener, some bags of tea. I brought an electric tea kettle and 10 porcelain tea cups. For a few of my students, this was their first tea experience. “What do I do with the tea bag?” and “How much water do I pour into the cup?”

Once we finished with the how to’s and everyone was settled, we enjoyed reading each other’s stories while we sipped and snacked. Smiles could be seen on weather weary faces. The caffeine gave a boost of energy for peer reviewing. And, generally, the tea provided a calming effect upon the whole group of young writers as they read and commented and grew.

At the end of class, I picked up a goodly stack of well-written peer reviews.  Then someone asked on the way out the door, “Mrs. Naz, can we do this again on the last day of school?”   I smiled, knowing they would want lemonade by then.  

Yes! Let them drink tea!  Tea warms the heart and softens the grey (I said this and liked it).

Sometimes its the little things that get us through the tough times, like a kind word, a smile or, in this case, a cup of tea.



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My Kids Aren’t Perfect and I’m Okay With That

Recently, I had a mom email to say, “My son will not be re-enrolling in your course next year. Thank you very much.”  Now, this was a terse and shocking email to receive from a parent that I had just spoken with a couple of days before.  This mom couldn’t say enough nice things about the writing her child was doing in my class.   After investigating, I discovered that during a peer review session the son had received both positive and negative comments about his fiction writing.

“My child was just so discouraged by the comments he received,” she explained. “I hope you will understand that he cannot continue in your class.”

I did not understand and this was not consistent with what I saw in the classroom that day.  I poured carefully through all the comment papers, looking specifically at the ones directed to this student.  I was expecting to find hate speech toward this child’s work.  Instead, the comments he received looked something like, “you might try adding a comma in the 3rd line” or “this is really good, but could be better with more descriptive adjectives.”

So, here we go…a discrepancy between what actually happened and what the parent perceived as a threat to her child’s ability.  This was a parent that wanted to protect her child from the pain of  negative criticism.  To me, this situation is demonstrative of a larger problem I see happening in our culture: People have it all figured out.  They’ve got paper writing, parenting, relationships, God, their life…. all figured out.  They don’t need any help.  “I’m good,” they will say.  Or, “My child is a fine writer or test taker or history student.”  Suggesting otherwise is an insult to the parent and the family.   “What do you mean my child made a 67 on her paper?  She followed every check point on the rubric.”  My response:  “If you would have looked at your child’s paper, you would have seen 5 misspelled words, 3 grammatical errors, 4 punctuation errors, two formatting errors and one content error.  This child has room for growth!”

What happened to the idea of everyone having “room for improvement”?  Or, what about the idea that mistakes are “opportunities to learn”?  As I was telling my youngest this week, “Did you think  you could just roll out of the crib and write an algebraic expression without any consultation?”  As humanity, most of us were not born with talent chips in our heads.  We must struggle and practice and perfect, even if imperfectly.   How can we grow if we are not willing to admit that we need help?   How can we become more like Christ if we have no hardships to test our character?

The first step, it would seem, is to admit that we don’t have it all figured out.

I struggle with how to gently combat these attitudes around me.  I’ve been reading about growth mindset and how it affects our approach to learning and receiving criticism from others.  The idea of a growth mindset was developed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck has been researching the concepts of  fixed vs. growth mindset.  In a fixed mindset, people believe their talents or intelligence is a fixed trait and that talent alone creates success, without effort.   In contrast, “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point.” (  The outcome of a growth mindset is a love of learning and a resilience, to accept and use constructive criticism.

As a parent, I must resist the urge to butt in, “My kid needs to make an A on this assignment.”  Rather, I need to promote the notion that “You need to know this material,” and “it will help you to learn this concept.”  Making an A on an assignment is vastly different today than knowing the material.  Really knowing something, internalizing a concept means that you’ve spent time with it; you’ve chewed on it, like the end of a pencil and made it yours.  That kind of knowledge comes with risk taking and set backs.

As a teacher, I must find a way to show students that criticism is just the beginning.  Criticism and feedback force us to grapple with our choices.  Knowing that our work will be challenged, forces us to examine our choices along the way.

When I was in college, I gathered up enough courage to show a piece of writing to one of my professors.  “What do you think about this poem,” I asked?

“It isn’t very good,” he said.

A lump formed in my throat. This was not easy news to hear and at that point, I had to make a decision:  Am I going to throw my hands up in the air and say, “That’s it!  I’m a writing idiot. I quit.” Or am I going to use this as a motivation to work harder?  Thankfully, I chose the latter.  I’m telling my kids the same thing:   Be thankful when you get negative feedback.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn. Take the opportunity and grow with it.

Romans 5: 3 – 4

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;






Slice of Life: Day 28

Poetry and Water World

After battling almost an hour of traffic, we made it to Metro Academic Studies down in Atlanta.  There is a weird thing where the closer you get to spring break, the worse the traffic gets down in the city.  Folks are either passing through or coming to town in the spring.  That definitely means longer commutes and earlier wake ups.

Thankfully, after coming off the hectic highway, I had my creative writing class to look forward to.  Each writing student had three poetry pieces due today.  On deadline days, we host a read-a-round where every piece goes into a pile at the front of the room.  Each student picks up a piece of writing (not their own), reads it and gives feedback.  I designed a form that requires the peer reader to offer one positive and one constructive comment per piece.  Once the peer reader finishes reading the piece and commenting, he or she then picks up another piece and comments until everyone has read every piece of writing.  This works well because we only have 10 students in the class!  Everybody enjoys the feedback on their papers and they like seeing what their classmates have been up to during workshop time.  It is my favorite activity as well.  I recognize little bits of my students’ lives showing up in their writing: a trip to Florida, a sibling who has left for college, a new family member.  A real time saver for me,  I am usually able to read every student piece during the read-a-round activity.


It is no secret that kids are fairly wound up the last day of school before a break.  Well, sometime after noon, a giant water main broke next to the school and we could all see the geyser spewing right out the class window!  Funny, I never see anyone look out those windows, except today!  Then, the power went out and the water pressure quit in the building, so many of my students just hung at the windows, admiring and chatting about the watery spectacle.  It was a sight for winter weary eyes.  And, being so close to school getting out and break, it was all fine with me.