Tag Archive | School

The Inspiration of Story

During my first year as a teacher, I wanted to make my students inspired.  Inspired to learn, inspired to be good kids, inspired to grow up and become contributing members to society.  And when I had a week to create my own social studies lesson, I decided to try something different.

I decided to teach a lesson about inspiration using story.

It was an interesting week when the lesson was being taught.  During the first few days, we’d gotten hit by a terrible winter storm and the heater in the classroom had went out.  My students were all huddled in the school library having class for the morning, and to four and five year olds, nothing says awesome like being able to have class in the part of the building where all the “big kids” are.  We practiced math, we did some reading and writing, and when it came time for social studies I pulled out a picture.

It was of a young boy.  The picture was cartoonish because I never could quite find a young picture of this guy on the internet, drawn and painted as if from a few centuries back, and the kids didn’t know who he was.  I only told them his name was Alex, and as I held the picture up I began to tell a story.

This young boy had a hard life.  His father left him, his brother, and his mother all alone.  His mother had to raise him by herself.   In the Caribbean, where he lived, his home was ravaged by a terrible hurricane.  He didn’t have much of a chance to go to school after his mother died.  He lost everything and had to go to work at a store while still a kid.  Many times he had to teach himself by reading books.  Life was really hard for him.

After setting the picture down, I asked the students a question.

“How do you think the little boy turned out when he grew up?  Do you think he became a good person?  Do you think he did anything good with his life?”

Every student in the room shook their heads and said no.

“Why?” I asked.

Life was hard.  He didn’t get much of an education.  His dad left.  To the kids, it was simple why this little boy didn’t have a chance in life.  He didn’t have much of a future because he had such a terrible past.

“Alright.” I said as I pulled out another picture.  “Let’s see who this little boy became.”

I pulled out a $10 bill.  On the middle of the bill was a portrait of a famous American founding father named Alexander Hamilton.

“The little boy who didn’t get to go to school much went to America and attended college.” I began, telling them his life story.  “The job he had to work at the store when he was a kid taught him about money.  He became the first Secretary of Treasury in America and helped build the country like it is today.  The hurricane that destroyed his town gave him an opportunity to write for the newspaper about it.  He also wrote something called The Federalist Papers that is considered a classic today.”

The kids were shocked.  They didn’t expect someone who “clearly didn’t have much to work with” actually did some good with his life.  As we went through other stories of famous individuals like Phillis Wheatley and Albert Einstein, the kids became astounded that people who had such difficult or hard beginnings could overcome them and become great people.  After the lesson was over, they became inspired, feeling like they too could make the world a better place no matter what obstacle came their way.

So what was the point of the lesson?  If you’ve ever worked in the education field, you’ll know there’s a lot of hopelessness out there.  Divorce, poverty, bullying, inequality.  Like kids in the past, kids today may have a lot going against them.  I know growing up as the only kid in class with divorced parents, I was ignored and bullied for years for something I knew little about.  When I was in jr. high, however, I read the story of Jonathan in the Bible.  Like me, he had issues with his father.  Friendship was also important to him.  Even though he did the right thing, he sometimes didn’t get rewarded for it.

When I read the story of Jonathan, I felt a connection with his character.  Despite his hardships, he still did the right thing.

And that story inspired me to do the same.  My life changed because of his story.

My history lesson may not have taught my kids much about history.  Being ages four and five, I’m not sure they understood how all of these individuals impacted our world today.  What I do hope, however, is by listening to these stories of hope, they would be inspired.  That just because a parent abandoned them, they still matter.  That just because someone calls them “stupid”, they are actually smart.  That just because everyone thinks they’re nothing, they are actually something, and they are important.

What I hope, more than anything, is they realize their story is inspirational too.

 

Ode to My Sixth Grade Teacher

I first started writing in elementary school.  They were short stories-usually about going on adventures or visiting places where I dreamed me and my family could go.  Often they would be accompanied by silly pictures and then stapled together with a folded piece of construction paper acting as the cover.  I started these stories at the age of 7 but gradually grew away from writing because of a lack of time to write and a lack of success.  English was never my strongest subject, and aside from my mom, most people didn’t bother with my stories, so I gave up.  I didn’t think I was a good writer and didn’t want to continue doing something I thought I’d have no success in.

And so I entered 6th grade.  My teacher was tough, hard working, and the most compassionate woman you’d ever meet.  She was unique when compared to most teachers I had known in the past in the sense that when she saw a student failing, she didn’t just ignore it or just shrug her shoulders and think “they’d get over it”.  She would try to turn that weakness into a strength by teaching us to believe in ourselves.

And that’s what she did with me.

One day, she asked us to write a poem.  I’ll admit that when I heard of this assignment, I cringed.  I hated poetry and I had to write-didn’t she know I couldn’t write well?  Perhaps she needed to look at my report card again.  English was my worst subject.  Give me science.  Give me history.  Give me a foreign language.  Just don’t ask  me to write!

So I whipped out a piece of paper and scribbled whatever came to mind so I could hurry up and be done with it.  I wrote the word “Faith” on top, wrote what was in my head, and left it at that.

I don’t exactly remember how or when I threw the assignment in the trash, but somehow it ended up there.  I had gotten frustrated with how “terrible” my writing was, and instead of being happy with it, I wadded it up and stuffed it to the bottom of the bin.  I eventually finished the assignment, got a passing grade, and went on my way, going back to my astronaut biographies and learning the Greek alphabet.  But writing was done.  Stories were meant to be written by those who were excellent in grammar and quoted Shakespeare half the time.

Some weeks later we had Parent/Teacher Conferences.  I went with my mom and expected the typical conference report-loves to read, friendly to everyone, is just a tad bit obsessed with astronomy and meteorology.  But as I sat down with my mom and listened to my teacher talk, I heard something no other teacher had said before.

“You’re better than you think.”

On the table sat a crumpled piece of notebook paper, carefully straightened and out on display.  I looked at it and could barely remember what it was.  I peeked over and saw the date on the paper had long passed and on the top of it was the word “Faith”.

I gulped as I sunk back in my seat.  Why did my teacher have my awfully-written poem?

My teacher then explained to my mom that I had wrote the poem and then threw it in the trash because I didn’t think it was that good.  (Apparently she saw me stuffing into the bin grumbling about how terrible of a writer I was.)  She explained that she fished the poem out, un-crumpled it, and saved it for weeks to show at Parent/Teacher Conferences.  And then my teacher turned to me and said, “This was a good poem, but you didn’t think it was that good.  I thought it was beautiful.  I want you to know that you are a good writer.”

She then handed me back the poem, and I’ve kept it ever since.

It’s amazing to me that all it took was one sentence to turn my life around.  One sentence to create a dream.  One sentence to turn an insecurity into confidence. One sentence to create a purpose and drive to write.  The road hasn’t been easy and there have been many instances where my writing was more criticized than applauded, but my teacher’s words have stuck with me for nearly twenty years since that one conference day.  Encouragement, even if it’s just a small word or sentence, has the ability to overcome years of failure and frustration.  And that’s what my 6th grade teacher did for me.  She didn’t teach me to be a good writer.  She taught me to believe I could be a good writer.

So thank you, my wonderful 6th grade teacher, for believing in me, and teaching all of your students to believe in themselves.