Posted in Education, Summer Reading, Teaching

Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 19: My Transformation

When I was younger, in the fifth grade to be exact, I was very sad and depressed.  I didn’t much care for my life.  I had even conisdered suicide.  I never attempted it, but I had thought about ways I could end my life.  I had no real friends, I viewed myself as ugly, and was doing poorly in school.  Then, on the morning of the last day of fifth grade, the unthinkable happened.  My only sort-of friened, Tyler, was hit by a car as he crossed the road to board the school bus.  Fortunately, he didn’t die, but he was in the hospital all summer.  I went to visit him once.  It was one of the most difficult things I had ever done at that point in my life.  He was still unconscious and hooked up to all these machines.  There were so many wires.  I was overwhelmed.  It got me thinking too.  Life is clearly short.  It was like a switch flipped inside of me.  No more feeling sorry for me and my sad life.  As Red said in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”  So, I got busy living.  I started looking at the world differently, even at such a young age.  It wasn’t me against the world, it was me and the world.  I was happy.

Every once in a while though, I get sucked into that sad or angry place again.  A few years ago, I was angry at my school.  Very few teachers employed by the school were actual educators.  Most everyone was doing there own thing at the detriment of the students.  There was very little collaboration and most teachers spent their classes lecturing at the students.  No one was heeding the advice of the neuroscientists.  Few teachers actually engaged the students.  I wouldn’t even have conisdred us a school back then.  However, this anger came from a selfish place.  My persepctive had changed for the worse.  Luckily, I have some supportive friends and an amazing wife who made me realize the error of my ways.  It wasn’t my colleagues or my school that was the problem, it was me.  I had to change my perspective once again.

Reading Kelly Gallagher’s book Readicide is starting to make me angry again.  I’m realizing how badly our country’s schools are killing reading for many students.  Yes, I’ve known a lot of these facts for a while now, but to view them through Gallagher’s lense reminds me how big of an issue this really is.  We can’t continue poorly teaching reading to our students.  Students need to see reading as fun and enjoyable, not boring and laborious.  He brings up another salient point about struggling readers as well.  The way most schools “help” those remedial readers actually hurts them and causes them to fall even further behind their classmates.  We need to move to a workshop model of reading instruction.  We need to provide students exposure to many different types of reading on their terms.  We all recall how much we hated being forced to do something when we were younger.  So then, why do we force our students to do something they clearly don’t enjoy?  Learning comes from engagement, not stress and boredom.  

Before I get too worked up, I want to put things back into perspective for me.  I teach reading in an engaging way that helps all readers grow and develop.  Struggling readers leave my sixth grade classroom loving reading and advanced readers leave the sixth grade loving reading even more because they were able to read all types of new books they had not experienced previously.  So, I’m doing the right thing.  I’m spreading the word about Reader’s Workshop and choice when it comes to reading instruction to others at my school.  There’s not much more I can do.  Yes, the poor teaching of reading is a huge problem in our country, but all I can do is spread the word about how fun reading instruction can be when done effectively.  I model good reading habits and talk to other teachers about Reader’s Workshop.  While I can be angry, I can’t let that anger get the best of me.  I need to channel it into action.  So, I will continue preaching the good word about reading instruction and employing the Reader’s Workshop model of reading instruction in my classroom.  I will continue to find new and engaging reading material for my students.  I will continue to read more myself and learn all I can about reading and great literacy instruction.  I will grow and develop into an even better reading teacher and reading expert so that I can help other teachers see the light.  My transformation can easily become someone else’s transformation.  

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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