Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Importance of Things

When I told my English students yesterday that today would be show and tell day, some of them groaned. "I don't like talking in front of the class. It makes me feel like I wanna puke!" they complained. I ignored them, as I usually do (the complaints, not the children), and continued explaining that they needed to bring in an object that represented someone or something significant in their lives; they were going to use this experience to write a reflective essay later on this week.

They shuffled out of the room when the bell rang, leaving me to wonder what they might bring in for show and tell the next day.

This morning, as they drifted into the room, I heard one student ask, "Is today show and tell day?" and I groaned. I've had years like this before, where a class just doesn't put much effort into anything, and nearly every student shows either a cell phone or iPod or a classmate as a best friend.

I let myself begin to doubt them, so I was therefore unprepared for the depth of today's experience.

I began by showing this pewter pig.

My brother Thad got him for me when his 7th grade class went on a trip to Shipshewana. I don't remember if he got gifts for any of our other siblings, but he brought this little guy home for me. He's tiny (the pig, that is): maybe as big as a baby's fingernail. I carried him in my pocket every day for years, a talisman that reminded me I was loved. I seem to remember carrying him in my pocket for my first job interview, but I'm not sure if that's a true memory.

After I shared, students began to volunteer to share. A couple of girls shared about how their hockey teams had won medals or they had gone to an elite sports camp. One boy showed his baseball trophy. Then, a boy walked up to the front with a picture of his junior high baseball team. After he introduced his topic, he began to get choked up. As he wiped away tears, he told us why that season was so memorable: it was the last season he got to play with his friend, who died that fall in a car accident.

Next, a girl shared a picture of her family when she was young, saying it was the last picture taken before her parents divorced and the family was shattered. Another girl shared a picture of herself with her father, saying he had died soon after. A boy shared a book his grandfather bought just before he died of leukemia, and his grandmother had just recently given it to him to keep. On and on the stories unfolded, stories of love and loss and moving on.

They were not all sad stories. Three students brought in musical instruments (two guitars and a bassoon) and we listened to mini-concerts. A few more talked about athletic achievements. One girl said she really just wanted to live in a van in her mother's driveway when she grew up: the rent would be cheap and she could mooch meals off her mom.

But even the funny, silly stories had an emotion in common with the sad ones. As we shared and laughed and sometimes brushed away tears together, I think we grew closer as a class: we learned that there is pain in the world, there is death and sadness, and it doesn't matter whether you are at the top or the bottom of the teenage social food chain--or somewhere in the middle--tragedy can strike just as randomly as joy can, and by sharing with each other and learning from each other, we learn a bit about ourselves as well.


my2fish said...

I've completely lost my marbles. I have ZERO memory of getting you that - are you sure it was me? I remember going to Shipshewana... vaguely.

Loving Life with Our Little Ones said...

You're a great writer. Great story, great writing.