Empathy and Classroom Community

“I’m just…over it.” I feel like I’ve heard and uttered this phrase more in the last 18 months than perhaps all the time before. No matter your persuasion when it comes to the events at hand, as an educator and a human there’s been plenty of things to be “over.”

This is an opportunity. Remember how this feels.

I’m not the most empathetic person; As a third grade teacher, I must work at doing better with this. ‘m committed to creating a student centered classroom. The kind where we build an authentic community of learners; we encourage each other in each step of growth.

How many times do our students “over it?”

Academically overwhelmed by: math mistakes, lack of reading stamina/interest, technology problems, lost assignments, broken pencils, boring lessons, loud lessons.

Relationally overwhelmed by: recess conflict, relationships at home, teacher assumptions, classroom seating charts, a teacher who doesn’t understand me.

Physically overwhelmed by: fluorescent lights, sitting still, holding a pencil, clicking/dragging/double-clicking, the amount of time until lunch.

How many times could a student legitimately say, “You know what? I. am. over it.”

If I remember this feeling, I can empathize. I can allow my students to begin the process of facing this feeling and remember that throwing a fit is not the most helpful response; but I’ve thrown a fit or two. And the time to learn that it’s not helpful, is not often mid-fit. Together, we can practice reflecting.

And maybe, together as a classroom community, we can practice mindfulness.

Think about the challenge.

What is it? Why is it hard? What do I call this feeling?

Set it in perspective.

Have I had to do this before? Have others? How could it be better/worse? What have I already overcome?

Pause and make a choice.

Can I continue now? In 5 minutes? Tomorrow?

As educators, we have overcome so much. There is plenty to do in the days ahead; I’m grateful that I feel ready tackle these challenges with others!

As I prepare for a new year in the third grade classroom, I wanted to write a series of posts around the idea of student-centered classrooms and learning. This is post number 2.

Time Well Spent

Every May, time accelerates. My classroom tasks and structures wrap up and I think: Where did the time go? 

At that point in the school year, I look back on lessons we didn’t get to, units we abbreviated for good reason, and other unfinished business.  I wonder what happened. 

And yet. August comes. I find myself looking at the early days of school and sort of wondering how to fill them all up.  

It seems that I have too much to do but also not enough to do.  Figuring it out is hard work.  

When I heard this quote (I’m listening the audio companion of the book), it resonated deep within my soul. I don’t think much more needs said in terms of commentary.

I’m committing this year to keep this perspective front and center. After the last two years, we KNOW how precious each moment with our students is. Time. How will I spend this limited and precious resource this year?

How will you?

As I prepare for a new year in the third grade classroom, I wanted to write a series of posts around the idea of student-centered classrooms and learning. This is post number 1.

Test time: Why are we doing this?

I’m looking over my daily plans and outlining where our next steps should be today.  And I remember.  We can’t continue our 4th quarter review of writing conventions during that block.  We have to take the practice state test.

Ask a third grader what they think about conventions of writing and you won’t get an enthusiastic response.  But ask them if they’d rather review the basics of capitalization or take an awkward state test (the results of which neither they, nor their teacher will see this year); They will take the rules of proper nouns 10/10 times.

Why are we doing this?  In a school year unlike any other, when articles come out every week lamenting learning loss and gaps from pandemic issues, why are we taking 3 weeks to prepare and take state assessments? 

A cost-benefit analysis is in order.  Here’s what it costs me in time: 

  • 5 hours, preparing and familiarizing students with the test and the tools and review 
  • 6 days where the test takes center stage 

When a test takes center stage for a 9 year old, the rest of the day is NOT business as usual.  

What does it cost me in curriculum pacing?  I’d estimate it may cost us a Chapter in math; it’s making our math practices shallower while we make room for the test.  It’s costing us the richness of literacy experiences (discussions and application) which are traded for surface-level practices instead.  

In this unstable year, there is another cost: Trust.  These students have come to trust their teacher.  They trust their teacher to: 

  • Offer them non-scripted and personal encouragement during a test
  • Teach lessons and give assessments that have a strong and clear purpose

This test is a breach of trust.  We will try to mitigate this breach.  We’ve worked all year on our classroom culture and spent 3 weeks preparing students for these moments.  Most students make it through unscathed.  But I worry about those who do not.  

The test costs us instructional time and trust. The benefits, especially in this uncertain year, are unclear. Why are we doing this?

I will give the test and we will move on; We will overcome this challenge.  That’s what we do. 


“Just how far down the rabbit hole are you going, Tim?”

The question rings in my ears. It is my internal monologue.

What rabbit hole is that? The rabbit hole in question is seasonal easter candy. The answer is: All. The. Way. Down.

Jelly Beans. Yes. Starburst Jelly Beans, Nerds Jelly Beans, Trolly speckled Jelly Beans, Sweet Tart Jelly Beans.

Oh. The Sweet Tart Jelly beans. Can we just take a minute to appreciate what they have done there? They taste like a BETTER version of 1989’s soft Sweet Tarts. A better version!

Air heads, sure. Twizzlers, yep. Mini cadbury eggs disguised in jelly bean sizes. OF COURSE.

And hey, those are my favorites, but I will also indulge in your standard Reese’s and Snickers fare.

First, I try some of each of the above while loading the eggs and building the baskets. Then, I try some more since the eggs are all full. The next day, I continue through every stage of egg hunt/ basket ritual. It’s a whole thing.

I don’t feel great about it. My blood sugar shoots sky high and it’s something I’m chasing all day.

On Sunday, I ate the top of cupcake just for the icing. Twice. I threw the rest away.

After all of this, I have an 8 year old sized stomach ache. “This helps me understand my students in 3rd grade,” I tell myself. This may be true, but it is also a lie. I’m rationalizing.

It’s Tuesday. It’s time to right the ship. I may be on Spring break today, but khaki pants are coming next week and they will not lie to me.

Slicing for 30 days: It Made a Difference

Almost there. To the finish. Here are some ways Slicing has made a difference for this middle aged third grade teacher (in no particular order):

In the Classroom:

  • I shared with my students that I was participating. They think of me as a writer.
  • Now, to them, we are all writers. They talk with me as if this is an assumption.
  • I always have ideas to write about. But 30 days…Now I actually empathize with my students who are stuck.
  • So many aspects of writing are more easily taught from recent experience. It’s no small thing that I’ve had to go through the process so many times in the last 30 days. I could go on.


  • Thank you for the free therapy. Needed to get some of these things off my chest.
  • The community of writers here was a welcome break from the current events and social media I usually check out when “scrolling.” The previous sentence was a gross understatement.
  • Reading others posts gave me mentor texts, sure. It also helped me see different ways of seeing/being seen.
  • Seeing this as an artistic outlet is something I will take with me.
  • It’s been wonderful to be challenged. I took risks in writing that I don’t think I would have. I’m a better writer than I was 30 days ago.

Early on, I read posts about the community of writers and did not understand. At the end of 30 days, it feels a bit like the end of summer camp. Is that weird?

Author’s note: First two week’s of slicing me would have worked through this list to put things in some sort of order. I might have looked for an alliterative pattern or at least a common sentence structure. This is me at the end of 30 days and 2 days from Spring break. Although, I still re wrote the title 5 6 six times.

–Obligatory and often forgotten: Thanks to twowritingteachers.org for the Slice of Life challenge.

You just made my day!

“Wow. They are lucky to have you.”

“Look at that! I knew you could do it!”

“You worked so hard on that.”

“You’ll be great at that!”

“I made this for you.”

“I was thinking about you, so…”

“I was just thinking I should call you!”

“I saved you a seat!”

“I decided to wait for you.”

There are platitudes and bromides. Kind ways to say congratulations.

Then there are phrases that stay with you, lodged in your memory, in the voice of an old friend, an Aunt or Uncle, an acquaintance; They aren’t even that much more specific, but they stick.

I want to say these kinds of phrases more than their generic counterparts. I also want to say them more than something critical or “one-uppish.” Words are powerful.

Day 29/31 of the writing challenge courtesy of twowritingteachers.org

What is a Sunday?

Sundays have changed through my life; This Sunday I look back on what Sundays have been.

What is a Sunday?

A day to drag my feet and slow time down; 
Late breakfasts and news on TV
Take long enough and
Maybe feign sick or convince Mom to watch a movie
Maybe stay home

A day to write a paper
Or lounge with kindred spirits away from 
All of it

What is a Sunday?

It’s…time for work…
Park in the back; key in the lock
Flip the switch; power on things
Sing & teach & meet & greet
Lead & coordinate & smile
Smile, regardless

A volunteer day
Cajole the kids day
Find good cheer day
Family meal day

What is a Sunday?

Walk the dog
Open the laptop, the document, the planbook
Record the video, email the parent, grade the assignment
Walk the dog

Thanks to twowritingteachers.org ! I’ve almost made it 30 days, writing every day.

A lifetime in 4 years

“I have lived a lifetime in the last 4 years.”

These are words I didn’t think I’d be thinking or saying again in my 40’s.  Life is funny like that.  

Four years ago I was fresh into a career transition.  I had left my last job, a labor of love that cost me a small fortune in time and money (and also gave me a great deal of joy and purpose).  Since then:

  • I started and completed expedited coursework, completing a Master of Arts in Teaching
  • Completed a 13 mile Spartan Race
  • Interviewed for 9 different jobs
  • Took my first teaching job
  • Took my oldest son to college
  • Saw my wife change jobs/towns of employment
  • Took a different teaching job myself
  • Experienced a global pandemic
  • Sold the family homestead I had labored over for 10 years
  • Moved into a new home.  Also a fixer upper.
  • Moved Mother-in-law into our home
  • Continued teaching through a global pandemic.

“I have lived a lifetime in the last 4 years.” 

My beard is greying. 

3 years ago, as a new teacher, I was regularly mistaken for being in my 20’s [flattering];

Now some people assume I’m 50 [this is fine by me].

“I have lived a lifetime in the last 4 years.”

What to watch when you can’t sleep

Inspired by Betsy‘s TV post yesterday, I made a list.

Sometimes, it’s time and I’m not “sleepy.” Here are my favorite TV shows to watch if I want to fall asleep.  

4.  The West Wing

  •  This would work better without the soundtrack.  But with closed captions on, it’s a great way to read yourself to sleep.  Aaron Sorkin can write!  

3.  Mr. Robot

  • Beautifully filmed and dark, the show doesn’t make sense half the time, or maybe it does but I was asleep.  I love this show.

2.  Rectify

  • Beautifully filmed with gaps in conversations that are perfect to fall asleep to.  I watched all the way through twice so it would make sense because I slept through so much of it.

1.  Steven Universe

  • Hands down, the quickest.  I adore these 12 minute cartoon vignettes.  But also, I’m asleep in 6 minutes.  The longer storylines are actually profound.
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