Yesterday marked a rather poetic benchmark in my first year. It was the 100th day of school, and also 100 days until the current seniors at my university will graduate. I remember this day a year ago – I hadn’t even interviewed at my current school district yet – and though it was only a year ago, it feels hazy and distant.
We finished To Kill a Mockingbird yesterday. I cried in front of students as I read the last few pages because the words were so beautiful. I’ve never cried in front of kids – not even on the worst behavior management days, not even after receiving the harshest parent emails, not even during INSTITUTE – but it didn’t feel like weakness. It just felt…real, I suppose. My kids were stunned into silence. After we finished the last line, one asked, “Miss – is there a sequel to this?”
I hated To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it as an eighth-grader myself. But teaching it has made me fall in love with it, and in many ways, I think teaching this book kind of saved me this year. Leading TKAM class discussions was the first time I have felt like an actual English teacher, not just some arbiter of behavior management and multiple-choice questions. Watching my students grapple with race, class, stereotyping, and biases gave me the faith I needed to make it through all the little things that didn’t go so well. If I’m real with myself, teaching TKAM has overlapped with the happiest parts of this year for me, moments when I wonder if teaching is something I could stick with for a while. Take yesterday’s discussion, for example.
Discussion Question: On page 371, Scout says she’s sad because she believes she didn’t give Boo Radley anything in return. Do you agree with her? If not, what do you think she & Jem gave Boo? How do you know?
“I disagree with her. She gave Boo friendship.”
“But she wasn’t a friend to him! They were mean to him. They messed with him, and made fun of him.”
“But he saved their lives. So I guess he thought he was their friend?”
“Naw, man. You don’t need to be a friend to save someone’s life. You just do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
“I disagree with you. She was the closest thing Boo had to a friend. Plus, she gave him confidence to come out of his house.”
“Yeah. I used to think he was like Edward in Twilight, only comin’ out at night. But he cared enough about them to come out during the day too. And he let Scout walk him home.”
“I agree. They gave him awe and gratitude.”
“Aw MAN that’s deep.”
“You know it, bro.” (laughter)
me: “So if Boo got friendship, would we still consider him a mockingbird?”
“Yeah. People were mean to him. He had to take the fall for all the crazy stuff that happened in Maycomb.”
“But I don’t think he’ll be a mockingbird anymore! Won’t people know he saved lives?”
“No, they covered it up.”
“Why’d they do that?”
“You know they’d want to get him in trouble. He was too different from them.”
me: “He was too different from them for what? What archetype would that make him?”
“Miss, he’s an OUTCAST. He’s too good of a person for their society. That’s why they don’t like him.”
“I feel bad for him. He and Atticus are similar. They don’t fit in because they’re such good people.”
“Scout and Jem are going to be that way too. They’re the future. That’s why this book is real.”
(snaps from the class)
me……. [trying to not tear up again]
So there it is, a day in the life of my favorite class of room 23. I’m sad TKAM is over and I’m sad the past six weeks are over. They’ve been wonderful. It helps that things are going better in school, of course, but my outside-of-school life is also richer & fuller as well. I went to a TFA retreat last weekend that re-inspired and re-invigorated me. We had Wednesday afternoon off of school and I got to catch up with an old mentor, as well as do a two-and-a-half-hour Happy Hour with school friends. My roommates and I are hosting our apartment-warming party tonight (finally, six months after we first moved in). My summer plans are settled. Spring Break is in five weeks. Life is good.
The best part? The Olympics start tonight. Always my favorite time of the year. Triumph of the human spirit and all of that. If a bunch of guys can go 95 mph in what is essentially a speeding missile ricocheting around an ice track, we can all do the things we’re scared of.