The Dream Teacher Blog

The Chicken Hut

by Cindi on July 2, 2022

I have been extremely stressed recently about the current status of the world. It seems that – no, it doesn’t “seem,” there actually IS such a divisiveness – on every topic…that we all have to “pick a side.” It’s heartbreaking, and I miss simpler days, days without so many opinions and arguments. During my most difficult times, I always return to my Granny’s house in the country. I can’t return there literally; my mama sold the house in 2011. It was quickly turned into a junkyard; the buyer just wanted the land so people could pay him to dump machinery, trailers, and other items on the Sandhills grass of my childhood. So speaking of heartbreaking, a quick search on Google Earth brings me to tears. But today I returned to the town of my ancestors – the land where they’re buried – and I left feeling lighter and more connected than divided.

The first stop there was for lunch at The Chicken Hut. It’s actually not called that anymore, but my aunt still called it that when I would take my mama for a visit. Aunt Hazel was always happy to see us and happy for the opportunity to catch a ride over to The Chicken Hut. She and mama would tell stories, most of the time, ones we had already heard: “I held an axe over her head when she was a baby. What if I had dropped it?” and “I used to babysit her when she was just born. They’d put her in a wooden box while they worked in the fields.” Today I sat there and felt Hazel and my mama there. I pointed out the last booths we sat in and imagined seeing them eating fried okra, just like before.

My aunt Hazel and my Mama – best friends since 1927!

But I noticed something different this time: people were actually NICE to each other. As we were sitting in our booth, two older women across from us offered us a local paper, asking, “Do you want to read this while you wait?” I mumbled something about how thankful I was since I had no phone signal there. Then I thought about how DUMB it was to think I needed to look at my phone to read. I soaked in every small town story and every picture in that paper. There was even a word search and a crossword puzzle like the good ol’ days. While we ate, I noticed those ladies again – this time they caught the attention of a young couple with small kids and offered their extra fries to them. I was so moved by the mere kindness of strangers to each other. I saw the young mom remind her daughter to say “thank you” and the little girl got up, walked over to the ladies, and gave them a hug. Complete strangers. I felt like a kid again, hanging out in my grandma’s small town, without a care in the world. An innocent world.

It reminded me of my Granny’s sweet bubby bushes. And a simpler time.

My Granny


Teacher Again

by Cindi on June 17, 2022

This is a recurring theme in my career…and a perusal through my blog can prove it: no matter what jobs I do, I keep feeling the pull back to a classroom…with students! During my last two jobs, I served as a reading coach. Who wouldn’t love working with teachers, talking about instruction, choosing resources? It was magical. But I kept finding myself volunteering for activities that included kids: this past school year I volunteered to help out with the dance class. After the first week of dancing, I was reminded of what I’ve always known…middle school is my happy place.

So I asked to go back there.

I’m happy to be returning to the job I held for over half my career – 7th grade English/Language Arts teacher. I’m not, as my mama used to say, a “spring chicken.” This will be year 33 for me (and that’s AFTER taking seven years off when my kids were little). I’ve been at this awhile. But I’m as excited about this opportunity as I’ve been about any job along the way.

I’ve taught from home during a pandemic, I’ve returned to school (masked) with a handful of students in front of me and others on my computer screen (at the same time…STRESS!) And now I’m looking forward to what will surely be a NORMAL year. With NORMAL pre-teens. Right?

Bring them on. Let’s read, write, and think. I’m ready for August 10th.

My first year teaching was awhile ago. But my last year is yet to come for sure.


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 Friday 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

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 …

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You Call Her PupPup!

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 …

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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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