by Maurna Rome
A rough start to a new school year can be unsettling for rookie teachers. It can produce feelings of self-doubt and immense stress. Inexperienced educators may question everything from the quality of their undergrad teacher training to whether or not education was a wise career choice. The lack of preparation for managing challenging behaviors, dealing with an abundance of curriculum standards, and building enough stamina to keep up with an exhausting daily pace is enough to make “teacher burn out” more than just a buzz word.
A rough start to a new school year can be unsettling for veteran teachers, too. It can produce feelings of self-doubt and immense stress. Experienced teachers may question everything from the quality of the many years of extensive training (masters program, education specialist degree, and National Board Certification for yours truly) to whether or not it’s time to say goodbye to a beloved career choice. The years of experience managing challenging behaviors, dealing with an abundance of curriculum standards, and building enough stamina to keep up with an exhausting daily pace are not always enough to make “teacher burn out” just a buzz word.
A few weeks into the school year, my colleagues and I were asked to share two things on Post-it® notes: something that causes great frustration and stress and something that brings a sense of calm and “low breathing.” I immediately thought of more than a dozen things that were weighing heavily on my heart. However, I could honestly think of just one thing that had the power to settle me down and make me feel worthy as a teacher. Just one thing that seemed to affirm all the reasons I became a teacher. Just one thing I could count on to bring a sense of peace to my classroom. How appropriate that the one thing that could do so much is a book—a read-aloud book that my students can’t get enough of. This book could be called “The Book that Saved My Students and Me.” How fitting that this book is actually called The War That Saved My Life.
Written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and set in 1939 England, the novel is a different type of WWII saga. It is a story filled with pain and triumph. It’s about the importance of oral language, kindness, and belief in oneself. It teaches lessons of perseverance, courage, and compassion. The War That Saved My Life is comprised of so many of the same teachable moments that educators like me strive to capture and make the most of on a regular basis.
The story of Ada was mentioned in a previous Bookology article about my “summer school kids.” I knew then that this book was one that would stay with me… and it has! I was convinced it would be the perfect book to share with my students at the start of the school year… and it is! I hoped my teaching partners would agree… and they did! Each day 150 4th and 5th graders at my school plead to hear more of this story. When students from different classrooms discovered their teachers were all reading aloud the same book, they started discussing the story during recess. In the middle of a spelling test, when the word “trotted” was announced, a student immediately connected it to Ada and exclaimed “Hey, Ada trotted with Butter.” For the next two weeks we challenged one another to use spelling words in sentences that connected to the story. It was surprisingly easy for students and it certainly jazzed up our typical routine for studying words.
A final testament to the power of this book came when I told my students I would be at meetings for several days in a row and I needed their help with an important question: “Should I ask the guest teacher to continue reading aloud Ada’s story or should we put it on hold for a short while?” My 4th graders responded with “We can’t wait that long to hear more! Let the sub read it!” Clearly, they love this book! The same question was also posed to my 5th graders. Their response was different but tickled me just as much as the first one did: “No one can read the story like you, Mrs. Rome. We want to wait for you to come back and read it to us.”
In the world of education where teacher burnout is a very real thing for the young and old alike, there is one thing that has withstood the test of time and is proven to cultivate community, create calm, and contribute to the curriculum: one good book. The War That Saved My Life is the book that saved my students and me!