Diff’rent Strokes

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Spring Break?”  Wild times in Daytona? A vacay someplace tropical? Or, if you’re a family, a visit to Disney?  Most of my fellow teachers are spending their much-needed break relaxing, either away or at home.

Here’s a surprise.  Not me.

Oh, I’m relaxing, all right.  It just takes on a different form.

Here’s another surprise.  That form is Shirley.

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Instead of working on my tan (which is futile, anyway), I’m working on yet another Shirley-centric project.

On April 15, Shirley’s hometown of Santa Monica, CA will be unveiling an exhibit in her name.  It will feature costumes (many loaned by friends.  Yeah, I have friends who OWN Shirley costumes!), memorabilia and personal artifacts, most of which were acquired at the two recent Love, Shirley Temple auctions.  The items will be arranged chronologically, a timeline of her life.  And to tell the story, images and text will be posted.

Guess who’s been helping out with said signage?

Like my work on the auction catalog this fall, having the opportunity to participate in this exhibit is fulfilling.  And humbling.   And absolutely unbelievable.  How did I go from a NJ schoolteacher* with a not-so-hidden ST obsession to a consultant (my word, not anyone else’s!) on what’s happening in the world of Shirley?

So when I’m standing in front of the exhibit on April 15, there will be tears of emotion.  And one of those emotions will be pride.  Pride lasts longer than tan lines.

*still a NJ schoolteacher, and no plans for any changes along those lines!

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

If you’re a teacher, and you want your students enthralled, tell them a story about yourself.  And ham it up.  I have several go-to stories that I tell my class, all with a purpose, of course.  Often they serve as models for writing – I write tons of stories about my cat and his misadventures.

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But today I told a new one.  Here’s a bit of a preface:

We’re just beginning a unit on realistic fiction, and before I have the students attempt writing those types of stories, we read quite a few mentor texts.  I choose stories that feature a character trying to solve a problem, because eventually, that’s what their characters will do.  Those Shoes is the perfect “I want” story.  Knuffle Bunny illustrates “I lost something.”  Today’s story was Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola.  In case the title doesn’t give it away, the problem is “I get teased.”

I’ve read this book for many years, and it always serves as the catalyst for some serious discussion. I have a feeling this story might be somewhat autobiographical….the main character is a boy who likes to draw and skip rope and dance.  Even his father calls him a sissy – which HORRIFIED my students!  Generally the discussion is about how it’s ok to like what you like, even if others don’t.  Even though the main character is teased because he’s in dance class, he continues anyway, despite what others think.  And in all the times that I’ve read this story, I’ve never thought to connect it to myself.

But I did today. Today, after reading it and discussing it, my own experiences were ALL I could think about.  As in, how did I never make the connection before – it was so obvious.

So I told them a story about being different.  Of course, they’re well aware of my Shirley obsession.  And of course, as I’m their teacher, they think it’s way cool.  And it is.  But today I told them that, like Oliver Button, I was interested in things that other kids my age were not.

And boy, did I ham it up.  I didn’t exaggerate (because I didn’t have to – it really was as bad as I made it out to be!), but I spun a yarn of childhood passion and pain that had their eyes popping out of their little heads.  Told them how I liked Shirley Temple when no one else did.  How I played with dolls well into high school….and still do.  How no one really understood, how some people teased, how I continued to do what I liked to do no matter what others said.   I may have painted myself somewhat braver than I was.   Because I was never brave.  I just did it because that’s who I was.  That’s what I was compelled to do, what my heart told me to do.  I couldn’t have stopped it if I tried.  And I never really tried.

I was Oliver Button.  THAT was a shock.

One student asked if I had any friends who liked Shirley.  Instantly a name flew from my lips, once I hadn’t thought of in years.  As preteens, we shared the passion.  But she outgrew it, whereas I did not – clearly.

Another student said, “I bet they (those that teased)  are sorry now.  Your name is in a Shirley book.”  Well, I’m sure that even if they did know, their worlds would hardly be rocked.  But it did serve as an other discussion point – we should be true to ourselves, because you never know what might happen.

I am living proof.  Happily, happily so.

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