The ultimate magic in teaching didn’t happen for me until several years into my career.
Garrett, a fifth grade boy, kept a handball, rubber bands and paperclips in his pocket just in case. He never took less than ten minutes for a drink break, even though the fountain was right outside our door, because he had to patrol the hall to check on all the other classes, somberly reporting to me any child, in any room, he caught misbehaving. He had trouble reading unless he paced.
One Friday afternoon my fifth grade class celebrated a week well done with a read-in. Students were sprawled everywhere, each lost in a book of their own choosing. Chelsea and Anne shared the quilt the class had made as part of our Colonial America unit paging through an American Girl magazine. Ethan and John, who discovered Ripley’s Believe It or Not, were burrowed under my desk with a flashlight gaping over the strange and obscure. As usual Garrett was in the storage area off the classroom pacing, his book up close to his face. Four steps forward. Turn. Four steps back. Turn. Flip of a page every few turns of himself.
Suddenly he stopped pacing. Page turn. A step into the classroom. Another page turn. Another step. He blindly grabbed for an empty chair, leaned over the back and read two more pages with the book on the seat. Without his eyes leaving the page, he slowly eased his legs over the back and onto the seat until he was crouched there like a gargoyle. More page turns. A foot hit the floor. The other. His body melted down into a puddle under the seat. Miraculously, none of the other students noticed this strange behavior. Every one was still reading!
Abruptly, Garrett’s head snapped up. His eyes frantically swept the room. He flipped back a page and cried out, “What? The elephant dies? What kind of shit is that?”
And burst into tears.
That got attention! All gazes landed briefly on Garrett before shooting my way to catch the teacher’s reaction. I was saved by Nick who calmly nodded and answered kindly, “But at least it got to play baseball.”
“Yeah,” sighed Garrett tears streaming down his face.
“Read to the end, you’ll feel better”
“Yeah, it’s good.”
The class sighed and resumed reading.
That is what it’s all about. And you don’t get that with any prescriptive reading or guided responses.
In what book does an elephant play baseball and suck in a fifth grade boy? Ghost Boy by Ian Lawrence. I cried too. But I did finish it and felt better. It’s that good.