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?
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.