Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Connecting through books

 I am a woman with a mission. Every year I try my hardest to help around 70 kids develop a passion for reading. I write them letters (HERE), help them meet authors on the internet (HERE) or in person (HERE), and purchase more books for my classroom than my salary really affords. Sometimes I pause and wonder why I do this?

It isn’t easy, that is for sure. I rarely watch TV because I am trying so hard to fill my time with reading. Honestly, from what I can tell, I’m not missing much on TV and books do fill me up, but I read and read and am never caught up.

I plan, looking at the CCSS or Illinois Learning Standards to decide on lessons for the week. I conference with kids, searching for lessons I need to share. I grab picture books, articles, excerpts of texts – and work hard to teach them not only to become better readers but also to fall in love with the world of books.  

And then, I have moments where I know exactly why I am doing this. It is these moments that I grasp on to when the overwhelming negativity of the current education climate becomes too much. When I can’t possibly handle one more mandate forced upon me by people that have never taught a day in their lives. That wouldn’t have the slightest idea how the mind of an eleven year old works. These are the moments I share with my students. To tell them that yes, they need to become readers. Because the world is a better place when you do. Those moments.

Moments like receiving a text from a colleague today… Something is wrong with Augustus….isn’t there??? I read that text at six am today and goose bumps rose up on my arms. I had loaned her John Green’s amazing The Fault In Our Stars and knew exactly what she was feeling. A connection through books.

Moments like having Haley come up to me in class today, cradling Jo Knowles See You At Harry’s as she said, in a whisper, “Has she written anything else? I need more.”

Moments like talking with Josh today as we looked over Amy Timberlake’s One Came Home and discussing what we would do if our sibling took off, would we have the guts to go after them as Georgie does? Would we be as brave?

Moments like sitting with a student for the last half hour of our reading class today, side by side, as I read Riordan’s The Lightning Thief. He wanted to give up; he does not read books this long. But I implored him to stick with it. He needs this book. He is Percy. He needs to see the goodness in Percy, in himself. I promised to read to him for a half hour to help him get into it. Our discussions over Percy’s mom and the Minotaur showed me, he’s hooked.

Moments like reading Sharon Creech’s Hate That Cat to three different classes on Tuesday. Each time, I broke down. In one of Jack’s early poems he thanks Miss Stretchberry for moving up with his class. He asks if she can move up every year with them. And then says, You understand my brain. I fought back tears every time.

What I had to explain to my students is that I had a class I looped with too. They are seventh graders now. And when I read this book to them three years ago, they cheered at this part, begged me to continue to move up with them. And then I’d find the post-it notes written and left on my desk You understand my brain.  The whispers of it when I helped one with an essay. The sweet comments that I was their Miss Stretchberry. I love all of my classes but looping with that group was special. And I can’t possibly read this book, this passage, without thinking of them. Wishing them well. And my heart hurts because of a connection to students I love through a book.

And so, when I think over moments like these, moments like these that I have every single day, I can’t help but realize that at the center of it all, there are books. Books are how I connect to others. Books are how others connect with me. Books are how I connect to myself. And I hate for anyone to miss out on this. I delight in the child that rushes in to tell me they were chastised by their parent last night, up reading late again. That they can’t believe how strong Max is to take care of her flock. That Ivan and Ruby are breaking their heart.


I’m so glad I get to witness these.