My love of books stretch back to my childhood, partly from a mother who read to us daily, and partly from the companionship of a book. Reading for pleasure was emphasized in our home with trips to the library, magazine subscriptions, and public television shows such as “Sesame Street”, “Zoom”, and “The Electric Company”.
Reading was fun. It was an escape for a quiet kid who loved being alone as much as she loved playing with friends.
As I grew older, books taught me about the world around me in new and thought-provoking ways. The first one that comes to mind is To Kill A Mockingbird. Ms. Cobb read it with us in 7th grade. It gave me a new lens in which to view the world, starting in my own backyard.
To be honest, looking back, I realize that the influence of books and my respect of fine literature has a lot to do with teachers who were passionate about them. To this day, I don’t care too much for reading Charles Dickens, but I have a great appreciation for his writing based on the way Mrs. McCarter (9th grade English) and Ms. Brickey (11th grade English literature) shared their passions for his works. Doc Gore had us read Tess of the D’Urbervilles in senior English. I was incredibly annoyed with that novel, but I can envision (30 years later) the scenery described in its pages.
I love books and reading, but my teachers showed me how to appreciate it. When I became a teacher, I wanted to share this love with my own students. I wanted them to find the comfort and escape in words that I had experienced. We read Roald Dahl and played with the language in The BFG. We explored survivalism and the outdoors in My Side of the Mountain. We had a whole day of making recipes from the book, demonstrations from a parent about how to survive in the woods, music, and we even had a parent build a classroom “tree” like the main character lived in in the book. I would bet those kids were more engaged and remember more about the adventures in that reading unit than anything else we taught that year. My team and I created incredible units that were hands-on and explored other ideas, cultures, and points of view. I loved teaching reading and I hope many of my students learned to appreciate it as well.
Sadly, this type of teaching isn’t happening in classrooms anymore. Gone are the novel studies and the units I spent hours researching and crafting. In their place are prescriptive lessons, scripted text, and informational passages crafted by some “institute” that claims fictional test-score gains on a vague group of students. Gone with it is the passion for teaching reading and the love of reading a book by many students. When I set up my classroom, I was most proud of my expansive library of fiction and non-fiction. It was my goal for students to discover where their passion for reading would be, whether fantasy, Sci-fi, historical, or realistic fiction. We made time for silent reading and read-aloud EVERY day and it showed up in their grades and their test-scores. My firm belief is that reading develops the mind, the vocabulary, and allows for better and creative problem-solving skills.
When I mention this to young teachers today, I feel old. They look at me as if this type of enjoyable teaching is ancient history or that I’m somehow making it up. The classroom 10 years ago looks nothing like the scripted texts they teach to their uninterested and bored students today! A whole book?? A two-hour literacy block? Perish the thought!
I wonder about the short attention spans of young people. I wonder about the rise of fake news, the lack of researching for the truth, the disinterest in anything real, and the fantasy world of social media. After not reading novels for a long time, I’ve had to relearn how to be still and allow the words and pictures to form in my mind. Fortunately for me, I had the advantage of teachers who were free to share this in their classroom and it was easy for me to get back in that groove. Today’s students and teachers do not. I don’t believe that books are going anywhere, but our appreciation for stories, imagination, and the word-crafting is slowly fading. I also wonder if it’s the reason some teachers aren’t staying in the classroom. By not allowing teachers that creativity and passion in their lessons, it makes the hard days even harder because there’s nothing joyful to balance it out.
This world needs more pleasure readers. We need to give our kids this avenue for thought and expression. Books have allowed me so much, even when my worse times weighed heavily. Now, more than ever, we need to teach an appreciation for reading in order to give students the freedom that goes along with it.