Friday, November 14, 2008

32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny

With the excitement surrounding Barack Obama finally settling down, I started thinking about what it is that makes him such an inspirational leader. The obvious comes to mind: He's calm and clear, profoundly reasonable, and a great storyteller who can whoop up a crowd and leave them feeling better for just having listened to him. My kids, 13 and 9, have also touched by his power — and have had the incredible experience of being part of the political process.

In a nutshell, Obama is just the kind of teacher every kid — and adult — wishes they had in school.

All this noodling reminded me of "32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny," a magical book about the big heart and impact 3rd grade teacher Phil Done has had on his students. I remember sitting in bed reading through the 288-pager, and the tale was so engaging I'd be rolling on the floor in hysterics – or so touched that a tear will suddenly appear. The book that was that darn good.

“After my first week of teaching, I knew I had to write this book,” Done explains from his home in Northern California. “But after a day of working as a third grade teacher, I had absolutely no creativity left in me. So for years the book just lived in my head.”

Then about two years ago, Done had the opportunity to teach in Eastern Europe. He learned something interesting while abroad: He didn’t have to teach his class alone. While one of the other teachers was working with the students, Done found time to write.

By 2004, the book was finished and after several attempts he finally found an agent who believed in his project. She took it to a publisher – and after a bidding war that was won my Simon & Schuster, “32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny” made its way to print.

The book hit stores in August, made the back page of the highly popular “Real Simple” magazine that month, and has only received accolades from critics, readers, and even some of his old students.

“The publisher suggested I put my web address in the back of the book, and although I didn’t think that anyone would contact me I’m thrilled to find that every day I get emails from teachers, parents and the kids I used to teach,” shares Done (click here: “They are all so excited about the book, and they all say the book has touched them. This experience has been wonderful, but I’ll be ready to go back to the classroom next year. I miss my kids.”

Following is an expert from the introduction of Phillip Done’s “32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny.” Enjoy!

I Am a Teacher

I read Charlotte’s Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every year, and every year when Charlie finds the golden ticket and Charlotte dies, I cry.

I take slivers out of fingers and bad sports out of steal the bacon. I know when a child has gum in his mouth even when he is not chewing. I have sung “Happy Birthday” 657 times.

I hand over scissors with the handles up. My copies of “Velveteen Rabbit” and “Treasure Island” are falling apart. I can listen to one child talk about his birthday party and another talk about her sleepover and another talk about getting his stomach pumped last night – all at the same time.

I fix staplers that won’t staple and zippers that won’t zip, and I poke pins in the orange caps of glue bottles that will not pour. I hand out papers and pencils and stickers and envelopes for newly pulled teeth. I know the difference between Austria and Australia.

I plan lessons while shaving, showering, driving, eating, and sleeping. I plan lessons five minutes before the bell rings. I know what time it is when the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the nine. I say the r in library. I do not say the w in sword.

I put on Band-Aids and winter coats and school plays. I know they will not understand the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re.’ I know they will write ‘to’ when it should be ‘too.’ I say “Cover your mouth,” after they have coughed on me.

I know when a child does not understand. I know when a child is not telling the truth. I know when a child was up too late last night. I knew when a child needs help finding a friend.

I am a teacher.

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