nice things

A few years ago when I was teaching in Louisville, I heard or read or saw a story. Obviously the details are a little blurry, but this was the gist:

A business man who had risen through the ranks of his cooperation to become a high powered CEO [or whatever] died [or something like this]. At his funeral his young adult son [or someone like that] walked up to the front of the small-ish group of people in attendance and unfolded a very creased piece of paper. He then shared that he had seen his dad take it out and look at it many times over the course of his life, and it wasn't until his death that he got to see what was on the paper [I think I'm getting this vaguely right]. He then read from the list, stuff like "He has an infectious smile", "He once helped me with my algebra", "He tells good jokes" etc. etc.

By the end of the story we find out that this piece of paper was created by his classmates in 5th or 6th grade; that each classmate had written something nice that they saw in their other classmates, and everyone went home with a list. It was this list that this high powered businessman had held sacred, in a wallet near his chest, all those years. I also believe that at the end of the story another man at the funeral came up to the son at the end of the ceremony and, without saying a word, unfolded a similarly yellowed piece of paper from his wallet.

The details of the story are obviously very, very vague to me.

Who knows if it was a true story.

But I wanted to make it true for my 110 students I had that year.
I wanted them to have a "nice things" list to show their children in 50 years: "Look here, sweetie. One of my classmates said I had a generous spirit!"

So often when I had an idea as a teacher early on, I fretted about how to fit it into the "curriculum" I HAD to teach. I didn't want my kiddos to face the ACT later on and say, "Who knows where that comma goes, but at least my classmates thought I treated everyone fairly!" Or face a job interview later and say, "I can't really read, but I've been told that I always have the right thing to say." But this time, I just didn't care. It would take such little class time on my students' part… and then it clicked:

We were reading "Tuesdays With Morrie" at the time, and one of Morrie's favorite quotes was, "Love always wins." SO… the "nice things lists" became an extension of the theme of the book. Bodda-Boom, Bodda-Bing.

I created class lists with blanks next to each name, and we discussed compliments: that "I like your shirt" isn't nearly as meaningful or lasting as "You always think about others" or "I've noticed the way you treat your sister so kindly: You are a great big brother."

 I wanted students to have the option of being anonymous, and therefore feel like they could speak a little more freely- - to avoid the "but if I say THAT she'll think I like her." etc. So, though it definitely made it more time consuming on my part, I had the students turn their completed lists in to me. They had a week to fill them out. I then went through each student and typed up their "nice things" list. I created a bookmark and laminated them for each student. I gave them to each student as an end of the year present with my letter.

When I see the response of activities like this in my classroom, I worry less and less about teaching what I'm "supposed" to teach. It actually makes me worry more and more about the curriculum: Not that it's bad curriculum, but it leaves such little room for creativity and often times PURPOSE in the classroom that I'm afraid many truly great teachers will find other professions.

Here is an example before I matted it and laminated it
Would you have been a student that would have kept something like a "nice things list" if you had been given one as a student?

1 comment:

*carrie* said...

That's so cool, Kelsey. I recall hearing that story somewhere, too.

We did something similar at the summer camp I went to in junior high and high school, and I'm sure I still have those papers in my scrapbooks. Now I want to go look in the attic!

I think it's hilarious that two students wrote a comment and then qualified it by saying "in a good way."