Monday, November 26, 2007

Student Teacher: The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements

By Halloween sixth-grader Hart Evans has the intermediate school thing under control.

It was almost Thanksgiving, but to Hart, it felt like the school year was practically over. The days flipped by, and sixth grade at Palmer Intermediate was turning out to be a breeze. His friends were good, his classes were only a minor disruption in his busy social life, and the homework wasn't too bad either. In short, school was great. Hart felt like he owned the place.

The one minor glitch in Hart's perfect school day is choral music class. Hart likes music, but he doesn't like doing it Mr. Meinert's way. As Hart sees it, Meinert is a control freak whose boring, structured vocal music classes need a bit of jazzing up. To spice up the class, Hart brings perfect-sized rubber bands to class one day and gets off his first shot undetected. Mr. Meinart is hilariously oblivious to the first rubber band, which sticks prominently to the front of his sweater, but when the second hits him right in the neck, he erupts like Mt. St. Helens, and Hart is lucky to get off with only two detentions.

What Hart doesn't know is that Mr. Meinert loves his job but has just been notified that his position is being terminated for lack of funding. When, on the next day, the kids in the chorus ignore his lesson to rush to the windows to watch snow begin to fall, he has a pedagogical meltdown. He angrily scrawls the date of the winter holiday concert--DECEMBER 22--on the board and hands total responsibility for it over to the class.

After a few days of pleasant chaos, the kids begin to worry about the upcoming performance. Looking for a leader, they hold a vote and choose Hart to be their concert director. For the first week, Hart is in his element. He solicits suggestions for songs, recruits decoration committees and individual performers, and manages to keep things moving. But as the early days of December fly by, Hart realizes that he's promised too much and will never be able to shape all the in-fighting wannabe acts into a thirty-five minute time frame.

Finally, in a bit of an epiphany, Hart sees class management and his earlier smart-alecky behavior from his teacher's viewpoint. Somewhat surprised, Hart realizes that he needs Mr. Meinert's experience and expertise. Impressed with the class's ideas, their teacher helps the group choose a unifying theme to pull all the diverse songs, acts, and skits together under the title they chose, Winterhope, with its wish for world peace. Finally the kids really have ownership of the holiday concert and take their roles seriously, and the concert concludes with a standing ovation from the audience.

Clements is a master of the novel in which pre-teen kids and the adults who work with them learn to walk in each other's shoes and emerge with greater empathy and self knowledge at the resolution. The Last Holiday Concert is a holiday story minus the usual trappings which nonetheless affirms the message of the season.

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