The Dream Teacher Blog

Room 106

by Cindi on April 29, 2020

I’ve been in my school building twice in 46 days, 22 hours, and 15 minutes. The first time was shortly after schools closed; I was there for about five minutes to pick up some books and print out some work for a student who doesn’t have internet access. I was shaky, unsettled…my book choices were random, a few picture books and two chapter books. I don’t know why I thought I needed to grab those particular books. I remember thinking that I may use them at some point in my online instruction (I haven’t).

I took a minute to look around my classroom that day; every wall hanging had been placed strategically back in June during a time when I could barely contain my excitement. Do you remember how badly I wanted to be back in a school? Do you remember the interview that almost made me give up?

But I made it – back into a school building, a place where I could hug a kindergartner and then walk down the hall and talk to a junior about college plans. I was happy every day – the faculty meetings, the language arts teacher gatherings (always with cake!), our school-wide Literacy Safari (cut short by two weeks…decorations still on the walls), the giggles and tattle tales of the elementary students, the awkward glances between middle school kids, the feigned confidence of high school students, the tall ones, the hopeful ones – they have nothing but time ahead.

I left my room that day, turning the door knob and spying my insulated coffee mug on my desk. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but our hall was particularly cold this past winter, and the coffee in the break room was particularly hot. So I carried my cup as a teacher rite of passage, waiting 32 years in to take up that habit. I left my mug there that day. “I’ll be back,” I thought. “School will be back in session soon.”

I then walked down the hall and heard squeals from students I couldn’t see. Third graders skipping through my classroom, a shortcut to the bathroom. Fourth graders coming in from recess and lining up at the water fountain outside my room. A first grader running to me with arms extended every time I ever saw her in the hallway, the cafeteria, or the car rider line. A squeezy second grader who hugged me all day long. A sixth grader who took me on a detail-by-detail journey of his life with a failing kidney and then the transplant of his new one, a gift from his dad. A seventh grader who loved to tell me she’s annoying; I continued to argue that although she wants to think she gets on my nerves, she doesn’t. I heard them all, loud voices in my ears in the middle of an echoing, empty hallway.

I’ve video conferenced, texted, and emailed with students since then. It helps. They’re still giggling, seemingly okay with missing school (I ask constantly.) But last week when the Governor said we would not return this school year, I felt that all too present lump in my throat again. I knew it was coming. I did. I know he’s keeping us safe and healthy, but I wonder if he knows: I left school on a random Thursday afternoon, and I never had a chance to say goodbye.

Today I went back to the school again. I needed a few things from my classroom. But first I noticed something going on in the halls. It was then I realized – they were putting down a new floor in the library. All the shelves (and books) were lined up and down the hallways. I’ve seen thirty years of school buildings looking like this during the summer, but never in April. I sighed my way to my classroom, recognizing every green and blue tile I’ve stepped across a zillion times, noticing student artwork from an easier time. Would I have looked at it more carefully every day if I’d known I’d eventually lose that chance?

Then I walked into my classroom. It seemed dark, eerie, unfamiliar in a way…but one click of the lamp, and it looked like home. I stood at the door and could see children in there, sitting in their seats, begging to sit on the bean bag chairs, running in on the way to lunch to give me a hug. There were names on the board, middle school students I was planning to meet with on that fateful day of no return.

I grabbed some headphones and a microphone that I’ll need for videoconferencing. Then I picked up a bin full of books. I forgot why I picked it up so I turned and sat it on a table. I looked around, not sure what to do next.

I walked to my classroom door, stopped, and went back to my desk to get my coffee cup. I then walked down the dark, too quiet hallway and thought about all that didn’t (and won’t) happen this school year.

And I wished I could get a pre-social-distancing hug. Those were the best.


For Kobe

by Cindi on January 31, 2020

I have taught an “Introduction to Poetry” lesson during every one of my 30+ years of teaching, and I have heard the groans and the sighs and the exasperated moans of middle schoolers during every one of those years at the mere mention of what can be a difficult genre for them. Today, though, there were no groans as I began the lesson with, “Let’s talk about Kobe.”

I had them all, eyes wide, some already glistening with tears, all wanting to share what they knew: “I heard they found him with his arms wrapped around his daughter”… “He played all twenty years with the Lakers”… “He was named MVP of the NBA Finals twice”… “He was a legend”… “I just keep wondering what their last words were…” “I feel so bad for all the families…”

I explained the elements of poetry and the practice of interpretation using the A.E. Housman poem “To an Athlete Dying Young.” My students were attentive and polite, but somewhat distracted. I had opened the lesson talking about Kobe, and they kept coming back to him.

What I realized today is that Kobe is, for these students, their John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinations, their Challenger space shuttle, their 9-11. They weren’t even born to be able to answer the “where were you then?” questions about those events. But they know where they were on Sunday, January 26th.

And they know that nine people died, including three girls their own age. They know it feels like a nightmare, and they don’t know what to do with those feelings.

You see…for years my students have been balling up wads of paper and sending them soaring to the waste basket while shouting, “KOBE!” They don’t know about scandalous allegations that made the news. They only know that Kobe Bryant was a larger-than-life superstar, one of the greatest athletes in their lifetimes.

And today, after determining the rhyme scheme of a poem, after interpreting “Today, the road all runners come/Shoulder-high we bring you home/And set you at your threshold down/Townsman of a stiller town,” 71 fifth graders watched Kobe Bryant’s short animated film “Dear Basketball”….and wept.

And the teacher cried, too, watching adolescent boys jockey for position around the tissue box. And I won’t forget the moment, as they left for recess, when they balled up wads of paper, heaved them toward the trash can, and yelled out (this time with an added sentiment)…

FOR Kobe.”


You Call Her PupPup!

by Cindi on September 25, 2019

David and I got married with a passel of children already in tow so we didn’t ever have what I referred to as a “common denominator child,” one that would be related to everyone in the house. Instead, after we’d been married 14 years, and our kids were all grown and gone, David started talking about a dog.

He scoured the internet and all the shelters in the surrounding counties and found “Jet,” a black hound mix in Caswell County. We traveled there to look at him and while he laid his little puppy head on David’s shoulder, I picked up others and said, “How about this one? This one?” But he was certain. Jet was the one. It was then that we found out she was actually Jetta…a girl, not a boy. And she was ours.

We placed her in a crate in the back of the car, one we had purchased along with a collar, a leash, and a ton of toys…and off we went. We were barely out of the parking lot when she started…HOWLING…howling like a wolf.

I tried talking to her to calm her, including having a conversation about her name – I wasn’t a fan of Jetta, and David said she needed a “country” name since she was a coonhound…”like a flower,” he said. We gave “Daisy” a try, but decided that wasn’t right. I called my sister to ask her how she named her dog. She said, “Just talk to her…you’ll figure it out. It’ll just come out in your conversation.” So I turned around and said, “We’re gonna have fun with you! We’re gonna go for walks and go to dog parks. I’ve never even been to a dog park! You’re gonna open up a whole new world for us. Wait! A whole new world! That’s it. You’re Princess Jasmine from Aladdin…Jasmine is a flower name, too…we’ll call you Jazzy…or Jazz.”

Well, Jazz never happened, and I don’t know that we ever really called her Jasmine, but Jazzy stuck. Taylor called her “Shazzy” when she was two, and Shazzy Gull (she couldn’t say Jazzy or girl), and Jazzy Girl she was. I didn’t notice it at first, but one time Taylor spent the night with me, and she sat straight up in the bed at 3AM and said, “Hey! You call her PupPup!” And I realized that I had, indeed, been calling her that. “Jazzy Girl” became “Jazzy Girl Best in the World” which became her social media hashtag. She liked it when I posted her pictures.

Her favorite words were “treat” and “squirrel.”
We had to spell them around her.
Also, she always looked like she was smiling.
Maybe because she was.

Jazzy was a hyper girl who LOVED children. When the grandkids would come over, she would jump on them and chase them. We would have to get her wigglies out so I would grab up the kids on my hips and run around the yard, screaming, “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” The kids would squeal, and Jazzy would chase, and once she was tired, we could all come back in the house and get back to normal. We could also yell, “Rub your belly” and she would drop, waiting for the kids to rub her.

The words “Do you wanna go for a ride?”
would send her running in circles.

We taught Jazzy to give us “five” – put up her paw – for a treat. Most of my meals for eleven years included, as I called it, getting “five-ten-fifteen-twenty” from Jazzy while I was eating. Even as she got sicker, she still sat beside me during meals. I’ll be looking for her when I eat popcorn for the rest of my life. She had her own bowl.

But she was David’s girl, our Caswell County Coon Dawg, and she loved him so much. When he was still working, she would go to the window at 5:00, like she could tell time, and wait for him. Once he had surgery, and she continued to bring her toys and lay them on his pillow all day to comfort him.

Waiting for Daddy

She was our Princess Jasmine of the Kingdom Rigsbee, Jazzy Girl, Jazzy Belle, Shazzy, and as I recently told her – she will always be my PupPup.

This will forever be “Jazzy’s yard.”
She did important things there.

Somewhere just across the Rainbow Bridge, Chance (BuddyBuddy), Boomer (BooMan), Ramsey (Ramselina), Lucky (LuckLuck), and Mike (who didn’t live long enough to get a nickname) are all running alongside her, and they’re all barking, “Run for your life!”

We’ll miss you, sweet girl.


Not Ready for Pasture

June 6, 2019

In August of 2017, I stood before a group of HR Coordinators and announced my retirement. The word they heard, “retirement,” represented so many things for them – relaxing at the beach, reading good books, spending time with the grandkids – but that’s not what it meant to me. I explained to them that I was retiring from my position as a teacher-on-loan for our state department of education so that I could return to the classroom. Since I live only four miles from another state, I would have the opportunity to retire in one state and work in another. …

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Looking Up

October 19, 2018

I was driving along, thinking about the teaching conference ahead, when she said, “Wow. That’s a really cool cloud.” I looked up briefly, eyes off the road to the sky, and thought the clouds looked normal to me. Then she started identifying them: “That one’s a cumulus, that’s a cirrus, and that’s a cirrostratus.” My friend Jean was a science teacher, and I was her captive student in the car – she was always teaching.

That night, after checking into our hotel, we went to a movie, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It was 1991, and we were middle …

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Daddy’s Trailer

July 1, 2018

Up until today I couldn’t have told you what year my Daddy bought his utility trailer. I do remember, though, when I saw him use it for the first time. I’d left my house, passing Loehmann’s Plaza, our nearby shopping center, and saw him unloading a lawn mower on the side of the road. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had just accepted a post-retirement job as a landscaper with a family friend’s company.

I waved at my Daddy and kept on going; the encounter was reminiscent of the hundreds of times since I’d gotten my driver’s …

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Retirement So Far…

January 3, 2018

Last August, I provided training for approximately 300 beginning teachers across eight school districts just prior to their first days of teaching. As I shared my teacher stories with them and talked of my own students across the years, I realized just how much I envied them, how I wished I was making plans for my own classroom again.

So on September 1st, I submitted retirement paperwork to my state with plans to drive four miles to the adjoining state and begin a brand new career. I stayed awake many nights during the months those papers were snaking around between …

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A Dream for Taylor

June 25, 2017

The first time I wrote a tribute to my granddaughter Taylor, she was four months old. It was a poem that was later published online, on a site called “momwriterslitmag,” and although it was written eleven years ago, I still know that little baby Taylor like it was yesterday:

To Taylor, From Nana

I was there
the first time
you saw a balloon.

I watched your eyes,
blinking wide with wonder,
and your little feet
kicking and punching
the excited air around you.

I was thinking
about ee cummings
who wrote,
“who knows if the moon’s a balloon?”
and thought

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The Gift

April 2, 2017

Here we are again. I was here less than a year and a half ago when we lost Chance. I was here two months later when we lost Mike. Just weeks after that, we lost Boomer. The Boomer blogpost never happened because losing three granddogs within two months, each with their own tragic story, was too much. Sometimes there are no words. And when I went for my yearly physical the next week, my doctor asked me how things were going. I burst into tears. Over dogs.

I loved them all. I miss them all. Too many gone. …

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August 26, 2016

It was early September when my Daddy died, September 8th to be exact. It was four days after my 47th birthday and four days before my year round school took a three week intersession break. Because of the timeliness of that break, I did something unheard of: I left my family at home and went to the beach by myself. By myself!

I graded student journals by the ocean and kept glancing over at the pier, thinking I’d see my Daddy there as I had hundreds of times, fishing for something…but catching nothing…and happy to be there anyway. I …

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