a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Sunday, October 16, 2016

CELEBRATION 10.15.16 (an update)

Since my previous post...my dad's surgery was canceled because test results showed his cancer had spread. 

He would keep his voice, but lose hope in having a cancer-free future.

Then, I was shown the power of hope. He was told about an experimental drug that might be able to prolong his life despite the inevitability of cancer. The possibility of this new medicine gave us hope. I clung tight to the hope and wondered whether the luxury of hope was more valuable than an effective medicine.

At his next visit to the hospital for tests, he was prepared for the worst. Doctors got real with him and explained that if the experimental drug did not work, he would have about 6 months to a year to live. 

It was at this point in the day that I called him to see how he was doing. I have been trying to let go of control over his care and allow my uncle to take over more of the responsibility now that school is back in session.  

He told me the latest news. He was waiting for the doctor to give him the results of the scan he had that morning. He knew it would be more bad news and sounded utterly dejected. 

When the doctor came him, he put me on speaker phone, so I could listen in on the meeting.  

"I got the results from this morning's test," the doctor started, "and I am baffled."

My dad's scan showed that he is completely cancer-free.  This test contradicted previous tests that pointed to the exact opposite outcome--that the cancer had spread.  

Since then, my dad has had additional tests that support the cancer-free news.  His cancer is in remission for now. 

And that is something to celebrate!

Sunday, September 4, 2016


My dad has cancer.

This has not been my truth to publicly share, but it has been the truth I have been living. It is a truth that has kept me quieter in this virtual world, quieter than I am comfortable being.

Today I am finally writing this truth and sharing it with you: My dad has cancer.

He was diagnosed in January with stage two cancer of the voice box. By the time he began treatments in June, it was stage three. This is an aggressive type of cancer cell, but it remains local to his voice box—even though the equally aggressive radiation and chemotherapy did not work.

Within a month, he will have his voice box removed. He will quite literally lose his voice. Forever. Eventually, the doctors will give him a prosthetic voice box. With the new voice box he will regain the ability to produce sound and shape words. After four months of silence he will learn to use a new, artificial voice.

The first thing people usually ask when I share this news is, “Was he a smoker?”

Yes. Yes, he was a smoker. Two packs a day for my entire 38 years of life, and he started well before I came along.

I cringe internally at the question every time. It is a natural follow-up question to ask, I know. But I cringe just the same.

I think the answer is comforting to the listener—a sort of reassurance that bad things only happen when we make bad choices.

But I know the truth.

Cancer doesn’t happen to people who deserve it.

Cancer just happens. Or it doesn’t.

I spent my summer believing that if we just did all the right things, if we just endured treatments that hollowed my father out, the universe would repay us by getting rid of the cancer.

I believed we would be rewarded for making good choices.

But I know the truth.

Cancer doesn’t depend on choices.

Cancer just happens. Or it doesn’t.

Even after the surgery, there is only a 20-40% chance that the cancer will not return.

It will happen. Or it won’t.

There is nothing I can do that will make a bit of difference in those odds.

Cancer is a humbling adversary.

But it has taught me a lot.

Cancer has taught me to be grateful for my dad’s voice even when I don’t care for what it is saying.

Cancer has taught me that I can endure 17-hour days in the hospital without a break to eat or drink when that is what I need to do.

Cancer has taught me that life can get worse than a 17-hour day in the hospital without a break to eat or drink.

Cancer has taught me that memories live not in things, but inside of us.

Cancer has taught me the importance of a support system and how to be a friend.

Cancer has taught me the value of hearing, “I love you.”

Cancer has taught me the value of saying, “I love you.”

Cancer has reminded me to treasure the little things, the small moments.

These are the truths I am living.
Dad before cancer

Sunday, July 10, 2016


When Penny Kittle spoke at All-Write, she referred to an episode of the This American Life podcast called “Tell Me I’m Fat.” 

In this podcast, Lindy West talks about an experience where she discovers her boss is writing blog posts that include fat-shaming jokes and language.  In response to this incident, West asked herself, “Do I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t fight?”

Kittle urged us to consider this question as teachers.  It is a question that is weighing heavily on my heart this summer.

Do I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t fight?

I consider these words when I think about new curriculum mandates like 2 days a week of Achieve 3000, 5 days a week of Calkins Units of Study in Writing, new one to one devices, and implementation of a Great Books Roundtable pilot.  What will my students no longer have time to do? Are these resources the most valuable use of time?  What am I willing to let go of?  What am I willing to fight to hold on to?

Do I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t fight?

I consider these words when I think about recent dinner conversation with colleagues about banning controversial (but age appropriate) reading material in classrooms. 

Do I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t fight?

I consider these words when I think about recent events in the news.  Too many black lives lost.  Too many police lives lost.  Too many lives lost. 

Do I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t fight?

No.  I do NOT want to be the kind of person who doesn’t fight for what I believe.  For what I value.  For what is good. 

So, I will hold tight my students’ free choice reading time because I believe in the power of story. 

Story changes lives. 

Story saves lives. 

The best way—for many kids, the only way—to get story into the hands, heads, and hearts of my students is to support free choice independent reading time in the classroom. 

How did the choice to allow students to read freely become a fight?  I am not sure.  But I am sure it is a fight worth fighting.  It is the only way I know to create a better world.  The thought of a better world is a thought worth celebrating.  And that makes my heart lighter.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


I am the best kind of exhausted. This morning, when the alarm went off I wanted to keep on sleeping. But sleeping would mean missing out on my plans for the day—the kind of plans that bring me joy.

The past couple weeks have been filled with joy. 

First, I went on a Choice Literacy writing retreat where I worked and worked until I had fully unearthed the dormant writer inside of me. I was joyfully surrounded by strong, wise, inspirational women who made me want to be a better writer, thinker, person.

Then, I headed to the All-Write Summer Institute where I reconnected with friends from near and far. I serendipitously ended up with a hotel room adjoining an online bestie, which tempted us to stay up, pajama clad, talking into the wee hours of the morning. At first, I worried about being too tired, but then, just like this morning, I realized the joy of spending time with friends was worth the lack of sleep. 

Now, I am sitting at a local Starbucks, clacking away on my Mac amongst my writing group—because traveling is amazing, but so is coming home. It brings me joy that these teacher-writer-friends are worth dragging myself out from under the covers. These are the people who prevent me from retreating into a state of splendid isolation after weeks of learning, writing, and growing on the road. The promise of a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino doesn’t hurt, either.
My Writing Group: Me, Mark (my husband), David, and Jessica (our friends)

Sunday, June 5, 2016


 Charlotte's Web has always been one of my favorite books.  I just love that rascal pig, Wilbur, and his wise friend, Charlotte.  E. B. White clearly crafted their stories with care.  It is one of the few books of which I have carried the opening line in my heart for years: "Where's Papa going with that ax?"

The story begins right in the middle of the action.  There is no better way to begin than right in the middle of the action.

Even when it comes to summer, not just a beloved book.

I am carefully crafting my own story this summer by starting right in the middle of the action.  This first week of summer found me: cleaning the house, furnishing the house with new curtains, re-staining an outdoor table (a past gift from my dad), spreading new mulch, straightening landscape stones, walking through the woods, attending a day long meeting, spending time with family, playing with my pups, visiting the dentist, and having meals with friends. 

I plan to live this summer.  

And when the summer comes to a close, it shall have been filled with all the goodness of a well-crafted story--true friends and good writing: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Have you met Kate?
Kate and I (before we met Rick Yancey)
Kate and I with Donalyn Miller and Sugarbear

Four years ago, Kate became my teaching counterpart when my previous counterpart moved into a leadership role at our district administrative center.  As thrilled as I was to have her voice in a leadership role, I was not happy to see Rachel leave.  I was not happy to have been left out of the interview process for her replacement.  I was not happy.

I am ashamed to admit that for the first few months, I coped with the transition by secretly referring to Kate as "the Kate I hate."  Luckily, I am surrounded by wise women who nudged and coached me to just give her time.

And luckily, Kate is one of those women.  She was wise enough and bold enough to weather my disdainful looks and impatient sighs.  

Before long, her previous nomenclature was replaced with, "That's my Kate!"

For next school year, due to shifting enrollment, Kate was bumped from our middle school to the high school.  

Once again,  I am not happy.  

But this time, I am listening to the wisdom in my own heart.  I am listening to the whispers of joy over having such an amazing colleague and friend to miss.  Here are just a few of the things that make "my Kate" so worthy of celebration:

1| She has a fierce love of books and kids and the magic that happens when they are connected.

2| She turns nuggets of professional development into concrete classroom practice in a matter of minutes. (Okay, minutes might be an exaggeration, but she always beats me to it!)

3| She finds the gem inside each and every student she meets, patiently listens for what their hearts need to hear, and nurtures freely.

4| She. does. not. give. up.

5| Her burps come from all the way down in her toes.  So does her passion for working with readers and writers.

6| She is smart as a whip.  Maybe even smarter.

7| She writes with her students--the kind of words that make me envious of her ability to craft, especially in the presence of middle school students. 

That's my Kate!

Sunday, May 1, 2016


I am a language arts teacher.  I have been a language arts teacher for 16 years.  I teach language arts to 8th graders, sometimes 7th graders.

Next year I have been asked to teach a section of social studies.  To 6th graders. Ancient world history.  Did I mention I am a language arts teacher?

This fact makes me whiny.  My husband is a social studies teacher.  An excellent social studies teacher.  I do not do what he does. 

Did I mention the thought of teaching social studies—especially ancient world history and especially to 6th graders—makes me whiny?

This is definitely not my cause for celebration this week.  However, this week one of my 8th grade boys learned a lesson that shifted my perspective from whiny to open-minded.

Every year our 8th graders take a field trip to our regional vocational training center.  The center provides hands-on career-related classes for high school students in a variety of fields, from building trades and fire science to early childhood education and culinary arts. 

Students are invited, a few weeks ahead of time, to sign up for their top 6 choices.  Then, on the day of the trip, they are given a schedule to follow, and they visit 5 different classes for approximately 20 minutes each. 

This year, on the bus ride there, G started whining to me:

G: Mrs. Rush, I am signed up for cosmetology.  I don’t want to do cosmetology.

Me: Then why did you select it as one of your top 6?

G: T talked me into it.  He was signing up for it.  I didn’t really understand what it was.

Me: I explained each option AND gave you a list with descriptions.

G: I know. I was just supposed to be in it with T.

Me: (beginning to giggle) Now T is absent and you are stuck.  He got you good.

G: It’s not funny!  I don’t want to do cosmetology.

Me: It will be fun—an adventure.  You will end up enjoying it.  It will give you something to talk about.

I was certain G would not be miserable.  He was not the first boy to have ended up in a similar situation on this annual field trip.  I knew he would enjoy talking about it—maybe even exaggerating how miserable it was—on the bus ride home. 

However, I didn’t expect this:

G: Mrs. Rush! I learned to braid hair!  Watch this!

Me: I am impressed G!  You are a changed man!  What did you learn?

G: How to braid! 

Me:  Yes, clearly you learned to braid hair quite well, but what I meant was what did you learn about life from this experience?

G: I guess I shouldn’t jump to conclusions before I try something.

It turns out G is a wise young man.  His words made me think again about teaching social studies next year. 

Maybe, just maybe, by teaching social studies I will learn to braid.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Because Ruth inspires me to be on the lookout for celebrations, I paused long enough in my morning routine to notice that my dog, Roosevelt, had hidden his favorite toy in my slippers.  Roo's playfulness, even at the ripe old age of thirteen, charms me.  He will toss a ball and chase it all by himself for extended periods of time.  Last night, when he was done playing, and I had already stepped out of my slippers to get into bed, he must have tucked his ball away for safekeeping. 

I had woken up early this morning to take the dogs to the vet for their annual vaccines.  I was feeling tense because Roo has had reactions to the vaccine in the past that have required emergency vet visits.  In addition, Aurora has had two surgeries in the past year and today was the day I would find out if her kidney stone issue (the cause for one of the surgeries) was going to be persistent.  

That red rubber face smiling up at me from my slippers was Roo's way of reassuring me that everything would be okay.  And it was.

As I get older, I find it easier to let go and have faith that things will turn out fine, but there is still some small part of me that holds onto the belief that excessive worrying wards off awful outcomes.  Maybe in part because when I excessively worry, things turn out fine and the belief I cling to is reinforced.

Parent/teacher conferences are one example.  It is an annual tradition for me to over-stress about conferences.  This week, a colleague and I were talking and she asked me point-blank why I think it is that we get so stressed.  It is funny how powerful a self-reflection it can be to be forced to say something aloud.  I thought of this passage from my "366 Days of FLOW" calendar from FLOW magazine:

And I answered that I am afraid parent/teacher conferences are going to reveal that I am a fraud.  Prior to conferences, I run through all of the things I know I am getting wrong--things like not updating my class webpage often enough or with the most relevant information, and making stupid mistakes in my grade book like changing the weighting for one class and forgetting to make the change for another.  

Every year, as it turns out, the things I am getting wrong are never the MOST IMPORTANT things.  This year was no exception.  In fact, this year I walked away from parent/teacher conferences on a high because I suspect that one of the conferences I had this year changed the trajectory of a student's life for the better in a big way.  There is power in wrapping a child with support both in and outside of school.  When that support is in sync, the insurmountable odds against a child suddenly dwindle.  This, I celebrate.

Friday, January 1, 2016


I signed up again for Ali Edwards's One Little Word class.  Even when prompts for some months go unfinished, I find her monthly lessons to be a worthwhile reminder to reflect and to live my word.  I have been gathering fodder for the first month's prompt...

A list of Words:
2011- apathy
2012- nudge
2013- note
2014- lift
2015- mindful
2016- fuel

Some definitions of my One Little Word for 2016:
FUEL noun
·      a source of energy
·      a thing that sustains or inflames passion, argument, or other emotion or activity

FUEL verb
·      supply or power with fuel
·      cause to burn more intensely

Quotes that helped me come up with my word:
“Be with those who help your being.”    -RUMI (line from a poem)

“Be the right kind of hungry.”    -Randall Mann (on a postcard containing advice for poets)

My intentions in adopting this word in 2016:
I want to fuel and be fueled. 

I think I miss opportunities to provide fuel for others.  I have more to give than I am giving.  I want to do more, to be more, for others this year.

I want to be the right kind of hungry this year—to take in the things that truly fuel me physically, emotionally, creatively, and professionally.  I want to surround myself with the people and things that fuel me.  I want my time to matter.