I was a junior in college when I first realized I wasn’t a reader. I sat in one of my education classes staring at a list of books. I went line by line, searching for something known to me. My mind scrambled. I recognized some of the titles, but not much more. We had to choose one to read independently for an assignment. I heard one girl say, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower was an awesome book, I read it a few times. Well worth it.” Another classmate mentioned something about how much she read in school. Others were discussing books they disliked reading. The more I listened, the more I started to panic. I stared at the list, realizing that I was studying to become an English teacher, but didn’t read. I was mortified, embarrassed and ashamed. How could everyone around me have read so much? Why hadn’t I read anything?
I thought back to my reading experience in high school.
The teacher would choose a book for the class. I had weekly comprehensions questions, some group and whole class discussion, maybe a pop quiz, and typically an ending exam to prove I read and understood. All the while, everyone read the same chapters each night. Except, I never actually read any of those chapters, nor did any of my friends. Instead, we read online summaries. It was easy, simple and less time consuming. Plus, we passed most of the work. All without reading the actual book. A perfect time-saver.
But there I sat, a soon-to-be English teacher, surrounded by readers discussing their love of books. I enjoyed writing, but reading was just something I had to do for school. I couldn’t recall one book that I had actually read, let alone enjoyed. I wasn’t a reader. I wish I could say I just started reading more and more and fell in love with it, but it wasn’t that easy. It took me 6 more years to become a reader.
From that moment on, I stopped fake reading. I tried to get through every book assigned to me. No more online summaries or Googling answers (well, okay, maybe just a few). It was difficult to sit and read. There were so many distractions calling my name. It wasn’t as entertaining as watching a video, movie or TV show. It wasn’t as flashy or hands on as playing video games. It wasn’t as fun as hanging out with friends. It was all mental and I didn’t see a reason to put so much time and effort into it.
Luckily, I fell in love with teaching from day one. My constant desire to grow as an educator led me to books written by other teachers. Suddenly, I didn’t need to find an interest in reading. I wanted to figure teaching out and those books held the answers. I started to understand what it meant read for enjoyment.
I kept at it and discovered that too many students do exactly as I did in school. They fake read because they’re blind to the relevance or importance of reading. It’s just something they’re forced to do for a grade. I had no interest in forcing kids to fake read, I wanted to show students the value of independent reading and how beneficial it is.
Last summer, after my third year of teaching, I became serious about reading. I started reading middle grade appropriate books as fast as I could. I discovered a hidden interest in stories and the words that form them. I built a reading list. I bought as many book as I could afford for a classroom library. I wrote about books in my writer’s notebook. I started collecting lines or sections that stuck with me. I read more education books about reading. Most importantly, I placed independent reading above any and all standards I was required to teach.
And so far, it’s working. My students are reading far more than ever. Recently, while reading through Q2 reflections, one student wrote “I think maybe you could be a little less obsessed with books.” I laughed out loud and felt proud of my obsession. I felt proud that I could finally identify as a reader.
Getting every student to enjoy reading is a true challenge. I don’t have all the answers and I’d be lost if I weren’t constantly reading about what others are doing to promote life-long readers. Week in and week out I struggle to reach the most reluctant readers, but I won’t give up.
As educators, we need to do everything we can to create and foster actual readers. We need to share an enthusiasm for reading. We need to talk about books we read. We need to provide students access to high interest text. We need to keep trying even when a student resists book after book after book. We need to forget about the grades for a second, put down the assessments and show students the joy of reading.