with love and squalor

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 14 2012

The Little Engine That Could

Today, we read The Little Engine That Could.  In our version of the story, there are four trains.  The Little Blue Engine That Can, the passenger engine, the freight engine, and the rusty old engine.  First, the passenger engine and the freight engine come by, and tell the broken down engine that they are too good and too busy to help him.  “That’s mean!” my students said.  “That’s really mean.” 

Then, the weary, old engine comes by.  “I cannot, I cannot, I cannot,” he says.  “I am too tired and too weary to help you.”

 “That’s mean,” said some of my students.

“No, it’s not,” argued Ezekiel.

I folded the book on my lap.  “Why isn’t that mean, Ezekiel?” I asked him.

“Because the old engine is too tired and he need to go home and go to bed,” Ezekiel said.  “It’s not his fault.”

I agreed with Ezekiel.  I asked my students if they understood the difference between a train who said he was too good to help, and didn’t feel like helping, and a train that was too old or tired or run down to offer his help.  They said that they did understand.  I could see the comprehenion behind their eyes as they searched their internal catalogues for connections to their own lives.  I thought about connections to my own life.  It was impossible not to consider TFA as a parallel, or point of reference.  I’ve been afraid, all year, that I am the weary train that can’t.  That I’m too tired, too depressed, too selfish, too young, definitely too SOMETHING, to continue this throughout the first semester.  And then the second semester.  And now, next year.  I thought abuot how it’s sometimes noble to stop, to say you cannot offer your help, because you have nothing to offer.

At the end of the story, I asked Christian to retell the entire story (we are working on beginning, middle, end) in sequence.  He did.  He said that first the shiny car came (“Which one was that?” I prompted.  “The one with passengers.”  “What is a passenger?” “Someone who rides a train.).  “The shiny car said it was too good to help.  Then the freight train (! vocab win) came.”  (“What is a freight train?” “A train that don’t take people but take machines.”  “What did the freight train have?”  “A printing press to make books.”)  “The freight train say it was too important to help.  Then the rusty train came.  The rusty train said, ‘I cannot.’”

Christian made this verbal distinction between, I WILL NOT and I CANNOT, while my heart swelled with pride.


“Then the blue train came and she say, ‘I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can.’”  The rest of the class jonied in Christian’s chorus and soon we were all saying it.

“Could she?” I asked.

“Yes,” they said.

Can I?  Yes.  Do I think less of people who can’t?  No.  Did it take until MARCH (8 months of teaching) for me to reach a point where a week had more good days in it than bad?  Yes.  Is my school so dysfunctional that it is physically repulsive to me?  Yes.  Do I have a parent teacher conference in three hours that I’ve been dreading for weeks?  Yes.  How many hours of sleep did I get last night?  5.

Is it worth it?

I’m starting to think so.

One Response

  1. I also read The Little Engine That Could in class a few weeks ago. I wonder two things: 1) Why didn’t I read this to them at the beginning of the year and 2) We must be using a similar curriculum!

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