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Archive for November, 2016

The Need to Read Part 2

Here we are again. Two years later and I’m still not the reader I want to be.

I know I’ve said this before, but as an English teacher you feel a real pressure to be reading all the time. Your students expect it, your colleagues expect it and even you, yourself expect it. In this world of tempestuous TV and the allure of social media (to which I fully indulge), I often feel the responsibility to keep book culture alive (and thriving). However, if I can’t be bothered to read, and literature literally pays my bills, then really, who else can be bothered?

In January 2015, I made a New Year’s Resolution to read more. I put forward a challenge to my classes that I was going to partake in my own ’20 Book Challenge’ from January to the end of the school year in July. Now, this was met with various reactions which I’m sure will be of no shock to you:

“Uh…do we have to do it?”

“What if our books are toolong?”

“What happens if we don’t read 20?”

And so on and so forth.

To which I essentially explained that the challenge was a challenge, not a punishment, not a threat, just something to put forward and see where we got to. Considering I was reading zero books (aside from books I read with my classes of course), ANYTHING would be considered a win, for them and for me. So we began. I put charts up on the wall with all of their names. They put stickers when they had completed a book. I checked and chatted with my students about their books everyday, gave them targets to read towards, encouraged them to continue, to allow them to give up and find something else if they wanted.

I think there’s also an expectation (certainly among my students) that if you’re a lover of books, you’re a lover of all books. That because I’m a reader I’ll read anything that’s around, ( I mean I would if I had zero options) and while I would defend all books and their right to exist, I don’t love all books. I think you can split readers into the ‘finishers’ and ‘quitters’ when it comes to a books that are difficult to get through. I’m self-admittedly a ‘quitter’ and while I think I’m quite determined in other aspects of my life, I believe deeply that life is too short to read books I don’t enjoy. I shared this openly with my class of students who thought me a ‘finisher’; to be honest even the most apathetic reader was shocked. I, Miss Drysdale was a book ‘quitter’.

Now that’s another thing, I’m trying to make ‘book talk’ cool in my middle school classroom. Reading is not cool at my school because I live in a community where reading is seen as a ‘posh’ or ‘educated'(in a bad way) it means people don’t want to be perceived as thinking they’re somehow better than others, or that they’re trying to change themselves. Not only do I have to combat the allure of the world of social media that makes reading seem boring, but a culture where socio-economic factors make people afraid to read.

“You’ll never get me to read Miss, I hate all books, all books are boring.”

“Okay, first of all, that’s not true, you loved ‘Of Mice and Men’, you said you never knew you could love a book before you read that”.

“Yeah, but that was different.”

The difference is that we read it together. I forget sometimes that I’m responsible for creating the magic of book loving in my own classroom, like my own English teachers did with me. How did they transfer that magic to get me to read and love books on own? I wrack my brain often thinking about it.

I’ve learned that some of the deterrents are people’s confidence, people are afraid. My colleague, a Math teacher confessed to me that she was a ‘bad reader’, and that she could never finish reading 20 books before July. She had almost written herself off as hopeless. It was this all too real moment for me, thinking of my own childhood experiences with Maths, that I had labeled and still label myself ‘bad at Math’. And sometimes, in rare moments, you’ll remember that they’re just that, labels, that can be peeled off, and tossed away. My colleague did just that, she decided to partake in the 20 book challenge. My heart fluttered. The world gained another reader because she seeks to imagine a self beyond her own.

Just today, while I was on duty in the library, I saw a student standing at the adult section of the library. Now, when a student stands in that section, it’s either a.) a mistake, or b.) because he’s been sent there by a teacher to find a specific book. I approached him asking what book he was looking for, he said he didn’t know. This is pretty common, students are at a loss when looking for books and often need help finding something. But this was different. He said he was looking for ‘surreal fiction’. Wanted to read the classic Russian authors. He was looking for a book just to read. Because he wanted to. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to read something beautiful. My heart swelled. Again, the world gained another reader because he seeks to understand a place beyond his own.

Fear motivates so many of our decisions, and it’s easy to understand why. But that doesn’t mean we should give into it. We should be afraid not to read. Particularly when the world is fast becoming a heartbreaking place, a place I struggle to understand (did I ever?). It is at this time that books offer so much. Remembering history so we don’t repeat it; understanding others’ perspectives’; seeking refuge from the harshness this world currently presents; finding ways to better ourselves, to care; and so many other countless reasons. Even if you don’t believe in books for love’s sake, then why not for the benefit of making people better communicators and more empathetic? Words, knowing their nuances, impact and possibilities creates for us societies full of people who are eager to understand and be understood. Readers are people who can change the world around them because to read a book is to commit to deeply listening, without speaking. And in times likes these, it could the most powerful and necessary communication of all.

At the beginning of my teaching career here in England, I wrote a blog post about reading entitled ‘The Need to Read’ which you can find here:

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