'First quarter in the books' by Richard Stange

A Mililani Middle School teacher reflects on a major highlight from his first quarter as a new educator

“They’ve finally arrived!”

Fifteen excited faces, illuminated like Rayleigh scattering, smiled back at me as I made the announcement.

For weeks, I had been telling my students, members of Mililani Middle School’s Book Club, that the books were on their way—three titles in diverse literary genres I had deliberately curated for them. They had waited patiently, and when the order finally arrived, their joyous expressions were even more rewarding than I had imagined.

To fully appreciate their excitement, we must go back to the beginning (don’t worry, we’re not traveling far).

July 2, 2019. It was my second day on the job in a multi-track school and in my teaching career. I had just graduated from the University of Hawaii-West Oahu. I entered the cafeteria and sat down at an empty table. As I waited for our principal to begin the announcements, I was approached by a colleague.

“Hello,” she said. “My name is Gloria.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I responded. “My name is Richard Stange.”

“We are trying to bring back our book club. Students have expressed interest,” Gloria said. “We used to have one, but the teacher who facilitated it moved away.”

There was no hesitation in my response: “Where do I sign?”

As an avid and passionate reader, I was thrilled with the opportunity to be involved in a book club, and on my second day no less!

“Great!” Gloria said. “What do we do?” Honestly, I had no idea.

But my first step was clear. If we were going to start a book club, I needed to decide which books to read. I wanted to diversify genres as much as possible, while also making sure we had both longer and shorter titles to accommodate students from sixth to eighth grade. That way students could enjoy at least one, if not all, of the options. Even if they didn’t, they could still take away valuable lessons.

Gloria took care of the paperwork and I worked with the manager at Barnes and Noble to order the books: “Breakaway: Beyond the Goal” by Alex Morgan, a memoir from a professional female athlete who overcame multiple injuries; “Fish in a Tree” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, a fictional narrative of a middle school student who has ADHD; and “Spirit Hunters” by Ellen Oh, a spooky thriller perfect for Halloween.

Now every Monday after school, our book club meets in a classroom to read and discuss these books. And though I chose our first round, the students will decide what happens next, whether it’s ordering more books or planning other activities during club meetings.

One student suggested that the club create its own book, and the other students seem to like the idea. I’m all for it. This is the students’ club and the decision on where the club goes from here is entirely up to them.

If someone would have told me a year ago that I would graduate in May, get hired in June, and help restart the school’s book club in July, I would have told them it was utterly impossible.

I was wrong.

Words cannot fully express how fortunate I feel to be a part of the Mililani Middle School team, and to have been given the opportunity to share my love of literature with my students. Seeing them smile every Monday afternoon is the reason I became a teacher.


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