I Got Skills!

keep-calm-i-got-skillsMad skills. Crazy good skills. Skills that help other people. Skills that I’ve really enjoyed developing over the course of my life so far. Am I a master at any one of them? I’m not sure I’d call myself a master of any of them; although there are a few that I so thoroughly enjoy, that maybe one day I’ll be referred to as an expert.

If I could choose to be a master of any skill in the world, and one I do so enjoy, it’s public speaking. I know that for most people having to get up in front of a group causes nausea, sweating, memory lapses, hyperventilation; all kinds of reactions! Regardless of the size of the group or whether or not the group members are known to the speaker, it is documented as one of the biggest fears of a human being.

After I make any sort of presentation I’m asked, “How do you do that?” “Were you nervous?” “You make it look so easy!”

I learned very early on, in fifth grade actually (thanks, Mrs. Fontana), that the key to speaking in public is to be prepared! That means, know your “lines” and practice, practice, practice. It helps too, if you’re somewhat passionate and excited about what you’re doing. There are any number of life hacks (tips for how to do something difficult, more easily) on-line for how to speak in public. Just Google and you’ll have pages of ideas and suggestions for overcoming your fear, some of them are quite good. But I’ll go back to the advice from my fifth grade teacher every time: know our lines and practice, practice, practice.

Today’s thanks goes out not only to Mrs. Fontana, but to everyone who has given me the opportunity to practice!

Other Bloggers With Skills:

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Shel Silverstein The VoicI came across this Shel Silverstein poem that someone posted the other day. It reminded me of when I did my student teaching during my senior year of college; Where The Sidewalk Ends was a popular book among the third graders in my class.  You might be familiar with one of his other very popular books, The Giving Tree.  If you’ve never read any of his poems you should look him up!

I was scheduled to do my student teaching the spring semester, so we had to get back to campus right after Christmas.  My friend Debi and I were going to be teaching at the same school; thankfully, because I didn’t have a car and would have had no way of getting to the school. I was assigned to the 3rd/4th grade classroom of 16 students, in a three-room school-house.

Every weekday morning Debi would pick me up and we’d stop at the corner store for a hot cup of coffee–there was no Dunkin’ on the way to anywhere back then.  We also didn’t have cup holders, so as the passenger I served as both the DJ and cup holder.  Given the rather long and winding, and often snow-covered, roads we traveled to get to the school;  balancing my radio and coffee responsibilities often was a challenge.

Every weekday for 15 weeks, it was the same routine:  the coffee, the two main roads we traveled, the cassette tape that played the same four songs.  I enjoyed every minute those rides.  Debi and I shared great stories, lots of laughs; the daily challenges of being prepared to teach and then going back to campus to do our work as Hall Directors.

sidewalk endsI haven’t been in touch with Debi in many years.  I know that she’s still an educator, a principal now–she may even be a superintendent.  I hope that she recalls our morning rides as fondly as I do.  Thank you, Debi!


Lenette’s Garden (Weekly Photo Challenge Entry #2)

Today’s thank you is to the lovely Lenette (she’s fourth from the left in the back). 

Garden Dedication

In 2004 I started a new job as a grants officer for a local United Way, and while I knew enough about two areas for which I was going to be responsible (school-age and early childhood education), there was one I hadn’t a clue about, it’s called “family support”.  The Administration for Children & Families defines family support in this way:  Family support services are community-based services that assist and support parents in their role as caregivers. Such services can take many different forms depending on the strengths and needs of the family, but their overarching goal is to help parents enhance skills and resolve problems to promote optimal child development.

The person who taught me what family support is and how it’s done; done well, done effectively, with compassion and commitment, is Lenette Azzi Lessing.  Last spring the agency she founded celebrated her with a garden dedication at the main office of the organization.  It was a very nice ceremony, so many different people came out to honor her; former and current employees, board members and most importantly, the clients who benefitted from her hard work.  It was a true example of “community”.  Thank you, Lenette!

Tales of a 4th Grade…Something (part 2)

4th graders
Sarah as a 4th grader, top left.
Grown Up Sarah
Sarah, grown up!

A while back I wrote about my year teaching fourth grade.  It was a long time ago, almost 26 years.  I’ll always think of the kids from that class as 9 and 10 year olds.  But of course if it’s been 26 years, so the kids are all grown up.  Imagine my surprise last night when I was out to dinner at Sienna, with my sisters, mom and aunt, celebrating my aunt’s birthday, and I had a chance to see one of my former students.  We took this selfie and then posted to Facebook.  The cool thing about that was the other former students who also saw the posting.  Thanks, Sarah!!

chocolate bread pudding
Chocolate bread pudding for dessert at Sienna was amazing!



The Palmer Method

surfaceEarlier in the week I mentioned that I had to conduct some interviews in my job.  I don’t own an iPad or a tablet on which to record my notes during the interviews, and using a tape recorder would be a bit too intimidating, I think.  So, I resort to the more traditional method using pad of yellow legal paper and a trusty Bic pen.

paper and penBefore I begin to go through my list of questions, I do let my interviewees know that I will need to capture as much of what they are saying as is necessary for me to write a comprehensive report .  At the same time I’m writing, sometimes ferociously depending on how quickly the stream of chatter is flowing, I do my best to continually look up at the person in front of me and attend to the task of listening.  I ask their indulgence with the seconds of silence between questions so I can make sure, at a minimum, I’ve written down key words and phrases from which I can compose and clear and articulate story.

When I had almost filled the first sheet of paper, the person across the table looked over at the pad.  I assumed she wanted to see what I was writing.  She let out a “Huh”, and I asked, “What’s that?” She said, “You have really neat handwriting.”  I said thank you and continued the interview.

cursiveBack at my desk as I looked over the 6 sheets of paper with my writing all over them, both neatly on the lines as well as up and down both margins; I thought, I do have nice handwriting.  My handwriting’s been complimented by others over time, but at that moment I stopped to think about how I learned to “write”.

It was in first grade; Catholic school and Sister Jean was my teacher.  We practiced our letters, using the Palmer method, every day; filling pages with looping, swooping capital letters and strings of connected lower case letters.  I remember enjoying that practice, it almost felt like a peaceful time sitting at my little desk.  So today’s thank you goes out to Sister Jean for teaching me cursive writing and making sure it was neat.

11th Grade Homeroom

I love it when I see on Facebook pictures posted from high school days.  I must admit the only pictures I have are in my yearbook from senior year, which is sitting in a milk crate in my basement.  The wonder of Facebook certainly is the unexpected, and fun, finds that pop up almost daily.

Today I was surprised, pleasantly for sure, by seeing a photo posted of my 11th grade home room (it was 1979, so that’s why all the big hair). The questions began immediately asking who can identify anyone in the photo?   Many of us sitting on the bleachers in the gym for the photo shoot had been together in the same home room since 7th grade; you might think it wouldn’t be that difficult.

I’d been tagged in the post so I took a shot by enlarging the screen a bit to study the faces.  My response added another 5 names to those already mentioned.  (By the way, I’m in the front row on the right end.)

I hope as Facebook friends find treasures like this tucked away in their attics and basements, they continue to be posted.  Thanks to Theresa and Linda for posting and tagging this picture today.  It made me smile!

Homeroom Class 1979-80

Kash’s Teacher

I began today to clean up the basement. We have more junk and clothes and toys and crap down there than we will ever use. The nice thing is that we can have a pretty terrific yard sale in a couple of weeks. The Lego’s alone have the potential to bring in a enough to pay for a weekend getaway. I figure if we haven’t used it in the four years we’ve lived here then out it goes!

As I was sifting through the toys, books and puzzles our grandchildren used when they were living here I came across some books that my grandson’s third grade teacher had given him. Kash loved his teacher that year: Mrs. Tavitian. She was kind and had patience that was so far beyond any I’d experienced, ever, I can’t begin to describe it. After 22 years of teaching, I’m not sure I would have been so patient.  Kash was more than a handful–constantly in motion and also one of the smartest kids in the class! A fact that would frustrate Mrs. Tavitian, the school’s principal and me, pretty much every day.

sandy tavitian
Mrs. T made one of these for each of her students as a year-end gift!
Isn’t it beautiful!

I met with Mrs. Tavitian probably once a week for the first several weeks of the school year. We worked together on action plans that could support Kash both at school and home; consistency, we both knew, was the name of the game and the key to Kash’s success. Mrs. Tavitian balanced the needs of the other thirteen students in her class with keeping Kash in check in a way that no student felt slighted and Kash didn’t feel called out in front of his classmates. She told me she never could have been so patient and given Kash the level of attention she did if the class had been any bigger.

When it came time for our grandkids to move back to Arizona it was still summer break. I didn’t want Mrs. Tavitian to find that Kash was not in school in September when he didn’t show up, so I called to tell her. We’d decided to have a little party for the kids’ friends and our family to say good-bye to them and I invited Mrs. Tavitian to come. Kash, in a way only he could, told her what a great teacher she was and that he’d miss her. She gave him an envelope with her address and stamp on it and asked him to let her know how he is doing in school. They hugged. She cried. And said good-bye.

Thank you Mrs. Tavitian!