By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
A second-grader walked into Diana Stock's East Ward Elementary School class in the fall of 2004 with her eyes filled with tears. The little girl's father was scheduled to deploy to Iraq, and she was terrified he wouldn't return.
Stock, 38, gave the child a hug and told her it would be OK. But Stock said she never fully understood her student's distress until she said goodbye to her own soldier last summer.
"I finally get it now Sarah, I understand," Stock writes in a story about teaching in a military town. "We share a bond that few know or truly understand. The ones who leave us live everyday to come back home, and we live everyday waiting for their safe return."
Stock is one of 150 Freedom Writer teachers across the United States who shared their stories in a book titled "Teaching Hope."
Released today, the book is a collection of short stories that reflect the profound impact teachers have on their students and the deep emotions that come each day in the classroom. It includes stories from teachers in the United States and Canada and a forward by Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen.
"My story has to do with a soldier I began to fall in love with and the emotions I felt when he was leaving for Iraq," Stock said. "The experience gave me a whole new perspective on my kids here who are going through the same thing."
The Freedom Writer teachers are connected to Erin Gruwell, an educator in Long Beach, Calif., who in 1994 fostered a strong bond with a classroom of "unteachable" students in the wake of the Rodney King riots. Gruwell encouraged her students to keep a journal.
The effort resulted in a best-selling book called the "Freedom Writer Diaries," which included many of her students' most powerful entries, a movie in 2007 and a continuing education movement that emphasizes the importance of building relationships between teachers and students.
All the teachers who contributed to "Teaching Hope" participated in a five-day training session headed by Gruwell in Long Beach.
"I've used it (journaling) in my classroom and the kids latch on to it," Stock said. "It gives them a confidence to tell their story. Sometimes it helps just to get it off your chest, and get your thoughts on paper."
Stock, now an English Language Learners teacher at Eastern Hill Middle School in Harker Heights, said she begins to build a relationship with her students the minute they walk into her classroom on the first day of school.
"In ESL, they're so shy and scared to practice their English out loud. I try to build that safe environment," she said. "Once they feel safe in here and they feel comfortable with me, your students bend over backwards for you. They want to make you proud."
Stock also faces some unique challenges as a teacher in a district where half the students are from military families. Last year, she would give a student notecards to write to her dad in Iraq.
"If she needed a hug, she got a hug. If she needed a Kleenex, she knew where the Kleenex was," she said. "The notecards were her way of being able to talk to him. It's really hard for them."
Stock said she hopes the book's release will give people a better understanding of the teaching profession.
"Our job is not from 7 to 3, it's not Monday to Friday. Our job is not over the last day of school," Stock said. "By reading this book, I'm really hoping that people really start to get how passionate we are about these kids."
The book "Teaching Hope" is available for $14.99 at all major bookstores nationwide.
If You Go: Diana Stock will conduct a book-signing for "Teaching Hope" from 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Barnes & Noble in Harker Heights.