Speech! Speech!

As my students are finishing up Two Towers this week, they now know the end is in sight and we will complete our journey.  While the pressure is on to make sure we read our required number of chapters each day, we have begun to focus on preparing for the end of our journey.  Plans for our picnic are in full-swing, invitations have gone out, and we anticipate a joyous, yet bittersweet celebration.  I am sure we will all rejoice at the completion of our mission, but will miss the close bonds that have developed over the course of this project.

In the spirit of the great celebrations of the Shire, our picnic will have speeches.  I have required that each of my students prepare remarks to read at the event to share with our special guests.  While I want them to speak from their hearts, I gave them a few basic guidelines to generate ideas for what they could write.  I encouraged them to share how they have benefited from this project, what they will remember about it, and why they enjoyed the experience.  Without needing a spoiler alert for what will be shared at the banquet, think of today’s post as our teaser trailer to give you just a taste of what will happen on June 16th.  I plan to record and post all of the speeches, so don’t worry.  You won’t miss a thing!

The students began brainstorming ideas for their speeches today.  While some children needed more time for reflection, others got off to a really great start.  I was so excited at the responses that I just couldn’t wait to share them with our Teaching Tolkien readers.  Here’s a sneak peek of what they’ve got in store for you:

Nori– “This was fun and special for me because this is my first time reading a hard book, even though I’m in ESL.  I think I’ll remember this forever.  I want to read this book again when I’m better at English because I will be able to understand even more.  I also want to make a journal to remember this special time and then I’ll always have a record of my friends in ESL forever.”

Ori– “Everyone in my class is jealous that we read Lord of the Rings and do so much fun stuff.”

I can corroborate this, as even today while we were reading outside and working on our speeches, some random kids came up to us and asked if they could read Lord of the Rings, too.

Balin– “This is special and important because I don’t think any kids have ever done this before with their teacher.  I bet I will remember this until I’m like 30 years old!”

Bofur– “Dear parents and dwarves, welcome to our picnic!  I hope you have a good time.  The best time I had was when we went to the play The Hobbit.  It was fun and cool!  I also loved reading and watching Lord of the Rings.  It’s so much fun.  You learn new words that you don’t know.  My favorite character is Legolas.  The funniest character is Gimli because he’s so small.  One more thing…Lord of the Rings RULES!!!”

I would also like to point out that Bofur has had a complete attitude adjustment to Tolkien since we began reading The Hobbit last December.  Having some defiant and oppositional traits, Bofur often likes to be contrary to everyone else to prove that he doesn’t have to go along with the crowd.  While I applaud his independent nature, I see him often cut off his nose to spite his face in his attempts to be different.  When we went to the movie theater to view The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, Bofur refused to attend claiming he thought it was “stupid” and that The Hobbit was a “stupid book”.  I even purchased him an extra ticket, in case he changed his mind, but he dug in his heels and chose to stay home.  As I predicted, the following Monday at school when all of the other students were recounting how fun the film was, Bofur felt left out.  Knowing that he has come to see the light of Tolkien after such dark beginnings, makes his victory speech even more of a victory for me, as his teacher.

Kili, who hasn’t put her ideas to paper yet, was sharing with us some possibilities of what she could do.  Wanting to imitate the abruptness with which Bilbo’s speech at his birthday celebration ends, she thought she could say this at the end of her speech:  “I have one more thing to say…BURRRRRRP!”  “Ewww, gross, Kili”, some of the other girls said, while most of my boys laughed.  While I told her I didn’t think that would be a very ladylike thing to do or appropriate for our guests, Kili seems to act like one of the dwarves.

Oin had a challenging time beginning his speech, but I would like to share some things that he shared with me today.  Oin has a big heart for the hobbits and all the other characters of Middle-Earth.  He truly wants to know everything about them and asked today, “Do any of Tolkien’s books ever show the hobbits and dwarves with their mothers?”  At first thinking that was a really odd question, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how invested Oin is in Tolkien’s world.  He cares enough about the characters that he wants to know who loved them, who raised them, and who cared for them as they were shaped into the strong characters he has come to care for.

Oin‘s caring heart also brought tears to my eyes today as he stayed behind after class to say a few things to me.  He shared that he was really struggling with his speech and I encouraged him to just write about what has been fun for him.  I told him from my own observations, I have seen how much more he talks and asks questions and shares comments in class compared to his pre-Tolkien self.  He said, “Ms. Rodgers, I have three things to say.  One, why does Gandalf not choose to murder Saruman?”  As Portia’s “the quality of mercy is not strained” speech came to mind from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, I tried my best to explain to him that Gandalf shows mercy to Saruman by realizing he does not need to kill him to put an end to his treachery.  Using this as a teachable moment to convey to young Oin that taking revenge, even when you have the opportunity to do so, is not the right course of action; I hoped I satisfied his curiosity.  Seeming pleased with my answer, he went on “Two, when I’m in other classes I feel like I’m trapped in a hole, but in your class I feel like I’m pure and free and everything is open to me.”  Touched by his answer, I said “now that is the kind of stuff you should be writing in your speech!”  Thinking he was done, I was surprised when he turned back to me and said, “and three….thank you” as a warm smile passed across his face.  Glad I had my sunglasses on so he wouldn’t see me tearing up, I said, “no…thank you, Oin.”

Oin‘s comment couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as I have lately felt myself going through a similar metamorphosis to what Frodo experiences in Lord of the Rings.  As the creator of Teaching Tolkien, I have felt the great responsiblity of maintaining this blog for the last three months, which has, at times, weighed on me as much as the one ring.  While it has been a labor of love and a life-changing experience for both my students and myself, it has still been a lot of work.  There have been moments on the journey, where like Frodo, I have wanted to give up and just head back to the Shire.  Constantly having to justify my actions to colleagues and fight for the right to read is a waging battle and in today’s educational climate, it feels like a losing one.  Oin reminded me today why keeping up the good fight is important no matter what dangers you encounter along the road.

Bilbo, the master of speeches, said “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  Teaching Tolkien has swept all of us down a rather unexpected road.  My students have found themselves capable of more than they ever thought they could accomplish and I am preparing to share my work with Tolkien and ESL students at Mythcon, a conference of the Mythopoeic Society (www.mythsoc.org), in July.  Excited to share my work with its attendees, this conference is definitely unexpected and may lead to even more opportunities for the continued development of Tolkien resources for the classroom.
When I started this school year, I had no idea what Tolkien had in store for all of us.  My Bilbo also reminded me today of the growth and maturity all of my students have acquired through their exposure to Tolkien’s works.  Not able to attend class today, due to a mandatory math review, he stopped by my room just to check in with me, see what he missed, and discuss our upcoming picnic.  Most students don’t usually check in with their teachers or display concern over missing classes.  The fact that all of my students care so deeply about the work we’re doing together as a team is an amazing triumph to fathom and one that often leaves me…speechless.

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2 Comments on “Speech! Speech!”

  1. Margaret Dean
    May 31, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    I’m glad to hear you’ll be attending this year’s Mythcon! I’m going to be there too, and will be sure to catch your presentation!

    • hmrodgers
      May 31, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

      Great! Please come introduce yourself, Margaret. See you in July!

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