For the First Time, One Time

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Spoiler alert: I give away the endings of some books. But seriously, you should have already read these books anyways. :) 

For a lot of people, students and teachers alike, heading back to school after Christmas break is a real challenge. I'll admit, having time to myself has been nice, but I was really looking forward to heading back to school.

I really missed my students, and I was also really excited for a big reason -- January brings novel studies to each of my Language Arts classes. In the fall I concentrate mostly on short stories, plays, and poems, but the second semester is devoted to novels.

As I've said a lot of times, even recently, reading is so my thing. It always has been. And I know it's not everyone's thing, but I really believe that ALL children -- all people -- love stories. They love hearing stories, and, what I've found my students also really like, is having stories read to them. The students in my classes are all at various levels of interest about the books we're reading, but I've promised if they'll just trust me and stay with me, they'll love it ... or at least like it or find some value in it. Also, I told them that I don't purposefully go out of my way to choose boring books. I mean, for real guys, I have to read these books, too, and why would I want to go through 45 minutes of torture three times a day? It makes no sense.

The truth is, there are just few things in this world that are better than cracking open that book cover for the first time, opening to the first page, and reading those well-loved words for the very first time. I get SO excited that it likely borders on weird. But my students already know I'm weird, so they don't really flinch. :) I told each class a few times today, "I am so excited! I am SO EXCITED!" I just LOVE LOVE LOVE Beginning-a-Novel Day. (And, truth be told, other than that, today was just terrible, so teaching those novels was much-needed magic.)

Right as we all are opening the covers, hearing that distinct crack, and turning those first few pages to get to where the story begins, I say, "Who wants to read?" But before I call on someone, I add, "... with the knowledge that you will be reading the first words of our new book. And that is sacred." (I know, I'm a weirdo. Again, they know it too.)

8:56, second period, seventh grade, brought me: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."

10:40, fourth period, sixth grade, brought me: "The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning."

12:44, sixth period, eighth grade, brought me: "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

Guys. I get PAID at my JOB to read STORIES with KIDS. I mean, my job is really exhausting and frustrating and sob-inducing, but at the end of the day I read books with kids. Sometimes I seriously cannot even believe my luck. 

The thing is, I know how these stories end, they don't. And it both makes me smile and breaks my heart at the same time. I know that Winnie chooses not to drink the water and be with Jesse and he visits her grave later. I know that Johnny dies from his injuries after telling Ponyboy to "stay gold." And I know that Boo Radley saves Jem and Scout ... and after Scout takes him home she never sees him again. (Are you crying yet?) 

I know that, if these kids open up just a bit and let them, these characters will burrow into their hearts and stay there forever. My kids know that I've read these books over and over and have loved them forever. 

One of them said yesterday, "Miss Lafferre, I think you pick these books to relive your childhood." 

And it made me smile because, heck, maybe I do. I have nothing but the happiest, fondest memories of reading these books, but they are well-loved classics for a reason. 

As I told my eighth grade students last year, "You can only read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time one time." And I want these kids' first times getting to know the Tucks, the Greasers, and the Finches to be some of the best of their lives. 

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