My Kids Aren’t Perfect and I’m Okay With That

My Kids Aren’t Perfect and I’m Okay With That

Recently, I had a mom email to say, “My son will not be re-enrolling in your course next year. Thank you very much.”  Now, this was a terse and shocking email to receive from a parent that I had just spoken with a couple of days before.  This mom couldn’t say enough nice things about the writing her child was doing in my class.   After investigating, I discovered that during a peer review session the son had received both positive and negative comments about his fiction writing.

“My child was just so discouraged by the comments he received,” she explained. “I hope you will understand that he cannot continue in your class.”

I did not understand and this was not consistent with what I saw in the classroom that day.  I poured carefully through all the comment papers, looking specifically at the ones directed to this student.  I was expecting to find hate speech toward this child’s work.  Instead, the comments he received looked something like, “you might try adding a comma in the 3rd line” or “this is really good, but could be better with more descriptive adjectives.”

So, here we go…a discrepancy between what actually happened and what the parent perceived as a threat to her child’s ability.  This was a parent that wanted to protect her child from the pain of  negative criticism.  To me, this situation is demonstrative of a larger problem I see happening in our culture: People have it all figured out.  They’ve got paper writing, parenting, relationships, God, their life…. all figured out.  They don’t need any help.  “I’m good,” they will say.  Or, “My child is a fine writer or test taker or history student.”  Suggesting otherwise is an insult to the parent and the family.   “What do you mean my child made a 67 on her paper?  She followed every check point on the rubric.”  My response:  “If you would have looked at your child’s paper, you would have seen 5 misspelled words, 3 grammatical errors, 4 punctuation errors, two formatting errors and one content error.  This child has room for growth!”

What happened to the idea of everyone having “room for improvement”?  Or, what about the idea that mistakes are “opportunities to learn”?  As I was telling my youngest this week, “Did you think  you could just roll out of the crib and write an algebraic expression without any consultation?”  As humanity, most of us were not born with talent chips in our heads.  We must struggle and practice and perfect, even if imperfectly.   How can we grow if we are not willing to admit that we need help?   How can we become more like Christ if we have no hardships to test our character?

The first step, it would seem, is to admit that we don’t have it all figured out.

I struggle with how to gently combat these attitudes around me.  I’ve been reading about growth mindset and how it affects our approach to learning and receiving criticism from others.  The idea of a growth mindset was developed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck has been researching the concepts of  fixed vs. growth mindset.  In a fixed mindset, people believe their talents or intelligence is a fixed trait and that talent alone creates success, without effort.   In contrast, “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point.” (  The outcome of a growth mindset is a love of learning and a resilience, to accept and use constructive criticism.

As a parent, I must resist the urge to butt in, “My kid needs to make an A on this assignment.”  Rather, I need to promote the notion that “You need to know this material,” and “it will help you to learn this concept.”  Making an A on an assignment is vastly different today than knowing the material.  Really knowing something, internalizing a concept means that you’ve spent time with it; you’ve chewed on it, like the end of a pencil and made it yours.  That kind of knowledge comes with risk taking and set backs.

As a teacher, I must find a way to show students that criticism is just the beginning.  Criticism and feedback force us to grapple with our choices.  Knowing that our work will be challenged, forces us to examine our choices along the way.

When I was in college, I gathered up enough courage to show a piece of writing to one of my professors.  “What do you think about this poem,” I asked?

“It isn’t very good,” he said.

A lump formed in my throat. This was not easy news to hear and at that point, I had to make a decision:  Am I going to throw my hands up in the air and say, “That’s it!  I’m a writing idiot. I quit.” Or am I going to use this as a motivation to work harder?  Thankfully, I chose the latter.  I’m telling my kids the same thing:   Be thankful when you get negative feedback.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn. Take the opportunity and grow with it.

Romans 5: 3 – 4

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;






Slice of Life: Day 28

Slice of Life: Day 28

Poetry and Water World

After battling almost an hour of traffic, we made it to Metro Academic Studies down in Atlanta.  There is a weird thing where the closer you get to spring break, the worse the traffic gets down in the city.  Folks are either passing through or coming to town in the spring.  That definitely means longer commutes and earlier wake ups.

Thankfully, after coming off the hectic highway, I had my creative writing class to look forward to.  Each writing student had three poetry pieces due today.  On deadline days, we host a read-a-round where every piece goes into a pile at the front of the room.  Each student picks up a piece of writing (not their own), reads it and gives feedback.  I designed a form that requires the peer reader to offer one positive and one constructive comment per piece.  Once the peer reader finishes reading the piece and commenting, he or she then picks up another piece and comments until everyone has read every piece of writing.  This works well because we only have 10 students in the class!  Everybody enjoys the feedback on their papers and they like seeing what their classmates have been up to during workshop time.  It is my favorite activity as well.  I recognize little bits of my students’ lives showing up in their writing: a trip to Florida, a sibling who has left for college, a new family member.  A real time saver for me,  I am usually able to read every student piece during the read-a-round activity.


It is no secret that kids are fairly wound up the last day of school before a break.  Well, sometime after noon, a giant water main broke next to the school and we could all see the geyser spewing right out the class window!  Funny, I never see anyone look out those windows, except today!  Then, the power went out and the water pressure quit in the building, so many of my students just hung at the windows, admiring and chatting about the watery spectacle.  It was a sight for winter weary eyes.  And, being so close to school getting out and break, it was all fine with me.

Slice of Life: Day 22

Slice of Life: Day 22

16 Sweet Scoops

In honor of my team being one of the 16 teams in the NCAA Basketball Tournament today, I’m writing a list of 16 fun facts about me.

  1. Florida State University is my alma mater and I love watching Seminoles football and basketball, especially with my husband and sons.  FSU is playing Gonzaga in the tournament right now and there’s a boy sitting next to me in a pair of slippers.
  2. I love pizza, but I had to give it up when I went Paleo a couple of years ago.  The cheesier, meatier, crispier the better.  Dang! It is hard to talk about this one, because I really do miss pizza!
  3. I also love spaghetti, but had to give that up too.  Now I eat spaghetti squash and not only does it make me feel better, but it also is better nutritionally.  Zucchini squash noodles rock too.
  4. I am not a perfectionist.  I wish I could tell you that I’ve ever done a single thing perfectly, but I can’t.  I think this would be a nice trait to have.
  5. I didn’t start reading until I was 23.  Not literally, of course, but reading for pleasure and learning.  My husband introduced me to reading when we started dating.  He always had a book or two he was reading and encouraged me to give it a try.  The rest is history.
  6. At 15, I started running.  I ran my first race in a pair of canvas sneakers.
  7. We don’t eat our chickens when they quit laying.  We retire them to greener pastures.
  8. I’m a southern rock ‘n roll girl.  There’s nothing better than listening to Lynard Skynard, the Allman Brothers or the Marshall Tucker Band on a road trip.
  9. My favorite place to write is at a coffee shop with a cup of green tea.  Getting out of the house and away from all the piles of work I have here, clears my mind and enables me to focus.
  10. I head up the bookstore at my church.  On a Sunday after Divine Liturgy, you’ll find me in the bookstore talking with people about books, God and Orthodoxy.
  11. My oldest son is a techno wizard and he’s my go-to whenever I have a problem with my phone.  I have a gene that makes technological devices go haywire when I’m nearby.  So, he adjusts all my screen problems, which are many.
  12. I started this blog in the summer of 2014, so I’ve been blogging and photo blogging for 4 years.
  13. I met my husband while we were students at Florida State.
  14. My first car was a 1973 blue 2-door Mavrick, with three on the tree.  When I was a senior, it started smoking and caught on fire at a football game. Then the fire department came!! There is something profoundly weird about the spontaneous combustion of your vehicle, especially when you are 17.
  15. I would describe my teaching style as hands-on and energetic.  I like to keep the pace going so that the students aren’t bored.  I  change up our activities every week so that I keep the students guessing. On any given day, we may be debating, discussing, work shopping, pair-sharing, reading, writing, conferencing, quizzing, acting, drawing, presenting, researching or competing.
  16. I have never seen the Pacific Ocean, but I’m hoping to this summer!
Slice of Life: Day 16

Slice of Life: Day 16

Word Hoard for Daily Slicers

laundry in the washer

laundry on the floor

dishes in the sink

dishes at the door

papers ungraded

dinner’s not bought

but the slicing keeps on going

written well or written squat

kids are talking ’round me

someone’s ringing the bell

but, I’m clicking at my laptop

come high water or come knell

there’s places to go

and people to see

but at table and keyboard

is where I’ll be

commenting and liking

and posting oft too late

I’m growing as a writer

and developing my traits

I’m meeting other bloggers

and noting all their skills

I’m reading all announcements

and charging up the hill

slicing and dicing and responding

dusk to dawn

I greet my sleeping husband

each night with weary yawn

it’s is a daily grind

heavy wedges on my plate

but I’m doing SOL March challenge

and I’m doing it first rate

Slice of Life: Day 14

Slice of Life: Day 14

These students are ardently writing about Animal Farm, a political satire written as a cautionary tale against the evils of totalitarianism.  For a writing teacher, this is a beautiful sight:  sixteen energetic students writing and typing with confidence, using transitions, making connections between the text and the outside world, and working heartily right up to the bell.  They have opinions and they aren’t afraid to share them.

IMG_6457 (2)

They came to class with their books all marked up and tabbed.  They brought in stacks of paper and laptops.  They had outlines and graphic organizers ready to attack the topic.  When we started the essay, they jumped right to it with a few questions, but plenty of confidence. You could hear pencils and pens scratching and keyboards clicking.  It was a joyous sound.

To prepare for this day, we read the novel, held a Socratic-style debate about the nature of leaders, tracked the characters and their role in the allegory, and closely read for propaganda and irony.  They marked their books as they found catchy slogans, repetitive messages and spin.

Once we finished the book, I gave the students their topic for the in-class writing assignment.  They had a week to organize their thoughts into a graphic organizer, gather evidence and ponder more on the topic.  Because they had been marking their books all along, they were armed with all kinds of evidence to support their opinions.  They were ready and I could tell.

IMG_6455 (3)

When they finished, they turned in some weighty essays, nice and thick, double spaced.  No one seemed to be at a loss for written words, another bonus!

What a wonderful writing teacher kind of day!

Now I have 16 hefty essays to grade!  I’ll need to inspect these to see if they are as good as they look… to see if the proof is in the pudding.  Better get right to bed.  I’ll need some rest to tackle these.





























































































Slice of Life: Day 7

Slice of Life: Day 7

Hybrid Schooling and Poetry: A great Combination!

When people discover that I teach high school classes one day a week, I get the question, “Where do you teach that allows you to do that?”

“I teach at a hybrid school in Atlanta, Georgia,” I’ll tell them.

Usually, at this point, they nod their heads, as if they were quite familiar with such a place.  But, most of the time they have no idea what a hybrid school is.  So, I am going to explain it here and show you a little of what we do in my classes.

A hybrid school is a school that combines the best of both the homeschooling and traditional school models.  Hybrid schools meet less frequently then traditional schools, once or twice a week being the most common.  Hybrid schools bring home schooled students together for face-to-face classroom time.  On school days, teachers give lessons, hold class discussions, give tests, hold conferences and all the basic activities that a regular school does.  On off days, students work on assignments, go on field trips or participate in extra curricular activities. The great benefit of the hybrid arrangement is that students and families have a lot of flexibility to travel, pursue advanced level sports or music instruction and study subjects of particular interest.  At my school, for example, students can study core subjects like history and math or they can take high interest electives like film, debate, sculpting or creative writing.  They can take one or multiple classes a week.  I have one student that is a competitive diver and another that is a flutist.  I love teaching in the hybrid environment because it gives me the opportunity to design a curriculum around my students’ specific abilities and needs.



Poetry is the topic of the month in my Wednesday Creative Writing class.  This is a workshop class that has three main elements:  a mini lesson, workshop writing time and sharing.  Today, we looked at the recurring image in poetry, specifically in “The Portrait” by Stanley Kunitz and “Oh, Oh” by William Hathaway.  Before reading these startling  poems, I had the students close their eyes and imagine an event or situation that has “stuck” for some reason in their memories.  The memory could be positive or negative.  Once they recalled the event or situation, I asked them to identify the image that came to mind in a few words.  Some questions I asked, ” How does this image make you feel?” and “What was the ultimate outcome of that event or situation?”  These questions got them pondering and writing.

Once we read and discussed the poems, they were eager to get to work on their own recurring images.  Some wrote in notebooks; others worked on laptops.  But all said they just appreciated having time to write.


City Folks Hit the Pasture

City Folks Hit the Pasture

Recently we took a fall walk and encountered some iconic bucolic scenes.  My fourteen year old son, after viewing my photographs from the outing, penned this piece on his experience.  I hope you enjoy.

City Folks Hit the Pasture

by H.P.N.

The November air was soft and cool that evening. Walking up the gravel road, my dad was setting up a hunting blind in the field behind me. My dad loved to utilize his Thanksgiving break to go hunting. Guiding my neighbor and I up the road, my mom was telling us all about what she had seen up this way the night before. As our small company reached a barbed wire fence the wood ended and I saw them on the other side.

cows at the golden hour

Some were brown, some were white, some were black, and a few were mixed. I approached the fence and a few of them standing near the fence walked up to us. Ben, our lake house neighbor where we were presently staying, picked up a tuft of grass. Ben cruised over to the fence, reached out with the grass and let out a hardy chuckle as the cow ate it. Stepping back from the wire I too picked up some of the little stiff shoots around me and held them out to the cows. A brown one walked over to me and munched on the dried plants.



“Hold right there,” My mom said while pulling out her camera. The low and sluggish fall sun gave off the perfect shade to the cool, but crisp afternoon. This made for the best environment for picture taking. Ben was still feeding the cows, but now was trying to challenge how far the poor thing could reach for its food. The large animal reached up as high as it could with its short stubby neck and stretched out a lengthy pink tongue. It curled this tongue around the weeds and pulled them out of Ben’s hand.


Alien Cow! Look out!




“Whoa!” I laughed, “That is one long tongue.

“Yea,” Ben answered in his almost southern accent.

By now the whole herd had gathered at our end of the pasture, coming to take advantage of the free hand outs. For a while we zoned out of our busy American lives to cross paths with this gentle community of cows. It was like the world around us froze, letting us enjoy this moment. Suddenly, I heard the crunching of boots on loose rocks and turned around to see my dad strolling up the road.

“Hey y’all,” He said announcing his presence and zapping us out of our utopia. “I finished setting up the stand.”

Walking back down the dirt road we told my dad all about the cows and how calm they were. Stepping back into the car the reality that this week was coming to a close came rushing in on me. Sitting there on the leather seat looking out the now dark window, I wished that I was back there at the pasture with the cows.