Teaching & Grad School

Reading: Teaching & Grad School

During my first year of teaching, I had a student, Jack, in my sophomore English class who didn’t like reading. In a survey at the beginning of the year, he reported that he had not read any books during middle school or his freshman year of high school. The only thing he liked less than reading was doing his work. I struggled daily trying to figure out how to encourage him to do both. Fortunately, I had just finished Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer the summer before, and the previous teacher had left a few books on a small shelf in my classroom, so whenever my students finished their work, or we had an independent reading time, I encouraged them to choose a book from the shelf, read it, and keep track of what they had read. At first, Jack resisted this effort, even as other students were settling in and reading their books. He would go to the shelf, pick up a book, pretend to read while holding the book upside down, or try to turn around and talk to a neighbor. The next day, he’d choose a different book. This continued for a time, until one day I noticed that Jack was holding his book upright and appeared to actually be reading. I was a little sceptical, but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Then, I noticed that he was actually picking up the same book off the shelf. Not long after that, I found myself telling him, “Jack, I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but will you put the book down and complete your assignment, please?”

During the next parent-teacher conference, his mother said that Jack historically didn’t like to read, preferring instead to being outside. She enjoyed reading, and tried to encourage him, but this did not work. Then, one day after he’d been in my class for a few months, she noticed him sitting nearby in a recliner with a book open in his lap. She asked him what he was doing, and he replied that he was reading. She couldn’t believe it.

At the end of the class that year, Jack reported that he had read seven books. That’s a 700% improvement over what he’d read the previous three years!

I was hooked. Since then, I encourage independent reading in all of my classes, and have had numerous students tell me that they either enjoy having time to read, have discovered (or rediscovered!) a love of reading, or have improved their ability to read. Personally, I continue to read whatever I love, including mysteries and thrillers such as Hit Man by Lawrence Block which features an unconventional protagonist or William Bernhardt’s Ben Kincaid series, which begins with Primary Justice, and features a rather timid protagonist who nevertheless saves the day as a somewhat hapless, yet lovable, lawyer (who, incidentally, relies on a streetwise yet quirky young woman who as his legal assistant helps him solve his cases).

While I’m still an introvert, still love burying myself in a good book, I am much more capable of expressing myself and using my newfound “power” to encourage other people to learn about themselves and others through reading and writing.