Be the change, being a teacher, books, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Becoming a Reader

My husband is not a reader.

By far, he is one of the smartest people I know.  He can fix anything broken, he can solve any problem.  He can dream and plan and build pretty much anything.  But reading, in the traditional sense of books, nah… not for him.

When I first met him, I couldn’t figure out how someone as smart as him could not see value in books.  How could you live a full life without books?  And yet, in the 17 years, we have been together, he has shown me how many facets there are to a full life.  But now he has been in school for the past two years, getting his degree as a Tech Ed teacher, and the other day after taking a particularly grueling test, he told me how much he felt like he wasn’t smart enough for the test simply because of his reading pace.  You see, the test was timed, and so when the time was almost up, my husband did what many of our students do all of the time; filled in as many unanswered questions with random guesses as he could.  Better answered then left blank.

He told me how he knew he could have answered them right had he had the time.  He told me how he felt this pressure at all times knowing that he wasn’t going fast enough.  He told me that he tried to skim as quickly as he could but then lost meaning and had to read it all over again.

If he had only been a faster reader, he would have been just fine.

It blows my mind still that we equate reading pace with reading comprehension.  That we allow standardized tests to teach our children that if they cannot read quickly, they cannot read at all.  Which jobs require us to read complicated materials within 90 seconds?  But that’s the reality we face and so at the end of our discussion, I gave him my best advice; read more books.  It is the one guaranteed way to increase your reading speed.  Find books you love.  Take the time to read.  And you will see, your reading pace will increase.

He told me how he just didn’t like books.  How he didn’t mind reading technical stuff (which he devours daily), but that books just had never caught his attention.  That they were too slow, too boring, too confusing.  That reading was never anything fun or entertaining but always presented as an assignment; read this book, do this work. Rinse, repeat.  He sounded exactly like my most resistant readers.  The ones we all teach that tell us loudly and proudly that reading is not their thing and we will certainly not convince them otherwise.

And so I did what I do every single day of the year.  I handed him a book, Orbiting Jupiter, and told him to try it.  To give it a shot and if he didn’t like it, tell me and I would try again.

He sat down and read into the night then woke up and finished the book.  He finished the book!  And then he asked me for another.  I handed him How it Went Down.  He started to read.

Today we went to my classroom to grab stuff.  He went to the bookshelves and started to browse.  Grabbed a few books, asked me about others.  Together we book-shopped.  He was open to whatever but had a few ideas, maybe some war history?  Maybe something with a fast pace?  Social justice lens?

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Brandon’s To Be Read Pile – his first one ever…

I quickly grabbed my tried and true, added them to his pile and realized right in that moment that I was working with him like I would any resistant reader: offer choice, support, time to read, and most importantly communication.  At 41 years old, it seems that my husband is finally going properly through the motions of what it means to know yourself as a reader.  And I couldn’t be prouder.

So often we focus on these aspects of developing reader identify when students are young.  Before they reach middle and high school.  Once they come to us older, perhaps more jaded, more stubborn, we sometimes forget to go back to the basics.  To treat them as we would any developing reader.  To go back to choice, community, access to meaningful books and discovery of who they are as readers.  To find the time to actually help them become the reader they can be.  Too often the content gets in the way.  All of the little things that constitute what teaching sometimes becomes, rather than what it should be.  We assume that someone certainly will figure out how to help this child become a reader without realizing that that someone is us.  That we are the person who needs to somehow reshape the reading experience that they have had until now so that they do not become adults who do not read.

Today, I was reminded of how it is never too late.  How every child that we teach has the potential to see themselves as a reader by the time our year is up.  That even the adults that tell us that they are not readers can still become readers.   But that they need our help, not our judgment, our know-it-betterness, our confusion of how they could live without books.  Instead, they need what every reader needs; choice, books, community, time, personalization, and understanding.

My husband is not a reader, but that doesn’t mean he cannot become one, now.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

10 thoughts on “On Becoming a Reader”

  1. So cool!!!!!! I have a parallel story! My husband is 59 and hasn’t read a book since high school. He is absolutely brilliant and can build anything and fix anything. A few months ago, he overheard someone talking about a book they were reading while he was at McDonalds. The story line grabbed him and when he came home he talked about what he had heard. I asked him if he would like to get the book and he said no. A day later, he asked if we might stop by a local bookstore while we were running errands. We bought the book!!!!!! A Stranger in the Woods. He couldn’t put it down. (I can’t help smiling as I type this.) The next week, we went to the bookstore again and he bought another book 12 Strong! He has now read four whole books and is looking for more! He is not a reader but he became one:)

  2. Love this post! Orbiting Jupiter is an amazing, gut-wrenching book. And I see another absolute favorite of mine in your hubby’s to-be-read pile: A Monster Calls. Cried my eyes out with that one. Also loved Yummy and A Long Walk to Water. Happy, happy reading to your hubby!

  3. This one made me teary. I love the phrase “not yet” as a mantra whenever I consider any questions that begin, “Are you/Can you…?” My dear friend and colleague, a serious reader girl, had a similar experience with her now-husband, at that time not-a-reader boy. She’d read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and really wanted to talk with him about it; he was working far from their home at the time. She asked would he? could he? And so he did and then did again as books became a bridge between their distance. Oh, the power of love. Maybe that’s something worth pushing for in our classrooms.

  4. Yay! Just what I needed as I reflect on the school year that just ended and what I want to do differently next year. I will not give up on my high school students who say they hate to read. I just know that they have not found the book to hook them yet. It’s there waiting for them and it’s my job and passion to bring them together!!

  5. This post makes me want to cry. My sons, 22 and 24, are not readers, at all. And I want that for them more than anything. Your post reminds me not to give up!

  6. A beautiful, hopeful story. Thanks for sharing. I can’t help but wonder what his experiences were in school to make him feel the way he does. I watched high school dismantle my son as a reader. In his first two years of high school he had women teachers who assigned both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. It was like a prescription for Readicide.

    I recently moved from middle school to high school and am struggling a bit with the attitude that “they can read this, they’re just being lazy.” I think, even in high school and beyond, we need to build readers. The kind of high quality YA that you suggested to your husband plays an important role, but is rejected as too easy (mostly by people who haven’t read it.) If you’ve read A Monster Calls, you know there’s nothing “easy” about it. I’ve seen football players finish it with tears in their eyes.

  7. I loved this post. Those of us that love to read can’t help but want to share the joy. I’m fortunate that my husband also loves to read, though he prefers nonfiction. I read both fiction and nonfiction, and still love picture books, as well.

    One of my biggest challenges was to turn my middle school son into a reader. I had to start reading books aloud and then be too busy to finish them once I knew he was interested. It wasn’t long before he was reading in bed at night — usually Patrick McManus outdoor adventure humor. It gave me great pleasure to hear the laughter coming from his room. He was not a fast reader nor an especially proficient one, but he wasn’t afraid to tackle books above his reading level if he was interested enough.

    Experience with my own children and while holding school book fairs taught me that many boys want to read nonfiction about things they want to know. It used to kill me when their parents refused to buy the books they wanted about frogs or how things work and insisted they get a story instead, as if nonfiction books weren’t real books.

  8. As educators, it is so easy to place all value in reading and our love for it. However, reading the world as text is sometimes better than immersing ourselves in a text without exploring the environments we live. I so value how your husband expands his view by reading and you developing the ideas with choice and not pace. As an educator and a university professor that teaches technical education students content area reading, I marvel at how they see the world and love when they explain it to me. They often look at the world like Sherlock Holmes would a crime. This is why I keep my office door open. It reminds me I need to step out to see where I am and it invites others to come and see why I stay there. Thanks for this post, I enjoyed reading it. Pernille, thanks most of all for your ability to be vulnerable so that you, and we, can learn from your deep exploration. all the best, Kevin

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