Friday, July 30, 2021

Sawyerville Summer Learning Day 1


Sawyerville Day 1

In June 2020, I was ready to serve as a teacher at Sawyerville. Excited to be stretching my education skills, I was assigned to teach science to third graders. Throughout the shutdown spring of COVID, I was eternally optimistic that God would find a way for us to share His love with the kids of Hale County, but it was not to be. Working with kids face-to-face in Greensboro was not an option last year, so the creative minds of the Sawyerville staff from the Diocese of Alabama found a way to deliver Camp-in-a-Box (a box full of books, math activities, outdoor games plus school supplies) to over 100 campers last July.

This year was my year. Contacted in early February, I volunteered again to work with elementary kids for a week in June to help improve their reading and math skills.  I took vacation to do it.  I looked forward to it for months. I thought I was ready.

I was not. Having worked in this county previously with the Inservice Center of the University of Alabama and with the University of West Alabama, I truly thought I was prepared for this amazing opportunity to share God’s love in a way that would make a difference to these kids and this community.  I understood that there was poverty.  I knew there were many students who were grade levels behind in reading and math.  I appreciated how different things would be in Hale County just thirty miles south of Tuscaloosa. I was wrong.

Since I had not been at Sawyerville for the first three weeks of the session, I had a steep learning curve on my first Monday morning.  We started the day in the lunchroom with the kids after they finished their breakfast and cleaned their tables. We took our first group to our classroom.  First mistake—I didn’t have my list of kids with me, but, thank goodness, another teacher told the kids who usually went to Ms. Callahan to go with me.  Next mistake—I tried to pronounce their names using my knowledge of phonics. The creative spellings threw me for a loop. Nope, I had to ask them to say their names for me.  Mistake number 3 was that I gave out the workbooks they had been using for the previous weeks without knowing what they could and could not do. I asked them to turn to the last page they had completed and to explain to me how they got the answer to the problem 70-39.  Everyone had 21 written down, but not one student all day could explain how they got that.  This all happened before 9:00 am.  I knew it was going to be a long day.


Because of my job as an education consultant, I often have to prepare for a lesson on the fly.  This skill served me well at Sawyerville.  I quickly abandoned the workbook plan and found ten frames and counters in my math box of manipulatives. (cards with ten boxes and circles with red and yellow sides See picture).

We started again from the top.  What was 6 + 7?  They counted on their fingers. I asked them to use the cards and counters to figure it out. They obediently put 6 red counters and 7 yellow counters on the card and still counted on their fingers.  Because I am a teacher, I revised my directions.  First, we did the problems by counting on our fingers (so the sum couldn’t be more that 10); then, we used the counters. For some kids, this still did not make sense. The teacher in me kept trying to show students ways that the numbers made patterns.  Since I had five groups, I am sure by the time group five got to me just before lunch that I had at least figured out a better way to teach them math than going through the workbook.

After lunch was creative writing and art, both of which I love. I was sure I could engage them in a fun lesson. I used a sentence frame for my first writing assignment:

My favorite superhero is _________________________ because _____________. And then they were to draw a picture of the superhero. 

It broke my heart when they didn’t know any superheroes. I had to make a list on the board.  I hoped that once they saw the list they would have a better understanding, but no.  I realized that these kids didn’t have Disney+ and hadn’t been to the movies in over a year.  I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t think the assignment through.  However, the kids had fun writing their sentence and drawing their superhero. All of them wanted me to come admire their drawing.  I marveled at the Superman, Batman, and even Captain America drawings, but I was sad that these kids didn’t know Black Panther or Wonder Woman. This made me vow to make better connections between content and background knowledge whenever I am working with students in the future.

Um - are we done with Monday yet? No, not yet. The other activities that my students did with me in my room were computer games for reading and math.  They were using two sites that I gave out to teachers over 20 years ago—Cool Math and ABCya.  Now, I know there are good things about these sites, but there are so many more engaging sites out there.  I helped them get logged on to the computers and find the game they wanted.  That first day, two boys challenged me to a jet ski race that had addition facts.  I took the challenge, but just barely won, because my reaction time for finding the correct answer was not as fast as theirs.  They were impressed that I won, so then other groups of kids challenged me.  Ending the day with friendly competition was fun.

Exhausted as if it had been my very first day of school in 1991, I drove back to Tuscaloosa and took a two-hour nap.  When I woke up, I called my friend Kay, a retired elementary teacher, and said, “I am coming over because I need help.” I had printed some handouts that I thought were on the correct level (2nd-3rd) grade; however, Kay nixed some of those because they were too hard or had too many problems.  We talked to our friend Beth, who loves teaching math, and she gave me some good ideas for using the ten frames, cards, oral problems, word problems, and more.  I felt better prepared for Day 2.









Monday, May 10, 2021

Day 100 of #the100dayproject

On January 31, 2021, I started the 100 Day Project because I saw a Facebook post from my friend MaryAnna Hudson Brown about it. I looked it up online and found out about it.

So at first I thought I would write a short poem or paragraph everyday, but then I was unsure if my observations would be artistic or not. In January I had a huge problem with my writing being either blocked or forced. I read an article by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, that suggested trying a different outlet for creativity if you get stuck in your usual mode of expression. I was blessed to be raised in an environment conducive to being creative--writing, drawing, painting, dancing, singing, were all valued in my family. Somewhere along the way, I lost that part of myself and I used this project to find it.

Taking a really big step for me, I committed to drawing/doodling animals for 100 days. I looked up YouTube videos and began to draw animals. I realized that I was going to share the “good” ones and the not-so-good ones on Facebook for all to see. That made me more nervous than sharing my writing with my online writing group. I had decided to challenge myself to doing art everyday for 100 days and sharing the journey no matter what.. Here are some of my first drawings. I sent lots of hand drawn valentines to friends far and wide. The recipients loved them; I am not sure if my drawings were that good or if everyone just loved getting snail mail during Covid times.

I kept at it and learned to draw other things, too. Here is one day (33/100) where I had some successes and some not quite yet drawings.

I went to Tuscaloosa in March to check on my mom and to reconnect with a retired teacher friend. My friend Kay and I have been friends since the day my nephew Luke was born during one of my technology classes. She and I had a three hour lunch where we caught up on each other’s lives and shared our writing and art. Kay told me about watercolor pencils so I had a new medium to try. After getting a bit carried away with purchasing supplies, I started drawing then watercoloring my artwork. This day filled me with determination to keep doing my art and keep writing. Thank you, Kay, for your encouragement.

One day while I was scrolling on Facebook, I noticed a link that a friend from Tuscaloosa had liked--It was called Tiny Tattered Houses with Jennifer Chamberlin. For just $15, Jennifer would do an online class for three nights in a row to show over 5000 of us how to create our own Tiny Tattered Houses with paint, paper, glue, and more. In my thirties, I had been an avid scrapbooker and missed doing this kind of art and layout, so I got my debit card, paid my $15, and signed up. I wanted to do the house from Anne of Green Gables. I had a copy of the book that I had purchased to create this project with. However, I got into choosing lots of great quotes from the text and using them as my background; I was agitated when I realized that I would be covering up these great quotes with my house.


I ended up rethinking this project probably because I was OVERTHINKING it. I thought I wasn’t doing it “right” and I was about to give up. Then, Jennifer, the instructor, reminded the audience to do what makes you happy. She was teaching techniques not a paint or collage by number class. This freed my mind and creativity to do what I wanted.

I made three lovely fairy tale houses instead. I learned to use some common elements for the series and had a delightful time planning and creating them. I learned from this first class that Jennifer and the Maker Bees are invested in sharing the process of expressing creativity without having to make everyone’s project look exactly the same. Here are my tiny tattered houses--Jack and the Beanstalk, The Little Red Hen, and The Honey Princess.

I felt exhilarated after I posted these houses on Facebook on day 68/100 of the project. I gave them to friends and family as little bits of myself. After doing these, I began to spend each evening watching television and creating tiny houses. I learned to paint paper using acrylic paints and art/copy paper. I loved the process and made paper everyday for several weeks.


I loved creating these little pieces of art and sharing them with others in real life. I have given tiny tattered houses to my friends and loved ones; they have responded with lots of compliments. I have rediscovered joy in creating art! I appreciate Jennifer Chamberlin and her group of maker bees for their inspiration and support along this journey. Check out her website here for classes

I continued my search for ways to express myself by doing more of Jennifer’s classes from her The Maker Behive website. Feeling bolder and braver, I created word birds, dragonflies and Night Watch from Jennifer’s videos. My favorite creative outlet lately is that Io paint my own paper and to use a Gelli plate to design unique paper.

I understood as I began sharing my art in real life that my writing was just the same. Somewhere along the way I had lost my confidence that I had anything important to say. Following the discipline of #the100dayproject helped me to find my creative spark again. I am forever grateful that I accepted this challenge from MaryAnna Hudson Brown way back in January. I plan to start my #100daysofwriting on May 21 to keep my creativity bubbling up from my soul.

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Voice That Yearned to Be Heard

A Voice that Yearned to Be Heard
Laurie Fowler

My dad loved words and loved language and loved reading and loved storytelling. His dream was to be a college professor, but his life took a turn when he found the exciting world of newspapering. “They pay me to read the paper,“ he boasted, after securing a copy editor’s position.

His was a voice that yearned to be heard.

My dad moved on from being a copy editor to a reporter to managing editor to editor and publisher to vice president of a publishing company. However, he would always wait until the deadline loomed to finish his writing because being pushed to finish and being pushed to be a better writer was a part of him that couldn’t be undone.

 His was a voice that yearned to be heard.

With a passion for life, community, and justice, my dad chose precise words, constructed lyrical sentences, and wrote eloquent paragraphs that became stories, columns, and editorials.

His was a voice that yearned to be heard.

My dad was a man who wrote his opinion in editorial pages when it wasn’t popular-- about the death penalty, government corruption at the local and state level, why he was a yellow dog democrat in a very red state. 

His was a voice that yearned to be heard.

My dad stood up for what was right even if it cost him a job, or made him unpopular, or made him vulnerable. His was a voice for the downtrodden or wronged.

His was a voice that yearned to be heard.

My dad’s columns were love letters to his family. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, really family celebrations of all kinds were his subject matter and we were his characters.  His insightful words told stories of our family’s triumphs and challenges focusing on what really mattered.

His was a voice that yearned to be heard.

My dad had a great American novel in his brain, but his lungs gave out too quickly for him to write it. The world is less vibrant without the stories he had to tell. 

His was a voice that yearned to be heard.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Teaching is hard work

What works? Economics teachers who talk about seasonal employment give examples of Christmas retail and Christmas tree lots; this real world connection makes economics real to students. World History teachers connect current events to the history of trade in Africa.  Where are the new markets for the US and China? Africa and Asia are the most open territories.  U.S. History and Government teachers discuss impeachment either in terms of Jackson and Clinton or in terms of the current push for Trump’s impeachment.

What doesn’t work? Speed discussing topic that the kids have no connection to, learning a difficult topic independently on devices with no teaching preceding it, or showing a video on Jane Addams and Hull House when kids don’t know what social work or social problems of that time period are.   Maybe reviewing with Jeopardy! is great for some kids, but there are definitely students not paying one bit of attention to the game or the questions.

Teaching is hard work and apparently some teachers have forgotten that.  Teaching is hard work because everyone who has attended school thinks they know how to do it.  Teaching is hard work because kids have tons of ways to ignore the teachers. Teaching is hard work because kids have trouble reading. Teaching is hard work because parents expect all kids to make straight As.  Teaching is hard work because class sizes are big and classrooms are small. Teaching is hard work because standardized tests have created data monsters in the central office and in the state legislature. Teaching is hard work because challenging kids and creating thinkers is a daunting task.  Teaching is hard work because good lessons require lots of preparation. Teaching is hard work because making a difference is not an easy endeavor. Teaching is hard work because teachers have forgotten that kids need the human factor more than technology or the newest textbooks or the latest curriculum.  

Teachers have the most incredible opportunity to reach kids in so many ways. They can make connections to current events, pop culture, and other classes.  Teachers who are excited about their content have students who are engaged and interested in their content area. I can think of many teachers I have had the privilege to know.  They care about their subject matter and about their students and it shows.  Note to teachers—teaching is hard work if you do it right. You make a difference and you matter to the future generation. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Approaching Advent

Advent season in the Episcopal Church is one that always has challenges for me.  I was raised Baptist so the idea of Advent was one that I first encountered in college.  The idea of watching and waiting during the excitement of the Christmas season was not one that I was familiar with. Also, I am not sure I had ever heard any advent carols except for O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

I am not very good at watching and waiting as anyone who knows me would tell you.  I am a doer not a thinker.  I can make lists and check them twice, no problem; slowing down in a usually busy season took a little getting used to. 

Over the past 30 odd years, I have learned to appreciate Advent. I know more than one carol.  I adore the Advent wreath. I now “get” Lessons and Carols. I love that the new year in the Episcopal Church calendar begins at Advent.  I love even more that North Broad Baptist Church in Rome, Georgia, also observes Advent. The service on Sunday, December 8, gave me such a sense of peace and focus.

The nine lessons presented evoked many different feelings during the service last Sunday. I managed to put some of those feelings into words even though they still seem inadequate.

·         Wonder at hearing the story of how we get to Christmas

·         Cheer as I found myself smiling as the kids sang their solos
·         Delight at seeing the procession of the advent flags that symbolized each of the readings
·         Joy in hearing the songs that make me feel like it is Advent season
·         Comfort in sinking into the familiar rhythm of Lessons and Carols
·         Enthusiasm at singing selected carols along with the choir
·         Gladness that North Broad Baptist Church is an open, accepting place for people of God
·         Elation at singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing at the end of the service
·         Rejoicing that Christmas was now “real” for me

Thanks be to God! The baby boy is on his way. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The perfect computer travel bag

Each August as teachers are preparing their classrooms and buying school supplies, I am on the prowl for the perfect travel computer bag for my busiest work season. By looking at my online order history, one can see that this is a quest that I have been on for a while. Being a true travel nerd for six years, I have specific requirements for the perfect computer bag.  It should be colorful, lightweight, multi-pocketed, and sturdy. It should hold a computer, iPad, charging cables, a Diet Coke, and snacks; an easy access pocket for boarding passes, headphones, and my phone are also important.  These are not impossible characteristics to locate in travel bags because I can search Amazon, Google Marketplace, and eBags to try and find the perfect fit.  Alas, I am still in search of the perfect bag after trying several possibilities.

First up is  the basic businessman black rolling bag.  It is functional as it holds my computer as well as my other electronics and handouts for the training; however, even with the convenience of the wheels, it is not attractive. I have also misplaced many a charger for my computer and my phone because I forget about that one awesome pocket where it made so much sense to put those things when I was boarding my plane.  A day later when I am unpacking, I have totally forgotten the existence of that very special pocket and thus cannot find those chargers.

So I moved on to a vibrantly colored Vera Bradley for January through August or the Alabama patterned one for football season. These shoulder totes are so roomy they can hold everything and the kitchen sink. This, however, is a problem because I then pack TOO much into this bag that I will be carrying on my right shoulder.  No matter how many times I try to remind myself to pack lighter and to alternate shoulders, this option causes shoulder and back pain. In addition, without internal pockets to corral things I often find myself rooting around in my pocketbook like my great-grandmother used to do when she was looking for a Kleenex—not a pretty sight!  In this kind of bag, I also usually end my trip by finding a smashed granola bar, a bruised apple, and a leaky water bottle at the bottom.

Next, I chose a bright red backpack with wheels that seemed to fit my specifications.  Brightly colored, lots of pockets, and wheels were wonderful, but the internal frame made it impossible to put in the overhead bins of the teeny tiny regional jets I often take to get to smaller towns.  Having to grab my computer, phone, meds, and chargers as I am walking and trying to board a plane got very old very quickly. So nope, this alternative didn’t work either and was soon abandoned.

At the moment, I am using a hip Manhattan Portage bag in bright red recommended by my much cooler brother, Lee. He had one that I admired and he gave me the info for ordering my own; however, my brother has much less to carry when he travels.  The bag has many advantageous features. It has lots of pockets that are very convenient; it has a padded laptop sleeve; it can convert from a back pack to a messenger bag.  But, it also is so durable that I can pack six books, an umbrella, a sweater, snacks, magazines, and a crossword puzzle book so it gets cumbersome in a hurry.

Never one to give up on a quest, I have recently ordered a new smaller shoulder back that will hold my new work computer, some handouts, and my mini iPad.  Let’s see if this bag is a finalist for the best travel computer bag or if I will revert to a previous choice or continue looking for the perfect bag.  My hopes are high and I am ever optimistic that THIS will be the perfect bag.  What do you look for in a travel bag? I would love to hear your comments.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Not Ready Yet

Not ready yet

I'm still not ready to not have my daddy. It's been five years and I miss him still and I guess I always will.I miss him on big holidays and events like Father’s Day, but it’s the little things that bring tears to my eyes, that make me catch a ragged breath, that make me miss him even more.
  • ·         Seeing tables of books with the sign FATHER’S DAY BOOKS and wondering, has Dad has already read that?
  • ·         Hearing Faded Love by Patsy Cline, or On the Road Again by Willie Nelson, or Have Mercy by The Judds and wondering if Dad’s voice is now in tune as he sings in heaven.
  • ·         Gazing at the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird and still wondering if he saw the book and read it on his own or if he had an English teacher who assigned it to a class of white high school freshmen in Rome, Georgia, in 1960.
  • ·         Noticing that he was reading a new book almost every day from hardback bestsellers to paperback spy novels from the grocery store and wondering if he, too, is waiting excitedly for the next Daniel Silva novel to come out in July.
  • ·         Hearing someone order a coffee with two sugars makes me anticipate his voice following up the order with I’d appreciate it and wondering if I will ever learn to drink “real”, not candy bar (Dad’s reference to the fancy stuff at Starbucks) coffee.
  • ·         Understanding in so many more ways, now that I am fifty, what life is not fair truly means and wondering if Dad felt that it was not fair that his life was cut short before he got to do all he wanted here on earth.

I have so much more discuss with my dad.  This is a partial list. I am sure I will think of other things as I live and work and travel this year.
  • ·         The good things and bad things I have been going through.
  • ·         The books I'm reading and which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t
  • ·         The books he’s reading and what he would recommend or let me borrow
  • ·         All the people I meet while traveling and the funny things I see and hear. I know he would get my silly, punny sense of humor.
  • ·         The many places I’ve been since I last saw him and all the adventures I have been on with friends, family, and on my own.
  • ·         Lord have mercy, the Trump presidency would be a very interesting topic
  • ·         EFM and all that it meant to me.
  • ·         My trip to Israel and all the amazing places I visited
  • ·         Trying out for Jeopardy again with the online test.
 I know I am blessed to have so many wonderful memories of my Dad. He was a man with integrity in his professional life and he lived and loved to the fullest in his personal life.  He was always my champion and my best editor. I miss you, Dad, today and always.