The Best Way to Teach

Joey was in the need for more books, so we stopped in by the “Red Boxes Room” so he could make some choices. He picked out four of five books. “That’s good.” he stuffed the books in his book bag, satisfied with his selection.

Two days later, in my room, we settled in. Reading logs were checked and appropriately stickered. Books were sorted. We were about to start drilling sounds, when I heard his soft voice, “Do you want to know how old the tree was?” I looked at his half masked face trying to process the question I heard. Seemingly, it came out of no where. He read my puzzled face and repeated, “Do you want to know how old the tree was?” “The tree? The tree! Oh yes, how old was the tree?” the origin of his question finally registering in my mind. He was sharing the information from a book he had chosen a few days earlier. His mask had slipped below his chin, the smile of knowledge was in his eyes and on his face, “It was 4, 392 year old!”

Teaching and learning in this pandemic year brought uncertainty and many changes. Some teachers, some students, faired better than others. For Joe, it was hard. There was no momentum, and opportunities for lasting connections seemed to come and then go and then come again.

Despite the lack of momentum, we muddled through. I maintained my focus on working with him to strengthen his visual cuing system by teaching him explicit phonics. Over time, I saw him begin to realize that he knew how words work. He began to not only understand, but use, the strategy of looking through the whole word. For him, that meant seeing the vowel teams, r controlled vowels, or blends and confidently knowing the sounds they made. He learned to be flexible with the vowels. Through our intervention time he learned how words work all while maintaining use of meaning and syntax. Stacking his bag with books he wanted to read gave him time to put all he learned to use!

There’s a great deal of discussion out there about “the best” way to teach reading. Looking back on the year, Joey’s story taught me what I know about the “the best” way.

I know the “the best” way to teach reading is pull from all you know and create the perfect balance, of encoding, decoding, and comprehension. I know “the best” way to create that balance is to continue to learn and grow myself, by talking with colleagues, attending workshops, reading, and learning from the children. Because, ultimately, “the best” way to teach reading is to know the reader in front of you.

routine changes

it’s been a year

a year of routine changes


from hybrid to in person

from quarantine to virtual

from desks in rows to desks in clusters

yes, it’s been a year of routine changes…

“is megan going TO school, today?” billy would ask at least twice a week

“do you have a mask?” became part of the normal routine of walking out of the house

yes, it’s been a year of routine changes…

mass in the living room

car church

socially distant, masked church

and this morning, for the first time, I found myself sliceless

I became an afternoon slicer for a day

adding this to the list

of routine changes

split show

A pre-dinner scene at The Sherriff home featuring, Megan (15), Grace (19), and Hannah (21)

“What’s for din din?” Grace saunters downstairs. “That Tik Tok pasta Megan made once.” She opens the oven to see for herself.

The aroma of garlic, tomatoes and olive oil fill the house. Hannah and Megan join us in the kitchen. The pot of pasta calls for pre dinner picking. One by one their hands reach and snatch a piece.

“Everyone eat a bite of pasta!” Megan commands as she places her phone behind the stovetop to catch a video. “3, 2, 1!” they chant in unison. On cue we each grab a piece of rigatoni and pop it in our mouths. (Apparently, today is National Rigatoni day. Who knew?)

Hannah steps away from the stove.

“Mommy – check out my split!” Hannah is in a silly, home from college, I’m not adulting, yet, mood. I turn and look down and see her in a half a split with a wince on her face. She tries the other leg and suddenly Grace is down in a full on split to my left and Megan is struggling to get past a runners lunge.

The buzzer breaks the laughter and show ends and I am back to cooking dinner for the cast of The Split Show.

barrel of perks

Thanks to The Covid, like many families, we’ve had to make adjustments to not only how we each live our life, but how we live our life as a family.

My husband is working from home. He used to commute to NYC every day. Since March of 2020, when The Covid came, he’s been working from home. In the middle of the summer, his company gave up their office space. He no longer has a view of the Statue of Liberty but instead, he’s got the view of the our garden and the woodchucks that venture out from under our shed and bravely scuttle about our back yard.

We are a lucky, or shall I say blessed, family. We’ve managed to adjust to the home office way of life. As a result there are many perks having Billy home, some of which really do make our lives a little bit more pleasant.

  • Megan has a ride home from school with a simple text. He needs to get out, so this one is a win win. We don’t want him forgetting how to get around or worse yet, forgetting how to drive!
  • He actually responds to our family group chat. He’s even learned how to change the name of said chat (thanks to Grace)and he does that often. “Dad’s Foot Modeling Career is Over” became the name after a doctor visit regarding a bunionette.

Those are just a few. But, for me, the best perk comes on Monday afternoons.

I’ll be pulling up the hill and I just as I reach the top, I see the end of our driveway, I see the empty end of our driveway. You see, early on Mondays, I always bring the garbage and recycling down the end of the driveway. There were many a Monday over the years that upon my return home, I would have to drag those barrels back up to their home. Although a small job, I found it most annoying. Annoyance level elevated by the fact that those three children of mine, who came home before me, walked right past those empty barrels!

But now, thanks to my husband, my return home on Monday afternoon is clean and clear of barrels. He never forgets. He never needs reminding. It just happens.

This, and maybe, just maybe, the fact that he’s home for dinner every night, are the best perks.

his art

“Bob had everything you would need if you wanted to set up your own workshop. He not only had all the tools, the planer, the joiner, the lathe, he had every, I mean every, bit and attachment for every tool. The man had it all.” I listened as Billy explained what my father left behind.

Over the weekend, we traveled to Massachusetts to celebrate Mother’s Day with my Mom. We were lucky to take her out to one of our favorite restaurants in the little town where I was raised. My sister and her boyfriend joined us. After a lovely meal at the good Ole Grist Mill, we went back to my mother’s and found ourselves in the basement.

“I don’t know what any of this stuff is! It was all your father’s! He spent so much time down here creating and building! Sometimes just sorting nails!” My mother laughed and said to us all. “I don’t know what do with it all? You want something, take it!” We had known for some time that she wanted the basement cleaned. She had no intention of starting her woodworking hobby at age 78.

We spent the next 30-45 minutes opening cabinets and digging out tools from his organized chaos he left us. There were hand made cabinets housing a various tools. And then in each cabinet were more hand made boxes holding all the attachments. It was like opening a set of nesting dolls. Each storage box carefully crafted with appropriate holes so as not to damage a blade or a drill bit. The air was peppered with “Oh look at this!” and “Hey check this out.” and “What the heck is this for?” Our hands were woody and dusty by the time we went back upstairs.

Growing up, my Dad was a cement mason by trade. He worked long hours for Local 40, Plasters and Cement Masons and often took on Saturday jobs, in and round town, to help support his family of six. Growing up, I remember my Dad always working and always teaching. He taught many of his nephews, as well as me and my brothers and sister, not just the art of cement, but the art of construction and discovering what one can do.

the highchair my Dad made, modeled after the highchair his mother used for all six of her children