Today marks the completion of the Appendix posts for Teaching Tolkien and the end of summer for me. I report for duty tomorrow for the beginning of a new school year, as teachers have a week of preparation time prior to students walking into the doors of our classroom. I always have mixed feelings about the beginning of a new school year. The teaching profession, though often undervalued in American society, is a taxing vocation. Touching the lives of countless students each year is both an honor and a privilege, but often proves difficult to detach from when you leave school every day. Some teachers do view their teaching position as just a “job”, but for me, that has always been difficult to do.
One of the main reasons I was drawn to working with English Language Learners (ELLs) was the touching struggles and stories each student brings with them on their journey to America. While it can be said that all students have a story, if you are willing to open the book and discover it, my students are particularly engaging reads. In my 15 year teaching career, I have been humbled by students whose families struggled to fit 7 people into a one-bedroom apartment, ones who never held a pencil until the age of 14, students who experienced unfathomable horrors in their own home life, and ones who endured physical disabilities brought on by the ravages of war. It is hard to turn away from such riveting stories, but their stories often become part of my own story as I get to know them better.
As I begin a new school year, I always wonder what sorts of students will find themselves in the now empty seats in my classroom. It reminds me of a line in the song from the musical Les Miserables that says “Empty chairs at empty tables, where my friends will meet no more.” My little band of dwarves will no longer fill those empty chairs, but there is hope for the new friends that will replace them.
The future of Teaching Tolkien is one that I hope I will continue to grow and be brighter this new school year. Having led a fellowship once through the journey before, I am confident that both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings can be read successfully and comprehended by young, ELL students. As with gaining any new skill, repetition, reinforcement and positive thinking are imperative to success. Having the confidence of this past year’s classroom journey, I know subsequent journeys should become more efficient as I continue to gain experience in introducing students to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
I also hope that our international readership will continue to grow and reflect the great diversity represented by the students I work with. Support from their fellow countrymen, in many cases, allows them to feel pride in their cultural heritage and help them to understand that we are all citizens of the world. As both a work-in-progress and a growing resource for the Tolkien community, I hope our site will encourage other educators and students to enjoy learning about Middle-Earth and the countless benefits that can be gained from reading. I continue to hope and look for opportunities in the future to share my students’ story with more people, whether it be in the form of a book, future speaking engagements, or any doors that may open to us.