Highlights for me from this School Year

As many of you know I began working last August as a teacher and a librarian at an international school here in Belo Horizonte. This has been a challenging and rewarding experience and has been completely worth it.  There were moments that made me laugh, moments that made me cry, moments that reminded me why this work is important. I took time this morning to write down some of the highlights of my year. I’ll continue on at the school but I don’t want to forget these people and moments that made up my year:

  • Putting a book into one of my 6th grader’s hands (Eighth Grade Bites from The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series by Heather Brewer), which he didn’t return immediately after he moved on to the next book because one of his four brothers (a 9th grader) co-opted it. Then it still didn’t get returned. I couldn’t figure out why until the 11th grade brother came in to pre-empt his other brothers on checking out the rest of the series because he had been reading the books when he could sneak them from his brothers. None of these brothers had checked out books to read for enjoyment since who knows when, if ever. It mostly made me happy because it was the 6th grade brother who influenced his older brothers.
  • Setting a goal of 20 books in the second semester for my 6th grade English Language Arts students to read and watching many of them read at least that many or more. One student read over 40 books in just 16 weeks. In fact, he implied with a smile on his face that I might have been responsible for his grades falling a bit in other classes because he couldn’t stop reading when he left English class.
  • Watching ELL 2nd graders K and C and ELL 1st graders H and W grow so much in their reading/English abilities this year. This is not my victory because their teachers (Ms. K and Miss R) deserve all the credit because of the individual instruction they gave these students, but I had the privilege of watching these students begin to check out more and more difficult books and to see them truly excited about reading in English.
  • Hearing from one of the high school girls: “Miss, no one ever knew or cared about interesting library books for the older students until you got here.”
  • Having my 9th grade students ask one day, “Miss, where is *title of book *?” and when I pulled it off the shelf, they dissolved into whispers and giggles. Then one of them piped up with another request, “Miss, where is *title of another book *?” and when I pulled it off the shelf the same thing happened. Whispers and giggles. I began to get suspicious. The third time they asked me for a book, I’m sure I had a confused look on my face, but I grabbed the book, handed it to them and heard one of them say, “15 seconds.” I demanded to know what is going on. They laughed and replied, “Miss, you know where EVERYTHING is.” They were timing me to see how long it took me to find books. Cute, huh?
  • Reading the 10,000 word stories my 9th and 12th grade Creative Writing students completed in the last quarter of school. Their stories were not perfect but they were entertaining and several of them were exceptional. I was particularly proud of Ing. and K (one of the brothers mentioned in the first highlight above), both English Language Learners, for not only completing the assignment (a huge undertaking that they did NOT believe they were capable of back in August when I presented the syllabus for the year) but for also surprising me with well-paced stories full of detail, setting and characterization that proved they had internalized many of the things we had studied throughout the year.
  • Reading NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry aloud with the 5th graders during library class while they were in the middle of a government unit of inquiry. We asked questions, we researched the answers, we laughed, we held our breath, we cried. There is one moment toward the end of the book when I was reading with tears in my eyes and I glanced up to look at the students’ faces. The emotion in their faces, the expectation in their eyes, the connection we felt in that moment over this book, this experience, is something that will define my role as a teacher and a librarian and a reader and a writer for the rest of my life.
  • Reading all the Pigeon books by Mo Willems with every class from preschool to 2nd grade and being amazed at how well they work for so many different ages. One of the 2nd grade moms came in on the last day of school to finally return The Pigeon wants a Puppy book for her 2nd grader S (for whom English is not her first language). She said S read the book over and over to her family, didn’t want to return it and that they would be buying their own copy.
  • Connecting with one of the high school students over Looking for Alaska and also over his talent and need for creative expression, which he often hides from others as well as from himself. If this is the only year of influence I’ll have in his life, I hope and pray he continues to look inward and to find a way to express how he sees the world on the page. I think it could be not only life-saving/affirming for him but also meaningful for others. P, I hope you never stop writing.
  • Taking joy from Ing. and F and Iv. and V and B as they reminded me what it was like to be a teenage girl and feeling hopeful about the promise for their futures.
  • Connecting with 12th graders B, L, M, C and G as they prepared to begin life on their own. I have had no higher privilege this year than participating in the lives of these women. 
  • 9th grade L’s constant ribbing over my Southern accent, his determination to make my day a little brighter every day, and his humility and ready acceptance when I’ve had to pull him aside for a serious conversation or when I’ve given him advice

It’s no small thing when you can finish one school year already looking forward to the next. See you in August, EABH!