The Rule, Not the Exception

My mind is racing today with too many thoughts to narrow down. I’m thinking about presidential debates, the summer essays I need to grade, unit calendars I need to finalize, books I want to read and write about, when I’m going to get our grocery shopping done, etc. Yep, racing.

But for some reason I can’t get my mind off the fact that so many of my students year after year don’t like reading and/or don’t consider themselves “readers.” I can’t get my mind off the fact that my classroom library is an oddity to them. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that many high school English teachers don’t offer regular independent sustained silent reading time (I say independent because I’m referring to student choice in the reading). I keep thinking about high school English classrooms WITHOUT classroom libraries. Schools without teachers willing to develop classroom libraries.

I know books are expensive and that we spend so much out of our pockets already, but isn’t literacy and creating life-long readers worth the money spent on books? If we value education and preach the importance of reading, shouldn’t we be making time in class to read? And if we’re making time for our students to read, shouldn’t we be modeling the behavior we wish to see by reading ourselves? I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I was looking forward to a new school year was because I knew I’d have time to read during the day! I’ve heard stories of administrators not understanding classroom time being used for independent reading. What can be done to help these administrators understand and see the importance of time dedicated to reading? If you’ve ever wondered what students think of classroom libraries, I wrote a post about this back in January.

With literacy advocates like Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Pernille Ripp and so many others, why are we still missing the mark? When I started teaching, I was fortunate to have a stellar college professor who advocated for classroom libraries, read alouds, SSR time, etc. I didn’t know about Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle, but when I discovered both of them, it reaffirmed what I was already doing as a teacher and what I knew was right. I know that literacy leaders across the country provide professional development throughout the year, but I’m beginning to wonder if those leaders are preaching to the choir and not reaching the teachers who don’t make time for independent reading or creating classroom libraries. If that’s the case, how do we reach teachers who aren’t doing this? How do we invite these teachers into our classrooms and start making positive changes? How do we make this an inviting experience and not one that puts others on the defensive?

I’m in my tenth year of teaching and I’ve long worried about making waves and coming across as “preachy.” I certainly don’t want to offend anyone. But it’s high time we start having some conversations about developing readers and creating reading communities in our middle school and high school classrooms. These conversations need to extend beyond the teachers who are already putting these practices into motion. It would be excellent and empowering if more teachers could learn from each other on a regular basis. If you’ve created a classroom library and advocate for SSR time in your classroom, you should be leading other teachers in your department and in your district. Attending a workshop or conference is a great place to start, but the conversation needs to continue once we’re back in our classrooms. My classroom and classrooms like mine should be the rule, not the exception. Students should walk into English classrooms EXPECTING to see classroom libraries and EXPECTING time to read during class. It shouldn’t be shocking to see classroom walls lined with books.

If you’ve found a way to reach more people about this matter, I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve been wanting to move forward with a classroom library and/or SSR time, I’d love to hear from you as well. Let’s start a conversation and see what positive changes we can make together!


  1. It depresses me that so many of my former students have come back to me over the past few weeks to say “I don’t read at all this year” or “My teacher says it’s not important for me to read anything but the books I assign in class.” I know their teachers personally and I know they’re GOOD teachers, but it makes me so sad to see firsthand how quickly the kids’ attitudes toward reading (that I worked SO hard to reshape last year!) are being shifted back in the wrong direction. And I agree, it’s really hard not to come across as preachy when I feel so strongly that this is a key (or not even A key, it’s THE key!) to my own English classroom.

  2. My daughter is in her sophomore year of honors English. Through eighth grade, she was an avid (and I mean AVID) reader and writer. She read and wrote for fun. For herself. To explore her world and the world around her. Then freshman English happened. 8 weeks dissecting Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. 6 weeks dissecting House on Mango Street. And on. And on. Gotcha quizzes asking about the color of someone’s sweater. Guessing what the teacher thought the “right” answer is (because there’s only one interpretation of a book, you know). My kid doesn’t read AT ALL any more. She doesn’t write AT ALL. Ever. Nada. Nope.

    This is a high performing high school. 97% of the graduating seniors go on to college. Many are National Merit Scholars. Many have perfect scores on the ACT. Why don’t they change? Because their attitude is “Why fix what isn’t broken?” The high school district has brought in Jim Burke. They’ve worked with Carol Jago. They’ve read Readicide and have decided it doesn’t apply to them.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I hardly have words for that, Mindi. That’s such a huge disservice for your daughter and those students. Have you been able to say anything to teachers or admin there?

  3. Barb Rheinhardt says:

    This just depresses me, Sarah. Reading is such a fundamental skill and it’s so exciting to work with students who love to read, to find out how differently each sees and understands the same writing. Perhaps the teachers who aren’t providing classroom libraries or posting dust jacket copies of what they’re reading, or have no ssr, or don’t model reading for their students simply believe it’s too much “extra” on top of all they’re already required to do? When someone comes up with a solution, that’ll be a day we all celebrate. Do classroom teachers know they can request a collection of titles on loan from their school library? This could even rotate every month or marking period. If one has a professional in their school library, put him/her to work for reading in the classroom!

  4. Gregory Taylor says:

    YAY for self-selected reading and the teachers who make time for it in their classrooms! But all too often I read posts like this that make no mention of the school library. Most teachers in our building have very small classroom libraries, but we have a thriving reading culture in our school and classrooms, supported by the centrally located, always-busy library. Teachers, staff, and kids from all classes (not just language arts) visit the library to find good books. Our school even has 15 minutes of reading time, school-wide, every day!

    I certainly support everything you say, Sarah, and everything you’re advocating for. I just want to sing the praises of school libraries and all they can do to support literacy and a love of reading. 🙂

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      Thanks for this, Gregory. 🙂 I have MUCH LOVE for school libraries and agree with the points you’ve made. I think it’s important that librarians and teachers work together to support one another. For instance, I often have book waiting lists and send those students down to our library to check out the book there. Every year I take my freshmen down to our library for an orientation which includes book talks and book trailers provided by our librarian. One teacher in our building who does not have a class library takes her students down to the library for a book pass. I encourage teachers to seek help from their librarian when selecting books and vice versa.

      My biggest point with the post, and maybe I didn’t make it strong enough, is that I can’t understand why teachers don’t make time for independent reading. It boggles my mind and frustrates me more every year.

  5. I teach in New Brunswick, Canada and my classroom library is a thing of joy for me. (I have over 1500 books and add more all the time.) My high school has a lovely library (which I revamped last year, tossing out books with titles like ‘How to Talk to Men About Sports’ and ‘Making Crafts with Panty Hose’ (I kid you not!)) but I still have many students who prefer to borrow books from me. One of the reasons, I think, is that they know that I am passionate about books and reading. I can almost always match a self-proclaimed non-reader with the right book. I consider it a personal challenge to turn kids on to reading and I believe it is my most important task as an English teacher. My dream is to let kids read the whole time they are in this class…and write about what they read…and talk about the books. I don’t believe we have any business asking comprehension questions or ‘testing’ kids about books. That’s not the way I interact with books; why should I expect students to interact with them that way? I am doing my level best to set the kids I encounter on the path to a life of reading for pleasure. I am lucky to work in a department that values reading, but we don’t all have a classroom library (sadly), nor do we all let our kids self-select and read daily. I do. And I read with my kids. I really enjoyed this post.

I love comments!

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