An Author’s Journey to Elaine’s Circle
[Publisher’s Note: I’m pleased to share here with the permission of the author, Bob Katz, this charming, serendipitous, and true account of the story-behind-the-story that led to Elaine’s Circle: A Teacher, a Student, a Classroom, and One Unforgettable Year by Bob Katz–available on Amazon. I am also honored to have the publishing company I started–the Munn Avenue Press–produce this very special book. – Charles Levin]
“Once Upon a Time”
Once upon a time, not that long ago, a courageous fourth-grade teacher in a rural region rallied an entire community in support of her gutsy decision to engage her young students in the most difficult conversation of all, the impending death of their ten-year-old classmate.
As battles rage today over what can be discussed in the classroom and who gets to decide, Elaine’s Circle, my newly re-issued book about this incident, takes on an added relevance that should resonate with anyone who cares about the education of children and the kind of world we hope they will help us build. Sometimes teacher knows best.
Initially, I’d set out to write a somewhat different book consisting of real-life accounts, perhaps twenty to thirty altogether, highlighting inspiring stories from our nation’s classrooms. To help my research, I enlisted the assistance of several influential education groups known for their extensive networks of contacts. I received a flood of promising tips and suggestions. My method was to follow up with a phone call to make a quick assessment of each story’s suitability for my purposes. Was there some underlying drama? Did it touch on deeper issues related to teaching and learning? What virtues were displayed?
“My very good friend, Elaine Moore, recently retired from elementary teaching in Eagle River, Alaska. Elaine was an outstanding and compassionate teacher. One year a fourth-grade student of hers was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Elaine organized her class into small groups who would visit the student every day at home to keep him involved in what was going on at school. . . . There is much more to the story than I can relay in this message.”
The Fourth Grade
I called Peggy. She furnished a few details beyond what was written in her note and urged me to speak directly with her friend. Peggy did warn me that Elaine Moore was exceedingly modest and would probably be quick to downplay her role. “She’s an amazing person,” Peggy explained, “but she doesn’t think of herself that way.
I phoned Elaine. She was polite and predictably reserved. She did acknowledge that some years earlier a remarkable series of events had occurred in her fourth-grade class related to a student who was diagnosed with cancer. The other students made a valiant effort to keep their classmate up to speed with his schoolwork, even though they knew he would probably soon die. Confused, I asked why. “Because,” Elaine matter-of-factly explained, “the kids knew that school meant so much to him.”
Eventually, I interviewed many of the children, who had grown into young adults, as well as most of the grown-ups intimately involved in the events of that year. They did not all remember it the same way, but they certainly all remembered it.
Something special happened in a fourth-grade class in Eagle River, Alaska. To hear Elaine tell it with her characteristic modesty, it was simply a unique set of circumstances that coincided to bring out the best in a lot of people, including the children. There’s something to that. But those unique circumstances, I’ve come to understand, were to a great extent created by a bold, innovative teacher with a special appreciation for a concept Americans like to praise from afar but have largely lost the knack for putting into practice: community.
As Elaine Moore demonstrated, community involves more than convenient rhetoric. It’s a process, a method, a practice, an outlook, a perspective. It has no beginning and no end. It is a circle.
If you’d like to learn more about Elaine and her one incredible year, check out Elaine’s Circle by Bob Katz
Read for FREE some of Charles Levin’s short stories:
Nora Delivers the Package
The Permission Slip
10 Life Lessons I Learned from Playing Poker
Missing the Ghost in the Palace Theater
Moon Landing Memories
P.S. My original fast-paced thriller NOT SO DEAD and the Sam Sunborn Series are also available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com
If you like short reads you can really finish, grab a copy of my short story collections: The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories