Sunday, May 15, 2016

Love. Read. Repeat.

"Susan did an unusual thing and listened. That's not an easy task for a teacher."

"There was something pleasant about an empty classroom. Of course, as any teacher would point out, one nice thing was that there were no children in it, and particularly no Jason." 

"'Just a minute,' said Lobsang. 'Who are you? Time has stopped, the world is given over to...fairy tales and monsters, and there's a schoolteacher walking around?' 'Best kind of person to have,' said Susan. 'We don't like silliness." 

-Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

I recently went back to Minnesota for a weekend, and finished an entire book between the two flights that brought me there and back. It was Terry Pratchett's Thief of Time. I found it at a used book store, and had been meaning to read something by Pratchett-and finally had time. (As a teacher, to find time to simply read for pleasure, is a rarity and a gift. Airports and planes allow for a lot of time to read.)

It got me to thinking about reading and teaching. One, because Susan, the granddaughter of Death, was one of the characters in the book, and is a school teacher. There were a lot of small teaching truths thrown in as side notes to develop Susan's character, and that resonated with me. But two, because it launched a lot of thinking on my part of the wonderful experience of reading a good book.

I love books. LoveLoveLOVE. One of my favorite places to go is used book stores. I am thankful that my parents also enjoy used bookstores--and books. My parents' home is full of books of all kinds, and as a kid, I visited plenty of bookstores. When I was little, my dad used to take my sister and I to the local library. We would pick out 6 books, but he set down ground rules so we wouldn't just leave with 3 Babysitter Club books and 3 Sweet Valley Twins books. We had to pick out at least one biography, and only two could be the kid-version of beach read/romance series whose individual books are churned out much quicker than I can manage blog posts. This pushed me to expand my horizons and discover my enjoyment of historical fiction, and also simply expand my cultural literacy. I am very thankful for those library rules my dad set.

I never considered not reading the books I checked out--once I start a book, I always feel like I needed to finish it, even if I am not particularly enjoying it. (Not that I've never not finished a book I've started, but it doesn't happen very often. As an amazon prime member I get "Kindle First" books--meaning one free book a month. Often they're the start of a series, or a trashy beach read. I still download them, though I haven't read many. Recently I read a pretty terrible romance novel, and though, as I read it, I noted it's forced tension and ridiculous plot (or lack thereof), I'll be damned if I didn't finish that thing.)

I continue to lament the loss of Borders Books--a place I'd just go hang out with friends in high school, and as a good meeting place as well, because whoever was early had something to look at while waiting. Now, it's a Whole Foods. Much less interesting to hang out in, though still a good place to find a public restroom when you don't want to buy anything. I still slip and call the parking lot there the "Border's parking lot" as opposed to the "Whole Foods' parking lot", as that name just reminds me of this gem, and not something that exists in my town. I feel very lucky that my boyfriend supports my children's book problem/passion. We've visited Placerville, Nevada City, Sacramento, and even simply downtown Davis for entirely unrelated reasons (often a brewery, winery, or delicious meal), and he still willingly veers off task into a used bookstore with me, so I can search for books to augment my classroom (and sometimes personal) library. Today we biked downtown for brunch, and then I dragged him to the thrift shop and I bought 10 more books for my classroom library (even though its just 3 weeks until the last day of school).

As a teacher, it was so fun to buy a bunch of picture books for my kindergarten class. It may have gotten me some strange glances, carrying around a book on counting to ten with penguins as an adult who I'd assume pretty clearly doesn't have her own children, but the draw of a good book trumped my concern with how odd I looked. Then, I moved to 4th grade, and suddenly had a new excuse to go out and buy more books! Chapter books this time! It has been so fun remembering books I read as a kid, and discovering new ones. I helped coach Novel Knowledge (a reading competition) this year (similar to the Battle of the Books, which I participated in in elementary school), and got to reread some classics (Half Magic, A Wrinkle in Time,) reread some more recent good ones (The One and Only Ivan), and read some new ones (A Long Way from Chicago).

So it breaks my heart when I have students who don't like to read, or won't read, or don't think they can, or like, to read. It breaks my heart that they don't have the motivation to allow themselves to lose themselves in another world. To let all their drama and troubles fade away and bury themselves in someone else's pain and triumph. So many students spend more time on tablet/phone/video games, and movies/TV/YouTube. Over spring break, I spent a day sitting outside and read an entire (kids) book (The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell). And I LOVED it. And in the escape from reality, I could simply relax. But my teacher self broke my happy bubble of reading relaxation to realize that many of my students haven't acquired that treasure.

And I am still trying to figure out how to give them the gift that is a love of reading. I love read alouds, and sometimes, a rowdy class will sit quietly for a bit in my reading of a good book. But to transfer that to reading for pleasure independently...there's a missing link. We have about 10 minutes of silent reading after lunch. I take the time to read as well--and I take the opportunity to read a book from my classroom library that I either haven't ever read (I'm in the middle of Al Capone Does My Shirts), or want to revisit (The View from Saturday). But, I have so many students who sit and stare blankly at books during this time. Or who spend the whole time pretending to look for a new book to read at my bookshelf. Or spend the whole time staring at their desk, then when reminded to take out a book, "looking" for their book in their desk. Or simply acting dramatic and wasting time.  And many of my students don't have the drive to complete a book they've started. I get excited when I see a beloved book in their hands during silent reading, but too often it goes back to the bookshelf or into another student's hands way too fast for the original student to have possibly read it to the end.

One time, I was reading a book (I think it was Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories,) and I laughed out loud. A student looks up and goes "What's so funny?" and I respond "oh, this book". And I realize: many of my students, either due to gaps in their reading comprehension, or motivation to read, don't often get the experience to truly experience a good book. I have cried, laughed, gotten angry, felt satisfied, and so many more emotions while reading books. How do I inspire my students to read a book all the way through? How do I transfer their enjoyment of me reading read alouds to them reading their own books? Some of the books I have read out loud (Love that Dog, Wonder), have inspired my students to check out those same books from the library. So I am making some progress.

But not enough. Which is a constant refrain in teaching: it's never enough. Not enough time. Not enough money. Not enough....everything. It's never enough, but still, we teachers never stop trying.

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