being me, Reading, Reading Identity

My New State of Reading

Normal Design

I haven’t really been reading much. Not like I normally do. Not like when I am home and the days are long and my to-be-read shelf beckons every moment I pass by it. Where I swallow a book a day, share it with the world, eager to pick up the next one.

Right now, my shelf makes me feel guilty. The abandoned books piled around the house. Starting the same book over and over again because I am sure it is good if I can just pay attention. Reading comes in short bursts between kids needing me, my computer pulling me away, my phone a distraction. The need to sleep. To simply sit and ponder. To be outside trying to connect with a world that feels very far away right now. It’s simply hard to read right now.

It’s hard to read when my children demand attention through their yelling matches and “I’m bored, Mom…” and their school work consumes hours of our time and it hasn’t even really begun yet.

It’s hard to read when my favorite genre, dystopian, hits a little too close to home.

It’s hard to read when the to-do’s of my job keep piling on, navigating new territory every day, not quite sure if what I am doing is even close to effective.

It’s hard to read when you worry.

When breathing is harder.

When loss is present.

When sleep is elusive.

When worry is a constant companion.

It’s hard to read when the world outside is scary.

(Even when I sit in my heated house, with a fridge that’s full and my paycheck still intact.)

I read to learn. To escape into worlds and stories unlike my own. To relax. To have my imagination lit up. To be transported and while right now may seem like the perfect time to escape, the tethers that hold me firmly in place are thickened steel, and my mind refuses to settle.

I cannot be the only one that feels that way. I am not the only one that feels that way.

My students tell me that they haven’t really been reading. That they sleep a lot. That there is so much work to be done now that school is back in session whatever this means. That they don’t have books. That they can’t find a good book. That they don’t like reading digitally. That they read the only book they had. That they tried but they have to keep going back to reread, hoping to grasp the story that slips through their concentration. That they don’t know what to read next because nothing sounds good.

And I get it. My assignment of reading 2 hours a week is merely an aspiration at this time. Of saying I hope you’re safe enough to read. I hope you are fed enough to read. I hope you are okay enough to read. That those taking care of you have what they need so you have what you need.

And so we send books to those who don’t have any (a survey and Amazon direct shipment helped us out with that). We send them links to digital books. We fill our Audible account with great books. We leave book reviews on Flipgrid in case they have a way of ordering books. We read aloud to pretend that we are still together.

Because that’s all it can be right now.

An invitation to those that are in a place to receive it.

A way to offer up a slice of normalcy for those who can access it.

Not as a way to punish or grade.

Not as a way to go on with life as normal, because it is everything but.

To demand someone read right now is to fail to recognize what may be happening in their world. Is to ask for the impossible for some.

That doesn’t mean we stop hoping but it does mean that we ask a lot more questions than we might usually: Are you okay? Are you safe? Are you feeling ok? Do you have what you need? Food? Heat? Books? Do you have a safe space to read? Do you have enough time to read? And we respect that students may not tell us their truth because they don’t have to. That all we can do is ask and try, not demand and want.

And we wrap our students in patience rather than demands. In understanding rather than expectations. And we fully sit with the knowledge that this reality is not like anything we have seen before and therefore our approach must change as well.

That perhaps a child can read but not think clearly. That perhaps a child doesn’t have the room for deep analysis right now. That perhaps they don’t have the energy to write but could speak? That perhaps a whole book seems much too much but a short story is accessible. That perhaps picture books are all they can do right now.

Choice, personalization, and giving options for students has to be central to what we do right now, to what we do all through the year.

That what we may be working through in our tiny slice of the world may look nothing like what our students face.

That if we, professional adult readers, are struggling, how does it feel for the kids?

Today, I am going to try to read. I have been fighting what my doctor assumes is Covid-19 but a mild case and the exhaustion is all consuming. I am going to get through 2 or 5 or 10 pages and then congratulate myself. Be happy that I tried, even if normally I would be able to finish a book quickly. Even if I normally would feel lazy if I didn’t read at least a book a day.

Today I am going to try again because yesterday I tried too. And I am going to encourage my students to try and to to keep trying. But I am going to continue to know that sometimes trying is all we can do. Trying is what will happen rather than completing and that is good enough for now.

Right now is nothing like normal. Let’s not push normal expectations on kids either.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

15 thoughts on “My New State of Reading”

  1. Pernille, this is exactly what I (and so many of my coworkers) needed to hear right now. I have been feeling so guilty for not reading MORE. Not using this extra time to finish my humungous stack of TBR books. Thank you for beautifully voicing everything that I am feeling and going through right now. I am sending you warm wishes, prayers, and hugs for a full recovery. Hang in there. You are a beacon of light to us all.

  2. Take care of yourself Pernille. Thank you for writing about what many of us are experiencing right now. As usual, you are so in touch with what matters most – relationships.

  3. Please take care of yourself, Pernille. For what it’s worth, I am having the same struggle escaping into reading (right down to the fact that I normally love dystopias and right now don’t want to go anywhere near them). I’m grateful that my 10-year-old daughter has been able to escape into books (she’s consumed with the Land of Stories now, which seems perfect to me). But for me, not so much. Wishing you and your students well!

  4. “But I am going to continue to know that sometimes trying is all we can do. Trying is what will happen rather than completing and that is good enough for now.”
    Yes!!! God bless and prayers for a speedy recovery. 🙂

  5. Take care of yourself Pernille. I am also struggling to read for many of the reasons you listed here. The change from being an active teacher- walking around, looking over shoulders, sitting with them in the cafeteria, tracking them down around the building to a person who sits at a computer google meeting or searching, searching, for something engaging — is exhausting. I also love to read. I also have trouble picking up a book. Keep trying… it is the best we can do.

  6. Yes, yes, yes! I teach post high school transition students with many challenges, most of whom need 1:1 assistance and in some cases even hand-over-hand direction. I am struggling to fulfill district requirements for daily content, most of which I am creating as I go because this is not what we do in transitions. I want my families to know that the work is there for them to take what they want and leave the rest. That for those who can – please do. That for those who can work independently and NEED the distraction or stimulation of the work – here it is. That for those parents who are overwhelmed with their own struggles and are now having to take on 1:1 teaching – that I do not walk in their shoes – not as the parent of THIS child – and that it is ok to skip, to pick and choose, to not do – this does not define you or your child. And I want them to know that this is not ME – this is not our program – this is not how we do life skills and adult living and vocational training, and self-awareness. This is not us – 5 classes – 5 days a week – 5 lessons submitted each day – day after day. And I miss my students. Thanks – this was what I needed today.

  7. I thought with students doing “remote learning” I’d have some reading time. The busy-ness has just shifted. Lots of thinking needed = tired and lots of emails and zoom meetings. Like you, I am going to mindfully have some reading time this long weekend! ❤️

  8. Tell me about it.
    Last night’s convo right before bed…
    Bob- Why are you on your phone?
    Me- Playing games.
    Bob- I thought you were going to try to read.
    Me- I read a chapter – and a half!
    Bob- You never stop in the middle of a chapter.
    Me- I stopped paying attention, so I thought I’d stop.
    Yup. Usually Bob’s saying, “Put that book down – it’s time to go to bed.”
    Yup. Many of us are with you – and our students, Pernille.

  9. I have been processing the same ideas around reading as you. In our online class yesterday, I let kids share out what they are reading, and I shared my lack of motivation and desire to read in the midst of all of this so they would know it’s okay if they aren’t able to read, too. I have felt like a hypocrite, not using all this time to read more as I implore my kids to read. But the reality is that my desire to read is not there. I am busy worrying about my students’ well being. Thank you for helping create community around a shared struggle. It helps lighten the burden of this dreadful situation we find ourselves in. I hope you feel better soon.

    1. I wondered if I was the only one feeling this way. I hurried to the library while it was still open, just so I would have plenty to read, but I also have been struggling. I’ll sit for hours doing a mindless coloring app on my phone while rewatching The Office with my 18 year old. Getting lost in a book just takes so much concentration. And if the book is even a little suspenseful or scary, my anxiety shoots through the roof, even if the book has nothing to do with illness and pandemics. Thank you for sharing how you are feeling. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

  10. Thank you for sharing so honestly. I’m out of my normal habits and sleeping more than ever. Please rest and slow down and recover. The world needs you healthy again.

  11. So often, you take my thoughts and put them into soothing words on a post. I too unbelievably am also having trouble finding my usual escape through books and I have an attractive pile of TBRs. I can easily I magine how unappealing reading might be for that student who has just one book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Glad to hear your case is mild. Hope your recovery is a speedy one.

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