Friday. The long awaited day-before-Christmas-vacation arrived and not a day too soon. The previous two weeks were punctuated with report cards, an article deadline, Christmas chores, and a family event with the students. There were 26 student personalities and one teacher personality getting squirrelly, and each school day was sadly feeling like more of a test of survival than a concentrated opportunity to carry out my vocation.
And then there was Friday.
Over the last few years, I have opted to give books to the class as a gift-giving tradition in lieu of individual student gifts. In the weeks (sometimes months) leading up to Christmas, I stash some highly anticipated books or books I think will appeal to my particular cohort of students. On the last day before break, a stack of wrapped rectangles of various sizes appears beneath our classroom tree. Inevitably, students take note and are curious to know the person behind the mysterious presents. I don't tell, and their intrigue continues to build throughout the day. Later in the afternoon, once snacks have been shared and special events are over, I ask the students to put their name on a scrap piece of paper and collect these slips in a bowl. Then we gather around the tree, family style, and I explain to the students that these packages are presents for our whole class to share. I give them to the students so they will have something to look forward to returning to in the new year. To be fair, I draw names from the bowl and whoever is drawn will unwrap a present for all of us.
Even though I have-as I said-shared this tradition for a few years now, I seem to be overcome with it's true magic each year as if it were the first time.
The students were filled with anticipation, about who would be drawn to unwrap a present and what's beneath the holiday wrapping. They remark with knowing comments, and they can't hold back their excitement as titles and covers are revealed. Oddly more in tune than before, I made a conscious effort to observe my students' reactions and listen carefully to all I could overhear in their commentary so that I could capture what brought the unrestrained smile to my face.
Tyler, who struggled to participate in the classroom all week, was fully engaged and leaped to his feet when two new Bones graphic novels were unwrapped. "I call dibs! I call dibs on one of those!" he shouted.
When one student paused with some confusion after unwrapping Unusual Creatures, another confidently reminded his classmates, "It's on that list! The Maine Student Book Award!"
Olivia peeled back the paper to find Flora & Ulysses in her hands and immediately hugged it to her chest saying, "Can I read it first, please? Can I put it in my browsing box right now?"
A chorus of voices screamed, "Framed!" in unison when one showed the cover of another Gordon Korman book.
Amanda, referring to another book that was being passed around, said to me on the side, "I need to read this. I'm going to finish my book over break so I can start this when I come back."
John said, flipping through Steve Jenkins' The Animal Book, "Look at these cool pictures!"
"Oh, I want that one!" Ben said of Tommysaurus Rex. "Me too," added another student at his side, "It's by the author of Cardboard!" (I later spied Ben apart from his classmates getting a head start on this book. He returned it to me later saying, "I couldn't help it, I read the first eight pages.")
All the while they passed the thirteen new books among themselves, talking about which books they were looking forward to and why. A genuine spirit of book buzz emanated.
Perhaps my most favorite comment of all came from Kyle when-between unwrappings-he reflected, "I can't think of a time before when I was ever this excited about getting books..." As he trailed off, another student finished, "...until we had Ms. Guerrette!"
I love the notion of being a book-bearing Santa for my students. Ho, ho, ho! What a gift it is to me to be able to pick and choose books that I believe are good matches for my students, to gift them books that will offer them pleasure, learning, adventures, friendships, and life lessons. Honestly, is there anything better?