Note to the Teacher

Dear Miss Sinclair,
I’m sorry
I made that loud farting noise
after you’d told me
to stop
three times already.
I’m sorry
I fell out of my chair
and everyone laughed
so hard
that Louis and Elijah
fell out of their chairs too.
I’m sorry
everyone stopped listening
to you
explain about our new
spelling words.
It’s just that I suck
at spelling
and I don’t understand why
an O makes
so many sounds.


This summer we realized that one of our kids has dyslexia. We just couldn’t understand why our bright boy was so stressed about school. Now we know. We didn’t realize he has dyslexia because he reads. That’s one of many common myths about dyslexia. Once we heard the news I started studying. I quickly realized our son had many common signs of dyslexia–shockingly poor spelling, a terrible time with handwriting, writing far below his abilities, and low self-esteem. If I’d known a little more, I could have saved our boy from years of feeling badly about himself. So today I want to share this poem, and I want to share this link to a list of a wide variety of symptoms. Please take a look. It’s worth knowing the signs.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Cathy at Merely Day by Day.

winter morning
walking to school we see
our words

a sudden accumulation
at the window

winter storm warning:
ninety percent chance
of freedom!

I’ve been drawn to haiku again this week. It’s like standing by the door frame in the kitchen to be measured. Maybe if I go back to the same place, I’ll be able to see how much I’ve grown. This time I’ve been thinking about the challenge of writing haiku that are both surprising and meaningful. Sometimes I come up with interesting images and words, but even I’m not sure what they add up to. Other times, the meaning is too clear and too familiar. The trick is to set up fresh images that give the reader an experience of unfolding understanding. And, as always, there’s the question of audience: will these images, these words, these meanings speak to kids?

For more Poetry Friday go to Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.

(c) 2013 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

Dear Teacher,
Please, never
The red
Of stop and blood.
How about blue?
The color of endless skies…
Be sure to write
So I can read.
Read so I can write
Better the next time.
Tell me,
How did I do? Not
Did I do
What I was supposed to do. Not
Did I write
Your point of view.
What effect did my words have on
You? Did I
Amuse? Did I
Confuse? Did I
Persuade you to think another way or lose you
When I took a sudden
Turn? Show me where
I went right
So I know
To do it again.
Yes, I want to spell and punctuate
But not until
My story’s straight.
Remember, I’m learning.
Remember, this is hard.
Ask yourself
How would you like me
To grade you?


Last Friday, Tara at A Teaching Life wrote about the devastating effects that unsupportive comments and grades can have on young writers. I was really touched by the crumpled student paper she found on the floor. Only days before, my son had brought home a paper with a confusing grade and comments he needed help to decipher. I did appreciate that the comments supplemented the circled numbers on a rubric. I can see the advantages of rubrics, but even as a parent (and not the actual writer) they seem unsatisfying, and a very different approach to student writing than I was taught when I went to graduate school years ago. All of this mixed together inspired the poem above.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Violet Nesdoly.

(c) 2013 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

On my way to the desk
I tripped on the rug.
When I looked to see why
I found my lost bug!

I tucked the blue cockroach
In my box of cool rocks,
And that’s where I found
My best holey socks.

Lying there, crumpled
They looked like a cat.
Except without ears.
I had to fix that.

I grabbed an old t-shirt
I started to cut.
I noticed the shirt had
A hole in the gut.

I got a red marker.
I started to sing.
I hit the right note
To make my walls ring.

That’s when my mom
Knocked on the door.
I put on the shirt.
I dropped to the floor.

“Where is your homework?”
She asked without blinking.
To my desk I waved weakly.  
My poor heart was sinking.

“Then why are you there?”
She sounded unsure.
I answered her truly:
“I took a detour.”

© 2012 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

I wrote this in response to David L. Harrison’s April word-of-the-month challenge Unfortunately, I never got to post it there because I didn’t finish until May. I took a detour.

she says to copy

the night’s assignment

in my diary

a girl flies off

the point of my pencil

she says to read

the next twenty-eight pages

in the book

he tips on the edge between

tables in the lunchroom

leaving the orbit

of desks, white boards, and coat hooks,

he waves, explaining

black holes are extremely dark

but you can still survive them

raindrops spot the glass
with tiny gray-skied planets
one by one they fall
my outdoor voice is too big
for recess in the lunchroom
© 2012 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved
I’ve spent the week exploring tanka. I’m drawn to the idea of two resonating images. I think perhaps tanka lend themselves to expressing some of the dilemmas of being a kid in a grown-up world.

I think it might be fun to do a tanka activity in a class of older elementary or middle school students. I can imagine giving everyone the same first three lines (maybe the first three of the last tanka above) and asking the kids to write the last two. It would be so interesting to see what everyone came up with.

The teacher said

Paint things
Like they really are.
I said I did—
Leaves are red,
Sky is yellow,
And even though
My skin looks pink,
I am truly purple.

© 2011 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved