Why Every Student Needs A Hero

A teacher and a preacher, he still had time
No this is not just a rhyme
From ice cream to boat rides, he was there
Yes that was my grandpa down to every last hair
-An excerpt from a poem I wrote to read at my grandpa’s funeral 1992

When my grandpa suddenly died of a massive heart attack at 57 years old, my world changed dramatically. I adored my grandpa, and he adored me right back, his very first grandchild. The aftermath of his death was excruciating. It was the summer before I started sixth grade, my awkward phase displayed in its full glory. Our family, pitifully composed of three sad little girls and one financially destitute and newly divorced mom, moved in with my grief stricken grandma.

When school started up again, we piled into a barely running car for the drive across town to attend our old school. The trek was time consuming but necessary to keep some normalcy in our upside down lives. I wonder what my teachers saw? Did they know how much chaos I lived in? Did they know I was trying to handle the overwhelming grief of losing my hero all on my own? Did they know I was trying to be the strong one in our house of sadness?

That year, our teacher introduced a research project. We would write about person who changed the world. My grandfather changed my world, but there were no books written about him in the local library. My mom suggested Clara Barton since I was interested in nursing. I went to the library on a Saturday, and I found all the books I could about Clara Barton. I remember checking out books meant for adults and feeling oh so grown up about it all. As I read through the books, I learned about Clara Barton’s work in starting the American Red Cross, and the way she was called the “Angel of the Battlefield” because her desire to help wounded soldiers was greater than her fear of death.  

I never forgot about Clara Barton and the way she lived a life that was brave and different; I also learned about growth mindset at the same time. Clara Barton’s story exemplified growth mindset because she worked hard and showed grit as she kept going in the face of adversity. There were no growth mindset posters adorning the walls of my early 90’s classroom nor commonplace vocabulary words like GRIT, but I learned those things organically when my teacher gave me the opportunity to discover a new hero that year. I learned there were other lives well lived that could impact my own, even if I’d never met him or her. I discovered elements of Clara Barton’s story that were also part of the life I hoped to live.

Teachers aren't the only ones who get to introduce children to heroes, parents can as well. We have the opportunity to curate a reading experience for our children as they grow from babies with board books to independent readers.

My favorite series for elementary age students is the Who Was series. Best for 3rd-8th grade readers, each book tells the story of a well known hero or world changer. The people included in the series have faced the messy realities of life. They too wrestled with the grief of lost loved ones, they faced financial uncertainty, and they were strong enough to keep going. I encourage you to read the books along with your child (I promise they are quick and enjoyable reads!), and see what kinds of conversation about growth mindset you can start around the dinner table. In addition to the books, Netflix recently released the “Who Was Show”, for kids. Each episode features the remarkable stories of two well known people and is styled in a wacky, fun way that elementary schoolers love. 

I hope this idea will allow your child to connect with a hero that could inspire him or her to change the world. I hope you will ignite special conversations as you discover (or rediscover) some amazing stories together.  

Written by Sarah Fordyce, www.happyteacherheart.com