My seventh graders have been reading Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. If you’re in education and have never read it, you should. It’s about a slightly dramatic seventh grade boy named Holling who ends up spending Wednesday afternoons with his language arts teacher, Mrs. Baker, reading the plays of Shakespeare. At first, neither one seems thrilled about the arrangement, but soon they come to realize that, in many ways, they need each other. Set during the Vietnam War, this book take readers from laughing to crying and back again, especially if you grew up diagramming sentences.
My kids have been spending a lot of time analyzing character interactions so that we can discover how authors develop strong plots and themes, and through their analyses, I’ve seen just how much they understand about the world, life, and relationships. While the author does a nice job of showing readers what’s happening, my kids are digging even deeper to understand what each character might have been feeling during every interaction.
And even though I’ve read this book with a few different classes over the years, I am reminded every time I read it that there is always more to discover in a favorite text. While I’ve always felt that strong relationships between teachers and their students are vital to a successful learning environment, after participating in #IMMOOC in the fall and spring, I was able to understand that even more through Holling and Mrs. Baker this time around; my experiences changed the way I read and what I noticed in the text.
At this time of year, it’s easy to feel defeated if we let ourselves. The kids can feel summer creeping into their bones. They start doing things and acting in ways that are completely out of character because they are full of anticipation — for freedom, for time, for warmth. And what I noticed this read-through of Wednesday Wars is that Mrs. Baker gave Holling exactly those things. She gave him the freedom to be himself when it seemed that everyone else had already determined his future for him. She gave him time, not just on Wednesday afternoons, but also by going to his play and making sure that he received guidance and support when he didn’t get it at home. Her warmth changed his perspective about school and life and even the writings of Shakespeare.
I don’t need to wait for summer for my students to receive those things from me. Like Mrs. Baker, I can give them freedom, and time, and warmth right now. Today.