As teachers, we don’t always get things right. Sometimes we make choices for the wrong reasons and forget to prioritise relationships and learning. We’re only human! Here’s an example of this:
A few months ago, I published a post about how I shared my love of Harry Potter and how this influenced my students (click here to read that post). What I didn’t share, however, is a conversation that I had with one of my students soon after. This was a Harry Potter fan who’d watched the movies but had never read the books. He asked if he could borrow The Cursed Child when I’d finished. I’m ashamed to admit that I said no. I said it politely of course and made up a reason that he seemed to buy. However, the real reason was that I was overly protective about my £5 book. I cared more about the condition of that book than I did about my student’s love of reading. Shameful, now I think about it.
Like I have said before, I am an avid reader of children’s novels. The problem was that I was obsessive about their condition. Every book that I have ever read (some more than once) look like they are fresh out of the book store. I kept them in such immaculate condition by washing my hands before reading (seriously!) and being careful not to bend the pages too far back; just far enough that I could barely read inside. All of these books were lined up perfectly on my bookcase at home. Some of them hadn’t been opened for over a decade. Why did I act like this? I have no idea! There’s no logical explanation. I’d hate to trivialise OCD by calling it that, but you get the idea. Am I the only one?
What was the harm? There wasn’t any harm as such, but all of these years I have been missing a wonderful opportunity to develop relationships with my students and develop/ celebrate a love of reading. You will have noticed that I’m describing myself in the past tense. My old ways went out of the window this week, thanks to Kids Deserve It!. In the book, authors Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney explain how they donate their books to their school libraries when they have finished and, as principals, always prioritise reading with students. In a later chapter, they explain how they trust their students to take expensive technology home. The trust that they have for their students is inspiring. Why shouldn’t we trust our students? If they can trust their students with expensive technology, then I can trust mine with my books.
I highly recommend this book, by the way. Clicking the image will direct you to its Amazon page.
I packed up all of my books (well, all of the age appropriate ones) and packed them into a suitcase.
The next day, my suitcase waited in the classroom with a sign that read “VERY SPECIAL! Please do not touch yet”. I built up the excitement and students guessed what special gift I’d brought for them. A student slowly unzipped the case and lifted the cover. The students cheered as the books were revealed. This was the best reaction that I could have hoped for!
To build the excitement further, and to add to the special feel of the occasion, we dedicated an English class to the preparation of my library. Students designed posters, a checking in/out system, an optional book review form, a labelling system and even used the IKEA website to buy a new bookcase. At the end of that lesson, I offered the books to students for the first time. They flew off the shelves! Since then, my students have been glued to the books and excited to talk about them. However good your perfect home bookcase makes you feel, I can guarantee that this feeling is better. Nothing beats seeing a reluctant reader sitting on the bench at recess time reading (and smiling) to Mr. Stink. That’s what books are for! Books are to be read and enjoyed, not displayed. I urge you to get over your obsesses (it’s hard, I know) and donate them. If the worst does happen and one gets bent, ripped or lost… get over it and buy another copy. What you get in return is worth more than any book.
My personal library will be a part of my classroom from now and, of course, it will continue to grow. The best thing about it is that I have read the vast majority of the books, so I can have meaningful, informed conversations with my students about them. For example, my students and I love discussing Raj’s repeated appearances in David Walliams’ books, the locations of Voldemort’s horcruxes and the fate of Miss Trunchbull. Our shared interests and enthusiastic discussions strengthen our relationships. Be a reading role model by simply enjoying reading and sharing your experiences. If you have old books lying around, allow your students to enjoy them.
How do you develop your students’ love of reading? Have you ever prioritised your own silly feelings over learning? Please leave a comment below. Your experiences, advice and stories are always appreciated.