“But why? Why move? We’ve got a better place to live right now […]I can’t understand why everybody talks about changing things.” Jenner from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
Change is hard. I should know. From the age of 18, I have moved five times. Each move was vastly different from the one before. From home to college. From college in Mississippi to married life in Los Angeles, California. From California to Florida. From Florida to Mississippi. From Mississippi to Texas. Most of us like the stability of knowing our surroundings, and establishing relationships that stay constant. I am one of those people. I do not like starting over. I do not like change. But change comes. And with each of the changes I experienced, new experiences shaped me into who I am today. Without each of those steps along my journey, I would certainly not be writing this. In order to build a better anything, change must occur.
I don’t know why, but throughout my life I have rarely been confident. My parents were both very confident and didn’t shy away from much. Ironically, in the midst of a confident family I was shy and became extremely introverted the older I grew. During my 5th grade year of school, however, I found a way to become what I was not. It was within stories where I would find my own world. I oddly became transformed through the characters I met. It was sometimes a world of imagination and fantasy, as I read A Wrinkle in Time. Sometimes, I would escape and find confidence in characters like Pippy Longstocking or Huck Finn. And then, sometimes, I would stumble upon an escape so profound in my eyes, that I became consumed. While reading about Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, I found a world of poetry and literature that moved me in such a way that I became a dreamer.
My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Bell, was the first teacher I can recall reading aloud to me. As I sat in her class and listened to her read, I became what she modeled. A reader. There are only two things about fifth grade I remember. One was using alphabet noodles to spell our weekly spelling words on our desk. I remember once that Mrs. Bell announced that the person who could spell the longest word would get a prize. I spelled “supercalifragilisticexpialodocious” never realizing she meant the longest word from our weekly list. I don’t think she had the heart to burst my enthusiasm, so I won the prize. The other thing I vividly recall during that year was listening to her read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. Honestly, I would have to go back and revisit that story to really have a meaningful conversation about its plot. But here is what I do remember quite clearly. I remember the way in which she read. I remember her creating suspense with her volume and tone of voice. I remember hanging on the edge of my seat to find out if Mrs. Frisby’s family would escape unharmed. She created a world outside that fifth grade classroom for her students. I didn’t know then, that she would become an integral part of my educational philosophies.
From the resolution of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh on, I was hooked. I remember marching my brave soul down to our town library the day Mrs. Bell finished the story. I wanted a book of my own. Finishing an entire chapter book was an exciting new concept for me. I walked down the sidewalk and up to the main street of our “one red light” town. Mayberry kind of town. One dusty long center carpeted isle led me straight into the children’s section. I had never picked out a book on my own. Whereas most readers pick up a book because of the front cover, or the title, or even the summary on the back, I wanted the thickest book I could find. I didn’t even look at the titles. I ran my finger down the rows of books until I found, what was sure to be a book worthy of a dreamer, based solely on the width of its spine. Luckily, it turned out to be one of my favorites. A Wrinkle in Time gave me the escape I wanted then. Thankfully it was a great one. I shudder to think where I would be today had I picked up a copy of Hatchet or The Sign of the Beaver. Both great books, but would not have interested me in the slightest then.
Books became stepping stones on my journey. I can think back on my life with wonderful nostalgia and gratitude for particular stories that moved me a little further in my journey. It began with Mrs. Frisby and A Wrinkle in Time. Flash forward to The Glass Menagerie which showed me more of who I was and would become. I remember deeply identifying with Laura during a time when I felt a bit isolated and disconnected with the realities around me. Further along my path there I was reading The Scarlet Letter during a time where I was questioning spiritual matters. I certainly did not identify with Hester, the story’s protagonist, the way I had with Laura. But I did find myself feeling sorry for her even though she had done the unforgivable. This story was integral in shaping my outlook on sin and morality. This was a time when I had ditched my garments of shyness only to replace them with the cloak of rebellion. So stories of radicals moved me in some odd way. Then college came. A time where I was longing for my soulmate. I remember the book that spoke volumes to me during this time was Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook. Cliché? Yes. But in the midst of reading this book I found my Mr. Right. Further along my evolvement there were milestone books such as The Giver. Little did I know how much of an impact this story would have on my life, the lives of my students, and my educational career. It became my go to book. The book I carried around in my purse and pulled out when I needed to refer back to a passage I had underlined. Lois Lowry captivated my attention from chapter one and became a hero in my eyes. Another deeply moving and memorable milestone in my life was when I knew with a resounding clarity that I wanted to teach reading. My college professor, Dr. D’Amico, read aloud Walk Two Moons to her class on Children’s Literature. This book also became an integral part of my teaching career. Fast forward once again when I married my Mr. Right. The one who would listen to me read passages from Nicholas Sparks. We packed up our meager belongings and headed west. From Mississippi to California tears streamed down my face as I read the book my mom handed me before I climbed aboard the U-Haul. It was Homesick by Sela Ward. I was mad that my mom gave me this to read, when she clearly knew it would make me sad. But at the same time, this has been one of those stories that I needed for a reason and during a particular season of my life. I refer back to it often when I miss my Southern roots.
Looking back, books have been a constant in my life. I am so grateful to have had a teacher give me a love of reading. Otherwise, all those books that helped me along my way, might never have been read. Maybe I wouldn’t have become a school teacher. Maybe I wouldn’t have made it a priority to have as many books as possible in my home so that my children will never know a life without them. Certainly I wouldn’t be writing this. For it is from my love of reading and the effects that a love of reading can result in, that I am attempting this mountainous pursuit.
My confidence finally came. I finally found myself. In a classroom full of students, certainly not eager to read, transforming students became my mission. Turning nonreaders into readers became my drive. Not only did I set out to prove that I could change a nonreader into a reader, but I was determined to show those students that they loved reading. I believe that every person can love reading. It just takes the right book, and the right motivator to get them started. I became a motivator. To my surprise, the effects of passing on a love for literature were astonishing. I realized, as I grew both as an educator and a motivator, that I was accomplishing the same tasks that some teachers accomplished with a year’s worth of worksheets and projects, just by reading and having conversations about the books. What I learned and saw very clearly was this. Students can learn much more than we give them credit for. They can analyze much more deeply than we can imagine. They can problem solve, create, write, predict, comprehend, so much more than we allow them to. By giving students a love of reading, we are equipping them with the tools necessary to change the world. I don’t want to be a teacher who just teaches skills. I want to be a teacher who equips my students to go change the world. That, among many other things, is what reading can accomplish.