You can catch up with my previous discussions of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness with Colby here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Next week will be our last post about A Monster Calls...it's sure to be intense!
JEN: I think now is a perfect time to take a break from the monster and talk about Conor and his story when he is awake. I love how Patrick Ness tells Conor’s real life story and his life with the monster story at the same time. At first, they seem parallel but then they start to intertwine.
After the second story with the monster when Conor demolishes his grandmother’s living room, Conor is back at school. (I think it’s horrible that he still has to go to school like everything is normal when it totally is not...I see how it makes sense but I also have no idea how he can go to school and try to act normal.)
This is the part when he actually wants Harry and the other boys to fight him and when it doesn’t happen and they walk away:
“But Harry watched Connor as they left, never looking away from him.
As he left Conor there alone.
Like he was completely invisible to the rest of the world.” p. 126
I felt my heart being squeezed when I read this. I can’t imagine having to deal with so much and having no one to be able to confide in. I was reminded of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Hannah leaves tapes for the people who she names as part of the thirteen reasons why she finally decides to commit suicide. I felt like so much of her story is her talking about instances that added up in her life but from other people’s perspective they probably were trivial. What I took away from that story is that each little interaction with someone is still part of that person’s whole life. That’s how I felt when I read the line about Conor feeling invisible. It’s not just being bullied at school, there is so much more to his story than being bullied at school. The saddest part is that there isn’t anyone to realize all the layers to Conor’s story.
COLBY: The parts that totally weirded me out were when Connor would wake up and part of the yew tree was near him. Ness really made me think. It was SO creepy.
I think seeing Connor at school is really important for teachers. We don’t always understand what our students are going through at home. I wouldn’t be all that interested in learning how to add and subtract four-digit numbers if my mom was dying.
School can be such an escape for kids dealing with difficult things, but at the same time, we need to be sure that it is a safe and healthy environment for them. School needs to be a place for everyone to feel safe and loved.
JEN: I think it’s so important for us as teachers to recognize that home life plays such a huge role in our students’ attitude towards school. It would be really great if everyone would realize this because judging teachers by looking solely at student performance just isn’t fair. Do you remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Maslow contends that we have to have certain needs met before we can progress towards self-actualization. I’m not sure it’s the end all, be all to human development but I think it is very relevant.
The lowest level on Maslow’s pyramid is for physiological needs to be met: air, food, water, sleep, shelter. After that, an individual needs to feel safe and secure. Then one can progress to achieving the needs of love and belongingness, self-esteem, and, finally, self-actualization. The whole idea is that it’s hard to move towards those three highest tiers if you don’t have your basic needs met. While Conor does seem to have his physiological needs me he definitely can’t feel safe at home or at school and it’s evident that he isn’t feeling loved or that he belongs at all.
COLBY: We do a lot of work with Glasser’s Choice Theory in my building. It sounds similar to Maslow.
He talks about behavior being driven by the following five needs:
(food, clothing, shelter, breathing, personal safety and others)
and four fundamental psychological needs:
It’s all about people’s quality world, and if they are lacking in any of their needs their quality world isn’t up to par. I’m thinking that Connor is struggling in a lot of these areas.
JEN: I think understanding the students and their home lives really makes a difference to us as teachers. We have to communicate with parents and families to work with them to understand our students and to help them. For someone like Conor, addressing his need to feel connected and to belong somehow is more important at this point than educational objectives. He can’t concentrate on schoolwork when he’s so worried about his mom, not to mention his dad, his grandma, his friends, and other peers.
This makes me particularly mad when I hear lawmakers want to judge teachers on students’ test scores. I get that they want something to assess and it seems like it almost makes sense except kids don’t come to us in pretty packages and identical in every way. Have you heard the story about the award-winning blueberry ice cream? The super short version is that you can’t compare education to award-winning blueberry ice cream. Only the best ingredients go into their amazing ice cream and if the ingredients aren’t up to par, of course, they send them back and don’t use them. In education we get what we get and we can’t send our students back. We can get to know them and learn about them, find out where they are and hope to help them grow, but they are all unique and as hard as we try, they just can’t all be award-winning blueberry ice cream.
Then there’s the analogy about dentists. A dentist isn’t a bad dentist just because his patients have more cavities than another dentist’s patients. Maybe his patients have teeth that are more prone to cavities, or maybe his patients don’t floss and brush morning at night just like he advises them, or maybe they devour candy like it’s their job. The dentist has to work with those patients and do his best to help them but he can only do so much. We as teachers need to do our best to understand students to help teach them the best we can but the reality is that they all have different needs that must be met if we are going to be able to teach them anything. (These aren't my stories, by the way, I've just heard them from others.)
COLBY: I don’t really understand why lawmakers are all about deciding how teachers should be judged. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. My principal does a wonderful job helping us grow as professionals. It seems like the laws always seem to get in the way. The more rules we have for our evaluations, the less I get out of them.
I’m sad for Conor. I’ve had two students lose parents while I was teaching them, and it was awful.
JEN: I’ve had one student who was in remission for cancer and then it came back and he died at the beginning of last school year and I have another student who has a really rare syndrome and it’s amazing that she has lived as long as she has. When I hear teachers make comments about the parents and their attitude towards education for their kids, I have to stand up for the parents, and the kids, and remind them that being with each other and enjoying the time they have together is most important. If they keep them out of school and go get manicures one day, I say why not? You can’t measure manicures with test scores but you also can’t measure love with test scores.
COLBY: School always seemed to be a place for them to come that was safe and secure. I’m sad that school isn’t an escape for Conor.
A lot of our teacher friends read A Monster Calls. I wonder if they thought about what it would have been like to be Conor’s teacher. I do that a lot in my reading.
JEN: I do that a lot when I read except I seem to think a lot about the role of the parents. I think a lot about how the parents interact with the kids and how that changes the kids. Colby, you have to read Eli the Good by Silas House. It was such a good book. That’s a lot about relationships and especially about our parents. The main character talks about how he overheard his mom tell his dad that she loves him more than anything in the world and then he couldn’t stop thinking about how if she loved his dad that much there wasn’t room in her heart for her to love him. Now I am so conscious of not saying that to my kids so one doesn’t think I love the other more. It’s amazing how little things like that can be so important to a kiddo.
COLBY: I just added it to my to-read list. You need to make sure you read Wonder by RJ Palacio. It’s about a boy that has a facial deformity. He has never gone to school because of it. His mom decides that he should start school in fifth grade. The book is nuts! Crazy good, and it will rock your brain. Different parts of the book are told from different peoples’ point of view. It is wild. I wish that I would have waited to read it. Wonder would have been perfect for our book club.
JEN: I added it to my TBR. I can’t even imagine trying to go to school and concentrate on learning with all these others things going on. I’m so glad there are books to help us see through the eyes of others.
COLBY: I think these types of books are important for everyone to read: parents, kids, teachers. Reading A Monster Calls will help me to be a better teacher and father. Empathy is a hard emotion to develop.
JEN: Oh, the power of books!!! If there is anything we have learned through these discussions, it’s that reading helps us grow as people.