The backstory: At the start of 2016, I pulled out my very favorite Miss Read book, Village Centenary. The novel is structured in months and each chapter explores a month in the year of a village school that is celebrating its 100th anniversary. This year, my own school is celebrating its 250th anniversary and as we think of our past and look to our future, I thought that Miss Read would make a lovely companion for me. For each month of 2016, I plan to read Miss Read’s reflection on the month.
Miss Read is a pseudonym for Dora Jessie Saint, an English author who wrote between 1955 and 1996. Her novels were tales of every day life in small English towns. Village Centenary is set in Fair Acre, an imaginary Cotswold community. As is the case in nearly all of the Fair Acre novels, the novel is written in the first person and it is through our narrator, school teacher Miss Read, that the story unfolds.
Miss Read ends her school’s 100th year with a celebration at the Fair Acre schoolhouse, one that features re-enactments from the school journal, a daily report that the head of school writes. The re-enactments are a collection of charming, amusing, and poignant periods in Fair Acre School’s history, meant to include the community and celebrate both the history and changes the school has experienced over the years. Miss Read’s celebration closed with the school annual December tradition, a holiday tea.
At my school, we’ve had various celebrations of our school’s 250 years, including publication of a book detailing the school’s last 50 years of history, an update to an earlier historical edition. This part of the celebration appeals to me the most, of course, because history is a big part of my world. Each year, I teach my students about the Great Awakening and I tell them the story of the founding of our school as a direct outcome of that historical time. Whether they are 7th graders or 11th graders, the students enjoy learning about their school’s origins; they feel proud to be part of something so enduring.
The older I get, the more I value the ways in which a sense of our shared history is empowering. In 7th grade, I teach the first half of American history and my students and I explore the notion of who we are as a nation by exploring how that identity first came to be. For most adolescents, the 7th grade year is all about change, some of it thrilling and some of it anxiety-producing. I hope that in my class the students can see what has endured; that a sense of history will serve as an anchor as they navigate the waves of change.