The Things That Make Your Skin Crawl

May 22, 2011 at 9:00 am (General) (, )

Every now then, I hear something that- as a reader, as a writer, as someone who came through the public school system- absolutely makes my skin crawl.

In this case, it was a woman who came through my line while I was working the registers. She’s a preschool teacher, and as we were talking, it came about that she hates reading. Hates it. Doesn’t do it for pleasure, doesn’t do it at home, and hates how much she has to read for the kids at school. Hates it.

Then it got worse: the girl behind her in line was a first year teacher who absolutely agreed with her. The two got to talking about how they do as little reading with the kids as possible, because they personally dislike it so much and don’t see that it makes a difference.

I pretty much wanted to curl up in a tiny ball on my register mat and sob.

I understand that not everyone likes to read. I don’t get it, but I understand it. Like any hobby, it has its followers and its detractors. Okay.

But we’re talking about teachers who purposefully limit the reading in their classrooms because they don’t personally like it.

Which means entire classrooms of children who are being taught that reading is a chore, that it isn’t fun, that it’s not a skill worth pursuing or something to be done for pleasure. Entire classrooms of children that will need serious, passionate coaching from other teachers, parents, and friends to recover from these lessons, IF they’re fortunate enough to get teachers in the future who don’t feel the same as the teachers they have now.

I’m pretty sure I’ve had teachers who didn’t personally like to read, who didn’t sit on the couch at home curled up with a book in their free time, but I have never had one who didn’t passionately encourage reading in their students. Even those who didn’t teach reading or English still believed and taught the importance of reading. Most of my math teachers didn’t talk about books but they did talk about the incredible importance of being able to clearly read the problems. My Algebra I teacher, Mrs. Nelson, used to create problems for us based on reading speed and number of pages, simply because she knew there were those of us who loved to read and she thought it might make us more enthusiastic to do the work (it didn’t, and I still hate math, but I did appreciate the effort).

And there was Mrs. Cooper, my fourth grade reading and writing teacher, who used to watch me read ahead to the end of the book while the rest of the class read a chapter aloud. Then, for every other day the class read the book aloud, she’d send me to the library so I wouldn’t get bored hearing things I’d already read. By that point I’d actually read through most of the books in our elementary school library, so through the rest of fourth grade and all of fifth grade, one of the media specialists would walk me up to the middle school library up the hill (the two schools shared P.E. fields) so I could read there.

I have a way of getting in trouble when I’m bored- this was in everyone’s best interest.

But more importantly, it was a way to keep me reading, even when I got bored with what the class was doing. There were some of us who always worked ahead, so she worked with us. For those in the class who were unenthusiastic readers, she worked to find ways to get them excited. She looked for books that followed their interests, created activities that combined reading with things they like to do.

Our class loved playing “Heads Up, 7-Up”, a game I remember loving but only marginally remember how to play. We asked constantly to play that game. So, Monday through Thursday, we’d spend a few minutes before or after lunch reading about other kinds of games, or reading small mysteries, or things of that nature, and then Friday, if we’d done everything we were supposed to do during the week, we’d get to play the game. Kids devoured the reading projects for the anticipated reward, but they were still reading.

When I reached sixth grade, Dr. Carroll- a man who has done more to shape me as a reader and writer than any other single person- had us do book journals for everything we read, single sheet questionaires that basically proved that we’d read the book. We had to do a certain number of them over the course of each nine weeks, but for every journal we did over that, we got extra points where we needed them. This was an amazing option for the kids who weren’t as strong on the writing portions, or the ones who had trouble with the grammar rules and editing- the added reading also helped them recognize those basic structure rules, which in turn helped them with their other assignments. Sneaky, sneaky. And brilliant. Though I have to admit, I hated two things about those book journals: I hated giving away the ending, and I hated having to pick a favorite part a/o character.

Fast forward a few years to tenth grade. By this point, we’ve gotten into the serious required reading, where just reading isn’t enough. We have to read certain things, we have to dissect them looking for things the authors may or may not even have meant to do, and we have to do papers on these dissections. Books here are a lot more hit or miss. Sophomore year, Mrs. Geiszler assigned us Wuthering Heights. Most of my friends and I called it Withering Blights. I loathe that book. I got partway through it, because I’m willing to give almost anything that much chance, but I desperately wanted to put it down and never, ever touch it again.

Which would have meant failing that set of assignments.

But seriously, I HATED this book! I wanted the moors to open up and swallow Heathcliff and Cathy whole so they could be out of everyone’s misery- including mine.

So Mrs. Geiszler worked out a compromise with me: I could twist every assignment to talk about how much I hated the book, dissect it to explain exactly what didn’t work and why certain things were so detestable, as long as I finished the book and did the assignments. I know a lot of other teachers who wouldn’t have bothered. A lot of others would have just told me to do the assignments as given and failed me if I didn’t. But Mrs. Geiszler understood that we weren’t going to love every book we had to read for class, so she looked for ways to keep us reading in spite of it.

These are the teachers who helped shape me as a student, the ones who knew how important reading is to everything we do, and went the extra mile to keep everyone reading, even those who didn’t particularly like it.

So then back to these two teachers in my store who hate reading. I kind of wanted to shake them and ask if they had any idea what they were doing to these kids. Because kids who aren’t encouraged to read rarely make the effort to do so. These are the kids- like some of the unfortunates I graduated with- who leave high school barely able to make their way through a Frog and Toad book. The earlier kids get hooked on reading, the more likely they are to stay readers.

Readers who support authors by buying books.

Readers who think outside the box because books keep their imaginations flexible.

Readers who- oh by the way- get higher test scores.

Readers who do better academically, and are more likely to pursue- and be funded for- advanced degrees.

Readers who have the potential to change everything as we know it by advancing medicine, technology, engineering, and so, so many other arenas.

Readers who just might turn into teachers that share that love of reading to others, to keep changing the world.

If you’re a parent, and you think your child might have a teacher who doesn’t promote reading in the classroom, PLEASE work with them at home. Read before bed, or as a way to unwind after dinner, or even in the car. Take your kids to library or bookstore sponsored storytimes.

Teachers, I know funding is uber-tight and time is stretched thin, but see if your schools will allow you to start an after-school storyime or something of that nature. See if you can find older students- especially high school students who need community service hours for scholarships- to serve as reading buddies. I remember being a reading buddy- I loved it. And Rita, the kindergartener I partnered with, grew to love reading, despite coming from a home where her mother could barely read road signs.

Readers, see where you can volunteer, to get into the classrooms and work with those kids to keep them reading. I know reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but don’t let that influence kids away from reading.

Until next time~

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