Monday, November 8, 2010


I have loved books for as long as I can remember. In fact, one of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor in the stacks at the Coronado library deciding which Nancy Drew to read (or reread) next. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, travel, biography, memoir, even cookbooks, I love them all, and so bookstores are some of my favorite places. I love that I live within walking distance of a street with not one, but two used bookstores. Today, I had a lovely excuse to visit both 5th Avenue Books and Bluestocking Books.

I became an English teacher in part because of my passion for reading. It is something that has given me so much joy, and as I slogged through the education theory classes of my teacher ed program, I imagined sharing my love of reading with my students. I looked forward to discussing books with them. I imagined turning them on to the way that books allow you to get around the cruel fact that we have only this one life to live, because books allow you to live vicariously, to try on different lives and walk for awhile along someone else's path. The reality of teaching, however, has been somewhat different from what I envisioned.

I teach struggling readers, ninth graders whose reading abilities are below grade level. Some of my students are getting close to proficiency, reading at about a seventh grade level, others read at fifth or sixth grade level, and still others read about as well as proficient second graders. Not surprisingly, most of my students hate reading; I mean they really loathe it. During our daily silent reading time, many of them will sit and stare blankly at their fingernails rather than attempt to read. I can't say that I blame them; I hate doing things that I'm not good at...taking out the garbage or vacuuming for instance.

{My old friends Tom and J.D. ... I'm unfamiliar with Luis, but I'm sure he's swell}
 In all seriousness though, I get it. I always loved reading because I was good at it; math, however, I detested because I was not good at it. It makes sense. Still, adjusting to the reality of the population that I'm teaching has been a struggle. It's not that I feel sorry for myself because instead of moderating great literary debates on color symbolism in The Great Gatsby or issues of justice in The Stranger, I am actually teaching reading. Rather, the hardest part for me is seeing how committed to hating reading some of my students are. It really breaks my heart to know what they are missing out on, especially because these are the kids who most need the escape of reading.

This is all a lot of background to explain why after work today, I happily went to three bookstores in search of a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Today Peter, a kid who has been defiantly refusing to finish a book all year, suddenly turned a corner and said that he really wanted to read The Wizard of Oz (primarily written at the Hotel Del, by the way). The only copy that our school library had was a monumentally intimidating 600 page annotated version which threatened to squash any positive momentum in Peter's reading life. So when I failed to turn up a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at either of the used bookstores by my house, I headed to Border's, found a copy in five minutes and then spent another fifty strolling the aisles.

I'm not sure what brought about the sudden shift in Peter's willingness to make a serious attempt at completing a book. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that he, along with many of his reluctant reader peers, is thoroughly enjoying the novel that I have been reading aloud to the class. For many of them it will be the first novel that they have ever completed. I am doing all of the reading while they follow along and even after forty-five minutes, when my voice is completely shot from my spirited interpretation of the various characters, they beg me to keep reading. When I first started teaching, I would never have guessed how much ninth graders like to be read to, but they do. I suspect that many of them have never had anything read to them for the simple pleasure of enjoying a good story. It also helps that we are reading a Vietnam war story with realistic dialogue which means they get to hear their teacher drop the F-bomb every few pages.

Soooo, today I'm grateful for books, for authors, for the owners of used bookstores who have the will to survive on what I can only imagine are very thin margins in these economic times. I'm thankful for the power of a well-told story (and a few strategic F-bombs) to capture a student's attention. I'm also very much looking forward to the effect of the guilt trip I am going to lay on Peter tomorrow when I explain that I went to three bookstores in search of this book so he damn well better finish it.

Unrelated, but also enjoyed this evening was this sign:

I wonder if imaginary Boston Terriers are invited to the Tea Pawty... I think Emerson would quite enjoy the outing.

{My imaginary dog as photographed by daphenator}

1 comment:

  1. Peter doesn't know how good he has it with a teacher like you.
    Luckily your husband does.
    Nice job!!


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