I teach at a large state university, and my students are an interesting lot. As prospective educators, they want to teach for a variety of reasons, some of which are noble, some not. For some, their love of reading lies dormant, buried under the weight of academia and new adult responsibilities. But for most, their relationship with reading is nonexistent at best and adversarial at worst. Too many students report intense and painful feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and shame resulting from years of struggle with reading. And I admit. . . this group scares me to death. How can people who want to teach children actually proclaim that they hate to read? And how in the world am I going to reverse deeply rooted reading antipathy in a mere thirteen weeks?
The truth is, I can't. But here's how I try.
It begins through conversation. A lot of conversation. We talk about what I'm reading for pleasure and work, what they're reading for school, what we've read on blogs and Twitter, what my boys are reading, what their moms are reading, what they used to read when they were little, what topics they find interesting, and what they find dull. I am hustling and promoting books and blogs I think they would enjoy. I continually reinforce the notion that reading, any reading, is valuable. Even People Magazine and Perez Hilton.
Then, I transform from mild-mannered professor and book lover into a FORMIDIBLE READING EVANGELIST. I preach the following Literacy Liturgy vociferously:
Reading is Thinking. Reading is Connection. Reading is a Conversation. Reading is a profoundly social act. Reading builds meaning and understanding. Live it, share it, help to unlock the power of a literate life to the young ones in your care. YOU are the ones to inspire a love of the written word in children. You may have to fake it until you make it, but START FAKING IT. It will become real. YOU will not perpetuate the aliteracy epidemic that's rampant in America. YOU will not let children leave your class without knowing the power, beauty, and connection found through engaging with the written word. And I will not let YOU leave ME until you know the same.
For some, the Liturgy sticks. For others, it doesn't. At least not that I can see. But, as a true evangelist, I have hope. I hope that my students remember or discover anew the magic that is found from reading and writing. I hope that they will find inspiration within the pages of books, and share that inspiration with our littlest readers. So as the semester closes, I smile, hand the students a summer reading list that's peppered with titles to pique their interests, cross my fingers, and send them back out into the world.