Around the time I was ten, I started counting how many books I read every summer. Taped to the back of my bedroom door was a notebook sheet of paper with years written down the side, a line of tally marks behind them. My goal for each summer? Beat last year’s number. And I did, until about the time I was seventeen with a full time job, a boyfriend and friends who I realized I no longer had forever with until we all went on with whatever we were doing with our lives. It’s not that I stopped reading, I just let sixteen year old Mary Anne win the competition. That piece of paper is no longer on the door, but I still have it so someday a less busy me can continue on.
At my middle school every six grader had to take a reading class. One of the first things we did was set a goal for the semester of how many pages we would read. I think the recommended number was 2,500; I wrote down 20,000. My thinking with was if I read even just ten 200 page books in the those 18 weeks I would have 20,000 no problem. After all, I had read a chapter book a day in fourth and fifth grade. My teacher wasn’t so sure. She didn’t want me to over work myself and after much persistence on my part, I was allowed to aim for 5,000 pages that semester. How sad is it that my “goal” was now a quarter of what I told myself I could easily achieve? However, I was a pretty vindictive sixth grader, so after that meeting I decided I would surpass 5,000 pages without a word. That fall I read book after book as I always had and the only clue my teacher had was the amount of times I borrowed the library pass. At the end of the semester, we added up our totals from a chart listing each book and how long it was. My total was almost 55,000 pages. The look on my teacher’s face when I handed her my folder was priceless. She allowed me to make my own goals from then on, no recommended number necessary.
I don’t remember independent reading being highly talked about or recommended after sixth grade. Sure, sometimes an English teacher would require students to read a book each quarter, but that was only one book for nine weeks. Other than that, reading was just something some people did, like playing an instrument or being on the debate team. My freshman year I could not wait to check out books at my new school library. I had almost out read the middle school library and I was ready for shelves and shelves of new selections. I remember being so proud as I set a pile of three or four books on the counter and handed my brand new student ID to the stern librarian. About a week later I brought them back and repeated my steps with a new stack of books.
Around the middle of October, after I had slid my ID across the counter top, the librarian looked up at me and asked, “What do you do with these books every week?” I began to smile, thinking she was joking, but as we made eye contact I realized she was completely serious. “I read them!”, my giggly self replied. She just nodded and gave back my ID with a bookmark. As I zipped my new collection up in my purple backpack, I wondered why a librarian of all people would ask a thing like that. As the year continued and over the next three, I learned the library was used as a place to hang out with textbooks open in front of you and use the computers for Pinterest. The books were just decorations to most of my classmates. She was truly surprised a teenager continually read for pleasure. I knew there was something wrong with this picture.
My second year of high school my English class read Lord of the Flies by William Golding and I loved it. This was one of the first times I had really seen the way art can reflect life and understood symbolism. I loved it. I had discovered a wonderful secret to something I had already loved. Now this class had jocks, geeks, bookworms, kids who only talked when they were required, kids who wore the same hoodie everyday no matter what the temperature and weirdos, like please-call-me-by-my-dragon-name weirdos who wore paper capes longer than the list of books I’ve read. As a sixteen year old sophomore, I realized this masterpiece was a metaphor for all societies – big cities ones, small town ones, ones on deserted islands and academic ones. As I read each page thoroughly and discussed the plot with passion in my reading group, I realized only a handful of my classmates shared my feelings. The rest would rather count wild pigs than finish the book, let alone make connections and predictions about it. It didn’t matter which social group they resembled, it was a book and books were pointless. It was here I realized as a teacher I could change this opinion, or at least steer kids in the right direction. Books don’t have to be boring and reading assignments don’t have to be repetitive. I could help change academic societies from a crowd of wild boys with a shell and save the Piggys before they fall from the cliff. (spoiler alert)
Senior year my first period class was in the corner of the freshmen wing in a classroom most people could never find thinking it was a janitor’s closet. The spring before you graduate not too many people want to take a first period class, let alone one that will actually make you read like World Literature when the other English electives watched movies and wrote instructions for board games. I could easily see who had intended to sign up for the class and who took it because it was the only class open. The teacher was one I had never even met before and I didn’t know what to expect. Mrs. Meyer gave us the rundown of her life the first day like any other teacher. She had gone to school years longer than necessary just for the sake of going to school, ran a restaurant with her husband and now was a teacher cause she wanted to be in a classroom again. I admired her immediately. As the semester went on, her love of learning and literature made me more confident than ever that I wanted to become an English teacher, too. At this point I had already committed to CSC and toying with the ideal of journalism. When it came time to read Shakespeare’s Macbeth, I learned she had read and taught the play so many times she had every line memorized. She could recite the entirety of the work due to multiple readings- she loved it that much. Whenever a kid lost their place reading out loud, she could pick up right where they had left off. I want to have the passion she has for literature and to influence students the way she influenced me.
Images courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and the endless collection of Johnson family photos