Whenever my environment had failed to support or nourish me, I had clutched at books -Richard Wright, Black Boy
Today I caught up on my teacher email account. I was rewarded with an email that made me sit in my room crying with joy over the things one must always remember really matter. It said:
This school year has been very challenging for me. When you told me that I was reading on a eight grade reading level my heart was melting. Seriously. I love to read i really do, but lately i haven’t had enough free time to read anything I desire. Then, when you started letting us read in small group my reading level jumped from an ”8” to a ”10”. Thanks to you Ms. Younge I managed to increase as a reader and a student.
It always amazes me just how controversial it has been this year to run diagnostic reading tests and continued progress monitoring tests on my students this year. Moreover, those in charge have tried to push my back into corners over something that I thought would be the cornerstone of my class: reading. I am a reading teacher. I work with the lowest performing students in the building. Their issue is “simple”–they cannot read on grade level, so they struggle to perform on state standardized test that are on grade level texts. More than that though, when all a class does is prepare students for a 55 question multiple choice test, they obliterate the redemptive powers of literature. One of the reasons that Richard Wright’s autobiography Black Boy continues to be one of my favorite books of all time is because of the solace Wright found within the pages of the books he so dearly clung to when all around him his world fell apart. And through books, he was able to pick up the pieces and start a life for himself. And as he wrote, he found more of his self-worth and began making meaning for himself. Wright wrote, “I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all.”
My students are feeling that gnawing sensation, the kind that makes you want to know more, to be more. The kind that makes you wonder if everything you have ever just swallowed should truly be what nourishes your mind. And it is in those moments that they connect the words on the pages to the words being written by their life outside the classroom that the lightbulbs go off and school ceases to be about memorizing useless facts and figures, but about something that connects to their daily experience–something that can help them reshape and redefine their existence.
So why then would I not want to help my students become the best readers they can? Why would I ignore the simple principle that to be a god reader, one must keep READING. So I give, untouched, each class those 25-30 minutes of independent reading. I watch as my students lit up upon knowing that they were growing as readers, unlocking more potential than ever. And I think to myself that it was indeed a battle worth fighting, even if the battlefield seemed ridiculous.
I hope that as my students test this week and next that they will do their best. I know they will do their best. But more importantly, I know that they value, even if only just a little bit more, taking time out to read.