Tag Archives: teaching

Nolan’s Final Essay

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Today I decided to move mountains. Literally. My desk is a huge mountain of papers that I do my best to avoid. I took a big step about 2 months ago and bought a new desk calendar. You may remember from a previous entry that I haven’t been able to change the calendar on my desk from the July 2014 one. I’m still working on the aptly named “Extract Head from Ass” project of cleaning off my desk and dining room table. I was making headway until I bought that stupid new calendar. I put it on my desk, on top of that mountain, and proceeded to avoid it like the plague. Shortly thereafter, DH informs me that another letter came in from one of Nolan’s donor recipients and he put it on my desk. That pretty much made my entire office off-limits. I couldn’t even look at it when I walked by. I even avoided blogging with regularity because I knew that letter lurked underneath the mountain somewhere, just waiting to rip my world apart again.

I lived through Nolan’s birthday last week, which I’m still not strong enough to blog about. I will because it was a major hurdle to overcome and deserves to be shared. I was also able, with the help of one of my Warrior Women, to remove the blood-stained carpet in my bathroom. I have been working hard at this Grief thing. I will blog about that too, but not today. Today I need to share what I uncovered mid-level of the mountain. Yes, I did change the calendar, although I couldn’t throw the other one away. I packed it up in the bin with all of Nolan’s funeral “stuff.” Yes, I did read the letter from the donor family and it made me cry those ugly sobbing tears. I’m getting closer to the point of writing to all of the recipients. Soon, I think. I found a letter a neighborhood child wrote about The Worst Day of his Life, which was all about his experience of Nolan’s funeral. That also made me cry those ugly sobbing tears. None of those things compared to finding Nolan’s final essay. This may be a long post today, so feel free to go grab a drink and settle in. You might be here a little while.

Nolan has always been very academically  motivated. When we moved to Maine, Nolan was in 1st grade and already hitting the required benchmarks for end of 2nd grade and some 3rd grade goals. He was never one to be satisfied with “good enough,” and was his own biggest motivator. Once – just ONCE, he got a B+ in a class and immediately emailed his teacher asking what he needed to do to improve his grade. When he took his Algebra final at the end of 8th grade, it wasn’t enough for him to know that he passed. He hounded his teacher for 3 weeks during summer vacation and finally cornered the poor woman in Walmart adamantly requesting to know his final score. It was a 92, to which he responded with “What?? I could have done better than that!”

Going into his Freshman year, Nolan was placed in Honors English. Part of the placement in this class required reading a 500 page book on mythology and writing an essay about what makes a hero. This was due via actual mail to the teacher by July 15. Nolan took this essay very seriously. He scheduled out time for reading and writing and editing. He knew this would be his teacher’s first impression of him both as a person and as a student. He mailed the final essay to her on July 11, a mere 7 days before he passed. I knew he would want to know what he received as a grade on this paper, so I emailed his teacher about this on August 27. It took a bit to finally get a response from her, but she did tell me she had his paper in the exact condition she had received it. (Not even opened???? I couldn’t believe it.) I asked if she would please read his essay and grade it, to which she said she couldn’t. I asked if she didn’t feel that she could grade it unbiasedly, then could she at least read it since it was so important to Nolan? My answer came by way of a third party knocking at my door and holding the unopened envelope with Nolan’s essay inside and a little yellow post-it note saying that she didn’t feel right about opening this package and to please understand.

I tried to understand. Honestly I did. I hadn’t felt anything but love and support from our entire community until that moment. I didn’t understand. I was angry and felt that Nolan had been disrespected. I emailed her in response telling her just that. I tried to make her understand how much of himself Nolan put into this essay and how much it meant to him to make a good impression on her as a person and a student. I expressed to her how much energy and time he dedicated to this project at HER request, and the fact that she couldn’t offer him the simplest respect by at least reading his work was offensive to me. The scribbling on the post-it note told me she was probably very immature. She could have called and spoken with me like an adult and not sent the package with a messenger. I included in my email a copy of Nolan’s final essay in hopes that someday she will be mindful that she is an Educator first and foremost, and her students deserve the respect of her, at the very least, reading the work she assigns. I still have strong feelings about this and am hopeful Li’l N is never in her class.

I was heartbroken and unsure what to do. I knew it was important for Nolan’s paper to be read and graded. I went to his middle school principal, who is a wonderful woman and incredibly supportive, and asked her if she would read and grade Nolan’s paper. She was strong enough to take on the task. She knew Nolan very well and knew how important this was. Having also lost a son as a teenager, she is intimately aware of what I am going through. After reading Nolan’s paper, she said she was unable to grade it unbiasedly. I totally understood that. It was important for us to have an honest grade. If he earned a B+, then that’s what we needed to know! The last thing Nolan would want is a pity A. The principal passed his paper along to one of the Literacy Specialists who, along with an 8th grade ELA teacher read and graded his paper. It was returned to me weeks ago and went in the mountain of papers I was too scared to see.

Today I read Nolan’s essay again and the letter that the Literacy Specialist sent along with his grade. Yes, he did earn an A.  It made me cry those deep, uncontrollable sobs. They weren’t all sobs of sorrow. In amongst the angst, there were tears of pride. I am so very proud of the young man Nolan became. I hope he wouldn’t be too embarrassed, but I think you should all take a minute and read his essay. As the LS said in her letter, “While reading his conclusions about what makes a hero a hero and the words he used to describe their defining qualities, I couldn’t help but think that many people would attribute those very words and traits to him; ‘courage,’ ‘bravery,’ ‘determination,’ ‘humble,’ and ‘compassionate.” Please take a minute and read Nolan’s thoughts on what really makes a Hero.

                As children, we are taught that heroes are people with a unique superpower and whether they are strong, invisible, or can fly, they all wear a unique costume that keeps them hidden from their true identity. Between comic books and movies such as Superman, the media has continued to portray the sincere meaning of a hero. I also believe that the fascinating myths of Ancient Greece have created a misinterpretation of what truly makes a hero.

Perseus, a story well-known throughout many parts of the world is a myth that originated in Greece. This myth explains the journey that the hero experienced. He encountered numerous beasts, but the most dispiteous of all was Medusa. Medusa had the ability to turn man into stone, but Perseus had the courage to slay the monster and bring the head back to the King where he ends up turning him and all his men into stone because of their cruelness. After reading this myth, many people believe that Perseus is a hero because of the heroic journey he took and the horrific beast he slayed, but it’s not his actions that made him a hero, it’s his characteristics. A journey like so would take someone with extreme courage, bravery, and determination, all of which are characteristics that compose a hero.

Theseus is another famous myth that I believe displays the behavior of a true hero. In the story of Theseus, the young man travels a troublesome path to reunite with his father. Along the way, Theseus killed any creature in his path which created a safer path for future travelers. After meeting his father, Theseus volunteered to be a victim that would soon be placed inside the Labyrinth. Whether it be movies or board games, the Labyrinth has always been described as a near impossible maze with consequences that were often fatal. Theseus’ task was to kill the Minotaur, a beast that lives inside the Labyrinth, and then find his way out and being the hero of this story; he was able to do so. When the hero returned home, he had found that his father, the King, had died and he was left to be the King of Athens. As King, he then created a community that was governed by the people. One may think that Theseus is a hero because of the quest he took, but again, it was not his actions that made him a hero, it was his characteristics that allowed him to fulfill these tasks. Theseus was a brave, noble, and humble man and without those characteristics, Theseus would have been unable to complete his journey.

The last myth that I will describe is the story of Hercules. Hercules is a Greek character widely known, but many people refuse to call him a hero. One may not recognize him as a hero because he has been explained as a very unintelligent individual. Along with his stupidity, he has an awful anger problem that causes him to use his immense strength to kill the innocent and in the myth, Hercules kills his sons and wife during one of his temper tantrums. Once Hercules had realized what he had done, he sought forgiveness and to sacrifice his own life in order to save theirs. Although he was a violent man that often killed innocent people, I still believe that he is a hero. Hercules is a true hero because of his tremendous heart that had a “desire to make amends no matter what cost” and similar to Perseus and Theseus, he was brave, determined, and compassionate which are all components that construct a hero.

                Something many people don’t see is the similarities between the heroes in Ancient Greece and the heroes of the twenty-first century. I believe that a true hero is not a person that slays monsters and partakes in strenuous journeys, rather they are people that are brave, noble, humble, courageous, compassionate, determined, and simply want to do only what is right for the betterment of others rather than himself expecting nothing in return.. They’re people that act when there is a need even when they’re afraid, and they are certainly not bystanders. Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and John Lennon are all people that I believe are heroes. They aren’t necessarily heroes for just their actions, but for their characteristics that allowed them to complete these actions. These modern day heroes stood up for what they believed in and helped others without concern of themselves all in a peaceful manner. Being a hero doesn’t take a person that is superior to others or someone with an abnormal power, all it takes is an average human looking to do what is right for others. As a society, we have masked the meaning of a true hero by suggesting that they are immortals that slay monsters and soar through the skies in search for evil, while the true heroes have been in front of us our entire lives. People need to begin to appreciate the modern day heroes, but in order for people to do so, it will take someone that will act for the betterment of others without concern of themselves. It will take a hero.

Nolan Berthelette