Before the 2007 school year even started, Sheri came to the library to meet me and to pick up her teaching supplies and also to find something to read for herself. We must have talked about books, though I don't remember the conversation, because she checked out a book I liked to recommend to my friends, Big Stone Gap, and its sequel, Big Cherry Holler, by Adriana Trigiani. She also checked out a book by John Grisham and another by Jodi Piccoult at the same time. Sheri loved to read. When other teachers were too exhausted to do much more than set up their classrooms, Sheri was checking out four books to read after she got home.
Within days of the start of school Sheri was back checking out story collections for her reluctant readers to peruse. Sheri believed in the power of the written word and she used and promoted the library with her students. She often brought her classes to the library to check out books, to look through poetry volumes, or to find theme-related books. She also requested carts full of library books to use in her classroom. She was very busy sharing her love of literature with her students.
That first September Sheri and I each read the book, This I Believe: the personal philosophies of remarkable people edited by Allison and Gediman, promoted by NPR. We both wrote a personal philosophy in the style of those in the book, then Sheri had her students do the same thing. It was so fun and stimulating working with Sheri on literary projects. She was so enthusiastic about every project she encountered. She had a gift and she shared it so willingly with her students and friends.
During the summer of 2007 I read a book called Poemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Wooldridge. The book presents ideas how to channel your inner poet. I was so excited by Wooldridge's ideas I came back to school and created lesson plans to share with the English teachers. Sheri took me up on my ideas and used them for her poetry unit. Afterwards she shared with me some of the poetry booklets her students created using the ideas from Poemcrazy. Poems from their inner coyotes were my favorite. I still remember the day when Sheri brought the student work to show me. We laughed and celebrated together over her students' creativity.
A few years later, Sheri continued her support for poetry by having all her students participate in class recitation contests for the Poetry Out Loud contest. Poetry Out Loud is a National recitation contest which starts in the classrooms, moves on to contests at the school, region, state before one person from each state competes in the national final in Washington, D.C. Participating students have to memorize two or three poems and recite them by memory. It is a lot of work to host such a contest in a class because students today do not believe they are capable of memorization. Sheri persevered and her students did well at the school level competition, which I coordinated.
Sheri was an omnivore when it came to digesting books. She loved them all and read from all genres. One day she came asking me for a book on dragons, another she wanted a mystery. Sheri would also finish series she started. I would recommend the first book of a series then, not long afterwards, she's drop by to see what I thought of the fifth or sixth book in that same series, a book I hadn't read. I rarely read more than a few books in any series before I'd move on. The #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley were two series where Sheri quickly eclipsed my reading of them. She was such a voracious reader it was hard to keep up. She also wasn't a very picky reader. Once she told me she was reading a lot of books she had got for free on her Kindle. They weren't very good, she confessed, but the price was right. This memory makes me smile today.
Sheri and I worked on a project to introduce literature circles to the English classes. She and I and another English teacher friend, Christine, read and compiled groups of books on various topics for classes to use. With the library budget I would purchase four or five books of each title then teachers could assign small literature circles in their classes. Some of the books were deemed controversial so the three of us had to go before the district controversial preview committee to get them approved. On that horrifying day Sheri, Christine, and I sat holding hands under the table as we read the controversial passages aloud to the assembled committee. Taken out of context controversial passages really DO sound awful. We laughed about it later, but at the time it was a mortifying experience. Out of the process we got some really wonderful pieces of literature approved for small groups of students to read: The Kite Runner, Poisonwood Bible, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Things They Carried, among them.
One of my favorite teaching moments was shared with Sheri. In 2012 Sheri came to me for help brainstorming ideas how to help her 4th period class. The class members, as a whole, were completely unmotivated and lacked any enthusiasm for reading or literature. She wanted to do something to help ignite them. We hit upon an idea. Each of her students would read a book by the same author, Paul Volponi. All of his books are short and cover topics of interest to teens. I was able to purchase, or round up from other schools in the district, enough books for each of her students to read. One of her students, a real troubled boy, got excited about his book and wanted to know some more information about it. Sheri encouraged the boy to write Mr. Volponi and ask him. Through this process, we were able to set up a Skype interview with Volponi and Sheri's whole 4th period class. On the day of the Skype interview we assembled in Sheri's classroom and Paul Volpoini talked to the students as if he were in the room with them guiding them to think about lots of things, encouraging them to read deeply, and to be the best persons they could be. It was a magical moment for all of us. When the bell for the end of the period rang, no one got up to leave. That is proof of how mesmerizing the moment was. Through literature Sheri was able to impact her students' lives, and often it took creativity to do it.
At Sheri's funeral I learned a lot of things about her that I didn't know before. I learned that she retired from the US Air Force as a Chief Master Sergeant, the highest enlisted rank. I learned that she had a bunch of friends from her elementary and middle school years with whom she still kept in touch. They liked to go out and shop and always drank lemon drops (a lemony vodka drink) together. I found out she was a good cook, which shouldn't have surprised me since she did check out The Book Club Cook Book from my library. Isn't that perfect? I may not have shared any of these things with Sheri but I did share books with her. One of the last books Sheri checked out of my library was Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco, a picture book about an unlikely friendship. That was us. We may not have known each other in other ways but we were literary best friends. I will miss talking about books and poetry with her.
On one wall of the library I have this word-art quote: "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."-Jorge Luis Borge. I sure hope there is a big library in heaven. If there is, I am sure Sheri is exploring it right now, finding some new author or series to read and enjoy.
Thank you, my friend, for sharing your love of literature with me. You will be greatly missed. Rest in peace, my friend, rest in peace.
|"If ever there comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart- I'll stay there forever."- AA Milne