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Teaching and 'More Happy Than Not'

At ALAN, Cindy recommended More Happy Than Not, and I promised that it would be my next read. And so it was. This post may contain minor spoilers, so if you haven't read it, I'd recommend not reading further.

When reading it, I kept thinking about one student in particular that would need to read it. I think we all encounter those books, the ones that we just know a certain student would need to read because she or he would identify with it in ways that no other student would. On a side note, the student that I actually had in mind didn't check it out; another student did. I'm starting to notice a pattern to the books that student reads, but that's a reading conference conversation and not necessarily something I'll divulge here.

Aaron's journey of life after his father's suicide really touched me. It might be because my mother died during my freshman year of high school, and that's something that I'll never quite understand and fully grasp. I think it was Jason Reynolds that talked about The Boy in the Black Suit at ALAN, and how grief never ends; we just learn to cope. We'll always miss or wonder or reminisce about a person in our lives, and that's what Aaron surfaced for me. Throughout the book, he's trying to understand his dad's actions and finally learns what he's tried to suppress.

When I shared this book with my students, I had a tendency to not highlight that it's science fiction because Aaron's pain is so realistic and true to what many of my students go through on a daily basis. How can we want to forget integral aspects of our identities, how do we come to the point that we want to, and what role do others play in that decision? These are the questions that I'm left wondering about, and perhaps the science fiction elements really make that easier to digest. Now that's a bizarre notion: a science fiction element can make something more realistic. 

What I also found compelling about Aaron's journey is that it's the idea that you can't ever truly walk away from who you are. You might try to forget, you might try to suppress, you might try to avoid. In the end, your identity will resurface.

There are times when I feel like I sacrifice my own identity and beliefs, especially as a teacher when there are "musts" that have to be accomplished. I'll ponder authenticity and time and try to strike a balance for my own beliefs. Must I assign this essay in this particular way for these particular students? How do I sequence what I want to accomplish, what we want to accomplish, and what they want us to accomplish?

In the end, I know that I'll never be the teacher that someone else wants me to be; I have to be the teacher that I want to be. (I think those were, in fact, some of the first words my own mentor ever gave me before a teaching interview: "Don't pretend to be the teacher that you're not. Let them see the real you.")

And I think that's what I value most about the teachers that I admire: They stand by their convictions and core teacher beliefs, and they're willing to outwardly display them. I know what they stand for by talking to them and by talking with their students. We can "comply but not be complicit." We can stand for what we know to be informed practice and research. We can teach students and not curriculum. We can "own" the work we do in our classrooms.

And I think it's when we do that work, when we show who we are, when we teach with our doors open, when we don't try to forget, we are more happy than not.


  1. I think part of the magic of this book is that the science fiction makes it more realistic. It doesn't feel foreign or unfamiliar.
    I think that finding our identities as teachers takes time - plus we are constantly evolving as our beliefs are challenged by situations we just haven't imagined yet.
    I'm sorry to learn that you lost your mother so young. There seems to be a connection that we can make with students who unfortunately know such grief personally. I was 19 when my only brother passed and I know that sharing about him has led me to some really powerful conversations I might never have had with students otherwise.
    We can't walk away from who we are. Our experiences help make us who we are. It's why I've never been able to subscribe to the no smiling before Christmas rule or no sharing about your personal life rule. My kids have joked that seeing my profile on FB after they friend me after graduation is funny because there isn't anything they wouldn't already have expected.

  2. very nice post,The way you wrote the post is excellent.Teaching is not only a job it is asocial service.A teacher have great role in students life.Cheap essay writing service providing best services for students to improve their academic skills and knowledge.


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