Other Duties As Assigned by Emily Visness
Summer is here, and as the weeks of shuttling my kids to swim team practice, swim meets, and for-fun swimming consumes many of my waking hours, I also spend time chipping away at my enormous “To Be Read” list. Like many readers, my TBR list is an ever-growing mountain, and each time I read one book, it seems three more get added to the pile. Due to my job, for years I have read mostly middle grade and young adult fiction. I teach 8th grade as a special education inclusion teacher, and it is my job to push in to the language arts and social studies classes to co-teach with the general education teachers, serving all students with and without disabilities. Now, if you looked at my job description and my list of official duties, you would not find avid reader or passionate recommender of books or zealous advocate for diverse stories amongst them. I am not evaluated every year by my principal on these descriptors, but I still make reading books for young people a priority. For one, I love it – young people’s literature is amazing, and the voices that are telling stories today are the best the world has ever seen. But most importantly, despite what is missing in the description of my job duties, reading books for young people is essential to my work.
In an effort to fatten up my knowledge about the importance of independent reading, I recently read Book Love (Heinemann, 2013) by Penny Kittle and attended the professional development conference by the same name. One thing from the training that resonated with me was Penny’s statement that older, struggling readers will never become proficient and fluent readers unless they dramatically increase the volume of reading that they do. Those are my students – I work with older, struggling readers – students who have disabilities and receive special education services, and general education students who read below grade level. This brutal truth of never is astounding, because in 8th grade my students have very little time left in public school. If after nine years of school they aren’t yet readers, and I don’t build and share my book knowledge, my book love, to help them become readers, then who will? My TBR list may just contain That Book, the one that will finally speak to a self-proclaimed non-reader. So, I better read it, whatever “it” is, and be ready to book talk in the fall.
Each year’s incoming 8th graders soon learn about my reputation as a reader, and that I will push them to read widely and voluminously. We have many adults on staff who promote reading to students, and my diverse, Title 1 middle school is lucky to have an innovative and dynamic school librarian who works hard to recommend books and encourage students to read. However, many of the language arts classes don’t make it to the library regularly for whole class checkout days, which limits the exposure some students get to our amazing school librarian; that leaves…teachers. Classroom teachers need to be equipped with an arsenal of books ready in their minds so they can help students find one that fits. When a student finds a book that fits, a reader is born. For some, this happens at a young age, but for others it still hasn’t happened by late middle school. My TBR list is long this summer (let’s be honest – it’s always long) because there are so many books for young people that I need to know about so I can book talk them to our students. Just because some students are resistant readers in late middle school doesn’t mean we stop trying to help them find their reading life. Selling a story to a kid is so much more effective when I’ve read the book myself; plus, I have a reputation to uphold!
At the end of the school year, my principal is probably never going to require me to turn in a list of books I read along with my classroom furniture inventory and signature check-out sheet. He won’t be stalking my Goodreads account, and I won’t be evaluated on the variety of young adult and middle grade books I read. Disappointingly, my job description may never include words such as fervent promoter of stories, reading fanatic, or literary cheerleader. I will, however, keep reading from, and adding to, my TBR list, no matter how large it grows.
I suppose reading young people’s literature should just be filed under other duties as assigned, and I’m choosing to assign it to myself.
Emily Visness is a Title 1 middle school teacher who actively works to put relevant books into her students’ hands, a mom who is raising passionate readers, a believer in the importance of diverse literature for young people, a lover of banned or challenged books, and an advocate for all students’ right to read. She writes about her experiences, thoughts, and beliefs surrounding reading, teaching and books on her blog The Bookish Advocate (thebookishadvocate.wordpress.com). You can also find her on Facebook (The Bookish Advocate), Twitter (@bookishadvocate), and Instagram (TheBookishAdvocate).