Five Compliments for Reading Teachers by Justin Stygles

Teaching reading is a long term investment.  The results, at the intermediate and middle level, are hard to tell in a short span of time. Oral reading rates, accurate reading, and advancement through levels rarely change over the course of a month and sometimes the entire school year.  Reading, grades 4-8, in my opinion is about developing the reader independently by posing to the reader, “What can you do on your own?” As a result, shifts and maturity amongst readers takes time and patience. Waiting to see results requires time and patience. However, readers signal development through obscure and obvious compliments.  Here is a list of five compliments for the Reading Teacher. The compliments are reflective of readers’ development in ownership, thus while they are compliments to the teacher – the compliments are really about the readers!


Five Compliments for A Reading Teachers:


  1. Book Recommendations from Students – Last year a young boy who despised reading charged in to the classroom valiantly touting, “Mr. Stygles! You have to read this book! Its so good!”  The book, Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja, was miles from my TBR or interest lists.  Yet, when he handed the book to me, like him, I flipped the pages noticed that the reading would not kill me and told him I would read it.  He inquired for several days until I had read the book. Though the book will not hold court with The Water Castle anytime soon, the student wanted to share a part of his reading life with me, something he had not done before.

  2. Book donations from students – Sometimes readers have to identify with me before they can identify with themselves, impressing the importance of modeling.  Student’s emulation of our reading lives is the stepping stone to adopting their own reading lives.  Earlier this year I introduced “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” by way of a Mayan text set discussion. I shared the books and revealed my forgotten fourth-grade love affair with the series.  After showing student how the book worked, some of the boys who are always looking for something new to read curiously explored the books. Guess what landed in my hands over the next few weeks?  Sure enough, these boys took a fancy to the genre and build a brand new basket in the library of CYOA books. They swapped out books until every copy resided in the class library. Whether a signal to read with them or a sign of their affinity, they took interest in reading because they identified with their mentor.

  3. Coming back to tell you how much they have read – With independent reading, we can never really tell how much or what a student genuinely reads independently. Such is the case when my previous students venture off to middle school – way beyond the realm in which we can talk about books together. So, they come back to me. A few months ago, one of the readers who made non-reading more of her claim to fame, sent me an e-mail.  She noted how much she had read in middle school and how she was earning “A’s” because of her reading.  Similarly, students come back and ask me if they have read Divergent or some other YA titles they are starting to explore.  Of course, I have to say no, but that doesn’t stop them from telling me about their books, their reading successes, or how much THEY realize they have changed as readers.  Remember, teaching reading is an investment. What didn’t feel like a success last year may morph into a success this year.

  4. Reading at the “wrong” times – My teaching partner, the Science/Math teacher approached me a few weeks back and asked, “How long should I let this game go on?”

I replied, “What game?”

“Joanna keeps reading when she is supposed to be doing math,” the teacher snapped with a crooked smile of surprise.

“It will pass.  Right now she is just enjoying the book.  She needs the space.”  I ended the conversation.

Joanna had every possible reading label attached to her.  She had no reading identity whatsoever.  We’ve worked very hard this year to help her believe she is a reader, no matter what.  This is why we celebrate books like Smile change reading lives. Joanna refused to put the book down.  She finished the book inside of two days. For those two days, if she felt bored, she read.  Yes, even when student should be paying attention, we can be doing happy dances in our heads for them!

  1. Impromptu Book Talks – The Monday morning onslaught. I know my Monday reading conferences before the bell rings – those who haven’t told me about their weekend reading. Students race into the class to tell me about their reading over the weekend. Sadly, only two or three student manage to share in the chaos of organizing, collecting lunch money, and taking attendance.  This doesn’t stop the reader who can’t wait to share with me what happened in Endangered, A Tangle of Knots, Bomb, A Snicker of Magic, or Nazi Hunters.  When students make me the first person they want to talk to about their reading, they have let me become a part of their life – the truest form of a compliment. I only wish students had someone, regularly, they could share books with, even though they know I will always be there for them.


When the readers make us a part of their reading lives, that is the only compliment a teacher really needs. Helping readers become truly independent takes a commitment that is far from instantly gratifying. If we believe in today, our readers can believe in tomorrow.  Somehow, someway, they’ll let us know they became readers.

Justin Stygles is a 5/6 Teacher in Norway, Maine.  He is teaching for his 11th year. You can find him on Twitter as @JustinStygles.