One of the delights of working with teachers in training is sharing their sense of newness. Just like elementary students starting a new grade in September, would-be teachers come to the field of education with excitement and—most promising of all—hope.
We all know that teachers face grave obstacles these days—cutbacks, large class sizes and the downsizing of infrastructure. The future can be bleak. And yet, as time has proven over and over, there is refuge in books. In my literacy courses at Lewis & Clark, we make children’s literature a focal point of every session. We read books aloud. We share books and talk about books. We even write together and think about the construction of books.
At the start of each course I say: “It’s my goal to help you fall in love with children’s literature. Perhaps for the first time, or to remember what was lost and fall in love once again.” We begin the term with a “Reading History,” an assignment in which each student thinks about his or her personal history with books and charts it with stories. The new teachers share parts of their histories with one another, reading aloud in small and whole groups. The reading histories are remarkably different. Some have come through painful experiences where reading was not encouraged. Others have led lives saturated with books and have had teachers or family as mentors who strongly encouraged books.
Together we read Timothy and the Strong Pajamas by Viviane Schwarz, parts of Brock Cole’s The Goats, Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Katherine Paterson, Rick Riordan, Robert Louis Stevenson, plenty of Dr. Seuss and many, many more. Students share such stories as Hiroshima No Pika and Baseball Saved Us, and we think and write together about the power of literature.
As a children’s author I share my own stories. We talk about ideas, about visualizing the story and about revising and editing work. I show them my first drafts and then the final product in its polished, published form. Many closet children’s writers slowly raise their hands and confess their attempts.
Working with these teachers is exhilarating, fulfilling work. Our discussions remind me constantly of the remarkable ability children have to enter story worlds. And so they should. For when we work with children we are surrounded by those who believe in story. I want to help them linger there—through my own stories and through their teachers.
David Ward is an assistant professor of literacy at Lewis and Clark College. He is the author of Between Two Ends (Amulet Books 2011) and The Grassland Trilogy. He lives in Portland with his wife and their three children. His favorite local independent bookstore is A Children’s Place.