From a Sporadic Reader to an Avid Reader by Sarah Krajewski

I hear the same line from reluctant readers every year: “Of course you’re an avid reader; you’re an English teacher.” My response is always the same: “I am now, but I wasn’t always.” I see looks of shock on my students’ faces as they respond with, “No way!” or “Yeah, right Mrs. K.” That’s when I know it’s time to share my reading life with them.

I was never a struggling reader, and I have my mother to thank for that. As a self-proclaimed struggling reader herself, she made sure I wasn’t. She read to me from the moment I was born. Book were everywhere in our home. She helped me fall in love with stories.

I may not remember learning how to read, but I know it wasn’t difficult for me. My mother was an elementary school teacher, and I began my first years of school in the building she taught at. She was able to hand pick my teachers to make sure I had the best. Back then I loved school and everything that went with it. I loved learning about how the world worked. I sat transfixed in front of my teachers during read alouds and circle time. I became obsessed with Roald Dahl, and tried to read every one of his books. I must have read my favorite one, The Witches, over 15 times. While playing “school” with my friends and my siblings day after day, I was proud to declare, “I want to be a teacher when I grow up!”

With my 1st grade teacher Mrs. Soder

With my 1st grade teacher Mrs. Soder

 

The summer before I entered third grade, I moved to a new district. I still enjoyed learning from my teachers. Well I did, that is, until fifth grade. Fifth grade was the year I had the first teacher that I truly disliked. I’ll call her Ms. Johnson. Ms. Johnson had a short temper that I had never seen before, and for some reason it was always directed toward me. Because I hated her, I began to dislike school. I stopped reading, doing homework, and really just trying.

After fifth grade, I became a sporadic reader. Through family discussions about books, I learned about Harry Potter and the Twilight series. I finished them both quite quickly, but I was never inspired to try to read more afterwards. When it came to school, from sixth grade up to graduation, I was never allowed to choose what I wanted to read. Sure I loved some of my teacher’s choices, like Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows and Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, but I disliked more books than I liked. I grew to loathe Charles Dickens after spending a full ten weeks trying to get through Great Expectations. I felt that William Shakespeare was trying to make my life more difficult when I had to decipher Romeo and Juliet on my own, and my teacher didn’t help when he would “randomly” call on me to be the long-winded Nurse in class read alouds. I hate to admit this, but I even faked my way through some books. My love for reading had disappeared.

When it was time for college, I entered hoping to become an architect, but I soon discovered my college classes were nothing like the technology classes I loved in high school. I quickly switched from architecture to education, knowing that I had always wanted to teach when I was younger. But, what would I teach? I thought back to my early years, and remembered my love for books. I signed up for English classes, and was thrilled that I got to choose what I wanted to read for many of them. I fell in love with another book by Lois Lowry, The Giver, as well as Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac McGee, and Holes by Louis Sachar. I actually enjoyed some plays by William Shakespeare once I was introduced to his comedies. There were so many wonderful books out there!

Through my college literature classes, I met so many incredible authors that I became a reader again. I went searching for new books that Sharon Creech published, and read everything I could find by J. R. R. Tolkien. I constantly found myself in local bookstores during my free time on the weekends. I had a lot of catching up to do! It was then that I knew I was meant to become an English teacher, for I wanted to share all of these amazing books with my students.

I am now in my thirteenth year of teaching English, and I enjoy it more every year. My ninth graders come in ready and excited to read books of their choosing for the first ten minutes every day. They know I’m an avid reader, and they trust me to recommend books that will suit them. They know when I fall in love with titles, as well as ones I find more difficult to get through. They ask for more book talks, and share their favorite titles on Goodreads. They know the importance of reading in their lives, because I share its importance in mine.

The front whiteboard in my classroom.

The front whiteboard in my classroom.

 

One portion of a student’s midyear “reading ladder” (Lesesne 2010).

One portion of a student’s midyear “reading ladder” (Lesesne 2010).

 

Five years ago, my husband and I welcomed our first child, our son Ryan. I thought back to what my mother had taught me about books as a child, and I vowed to do the same with Ryan. Now Ryan and his sister Valerie look forward to our read alouds before bed, and our advent book calendars at Christmas time. They bring titles they love into school to share with their classmates, astonishing their teachers with their knowledge of books. They truly love stories. I know I cannot control what happens in my children’s future classrooms, but I know I can do my part at home to turn them into readers.

 

Reading one of our advent books: Once Upon an Alphabet.

Reading one of our advent books: Once Upon an Alphabet.

 

Sarah Krajewski is a dedicated 9th grade English teacher at Cleveland Hill High near Buffalo, New York.  She has received the New York State English Council’s Program of Excellence award for a poetry unit she developed with another teacher using popular music, as well as NCTE’s Leadership Development Award, all before her fifth year of teaching.  Sarah is in her thirteenth year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. She is anxiously awaiting another trip to the NCTE Annual Convention to expand her literacy knowledge. At school, she is known for her dedication to her students and for being a devoted reader who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three avid readers.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.