This post was written by NCTE member Carol Jago.
Will Rogers, as the story goes, remarked, “You can’t teach what you don’t do any more than you can come back from where you ain’t been.”
So it is with reading.
In our obsession with what students should know and be able to do—the mantra of the standards movement—we have lost sight of what we want students to be: readers. Too many classroom practices seem intent upon keeping students busy: filling in graphic organizers, practicing reading strategies, making lists of character traits, rather than developing the habit of reading.
The habit is most naturally acquired within a community of readers. The teacher is one reader among many. And the techniques are pretty simple. Find a book you are interested in; read it; think about it; talk about it.
Recall the last time you read a great book. When you turned the last page, did you say to yourself, “Gosh I’d really like to write an essay!” Me, neither. When I finish a book, particularly a troubling or confusing one, I am eager to discuss it with another reader.
Love for books drew us to this profession, yet in many cases as soon as we were handed the keys to a classroom, our personal reading was put on hold. With student essays piling up, we feel guilty about picking up a novel. The lure of Twitter doesn’t help, either. But when teachers stop reading, we can easily forget why we went into the classroom in the first place.
Our adult reading lives need nurturing every bit as much as those of our students. To insure that we continue to grow as readers, we need to find ways to be nourished in the company of other adult readers, doing what we love to do best. Don’t think of reading as a guilty pleasure, but rather as professional development.
On January 2, 3, and 4, I will be hosting an online discussion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.
Don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with the platform. NCTE will be by your side to help. Besides, we’re teachers. We’ll make it work!
Carol Jago is an avid reader. She has taught middle and high school English for over 30 years and is a past president of NCTE. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.