Monday, January 14, 2013

At the Halfway Point

Last year, after reading a book called "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller, I took on the challenge of trying to increase the levels of reading stamina for my kids.  I also joined a literacy team at my school where our first order of business was to order hundreds of books to give away.  It was delightful.

I'm telling you... seeing those kids at that giveaway changed my life.  Everything about it made me remember why books and stories were so important to me as a kid; how important they are to me still today.  Stories are my passport, my escape, my guidebook.

On the first day of school I told my students that we were going to read. Every day. Without fail.  We would treat going to the library like a national holiday.  We'd discuss books and characters and authors as if they were our own.  And we'd have fun.

I set the goal at 40 books per student (with any book over 300 pages counting as 2 books).  After a quick poll, I realized that the average number of books my students read last year was just below 4.  I was pretty nervous that this would be a huge failure.  That kids wouldn't get to 40.  They might not even get to 10.  I reminded myself that it's just a number -- a high number -- but that the real goal was to get the kids to just read more than they ever have.  My goal is to get them to fall in love with reading again.

This was the photo I took on Thursday.  This is our bulletin board where we update once a month.  The number on the left is the number of books read, and the number on the right is the class goal (40 per student in class -- some are adjusted for late arriving students).

That's 946 books since August 27. Or 987 if you count mine as well.  And I do.  Three of my students have already surpassed their 40 book goal and challenged me to double my original goal as well. For the record, last year, I read 21 books (including the summer).  Every student has surpassed their total from last year, and it's only January.  My classroom library has grown from 62 books that hardly ever left the room to 507 books that are constantly being checked in and out, traded and reviewed, loved and hated.

I'd say we're doing pretty well.  Delightfully so.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The $2.00 Prayer

I stopped at Walgreen's just to drop off some Redbox rentals and pick up some cat food.  That was all I intended, really.  But it's not all that happened.

On my way to return the movies, I noticed a man, trying desperately to stay dry and warm in the downpour, standing next to the machine.  On reflex, I pulled my purse closer to me because I didn't know him.  I wrinkled my nose at his unwashed stench.  I cast my eyes downward to avoid making eye contact.  I did my very best to ignore the situation. 

And then he spoke.

"Excuse me, miss.  How are you?"

I nodded and mumbled that I was doing fine.  All the while, I wondered why the machine couldn't move any faster.

"And how has the day treated you?"

"How had the day treated me?' I thought. I woke up this morning in my extra-warm bed.  I took a shower, put on clean clothes, and had a choice in my breakfast.  I went to my job -- a job that I love and that provides me with more than I need.  My students had come back to school... happy, ready, and able.  I got no fewer than 20 hugs and even more "I missed you's".  I was surrounded by friends and colleagues who love and appreciate me.  And, on my drive home, my only complaint was the slow-moving traffic that might delay the start of my basketball game on t.v.  So how had the day treated me?

"Fairly well.  I'd say it's been the best day in a long while," I replied, with a smile.

"That's good.  Real good," he grinned back. "You don't think you might pass on some of that good luck to me, do you?  You don't have any spare change?"

In my mind, little Roman candles of cynicism burst forth.  Beggar.  Bum.  Vagrant.  Drunk.  Stranger.

But when was the last time a bum asked me about my day?  Better yet, when was the last time anyone who wasn't a close friend asked me (and really wanted more than a "Fine. And you?" in response)?

In my pocket was a dollar bill.  The fact that I had any sort of cash is a small miracle, so I thought that maybe it'd bring him a little luck.  I chirped at him to stay dry and try to stay warm, and I went in to finish my errand.  As I was checking out, the machine asked me if I wanted cash back.  Thinking of the man huddled under the flickering Walgreen's sign, I clicked the $10 button and waited for my change.  I walked out, folded it up, and handed it to this stranger.

When he took the money from my hand, he also took my hand.  I stiffened, alarm bells going off in my head, panic rising.  And then I saw him bow his head to pray.  To pray for me.  When he looked up,  there was genuine kindness and thanks in his eyes. 

With the money clutched in his hand, he had yet to even look and see that it was a $10 bill.  I smiled a bit as I walked to my car.  During those few moments, a total stranger in a much-worse position than I, took the time to pray for me... for what he thought was $2.  And his $2.00 prayer renewed me just a bit.  When have I ever been so grateful for just a few dollars?  Not in a long while.  Not until that moment.

So, no... catfood is not all I picked up at Walgreen's today.