Saturday, November 27, 2021


For a while there I was really into vampires. In all of the books, movies, and shows I consumed vampires faced the dilemma of living forever. What do you do with all that time? 

It seems that they'd have to reinvent themselves again and again to keep things interesting. I imagine an enterprising vampire would always have to create new goals to stave off the recurring barrage of monotony. 

My long teaching career can be likened to the vampire's challenge. In order to keep things interesting I'm always tackling new areas in the educational arena. When I started teaching, my focus was on learning American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf culture. That kept me on my toes for many, many years. As I became more knowledgeable and skilled, I took a deep dive into literacy development. The marriage of the two became the focus of my dissertation. It is where my heart beats and I continue to pursue it, but it's become part of me. It doesn't hold the same immediacy that it once did. I've earned the right to say I know a lot.

Over the past several years, I've begun to explore how the things I've learned connect with Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Social Justice Education (SJE). I'm finding this is an area that is calling out to me. It isn't just because it's fascinating, it's because it's needed

Consider my week last week. I returned from lunch to find a child sitting in my classroom with our Dean of Students. My kindergarten student became angry during lunch (the kindergarten students eat in the classroom) and had a tantrum. Fried potatoes, broccoli, and chicken were scattered on the tables and floor. Small pieces of potato were mashed into the rugs, book bins were tossed, pencils strewn, crayons broken, an open bottle knocked over on a table dripped water into a large puddle on the floor, and a very angry boy sat with his arms crossed on the floor.

I knew immediately what to do. I've watched our former social worker, Melanie, talk with students in this situation before and emulated her approach. I also brought in our daily work with mindfulness and breathwork. I pulled from my knowledge of this boy and how he responds best to feeling safe rather than challenged. He slowly shared his feelings with me and I listened. I gave him other options for expressing his anger. We continued to talk as he helped me clean the room. A connection of trust was growing and although I realize these outbursts will occur again, I do believe he will develop the mechanisms over time to deal with his anger in a healthier way.

Two days before this, another boy was hurt on the playground. He was scared, so was I. He had a very nasty bump developing over his eyebrow and it freaked me out. He suddenly looked very little. Still, the things I've learned kicked in and he was comforted and safe. It seems my role as an educator these days requires more and more of this type of thing. 

The Six Elements of Social Justice Education
(Click to enlarge)

It happens in the moment - as in the examples above - and in the teaching. Social and Emotional Learning and how it relates to Social Justice Education is something that has captured my interest. 

I teach a Children's Lit course at Fordham University and have had fantastic opportunities to talk with some incredibly passionate students about it. Our discussions push my thinking and bring me insights I wouldn't have realized on my own. 

I'm able to integrate SJE into the work I do with my Broadway Books First Class program. It's exciting work. It's important work. It's the kind of work that keeps vampires and educators on their toes. In this season of gratitude, I'm thankful I continue to have things to motivate and interest me. I have so much more to learn. May the passion never cease. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

A Broadway Books First Class Visit with Jessica Hecht

A kindergarten student introduces herself to Tony Award nominee Jessica Hecht

Exploring the work of an artist is an interesting and contemplative endeavor when you are viewing it with an eye toward sharing your musings with a group of young students. In preparation for our Broadway Books First Class (BBFC) guest artist visit with Tony Award nominee Jessica Hecht, I first let the scope of her work wash over me. I charted the timeline of her Broadway shows and wondered what themes would emerge. What kinds of shows spoke to her? What connections could be made across shows that might give a glimpse into what she is passionate about based on the projects she's selected? 

Jessica made her Broadway debut in 1997 in Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo. The play takes place in Atlanta, Georgia in 1939 within an upper class German-Jewish community. Hitler recently conquered Poland and Gone with the Wind is about to premiere - both provide a backdrop for the action. The plot centers around a Jewish family struggling with their identity in the face of the tumultuous manifestations of racism and prejudice swirling around them. 

I could easily connect this play to her 2015 foray into musical theater with the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. This is a well-known and beloved story of a Jewish family steeped in tradition while navigating the inevitable tide of change. Both shows deal with conflict, oppression, struggle, and family. That connection gave me a great place to start. 

Then, there were other shows by heavy hitters like Arthur Miller (The Price, After the Fall, and her Tony nominated performance in A View from the Bridge), Neil Simon (Brighton Beach Memoirs, Broadway Bound), and William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar). Here, too, were dramatic offerings dealing with themes of conflict, struggle, and family. I began to see that Jessica was an actress unafraid to roll up her sleeves and tackle some, often uncomfortable, universal truths. 

I brought all this to the children and slowly laid it out over the course of several weeks. They soaked it all up. They asked probing questions to clarify the weighty themes. I showed them the sign for "CONFLICT" and we discussed its meaning. One student said it is like two trains crashing into each other. We made connections with Disney's Frozen, a show performed by our former guest artist Jelani Alladin. Students more readily understood conflict, oppression, and the importance of family, through Elsa's struggle to fit in because she was different. 

The parallels were easy to make between The Last Night of Ballyhoo and Fiddler on the Roof. We talked about inner conflict and outer conflict, self-esteem, pride, and what it feels like to be made small. 

I worked with the kindergarten and second grade students each morning for two weeks in separate sessions. I started the day with the second graders where our conversations gave credence to their ability to grapple with the serious themes. It was evident in their questions and in the silence brought about by thought. I try never to rush through the quiet moments of processing during a lesson. I'd leave the second graders and return to my own kindergarten class to cover the same material, ever mindful of the modifications in approach and language necessary to engage my younger ones. 

A student Q&A with guest artist Jessica Hecht

Jessica Hecht's work gave us so much to explore! Together we developed questions that showed me how far the second graders have come over the years in their language development and understanding of formulating open-ended questions to promote discussions with our guest artists. (Note: The second graders were my students in kindergarten and first grade.) The first two questions, "How did you feel when you went on stage for the first time?" and the follow-up, "Did that feeling change as you continued to do more shows?" proved to be very insightful. Jessica comes across as very articulate, deliberate, centered, aware, and open in her responses. 

She is also unafraid of sharing her vulnerability and that is where the magic happens. I first saw the power of this when Mary Testa cried during her guest artist visit as she described the healing nature of theater in response to student questions. Jessica's response to the children's questions held the same honesty. 

It started with her sharing how she deals with nerves related to performance and continued as she led us in some of the vocal exercises she did to prepare for her role as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. She invited the students to join in and they happily accepted. Then, she played a recording of "Do You Love Me?" from the musical. It is a duet between Golde and her husband, Tevye. As the recording played, ASL interpreter Lynnette Taylor stepped into spotlight to work her considerable magic. Her impromptu interpretation - she did not know the song would be played beforehand - was truly mesmerizing. Lynnette captured every nuance hidden in the words and we all watched in awe. Students attentively watched and some copied Lynnette to bring the feeling into their own bodies, which deepened their understanding. It's brilliant to see people shine in their element. 

Jessica Hecht reads Sylvester and the Magic Pebble alongside ASL interpreter Lynnette Taylor

That brilliance was evident in Jessica's reading of the children's book Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Jessica chose this book because it was a favorite of her own children. It's a beautiful story that reminds us of what is truly important in life - the relationships we build, the love we share, and the moments we spend together. This was a message we could apply to Jessica's work as well - conflict, struggle, and the importance of family to get us through it all.

Our visit was fast approaching the time when each student would have an opportunity to meet with Jessica individually to receive a personalized, hardcover copy of the book. We had such a full morning we didn't even get to talk about her work in Friends, Breaking Bad, The Sinner, or her Emmy nominated performance in Special

Jessica Hecht signs a copy of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble for a second grade student

As Jessica signed books and chatted with each child, the rest of the students were busy either reading their copies of the book or writing thank you cards. There are a lot of moving pieces to coordinate to make these guest artist visits happen. I want to thank the following folks for their support. First, Bryan Andes, an incredible NYC Public School educator, for connecting me with Jessica. Second, Andrew Fletcher for purchasing 36 copies of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble in honor of our mentor, Dr. Joanna Uhry. Third, the teachers and ASL interpreters I work with to ensure more students can take part in the program and have equal access to them (with a special nod to my BBFC documentarian, Eileen Lograno). And finally, Jessica Hecht for being the reason we all came together to celebrate literacy and the arts. 

Monday, November 8, 2021



Well, well, well...

Trademark granted!

Broadway Books First Class (BBFC) is now registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office! 

I pursued this at the prompting of friends who urged me to safeguard my creation with copyright and trademark protections. I learned quite a bit about what this all means through the long, costly process. Copyrighting is much easier, cheaper, and faster. Trademarking is another matter.

Trademarks are given for goods and services. It means there is a monetary element to your business. That did not really fit with my program because it isn't a money making enterprise. But, I wanted to ensure that the dancing "Broadway book" logo my niece created for me could not be used by anyone else. The trademark requirements led me to reimagine what BBFC could be and how it might expand to other schools. 

Might it become a nonprofit organization with a board? What are the opportunities for fundraising now that the guest artist visits are growing to include more and more students? Will a trademark help me grab the attention of publishers who might be willing to donate books? I am currently spending a great deal of my own money to purchase books and my appeals for support through DonorsChoose are most likely taxing the goodwill of my friends who generously donate time and time again.

A trademark opens up a lot of possibilities and gives a certain respectability (i.e. clout) to my program. Year Seven has just started. I'm curious to see where the next few years take me. The timing may be ripe for pushing forward because retirement is in my future within the next 5 years. Getting BBFC inside more schools might be a good way to keep my hand in education, while also celebrating literacy and the arts. 

I'm not really sure how it will all unfold, but I trust that things will reveal themselves over time. In the meanwhile, I hold a trademark for something I created! That feels kinda cool. My mom would be proud.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

"Happy Solar Return to You"

Happy Birthday cards and wishes from students (past & present)
I really love my birthday. No examination of why has ever fully explained the reason, but it is simply a day I feel is all mine (even if I do share it with my twin brother). I feel elevated and special on my birthday. I suppose everyone does, no? 

However, this year my expectations entering into it were fairly low. I am still in a fragile place emotionally after the passing of my mom. Nothing feels as special as it once did. My perspective on things remains askew. Thankfully, the good people in my life made this birthday feel like a comfortable blanket wrapping me in safety, appreciation, and love. 

Texts came in shortly after midnight as family and friends jockeyed to be the first to wish me a happy birthday. In the morning, I met my friend, Sarah, on the NJ Transit train going into work. She gifted me with an assortment of fancy-schmancy soaps, which is a guilty pleasure of mine. My phone buzzed with birthday wishes and unexpected presents. Lovely Facebook messages appeared throughout the day. The texts and posts brought back sweet memories of moments spent together. Each one underscoring the passage of time that brought me to today. Friends stopped by my classroom with gifts and hugs. My team teacher, Dawn, led the class in singing/signing Happy Birthday. Young children attempted to count to my advanced age, but got mucked up with the teen numbers as they chanted, "Are you one, are you two..."

Later in the day, the second graders visited with a stack of handmade birthday cards. That really touched me. Those kids know me. Curious George appeared in many of them, along with proclamations that I am the best teacher. 

Not to be outdone, my kindergarten students also handed me their cards. They read their scribbles and swirls - I love that stage in writing development - and explained their pictures. There I was in their drawings, standing happily beside them. It's a place of happiness and fulfillment for me. 

Parent Teacher conferences were in the afternoon and the PTA bought me a birthday cake. It was a thoughtful gesture signaling community, belonging, and support. The love continued when I got home. The house was filled with bouquets of yellow flowers (my favorite). Preparations for my requested birthday meal were underway and I spied a stack of presents ready to be unwrapped after dinner. 

An unexpected birthday bonus came with the ABC News story about Lauren that included photos of our time together in the classroom and a shout-out to me. The story got my partner, Ed, a bit choked up and we both said how much my mom (and his parents) would have enjoyed it.

Afterwards, we popped the champagne and toasted to another year. I have much to be grateful for even if I am still adjusting to a life diminished by grief. I am grateful to everyone who sent a message, a song (thanks, Liz), a gift, or a good thought. How wonderful it is to be loved and supported by all of you. Thank you.

Saturday, November 6, 2021


This blog was started back in March 2007 as a way to share my passion and love of teaching. At that time, I was paired with a team teacher, Lauren Rifloff, who shared my beliefs and was a perfect compliment to my abilities. She loved taking the lead when teaching writing, I loved taking the lead with reading instruction. She was/is a fantastic artist, I have trouble with stick figures. Our class study of poetry was magic in her hands because she loved the freedom of poetic expression, my feelings about poetry were lukewarm (although she's sold me on its merits). We read stories from picture books and chapter books seated side-by-side, me voicing and her signing. We shared a love of stories and read to our students several times a day. 

She was always ready and willing to assist me in conducting research for my doctoral courses relating to reading development for children who are D/deaf and hard of hearing, examining American Sign Language, and unpacking best practices. 

The days went by smoothly as we taught our kindergarten and first grade students over the course of nine years. During that time we shared a great deal professionally and personally. I grew to love her like a sister. I'm happy that so many of our experiences in the classroom are documented here in this blog because it was a time of growth, challenge, and joy for me. 

She left to have her first son, but I always held out hope that she would return and we could resume our partnership. However, I guess that's not going to happen now because she's become a superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)! Her sure-to-be blockbuster hit, ETERNALS, is out this week. Lauren plays Makkari, the first Deaf superhero in the MCU. Yep, she's making history!

She is doing a lot of press right now to promote the movie, but embraces her time as an educator in the NYC Public Schools. That is evident in this segment about her on ABC News (see below). Lauren embodies the spirit of, "When one rises, we all rise". 

Now it seems the whole world knows what I've always known - Lauren is SUPER!


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