“Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less.”
I was seven when I bought my first book with money I earned. My mother gave me a quarter every week for making my bed and picking my toys up each day. This precious coin always burned a hole in my pocket. I could hardly wait until our next trip to Hart’s Five and Dime.
This store was a mecca for me when I was a kid. I loved the bell that jingled when you opened the door. The air had a distinctive scent which might have been dust mingled with the comings and goings of a few shoppers. It was never crowded. The shelves were stocked with an eclectic assortment of household necessities: light bulbs, extension cords, dish towels, and soap. One aisle was devoted to yarn and needlework supplies. There was a candy aisle. And of course, a toy aisle. My sister always made a bee line for the Breyer horse models. I always went right to the books.
Near the back of the store, among rows of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, was a rack of Junior Golden Guides. These little books were almost square, about the size of a slice of bread. There was a Junior Golden Guide for what seemed to me like every imaginable subject. The first one I paid for with my hard-earned allowance was Seashells.
As soon as I got home, I raced to my room and assembled my collection of shells so I could use my prized new book to identify each specimen. I must have read that book a hundred times. Eventually I bought other titles from the series. Cats and Coins are the two that stand out in my memory. And so my life-long book buying spree began. I go through phases when I swear I’m not going to buy another book, ever, because I’ll never read all the books I already have. But then a favorite author publishes a new novel, or a new professional book comes out that I must read.
This trip down memory lane began because of a statement made by Katie Wood Ray at the New England Reading Association’s conference last spring. I have always been a huge fan of Ray’s work. Her book, Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom changed my teaching. Her words have been front and center in my thinking ever since:
“We have to make ourselves as smart as we can be about our work so
we can be articulate about our beliefs.”
There are many ways we can “make ourselves smart.” Being observant and reflective as we spend our days with children is critical. So is reading the latest research from respected leaders in education, people like Katie Wood Ray and Vicki Vinton, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. Reading the blogs of teachers from around the country, including many of us taking part in this writing challenge, is also key. These posts give us insight into how other teachers handle and react to the problems and issues we face in our own classrooms. When we realize we are not alone in our dilemmas, when we gather ideas and suggestions from other experienced educators, we feel more empowered to deal with the challenges confronting us.
Identifying my shells in my treasured Junior Golden Guide may not have been a milestone in world history, but it laid a cornerstone for a life of trying to make myself smart, a life of seeking to understand so I can do my part to make the world a better place.
Thank you to Stacey, Betsy, Beth, Kathleen, Deb, Melanie, Lisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.