Adjusting to my new life as a third grade teacher after 20 years educating kindergartners has turned me into a complete basket case. No, it’s not the workload or the seemingly never-ending stream of standardized assessments I have to administer all the while wondering when I’ll ever have an entire week to actually teach my students. It’s not all the forms I have to fill out or all the papers I have to correct. Nothing that obvious.
Rather, it’s the beautifully written, age-appropriate, children’s literature I have been sharing with my class.
It’s killing me.
I am not making this up.
Because over the course of the 10 whole weeks we have been in school, I have cried in front of my class while reading aloud to them no less than 27 times. And I’m not talking about a biting-my-lip-to-hold-back-the-tears cry or even a whimper. I’m talking about a full on ugly cry complete with scrunched up red face, and a fair amount of heaving to catch my breath.
In front of twenty 8-year-olds.
How It All Began
It all started out when I decided to read First Year Letters by Julie Danneberg–a book I’ve read many times before–to introduce our reader’s workshop notebooks my new class. I sniffled my way through that last page when the principal calls a very nervous Sarah Jane Hartwell to her office only to surprise her with a congratulatory celebration for making it through her first year of teaching in a new school. OK, so that one hit a little close to home.
I likewise teared up through Lilly’s Big Day, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge, Harriet, You Drive Me Wild, and a host of other books. Some of these texts seem pretty innocuous on the surface while others are heart-wrenching form the get-go.
The emotional roller coaster reached its zenith last week when I decided to read Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker. I’ve always considered this book a little heady for kindergartners, so I’ve been reluctant to read it to a class of little ones. But my students are older now, and the other day we were talking about making connections. The story fit in so beautifully with several other texts we had read. It also resonates with me, because I had, as I’m sure you have had as well, that one special teacher who made an indelible impression on my life and made coming to school a true joy. I couldn’t resist pulling the story out from the bookshelf even as I swore to myself that I would get through this book with my dignity in tact.
It did not happen.
I tried all the usual tricks. I took deep breaths before continuing on; I bit the inside of my cheek, hoping the pain would help me forget the emotional tugging of this poignant tale. But none of them worked.
By the final pages, tears were pouring down my face, and by the last page, when Patricia Polacco reveals that she is the protagonist of the story, I was choking on every word.
My students thought this was particularly interesting. In fact, they implored me to “read the part that makes you cry again.”
Now, every time I open a book, I am asked with anticipation, “Is this one going to make you cry, too?”
I’m pretty sure my students see my sobbing as some sort of spectator sport.
But what I hope I’m helping them to understand is that their teacher is not just an emotional wreck. What I want them to take away from all of this is the power of really fine literature. How an author can so transport you into the fabric of a story that you not only believe the characters could be real, you become part of their reality. You care that much.
I think I just might be succeeding with this message. For the past few weeks I have been reading a chapter from the marvelous Kate DiCamillo novel, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane while my students eat their snacks.
And I’m pretty sure when I looked up at the end of the most recent chapter there were some wet eyes in the house.
So, what are some of your favorite titles in children’s literature?
About the Author
Wendy Cushing has been teaching for 28 years in grades Pre-K-3. She currently teaches 3rd grade in Monroe, Connecticut. In addition to teaching, Wendy enjoys pinning teaching ideas she will never use, party planning, freelance writing, and hanging out with her over 300 lbs. worth of dogs. She is mom to two wonderful daughters, one living in NYC, and the other about to enter 7th grade.