Every day, before lunch, we read a little of Charlotte’s Web. Each child has his or her own copy. A cup holds their names on popsicle sticks. I read aloud. The room settles. I draw a name from the cup, and that child takes a turn. I read some more and pick another name… As we read, we explore what E.B. White teaches us about writing.
I am quiet when it comes to what Charlotte, a common gray barn spider, teaches me about teaching. Charlotte is a brave truth-teller and understands that a life’s work can take a lifetime to accomplish. There is not a minute to waste. She knows that her children are her legacy. She knows that relationship requires risk. And she knows that by using her web to weave a few well-chosen words, she changes the world around her and helps others see new possibilities.
The words we choose are the tools we use. These simple lessons weren’t there for me upon the first reading. They took time. Learning takes time. Change takes time, but it can start immediately. Charlotte’s Web is just one example how literature has deepened our thinking and our life together.
I know the power of words to encourage, inspire, and illuminate. I have seen words change a skeptical adult into a volunteer, a slumped humiliated child into a scholar, and a defeated first year teacher into a change agent. The language we use sets the tone of our schools and our homes. I try to be like Charlotte: I weave words to help others see what I see in the children I teach. Terrific. Radiant. Miracle. Some Kid.
I don’t think it is an accident that Charlotte made her home in a doorway. She begins her relationship with Wilbur with a greeting, “Salutations.” She knows the secret: when we greet one another, we create a culture of kindness where everyone can be seen and heard. By creating a world together where no one is invisible, we create a world that is fairer.
At the end of Charlotte’s Web, E.B White writes, “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a writer. Charlotte was both.” In Room 204, we’ve spent this year learning to be both. We’ve learned how to be good writers. And we’ve learned how to be true friends. It began with a greeting. Encouraging words. And a good book.