Has this ever happened to you?
You have children in your class who profess to hate reading. You talk to each of them about the things that interest them. You spend time selecting titles you think each one will like. One student obediently picks something from the collection you’ve offered, reads the back cover, then places the book back on the pile and picks up another. This process continues until this student has politely gone through all the books in the collection. Another student finally picks something only to surreptitiously return it to the library when you’re not looking. Other students don’t even humor you but outright reject your efforts altogether and reiterate how much they HATE reading.
Oh, the pain of rejection! It affects even the most optimistic among us. Because the very nature of teaching is built upon a foundation of problem-solving, which requires a lot of mental energy, we sometimes find our emotional resources quickly depleted as we cheer on the obstinate reader. We can even begin to take the rejection personally. In response, cynicism can sneak in when we least expect it and lead us to think (or worse, say!) things like “This student will never be a reader,” or “It’s just not worth my time to keep trying.”
Is this true? Of course, we know it is not true! We think or say these things because we’re tired, frustrated, and sometimes even exasperated. But, when we step back, we can find all kinds of evidence to the contrary. For example, a few years back, Kim ran into the mother of one of her former students. They reminisced about a memorable parent-teacher conference in which they both cried because they were worried about this child who hated to read. During the recent encounter with the boy’s mother, Kim learned that the “child”—now a young adult–was enrolled in a graduate program in history at Boston University. According to his mother, “Now, he reads stacks of books all the time!”
Sometimes we get to see the fruits of our labor—as in the story about Kim’s student–and other times we simply have to trust that our commitment is enough. When we feel tired, frustrated, or exasperated, it is crucial to step back and remember that all experiences, in spite of our inclination to categorize them as “good” or “bad,” are merely neutral. Just because we can’t feel the power of our impact, doesn’t mean we don’t have one. So, we must press on and remain relentless in our pursuit of helping children become strategic, confident, and passionate readers.