Let me start with a quick flashback and confession. When I came back to teaching after having my kids, I was slightly out of touch. I had kids that ranged from two to seven and I was busy. My reading was limited to what I had to read for continuing education classes, self-help books like how to help my child with ADHD, and children’s bedtime stories. So when my students were asking if I liked Hunger Games or Twilight, two big series at the time, I was at a loss. I noticed that everything kids asked me about, I had the same response, “I haven’t read that yet.” And I’m going to be honest with you, I was not going to read it because I was too busy. And that’s what I hear so often from so many teachers, “I just don’t have time to read.” And I get it.
What I noticed was my students were reading less and less as I was less and less in touch. And let’s be real…why would kids read when even their reading teacher isn’t reading? The older kids get, and especially in grades sixth through eighth, the more they despise the do–as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do-approach. So if the adults around them are not reading, why should they? It’s clearly not important, right?
Fast forward a few years and my oldest, a very strong reader, was starting fourth grade. He was also starting to read books that were on my middle school classroom library shelves. I wanted to be able to talk about books with him, so we started reading one series after the other at the same time. It started with Among the Hidden, then The Hunger Games (our favorite) before moving on to Divergent and then The Fifth Wave. But while my son and I read each series and talked about them, I noticed that I was having more and more conversations with kids at school about these same books and we were all excited about it. I was having trouble keeping those books on the shelves and started adding more and more because my students were reading more and more, and before I knew it, I was reading their recommendations too.
Without even realizing it at first, I had so many readers who were devouring books, and it was because I was reading. No incentive nor connection to grade motivated students to read more than having a teacher who was a reader, and I think there are several reasons why.
- By just reading I had a common ground to talk to kids. If I was reading something like The Cellar I would talk about how much this book hooked me because it was similar to an episode I might see on the television show Criminal Minds, which is a series I love. It was a dark, twisted, fast-paced psychological thriller. Kids were then starting to talk to me about the type of television show or movie that was similar to their books, so when I came across kids who didn’t read because let’s face it, they just had not found the right book yet, I could ask, “So what types of movies and television shows do you watch?” and go from there.
- By just reading I was experiencing the same struggles as kids. You think grown ups are busy? Kids are busy too! They have school, after school activities, family obligations, distractions, and disruptions in the home too. I started paying attention to those struggles and simply talking to kids about it. I would tell them for example, “Last night I was so sucked into scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, and I just didn’t feel like reading my book. I tried anyway, but I’d read a page and then turn on my phone to scroll again, and I was just not getting my reading in. I noticed this is happening to me a lot…I’m just procrastinating. So I set my timer for 20 minutes and told myself I am not allowed to touch my phone until the timer goes off and I read. It worked. I think when I notice I’m procrastinating and wasting time on social media, I need to remind myself to set a timer and keep increasing the time to get back to my reading goals.” You know what I found out? Kids respect that. They respect the honesty about real struggles because it’s not always easy to read, but I would share my struggles and become a model for coming up with strategies for those struggles. Kids think reading just comes easy to some. It doesn’t. We all face struggles and have to use strategies to overcome them. Pay attention to the struggles and talk about them!
- By just reading I became a mirror for what I expect. We can’t tell kids how important it is to read and then not read ourselves. Yes, there are a ton of benefits that our kids need academically including the development of vocabulary, background knowledge, inferring and analysis skills, but they also need the development of empathy that we we get from reading about characters who live different lives with different struggles that we may not experience ourselves but others in our community may. And guess what? Grown ups need that too! But so long as kids see that reading is a chore they have to do and the grown ups can say they are too busy or they don’t like it, then we will never be able to get more than a small population to be readers.
Forgive me while I stand on my soapbox a bit longer.
So where am I going with this? Well, I am proposing, as educators, we become the mirror. Not just reading teachers…all of us. We put our excuses away and we read. We know that consistent, independent reading is a HUGE factor in academic success. But to make real change, we need to start with ourselves and let it grow from there.
I’ve been thinking of some starting ideas. What if every teacher advertised what they are reading. Let the kids call you out when you are spending too long with that same book! Actually sometimes when I just don’t feel like it, I remember that I share my reading with kids. They know what I am reading, and I can’t stay stuck in a book too long. That alone gets my butt moving. So what does that look like?
What if we all posted our current reads. I’m currently reading two books. One I listen to in the car on Audible while I drive my kids here, there, and everywhere. And the other I read most nights (I’m not perfect) before I go to bed.
What if we shared great reads with kids in person or even through Twitter?
Imagine being able to just type in a hashtag like #Snyderowlsread or #Shafersharksread and getting book recommendations. This is something kids can do too!
I challenge all of us to take the challenge and become the mirror. I know from experience that the more we read, advertise, and share, the more we hook students. So imagine if this was bigger than just a few teachers. Imagine what could happen if as a staff we all took the challenge.
It all starts with us. We are teachers. We teach, we inspire, we motivate, we encourage, and we are so much more effective when we are the models for what we expect.
So, I will step down off my soapbox, but I have one question…