This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

From My Inverted Universe

As a child, I suffered from chronic tonsillitis.  I remember getting a penicillin shot almost every other week.  This was back in the early sixties in Iran where disposable needles weren’t available yet.  I remember climbing the stairs to the top floor of the pharmacy where a man in a white coat would take out a giant metal injector and place it in a steel container with boiling water to sterilize it.  He would then approach me, who was being restrained by a mother or a father and probably screaming my head off.  Next thing I remember I am walking up the stairs of my house rubbing my sore behind.  When I think of this memory, I also think of books.  Books were my incentive for enduring these painful experiences.  Every time I had to get a shot, my mother would buy me a book!  By age five when I finally had my tonsils removed, I had amassed quite a library.  In second grade when I came down with a severe case of the measles, my one request was a copy of a children’s book I had seen on the children’s story hour on television.  The book was Kaduye Ghelghele Zan or the Rolly Polly Pumpkin, about an old lady who tricks some wild animals by hiding inside a pumpkin as a mode of transportation.  I remember lying miserable and feverish in my parent’s dark bedroom and my father coming home with a hard back copy of that book.  I know he had to have searched for it all over town.  Of all the things I left behind when I came to this country, I miss my collection of children’s books the most.

When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to join the newly established library in my local park.  I had to get permission from my parents and my school principal in order to join.  The principal refused to consent because he thought outside reading would interfere with my academic performance.  My elementary school did not have a library.  The one at my high school was used as the detention hall until a blessed soul took away the locks and let us check out the books.  At fifteen when I stepped into a public library in Houston, Texas for the first time, I could not believe that there were no locks and I did not need anyone’s permission to get a library card.  That was incentive enough for me to try to adjust to a new country and a new culture.
During the years I lived in Venezuela, my reward was the dank and dusty library at the Church that was set up decades ago by the Standard Oil Company to meet the needs of the expatriates living in that far off post.  I read every Agatha Christie mystery they owned, while I fed and carried my four children who were born there.  Once I found a tiny kiosk tucked away in a narrow hallway of a shopping center next to the bakery I frequented.  The young woman and her mother who owned the store were the only source of quality children’s literature in that town.  They did it for the pure joy of it, for God knows it wasn’t for the money.

Once I became a teacher, every time I read The Miraculous  Journey of Edward Tulane, my students would burst into applause at the end of the last page.  For years, kids have come in voluntarily during their lunch period to listen to Esperanza Rising.  How to Steal a Dog and The One and Only Ivan brought tears to the eyes of both teachers and students this past year.

I say all this to make a case for not rewarding students for reading but by reading.  The story is the prize.  The words are the bribe.  Let us not “assign” reading homework but “allow” our students time to read every night.  Let them record not the minutes spent reading but the thoughts and ideas that sprout in their young minds.  There are those who will be hesitant to accept our invitation to embrace reading and books at first. But we must have faith that there is a story out there to hook every child.