Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What I want my students to learn from the Hobbit and what the Hobbit taught me


I just finished watching "The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies". Actually, I just finished watching the marathon in the theater and I plan on going to another "early" showing tonight. Don't judge me.

As a teacher, you want to expose your students to soooo many books. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien is by far one of my personal favorite books of all time. Of. All. Time. When I started teaching 5th graders a couple of years ago, I seriously thought it would be too hard, the kids would be too bored, and it would take too long to make it fit in the general day.

Boy, was I wrong. And I am so glad I was wrong.

Like Bilbo, I was comfortable. Comfortable teaching from books that had the "ready made" questions and "ready made" material. I had so many books to choose from. Libraries already had "ready made" classroom sets, I didn't have to worry about what novels my students were going to ready, because everything was "right there and ready." I was even ordering $1 books from Scholastic, choosing not what my students wanted, but what I could get at a great deal. Also, admin wants things certain ways, at certain times, wanting you to use certain things so everything is "right" for the state.

And then, like Gandalf, my students gave me a nudge out of my own mental door and set me on my own adventure that I am so grateful for having experienced. Yes, there were sacrifices, and my own dragons to fight, but in the end, I was not the same. I would never be the same. You see, my students wanted to know the book I was reading during DEAR time. (Drop Everything and Read) When I explained to them a synopsis, they saw me get all happy-crazy to share-excited about my book,(or Tookish, if you prefer) and they wanted in on the action. They wanted a story to make them feel like I was feeling. They wanted a "piece of the treasure".

So thus began our adventure together. Reading the Hobbit. Acting out "Riddles in the Dark". Learning what was "required of us" and then so much more. The students would literally in unison say, "Awwwwww" when I would stop the book for the day to move on to something else, like lunch! It's one thing to say, "Okay, we will do this...." even after the fact you ask yourself, "Where will I get the books?" "I'm gonna have to mega plan in order to integrate subjects." Thus began the reality of putting this into motion, by using the form below.

Now, I have always worked at a Title 1 school, where most of my students are living in poverty. They would still bring in $ to have their own copy! It was a sacrifice for them, but we shared this sacrifice. I ordered books for those who couldn't afford it, and those who decided to put the book on a device, decided that having the real book in their hands was so much better. (They ALWAYS ended up buying the book to keep)

As we would read, people would be impressed or shocked that one of my students was reading the "Hobbit".

"It's too hard."
"It's way above their level."
"That is a sixth grade book."
"Isn't it too long?"

My students and I went on this adventure together. Everytime I felt like Bilbo, doubting myself, "What if I am pushing them too hard? What if they can't do it?" My students were there like Gandalf and the dwarves, pushing forward, to Erebor. They wanted the treasure of reading. It was their rightful claim. In a way, reading had been "taken from them." From good meaning teachers, I had a group of kids who hated reading, or didn't believe me that they just hadn't found a book "they loved". So they kept fighting. Everytime we would go over vocabulary (Tolkien's words opened another love for us), everytime we would look at characteristics of a character and how they were changing, we kept pushing to reach and claim what was rightfully theirs.  A love of reading. Finding out that their treasure, is worth the fight. Looking for a book isn't easy. But when you find one, it is worth so much! These kids were loving the Hobbit. Everytime I was hesitant, their excitement drove me on. I was Bilbo. Aiding where I was needed. Fighting when I must. And doing what must be done to help my students, not only aquire a love of reading and storytelling, but also the lessons that could be learned.

I want my students to walk away from the The Hobbit a better person. Smaug was a bully, one student said. Another student said that in the beginning, Smaug wasn't that different than Bilbo. Bilbo was rich and Smaug was rich. Bilbo didn't need all his stuff and neither did Smaug. What made them different was the fact that Bilbo made the decision to go on this adventure and sacrifice for a people, who weren't his kin. They were not his family. But what made them family was their journey. My students were as heartbroken as I was to learn that Kili and Fili die defending Thorin. They didn't expect anyone to die. They didn't see the Battle of the Five Armies coming either. They were floored. The conversations were more meaningful than I had anticipated.

"I still think they will survive."
"How? There is no way out of this one!"
"I can hope, can't I?"
"Thorin has dragon-sickness, He was my FAVORITE! How can he do this to me?"
"Maybe he'll snap out of it. Come on, he's a good guy. He's got to pull through!"

Hope. Love. Loyalty. Courage. Sacrifice. Fighting for what is right. Redemption. I want this to be a lesson to all my students. And I have "The Hobbit" to thank for that. That is all this small teacher in a big world can ask.

On a sidenote, I cannot thank Peter Jackson, everyone who had a hand in making the Hobbit, from Weta Workshop to Howard Shore, you have made this journey SO REAL. Showing my students Middle Earth, showing a story brought to life, showing them Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage, this journey has been incredible for our humble class. As a HUGE fan of all things middle earth, I am so blessed to have gone with you #OneLastTime.

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