Every year as summer nears its end, I find myself staring wistfully at the books that I hoped to read but didn't, and saying goodbye to the world of words and imagination that immersive reading can create. But does it have to be that way?
Do we have to say goodbye to something that is so essential to our happiness as reading for pleasure is for many of us? And as educators and life-long learners, how are we modeling the essential value of reading if our students never see us reading for pure enjoyment?
Who has time to read for pleasure? Isn't pleasure reading a luxury, meant for the leisure class, an activity like high tea or yachting that us little people should not aspire to enjoy once summer comes to an end? I say no and absolutely not.
Some of you might knowingly chuckle to yourself and talk about schedules, etc., and might rhetorically wonder who really has the time during the day to do something so subversive as reading on the job. And I'm not talking about online reading, or reading books about education or ebooks, but taking time in the middle of your school day to read that big, fat paperback that you meant to take to the beach before your in-laws made that surprise visit during the summer months and is now is shoved in a corner of your bedside table. Yes that one -- underneath that fresh stack of pop quizzes that need to be graded, which you so eagerly (maybe too eagerly) surprised your students with during the first week of school.
But aren't we at school to do our job? Isn't reading for fun at your teaching job just as inappropriate as watching a movie or cruising your favorite social networking sites when what you really should be doing is prepping for your next class?
Maybe, but unlike those more popular activities, our students are not lacking motivation to do them. And while I value how cinema and online media add value to education and our lives, I still believe that they are not as fundamental as poetry, long form nonfiction, and literature are in deepening our understanding of the universe, the world, and being human -- as well as just making us feel like ourselves again.
And as far as time and schedules, I hear you, but I wonder if most of us were to examine our daily routine and keep track of the time we spend doing non-essential activities during the school day (checking personal email, chatting with a colleague about your weekend, or going out for lunch) as opposed to gobbling down that sandwich while working at the computer, we might want to reconsider how a good book can fit into the 15 to 30 minutes we might have free during our day.
I believe taking time do those small off-task activities are all equally important if you want to be more than an edu-bot -- always off to the next teachable moment. And if you want to be that whole person who can be there for your students in the long run, and not just another burnt out educator wondering if that job as a chimney sweep would have given you a better chance of surviving past your forties, then maybe its time to pick up a good book.
In the Classroom
Join me this school year and take up challenge of being an on-the-job reader. Hold off on checking that email for a little while longer. Close that laptop and keep it closed for a good half-hour, grab that book well before that last bell has rung. You've planned that lesson and now have a moment before the students are about to come into the classroom to dip back into a good book.
Don't over do it. "Game of Thrones" can wait, and you might want to start small. I suggest a thin volume of poetry, or if you want to meet your more visually minded students halfway, perhaps a juicy graphic novel about real-life heroes in epic situations.
When your students come into the classroom, of course you will say good morning, or hello, but instead of switching your attention back to that row of grids, numbers, and boxes on your computer screen that seem to define your life, turn your focus back to your book.
As the students take their seats or perhaps approach you with a question, put up one finger and say "Hold that thought, [insert inquiring student's name here], I'm at a really good part of this book!" Don't let yourself panic or become anxious because you think you might just be neglecting them or your job. Hold on for a few seconds longer, maybe an entire minute and then . . . hold.
A minute or two after class has officially started, you may now put down that book. You may want to read aloud that last killer line that closes the chapter with a cliffhanger, or slam the book down on the desk and say "Whoa! I was not expecting that!" Or if you really want to entice your students, raise your eyebrows and giggle quietly, and tenderly tuck the book into your drawer as if the pages contain living butterflies that might escape if you're too rough with them.
Now you have them -- or at least some of them. They might ask you questions about what you were reading, but I suggest you play it cool, put them off a bit. Tell them that you will share later on, but only if they're promise to be chill. You want to make sure that their curiosity is not so quickly quenched. Do this for a couple of days. But at some point, you will finally give in, open up and have that conversation about reading that you have always wanted to have with your students.
Calling All Teachers
This is not just for literature teachers. In fact, if you teach lit, your students might be expecting this type of weirdo behavior from you anyway. I am an art teacher and have been known to open up the occasional sci-fi book, Russian novel or autobiography and read it, gasp, right in front of my students! During the day! So, the opportunity for being a reading rebel is open to us all.
So don't wait until June before you re-ignite your joy for reading. Do it now, people, next week maybe, right in the middle of your teaching day, well before 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, and perhaps, daringly, right in front of that stressed-out assistant principal who is always hassling you, and boldly stake your claim to an essential human pleasure.
Your students will somewhere down the line appreciate it, and so will you.