Some Reasons I Worry About Saying Goodbye to My Class

Note:  This post started as an idea for a simple Top 10 List of my concerns for the future reading lives of my fourth grade students..  But after just the first two ideas I had written about 600 words.  Not wanting to write a manifesto, I reduced my list to just four bigger ideas: Summer, Fifth Grade, Middle School and The Common Core.

The reality of saying good bye to another great group of fourth graders is racing toward me like an out of control locomotive.  I really, really wish I could just flunk all my class so we could pick back up in the fall with where we are now.  Together we have worked, laughed, learned and forgot, but maybe most importantly, we have collaboratively created a community of readers.  This awesomeness is also why I worry about what their reading future has in store for them.

1. Summer Reading

My first concern is, will they carry their reading momentum into the summer?  On Thursday, while trolling through Twitter I saw Donalyn Miller’s message: “Allington’s next session, Summers: Some are reading, Some are not.”  This summed up my concern in 7 words.  I have students this year who read between 2 and 4 hours a day.  Some of this is in school, but a big chunk is outside of school.  Will these children be able to continue this habit without reading mentors around them?  I desperately want to believe the love for reading they have right now will carry them through the summer, but I worry that without the anchor of a community of readers, the daily practice of reading will fade.  While we are together we share titles, push each other to read great books and celebrate the successes we have.  How many of my ten-year-olds have developed the intrinsic motivation to read without the support of others?

2. Next School Year

Once my current group gets past summer and returns to our building in 5th grade I will still have some worries about their lives as readers.  The main concern is that I know none of our fifth grade team is the book nerd that I am.  Our fifth grade team does great things, but having a middle grade book nerd as a teacher is not going to happen for my kids.  I don’t have any hard research to support the fact that having a NBC teacher really helps, but I have lots of anecdotal research that leads me to believe that a big factor that keeps 9 to 13 year olds in the reading club is having a teacher that pushes books on them like a crack dealer.

Another concern about I have for my class when they get to fifth grade is they will no longer be together as a class.  I have seen reading relationships build between children who would probably not hang out with each other in a different setting.  It is rewarding to see this happen as their teacher, but it is also rewarding for them as classmates.  For example,  I have seen some of my boy readers turn reading into a contact sport.  It might not be the best way to be motivated to read, but I have a group of about six boys who push each other to, as Gary Paulsen says, “read like a wolf eats.”  I wonder if the peer-to-peer social support for reading will still be there when they are split into four different classrooms.

3. Middle School

I don’t want to think about after fifth grade because I have seen too many of my former students tell me they really don’t read much in middle school.  When I ask why, the usual answers are too much homework or too busy with sports.  I know the lack of self-selected reading in middle school can be attributed to many causes, but my gut tells me that one of the causes is that middle school is not a place where you can freely share your love of books.  The tribal nature of middle school culture is not the place, unless you have deeply passionate leaders and teachers, where you will find all the “cool kids” reading deep into the night.  Based on what my daughter has told me about her middle school experience, she doesn’t get too much time to read books of her choice at school, nor does she have that many “reading friends.”  Thankfully she has two nerdy book friends and loves to spend hours in her room reading whenever she can.

4. The Common Core

I have tried long and hard to look for the positives within the Common Core and thankfully I have found some.  However, there is nothing I can find within it that champions reading books that you get to choose.  I am all for reading more nonfiction, reading deeper and being able to critically respond to books.  However, I fear that many teachers will abandon the idea of a workshop model (if they actually started using the workshop model) that includes self-selected reading because there is no explicit mention of this idea in the Common Core.  Each day in my room, kids get plenty of time to read books they choose.  Most days they groan when reading time is done.  I secretly love these wails of despair and grunts of disbelief, especially because this happens during the last 45 minutes of our school day.  Imagine 20 plus 4th graders not wanting to leave school because they are reading.  So what will happen to them a few years in the future when they have been Common Cored?

Concluding Thoughts

It is tough to worry about the kids you work with for 180 days.  You only want the best for them.  I know they will be heading into fifth grade classrooms that will help them learn and progress as students.  I know they will be heading to a middle school that will give them new possibilities to explore.  And I know that many of my 28 kiddoes this year will continue to be readers in the truest sense of the word no matter what happens to them.  My hope is the readers who need a Nerdy Book Club teacher, or a Nerdy Book Club group of peers, or just the free time in order to keep hold of the habits made this year will get exactly what they need.

Not much would make me happier than seeing some of the kids from my class in a few years and when I ask, “What are you reading?”  The response isn’t, “Nothing” or “Not much” but a delighted, “Oh Mr. K. the book I am reading now is so wonderful.  It’s about …….”

Tony Keefer (@tonykeefer) lives with his NBC family and teaches 4th grade NBCers in Dublin, Ohio.  He also writes for Choice Literacy and on his own blog atychiphobia.