How Re-Establishing My Identity as a “Capital ‘R’” Reader Changed My Classroom by Malia Oshiro
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a bookworm. I never left the house without a book. As a child, I distinctly remember throwing a temper tantrum of epic proportions—flailing on the ground, stomping my feet, crying hysterically to the point of hyperventilation. The cause? I didn’t think I had enough chapter books to entertain me during a family dinner at a local restaurant.
Over time, that identity shifted. I trudged through the mandatory reading lists in my Honors and Advanced Placement classes, rarely finding time between extracurricular activities to read for “me.” In the transition to college, I lacked that simple spark of joy when I held a book that I had selected for myself to immerse myself in. I entered college as a business and marketing major and left with a teaching degree and a job in a high school English classroom. I imagined that I would fill my days with reading my favorite books and writing about my reactions to them…That wasn’t exactly what happened.
In my first years of teaching, I was once again drowning in required reading. From curriculum guides and textbooks to “strongly recommended” professional development texts, my identity as a Reader was quickly fading. I couldn’t describe the last book I read for pure enjoyment if I tried.
Somewhere down the line, I had an identity crisis. I loved my English classes as a student. I had a career doing something that on paper, I should love. Yet here I was, staring at my collection of childhood favorites and seeing them as old memories instead of cherished friends. My classroom management skills were severely lacking. I didn’t know myself well enough to know how to approach each individual situation with love and compassion. Instead, I was constantly on the defensive, feeling as though I was under attack.
One fall evening, with “nothing good” on TV, I wandered over to my bookshelf. I found an old favorite—Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece. I was feeling overwhelmed by the pressure I felt to be a Teacher that changed lives, I felt inadequate and unqualified to teach in general, and I didn’t have the deep connections to friends that I felt like I used to have as a child. Something called out to me and I picked up that book, made a cup of hot cocoa (giant marshmallows included), and curled up to relax. In that moment, I was overwhelmed by something that I can only describe as divine relief. With a deep breath, I opened the book to the first page. In that first page, I found myself again. Ironically, I had found my missing piece in that story.
Despite the challenges of being a young teacher, I had an escape and a safe haven once again. For just a moment, for as many pages as the book had, I could dive into another world. Here is what that quiet evening with a childhood favorite taught me that I could immediately apply to my classroom:
- When teachers ignore the deepest parts of who they are, their classroom will be missing something vital, and that’s something we deserve for our students AND for ourselves. When I returned to my classroom the following day, I felt revitalized and refreshed. I felt more capable and prepared to handle whatever was thrown my way, all because I took the time to sit down and read a book.
- We start out our reading lives as explorers. And then, we are inundated with more suggestions than we can comprehend. Those suggestions develop into leveled books, reading lists, and homework that take priority. As teachers, those are presented in the form of curriculum guides, the books we teach, and the professional development books that are handed to us. Somewhere along the line, we lose our sense of wonder…And we need to reclaim that.
- Most importantly: When I’m a “capital ‘R’” Reader, my students get a “capital ‘T’” Teacher. When I spend time enriching my life, exploring new topics, and simply recharging, I am better prepared to be the fully present and compassionate teacher that my students deserve.
What does all of this mean? For me, this means sharpening my skills. The skills of saying “no” and “not right now” are current works in progress in my world. I’m a Type-A, Introverted (INFJ) people-pleaser. It breaks my heart each time I turn down someone or something because I feel as though I’ve let them down.
For me, this means reframing my perception of expectation in my profession.
For me, this means letting go of the teacher I think I “should” be in order to become the Teacher—and Reader—that I already am.
Malia Oshiro has taught 7th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grade English. She currently teaches 10th and 11th grade English, a position she treasures dearly. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at @msoshiroreads, on Blogger at msoshiroreads.blogspot.com, or wandering book section of Target.