It’s an interesting concept: invite a group of children who never met me and have limited writing experience and even less life experience to join a publishing group that promised a book with their work in it after ten hours of instruction and writing.
I fretted, a lot, and thought about the best ways to establish trust with third and fourth graders who saw me half as a new teacher and half through the eyes of "Stranger Danger."
During the first class I was welcoming and warm and told stories from traveling that made them laugh. When it was time to write, most students wrote less than two sentences.
The second class started with one of Sharon’s stories about growing up in a large family and how her grandfather would wait outside on cold winter nights for her family to drive in from another state. I followed her story with one of my own about my father’s toothbrush and another about a time my sister’s friend came to the house for dinner.
But the story that caught them in a web of understanding of how to write your life on paper was when I told them I would miss the next class. It was time for me to get my first wisdom tooth removed. I shared my worry about the pain and the recovery. What if something went wrong?
The students helped me think of everything that could go right. Maybe my tooth would jump out of my mouth without any pain. Maybe the dentist would take one look into my mouth and tell me that I didn’t need the oral surgery after all.
Before the appointment my students whispered encouragement when they passed me in the hall. "It's going to be ok." "Maybe they'll give you a lollypop. Think about that."
When I returned the next week, the kids begged to know the outcome of my visit. They had to wait till the writing class. After a ten minute writing session where most kids wrote more than four sentences, I told the story of the extraction.
After a long build up, I said,
"At one point I turned to the dentist and asked him when he would remove the tooth."
He turned to me and said, "Are you kidding?"
"I thought for a moment that maybe I wasn't there to get the tooth out. Did I get it wrong?"
"He asked if I was kidding."
"I shook my head slowly, confused."
"Dr. Hottum opened his hand and showed me my broken tooth. It was out. Done."
Surprise! Done. No pain. No twisting. No heavy pulling. Easy peasy.
This unplanned example of having an event, worrying about it and then seeing the finished product opened up the world of writing for these kids. They laughed for a long time about how stupid I must have seemed to the dentist for not knowing my tooth was gone.
I agreed. I was dumb.
They laughed at the irony of having such an easy time and made me retell the amount of money that the dentist said a fifty-year-old tooth was worth in case I wanted to leave it for the Tooth Fairy: twenty dollars.
Joselin said, “You mean, I could write about a time I went to the dentist?” which made Johnny think about a time he hurt his pinky, which could be a good story. Piper remembered a time her brother got lost that might be good in the book. Jorge asked if he could write about his love of soccer.
Yes. Yes. And Yes.
Each class was filled with writing, and more stories. In one writing period most kids would write ten sentences. These bits became their stories in the book that they named, Caution: Do Not Read This Book.
Our lives are made of stories, and if you're willing to tell the truth on the page, it makes a great read.
Please buy a copy of the book to show kids you value their courage to write their truths.
Buy the book HERE.
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