“Would you go back and change anything? I mean, would you still become a teacher?”

That was the question, which started the whole discussion.  It was from a girl in class, who could ask a provocative question without realizing it and it was in response to why I became a teacher. Sometimes kids ask questions and want a simple answer, a yes or no, a fact, the short answer to the question. And, well there are no simple answers. My classroom rule about questions is – if you ask a question you should expect an answer. Sometimes the answer is a story or an explanation.

It was early spring in my morning Language Arts class and we had been reading The Giver by Lois Lowry. The novel is about a utopian society where Jonas and his family live. It is an excellent book and won the Newbery Medal for young adult fiction in 1993. In Jonas’s community, there is annual ceremony in December, where each child is recognized. The children are grouped by age –  ones, twos, and so on until age twelve. At age twelve, the elders assign jobs to the children based on their aptitude and careful observations and they begin their life’s work. Jonas’s assignment is to be the receiver of memory – the community’s most honored and important job. When the question was asked, we had gotten to the point where things really get interesting. Jonas is training and he is receiving memories, some of them good, some bad, but all of them important.

If you haven’t read the book I recommend it, it is short, about 200 pages, and I first read the book in 1998. It was for my Children’s Literature class at Northern Illinois University and William had just been born in late January. I was taking a full load – five classes, beginning my first professional semester as a teacher in training, and was working full time as a waiter at Cozymel’s. At that time, it made me think and wonder for just a moment and then I was on to other books, other classes, and other urgencies. I didn’t read the book again until spring 2010 and I read it again this spring, twice – once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Each time I have read The Giver, it challenges me to reflect on my life:  my memories, my history, my path, and how they have shaped and influenced me.

I don’t know if my answer to her question was what she was looking for, or for that matter what she was expecting, but I answered her with, “No, I don’t think I would change anything.” And I stopped there.

She asked another question to probe and clarify – I think she really wanted to know what would want a do-over on, “I mean, Mr. Watkins, what would you change, do over?”

“I’d do nothing over. I know it is tempting to go back and fix mistakes and re-do them. Maybe study harder in school the first time through, stick with sports, or scouts, or whatever but my choices have made me who I am. I am where I am supposed to be, I am doing what I am supposed to be doing and, I like who I am.”

Silence settled over the classroom as they wrestled with my answer. It was uncomfortable for them because they wanted a different answer; they wanted me what I would change, what mistake I would fix, they hoped I would tell them what to do and how to answer their own questions and I didn’t.

I still think and wonder every day. Sometimes my influences are from books, stories, or articles I read, what I hear on the radio, or movies or television shows I watch. Lately, I have been following a couple of blogs. One I found on my own and another, a parent forwarded to me at the end of the school year.

Lois Lowry, the author of The Giver and other children’s books, writes a blog and I follow along. It is Lowry Updates and she writes to update where she is, what she is doing, and what is happening in her life. Sometimes I leave a comment, and sometimes I don’t. Her blog has given me some insight to what influences her writing. In addition to The Giver, she has written several other books: Gathering Blue and The Messenger – which are companion novels to The Giver, and Number the Stars – to name only a few of her works and she is currently working on a new book – a third companion to The Giver.

I also follow Lessons from Teachers and Twits. I began reading this blog after a parent sent me an e-mail recommending I read one of her posts about The Giver. You can read it if you like, The Giver: Is It A Happy Ending? She lives on the east coast and has a great sense of humor. Like me, she is language arts teacher. She published a post last week that influenced me to write about Mrs. Priest, math, and seventh grade. Sometimes I comment, sometimes I don’t, but I finish reading thinking.

I have added a sidebar to MtDC for the blogs and other places I frequent, and if you are interested, you can check them out. I know I have more and added to my plate each day and have to choose – to do or not to, and I know I am not alone. So, we make our choices. Regardless of our choices, they make us who we are: we are learning, growing, and moving forward every day – even when we don’t think we are.

Today is day sixteen of summer my vacation and one day closer to re-starting seventh grade for the thirteenth time: once as a student and my twelfth as a teacher. Making the Days Count, one day at a time.

2 thoughts on “Influences

  1. Hi Clay! What a wonderful surprise! To see that I have inspired you! Your posts have been inspiring me!

    Just to clarify, I am actually a college adjunct who teaches English, but I was a high school English teacher for many years. This fall will mark my 20th year in the classroom! Hard to believe.

    I have been following along, so I don’t know how I missed this one!

    Thanks for a nice way to start the day. Also, what kind of ice-breaker writing activities do you use to start off the year? Would love to know!


    1. I posted late in the day and wanted to add few changes to the site before it went public… I read your post about the Giver and 19 and was inspired enough to share and read it to my class when I handed back their Giver tests. What I like is to share what I write and think with them – it is authentic and illustrates the real reasons we write to share and communicate. As for ice-breakers and I am learning and growing. We do a Little Miss and Mr. paragraph about themselves… fun but really seventh grade.

      I like the super-powers prompt and am thinking…. check this out – – I recently switched to fountain pens and added it to my collection. Thanks for the Ticonderoga tip!

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