Thursday, September 4, 2008

Revising our endings:the sweet, sweet sound of words resonating from the front porch steps....

As I work side-by-side with teachers, engage in conversations with children about what they are thinking, or talk with my counterparts at the district level, I do so through the eyes of my history. This includes my history as a student, teacher, reading specialist and literacy coach; this includes my history living and teaching in various regions of the country; and this includes my history working with individuals who changed my thinking, supported my practices, and challenged me by introducing new perspectives on the way the world worked.
All these experiences have allowed me to revise my endings. And some, if I am lucky, take me back home again to that pocket of the world called the Northeast Kingdom where the sweet, sweet sound of words resonate from the front porch steps.

It has been said that you can never go home again, yet, I found myself at the beginning of each new school year, recreating that walk to the public library, skimming through the shelves for the latest find, and then sitting on the “front porch steps” reading aloud to each new group of students or sharing a few lines from my favorite poem with my colleagues. This awakens the rhythm of my teaching and allows us all to celebrate the forgotten art in a world of science.
I grew up in the pocket of the world known as the Northeast Kingdom. It was about twenty minutes give or take from the Canadian border and a couple hours drive to Montreal. It wasn’t uncommon for us to drive there on the weekends to experience the various cultural aspects this Canadian city had to offer; to take in a hockey game in the dead of winter; or walk along the cobbled streets in Vieux-MontrĂ©al.

On those weekends when we remained at home, my mom would walk the seven of us to the end of Prospect Street, down North Avenue until we reached Main. At the corner we would walk across the bridge and on up the steps to the Public Library. Along the way, she entertained us by weaving stories that were found amongst the pages of her mind.

Once inside I would search the stacks for the one book that called my name and with my new found treasure in my hand, we made our way back home again, finding comfort in knowing that when I was safely tucked into the top bunk, the words of the story would resonate freely in my dreams.

One of my favorite stories was called The Adventures of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. If you are one of those folks just out of the gate and are not familiar with this classic tale, I challenge you to walk on down to the local library and ask the lady or gentleman behind the counter for a copy. I promise if you go deep enough, your life will be forever changed.

However, I realize that some of you may be too busy to even venture away from your classroom, so until you can breathe a little easier, I will tell you why I think this story is a metaphor for teaching and learning, but first I need to tell you a little bit about my friend Peter.

All of his life, Peter and his siblings were told to never, ever go under the fence into Mr. McGregor’s garden. They were told that the world was a dangerous place and that their father had been the one to go and he never returned.

Well, Peter wasn’t convinced that the world was dangerous. He, out of all the siblings was inquisitive, curious and mischievous at times. Frankly, his ideas about the world didn’t jive with mama. So one morning Peter did what he was told not to do. He went under the fence.

That’s right.
He went under the fence;
didn’t like what his mama was having for lunch
and the carrots;
the carrots growing in the garden next door;
they looked so delicious.

He was having a grand old time in the lettuce patch not paying attention to what was going on around, and that proved to be Peter’s biggest mistake: not paying attention. You see, my friend Peter soon had the blunt end of Mr. McGregor’s rake to worry about, but on that hot July summer day luck ruled in his favor. He saw the shadow before it landed on his backside, and Pete, he high-tailed it out of there.

I’d like to tell you that the story ends there, but it doesn’t. The chase was on and Mr. McGregor had some near misses. Peter, he ran from hiding place to hiding place with Mr. McGregor not far behind. Well, to make this story come full circle, he finally was able to make his way back home again. And his mama, she waited for him on the front porch steps. Then, as only a mama can do, she wrapped her arms around her mischievous son and tucked him safely into the top bunk hoping that the lessons learned would resonate freely in his dreams.

For starters, there will always be the Peter Rabbits of the world and they will find their way into our classrooms. These children will be inquisitive, curious and at times, mischievous. They may not know how to behave or do things that they are told not to do: at first. Just as mama had warned Peter about Mr. McGregor’s garden, they, too, may be blind to your ideas. However, if you wait on the front porch steps, do so with a cupful of wisdom and a whole lot of patience, and you just might find that the lessons you teach will eventually stick.

So I guess what I am trying to say is whenever you feel as if you are moments away from the blunt end of Mr. McGregor’s rake, remember mama sitting on the front porch steps waiting to listen to the stories found within the pages of your mind. And if you must, revise those endings with the children so when you sleep you will hear the sweet, sweet sound of words resonating in your dreams.

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