Today is the first day of the new school year for teachers. I have already learned something important. Last night, I spent a few hours helping the middle child of one of my best friends with her summer reading assignments. It's one of those jobs that comes with long term friendships that you aren't sure why you are doing it, except that of course, you are doing it.
Lindsay had to read three American Literature classics to complete the assignment. She chose The Old Man and the Sea (I love this book; she hated it), Of Mice and Men (of course she loved it... it's Steinbeck), and The Joy Luck Club (I didn't say it was a classic but her teacher did, so hey..). She completed her assignments and I went over to help her tweak them, to refine them, to polish them up a little. Lindsay has often lived in the shadow of her more driven sister. She is quieter, less inclined to demand attention. It's easy to assume she is not as intelligent as the older sister. You would be wrong.
Lindsay had to write journal entries based on a character's point of view for each novel. When I read them, I was surprised to find that she had focused on relationships in a subtle way as she explored each book. Ask me what Hemmingway's masterpiece is about and I will tell you it is about chasing a dream, fighting for it, and losing it. Steinbeck's tome is tragic but the connecting theme is that dream ranch that Lennie and George both idealize. Tan is showcasing how the moms want the success and lives they were never able to have. My focus is on the achievement. Lindsay saw the people - the boy and Santiago, even Santiago and the fish... Lennie and George , of course.. but also the ranch hands as a whole... the mothers and daughters of every generation... The books are about relationships, about taking care of the people you are surrounded by. I, in my misguided Type-A brain, had only seen the striving for achievement. I was wrong.
Today, I begin my school year with a changed focus. It is not about achievement; Life is about relationships. Not how can I insure that I will have the best test scores, but how can I help my co-workers and my students. I'll be a better teacher for it, a better person, a better friend. Thanks Lindsay for the life lesson!