Reading, Writing, and…Batman?

I am a person blessed. There are no doubts about that. Now, am I a lucky person? That is an unequivocal “No”. Do I have a particularly easy time paddling down the river of life? Again, a resounding chorus of “No!” can be heard like the ‘shot heard round the world’. But blessed? You’d better believe it.

There is not a great deal that I remember about my years in public schools. One would think that the high school years, being the most recent, would be the memories most easily accessed. Not true in my case. But I do, however, remember so many of the books that I devoured during my elementary, junior high, and high school years, even down to the sketches in some of the biographies that I would read one after the other in the Mitchell Junior High library. And the novels that we read in high school literature classes? Pure bliss, especially compared to some of the required reading; it was a welcome breath of fresh air in education that further fanned an almost fanatical love of reading good literature.

The more I read, the more I felt compelled to write. Slugging through the typical day at school means that there is nothing typical about it; it is survival of the fittest and most of us can wincingly remember some of the faded scars. So I would write. Working through the angst of the teenage years, a young marriage, and becoming a young mother; I would write. When my daughter was five and entering kindergarten, I entered into college and soon after, a divorce. I rarely cried; I wrote instead.

Over twenty years of teaching have passed, with about as many pendulum swings of teaching philosophies. The way of ‘doing it right’ has swung from one side to the other and back again, but now, I am afraid, the swinging has stopped and we have completely derailed.

I often feel that I am precariously balanced on the top of a high mountain. If I do not use more articles in class that are followed by questions that would never be asked in the real world outside of school, then I will be seen as not preparing the students for the standardized tests in which these items will appear, and I will topple off the summit. However, when I look down on the other side of the mountain, I see all of the opportunities missed. What if I had teachers who gave up the rich literature and complex thinking that broadened my comprehension of both me and the world in which I live and focused on nonsensical articles and inane questions? I would have lost interest and my love of reading and writing would have withered. If I am not true to them or myself, I will surely topple off the summit.

I watched the students leave school the other day. I just watched. Every one of them as they left showed me, without realizing it, what individuals they were. I watch my family as we gather every Friday night, especially the younger ones. I see each of them as the unique beings they are: one with his brilliant yet uncommon way of thinking and speaking, one who is a wise man trapped in a young body, one who sails past in his Batman socks with the capes ‘a flying off his calves and pants rolled up to enhance the show. And let us not forget the youngest one who has decided it is more prudent to wear her underwear over her pants…and she does it with grace and style.

They do this because they are still exploring who they are and what they can be.  What a travesty it would be to tamper with creativity and crank out standardized thinking in its place. If given the opportunity to write so that I could work out my feelings or write to express myself creatively, then I gladly pick up my pen. But if required to respond to the state-wide test prompts that rarely reflect the real world and expected to spend precious time in class practicing how to do it so as to score high on a rubric, well, I don’t think I need to say more.

I have been blessed by growing up in a time when I was encouraged to take risks, grow, and expand my thinking by reading and writing. I believe it has paid off; I am doing what I love and what I have always dreamed of doing. I am writing. I pray that I can continue to do so for quite some time. Please give me the courage and the strength to extend this same opportunity to all the students I have and will have, as well as to my family. Just be aware, if pushed too far I may borrow those Batman socks with the capes ‘a flying and, who knows, maybe the underwear on the outside of the pants may bear some consideration…

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