Jackson Hole High School
The most successful program that I run in my English class is a silent reading program. The students choose their own books. My first year of teaching, I had five sections of basic English, kids who cannot read, cannot write, cannot pass another class. That’s all I taught all day long. Reading, writing, grammar. Basic skills, sort of survival skills.
I started working with these kids and I asked them, “How many of you have a bookshelf at home that’s filled with books?’' No hands. “How many of you have seen your parents read a book?’' No hands. “How many of you see your parents read a newspaper or magazine on a regular basis?’' A few hands. And I realized here are a hundred-plus students coming into my room each day who never see an adult read. They see adults do all kinds of other things, and they need to see an adult read. So, we sat down and read, and they saw me read. We talked about what we were reading. It was very informal, trying to draw some interest for reading.
I was doing this reading program, and the principal came into the room. For 10 or 12 minutes or whatever it was, there was no interaction. There was silence. He left the room and called me into his office later and said, “What was going on there?” I explained this program and why I did it. He said, “Can you really justify not teaching those 10 or 12 minutes at the beginning of the hour?” I tried to explain to him [that] they need an adult reader model. And I am being that model.
As a first-year teacher, of course, asking me to justify what I was doing, I spent some serious days after that. Am I really doing the right thing? Maybe I am making a mistake. Maybe I’m just a beginner, and I don’t really know what I’m doing.
One day, not long after this, I was talking to the kids and I was explaining some upcoming assignments, just scheduling kinds of things. A kid raised his hand and asked, “Could you please stop talking? You are cutting into our reading time.”
And I thought, “That’s it!” I had all the proof I needed. It made a difference to this kid. He wanted to read.
I never did convince the principal. He was the only principal I ever had who didn’t think it was a very good use of class time.
From I Am A Teacher, by David Marshall Marquis and Robin Sachs. Copyright © 1990 by David Marshall Marquis and Robin Sachs. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Inc.
A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1990 edition of Teacher