The Book That Saved My Students and Me

by Mau­r­na Rome

gr_burnoutA 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.

500px-PostItNotePadA 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.  

bk_-The-War-That-Saved-My-LifeWrit­ten 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!

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Marita Aicher Swartz
Marita Aicher Swartz
8 years ago

Oh the pow­er of a teacher that knows good lit­er­a­ture and how to reach her chil­dren!!! Please do not give up on being an edu­ca­tor! You and your kids help save each other!

David LaRochelle
8 years ago

I could­n’t agree with you more, Mau­r­na. Even though I was a class­room teacher for only four years, and espe­cial­ly dur­ing my first year of teach­ing when I had a par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing class and I felt that I was a dis­mal fail­ure, even the row­di­est of my stu­dents were qui­et and lis­tened when I read aloud to them each day. And I’ve had for­mer stu­dents 20 years lat­er tell me that’s one of the things they most remem­ber from my class, being read to. If I did­n’t do any­thing else right, I’m glad I read to my stu­dents almost daily.