In seventh grade,
she vowed to read every book in the library. She began in the fiction section, left to right, top to bottom, methodically working her way through the alphabet. Favorite authors included: Louisa Mae Alcott, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Daphne DuMaurier, Thomas Hardy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy. Reading was about the stories and the stories opened up the world.
Her social studies teacher handed her a copy of The Sun Also Rises. They talked about the themes, symbolism and imagery. It was a paperback. Days were spent on the book. Questions abounded: “Why read this book?” “What was her learning supposed to be?”
Language Arts class was all about diagramming sentences and practicing for a spelling bee. No reading. No writing.
Book two was A Farewell to Arms and more conversations. The depth of conversation was intriguing. Read and then talk? A readerly life was redefined. She was reading with a purpose – for that conversation with an adult, a teacher. Savoring the words. Wondering “Do I really understand this book?” Treasuring the conversations. Bringing the world to the reader.
Why did the student set such a lofty goal?
What role did her teachers play?
How did that goal shift?
A first grade reader
wanted to read books. Her teacher said she had to pick books on the first grade shelf. It was the lowest shelf in the library. The shelf was four-foot long. It was not even completely filled. It had 41 books. By November, the first grader had read all the books because after all, there were no chapter books on the first grade shelf.
One day she chose a book from the second grade shelf. The teacher shook her head, “No, you can’t check those books out. They are only for second grade readers. Read something from our shelf.”
Those words made the girl’s stomach ache so much that she went home sick. She missed 37 days of school in first grade.
How big of an impact does a teacher have?
What teacher actions support a reader?
So what happened to that first grade reader?
When she went home, she read her books from the public library. Three books each Saturday – that was the checkout rule! She devoured the Nancy Drew mysteries and sometimes had to switch to a different book so she could read them exactly in order. Bobbsey Twins was another favorite, and because her brother did not check out books, she also read every one of the Hardy Boys books.
A reader was born in spite of the lack of books at school. And when she went to junior high, her seventh grade teacher was drafted to serve in Vietnam. The long-term substitute for social studies came from the University of Iowa and one day handed her a copy of The Sun Also Rises.
Years later, I still read Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier at least once a year to consider the masterful craft that begins with, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” I remain a voracious reader.
And now YOU know the rest of the story!
How do you know you are having a positive impact on your Readers and Writers?
Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.