I’m often asked by some of the staff in my building, and even some of my family and friends, why I didn’t “just become a librarian since I love to read so much.” Honestly, it never entered my mind when I started college, plus I wasn’t such a strong Nerdy Book Club member when I first started college. I didn’t discover YA (and rediscover my love of reading) until one of my last courses before student teaching. Recently I’ve tossed around the idea of getting a second Masters to become a teacher librarian, but honestly, I love teaching way too much to leave my classroom. The reason this question bothers me isn’t because I don’t love and appreciate librarians (schools need librarians), but because it’s asked under the pretense that teachers, English teachers in particular, shouldn’t be so excited about reading and shouldn’t be reading so much. Maybe I’m wrong in that assumption, but the tone when the question is asked, especially at school, leaves me feeling like they think my passion for reading is misplaced. That it’s better suited for a library than in my classroom. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the people asking that question wonder to themselves why they aren’t as excited about reading?
I’m thinking about this today after reading Teri Lesesne’s post about the insanity that is AR and Lexile levels. As a Reading Specialist I understand the purpose of Lexile levels, but they also drive me crazy because so many educators and parents look to them as the only measure when searching for a book. I could rant about this for some time, but what’s really bothering me is the problem behind focusing on AR and Lexile levels. Parents are usually asking about leveled books because it’s what they’re told to do or what they’ve been exposed to through their child’s school (generally speaking). It’s a serious problem when teachers are pushing this on their students and not bending.
A friend of mine dealt with this last year because her daughter is a struggling reader, but despite her struggles and AR, she still loves to read. My friend was at a loss though because her daughter wasn’t getting full AR points because the books she was reading were below grade level. My friend came to me because she didn’t know what to do and the teacher wasn’t going to make an exception for her daughter. Her daughter was distraught because she didn’t want to get a bad grade as a result of reading low level books. I did my best to help my friend and her daughter, even going to the Centurians page on Facebook to get some title recommendations to pass on to her. This whole scenario makes me livid because I know my friend’s daughter’s story isn’t unusual. This young girl loves to read and still wants to read, but she also cares deeply about her grades and doing well in school. She shouldn’t be “punished” for reading at her level, especially when she’s trying so hard. I hope she continues to love reading as she continues through school.
This leads me to my big issue. Emphasis on Lexile levels and relying on AR keeps teachers from needing to read the books their students are reading. I understand that many teachers are using Lexile levels to really help students and are forced to use AR and are doing their best with it, but in my experience these teachers are the exception and not the rule. And really, I don’t blame the teachers because we’re all doing what we can with what we have. Teachers aren’t purchasing the AR program, district admins are buying this program. CCSS is putting too much emphasis on Lexile levels. But really, shouldn’t teachers be reading on a regular basis? If we preach to our students how valuable it is, shouldn’t we be following suit?
My wish is that more teachers, especially at the high school level, would be as excited about reading as I am. If more of us were passionate about reading and building classroom libraries, we wouldn’t need to focus on Lexile levels and AR tests. We would be reading and sharing books with our students on a regular basis. We’d be having real discussions with our students about the books they’re reading so there wouldn’t be a need to test them over meaningless details. We would know which books have a vocabulary level that’s too high for some students and which books to offer students who are ready for a higher vocabulary. We’d know which books to recommend to our students who need an escape and which books to recommend to our students who need to know they aren’t alone. We’d find a way to connect our students with authors. We’d read aloud to them every day to experience the pure enjoyment of a story.
I could do all of this as a librarian and I’d do it proudly, but I love being in my classroom with my students every day. I love sharing books with my students. Because I’m in my classroom every day and see my students every day, I get to talk with them every day about the books they’re reading. I get to help them find a new book when they finish one or when they discover the book they’re reading isn’t right for them. If I relied solely on AR tests and lists and searched Lexile level lists, I’d be missing out on these opportunities to build a strong rapport with my students. It’s time consuming to read as much as I do, but it’s a priority in my life. I wish more teachers would make it a priority in life too. I wish administrators both at the building level and district level would see beyond reading programs and put that money towards building classroom libraries for their teachers. I wish they’d use that money to send their teachers to conferences like IRA and NCTE (or the state level versions). I wish there was more communication between teachers and upper admin so we could sit down and discuss reading and the unnecessary reliance on these programs.
For now, I’m happy working in my classroom with my kids and letting them know on a regular basis how excited I am about reading. I’m excited to add a display outside my classroom that shows my reading life (idea courtesy of the wonderful Jillian & Pinterest). In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to reach more teachers because if I can get my students to love reading, then I know I can get more teachers to love reading too.