I teach a Reading Cafe class, and I am blessed with a group of 29 students who come into the library every day, cozy in, and dive into reading. It is a beautiful sight to see, and I love that the culture of our school creates the need for an elective course like this. As much as I love these students’ love for quiet reading time, I also love pushing their thinking and their comfort zones within this realm they are so familiar with.
On Wednesday, we watched a video about the importance of reading. Within the video, the speaker discusses how humans become a mixture of the five people they surround themselves with most. Positive influences will reap positive rewards. Negative influences will drag you down. Research proves it. What if you don’t have any positive people in your circle of five, though? This, the speaker asserts, is when reading becomes crucial. You can choose to supplement your life’s influences with the stories of writers, the inspiration of activists, and the courage of overcomers.
After showing the video to my students, I asked them to submit a detailed description of the type of person they want to become. I promised to read their responses and reply with a book recommendation that could act as one of their Influential Five, helping them achieve their personal goals.
As I read through their responses, I teared up. These were not the canned answers students sometimes give because they think it’s what you want to hear. These were honest and beautiful answers that represented the complexity and reverence of humanity. These responses demonstrated an understanding that there is power in unity, that this life is about more than our tiny view of it. These responses needed to be heard.
Today, I welcomed my 29 readers and handed each a sticky note. I clambered up on the table and did my best to deliver an inspiring speech.
“Last class period, I asked you all to write a description of what type of person you want to be. Your responses were unique. Your responses were inspirational. Your responses would surprise one another. How many of you feel like high school is filled with people who are fake and only want to stir up drama?”
Slowly, most hands in the room raised.
“I’m here to tell you… you’re wrong. The responses I read were not fake. They were not dramatic. They were honest and caring and kind. I asked you to write them so I could recommend a role model book for you, but YOU are the people you should surround yourselves with. YOU are the inspiration others need to be reading.”
I asked them to transfer their favorite part of their original answer onto the sticky note.
We walked out into the hallway where a large chalkboard boldly displayed “I WANT TO BE A PERSON WHO…” Each student grabbed a piece of chalk and transferred their sticky-note hope to the prominent display.
Their collective mood was reverent. One girl said, “These make me want to cry…” Another said, “I wouldn’t have thought my peers thought these things…” And another student encouraged a friend that she was already the person she hoped to become. Some students held back until the end, almost as if they wanted a private moment to document their hopes.
These are the students I work with. Are all of them currently prospering as the people they want to be? No. But these buds are in them, and I want to see them blossom. My goals are more broad now:
To cultivate these hopes that have not died
To water these dreams that have not shriveled up
To shine light on the fact that humanity unites; it doesn’t divide
To show them a world that desperately needs them to be the people they want to be