Shirley Goes to School


Shirley’s always been part of my classroom.  Her picture could be found in several places among my Hollywood-themed decor.  When I taught first grade we’d learn about holidays around the world, and in my display I always had the 80s Ideal Heidi in her little wooden shoes – she represented Holland, of course.


When my second graders performed in a dance assembly and represented Scotland, I came in with my Wee Willie Winkie doll.


But today, on this first day of school, Shirley taught a lesson.  Several, in fact.

One of my favorite back-to-school projects fits quite well into my Hollywood themed classroom.  To introduce it, I read Clifford Goes to Hollywood.  Did you know that there’s an illustration of the big red dog at Grauman’s?  Guess whose hand and footprints are featured prominently?   After finishing the story, I return to that page, and tell them about the tradition of the handprints in cement, and of course, point out Shirley’s.  I have pictures of the cement squares of some of the stars they may know – Judy from Oz, the Harry Potter actors, Tom Hanks as the voice of Woody.  Then off I send them to trace their handprints and glue it on cement-gray paper.  They sign and date it, and then to add some extra zing, they can decorate it with metallic markers.  Want to make a project a big hit?  Metallic markers will do it every time.

But this year, before I turned them loose with paper, scissors, markers and glue, I told them I had an ADVENTURE story to tell them.  17 pairs of ears perked up, and 17 pairs of eyes grew round – such is the power of THAT word.   In my best storyteller voice, with my own eyes wide with wonder, I told them how I spent my summer.  And during that story, lessons were taught.


Lesson 1:  Everyone makes mistakes.

I had to find a way to make this tale accessible to modern second graders.  I knew they wouldn’t quite get the significance of the Hollywood-memorabilia-and-costumes angle of the story.  So I talked about moms and kids.  How parents like to save their children’s drawings, clothing and more.  THAT they could relate to.  Then I added that these costumes and such were TREASURES…they belonged to a famous movie star.  FAME they get too.  Trust me – I sold it.

It was a little harder to explain that these items went up for auction…so I fudged it a little and said the family was ready to sell them.  I asked if they knew what a catalog was…..a resounding yes.  Then I showed them THE catalog. Someone called out, “That’s not a catalog – that’s a book!”  I showed them a few pictures and the autographs from “famous” people – even yours, Stuart Holbrook.  And I told them that before the catalog was ready to be sent out, there were a few errors in it.  Not many, but a few, and I was able to help the authors fix those mistakes (I may have played up my importance in this part just a tad….it was the first day, and I was determined to impress!).  And so they learned that everyone makes mistakes, and if someone can help you correct an error, that’s a good, good thing.


Lesson 2:  Try new things, even if they are a little scary.

I told them that I’ve flown in airplanes many times before, but never by myself.  We talked about being nervous, but going ahead and doing it anyway.  And feeling proud that you did it, even though it’s really no big deal and a grown woman should not have had that much anxiety about it…well, I didn’t include that part.


Lesson 3:  You can’t always get what you want.

This part I was able to do up BIG.  Because every kid knows what this feels like.  I showed them the catalog page, and told them how much this picture would have meant to me if I could buy it.  I clutched the catalog to my chest,  and put on an Oscar-winning performance of someone who really, really wanted something.  That wasn’t hard to do.   Then my voice dropped as I told them I didn’t get it.  How disappointed I was.  How I wanted to cry.  17 pairs of eyes looked into mine, to see if I was going to cry.  I didn’t – it was the first day, after all.   But then my voice brightened, as I brought them to corner where I’d hung the facsimile.  I said that even if I didn’t get the real thing, I could look at this picture, and it would make me just as happy.  And it would remind me always of my adventure.


Lesson 4:  Kids can listen.

  This is an important lesson for any teacher.  For the entire time I was putting on my show, those kids were WITH me.  Eating out of the palm of my hand.  Rapt with attention.  Engaged.  No device needed.  No computer screen flashing.  Just the power of strong story, told with passion and wonder…by someone who has been doing this a very, very long time.

It wasn’t all Shirley, all the time on this first day.  But for the time that it was, it was magical.

So was the rest of the day.  The first day of school is like that.