|Day 27 of 31 at Two Writing Teachers!|
High school didn't leave me much time for reading, outside the required classics for Honors English that I wearily dragged myself through. (There were a few I loved, but there were also more than a few that made me forget the magic of reading.) While I mostly had wonderful teachers, I still experienced two of the causes that Gallagher cites: over-teaching and under-teaching books. The classics we were assigned for summer reading were difficult (and old!) enough that they needed a teacher's guidance, or at least some thoughtful discussion... not a multiple choice test. (I can't even identify them in Jeopardy questions, for heaven's sake!) As for over-teaching, well, we all know what that is. (Thankfully, I didn't experience it to the highest degree, but there were still some slight instances of it.)
Some of the brightest glimpses of light in my reading life during high school were:
- Walden (Shhh, don't tell my husband that I've been in love with Thoreau ever since!)
- A Tale of Two Cities (SO glad this wasn't summer reading: I never would have enjoyed it without my teacher to explain all the murky historical allusions!)
- Shakespeare plays (Yes, I really do love them!)
- other good books that I liked, but might have loved were it not for under- or over-teaching...
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Thank goodness J.K. Rowling reminded me what it was like to sneak out my flashlight and read far into the night because I just couldn't stop!)
- getting to write a senior thesis about a topic of my choice (contemporary American Indian identity in House Made of Dawn and related short texts)
Unfortunately, reading was still a chore in college. Who wants to read for fun when you can barely slog through the hundreds of pages of assigned reading? During breaks and summer, I threw myself into reading favorite children's books in Spanish. I also re-read A Tale of Two Cities about once a summer, but I didn't read much that was new to me.
However, I did fall in love with Julia Alvarez after reading In the Time of the Butterflies, and I read her books until there were no more. I actually felt that old melancholy I used to feel when I finished a series or author!
During my first few years of teaching, I was actually one of those teachers who didn't really read, at least during the school year. (That's right! You can gasp now!) I'd occasionally read some books in Spanish, but mostly just on breaks and over the summer. I played with the idea of trying Hunger Games since so many kids were reading it, but I wasn't sure if I would like it...
Then one summer, I stumbled across Inés del Alma Mía and brought it to the beach. I fell into that old, deep reading zone where I'm so immersed in the story that I'm completely unaware of my surroundings. How could I have lost this? I resolved to never lose that delight again. (This was also right at the time when I had started teaching ELLs in summer school and reading blogs that pushed my thinking...)
That spring, I was mesmerized by Donalyn Miller at the Dublin Literacy conference. After her keynote, I bought The Book Whisperer and devoured it the next day. I knew she was right. (And this year, when I read Book Love, I knew Penny Kittle was right as well!) Teachers need to be readers. Schools need to be creating readers, not killing them. No kid should have to suffer through mind-numbing worksheets on a book they've already read, like I did in 7th grade. No kid should be dragged through an endless parade of "classics" just because they're famous, while hiding or losing or never even finding their true reader selves. All kids should have the chance to read books that will draw them in, mesmerize them, and make them utterly lose (and find!) themselves.
I made a commitment to read all the time, not just on breaks: for myself and for my students. I joined Goodreads, and now I'll never run out of books again! Who knew there were so many great YA and MG books written since I was a kid?!
A few months later, I finally got the opportunity to teach ELLs. Now reading is more than a part of my life; it's a part of my job too. I read because I love books, but I also read to help my students love books. The more books I read, the more chances I have to find the book that might hook that one reluctant reader. The more books I read, the more opportunities I have to hand a book to a student and say "I got this for you. I think you'll love it", while meaning "I know you. I care about you." I don't think there's a bigger gift I could possibly give to my students than turning them into readers.