I have shared this story with countless teachers and other educators throughout my career.
But it just seems more powerful now that I am writing it out.
Growing up I was always the student who followed every adult’s direction. I am sure that more than one of the A’s I received on my report card was due to me being a teacher pleaser. I was never in the gifted program like most of my friends. Instead I was an extremely hardworking student and a voracious reader.
28 years later, I still remember the day that my friends Chad and George were picking out the book Mr. Popper’s Penguins. There was another copy on the shelf and I was immediately drawn to the cover. Mr. Popper looked like a rich man surrounded by his legion of penguins. As I carefully picked it up off the shelf, Mrs. Oliver the school librarian came over and told me that I couldn’t check out that book because I wasn’t ready. She then ripped it out of my hands and coldly told me I should go find another one.
As George and Chad smiled as they checked out Mr. Popper’s Penguins, I sulked over with the rest of the class and picked up something I wasn’t at all interested in reading. Even as a 7 year old I knew I was being told that my friends were better than I was.
Thankfully when I got home that afternoon my dad asked me about my day like he always did. I told him the story about Mrs. Oliver and to his credit, he never bad mouthed the librarian. Instead he asked me, “What about this book makes you want to read it so badly?” My answer probably had to do with loving penguins and wanting to read the same books as my friends. Before I knew it we were at the public library picking up a copy of Mr. Popper’s Penguins and I was up in my room devouring it before my mom had dinner on the table.
I will never forget the importance of having parents who valued their kids as individuals and wanted them to be challenged. Nor will I forget Mrs. Oliver, an extremely nice lady, who probably never fathomed the impact she could have had on me that day.