Why I believe every teacher must be a reader!

Finding the right words can be hard at times. I have started and deleted this post several times over the last few days. For most of you who read this blog on a regular basis you will likely agree with what I have to share. However, there are others that will come by this post and think that I am just being fanatical and what I am saying is impossible to do.  Yes, I have heard the excuses with, "I'm too busy" leading the pack.

However, over the years, I have truly come to believe that if you want to teach reading and writing and develop a love of reading and writing in children, then you need to love to read and write. It is just that simple and just that hard. One piece of good news, if you love to read and you read a lot, then the writing piece will be a bit easier. Readers often make good writers. Writers are often voracious readers. Reading and writing are two sides to the same coin. 

Let's start with reading.  

The single factor most strongly associated with reading achievement, more than socioeconomic status or any instructional approach, is independent reading.” - Stephen Krashen

Several years ago, I realized that if I wanted students to love reading and to see children grow as readers. I needed to love reading and be transparent about my reading with students. If I wanted to hold children accountable to reading each day, then I needed to read each day, and not just the emails that came into my inbox. I was fortunate that I have always loved reading but where I struggled was remembering to share my reading life with others. Quickly, I learned that when I shared about a book with students, then they wanted to read it. Yet, I had to be reading regularly and diversely if I was going to share books with students and make smart recommendations. 

Here are some of the changes that I made:

  • I made reading a priority in my life. This meant that I had to change some of my routines so I could spend more time reading - less television, more books & audiobooks, new weekend routines.
  • I started picking books beyond the genres that I loved so that I could recommend books to all different kinds of readers.
  • I reached out to various communities of readers both in real life and on-line. I would never know about enough books if I did not seek out the support of others. 

As I talked about books with children, they began to see me as someone who cared about what they read and how they felt about a book. They learned that they could tell me if they liked a book or didn't like a book and that we could disagree on books and still be part of the same community.  Also, our connection as readers continued beyond the time I had them at school. I still have many students that come up to me years later and say "let me tell you what I am reading" even without my asking about what they are reading.  They identify with me as a reader.

Just this past week, I had one parent come up to me to say that her daughter loved all of my recent book suggestions (the child and I have not been at the same school for 3 years but I still get asked to make recommendations) and that her teacher was so pleased with her level of writing. (Remember when I said readers often make great writers.)  

At a birthday party on Saturday, the parents of one of the girls at the party came up to me to say that the book I recommended to their daughter was a huge hit and she is now on book 2 in the series and did I have more suggestions.

And my niece who is now in high school came to me with a list of books she wanted to read and left with a stack (see below).  

Yesterday, my niece and I went to Vroman's Bookstore. At one point, as she was browsing books and asking about titles and I was commenting on which ones I had at home. She blurted out sarcastically, "Are there any great books here that you don't have?" To which, I provided her an equally sarcastic eye-roll. Somehow we managed to still find a few books to buy. (see below)

You may still believe that all this reading is great for me but it isn't possible for you. However, I know enough teachers and librarians to know that it is possible and that it does produce dramatic changes in the reading lives of our students.  Below are a few tips to encourage you on this journey of reading.

What are five habits that you can do this school year to make reading more a part of your life and part of your classroom:

1. Set a personal reading goal, make it fun, and don't beat yourself up. Can you carve out twenty minutes a day to read a chapter book over the course of a week, or pick a time on the weekend to read through a stack of picture books? Can you aim for one or two books a week? 

2. Connect with an on-line reading community to hold yourself accountable. Goodreads is one way that I have connected with other readers and also kept track of what I am reading. Following and participating in the #bookaday community on twitter is another great way to keep accountable and learn about books.

3. Recognize that even if you read for hours every day you cannot read everything out there. Make friends with other readers. I know that my local indie bookstores have great staff in their children's sections and I can ask for recommendations at any time. Other readers that I have met through Twitter and blog communities like #IMWAYR or #NFPB2015 or #nerdybookclub post what they are reading each week. I get lots of books suggestions from taking time to read those posts. 

4. Book talk about the books you are excited about with your students and ask them to do the same. When I listen to a friend tell about a book that they loved, I immediately want to go out and get the book. There is something infectious about their enthusiasm around a particular story. When you share about a book that meant something to you, students listen.

5. Spend time on reading and sharing books and not on busy work like one page book reports. This last one is more of a reminder to teachers that you would not read if you had to write a book report for every book that you read, so please don't do that to your students. I record what I read on GoodReads but if I had to write even a one line review for every book, I would probably stop reading. Writing copious notes about each book sucks the fun out of reading and leaves me with less time to read. If students want to know if you read a book, they will ask you for your thoughts. So, in some ways, why is it different for them? If you really want to know if a child read a book, confer with them or have them share a book they loved with a classmate who might also like the book. 

And finally, don't forget to have fun.