On Getting Older….


Today is my birthday. One that has stopped me in my tracks. Number 55. Wow. By today’s standards, I am “getting up there!”

It’s kind of weird, almost surreal actually, that the older I get, the more passionate, more energized (mostly!), more inspired  I am by this important work I am fortunate to do; teaching kids. But the most important work I do each day is not reading, ‘riting, or ‘rithemetic.  The most important aspect of my teacherly life is modeling kindness, empathy, and how to embrace diversity.

Students, yes, even fourth-grade students, watch the news. They hear their parents speak of “building the wall.” They know about shootings, racism, and other horrors in the world. My students, MY kids through the years, learn to cope with a parent being incarcerated, being in foster care, being abandoned by a parent, being poor, having parents who are deceased, being abused, and many other issues about which I know nothing. How can we, as educators, ignore these issues? We simply cannot.

So, we have class discussions in our daily morning circle. When a student says they are a level 0 because his/her dad got put in jail, we comfort that student. When we are sharing happy memories and a student says, “I can’t think of one,” we tell them we are sorry and we are here for them. We tell them we’ll make happy memories together this year! We give him/her hugs. Most of all, we love and encourage each other.

And we read stories. Lots of stories.  Our current read aloud is Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. It’s about a  girl named Samar who is friendless because she is Muslim. Students are looking at issues from perhaps a different viewpoint than they had previously. They are drawing parallels between their experiences and Samar’s. They are seeing themselves in the struggles of characters and through those realizations are becoming more empathetic.

It seems as I get older, my desire is stronger and I am even more driven to make this world a better place. As quoted by Nelson Mandela, “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it.”

I am trying my best to make these precious years count.


Thank You Grandparents, for Reading Aloud

Child Grandchild For Reading Book Read Grandmother

Last week, our elementary school invited grandparents in to celebrate and honor their contribution to their grandchild’s life. Each grade level was asked to create some kind of meaningful activity /experience for that special day.

I teach fourth grade, and as our grade level pondered what to do, we considered many options. We perused Teachers Pay Teachers, searched the internet, talked with other educators, and discussed activities we’d done in the past. After much consideration, we finally decided to do a grandparent “craftivity” that included a writing and art project. We also created a Kahoot game, and with the help of an amazing teacher, we chose a read aloud.

The craftivity was a huge hit! Grandparents chuckled as they saw a rendition, a caricature of sorts, of themselves created by their very own grandchild. Some students added details like torn pants, a debit card slipped into a wallet of a purse, or a tuft of hair peeking out from behind the ears of an otherwise bald head.

Next, we played  Kahoot. After all, what teacher doesn’t want to wow families with the power of technology in the classroom “these days?” Grandparents knew answers to some of the questions, and fourth graders knew some of the answers. Amazing and fabulous prizes were awarded (a mug with our corporation logo filled with chocolate) to first and second place winners. Watching generations collaborate on a team was great fun!

Finally, we settled on the carpet for a read aloud. I told grandparents how much we value the read aloud in our class and thanked them for the many read alouds I know they have shared with their student. As I opened the cover of A Box of Friends, by Pam Munoz Ryan, something quite magical began to transpire.

A hush fell over the room of around 50 people. Adults leaned in close to their grandchild. One grandma began to stroke her granddaughter’s hair as they listened. You could almost sense the anticipation of what would happen next as the pages turned. As I read the final page and slowly closed the book, the audience, both grandparents and my students, began to clap. I could not speak for several seconds, I was so moved.

You cannot explain in words the shared experience, the emotion, the connectedness that is experienced during a read aloud. You have to FEEL it. The power of it, the way it brings us all together, the way love is expressed through prose.

So, thank you grandparents, for sharing our day. Thanks for the laughs and the gratitude you expressed.

But most of all, thank you for reading aloud to your grandchild.








My Favorite Teacher


favorite teacher

Our 2017-2018 school year is off to a great start! I am beginning to form bonds and positive relationships with 22 curious, talkative, delightful fourth graders. But in these first 8 days  of school, my last year’s fourth graders still feel like “mine.”

It is hard to let them go. As they walk down the hallway, it seems only natural that they would turn left into “our” room, instead of right into their new fifth grade room.  And several still do. Several who struggled greatly last year; struggled academically, emotionally, behaviorally, or all of the above. Several of those students still come in each morning with a smile, a gleam in their eye, and a hug for their old fourth grade teacher.

Last year was a rough year for me as a teacher. I questioned myself many times as to whether I was cut out for this profession about which I am zealously passionate. I questioned whether or not I was making one lick of a difference in those students’ lives. I asked myself whether the hours of time planning, lost sleep worrying, money spent on resources, hours spent at school and not at home, really mattered at all.

But then, while standing in the hallway last week, Gavin yelled “Hey, Mrs. Clutter! You’re my favorite teacher!” And I smiled back, waved, and tried not to cry. Because I know that this year, Mrs. Kinney will be his favorite teacher. That’s the way it should be. And I hope each year, every teacher Gavin has is his favorite.

So this is for you, Mrs. Woodard, for your fun parties, like eclipse snacks of moon pies and Sunkist pop.

This is for you Mrs. Kinney, for your love of math and quick wit!

This is for you Mr. Rhodes, for your joy of music and Scooby Doo impressions.

I know you will love them as I did and that YOU will be their new favorite teacher.






Cardboard Challenge


Today was the most fulfilling day in my teaching career!! Our fourth grade team hosted the first ever Cardboard Challenge at our school. To merely say that it was a success would be a huge understatement.

Thanks to Twitter, we learned about a kid named Caine who became famous for a cardboard arcade he created in California. His arcade inspired people from around the world to come and visit his arcade. It also inspired other kids to begin designing things made of cardboard. Finally, it became a movement, and the Global Cardboard Challenge was born.

Unfortunately, we missed the global challenge in October, but we figured an ordinary day in March could be just as amazing. And it was.

Today our fourth graders filed into the gym and gazed around at 15 piles of cardboard. Their task was to design and build a creation of their choice. Their tools were cardboard, scissors, and duct tape. They had 20 minutes to come up with various ideas, sketch their designs, collaborate, and choose one design. After that, they had roughly 3 hours to create their vision.

Students created a computer desk equipped with headphones and slice of pizza in case they got hungry as they worked. Another group created a house topped with a parapet (a past vocabulary word this year), a sidewalk, and a mailbox. An anger management robot was one group’s creation, and another group created a nicely appointed tent graced with a chandelier.

All their ideas were mind blowing, but the best part was this:

  • Students designed, redesigned, and problem solved
  • Students encouraged, collaborated, and gave feedback to one another
  • Students practiced math, art, and science
  • Students showed perseverance and patience; with their projects and with each other
  • Students were enthusiastic and creative

My take away from today?

We need to do school more like we did it today. We need to give kids more opportunities to learn problem solving and teamwork in a real world scenario.  I….we.. all of us,  need to find more ways to let kids be kids, to play with cardboard, to get a little frustrated, to figure out ways to make things work, to think like an inventor, and who knows, maybe someday, to change the world!






Finding Joy


Amid the meetings, the hubbub, and the rush, rush, rush of today, I found myself treasuring so much about what I do. Today, I am celebrating  joy with this little list of appreciation. The items on this list bring me joy. Joy when I’m stressed, joy when I feel like I just can’t get it all done, joy in those moments when I wonder if I’m really cut out for this little profession we call teaching.

  • My students, my students, my students. Each day I hear something hysterical, thought provoking, kind, or optimistic. They inspire me, give me hope, make me smile.
  • I have a tremendously supportive principal who listens to me vent, empathizes with my viewpoints, and supports my students in a loving, yet firm manner.
  • I am overjoyed to  work with a staff that likes to laugh, especially on those full moon days! I love to hear Mary Helen laugh out loud with that sparkle in her eye, or to get an emoji text from Michelle that depicts EXACTLY what I’m feeling.
  •  I am humbled to be in a partnership with parents who care, who return my phone calls, and who aren’t afraid to ask questions; parents that are present.
  • I am blessed to learn something new every day from colleagues much more learned than I. I am constantly thinking, “Wow, teach me how to do THAT!”
  • Grading math tests tonight, on fractions no less, I was inwardly shouting, “YAY! Way to go! You got it, I knew you would!” My students are learning, no matter what ISTEP may say.
  • Gavin, after learning about how slaves were treated and how they traveled hundreds of miles on the Underground Railraod blurts out, “Now, this is making me MAD!” Yes, Gavin, it should, good for you!

At 8:01 p.m. on an ordinary Tuesday night, these are the joyful thoughts on which I am reflecting.

What brought you joy today??

Why Genius Hour?

live-nowLast week, I, along with a good friend and colleague, presented to our staff about how we implemented and use Genius Hour in our classrooms. As I began to prepare for the presentation, I thought about how much I had hated my high school years and how I couldn’t wait to finish so I could “start my life.” Same thing in college. I thought, “Wow, let’s get this over with so I can really start living.” But honestly, why can’t we go ahead and let kids “start life” while they are in school?

My goals for Genius Hour are that kids become curious, learn to problem solve and collaborate, but mostly, (and this is the biggest reason), that they have FUN!! I feel like we (myself included) are so serious about this business of education. We are serious in meetings, serious when doing curriculum mapping, and serious about standardized tests. I think it’s time we bring some joy, laughter, and fun back to the classroom as much as possible. Genius Hour, STEAM projects, &  Maker Spaces are just a few ways to do this. I know for some of my kids, Genius Hour is the one time a week when they feel excited, confident in themselves, and accomplished. That is how we should live our lives!!
There is no wrong way to do Genius Hour!! I just jumped in three years ago and had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes it feels like a train wreck, and other times it’s the poster child for collaboration, media literacy, research & creativity.
A student asked last week, “Why can’t we have Genius Hour every day?” Great question, dear student, great question!! I would love to hear your thoughts on how we could…

We Are Exhausted


I set my alarm for 6:30 this chilly Sunday morning, started the coffee pot, then sat down at my desk and began to cry. The stress and anxiety of last week and the week ahead finally got the best of me. I had worked most of the day yesterday, still had planning to do, a stack of papers to grade, and needed to go to my classroom to prepare materials for the coming week.  How would I ever get it all done? How did other teachers do it? What was wrong with me? Was I just not managing my time well? How could I be a good wife, a good mom, a good daughter, a good friend, AND a good teacher? These questions raced through my mind as the tears slid down my face.

I am so passionate about my vocation-not my job– but my calling to be a teacher. The meaning of passion includes “an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” It also includes the act of suffering. I think to say that educators suffer for teaching would be accurate. I believe teachers, in general, are an altruistic lot. We spend our own money on classroom resources, agonize over the well-being of our students, and obsess over the most effective means to deliver content to our students. Often, I spend 30 minutes or longer viewing videos or resources for just one lesson.

I know I am not alone.

When I got to school today, several other teachers’ cars were in the parking lot as well. Some of us had a short discussion in the hallway about the demands of meetings, data collection, and observations. We spoke of the exhaustion and stress that accompanies our profession. It seems we all feel it, but are hesitant to talk about it.

I’m hearing and reading a lot about teacher burnout and teacher shortage. I’m in my 5th year of teaching; the year the statistics talk about. I don’t want to burnout. I want to continue to do what I love, to maybe change the world in some small way.

I think we, as teachers, need to voice our concerns when the meeting load gets too heavy, when the data collection overwhelms us, when we just need to take some time and breathe.

I’m writing this tonight, not to complain, but to try to start an honest conversation about the work load of teachers. Teachers who LOVE what they do, teachers who are passionate, but teachers who are tired.

What do you do to manage your time? To have a life? To keep going because you know your students need you?

I would love to hear your thoughts!