The Science of Tears

I almost always cry when I finish a really good book.   When I  finished Teacher Man by Frank McCourt on a plane, I closed the book with a quiet sob (and no, it was not a sad ending). I looked up to find the passenger beside me staring in alarm.  I just shrugged, smiled reassuringly, and explained that there was nothing to worry about; I cry at the end of a good book.

I shared this experience with my students and naturally they wanted to see it happen.

“Oh…”  I explained,  “I don’t think I would cry with you.  It’s too complicated…  I have to stay in charge and I couldn’t lose myself in a book like that with you all right here.”

And then someone said it:  “Science experiment.”  Well, for science… that’s different.  We agreed that the next time I got to the end of a book I was loving, I wouldn’t read the end at home.   I would wait for our silent reading time in Room 204 to finish it.  We knew I would cry at the end of a good book on a plane, but would I cry at school?  All good science experiments begin with a question. They hypothesized that I would cry.  I wasn’t sure.

I had twenty pages left of The Song Catcher by Sharyn McCrumb, I settled myself in a beanbag, and we all slipped into the companionable silence of reading.  I finished the book dry-eyed.  I concluded I would not cry at the end of a book in my classroom with students.

Not so fast.

“It might not have been the right book,” someone said. They were isolating the variable.

“You need to try it again,” said someone else.  They were thinking in terms of repeated trials.

“Okay,” I said.  “After the holiday break.”

When we came back from break,  I was engrossed in the The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  By the end of silent reading on Thursday I was close to the end.  The afternoon announcements came on and the principal said they were calling for snow and to be sure to listen to the radio for school closings in the morning.

“If it snows, all bets are off, “ I said.  “I am not going to wait for Monday to finish this book.”

It didn’t snow.

My book was compelling and I could hardly wait to finish it… I was invested in the three protagonists. I had to know how it turned out and hoped hope would not be betrayed.   It was finally time for silent reading on Friday.  Twenty pages to go.

We decided that I would read on the rug alone.  Less distraction.  They read at their desks and I read in a blue beanbag on the green rug.  Every now and then I was aware of someone looking at me, and whenever I looked up a different third grader was keeping watch.  Observation is part of the scientific process. I went deeper into the book.

The first whisper.  “She’s crying.”  I heard it but I kept going.  One more page…

I closed the book.  The children were silently creeping towards me.  They surrounded me on the floor.

“Do you need a hug, Mrs. Campbell?”

“What was the book about?”

I knew that question was coming.  And I knew it would be hard to answer.

“This book took place in Mississippi in the time that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  was beginning his important work.  It was a time when many white people were unfair to African Americans  and black and white people did not trust each other.”

Hands reached out to help me up.  “But we trust each other, Mrs. Campbell.”  It was Duron.  It was his ninth birthday.

I wiped the tears from my face and smiled.

“Yes, we do trust each other.”

Every good science experiment involves discovery.  And now I know why I cry at the end of a good book… it is the thrill of resolution, a promise delivered, the surprisingly clear and sparkling waters at the confluence of hope and trust.  Those are the books I choose. Those are the books I love to read.   Those are the books that make me cry.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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11 Responses to The Science of Tears

  1. Tyson says:

    kids are so neat

  2. Melissa Oliver says:

    “We trust each other Mrs. Campbell.” I will now keep tissues close by when I read this blog.

  3. June says:

    Annia, I finished The Help while on the cruise with your mother. I guess I’m too much of a tough old bird to cry, but the most remarkable thing for me was that I COULD HAVE WRITTEN THAT BOOK. However, one thing that has blighted my life was that I didn’t choose my silver pattern. My mother gave me two place settings of King Richard when I graduated from college. That’s probably why I didn’t write the book. Love to you and Ben. June

  4. katie baron says:

    GREAT story! Love that boy. 🙂

  5. Abeer Hijaz says:

    I look forward to reading your stories and each time… you are just more and more amazing.. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to “student teach”under your suppervision.. You are one of a kind…

  6. Sara says:

    Ditto on the tissues. LOVE your scientific process and how it, and art, is part of life with your students. Such lucky, lucky us.

  7. elsie says:

    You never know when the emotions will well up with a book. I know lots of teachers who can’t get through Where the Red Fern Grows, with out a kleenex. My tears surprised my students when I read Faithful Elephants for the first time. I had just gotten the book from the book order and did not have time to preread. The plight of the animals in the zoo grabbed my heart and tears leaked from my eyes. It was startling to me too. Now, I always read the book ahead.

  8. blkdrama says:

    What a wonderful way to model the power of reading! Your students won’t forget your moments a sharing emotional passion

  9. Mrs. V says:

    I loved reading this Slice of Life. I had to chuckle about you telling your students that all bets were off if they called a snow day. I bet it was hard enough waiting until the next day instead of finishing it as soon as you got home!

  10. Stacey says:

    I love how you were offered a hug… and the reminder of how your students trust one another despite their differences. You’re doing amazing things in that classroom Annie!

  11. VCU Professor Beth Belcher says:

    Have you read Still Alice yet? That was my next book pick after finishing The Help. Two dynamic books in a row really left me in a puddle of tears. I know just what you mean about the power of good writing. Better than a great meal!

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