Saturday, 11 November 2017

How a tough read became a powerful 75 minutes in my classroom

Friday.  Period 3.  I was dreading it.  It was going to be a tough read.  But, it became a powerful 75 minutes in my classroom.  It was an experience unlike any in my 23 years of teaching and I can't stop thinking about it, which means I should write about it...

This is my first time participating in the Global Read Aloud (GRA).  And it has been awesome in so many ways for my students and for myself.  I promise in a future post to talk about all the ways it is awesome and how to get involved and why you want to be a part of it.  But this post is about that 75 minutes we shared in my classroom on Friday.

We have been reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd.  It's a rich novel (Spoiler Alert!) about a young man named Conor who is dealing with his mother's battle with cancer.  When I signed up for the GRA this summer, I read the the assortment of books we had to choose from and was beyond moved by this story of dealing with illness, self isolation, survivor guilt and dealing with losing someone you love.  All the books were inspiring, but this one really touched me.  I didn't choose this particular novel lightly.  There is a lot of darkness, some violence and some really gut wrenching emotions in it.  I knew it would be tough.  I thought about it for a few days, and decided that this was the book I needed to share with my students.

I knew it would be particularly tough for me because my Mom has been fighting an eight year battle with cancer.  The type of cancer she has is called Multiple Myeloma and while treatable, currently there is no cure.  It is a long journey of unimaginable pain and suffering, with treatments that have given her more time with us, but have often been as horrifying and debilitating as the disease itself.  While we don't know just when or how her battle will end, we do know that it will.   It isn't a secret that my Mom is ill.  But, it isn't something I talk a lot about.  I wear a sticker that says "I'm walking for my Mom" in the Terry Fox Run at school, and the fact that my Mom has cancer has come up in class, but mostly in passing.  It has been a fact of my life, but not something I discuss often or openly with many.  I never imagined I would be blogging about it.  Sharing something so personally painful, is no easy task.  So, when I chose this book, I knew it would be emotionally tough on me.

Fast Forward to Friday.  10 chapters from the end of the Novel.

On Friday, we got to the chapter called "100 Years." I don't want to give too much away if you haven't read the book, but it is a heart breaking moment in the story.  I'm tearing up right now, just thinking about it.  I was dreading reading it with my students because I knew I would not be able to hold it together and that my own emotions would wash over me like a tidal wave.  Thank goodness I had purchased the audio book, and was letting it read to the class, because I was right.  I did lose myself in the moment and would have been unable to continue reading to them.  I let it play on into the next chapter where Conor reveals the feelings that have been eating him alive.  I regained some composure and when that chapter ended, wiped my eyes, stoped the audio and looked up at my beautiful, wonderful, thoughtful class.

Not a dry eye in the house.

Some were trying to hide their tears, some were letting them drop like rain.  My Educational Assistant suddenly remembered he had urgent business in the office and rushed out, Kleenex in hand.  But we all felt Conor's loss deeply and on a personal level.

It was a tough read for all of us.  No matter who we are, where we come from, or what our history is, we all experience loss.  The discussion that followed went deep into not just Conor's story, but into our own stories.  The way they were able to apply Conor's experience to their own lives and emotions  was inspiring to me.  There was no judgement, no put downs...just open, empathetic and honest sharing.  It was a pretty powerful and emotional 75 minutes.

It was 75 minutes of literacy instruction that went well beyond my expectations. It expanded their understanding of the novel, opened up discussion on how we deal with grief in many different ways and strengthened the relationships in our classroom community.  They were realizing through sharing that everyone in the room was fighting their own battle that we knew nothing about.  And I almost missed it all, because it would be tough for me, personally.

You know that quote, "I didn't say it would be easy.  I said it would be worth it."  That was Friday.

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