Tuesday, March 8, 2011


A few weeks ago, I sat down at my computer and labored over the words I hoped would give a fantastic teacher her due moment in the sun.

A couple of weeks ago, I rushed into an impromptu Friday faculty meeting, Ricky's 7 year old birthday cupcake still fresh in my hand, and smiled with relief when I recognized my Hall Center colleagues in the audience.  

My fantastic teacher was going to get her moment!  

You can imagine my surprise when they reached for that second bouquet of flowers...

was stunned,  

          truly honored, 

and humbled.






Since then, I've been asked to write a five million page essay summarizing my philosophies on life, love, Twinkies, Andromeda, and...

...wait a second!  It's five pages!  Just five pages?

How am I supposed to fit ALL of that in five teeny, tiny pages?

Ahhhh, I see it now!  They want me to summarize my reading coach philosophy.  That's all?  They don't want to know the rest?  But it's all so good.  


These people have no idea what they're going to miss.

I've been thinking for days about what I should tell the mystical Florida Literacy Coaches Association about myself and I have to tell you... 

(I've got nothin')

It's hard to verbalize something that I do so intuitively.  I'm not one to give up without a fight though.  I've been reflecting on an entire educational career's worth of journal entries, thoughts, notes, and what have you's.  

Here's where I am tonight.  Some brought a tear to my eye, others made me smile.  I hope you see the beauty in all of them.

How about the first poem I shared with my second graders every year?
Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams 
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Or this from an old plan book I pulled from my drawer: 

"Smart people do not have all the answers- they have the 
willingness and the capability to find the answers.  My job 
is not to give them all the information they will ever need in 
a lifetime.  My job is to give them the vision, the hunger, and 
the tools to acquire knowledge throughout their entire lifetime."
Of course, then there's Albert Einstein.  He probably sums up 
my whole vision...my entire belief system in this, tiny, nut shell:

"Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability
 to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
PaulaWalla - Second Grade Teacher
I called them to the carpet and had them sit in a circle.  It'd been a weird day with all sorts of schedule changes and procedural upheaval as the school rallied around the third, fourth, and fifth graders taking state exams.  I've got to give my kiddos credit, they handled it better than I thought they would and even though it was obvious some of them were a little rattled, we didn't just make it through the day without incident... we made it through the day AND we learned stuff.
As they sat on our blue carpet, at 2:00 this afternoon, I told them I wanted to share my favorite thing that happened during the day.
"Everyone was at their tables during guided reading jobs and choices.  I was talking to Angel about his book while I helped Derek write his story.  I'd asked Angel why he liked the book he read... 'Do you like the pictures, is the story funny, or is it because of all the really cool fish?' Angel wasn't sure but Derek said, 'I like the graphics!' and Kirklin said, 'I don't like fish but I do like pistachios.  I LOVE pistachios!  Pistachios are yummy.' "
You could see their eyes light up as I shared what I'd remembered from a conversation we'd had so much earlier in the day.  Then I told them we'd go around the circle and everyone could share their own favorite moment from our day.  Answers ranged from playing with a best friend at recess to the math problem I asked them to help me solve before lunch but the one that I'll never forget was Derek's.
He pulled out the story we'd been working on, held it up just below his chin, and said "This.  This was my favorite thing today."  Then he stood up and walked across the circle.  Standing in front of me was a boy who, four months ago, told me 'I try not to get discouraged because I can't do this stuff but it hurts...' and I could see tears in the corner of his eyes as he reached out and hugged me. 
Derek's an amazing little guy and I tell him that all the time.  He can't read but he's never let that stop him.  Eight years old and the alphabet is an obstacle he just can't seem to conquer... but wow, he is so freaking amazing.  Today I remember telling him how much I enjoyed his stories - what a great writer he was. 
Derek's the kind of kid that reminds me why I signed up for this, why I'm still here. You know?
And now a small treat for you writers out there, Derek's story.
Now, how about ending this the way I do it with the kiddos?
Bye, I love ya, and I can't wait to see you tomorrow!
...And it will probably be with colour

Yesterday, one of my students picked up a book on Van Gogh 
and nestled herself into a corner.  After reading a while, I saw her 
digging through the spiral bins with an ink pen clamped between 
her teeth.  When she realized I was watching, she told me she 
wanted to write down some of the "cool" stuff she was learning.  

I laughed and told her I couldn't complain about that. 
The day got away from me, the way most days generally do, and I never
made my way back to the studious girl that afternoon.  As I picked up my 
things and walked towards the door, I saw her spiral splayed open at her table.  
Here's the first thing she'd written...

"You can't be at the pole and the equator at the same time.  You must choose 
your own line, as I hope to do, and it will probably be with colour."  
Vincent Van Gogh ( 1853-1890)

It seems I'm not the only one reading Vincent's letters to his brother, Theo, at the

His Tiny Blue Letters

Monday March 5, 2007 PaulaWalla's Second Grade Classroom
Our Class Motto:  Never Give Up, Encourage Others, Do the Best You Can.
It wasn't even eight o'clock.
He came in, finished his morning math problems before the others had unpacked, then unstacked the last of our little blue chairs.  He stood beside me as I wrote our schedule on the board and told me about his weekend.  Now that he's feeling better, his mom said he can play baseball again.  He smiled. 
He told me he loved me.  
I told him I loved him too.   Then, I think I said he ought to find his Magic Tree House book and read a chapter or two.  He said he would - just as soon as he was done.  I looked 
over from what I was doing to see the boy who loves pistachios cap a blue 
dry erase marker. 
In tiny letters across the bottom of my board, he'd written part of our class motto.
He smiled a gap toothed grin as he shrugged, " I thought we could use that down there today.  Can we leave it?"
"Of course we can."
...and we did.
If I told you I'm through
would you believe me?
White flags.  
Where are the white flags?  
I need a thousand white flags. No, I need thousands and thousands...  
Thousands and thousands of white flags.  I don't just want you to know 
I'm done.  I want everyone to know.  Must I blanket the earth? 
A good friend of mine called on Wednesday.  She wanted advice 
on something that had been troubling her for weeks - something pretty major.  
She'd taken her little girl out of kindergarten at the beginning of February, 
to homeschool her, and wanted to know what she should do next year.  
She was torn over which grade to send her back to, first or second, 
because M is a smart little cookie and she's older than the other kids in her class.
This is one of my better friends.  I met her the year I became a second 
grade teacher and her little boy was in my class.  It was his first year in 
public school, her first year sending all her little kiddos off to public school, 
and my first year as a mommy.  We've been through a lot together.
After listening to her for most of an hour and taking everything in, I told her I 
didn't think it mattered where M goes.  This was a life lesson both she and 
M were meant to learn.  My friend's lesson was one about control.  That we 
can't control everything - that we can't always fix it, no matter how much we 
want to or wish we could. 
M's lesson was one of self-acceptance and coping.  She was going to be 
M no matter where she was.  It didn't matter if she was in first grade or fifth 
grade, second grade or seventh.  She's always going to be tall, she's always 
going to have her beautiful curly hair, she'll always be smart and quick witted, 
she'll even have the glasses, and people will love her and think she's cool.  But 
she's got to believe in herself before she'll see how much everyone else does. 
My friend and I continued talking for a long time and we touched on all sorts of things.  Both of us felt better as hours passed and it got later. She said I'd helped 
her see things in a brand new way, she thanked me for that.
I teach a night class on Thursday nights for parents who want to understand math 
(more specifically - this new fangled math we teach now-a-days) and learn how 
to help their children.  The night class is part of an innovative plan in my school 
district that is not only dedicated to teaching children, but also the continuing 
education of teachers and parents. 
Teachers in my school district receive ongoing training (to develop their own 
mathematical skills) for four years and receive follow-up support all year long 
regarding the curriculum.  They've done this by empowering teachers as teachers.  
Teachers become math leaders who guide other teachers.  It creates an awesome 
system of camadre, fellowship, and learning. 
Thursday was the last class of this training session.  As one of my favorite parents 
picked up his things to leave, he thanked me.  He said I was funny and made him 
look forward to class, that he learned a lot and wished they'd do it again (hold more 
A teacher emailed me last month.  She wanted to let me know she was in the middle of a math lesson going horribly wrong when she remembered something I'd told her in a training.  She did whatever it was I'd said and everything came out hunky dory.  She said she appreciated me.
Friday at three o'clock, every teacher in my elementary school received a letter 
in their mailbox.  The letter was our principal's way of telling us our teaching 
assignments for next year.  Usually, a teacher stays right where she is unless 
she wants something new or the principal needs something and has been talking to you. 
I got my letter just like everyone else.
I should've known what was going to be written on it.  I've been telling people 
I thought something was going to happen but they told me I was nuts so I 
shrugged it off. I'm not a second grade teacher anymore.
The principal never asked me. She never brought it up in casual conversation.  
She just decided I would do something else. 
I don't want her excuses.  I don't want her false praise.  She's taking away the two things 
I was holding on to right now, the two things I know I do well, the two things that
still make me smile after working a 15 hour day.  
She's taking away second grade but she's also taking away the math.
Just like that.
In an instant.
One sheet of paper
and the last of who I knew I was
is gone.
I'm done.
(...turns out,  that may have only been the beginning after all.)

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