Silver Linings

I can’t remember exactly how the conversation started, but I know it was during morning meeting. This year, we’ve often talked about choosing the lens through which we see the world. For example, right now our class focus, inspired by Irene Latham and Charles Water’s Dictionary for a Better World, is “kindness.” So, we’re trying to keep a keen eye out for acts of kindness and put them on our “Catch ’em Being Kind” bulletin board. We’ve talked about how looking for kindness helps us see it in our daily lives, which makes us feel good and also inspires us to be more kind. Somehow during the twists and turns of our discussion, I said something about “silver linings.”

They looked at me blankly.

“Have you ever heard that expression?” I asked. I fully anticipated a hand or two to shoot up, but none did, and heads shook from side to side.

“Oh,” I said, “well, have you ever seen a big dark cloud that blocks the sun, but the sun behind it lights up its edges so they sort of shimmer or glow?”

They nodded and I continued.

“Well, that’s called a silver lining. So sometimes when people are in the midst of hard times or unpleasant things, like a dark cloud, they notice there are some positive things happening, too. They call those silver linings. It’s sort of a metaphor for being optimistic–seeing the good things in the midst of the bad.”

This led into a conversation about the “up-sides” or silver linings of Covid. Spontaneously, I asked them to share any silver linings they’d had in their experience with Covid. Several students raised their hands immediately.

“I’ve learned to bake,” a student said. “I used to need a lot of help, but now I can bake things by myself.”

“We’ve gone hiking a lot more,” another student volunteered.

B. raised her hand. “I’ve been reading so much,” she said. ” I’ve had more time at home, so I just read and read and read.” Several other kids made our silent class “agree” signal.

Then, another student raised his hand.

“I learned to read during the pandemic,” he announced proudly.


What a powerful statement that is.

“I learned to read during the pandemic.”

It just grabs you, doesn’t it? My heart swelled and the comment took me back to a staff meeting late last summer, probably before school even started. Our Principal, in a wry voice, said, “Well, welcome to the job you never applied for and didn’t want, but now you’ve got it. Congratulations!” Then he went on, in all seriousness, to talk about the work ahead. At one point he said, “When people ask you what you’re doing, just say ‘I’m teaching during a pandemic.'”

I didn’t play a part in that student learning to read, as his academic instruction doesn’t occur in our classroom. But I’m here, every day, doing my best to teach during a pandemic–trying to help kids navigate these crazy times, find joy in their worlds, and grow as learners and people. It’s tough work and sometimes it threatens to pull me under. But then I think of those silver linings. Of that student proclaiming, “I learned to read during a pandemic. Of another student who during a writing reflection wrote, “I used to be the kind of writer who didn’t like writing, but now I’m really interested in doing writing.”

Just like kindness, if you keep your eye out for the silver linings, you’ll find them.

And though I need to be reminded of this once in a while, many of them are happening in my fourth grade classroom every day.

Embracing the Mystery

Amidst the turmoil of last week, Ruth Ayres posted her latest writing invitation– a prompt to respond to the word “write”. In her prompt, she wrote, “This is a reminder that it’s okay to write, even when you don’t know what to think.”

As I started responding in my notebook, I quickly found myself thinking of my recent rededication to morning pages. I’ve been working hard to write three pages a day and to embrace a stream of consciousness approach to the whole exercise. Soon I found myself writing: “Write even when you don’t know where you’re going.” Then, just like that, I was remembering Mystery Drives.

DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer: Maine

Long ago, when our children were young, we used to occasionally set out on what we called “Mystery Drives.” We’d start by piling all the kids in the car. Then, we’d decide on an order: oldest to youngest, youngest to oldest, alphabetical by name or whatever. At the end of our driveway, we’d stop and ask the first child, “Which way?” They’d make a choice, point, and off we’d go. As we came to each intersection, we’d ask the next child, and let them select. And so on and so on. We’d continue this until we were typically out in the countryside seeing rarely visited or new sites. This was well before the days of easy GPS access and our trusted lifeline was a well-worn DeLorme atlas of Maine. We also had a compass in the car, so we knew that if worse came to worse, we could always head east.

As we drove, we discovered new views, new vistas. Sometimes. But sometimes we didn’t. And that was okay, too. Regardless of what we saw, throughout the journey there was a wonderful sense of possibility. Who knew what discovery might be around the next corner? Who knew where we might end up? I think back on those days now and wish we’d done that a bit more often.

It occurs to me that writing when you don’t know where you’re going is similar to a Mystery Drive. You just keep making choices when you get to an intersection. You may end up driving over familiar ground, you may discover fascinating new vistas –intriguing ideas, untapped memories–or you may even become lost. The point is the journey and the open nature of it–Just making your way through the terrain, one turn at a time. Eventually you’ll figure out how to find your way home, you’ll have some new experiences under your belt, and perhaps you’ll be all the richer for having set out not knowing where you were headed.

Teaching Tip: Use engaging video clips to elicit lively conversation

I had previewed the recommended video segment on Sunday, and knew it would be immediately engaging for my fourth graders. The opening scene showed a frog spewing a mass of eggs. Up close and personal. Later on in the footage, two frogs are mating on a leaf. I knew it was a great clip to research how a narrator might use their voice to make it easier for a listener to learn, but let’s just say I expected a variety of responses.

True to my expectations, as soon as the video started, there was a chorus of “Ew!” and “Gross!” with a few “Wow!”s sprinkled in. Then, as the video ended, the kids erupted into conversation. Some of it was responding to our guiding question, more of it was clearly not.

Above the hubbub, one boy’s voice rose strong and clear, “Did you see that baby getting a ride on its mom?”

Oh, boy.

While thoughts flashed through my head–Is he joking or serious? Do I ignore that or explain? How much do I explain? –a female classmate matter-of-factly replied.

“That wasn’t a baby. That was the father.”

“I guess he’s just too lazy to walk on his own,” the boy replied, laughing.

Okaaay…he is clearly utterly at sea.

She looked at him for a moment, then calmly replied, “He isn’t lazy. He’s fertilizing the eggs.”

“Well,” he proclaimed to the class–and honestly I do believe there was no intended double entendre here, just complete naivete–“he’s probably just going to keep riding her down to the water.”

At this point his classmate gave up on her attempts to educate him and I simultaneously steered the class back to our guiding question, stifling my laughter masterfully.

In the end, we had a good conversation about nonfiction reading fluency, but I have to admit, it really wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the previous one.

Today I declare…

It’s funny how you can lose sight of something–like an album you listen to all the time until somehow, without noticing, you just don’t anymore. Then one day, you hear a song on the radio and think–Oh my Gosh! When did I stop listening to that?

I used to respond to the “Word of the Day” (WOTD) prompt from TeachWrite all the time. Then, in some twist of algorithm, it disappeared from my internet universe. I stumbled upon it last week and have been dabbling away ever since.

Late last week, the WOTD was “declare”. With a few weeks of “bulk up for winter” autumnal eating under my belt and the addition of some more recent Thanksgiving gluttony, here’s what came to mind:

Today I declare
(like I did yesterday
and the day before
and maybe a few more days
before that)
I will show some restraint!
Skip the sugar!
Back off the fat!
Eat more veggies!

My newest habit is
stating an intention
then ignoring it
over and over again.

I ponder next steps
as I wipe the stuffing crumbs
from my chin.

©Molly Hogan

And a follow up limerick:

A woman I know loved her stuffin’!
Five servings a day? That was nuffin’!
Eaten hot, warm or cold
even seven days old!
She just couldn’t gobble enough in!

©Molly Hogan

And though the stuffing is now sadly gone, my waistline and I cherish our fond memories.

Deer: Differing Perspectives

Two deer ambled across the road in the dim morning light. I eased off the gas, slowing as another scrambled up the bank and across. In an instant, they had entered the line of trees and disappeared. Here then gone.

Looking both ways carefully, wary of stragglers, I slowly sped up and resumed my commute to school. Smiling now. Thankful for the moment.

Good luck, I thought, mentally sending the deer wishes for safe passage across country roads and through this year’s hunting season. God speed!

Driving along, I replayed the moment in my mind. The graceful movements, overlarge ears and tawny pelts. The swish of white tails. Seeing deer always brings me such joy.

Maybe I’ll write a haiku.

I entertained myself with phrases and syllable counts until I pulled into the school parking lot. Then, as I entered the classroom, the deer faded from mind amidst the reality of towering stacks and endless to-do lists.

About two hours later, my students arrived. L. approached me with a huge grin on his face.

“Mrs. Hogan! Guess what I did!?” he asked, his excitement palpable.

I set down my clipboard to give him my full attention. “What?” I asked.

“I ate a deer heart last night!” he crowed.

Insert a long pause here.

“Um. Oh.” I stammered. Another long pause. He looked at me expectantly.

Finally, I spoke. “Why?” (Yes, not my finest response, but I was flummoxed and genuinely horrified. And also, really, Why??? As a vegetarian, I don’t appreciate meat eating, but heart eating seems like another level entirely–even more invasive and primitive. Yeah, I know that may not really make sense…)

“Huh?” he looked back at me, clearly uncertain how to answer. His smile faltered.

I regrouped and tried to manage my expression.

“Well, how did you cook it?” Ew!

“Oh, I think my dad just threw it in the oven,” he responded.

“Was it good?” I asked, really wishing I weren’t having this conversation.

“Yeah! It was delicious!” he replied, smile firmly entrenched again. He then bounded off to start his day.

I picked up my clipboard and shook my head.

I wish I’d taken the time to write that haiku.

Green Waves and Ham

On a recent Sunday, we strolled down the beach, admiring the pounding surf and the range of color in the breaking waves. My camera hung around my neck and every so often I snapped pictures of the water, birds, shapes in the sand, or whatever caught my eye. Kurt and I chatted or walked silently for long stretches. We laughed as the shorebirds dashed in and out from the surf, their little legs pumping. I was deliciously content.

Other walkers dotted the beach, many with canine companions. I’m not a huge dog fan, but even I have to admit that nothing says happiness like the exuberance of a dog running at the beach. It is sheer joy in action!

As we walked by one group of three dog walkers, we exchanged casual hellos. A man in the group looked pointedly at my camera and then struck a dramatic pose, clearly inviting me to take his picture.

“Well, maybe if you had a bird on your head…” I laughed. He laughed, too, and we continued on past.

A few moments later, “Hey!” I heard a voice call. I turned back to see the wannabe-photographed man.

“Did you say a turd on my head?” he asked.

Then, leashed dog in hand, he positioned a telltale bulging green bag on top of his head and struck a pose. 

What could I do?


In Sync

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. After working in the yard all morning, I sat on the chair in the living room, alternatively reading and playing an occasional word game on my phone. An e-mail notification silently popped up. I clicked on it and read.

“Oh my God, Kurt! Guess what just happened!” I announced dramatically. I waited for him to answer, expecting him to ask what newly outrageous post a relative had written, or what lies a certain politician was now spewing, or what new national disaster threatened.

He looked up from the sofa, where he was reading his book. He paused, then said, “You found out that your favorite gelato flavor is in?”

I looked at his hands–book only, no phone, no computer. I looked at my phone again, and reread the e-mail message:

“How could you possibly know that?” I finally asked, astonished.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “It’s just the first thing that came into my head.”

“Whoa! That is so strange! We haven’t even been talking about getting gelato lately.” I looked again at my phone, dumbfounded, and then back at him.

“I can’t believe you knew that!”

A moment later, still flummoxed, I commented, “That is just so weird! Clearly, we have been married too long.”

Then a few days later, we simultaneously reached out to affectionately pat the other as we walked past each other–kind of like you pet your old faithful dog. We both laughed.

“Pretty soon we aren’t even going to need to talk at all,” Kurt joked.

An Unexpected Gift of Poetry


One of my favorite activities at the end of the school year is our poetry jam. We invite families to come in to the classroom, listen to poetry that students have written, and then create poetry together at a variety of centers. We inevitably have a great turnout, and the room is a happy hum of poetry celebration.

This year, the grandfather of one of my students stood by the doorway, a bulky, silent presence. I hadn’t met him before, but his granddaughter had mentioned he’d be coming. He’d slipped into the room right before the students read their poetry, and now remained standing (poised for quick exit?), while she was busy buzzing around the room without him, working with other students and parents. He seemed content where he was, watching the activity, but I suspected that he, like so many adults, was probably uncomfortable with poems and poetry writing. He struck me as the quintessential Mainer–hard-working, somewhat taciturn, with deep ties to the land and community about him. Quiet and strong. 

After glancing about the room to ensure that everyone else was happily occupied, I walked over to introduce myself to him.

We exchanged names and a few pleasantries, and then I asked, “Would you like to write a poem?”

“No,” he replied slowly. Almost thoughtfully.

“Well, have you ever written poetry before?” I asked, in full ambassador mode.

“Yes,” he said. “After I came back from the war.”

Then his voice shifted to a sort of dreamy cadence….”I wrote about lying on the grass under a big oak tree…looking up through the green leaves and branches above me… I wrote about wondering how many birds have nested in this tree…How many animals have made their home in its branches? …And how many children have played in those same branches? …And I hoped my own children and eventually my grandchildren would climb in this tree. …And then, I wondered, after I died, … how long would this tree live… and still provide a home and comfort.”

“Oh,” I said, after a brief moment in which I recalibrated my initial impressions, “that was lovely.”

He told me then about some of his experiences during his service: He was shot in the head, shoulder, thigh and ankle. To this day, it’s still uncomfortable for him to sit, especially in hard chairs intended for much smaller individuals, which is why he was standing.  

Then, at one point, his voice changed again, slowed and deepened, and he said,
I heard the thunder,
then knew it was gunfire.
I heard the screams,
then night fell.
When morning came,
I woke
and wondered
why I had survived.”

Clearly, these words were deeply etched within him. Their power echoed within me. After a moment, I blinked and cleared my throat.

“You’re a wonderful poet, ” I finally said. “Have you shared your poems with your granddaughter or with anyone else in your family?”

“No,” he said. Then he elaborated, in true Maine fashion, “I’ve been working.”

We talked for quite some time, about his school experiences (not positive), his work (long and hard), his family (much beloved). Later in the conversation, he told me that he had shared some of his writing with a veteran’s organization.

Eventually, I realized I’d totally abandoned my classroom responsibilities. I thanked him for coming and for sharing his words with me, and told him how much I’d enjoyed our conversation. Reluctantly, I wandered away to circulate amongst the parents and children, my mind still lingering on our conversation. On the inaccuracies of first impressions. On war. On poetry. 

Two days later, on the last day of school, his granddaughter handed me an envelope. In it her grandfather had enclosed some of his writing. It was about time and change and family. It was beautiful and thoughtful. Once again, I was deeply moved by this unexpected poet and his unexpected gift.