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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