One member of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter is the prolific and helpful Stacy Bodin (@stacybodin). After thanking Stacy for a wonderful list of resources to go with The Polar Express, I confessed that I had never liked Van Alsburg’s book. (I knew my teachers did and they’d love the lessons and interactives, but the book gave ME no pleasure.) I’ve thought for years that the buildings look like Federal buildings in the scene where the train arrives at the North Pole. No, not like lovely American Federal architecture of the early 1800’s. I had in mind real modern Federal Buildings in large cities, pale and large with the look of Stalinist edifices built with 1960’s dollars. And the crowds that filled the square at the North Pole, were, in my mind, faceless and not to be trusted. So, for years I’ve been helping people find the book on the shelf, recommending it (after all, everyone loves it) and smiling at children saying,”We have that movie!” (They have every movie.) But I hadn’t opened it, or read it, in a long time.
But two weeks ago, when one of the nicest, most caring teachers came in looking for it, I thought of Stacy and I opened the book and looked at several pages as I handed it to him. “These buildings aren’t grim!,” I told him, “They’re nice simple red brick buildings!” He started laughing and asked if some student had been scared of the buildings. I barely answered him – I was too busy looking at what was actually there in the book; it was completely different from the image I had held in my head for so long. This teacher is a big Van Alsburg fan; he said, “There’s a lot to look at in his books. Plus they really get the kids thinking and talking.” I smiled at him and said “Yep, he’s got clever ideas and he’s the master of pencil drawings.”, but I had another train of thought (couldn’t resist) in my head. I was thinking that I had been focused on images in my head, not the actual images in the book. And in the process, I didn’t even know the book any more.
Since I don’t have a great memory, I’ll probably never remember what events caused me to carry such a grudge against it. Could it have been a time in my life when a committee turned down some needed intervention that my child could have benefited from? Was it during the time I was having problems with the immigration service? No, I think it was after that. Maybe the movie came out during a sad time for me. I don’t know.
What teaching gives me, over and over, is the chance to learn. To revise my opinions, and seek out more information. To see wonderful change in students. And more than anything else, teaching reminds me of when my children were young and I had wonderful opportunities to see life in new ways. This time, it was a Twitter buddy who inadvertently set the stage for me to see something the way it really is, not the way I thought it was. What a good lesson (and reminder) for a new year. There is lots to revisit in life, and especially when you work with elementary age children. I’ll be remembering this when we talk about really looking – and not assuming. Thanks, Stacy.