I have been blown away at every turn this school year. I wish that I could put into words how amazing this journey has been. It might just be because every year, I learn more about myself and about students. It might be that the literature selected to read this year has been high interest (to say the least). It might even be that I have the best ten and eleven year olds ever in my classroom. Really, it's most likely a combination of all of those things. I think my passionate desire to reach children through literature has played to my advantage this year. From day one, when I told my students that we would be going on a journey together, they have allowed me to lead. I remember the first day...playing various selections of music on the CD player and asking students to visualize. They were asked to give a word or phrase or sentence behind the music. I said, tell me what you SEE when you HEAR this." They looked at me like I was crazy. I was used to this....it's the same look I get every year. After several music selections, I told my students that this year would be an experiment of listening to stories and visualizing a sort of movie in our minds. What was so great and exciting about this, I expressed, was that each of us would probably have a different movie going on in our minds from our friends. We discussed that first day how beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and how one person may see a piece of art as beauty and another person may see the same piece as junk.
Through each story we have read this year, we have seen heroes and heroines who have shown us that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and forms. We have experienced great tragedies as well as great triumphs. I was overjoyed as I read our Giver series. With each passing story, the students would see a little more to the puzzle that I wanted them to see. Without hesitation, and with much gusto, the students immersed themselves in the world of Jonas, Kira, Matty, Gabe, Claire, and the Trademaster. The day I finished the final book in the series, I was sad. Sad because it was over. I even went home a little depressed. This was the last time I would read this series to a group of students, since I'll not be teaching next year. I was devastated.
As luck... or fate... or (in my opinion) God would have it, my students needed one more story. I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. On the very day that I finished my favorite series, I received an email from a friend asking for suggestions on what her students could read next year. I went home and did my research. I looked at themes that would accompany another of my favorite books (Walk Two Moons) and found Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. I had seen it on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I had picked it up and read the summary. I had even put it on my "to read" list for this summer. I read several reviews of the book and a great article by the author. I sent it as a suggestion to my friend. The next day, as my students were in their individual book clubs reading, I took my copy of Wonder and began reading. Two pages in I stopped everyone from reading with their groups. I said, "Hey guys...come back to your seats. I have something I have to share with you!" I told my students about Wonder and shared with them that it was just too good not to enjoy with them. I have become dependent on my group of ten and eleven year olds. They have become my favorite book club! I have enjoyed beyond measure our discussions and conversations.
What I have experienced over just a few days with this book, is far beyond what I could have ever hoped. When I tell people I love teaching, that is such an understatement. The beauty I have seen this week as a result of reading the pages of a book, has shown me that teaching is truly the best profession in the world. This book is about a fifth grade boy with a facial deformation. He enters mainstream school for the first time. We have seen instances of bullying, and of great friendship through the pages of this story. But what has been the greatest and most effective, has been the PRECEPTS. Auggie's (the main character) English teacher gives the class a precept for each month. The students have to write essays on them. We haven't been writing essays. We have, however, been discussing in length what these precepts mean and how we can apply them to our own lives. The first precept we discussed a few days ago was this: WHEN GIVEN THE CHOICE BETWEEN BEING RIGHT OR BEING KIND, CHOOSE KIND.
I gave students examples of this. We had a rich, meaningful conversation about what it means to lay aside our pride and ego to just be kind instead. There are so many times that we want to say "I told you so." I told my students to go forth from class and search for instances that showed this precept. I told them to let me know if they saw any examples of it. I had students running to class today to enthusiastically tell me how their mom chose kind instead of being right....or their dad, or their sister, or their brother, or ....get this.... the guy who checked them out at the grocery store.
My students are LOOKING for and SEEKING out kindness in others. Don't think for a minute this doesn't trickle down to their own lives. It's amazing what a good book can do. Stories are the most powerful tool of progression and realization (in my opinion, of course). What amazing realizations I have made this year. I have realized that teaching is COMPLETELY about relationships. I have realized that teaching is about equipping a child with confidence and heart. I have realized that daily oral language skills pale in comparison to real conversations with kids about real life.
As I leave one journey to begin a new one, my prayer is that every teacher in every classroom comes prepared....but more importantly, comes with passion. My prayer is that every child will have a teacher that teaches without hesitation and with much gusto....with intention to motivate, inspire, and encourage.