A Slice of Life


My Own Slice of Life on Hinges

Today my husband and I attempted to assemble a piece of furniture that required hinges to be attached. We vowed to not get into an argument this time. We both consider ourselves to be smart people but when it comes to hinges neither of us can wrap our brains around how to attach them. We look at the picture, we read and reread the directions, and we fail every time. Today it took us at least a half an hour to get the hinges in place. During this thirty minute time period, we both raised our voices, we threatened to throw the screwdriver, we got up and walked away, and we mumbled a few choice words.

This must be what it is like when I demonstrate how to add fractions, draw pictures of how to add fractions, use manipulatives to show how to add fractions, and some students still don’t get it. They can’t wrap their brains around it. Sometimes they do raise their voices and throw their pencils. Maybe they need to get up and walk away. Maybe fourth graders need to get away from their fractions for a minute because they are too frustrated to even begin to understand no matter how many different ways I try to explain it.

Today I vow to share this experience with my students. I promise to reassure my students that they are smart even when certain content is temporarily beyond their grasp. I am going to let my students get up and walk away and recollect before we try again. We will try again. We will get it.


My Own Slice of Life on Being a Parent

My husband, Billy, and I were talking about parenting after a long few days of being home with our kids… all day. We are both teachers and we are both enjoying our spring break at home with our kids. I asked him to write with me about parenthood so that I could share our different perspectives. We sat down together and wrote for a few minutes and then shared what we wrote and laughed about what we wrote as it reflected so much on our day.

Billy: There are so many responsibilities that come with being a parent. It has allowed me to see not only that it is my job to care for my children, but to also teach them how to become good human beings. Since my wife and I have become parents, we have tried to find a balance between being firm with our children and at the same time offer a loving smile.

Jill: Parenting calls for complete selflessness. Not a loss of my sense of self, although at times I do feel like nothing more than Evie and Johnny’s mama, but a change in my every action and thought. I am no longer concerned with just me, or even just my husband, but I am responsible for taking care of two little kids that are extremely dependant. Nothing compares to parenthood. I’ve never felt love like this, exhaustion like this, pride like this, frustration like this, or happiness like this. Being a parent is hard work and there is no one that I’d rather experience parenthood with than my husband, my children’s “Baba.”

At the end of another very long day, my husband and I are very grateful to have each other to be a parent with. We are very thankful for our little kids and for these very long days together.


Stains on Monday

My Own Slice of Life on Stains on Monday

A blue stained rug from a work of art created while lying on her stomach in the family room with a small piece of paper and a huge vision of a blue masterpiece.

A purple stained cheek from a silence upstairs while I was downstairs, a make up bag left open, and eye shadow used like blush to make her “boo-tiful.”

A purple stained face, neck, and bib from a struggle between a spoonful of pureed blueberries and an angry little boy that prefers to eat his food out of a bottle instead of off of a spoon.

A brown stained smile from a chocolate chip cookie so enjoyed during a quiet car ride to the store with her parents and her brother.

A tear stained face from a tired little baby that resists naptime until he cannot help but close his heavy eyelids and give in to a peaceful slumber.

A white stained couch cushion where milk dripped out of an overturned sippy cup for several minutes before anyone even noticed.  

The marker scrubbed out, the eye shadow rinsed off, the blueberries washed up, the chocolate wiped off, the tears kissed away, the couch cushion cleaned. All before noon on Monday.

My Own Slice of Life on Learning How to be a Better Teacher

I’ve learned lots about teaching sitting in undergraduate and graduate classrooms. I’ve learned by researching and reading about best practices. I’ve learned by watching other teachers in action. I’ve learned how to be better from my students. I’ve also learned new teaching techniques from a few of my favorites…

When my niece was about three years old she started saying “Whatchu think?” after she shared every one of her very imaginative ideas. We would ask her to finish her dinner and she would suggest that she only eat five more bites instead and then would look at us very seriously and ask “Whatchu think?” It was adorable and humorous and it was hard not to smile and agree with her suggestion. This phrase was usually used to get an extra cookie or delay bedtime and most of the time it worked. Because she said it so much, everyone in my family started saying it back to her. Every time I had an idea I would turn to her and say “Whatchu think?” It seemed to carry over into my classroom. I would give directions for an activity and then I would follow up with “Whatchu think?” and the kids in my class started answering me! They started sharing what they thought and countering my directions with their own ideas about how to approach their learning. Discussions were breaking out in my kindergarten classroom about how my students prefer to learn. It was so enlightening and I owed my new learning to my three year old niece.

A new teaching strategy implemented and effective and I didn’t learn it in a book, in a college classroom, or in a professional development seminar. I learned it sitting across the kitchen table from my niece and sitting in a rocking chair in front of my kindergartners. I have to say, those are some of my favorite teachers and they sure did teach me a lot.

Nutrition and Indulgences

My Own Slice of Life on Nutrition and Indulgences

My husband and I often joke about who is the boss around here and who does more when it comes to the kids and maintaining the household chores and paying bills. I’m totally convinced that we are even when it comes to everything but I have him convinced that I do way more. My husband has taken the reins when it comes to our family’s nutrition. He is the cook and he plans and prepares all of our meals – a huge undertaking, I know. This includes the baby’s food. He chops, steams, and purees all the fruits and vegetables that we serve to our son. He did the same for my daughter when she was a baby. He is very careful to purchase organic foods, whole grain breads and pastas, low fat and no fat whenever possible, and lean meats. I was raised in a meat and potatoes kind of house where meals were high in sugar and sodium content but also rich in flavor and deliciousness. I sometimes wonder if my daughter is missing out on delicious. I’ll worry about my son too once he is old enough to chew real food. There is something to be said for eating healthy but every now and then I feel like it is healthy to indulge a little.

All that being said, one of my favorite things in the world is sitting with my two year old daughter and indulging a little. She loves M&M’s although she calls them “blue candies.” She knows all of her colors in English and in Greek yet she calls every color M&M “blue candy.” We always have “blue candies” at our house because my daughter’s mom loves them too. I’ve seen glances of disapproval when I place different color candies in my daughter’s chubby little hands. She always asks for two blue candies and holds her two hands up in the air making a pinching motion with her fingers. That is where I am supposed to place her two blue candies. Whenever she asks my husband for candy, if he feels that she is especially deserving, he will grant her wish with just one M&M. Just one. No more.

Sometimes, I like to escape a little with a cookie or a handful of M&M’s, to just sit on the couch where the sun beats through the window and enjoy a moment of indulgence while my husband and kids are in a different room. More enjoyable than this though, is when I get to steal away with my daughter with a cookie or a handful of M&M’s in one hand and her sweet, chubby, soft, little hand in my other hand. We sit on the floor and face each other. She knows something good is in my other hand and I anticipate her excited smile and sparkling eyes when I reveal the chocolate surprise. When we share M&M’s she always turns the candy on its side and says “Look Mama. An E.” She thinks the lower case m turned sideways is really an E, an E for Evelyn of course. When we share a cookie, I always break it in half and give her half and she examines the halves to make sure she got the bigger piece. Then she shoves the whole thing in her mouth and begins to break off pieces of my half even as they are entering my mouth. It makes me laugh every time. My mind always drifts off to wonder what my husband would think. My daughter’s chocolate giggles always make those wonderings vanish.

I just sat on the floor with a chocolate chip cookie across from my sweet Evelyn while my husband took a shower. She was my immediate inspiration once again for a piece of writing. A delicious, chocolately, crunchy, sparkling eyes, huge smile morsel of writing.  

Teaching Young Writers

My Own Slice of Life on Teaching Young Writers

Dear Mr. Ralph Fletcher,

I’m a fourth grade teacher that is fortunate enough to work with young writers that love learning tricks and tips for how to become awesome writers. The students I have in my class this year were the same students I taught last in third grade. We looped! As third graders, we read A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. We were so inspired! We all started our own writer’s notebooks and we began collecting samples of our favorite writing, studying our favorite authors, “stealing” ideas, and practicing new crafts. We typed, printed, and framed our favorite quotes from your book and displayed them around our classroom. As fourth graders, we wanted more. The students in my class asked for more Ralph Fletcher please! So we read on. This year we read Live Writing: Breathing Life Into Your Words. And again we were inspired. Each day we added notes and ideas to our class thinking notebook and we added our ideas to our individual writer’s notebooks. We learned about leads, endings, conflict, slowing down the hot spot, physical description of characters, strong verbs, golden lines, voice, and breaking the rules of writing to make our pieces different. I would like to share a few of the gems that were written, revised, polished up, and published.

Danielle’s Lead: “Dad, do you really have to smoke? Every time I come home I start to cough because of you.” (Danielle tried starting a piece with dialogue. So effective in her writing about how she persuaded her dad to quit smoking.)

Lucas’s Lead: Him. Me. The street. No noise. Hi. Nothing. (Lucas tried sentence fragments to pack his lead with a punch. He was writing about a mysterious man that he often saw walking down his street. He shared that this man never spoke and he always wore the same long black coat. He was so intrigued by this character from his real life that he could barely wait to write about him.)

Ken’s Lead: Silence. Peeing. Trouble. Running. (Ken also tried a sentence fragment lead to write about the trouble his dog got into for peeing in the house. His lead made us laugh and the story that followed was extremely humorous and had us laughing out loud.)

Jovan’s strong verbs : I dashed into the living room and started prowling around. (Jovan changed his verbs from boring to fantastic!)

Dejae’s word choice. : As we both slowly jogged in, it was like Heaven. As the doors swung open, the smell of furniture polish and Windex hit my nostrils. (Dejae wanted her reader to feel like they were entering the empty nail salon with her and her mother. She wanted them to see and smell what she saw and smelled when she was there.)

Charlotte’s word choice: Three days after I got Tucker he was very sick. He was shaking like a leaf. (Charlotte was interested in using similes to make her writing more interesting. So effective in her piece about her new puppy.)

Angelina’s physical description: He has brown hair and his eyes are as green as grass. (Angelina also wanted to perfect similes in her physical description of her dad. So colorful. Creates a beautiful visual for her reader.)

Cristian’s physical description: The color of his shoes and eyes are brown and he has blue overalls with yellow buttons on them. And there is also a plain red t-shirt under his overalls and also a red hat he wears with the letter M that stands for Mario. With a big black hairy mustache under his big pale nose. (Cristian wanted us to be able to visualize every last detail about his character.)

 Jason’s physical description: He has greenish brownish eyes, dirt in his fingernails from working outside all day on cars. He smells like cologne from the soap he uses. He wears Jordan’s and some working boots. (Jason’s character was his dad and he wanted us to see very specific details in our minds.)

There were so many more examples that we would love to share! As individuals we will be writing to you soon! Stay tuned.

Thank you for teaching us how to be better writers.


Jill Tsoukalas & The Room 24 Family










My Own Slice of Life on When Life is Too Much

What happens when there just isn’t enough time in one day for me to accomplish everything that I am supposed to accomplish?

 I have a full time teaching job and

 I have two children, ages two and five months to care for and

I have bills to pay and

meetings to attend and

phone calls to make and

my car needs an oil change and one headlight needs to be replaced and

I have to go buy paint so we can paint my son’s room and

I need to return a few items at Target and

I promised my sister that I would help her organize her new baby’s room and

I have to find time to write and

tonight is a bath night for the kids and

the quarter is ending soon and I have to make sure my grades are entered and

my anniversary is coming up and I need to buy something thoughtful for my husband and

I have to grade the science assessments and

I have to complete the spreadsheet with my class scores and

my mother in law’s birthday is coming and she will need a gift and

I need to write my lesson plans for after Spring Break and

I really need to clean my room and

We need to install some shelves in the basement to store all of our bins of baby clothes and

I need to buy more bottles for Johnny because he is very particular about his bottles but

I want to spend my time hugging my kids and

playing with my kids instead of sitting at the computer and

 watch t.v. with my husband and

sit and talk with my mom when I go to her house to pick up my kids after school and

sleep in on the weekends and

enjoy a phone conversation with a friend and

think clearly and


I need to work on juggling work and being with my family. I need to take more time to do the things that matter most to me – hugs, playing, resting.




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