“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are.
When we strive to become better than we are,
everything around us becomes better too.”
– Paulo Coelho
Teaching is a creative art; it is the finest work I know. And last week, I was given a small gift that demonstrates why I stay rooted and grounded in this profession. It’s a short, simple story, but moved me quite profoundly.
My principal had this idea: he wanted to give every child in school a book for Christmas, and he wanted the book to be on each child’s reading level so s/he could actually read it. We set about creating the book order; it took a little time and I’m sure it was not as accurate as it could have been, but we purchased a book for each child in grades pre-K through 5th.
Children were asked to enjoy the book over the holidays, but as an added incentive to read, our principal asked children to create a “brown bag book report”—writing a summary of the book and placing 5 objects in the bag that represented some aspect of the story. If they followed these instructions, they’d be rewarded with special time with him-together they’d play Loteria (Mexican Bingo) when they returned to school after the holidays.
Over 140 children brought their brown bags to school after Christmas. Let that sink in. That’s a great response for children who had the option of creating the project. The idea was a hit.
We held the first session of Loteria with pre-kindergarten students. The little group of 9 children entered the library with their small brown bags, and the principal asked them to share their stories with each other. They excitedly told each other about what they read.
Then our principal shared his own brown bag. He told the students that he read The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. I’ve read the book, and I instantly felt sorry for the man. I thought, “Oh my goodness. These are pre-kindergarten students. They’re never going to understand the book he wants to present.”
Then the magic happened.
He begins to pull various items out of his bag…a map to signify Santiago’s journey- the shepherd boy who would need to travel all the way to the Egyptian pyramids in pursuit of mysterious riches. He shares a compass, to demonstrate the many twists and turns of Santiago’s journey. Out of his brown bag, he pulls his beautiful gold watch, to explain that Santiago wanted the alchemist to help him find riches like gold, crystal, and precious treasures.
Finally he asks our students to look at the last treasure in the bag. It is a compact mirror. And our principal opens the mirror, asking each little four or five year old child to look in the mirror to see the treasure.
Eyes wide, each child finds in the mirror, an image of himself. Our principal walked around the group, giving each boy and girl an opportunity to find his own reflection. One little girl held her cheeks beneath her little palms and exclaimed, “Are you kidding me,” awed that she was the treasure.
Oh the beauty of that moment brought me to tears.
Teachable moments are fleeting, despite the fact that we spend nearly eight hours a day in a classroom. But this was indeed a teachable moment. In that library, at that moment, nine little ones knew without a doubt that the treasure Santiago sought was the same one we all seek—to know our own value.
Small lessons with profound beauty are the reason I stay in this profession. In this classroom. In this school system. Paul Coelho wrote, ““The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.” I am so grateful for the wisdom supplied in moments like these.
“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist