A Lion, a Python, and 33 Second-Graders, Oh My! A Lesson Learned From Storytelling

“Thank you, Mrs. Russsssimah!” You gotta love it when kids shout out your name, even if it is pronounced incorrectly. It’s been days, and I still mentally revisit my Friday afternoon and smile. And who wouldn’t when that Friday includes reading a story to a thoughtful, energetic, keep-you-on-your-toes batch of giggly second-graders?

I had the absolute pleasure of being a guest reader for Mrs. F’s class at Robert C. Fisler School. If you’ve never heard of this school, do yourself a favor and Google it. It’s modern, tech-focused, diverse, and, well, beautiful.

Mrs. F is the kind of teacher we all wanted in second grade (or any grade, for that matter). She is bubbly, full of ideas, witty, and has passion for what she does. She creates Promethean flipcharts from which students learn lessons, she invites guests to her classroom to help with student art projects, and she plays games with her class.

On the particular day I was there, she played 20 questions with her students. The class can ask 20 questions in order to figure out who the mystery guest reader is. Once all the questions are asked, the reader can enter the room and the storytelling can commence!

The storytelling did commence—with Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji. Being a huge fan of Van Allsburg, I couldn’t help but pick one of his masterpieces. And lucky for me, they enjoyed the storyline, as well as the vivid, realistic pictures. Admittedly, Mrs. F and I were concerned that the reading level might be too advanced, but this wasn’t the case. Here and there, I defined or explained various words. And they, too, asked questions. Together, we “oohed” and “awed” over the game’s twists, turns, and characters, which include a fierce lion, a curious collection of monkeys, and a slithering python. One student asked, “Why does the python match the furniture?” And another student promptly piped up with, “He has camouflage!” Talk about insightfulness and intelligence—and, remember, these are second-graders!

We wrapped up the reading with some final questions: Why is it bad that the boys took the game? (They don’t read instructions.) What will happen as a result of them not reading the instructions? (They won’t know to finish the game.) So what will stay in the house? (The monkeys! The lion! The lost guide! The python! The rhinos! The rain!) It was great fun, to say the least.

But aside from the fun, laughs, and all-around surprise from this experience, I learned a very valuable lesson: Don’t ever underestimate students, not even for a second—because the moment you do, you’ll find yourself absolutely dumbfounded. Students are more thoughtful, perceptive, and clever than ever before.

As teachers, maybe this is something you’ve already learned. Maybe it’s an idea you mastered years ago and now consider it to be “the norm.” But for someone who is currently out of the classroom, it was quite a shocker. It was also a real moment of pride. To be able to witness excitement in students’ eyes and to be able to see the passion that drives a good teacher—well, it’s no wonder I had such an amazing day, now is it?

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