Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Little Prince




Last year I had to think hard to figure out the perfect end of the year read-aloud for my 3rd grade class. We had been together for two years. I knew them from the beginning of second grade. Most of them had my friend Jennifer for Kindergarten and first grade. Jennifer is kind and nurturing and funny and the best teacher any child could ever have. When they stepped into my classroom (soon to be our classroom) on their first day of second grade they couldn’t have known what to expect. Here is this older guy with a gray beard. They had seen me with my former class, but no one really knew me. It was probably a hard transition.

Over those two years we became like family. That is a LOT of time to be together. Six or seven hours a day for 180 days per year for two years. We got to know each other well. There were lots of laughs, lots of great times – and some tough times too. We composed and sang songs, learned complicated math, SC history, wrote countless stories, researched, presented, were amazed by science… The one thing that was constant through every single day was read-aloud. During our time together I read Charlotte’s Web, Shiloh, The Prince of the Pond, Hatchet, Sarah, Plain and Tall and many more. And those were just the chapter books.

Every day after lunch and recess we would pile into the room and get drinks and cool down and sit in front of the easy chair. I would light a candle, we would turn out the lights and recite the Shel Silverstein “Invitation” poem…

If you are a dreamer, come in.

If you are a dreamer,

A wisher,

A liar,

A hope-er

A pray-er

A magic bean buyer

If you are a pretender,

Then sit by my fire.

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in!

Come in!

All would be quiet and we would dive in to story. We shared the stories of our lives as well, but read-aloud? It was a special time of day. It was a constant. Even when it was hard to get the kids settled, or if a lesson went lousy, or if some of us were cranky… read aloud would draw us together just like family. It was a shared experience. The characters were people we came to know, and some, to love. There were tears over read alouds. My old friend and professor Jerry Harste said, “If you can’t cry, then you can’t read.” And we did cry.

So at the end of the school year, at the end our two years together, I wanted to select just the right book. I thought back to The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry. I remember reading it aloud to Heidi when we were young and I remember us both really loving it. That would be it then. My final gift to this wonderful group of friends – family really. I would read this book, which gave me so much to think about as a young man. We only had a couple weeks left and it is a shortish book. Perfect.

I hadn’t read it in many years. It is kind of a strange book. For one thing the plot is unusual. Not quite science fiction, definitely fantasy, not much action (we had just finished reading Hatchet and Stone Fox which were realistic fiction, fairly easy to follow and had lots of action). It is the story of a little boy who lives on a tiny planet with just a rose and a couple of small volcanoes. He decides to travel away from his own place to explore the solar system. He meets a bunch of extremely strange people on his way to earth; a drunk…

“Why are you drinking?” demanded the little prince.

“So that I may forget,” replied the tippler.

“Forget what?” inquired the little prince, who already felt sorry for him.

“Forget that I am ashamed,” the tippler confessed, hanging his head.

“Ashamed of what?” insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him.

“Ashamed of drinking!”

A lamplighter whose planet it so small that he must constantly light and put out his lamp…

“When he lights his street lamp, it is as if he brought one more star to life, or one flower. When he puts out his lamp, he sends the flower, or the star, to sleep. That is a beautiful occupation. And since it is beautiful, it is truly useful.”

And a king in desperate need of a subject…

“Sire--over what do you rule?”

“Over everything,” said the king, with magnificent simplicity.

“Over everything?”

The king made a gesture, which took in his planet, the other planets, and all the stars.

“Over all that?” asked the little prince.

“Over all that,” the king answered.

There are others he meets on his way to earth. It is a metaphorical book. While the main character is a charming little boy, it is not a children’s book per se.

At first as I read, my students were patient and asked all kinds of good questions. But after a few days of listening to this book they were disinterested. Distracted. It seemed to me that this wasn’t a good fit – no matter how great I thought it was years earlier. I was willing to give it up too. With only a few days left, I said that we could read great picture books for read-aloud time. Several students adamantly said NO! to that. We had started this book and we were going to finish it.

I am glad we did. There are passages in this book that contain so much wisdom and beauty. The first time I read the book it was a borrowed copy. There were a few wonderful passages underlined by the owner. Those same passages were underlined in other copies from other readers. If you own this book, and you were to underline just a few lines, my guess is that you would underline the same ones.

At one point in the story, the Prince, in his wanderings, meets a fox. It is a chance meeting but they are intrigued with each other, if a little frightened.

“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”

“If you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life.”

“You have hair like the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”

And so the Little Prince comes at a regular time and comes a little bit closer to the fox each day. They gradually come to love and appreciate each other. They have tamed each other. And it is lovely.

Then the time comes for the Little Prince to move on. He knows that they will never see each other again. The fox is sad and happy at once. He tells the Prince that things once ordinary, like wind in the wheat, have been changed for him for now he will be reminded of his friend who had tamed him. The fox leaves his Prince with a bit of wisdom as a parting gift. And the Little Prince repeats it so he can remember it exactly.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

When I meet a new group of students, and watch the old class move to another classroom, I have to remember that we must tame each other if we are going to be family. I have taught with many other teachers who don’t tame their classes or get tamed by them. They go through the day-to-day and turn the page and-do-what-comes-next. In some ways I am sorry for those teachers and those children. For they don’t know how essential it is to tame one another.

This rhythm of moving from class to class, year to year is one I have grown accustomed to. But it is tricky to constantly move in and out of the lives of so many beautiful, intriguing people; to watch them grow up, and move away. It is wonderful to see the adolescents, young adults and adults they become. And it is fulfilling. At the beginning of our time together I must remember to meet at the same time each day, to gradually come a little bit closer, to look into their eyes a little bit at a time so as not to frighten them, and to realize that taming and being tamed – while not strictly taught in methods classes – may be one of the most important things about living as a teacher.

Wait for a time, exactly under the star. Then, if a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions, you will know who he is. If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back.

7 comments:

Chris Hass said...

Alright, a whole bunch of thoughts flew through my mind as I was reading this.

First, it reminded me of a book we read last year in our class. Or, at least we started it. The first few chapters were so strong with lovely passages and a dark, dark storyline about an ancient serpent locked inside an old tree waiting to come out and take revenge on those who had angered him. Who they were or what they had done we never figured out because I abandoned the book. There were really long passages, sometime chapters even, where very little happened. Then some of the vocabulary began to get really difficult and I feared I was losing the kids. Sure enough, when I stopped reading it, despite the fact that they had become distracted and disinterested in parts, threw a fit. They wanted to finish the book. Every single one of them. I stuck with my guns and put it back on the shelf. Then, of course, it became the most popular book in the room. The kids queued themselves up and began passing it along after taking it home to finish it. Many wound up abandoning it too (it was just too hard) but three or four finished it and loved it.

Second, you did a great job of capturing the magic and importance of read aloud. It's my favorite part of the day. I feel challenged each time I sit to read with the kids to see if I can make them feel something when hearing the story - joy, laughter, sadness, wonder. There's little more satisfying than pulling your kids into a really good story.

Thirdly, Harper said this summer "Mr. O says if you can't cry then you can't read. But I think he's wrong because I don't cry but I read all the time." Of course, she's reading catty novels about middle school girls with horses so I'm not that certain there's all that much to cry about!

Teresa said...

Wow, I have already begun to feel that same "taming" process this year. As a second year teacher, I knew that it would be interesting to come into the classroom with a new group of students...I knew it was coming but I can't help but feel a little pang in my heart where I miss the group I had last year. I am so excited to gain another family and thank you for the reminder for both me and them to be patient with one another as we grow accustomed to our new lives for the next 180 days.

Brent and Kristen said...

I am not quite sure of posting etiquette, but I am going to post about your last two blogs on this one. First of all, wow! I think back to the days when Devin was just a young explorer of the world, a boy full of laughter, adventure, and a heart like so few at his age, a new 4th grader in my class. All those years ago, and I can still say the same of him today. You must be so proud of him. What an important time for the both of you. I still remember the feeling of leaving home for college. I was timid, but so excited and so ready for freedom. Yes, I missed my parents, they were home, they were my safety, but I was so excited to see if I could do it on my own. (As on your own as you are in college). While I am sure Devin is excited, and ready to try it solo, there is no doubt countless lessons that you have taught him, years of love that he has felt, and an infinite amount of admiration that he feels for you that will always help him find Home! I am so inspired by your words and the truth they speak to me. I think of the days that blur by me and how much Asher has grown already. I do not want to blink. I want to see, to feel each moment and live in it.

On to Blog 2, the read aloud. Oh my. Where to start? Tim, I am sure, as modest as you are, you are tired of hearing how amazing you are, but tough. That is one of the reasons I love your blog. I realize how much you impact the world around you, not only through the kids, and through the countless lives they in turn will influence, but you can tell from all those who read your words that you have made a difference in them. I am blessed to have been taught, and tamed by you my friend.

I love the notion of “Taming”. I looked the word up on dictionary .com…and it made me even more excited to think about the word as we have seen it used in The Little Prince. Let me share with you the dictionary definition;

–verb (used with object)
9. to make tame; domesticate; make tractable.
10. to deprive of courage, ardor, or zest.
11. to deprive of interest, excitement, or attractiveness; make dull.
12. to soften; tone down.
13. to harness or control; render useful, as a source of power.
14. to cultivate, as land or plants.

What a great contradiction. The feeling of this definition, (yes they have a feeling associated with them) is negative. DEPRIVE OF COURAGE…CONTROL…RENDER USEFUL…MAKE DULL!!! How crazy.

WAIT!

My mind is lost in a sea of teachers, some mine, others who I have seen, still more who I have presented to or heard tales of. This is the TAME of their world. The crazy children of the new school year, excited, interested, no where near dull, waiting to take over the classroom and destroy the teacher at any coast must be TAMED! They must be made into something that “I”, the teacher can use to promote myself, to make my job easy, to gain higher test scores, to control! (in a deep voice HA, HA, HA, HA!)
No really, doesn’t this sound like the majority? Doesn’t this just fit most?

I will use this word, Tame more often thanks to you brining it to light Tim, and yes, embarrassed to say, will read The Little Prince, for the first time. I Love how you described the give and take of Taming. So many, (not those who have seen you with kids) would be baffled by a teacher allowing students to tame them. What a beautiful and wonderful thing. Making a connection to kids, making children important, making meaning for learners, making others know that you care, sharing ourselves, our real selves to others… it doesn’t get much better.

Brent and Kristen said...

I am not quite sure of posting etiquette, but I am going to post about your last two blogs on this one. First of all, wow! I think back to the days when Devin was just a young explorer of the world, a boy full of laughter, adventure, and a heart like so few at his age, a new 4th grader in my class. All those years ago, and I can still say the same of him today. You must be so proud of him. What an important time for the both of you. I still remember the feeling of leaving home for college. I was timid, but so excited and so ready for freedom. Yes, I missed my parents, they were home, they were my safety, but I was so excited to see if I could do it on my own. (As on your own as you are in college). While I am sure Devin is excited, and ready to try it solo, there is no doubt countless lessons that you have taught him, years of love that he has felt, and an infinite amount of admiration that he feels for you that will always help him find Home! I am so inspired by your words and the truth they speak to me. I think of the days that blur by me and how much Asher has grown already. I do not want to blink. I want to see, to feel each moment and live in it.

On to Blog 2, the read aloud. Oh my. Where to start? Tim, I am sure, as modest as you are, you are tired of hearing how amazing you are, but tough. That is one of the reasons I love your blog. I realize how much you impact the world around you, not only through the kids, and through the countless lives they in turn will influence, but you can tell from all those who read your words that you have made a difference in them. I am blessed to have been taught, and tamed by you my friend.

I love the notion of “Taming”. I looked the word up on dictionary .com…and it made me even more excited to think about the word as we have seen it used in The Little Prince. Let me share with you the dictionary definition;

–verb (used with object)
9. to make tame; domesticate; make tractable.
10. to deprive of courage, ardor, or zest.
11. to deprive of interest, excitement, or attractiveness; make dull.
12. to soften; tone down.
13. to harness or control; render useful, as a source of power.
14. to cultivate, as land or plants.

What a great contradiction. The feeling of this definition, (yes they have a feeling associated with them) is negative. DEPRIVE OF COURAGE…CONTROL…RENDER USEFUL…MAKE DULL!!! How crazy.

WAIT!

My mind is lost in a sea of teachers, some mine, others who I have seen, still more who I have presented to or heard tales of. This is the TAME of their world. The crazy children of the new school year, excited, interested, no where near dull, waiting to take over the classroom and destroy the teacher at any coast must be TAMED! They must be made into something that “I”, the teacher can use to promote myself, to make my job easy, to gain higher test scores, to control! (in a deep voice HA, HA, HA, HA!)
No really, doesn’t this sound like the majority? Doesn’t this just fit most?

I will use this word, Tame more often thanks to you brining it to light Tim, and yes, embarrassed to say, will read The Little Prince, for the first time. I Love how you described the give and take of Taming. So many, (not those who have seen you with kids) would be baffled by a teacher allowing students to tame them. What a beautiful and wonderful thing. Making a connection to kids, making children important, making meaning for learners, making others know that you care, sharing ourselves, our real selves to others… it doesn’t get much better.

Brent and Kristen said...

Ok, sorry for the long winded comment…twice! One last thing. Thank you for the wisdom about our homeless friend. I was the angry ME, ME, ME one in that situation. I just get so angry when people don’t appreciate…but you are so right. It is not about me, and Mother Teresa is so right also, it is between me and God. I have so much to learn yet. Selfishness and ego are so evil! It is not my job to teach everyone a lesson, especially one that I am not great at myself!!! Thank you for the time you take to comment on our blog. I really do cherish your words. Thank you my friend.

Sam K. said...

I wish i could be with you more,but life is fast and a gift.

ruck said...

This is one of my favorite books -- I still quote it when I feel warm about a subject or person -- Thanks, Tim MOM