How I Became a Reader by Heather Hayen
On a recent trip to visit family in Detroit, I was staying at my sister’s apartment when I woke up early and went to the kitchen to make coffee. My plan was to sit in my room with my coffee and read until my sister and niece woke up. On my way to the kitchen, I noticed my mother (who was staying for the night) was also awake and reading at a little before seven on a Sunday morning. “This is where I starts,” I thought.
My mother and I have had our differences but we have always connected through reading. When I arrived at my sister’s apartment there was a small pile of books in my room, left for me for my mother – some that I had already read and would discuss with her, some that I was excited to try. I often feel guilty now that I borrow so many books from the library on my Kindle and have lost the ability to pass as many books on to my mom. I made the coffee, told my mom there was coffee, and returned to my room to read. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to chat with each other; it’s just that these quiet early morning reading times are cherished by us both and I knew she was looking forward to some reading time as much as I was. We would talk later.
These past two years I have been in graduate school, working on my Masters in Deaf Education. I’m often asked why I chose to work with this particular group. My response is always the same: because I love reading and this population struggles the most with reading. I can’t imagine a world that wasn’t filled with books and the wonders that they hold. Reading is something that in many ways I have taken for granted. Not just my ability to read, but the accessibility of books. As anyone who pursues a career in any form of elementary education knows, many of your college classes are centered around how to teach students to read and how to help them engaged readers. Until I started working with DHH children, I didn’t even begin to understand how great a privilege being able to read is. I found myself wonder how I learned to read. So, I called my mom and asked her, “How did I learn to read?” I couldn’t even remember a time when I couldn’t read.
This has been one of the ongoing challenges for me, when learning to teach, remembering how I learned to do something in the first place. How did I learn to add? How did I learn to capitalize proper names? How did I learn to recognize what a proper name was? So I called my mom, figuring she was more likely to remember than I was and she said, “Oh, it was easy. We read together all the time and you just started to recognize words and then you read. You were reading in Kindergarten.” Well, that wasn’t helpful at all. Sure, I did enjoy my moment of glory where I thought, “Look at me. I’m so smart. I learned to read just like that.” But what about all the kids who don’t? Maybe that’s why it’s easy for me to be a reader because I never struggled at it? Also, isn’t it possible that being read to all the time and watching my mom read was motivation enough?
Through my love of reading and learning I found my path to becoming an educator. Everything is easier when reading is a skill you are able to take for granted. When I applied to graduate school to get my teaching certification, I wanted to find the area where I felt my passion and my skills would be most utilized. Students in Deaf and Hard of Hearing programs consistently struggle to read. I want them to overcome those struggles and to not look at reading as something they dread but as something that brings them joy. I’m in the process now of learning how to help them to succeed. Every day I listen in as my Cooperating Teacher, with the appearance of effortlessness, instructs and guides her students, and I just hope that I am able to take in all her knowledge. I feel joy when I see the kids rushing to take a book from the library. I can only hope some day I will have given my own students the gift that is reading just like how it was given to me by my mother and my teachers.
Heather Hayen is a graduate student living in Brooklyn, NY. She spends her time on the subway reading books. Lately, she can’t stop reading everything Rainbow Rowell. She wants to thank Cece Bell for writing a book that she can share with her future students when she graduates in June and gets her own classroom. Heather is looking forward to attending her first NerdCamp this summer in her home state of Michigan.