In my experience, a lot of educational films turn out to be quite cheesy. Don’t get me wrong, I still love them—I’m a sucker for movies that glorify teaching. Go figure. A friend of mine talked me into going to see a movie at BYU’s International Cinema with the line, “It’s about educational reform in Africa.” Sold.
The First Grader is among the most holistic and meaningful educational films I’ve ever seen. The film is set in Kenya following its independence from Britain when the government has begun to offer “free education for all.” The featured first grader is in fact a man in his eighties who fought in the Mau Mau rebellion, pre-Kenyan independence. Maruge (our hero) and the devoted teacher championing his cause endure fierce opposition from parents and government authorities who don’t want an old man filling up a seat in the already crowded school. Never having learned to read as a youth, Maruge petitions for a chance to finally enrich his life with education. The movie depicts the beautiful relationships that develop between Maruge and his young classmates and with his teacher. While he is the one receiving the formal education, he has so much to teach those around him, and he does so in a very honest and inspiring way. In one of my favorite scenes, Maruge tells the children how he fought for freedom. They rally around him out in the schoolyard all shouting, “Freedom!”
So, for all you educational thinkers out there—this is a thought-provoking and emotionally inspiring/fulfilling film you might enjoy! Included below you’ll find the site for the movie, if you’re interested. (Scene 2 is the one I described above. Hence the title of this post.)
On the last day of school before Christmas break, I walked into my classroom to find a little blue box tied with a wide red ribbon perched on the piano. (The piano is my equivalent of a desk, I suppose.) On top of the box was this note, scrawled in a second grade boy’s best handwriting.
To Mrs. Rackham,
(He doesn’t know it’s Miss Rackham, but that’s completely excusable because he’s cute.)
Thank you for teaching me all about music.
(Pause for heart-melting moment and ensuing recomposure—it matters to him! He appreciates learning what I have to teach him!)
I have lots of fun in your class.
(Victory! Yes, I find deep validation in the opinion of a second grader.)
I love your voice too.
(Kid, come tell my voice teacher that!)
Love Isaac in Mrs. Almberg’s class
(Like I don’t know who you are, Isaac of Mrs. Almberg’s class; I’m not that much of a rockstar. I know you, Isaac with the short brown hair and glasses who volunteers brilliant answers every class. And who sings, “See you next time!” after each lesson.)
As those of us who teach know, or are coming to know, there are up days and down days. There are days when your kids are attentive, involved and excited about learning and being among them gives you such energy! And there are days when your kids are slow to learn and quick to push your buttons. There are days when the other teachers at your school are extra kind and considerate of your nube status and try to help you out. And there are days when they forget to bring the kids to music class because no one but you really cares about music anyway. There are days when the lesson you’ve planned goes extraordinarily well, with a few extra spontaneous moments of musical joy and authentic learning thrown in. And there are days when your carefully laid plans backfire and things spin out of control.
The above illustrated moment is among the most meaningful “up” moments of my five-month teaching career thus far. I tacked that note from Isaac to my bedroom wall in my tiny apartment where I see it every day and remember that what I do matters.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children… to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden path or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson