I Am a Reader by Jim Bailey
I am a reader. My friends, colleagues, and both the students and parents at the elementary school in which I am principal all know about my love for reading. I am a person they come to when they need a book recommendation. If I do a book commercial in the classroom, it is instantly the hot book. I am a reader, but I haven’t always been…
To be completely honest, I am not sure I actually read a book before taking my first teacher preparation class in college. How could this be possible! Freckle Juice got me through most of elementary school. A classmate in second grade did an awesome book report on Freckle Juice one day. I listened to it, I memorized it, and I repeated it for my own book report in third, fourth, and fifth grades. Although my middle and high school experiences rarely required reading, Cliff notes, listening to the discussion in class, or reading a few pages here and there was usually enough to get me by in my classes. I even tried to use Freckle Juice again!
So when I started my first teacher preparation class with my host teacher, Molly Kelsey, I was clueless to the fact that my entire life was about to change. After a few days observing the class, Mrs. Kelsey asked if I would read each day with one of her reluctant readers, Jon. She asked me if I liked to read. “Of course,” I replied. Even I knew teachers were supposed to love to read. She then asked who my favorite author was? Panic! Authors, authors, authors…Think! What authors do I know? Dr. Seuss. I can’t tell her that. Who was the author of Freckle Juice again? I finally mumbled through some embarrassing response about how there are so many great books, I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite author. Mrs. Kelsey threw me a lifeline.
“Well, why don’t you and Jon read Hatchet. It’s one of my favorites.” Jon and I developed a plan. We would read a couple of chapters each day and get together to talk about the book. I was dreading reading this book, but I wanted to impress Mrs. Kelsey and learn to be a good teacher. I flipped through the 195 pages repeatedly. “This is going to take forever,” I thought.
It didn’t. Less than 24 hours later at age 20, I had finally finished my first book… and it felt amazing! I was immediately captivated by Brian Robeson’s tale of survival. I couldn’t wait to get to school to discuss the book with Jon. By the end of the week, I had finished Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Hunt, The River, and Brian Returns. If Gary Paulsen wrote it, I read it.
As I look back now, I regret all the time I lost during which I could have been reading. I often wonder what would have happened had Mrs. Kelsey not put Hatchet in my hand that day. I know I wouldn’t have been an effective teacher. I don’t think it’s possible to be a great teacher without being a reader. How can I inspire future readers if I am not one myself? Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, once said, “You can’t catch a cold or a love of reading from someone who has neither.”
I hope my reading story gives hope to others. For some, reading is a natural love. They seem to be born readers. Some of us are more stubborn. Remember, every student is one book away from being a voracious reader. Keep recommending books, keep talking about the great books you are reading, and keep giving students the opportunity to read every day because you never know when their “Hatchet Moment” will occur. I will leave you with the quote hanging above the computer in my office.
“There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are just kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books. We need to help them find the right ones.” -James Patterson
This is my passion in education. I want to do what Mrs. Kelsey did for me so many years ago. I want to help students find the book that turns them into lifelong readers. I am continuing my journey. I am a reader.
Jim Bailey is the principal at Hemmeter Elementary in Saginaw, Michigan. He has a passion for helping all students become lifelong readers. Jim spends his time reading, cheering on the Detroit Tigers, and enjoying time with his family (wife, Laura, and two sons, Evan and Griffin). He is an all-around nerd who probably spends too much time obsessing over Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Clash of Clans, and comic books. You can follow him on Twitter @jcbailey3.