Inside and Out

Joy, fear, anger, disgust, sadness-I love the Pixar movie Inside Out. The plot aligns so closely to my life of moving and re-establishing every few years. When I watched it with my brother, we cried through the whole movie because it tugged on our heart strings. If you haven’t seen it, you should! It is about a little girl who moves from Minnesota to California with her parents. The animated film has five main characters (Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness) that are in the central character, Riley. It walks through all of the emotions she feels during the transition. I won’t give away any spoilers, but essentially it comes down to it is okay to feel every emotion and in fact we will in life. Events will happen and it is about what we do with that emotion that matters.


I think, like it portrays in the movie, we want Joy to take the spotlight. We are expected to always be happy. We are to smile and tell everyone that everything is going great. We do that as teachers. We could be having the worst day, but as soon as students start walking through the door we put on our “teacher face”. We smile and fake laugh and pretend nothing is going on in our personal lives. I understand the boundary of separating work life and home life, but maybe we separate it too much.

As teachers we pretend that we are always doing okay. So, do we expect our students to always be doing okay too? When we ask how their days are we want them to say that they are having a great day and that school is so much fun! When a student says something that seems negative we want to (or at least I) more often than not, want to turn that frown upside down or turn than pessimism into optimism. I want to help them see that silver lining or find one joyous thing about the day.

Emotions are real. As a culture, we often don’t let our students feel them or we tell them they shouldn’t be feeling that and tell them to change. That can be detrimental. We need to meet our students where they are at. I like in the Mentor Text (Dorfman & Cappelli, 2007), when it talks about creating a hand map. It creates an opportunity for the students to discuss various emotions and associate stories and happenings in their life where they felt this way. The teacher begins by modeling it and that first shows that the teacher has other feelings and relates to the students on a personal level. Then it allows the students to explore what they feel and what happens in their every day lives. This can create a lot of insight for the teacher as well in how to better care and teach his/her students.

The quote from Julie Brinckloe’s book Fireflies (1985) , “The moonlight and the fireflies swam in my tears, but I could feel myself smiling.” summarizes the story into two emotions-joy and sadness. I love the wistful imagery and simple pleasure that the neighborhood children find in catching fireflies. It’s as if you can see what the boy is thinking throughout the story because he is so excited that he caught hundreds of fireflies;however, when they started going dim he knew he had to release them in order to keep them. There was joy in his sadness of letting go. Like how Riley found joy by working through the other emotions of moving. And how our students should be allowed to share stories and work through the emotions they experience too.


Brinckloe, J. (1985). Fireflies. New York, NY: Aladdin Paperbacks.

Dorfman, L.R., & Cappelli, R. (2007) Mentor Texts. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.


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