When Ralphie turned in his masterpiece, “What I Want for Christmas” theme essay in the 1983 film, A Christmas Story, he envisioned his teacher, Miss Shields, clutching his essay to her chest and exclaiming: “Oh! The theme I’ve been waiting for all my life. Listen to this sentence: ‘A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.’ Poetry! Sheer poetry, Ralph! An A+!” He daydreamed of his classmates carrying him around on their shoulders, celebrating his enormous accomplishment.
Ralphie was seeking, as all students do, validation for his personal vision, hard work, and desires from his teacher. Unfortunately, Ralphie’s vision was met with both a C+ and a discouraging postscript from Miss Shields, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” The angelic Miss Shields suddenly became the Wicked Witch of the West in his mind, and he went home feeling dejected.
On the first day of school this year, I held back tears as each student was given a flower upon entering City Neighbors Hamilton–a tradition at all three City Neighbors schools–that was added to a vase in each classroom, becoming part of a large class bouquet. This moment was the inaugural moment of the new school year as well as the culmination of a summer’s worth of preparation and planning.
Just a week prior, teachers sat in a circle engaged in a critical discussion of the value and possible danger of the typical question, “What did you do this this summer?” Just as Ralphie felt rejected for his honest desires and experiences in his essay, teachers worried about the student who looked forward to school marking the end of a difficult summer or the student who experienced personal traumas that couldn’t be penned in an essay. Instead, teachers brainstormed alternative back-to-school questions such as “What do you look forward to this year?” or “What did you do to take care of yourself over the summer?” Our teachers recognize that each bouquet is made up of individual flowers, some may need tending and some may need to be left alone—but all add unique beauty to the bunch.
~Shyla Rao, Principal, City Neighbors Hamilton~