Posted in London Life, Teaching, Uncategorized

Shoes on the Danube

It’s hard to know how to act in the aftermath of Charlottesville, but I’ve done a few things, including writing to the city council in my hometown to ask them to rename one of our elementary schools (it’s named after O. M. Roberts, a former Texas governor who led the state’s secession movement and supported slavery).

Today I’m in Budapest and I visited Shoes on the Danube. We remember: I remember the history of the Holocaust, I remember the history of slavery, I remember the history of racial injustice in America as well as our current racist system(s). I will teach this history as accurately as I can to my students and my own children. I can do that much at least.

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Posted in Family Life, Teaching, Working Mom

Advice Needed: Transitioning Back Into Work

After four years as a stay-at-home mom, I’m headed back into the the working world. I’ve accepted what is pretty much my dream job: Head of English at a local state school. And there’s more:

  • it’s an outstanding school (that means it’s received the top category during government inspections)
  • it has an existing nursery (translate: preschool) and my eldest son currently goes there for FREE (yay, free preschool!!)
  • and it also has an existing primary school (translate: elementary school), where my eldest son has just been accepted for next year
  • plus, I’m coming on board as they prepare to open up a brand new secondary school (translate: middle and high school), so I get to design the curriculum from scratch!

My official start date is in September but I’m doing a few days here and there in between to prepare – and thank goodness, because I suspect this transition is going to be a big one.

Example: on Monday, I was scheduled to spend a half day at school. I’d reminded my husband several times, but he still hadn’t made any childcare plans the night before (it was his job to sort things out this time). When I asked if he wanted me to get in touch with our babysitter, he said it wasn’t necessary since our youngest would be napping and our eldest would be at school. (He works from home, so we have a lot of flexibility – thankfully!!) When I told him AGAIN that school would be closed, and that I would be gone for four hours rather than the two hours during which our youngest naps, he panicked. *sigh* Luckily, the babysitter was free and managed to help us out.

The following morning I was a total mess trying to entertain both kids and get myself organized. Somehow I managed to deal with the kids, but forgot to (a) eat anything before I left the house, (b) leave behind any cash to pay the babysitter, and (c) check to make sure I had any clean professional clothes. I turned up at work without a minute to spare in a mismatched outfit and with a rumbling stomach. Awesome.

The whole experience was surreal: grown ups were speaking to me, and not about diapers, sleep schedules or playdates. My memory felt unreliable, stretched to breaking point as I reached back years to access relevant examples for a training session. Plus, when it was break time, I got to, you know, take a break. Socialize.

It felt weird.

Also, here’s a strange thought: I’m going to be paid for this time. At some point, there would be a paycheck with my name on it (probably virtual, but I’ll take it). It hasn’t occurred to me until now, but the past four years represents the only period in my life since I turned 16 when I haven’t collected a paycheck. Someone thinks my time is worth money, and this is incredibly validating. Given that I had actually hoped to start work a year ago but struggled to find a job that fit my qualifications and our family’s needs, the impending paycheck feels especially awesome. I think back to the interviewer who suggested that I was too old for a particular job (completely absurd, but there you have it) and feel thankful and not a little relieved to have wound up where I am now.

So I made it through my first half day, and realized that I’m nowhere near as organized as I should be for September. And by “I”, I really mean “we”, because this is a transition for the whole family and you can be damn sure my husband will be picking up some of the slack. I have no intention of trying to be one of these supermom types who does all things professional and domestic. Here are some of the things I’m thinking about:

  1. Food. My husband used to do at least half of the cooking, but ever since we’ve had kids and I quit my “outside” job, I’ve done most of the cooking. And the planning and shopping. We eat a nutritious diet with lots of fruits and veg and about 80% of our food is made from scratch. I feel like hanging on to a high quality diet is going to be hard once I go back to work, especially since my husband and I often disagree about what counts as healthy. (Me: Greek chicken with rice and salad; Him: spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread.)
  2. Laundry. I hate doing laundry in London. We haven’t got a dryer and the washing machine is small, so it takes ages to get through all of the dirty laundry. Fortunately, husband has already taken on the task of hanging all the clothes up (possibly my least favorite chore). I’m thinking I need to find a (green) dry cleaners for my professional stuff, though, because he just throws everything in one load with no thought to different fabrics, etc.
  3. Mornings. We will have to get the kids ready while I also get ready. They’re slow, and to be honest, so am I. I used to be a morning person but now it seems to take me ages to get going. I blame middle-of-the-night wake ups.
  4. Childcare. Our youngest will go to a private nursery full-time, and he’s already attending two days a week, so that should be okay. However, our eldest will need care before and after school most days. We’re looking for a child minder (translate: person who is licensed to care for children in their home) to help out with that, but it’s taking a while to find the right person.
  5. Family time: Obviously I’m used to spending a huge amount of time with my family. I’m actually looking forward to more variety and some time out of the house, but I’m worried the change from stay-at-home mom to full-time working mom is going to be extreme – I’ll probably be working 50 hours a week. On the upside, teaching means I’ll have time off; on the downside, I’ll often still have work to do (and kids to entertain). I’m hoping the quality of our family time will still be the same, but I’m worried about feeling rushed and torn between two priorities.
  6. Breathing: Where will I fit this in?!

Advice? Experience? Links to other articles to read? I know the whole work/family conflict is a big one, and I’m hoping someone out there has some tips…

Posted in Literacy Support, Teaching, Uncategorized

Encouraging Summer Writing: 6 Tips for Parents

Reposted from

Why is it that we hear so much about summer reading, but next to nothing about summer writing? Research consistently shows that the act of writing is a complex and critical process, and just like reading, children need to practice this process regularly even when school isn’t in session. Don’t panic, though – no one needs to write a five-paragraph essay before heading to the pool! Check out my six tips for helping your kids engage with writing this summer.

#1: Let the criticism flow. Going on vacation this summer? Planning to see a box office hit? Take advantage of your teen’s naturally critical perspective and encourage him/her to write a review on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Amazon, or Rotten Tomatoes. This type of writing feels particularly distant from homework because of its authenticity – people actually read reviews on these sights (and often comment on or rank them), so it feels less like busy work and more like real life.

#2: Old-fashioned pen pals. If your kids are separated from their friends this summer (or maybe if they made a new friend while at camp), encourage them to send their pals more than text messages. Let them pick out some interesting paper or buy a handful of tacky postcards and scribble a few thoughts to send via snail mail. Most people love the surprise of getting a personal and tactile note, and you might even be lucky enough to get a response. Alternative ideas: while you’re traveling, everyone can capture a memory (good or bad!) on a postcard and send it to your home address to read and remember once you return, or show kindness to an elderly relative by writing short, regular letters over the course of the summer.

#3: Journals. I’ve kept a journal sporadically since I was about 8 years old – it’s great way to encourage self-reflection, manage emotions, and (of course) practice writing. By all means, buy a blank book and have at it! (Pinterest is full of creative journal prompts if the blank page feels intimidating.) If you think your child needs more structure, though, there are all kinds of exciting journals out there for every age. Here are a few titles to explore:

  • Finish This Book (Keri Smith): This journal is perfect for your spy-in-training. It creates a mysterious scenario in which children have to complete an abandoned manuscript and go on local mini-adventures to gather the details they need. Keri Smith’s journals are popular with kids from upper elementary school through adulthood.
  • Sark’s Journal and Play Book: Sark is known for her creative way with words and images, and this journal will encourage others to blend writing and drawing (painting, coloring, etc.) as they engage in personal reflection. Better for teens and up, I’d say.
  • Q&A a Day for Kids: This journal offers short, daily prompts for kids. Each day has three small blank spaces so children can revisit the prompt annually and add to it (while also reflecting on past responses). Examples: “I wish I had more _____.” and “How do you feel about babysitters?”. Great for ages 8-12/13. (There are a bunch of versions of this journal, including one for mothers that’s a super-sweet alternative to a traditional memory book.)
  • 642 Things to Write About, Young Writer’s Edition: From the wacky to the mundane, this journal has it all. This is a versatile choice, with topics ranging from “Write about a human who has turned into a dolphin” to “Invent a new handshake and write instructions for how to do it, who can use it, and when it is used.”

#4: Get political. Even if your children are too young to vote, they can still share their opinions! If there’s a topic that’s near and dear to your child’s heart, he can compose an email to the appropriate official (city councilor, state representative, president). Letters to the editor (even via email) are also a great way to encourage your children to be active citizens. And how cool will it be if she gets a response or sees her words in print?

#5: Write your own (picture) book. This task is great for older siblings or children who might spend time with younger cousins on family vacations this summer. Encourage your child to read a few picture books (or check out a few at the library) and notice common features, such as rhyme or alliteration. Then let them create and illustrate their own story to share with little ones at a special storytime. If it’s a real hit, you can even scan the artwork and make a bound copy using Shutterfly or another photo book service.

#6: Writing to win. Bigger allowance, later curfew, fewer chores: turn your teen’s nagging into a writing opportunity by asking him to write a persuasive letter outlining his reasons. If it’s compelling enough, they might actually get what they want! As an added bonus, this tactic can reduce some of the emotional drama that often accompanies negotiating with older children.

Posted in Literacy Support, Teaching

Encouraging Summer Reading: Six Tips for Parents

Reposted from

As an adult, I want nothing more out of summer than the chance to lie on the beach and read a book (maybe with a cocktail in hand) – but your children may feel differently about their summer reading assignments. Read on for tips to get them cracking book covers, and follow atxEnglish on Facebook for regular book reviews, study tips, and writing advice.

How to Encourage Summer Reading

  1. Sit down on your sofa (or chair, lounger, towel, etc.) and read your own book. Kids are more likely to follow your instructions if they see you doing it first!
  2. In addition to reading your own book, also read their books – with them, of course.Help your kids get started by reading the first chapter together. Alternating pages or paragraphs while reading aloud is a great strategy because it allows your kids to hear a fluent reader (that’s you!) model inflection and tone, followed by a chance for them to practice those skills. Make sure to ask your child a question or two to check their understanding and ensure the book they’re reading is a good fit in terms of reading level.
  3. Let them pick what to read. Seriously. Even if the school sent home a reading list, let them pick what THEY WANT to read from the list. Parents sometimes get hung up on what children SHOULD be reading, but as long as they can understand it, it really doesn’t matter. We (by “we” I mean teachers) want children to be reading regularly – period. Magazines, cookbooks, comics, knock knock jokes, blogs, fiction, nonfiction: it’s all valid reading material. Letting kids choose increases their engagement, making it more likely that they’ll start reading and stick with it. If you have a stubborn little one who insists s/he doesn’t like anything, I suggest conferring with your local children’s librarian (APL is awesome – they have specialist librarians who will help you), and following this blog.
  4. Talk about reading. At meals or in the car, ask your children about what they’re reading. If they say they hate it, make them explain why. Volunteer your thoughts about what you’re reading. When you meet up with family or friends, start a conversation about books. Make reading an everyday occurrence and a normal (read: inescapable) part of life.
  5. Encourage quitting. Well, maybe you shouldn’t encourage it – but if your child has started a book (as in, read the first couple of chapters or a reasonable number of pages), it’s okay to let them stop reading it and choose something else. We’ve all found ourselves completely disengaged in a book we initially thought we’d like, and forcing kids to finish a book they hate (when they COULD be reading something they actually enjoy) doesn’t accomplish much. There’s an exception to this rule, though: if your child struggles to finish any books or reading material, you should encourage them to stick with the text they’ve chosen. As a teacher, I usually allow students to “quit” two books in a row; once they get to their third choice, though, it’s time to stay the course and follow through until “the end.”
  6. Reward them for reading. We all want our kids to be intrinsically motivated, but a little extrinsic motivation goes a long way. For younger readers, make a sticker chart: every time they finish a book (or a chapter, or 10 pages, or whatever you think is an appropriate mini-goal), they get a sticker on their chart. Once they get X amount of stickers, they get a prize: an ice cream, movie tickets, extra screen time, a new book, you name it! For older readers, let them come up with the reward: you set the expectation (e.g. they’ll read six books this summer), and they come up with a list of potential rewards. Make sure it’s a long list so at least one option is likely to be acceptable to both parties.

So there you have it, folks: six tips to turn your kids into book addicts this summer.

Happy reading!