Imagine learning to knit from someone who has never picked up knitting needles. Or imagine learning to ski from an instructor who has never put on skis. Or learning to drive a car from an instructor who has never been behind the wheel. I imagine these are not the instructors any of us would choose if we wanted to knit, ski, or drive. When learning a skill, I’m sure we would all prefer someone we consider an expert because they themselves know the skill. They’ve learned it, practiced it, and spent hours engaged in it. A few years ago, I took tennis lessons. I considered my instructor, someone who played tennis, watched others play, and studied the sport, to be an expert. Because my instructor had experience with the game of tennis he could teach me the skill, but in addition, he also had an enthusiasm for the sport that made me eager to learn and get better.
I was once talking with a second grade teacher and the subject of reading came up. I expected the conversation to take a turn in which we shared what we were currently reading and exchanged must-read titles. I always love a conversation about books, but this one was cut short when the teacher expressed the fact that she doesn’t read. I managed to stifle a gasp, but I don’t think I could hide the expression of disbelief on my face. I have always been passionate about books and reading and up until this moment assumed that all those who teach students to read have this same love. I believe that students who are learning to read also need experts, those who engage in reading themselves and have passion for books, much like my instructor who taught me to be a better tennis player. This to me, is a necessity for developing readers.
This school year just began and I am excited about sharing the titles I have read throughout summer vacation with my students at my school. I have read a handful of books every week so I can talk about books with my students and make recommendations. Just a few days into the school year and I have already started to put books into the hands of students. I was talking with a student who has read and enjoyed Dork Diaries so I gave her a book in the author’s newest series, The Misadventures of Max Crumbly: Locker Hero. When I asked a student who is new to our school about her reading interests and she stated she likes comics and books with action, I went right to the basket labeled “graphic novels” and pulled out Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. As she walked away with the book tucked under her arm I said, “I think you are really going to like it.” I have every confidence that she will because I myself have read the book and know it matches with her reading interests.
Every student learning to read should have a teacher who reads. As a reader, I have insight into the reading process that helps me better teach students skills and strategies. As a reader, I am a model for my students. Through the experiences I share about my reading, my students can see what it means to have a reading life and begin to understand the joy in having such a life. Because I read I also have expertise that enables me to match books with readers. I can talk up books that I have read, leaving students wondering about the plot, to hook them into wanting to read them. There are quite a few books that I want to share with my students this year because they are books that I loved and books that I think my students will love (Here is a padlet with some of the books from my summer reading list.) As the beginning of this school year rolls on, I will continue to have conversations with students about their summer reading. In these conversations, I will share with students what I have read during the summer in hopes that they will become excited about books, add titles to their reading lists, and see possibilities for growing their own reading lives.