Friday, July 1, 2016

You Told Me

We have a tradition at our school. Each 8th grader writes down something a middle school teacher said - a piece of information, an encouraging word, an inside joke - that has stuck with them. We compile the images, throw in some pan and zoom effects, add some music, and show it to a packed, already-weepy auditorium the night of 8th grade Promotion; the kids enjoy making it, and the teachers and parents love seeing it.

We call it "You Told Me."

Our inspiration came several years ago when we sat in on one of Darren Kuropatwa's sessions at the BLC conference in Boston. It spoke to the power of words and how - good or bad - we have a keen memory for how someone made us feel at a particular moment in time.

It's fascinating to watch the students think about their moment. Some of them make us laugh out loud, some make us cry, others require explanation (one of our colleagues apparently confessed how much she loved eggplants, and more than one child chose that as their middle school memory a full year later!) What comes together is a patchwork as brilliantly diverse as the children we teach. It's incredibly, beautifully, awesome.

The book that brought us together
This year, as we gathered the images, one in particular caught our eye. She's one of our beloved All In! cherubs, and when we saw her photo we gasped. Given over 500 days of instruction, and three years' worth of memories, she picked the moment we asked her about a book.

She is not a dormant reader by any means, nor does she struggle with reading. She's  a voracious reader - a girl who goes through multiple books a week and with whom a conversation can always begin with "Whatcha readin'?"  During one such conversation she answered with a familiar title, and we immediately started talking in the way all book lovers are familiar: "Oh, I LOVED that book!" "How far have you gotten? What do you think!?""We HAVE to talk about it!"  A few email exchanges with her mother, and we met our girl at Panera for muffins, hot chocolate, and an hour of wonderful conversation.

If we needed anymore proof that books are the way to build relationships with children, she just told us.  Her middle school memory came from the moment she realized that books have power to bring people together. It was the moment she felt validated. It was also the moment two Crazy Reading Ladies swarmed her desk during homeroom, but hey! She was reading a fabulous book!

We got another reminder later that same week as we welcomed our new recruits - the 5th graders who will come together as the Class of 2023 and will begin middle school this September. Giving tours to the newbies that day were sixteen superlative 8th graders. Before we let them loose to visit classrooms, one of the tour-guides approached Erin and said, "I remember when I came to visit in fifth grade. You asked me about my favorite book and I told you I had just read The Hunger Games. You told me you loved me already!"

It was a conversation that hadn't registered with Erin; a quick and friendly exchange that teachers can and do have multiple times a day.  But for this young lady, it was an important memory: her first impression of middle school.  Once again, The Crazy Reading Ladies come face-to-face with the power of books for building relationships.  We opined about it in this post; we preach it in our conference presentations: books bring us together. They provide generation-gap-bridging topics of conversation, transport us to different places and times to give us common experiences and friends, they are the things nervous 5th graders, reflective 14 year olds, and giddy reading teachers have in common. These are things we know, believe, and proselytize.  But when it comes from the mouths of our students, it has so much more power.

As teachers, if we really consider how incredibly powerful our words are each and every day, it's paralyzing. There's the possibility a child will remember exactly what we said to him and then carry it the rest of his life. It's an incredible honor. And it's damn scary.  But when we talk about books, we aren't paralyzed by the overwhelming power.  We can put our fears aside and just talk, just BE with these kids, authentic and real. And that's what they'll remember.




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