March 22 02:16 AM

This story is about you

November 25, 2009
"A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, touches a heart."

A magnet with that motto graces my refrigerator. It was a gift, and while I'm not a classroom teacher, I do have the privilege of coming alongside some wonderful teachers at Weston Elementary and helping with that process. I like to think of my job as more one of inspiring students who, for whatever reason, find regular classroom learning particularly challenging. With some, it's a matter of helping connect the dots from their little worlds to this new world of books. After all, we live in a world where most everything they see in the media has some very sophisticated animation going on, making book learning seem pretty bland.

With all that in mind, I wrote the following little story—partly true and partly not—to build a bridge. As two small groups of second graders who had been coming to see me—each composed of one charming little girl and two energetic boys—read it, they reached a gradual awareness that words on paper could hold meaning for them, and in fact were about them. Here's the story: Three kids—one girl and two boys--went to a little hut in the woods because they wanted to become better readers. The person who lived there was a woman who had lived there many, many years. "I have seen children come and go," she told them.

"In the 66 years I have been alive, I have helped hundreds of them learn. But the strangest thing about it all is that most of them really learned by themselves. I listen to them. I watch them. But most of all, I care about them, and they know it. Pretty soon, one by one, they just figure it all out."

"Do the boys and girls come back to visit you?" asked the girl.

"Some of them do," answered the woman. "Sometimes I just read about them in the newspaper. Yesterday I saw one of them on TV and found out he grew up to be a construction worker. Some of them go to college in Lansing, and some of them go to school in Ann Arbor. It would surprise you where all of them live now! Some day I may even make a book about them all. In fact, maybe you will even be IN it!"

"Oh, Mrs. Tanis! You were joking about the hut in the woods. The 66-year-old woman is you, isn't she? And WE are the three kids—the girl and two boys—who came to see you! Will you REALLY write a book some day?"

"Who knows?" replied Mrs. Tanis with a grin. "I DO write in the newspaper, you know, and sometimes I might write about you in it. You never know, some day I might even write a book!"

Now that I said what I did, the kids aren't about to let me off the hook. "Did you put us in the newspaper?" they asked the next week.

"Sometimes parents don't like me to do that," I hedged.

"Oh!!! Mine wouldn't care!" one of them piped up, and of course, they all agreed.

"Your picture won't be in, anyway. I won't use your names either, but I will write about you next week. If you read the paper, you will know that the story is about you," I promised.

So, now, when I pick up a newspaper for each of them, and there is something in it about them, I'm hoping a little connector will have been established that says words on paper might even be important for them.

Willene Tanis is a longtime resident of the Imlay City area and an active volunteer in the community. Many readers find her 'Perspectives' column to universal and uplifting.
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