a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Morning Announcements

It started when a 6th grade teacher with a flair for drama (the acting kind, not the mean girl kind) decided to read her story on the morning announcements.  It was a story of being bullied and being a bully.  It was a true story.  It was brave and amazing.  I don’t think a soul in the entire school took a breath until she was done.  That piece kicked off No Name-Calling Week in our school.

This morning a student had volunteered to read his piece.  One of my students.  He had written a letter to John Boyne about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas for the Letters About Literature contest.  It was a letter about being bullied.  It was a letter about learning to stand up for himself and others.  It was true and honest.  It was brave and amazing.  I don’t think a soul in the entire school took a breath until he was done.

Dear Mr. Boyne,

Imagine being treated deficiently because you’re different. Imagine being separated because of the color of your hair or because your skin is a different color than his or hers. Imagine there being a fence separating you from the world you once thought was good. That is what happened to Bruno in your book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. That’s what happened to me in my gym class.

In your book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Bruno had no idea what was going on in this world. He had no idea what racism was or what a concentration camp was. Sometimes I wish I didn’t either. One day Bruno met a friend who was on the other side of the fence. Not because he did something erroneous, or because his mom sent him to a timeout. No, he was there because of something that was totally out of his control. He was there because of the color of his hair and his eyes. Just like me. 

As a kid I had always been told about racism. About how it still subsist in this world, but being a teenager who thinks they know everything I thought different. That is until my first year in junior high. As a sixth grader I was picked on because of my height and the way I dressed, but the one that stuck with me most was the comments about the color of my skin. The thought of someone making fun of me because of my skin was racing back and forth in my mind for three years, until I read your book. Your book changed me.          

As a seventh and eight grader I could see bullying taking place, but not want to interfere because of what happened to me. I would be afraid that because I’m being a friend to the friendless I would get bullied along with them. There is still racism, bullying, name calling and a lot of other stuff at my school. Most kids would probably look at it taking place and walk away or maybe even laugh just to fit in, but not me. Not after reading you book. Your book has stimulated me to be the person who sits with the kid who’s eating lunch by himself. Your book has inspired me to talk to the kid who is sitting alone with everyone else laughing at him or her, and I thank you for that. I hope that you can inspire others just like you have to me. The mere ink that you put on paper will always be forged in my heart.

Immediately after he finished, I walked the student to his locker to put away his coat and collect his belongings for first period.  As we walked up the stairs, I asked, “Do you still have that nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach?”

“Yes,” he answered without hesitation.

We passed a few staff members.  Each of them congratulated and encouraged him as they went by.

“Each time you hear something like that, I bet it feels a little bit better,” I said.

He nodded and smiled.

“You have P.E. first, right?  You know those students probably didn’t hear the announcements.  So, you may not have a sense of what the reaction is going to be until second period,” I was starting to get nervous for him.

“Actually, today is a health day.  So, we are in a classroom,” he explained.

Now I was truly nervous for him.  His letter included details about being bullied in gym class.  True the bullying he referenced had happened two years ago, when he was in 6th grade, but still.  Would this class be understanding?  Would this class treat him with kindness and maturity?

We passed through one hallway and reached the health classroom.  I opened the door.  He stepped inside. 

The room erupted into applause.  My eyes welled up with tears.  And my heart sang.


  1. Christy--this is so beautiful. I am typing this with tears in my eyes. I can't even express what this story does for me.

    Never doubt that YOUR TEACHING MATTERS. The power of reading, the power of writing. Wow. That's all I can say. Wow.

  2. Incredible! This restores my faith in the compassion of students. Your heart should be singing for quite some time! Thanks for sharing, what power in books and writing!

  3. I don't think I took a breath until I was finished reading. (NIce bit of craft there at the start of this post)
    This is amazing. Simply amazing.

  4. Just. Got. Goosebumps. Yeah for your student and yeah for the other kids celebrating his bravery for sharing his story with the whole school! Just wow. Thank you for sharing his story today. Whew . . . I can finally take a breath now.

  5. It's so powerful, Christy, what you've done for this young boy. I know he was brave, & I know he knows how to write, but your support has to have played an enormous part in his courage. I was holding my breath at that final scene & feel bad because I really didn't know what would happen & certainly didn't think there'd be applause. Perhaps if everyone speaks up, others would relax & realize that things don't have to stay the way they are; they can be better for everyone. Thank you, & thank your student, for writing & sharing this.

  6. WOW! What an amazingly courageous story! I'm sure many other lives in your school are now different. Thanks for sharing!

  7. The craft you used is powerful. Like the comments above, I was holding my breathe. I am so thankful you have the opportunity to touch so many lives. You are an inspiration. Bravo to the young man for giving voice.

  8. And this is why we teach...right? AND this is why I love the internet, because even though we aren't in the same building (or the same town), I still feel like I'm teaching alongside you.

    Thanks for sharing this story. The way you built tension throughout the entire narrative had me nervous for him too. What a brave kid to read this over the announcements. Bit by bit the world is changing, just because you are giving students a voice.

    Thanks for letting us glimpse into your teaching world. I'm a better person because of it.


  9. Powerful is the only word I can think of to describe this post, his letter, and everything in between! And I just added this book to my tbr list. Thanks!