Reading: A TA’s Life’s Work

“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you

the people who move the world.”

-Napoleon Bonaparte

I am often impressed by the work of the teacher assistant within the school community. He/she works extremely hard, is often underpaid, and goes about his/her work in a quiet yet successful manner. Although I always thank them for their hard work, I never thought it would be a teacher assistant who would help validate my work and leadership. But it happened!

It was the week following NerdCampLI, an unconference dedicated to book geeks led by the passionate literacy diva (she will hopefully be fine with me calling her that), JoEllen McCarthy (@joellenmccarthy), and I was still on a nerdy high from the conversations and presentations that took place the previous Saturday. On my way out of the Massapequa High School library, a teacher assistant stopped me, “Oh, Ed! It is great to see you. Give me a hug! I keep meaning to contact you. Did you choose Fish in a Tree for Berner’s book initiative?” Honestly, based on her tone, I thought she was going to tell me that I made a poor choice! Although, how could anyone not love Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s work!?!?! Considering I just met Lynda at NerdCampLI and was raving about her, I spiritedly answered, “Yes! Isn’t it amazing? We all need a Mr. Daniels in our lives.” The teacher assistant responded, “It was unbelievable. I really enjoyed it. You know I am familiar with many authors.” For this teacher assistant, Hunt’s book provided evidence of her importance working with students with special needs. After explaining how books have changed the way she sees the world, her job, and her relationships, the conversation took a different route.

With tears in her eyes, she spoke about Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Jacqueline Woodson and their presence at her son’s girlfriend’s wake. Unfortunately, her son was dating the daughter of two well known authors when she recently passed away. She spoke about Jacqueline Woodson’s speech at the services, her book Brown Girl Dreaming and its wealth in all communities, the power of an author’s words, and the impact that Hunt/Woodson/Paulsen/Palacio and others have had on her as a reader…as a person. Wow! I was speaking to a reader. A geek. A nerd. And I never knew it. I then shared with her, “I didn’t know you were a reader. I love it.” She seemed annoyed at that comment (in a good way). She didn’t want her admiration for written text to be a secret.

Although I had to leave, I wish I had hours to spend with her to hear about her experiences. Listen to her perspective of the same books that I read. She deserved it, and I wanted that opportunity as well. It would recognize her work and pay tribute to what I hoped to accomplish through literature. I now realize that the community of readers that I thought existed was even bigger. In fact, Berner Middle School’s One School-One Book Initiative extended the invite to all members of the community. They have all accepted. The student. The teacher. The secretary. The custodian. The administrator. The TA. What validation! An #eduwin for me and for Massapequa.

I wonder who else out there is waiting for the next Fish in a Tree, Brown Girl Dreaming, or Wonder to speak to their life’s work. How would an author’s words connect people personally and professionally? And, who will help me “move this world.”

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