Becoming a Teacher Reader by Katie Strawser

My whole life I have identified myself as a reader. I was that high school student who lugged around heavy books that were not part of the required reading to every class in case I had a second to socialize with my friends- the written kind. Becoming a teacher, I thought I must already be ahead of the curve. I always read for enjoyment so what more would I need as a teacher?

It took until my second year of teaching to realize I had made a grave mistake. I was fortunate enough in my second year to be placed in a building where I found a reading mentor. I was so excited to get book recommendations from another reader! When I started to ask for reading recommendations, she responded by asking me what kind of books did I want to read. Well, naturally, I wanted recommendations of the adult variety. I thought this questions was even a little strange at the time.

Later that year, this same teacher handed me Katherine Applegate’s The One and only Ivan. I am sure it is not a shock to many that this is when I began to realize what I was missing. Suddenly I was grabbing up every middle grade novel I could get my hands on. I began to find more joy in reading a middle grade book than a book geared toward adults. Every book I read I thought of which student I could hand the book to next.

I am entering my fourth year of teaching this year and I have spent the past year and a half desperately trying to catch up. I read large volumes of middle grade books, and have recently found the joy in young adult books as well. I still do not have a huge knowledge of books written before 2011, but I am slowly going back. And I have found an amazing community of educators to share and learn from.

Doors begin to open when you look for them and suddenly I find myself writing on a blog that I have admired for so long now. I was recently given an opportunity to attend nErDcampBC and was giddy when sitting at dinner the night before, the conversation got heated… over the genre of a book! This summer, I have found myself attending ALA2013 and meeting Katherine Applegate in person! Shortly after, I attended the MAZZA conference and met Jon Klassen, another hero I have in the world of children’s literature. All these things would not have happened if I did not find my reading community- my virtual finger on the pulse of children’s literature.

My advice is this: it is not enough to be a reader and a teacher. It is important to become a teacher reader- a teacher who reads not only for themselves, but for those 20-30 young minds who are just as desperately trying to find the right book. A teacher who reads as part of a community of readers. Someone who can add to a conversation just as easily as take away from. For some time, I did not believe my voice should be heard in the community I admired from the outside. I was afraid I couldn’t offer anything to the conversation. But, that is not the role of a teacher reader. A teacher reader needs to give back as well as take away.

As a young teacher, I wish I was told this earlier. I wish I had found the joy in children’s books earlier. I wish I could go back and give book recommendations to that first class of kids I taught! I wish I had found my voice earlier and connected personally with educators rather than observe their thinking from the outside. But for now, I am moving forward- with the help of other teachers, mentors, and a group of Nerdy friends. Thanks for your guidance in my early years of teaching, Nerdy Book Club!

Katie Strawser is a third grade teacher in Dublin, Ohio. Her goal in life is to have a library like in Beauty and the Beast and to fill it with all the best kid’s books. She is new at sharing her digital footprint and has grand plans to starting a blog, but for now you can find her at @katiestrawser.