Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Certain Slant of Light

People have been asking me all summer what it feels like to be retired, and I've responded that it feels like any other summer. Today is the first day of school, so now I know. Right now, there's an emptiness. This will change, I know.

I'll probably go for a bike ride on the "going to school" route, because I know it so well. Last night I wrote a little note to my colleagues, but I didn't send it, because we all need to move on. I keep it here, to remember: 
A Certain Slant of Light

Emily Dickenson used that phrase a long time ago, and for me it it defines the current season - fall, football, and the start of the new school year. It also means, like many of you, I have been having back to school dreams/nightmares. You don't do something for 31 years and expect your body/mind to all of a sudden stop. :)

I am with you all in spirit as you start the new school year. Give your kids an extra smile or hug for me. I wish you many smiles and sweet moments on your first day, and every day of the school year. 

Missing you and wishing you all the best - Mark
PM Update: Made it through the day. Rode my bike almost to school and home. Neighborhoods were oh so very quiet. Saw a few parent types out for walks. I imagine there were some feelings of relief. Highlight of the day was selling my first banjo to a student who used to go to my school. Life goes on, sometimes in surprising ways.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Zero more days to be a teacher. Made it. Whew.
Thought this would be a good way to close this out.

 Joe, my third grade classroom mascot, said it best for me, at the end of my 31 year teaching career. He was the last to share at Show and Tell on the last day of school. He got a big round of applause.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


One day left. My last day of teaching kids was Friday. Monday will be my last day under contract as a teacher.

At this moment on Sunday, I'm physically exhausted and emotionally numb. Hoping to get in to school today to finish cleaning out my room, because really, I need more than a day. It is amazing what a person can accumulate over the years.

The West Seattle Blog just ran a really nice story, with pics, about my retirement:
1 more teacher farewell: Arbor Heights Elementary’s Mark Ahlness Many thanks to the good friends there.

Here are a few pictures from the end of the school year:

I think this will not be the post where I thank everybody. That'll be "0". And then there are replies needed on Facebook, email, etc. I will do that Monday. Must get the physical work taken care of.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Two days left in my teaching career. Tomorrow is my last day in the classroom. Monday I'll be cleaning out my room.

I have been dreading my last day in the classroom for a while now. Ending the year is hard every year. I always have lumps in my throat, sleepless nights, weepy eyes, a frequently non-functioning voice, and so on.

The last day means: report cards, speaking (briefly) at the school awards assembly, helping my kids through saying goodbye to our classroom, giving away more of my stuff to my kids (lots of clay projects tomorrow), and going to a staff party right after the kids leave.

That's at the end of a regular year, This one is different.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Three days left being a teacher.

After an incredibly intense day in the classroom, giving away just about everything but the kitchen sink to my kids, I settled in at the computer at home to work on the Jr. Seahawk Newsletter for the last time.

It's the student newsletter, something I inherited in my third year of teaching at Arbor Heights - which means I've done it for 18 years. It was started by another teacher, Gretchen Thompson, my first year there, so this year has been Volume 21.

I have billed it for many years as "The oldest continuously published elementary school student newspaper on the Internet!" Nobody has ever questioned that, because it's true. It first appeared online, on the school's website, in 1994.


Just for kicks and giggles I decided to count all the editions. 144. At an average of 4 hours production time per issue, that works out to 576 hours. Roughly 16 school weeks. Count the several from 2002 and 2004 I have on my computer, never got uploaded (but will this summer), and we're looking at 18 school weeks, easily.

Half a year's worth of work, sitting at my computer, getting student writing edited and online.

Tomorrow I have to get there extra early to run off 400 copies. For the last time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Four days left to be a teacher. So many things to write about, and so very little time.

I guess what struck me and stuck with me was connecting with my colleagues today. Not the people I work with every day, but my virtual colleagues. I let the news drop in the Classblogmeister list that I was retiring, as I was letting David Warlick know about a sluggish response on my classroom blog. Several very nice responses followed, wishing me well, and thanking me for this or that over the years. From really, really fantastic teachers whom I admire greatly. So it meant a lot.

But it struck me that the people I work with every day really have no idea what I do online, what I have accomplished, have influenced, or have created with technology over the years. Goodness knows, I have tried. It is like I have this secret life that nobody I work with knows about.

This is a sadness for me, because I really have tried to be a positive influence in technology adoption and innovation in my own school and district. There are many reasons it did not happen, of course, but I'm not ready to start burning those bridges just yet....

Monday, June 18, 2012


Five days left in my teaching career.

Something I will NOT miss: report cards. I just finished them. On the computer, of course. This was the first year my school district has had online report cards, sheesh.

Many details being worked on, and my classroom has hours and hours to go of clean-out. I spoke with someone at HR to help me better understand some financial details of my retirement. I am more relaxed now, knowing I haven't missed a deadline.

Today I started giving out free stuff to my kids. Now that was fun.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Six days left to be a teacher, and I'm wavering.

Not on retiring, no way.

But I AM reconsidering the decision I made in my third grade class and blogged about in 7: that they don't get to blog over the summer, as all my other classes have been able to do. The issue, I told them, is that I won't be an employee of the public school system anymore.

Why am I struggling with this? Well, there's fairness of course. Then I finished approving their short reflective blog posts about the end of their blog. Their writing got to me. Much of it was about my retirement. And I think I have a way for parent permission to work.

So, here it is - one more writing assignment for the year, and it HAS to be completed in school on Monday. They will need to compose and post persuasive writing pieces about why they should be able to keep on blogging over the summer. And um, more than just: it isn't fair!

I've assigned more writing pieces for this year's bloggers (24) than in any of the previous six years. I have a feeling their motivation will be right up there. We'll see how they do.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Cross-posted here, for a change, from my classroom blog today  Seven more days to be a teacher...

Well, we are finally nearing the end of the school year out here in Seattle. The last day of school is June 22nd. The students at know their blogging will end here, too. But it will be different this time, because I am retiring from teaching at the end of the school year.

In the past, students have been able to blog from home over the summer, or even continue from another classroom, with parent permission. But because I will no longer be an employee of the school district, I must close down the blog.

But wait! It's not going away!!

It will stay right here, with the thousands of articles written by the third graders in Room twelve. There just won't be any new writing going up.

One thing I will keep active over the summer though, is commenting. Visitors can leave comments on any student or teacher writing until September 1, 2012.

Many, many thanks to Mr. David Warlick, who designed and maintains classblogmeister for thousands of bloggers! Teachers and students are grateful and forever in your debt, David!

If you'd like to read what some of the current blogging class has to say about having a blog here, click on the picture below, where the kids were tallying up the total blog articles they have posted as a group this year: 411

Mark Ahlness

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Today was the Jr. Seahawk News Reporter Party, a celebration and thank you to the kids who've participated as classroom reporters for our monthly school newsletter. It was a wild, noisy, loud music, junk food event that parents might shudder at, but kids will talk about for a long time. I've been doing this for many years. I have to enlist my own classroom reporters to serve as party helpers and to man the gates, checking kids' names off the invitation list before giving them a plate and letting them in the room. It was great fun. And a total mess.

As I was doing final cleanup, I came across this paper airplane on the floor:
Thanks for the party
The kids know I'm retiring, so some asked me about next year, and would there be a party? I told them I did not know, it will be up to the teacher who continues the newspaper.

I hope it continues and stays online, as it is "The oldest continuously published elementary school student newspaper on the Internet!"

Eight days left to be a teacher.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


This will be quick. Nine more days to be a teacher. No time to waste. Today, a little story from my third grade classroom:

I'm roaming around, seeing how everybody is doing on their self directed and paced spelling unit for the week (35!), when I come up on a student who looks up from his work and says to me,

"Mr. Ahlness, I'm really lucky. In second grade I had Ms. NXXX, and this year I have you." He looked up at me with a smile so genuine, I had difficulty speaking.

I gave him a shoulder hug.
I told him I was lucky to have HIM in my class.
I looked at his partner, who was listening, and said I was lucky to have her, too.
And the same to a neighboring student who happened to overhear this quiet conversation.

We all smiled. It felt good.
The kids resumed working on their spelling.
I had to walk away to regain my composure.

This is what I will miss about being a teacher.

Monday, June 11, 2012


XO laptops, a big part of my classroom for four and a half years...That's a long story, perhaps most completely told with this link.

Now that I'm retiring, I had to decide what to do with all those XOs. First off, nobody in the school - or district for that matter - knows very much at all about them. I'm the man in Seattle, when it comes to the XO laptop in education.

So I decided to take them with me, and to redeploy them in another country, most likely in Latin America. Fine.

All was going well with that plan until an email came out from Among other things, the message linked to a blog post about donating unused/unwanted XOs to my classroom:

In the three days that followed that post, I have received offers of XO laptops from three individuals wanting to donate their XO laptops to my classroom. This is what I have told them:

Wow, thanks for the offer! You should know that I am retiring in 2 weeks, after being a teacher for 31 years. I am taking my classroom’s 30 XOs with me, and I will be redeploying them in a classroom somewhere in Latin America, where many schools are still using the XO. If you would like yours to be included in that redeployment, by all means send it my way. I am making sure all the XOs are operating and in good working order, and would be sure yours had the latest operating system on it.
 If you can get it here by June 25, the mailing address is:
One more thing to do, but this one is special. I hope they come. They'll be going South, to do good work.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Forest Floor
 The scene above from Lincoln Park in Seattle today was a welcome relief from the seemingly out of control nature of my life these past few days.

I have 11 days to go as a public schoolteacher. I've taught for 31 years. Way too many things to tie up, put a bow on, and kiss goodbye. Yeah, right. As I cross something off my year end list, I add two more. Or three.

There is the physical part of it all - totally emptying a classroom I have taught in for 19 years. The emotional part of things, well, I'm just not even going there yet....

Then there is this detail about actually teaching school for the last two weeks - definitely the hardest two weeks of ANY school year. It is so intense, nonstop and unstructured. This year it comes with the weight of my retirement hanging in the air.

Somebody mentioned they hoped I would be able to relax and enjoy the end of my last year as a teacher. Not likely. This is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Today I officially notified my school district that I am retiring, and I asked for the "retirement packet" to be sent to me. The last minute timing of this critical notification was for the benefit of my colleagues, not for my convenience or peace of mind. I waited until the last possible moment, risking my own financial future, to protect the jobs of one or two of my colleagues.

Today I read Throw a Few Million American Teachers on the Barbie from Gary Stager, about the teachers' strike in Australia. They struck to stand together, to make a point about the importance of schools being a collaborative, and not a competitive, environment.

Schools are not just any old workplace, they are unique. Twelve more days to be a teacher.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Lots of "lasts" are happening in my classroom and at school right now. While I prep for each school day, as I have for the past 31 years, I also prep for life after retirement. I face critical decisions every day.

Yet it seems the closer I get to the end of my teaching career, the more my job asks of me outside of the classroom.

13 intense days ahead...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


A sad day for our country, as the Walker recall effort in Wisconsin has failed.

It is indeed part of the reason I am retiring as a public school teacher.

There is no education crisis in this country. It is a deliberately manufactured myth.

  • The income gap widens, and the cause is our schools. 
  • The reason for this is bad teachers.
  • Let's fix it by testing students more.

Good grief.
I quit.
In 14 days.

Monday, June 4, 2012


The last moving day:
Last Moving Day
This was the scene before school today, as the kids had cleaned out their desks in preparation for changing desks, for the 12th and last time this school year. Yes, we change partners every three weeks. Lots of disruption and mess, but worth every minute and homeless crayon found rolling around on the floor.

The kids have sat with 12 different classmates this year. Desks are arranged in pairs, as I believe 2 is absolutely the maximum number in a truly collaborative work-group for 8 and 9 year olds. Lots of the work we do is cooperative.

I truly believe one of the most important tasks I have is to teach kids how to get along with each other. How to help and learn from each other. How to lean on each other, and how to put up with each other. Three weeks has been a good time period. I tell the kids - even if you're seated next to somebody you don't know, or don't think you can get along with - you can do ANYthing for three weeks! I've had to tell concerned parents the same thing, many times.

It has worked. Not once have we changed assigned seats because a parent refused to have their child sit next to a certain person. Not once have we changed assigned seats because the kids couldn't stand each other. Not once have we changed assigned seats because the kids were a bad combination and were constantly getting in trouble together. We have persevered, and many times we have surprised each other.

So, how were seats assigned?

I literally drew names out of a can, every 3 weeks. The only condition was that the students could not have been "partners" before. No changing, fudging, do-overs, or whatever.

Were lessons learned, new friendships formed, enemies made friends? Of course. Throughout the year, and throughout the 21 years I have taught at this school, this is some of my best work. I know it.

15 days left in the school year, and in my teaching career.

Friday, June 1, 2012


This was my class today, figuring out how many blog articles they had posted this year, as a class, to Good, old-fashioned chalk and calculators got the deed done - after they had all gone to their blogs and counted up their individual totals.

I was worried about competition, or even embarrassment, as they wrote down how much they had written, right next to each other, for all to see. But, as I've said before, they are a special class, and my worrying was a non-issue.

The hardest part for them was keeping track of adding multiple numbers, while everybody around them was doing the same - and sometimes counting out loud!

The total was 411 blog articles written by our classroom this year - so far. This will be their publicly acknowledged accomplishment at our monthly all school meeting. I had put it to them - what would they like me to send in as their accomplishment for the last meeting of the year? I have often come up with whatever, at the last minute, for their special moment at our assembly.

Last month the accomplishment I sent in was something like they had changed desks 10 times this year. I remember one of my kids turning to me at the assembly and saying, "That's not an accomplishment!" I shared Cameron's comment with the class today, and they laughed. He was right.

So the class decided today that their last accomplishment will read, "The students in room 12 wrote 411 articles on their blogs at during this school year."

Teaching to the moment. Real time learning. I will miss those things. And that, by the way, is quite an accomplishment.

16 more days to be a public school teacher.

An oh crud PS: I think the monthly meeting for June was cancelled - aaack! I might be figuring out how to get the word out some other way for my kids. They deserve some notice. And this is one they care about.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Seventeen days left in my career as a teacher.

Only seventeen kids in class today, wow. Three were absent. The dynamics of what you're able to do change so dramatically when the number gets that low. Everything seems so much more personal, each child stands out a little more. It is a wonderful group I have this year.

I spent a couple of hours after school writing an impassioned email to some of my colleagues. It sits in my drafts folder right now. How many of those have I written over the years? The ones written, and not sent...

Not wanting to unnecessarily burn bridges, and yet wanting to speak my mind, this is where I am right now. I have to ask myself what the net effect will be. This one is for the good of the school, I know it. Still I waver.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Today we came the closest to a lock-down that I have seen at Arbor Heights in the past 21 years. It's a very Sleepy Hollow school, both in nature and in location. Everyone was fine.

After a very intense school day, we had a staff meeting - where we spent over two hours trying to plan the calendar of special events for NEXT YEAR. Ugh. I actually voted on a couple of items, even though I won't be there. I was not voting for what I wanted. I voted for what I thought would be best for the kids of the school. Very interesting experience.

The attitude was very positive. Lots of laughter, actually. Sometimes this task has been really painful. But the meeting today was different, sort of like there was an admitted dysfunction that we could deal with - and even look back at with a smile.

I kept watching my colleagues, trying to visualize them in a meeting there next year. I left feeling good, positive, even a little hopeful about the future of the school.

But there is this nagging sadness over the erosion of, and in some cases disappearance of, events that we have done just for fun with the kids.

Looking to ramp up the fun factor over the next few days, 18 to go as a teacher.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Today 30 Google Chromebooks arrived at our school, as part of a proposal I developed for how to spend 10K raised at our PTA's auction last year - for technology. It's been a long process, and my neck is still out there on this one, but it is extremely exciting.

Except I won't be back to really participate in the experience.

Because I have nineteen days left as a public school teacher.

A month or so ago we got a brand new computer lab, full of really slick and fast iMacs. Here's a staff training session:
Staff intro 3
And here's my classroom of third graders up there:
Room twelve visits the new lab

Next year each classroom will have at least four of them.

It is ironic, to say the least, to see this huge infusion of money and technology into our school just as I retire. I'm happy for the kids. I hope they get to use the new technologies in ways that will encourage creativity, self expression, and exploration.

My worry is they will end up being little more than test taking devices, and used primarily for preparing the kids to get higher test scores. I really, really hope I'm wrong.


Sunday, May 27, 2012


About three months ago I bought this sweet bike. After a dozen or so years commuting to school on old, used, or even free bikes, I thought I needed - and deserved - something easier to ride, and safer.
Ready for the home stretch, last time.
Then about a month later, I decided to retire.

Go figure. Maybe I had my mind on my retirement, who knows what was going through my mind at the time?

So I have 20 working days left - after which I will no longer be Biking to School. Maybe I'll try to chronicle those days here. But I know very well the toll the end of the year takes on my time, so I won't make any promises.

It's the Memorial Day weekend  - my 31st as a public school teacher. This weekend has always been a serious benchmark in the school year. If you make it to Memorial Day, hey, you're almost there, it's homestretch time.

It's been a good, good ride. I plan on savoring every piece of my final homestretch.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Measure THIS

To those who insist that standardized, high stakes tests in any way measure a child, I ask you to measure this:

  • the size of (or shape of) the smiles on my students as they come in the door in the morning, and as they leave at the end of the day
  • the swell on the chest of the student who just did something really well, and his teacher told him so
  • the angle of shoulders up and proper posture (the way they sit up) when kids are told they did something extraordinary
  • the speed of the racing hearts of students who are about to give it all to improve their performance 
  • the volume of the sounds of dismay, joy, and exhaustion after students have given it their all.
  • the depth of a furrow on the brow of a child who is really, really trying
They are children, not test scores.

There are many more measurements. Feel free to add on...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fixin' Odds and Ends

Fixed my rear brake yesterday, which had broken off a couple of weeks ago. The ride to and from school today, during our mid-winter break, was a lot more relaxing.
Toasted computers

Last week 2 of my 12 desktops gave up the ghost. They had been slowly failing for a while. Support is me, so I spent a few hours on the problem today. I replaced one cpu with a machine I'd had sitting around for a few years "just in case". Running Windows 2K. Had 3 apart at one point, swapping hard drives, power supplies, and messing with switches. Logged on as admin to the other and am deleting as much unnecessary stuff as possible, so it will run.

The solutions are far from perfect, but they are about all I can do. These computers are still my school's best collection of computers outside of our computer lab. In many ways they are better than the lab. People still want to come and see what's going on in our class. Held together these days with duct tape, crossed fingers, and hours spent on them during breaks, it feels good when we're running on most cylinders.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Charter Threat & Back to School

The day dawned extra-dark, I thought. What about those supposedly longer days?

There is a showdown coming in the WA state legislature, with a bill pending that will open the door for charters in this state. To most of the country already infiltrated with a growing number of charter schools, this probably seems like a so what.To the nine states like Washington that do not allow charters, it is a very BIG deal.

Here's a decidedly one-sided (the right side) discussion:

Wanting to do something to stem the tide, I can't seem to find the right place, given my time restraints. And I am definitely hamstrung from easily communicating with my colleagues, because I need to be ever so careful about "political" discussions carried by district resources, i.e., email.  Twitter is ok, but it's pretty much preaching to the choir. So I keep adding to my delicious category, and thinking.

01-03-12 Christmas XO TrioMeanwhile, teaching goes on. It was a heavy load on my back this morning, with 2 XO laptops in addition to the usual... I had them at home over the Break to help with the setup and configuration of these three newcomers, which I "debricked" a couple of days ago. I'll haul them in over the next couple of days. 

My brakes were great today, even in the rain. Best of all were the kids. I have a wonderful class. Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 1, 2012


January 1, what better time to start up this blog? I set it up a few months ago, inspired by and shamelessly stealing from, Mary Tedrow's Walking to School. No way will this space ever become a place for writing as literate as hers. I think that's because I've been teaching 8 and 9 year olds for so long (31 years). I talk like a third grader, tell jokes like a third grader, and write like a third grader. I'm good at it. Oh well. See what I mean?

I am looking for a place where I can express my thoughts and feelings about what's going on with education in the US right now. Lately, that's been Twitter, but it's not satisfying enough to simply retweet somebody else's thoughts or try to squeeze my own ideas into 140 characters. I've got Facebook, a personal blog, and a student blog - but none of those is the appropriate place to talk about the edreform mess we are in.

I have done enough blogging and web page building to know better than to set goals - like for how often I'll write here, or how much I'll write. Those sorts of plans just don't work for me. I will say that I have a LOT to say, and I hope to be able to get down plenty right here. I am a slow writer, hoping to pick up some speed...

School starts up in a couple of days, and I have left, as usual, too much  school prep for the end.  Part of my last minute work will be lubing and adjusting the brakes on my bike. It's supposed to be a rainy week, and being able to stop is important. Happy New Year!