Education Opinion

Starting Block

By Donalyn Miller — August 30, 2008 3 min read
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Sorry I have been off the grid for so long. Did you miss me? I took a little time off from blogging to finish writing my book. The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child will be in bookstores early next year, and I cannot wait for you to read it. Thanks to all of you who sent words of encouragement and support.

The day after I hit “send” on the manuscript, I reported back to work. Convocation, team-building, meetings about RtI— I imagine that the first week you returned to your school looked much the same. At Meet the Teacher Night, I greeted students and their families and toured them around my classroom. I am intrigued by how my new students respond to our classroom library when seeing it for the first time.

One student entered my room and headed straight for the bookshelves, pulling out titles, stroking covers, flitting from bin to bin. It was as if she was reunited with old friends. The girl barely talked to me, leaving her mother to tell me wistfully she hoped I could keep her daughter supplied with books all year. Other students avoided looking at the books or me, and stood with eyes downcast next to their parents who whispered to me about how much their children hated reading—a different challenge. I smiled encouragingly, but I could not help feeling a bit of fear that perhaps I would not be able to get their children to read, either.

I think we all feel this fear at the beginning of the year. The responsibility we teachers bear overwhelms us at times. Faced with the wide range of reading interests and abilities among our new students, we often doubt ourselves. Starting over again each year, can we still get them interested in reading? Can we reach them all?

We begin on a blind path, hoping to get students where they need to go. It is easy to lose sight of the great strides we have made with students in the past.

I forgot.

But the children reminded me.

All week, books appeared as if from nowhere. I found three books, wrapped in a grocery bag, stuffed into my mailbox. Returning from bus duty the first day of school, I discovered a stack of books on my desk, along with a note which read, “These are the last of my hostages.” My eyes welled up with tears, instantly remembering the boy who I knew returned them. He did not like to read when he arrived in my class last year. By spring, I teased him about holding books for ransom in his locker; he kept them so long. The twins, bounded into my doorway on Friday, lugging two book bags full of paperbacks they had borrowed over the summer. The girls sent me photos all summer long—photos of them both reading in airports and on pool chaises. My books have seen more of the world than I have! Many of these students, who read voraciously over the summer, were not readers when they entered my classroom last August.

Reshelving my well-traveled books before leaving for the weekend, I recalled one moment from Meet the Teacher Night that I had not considered during the frenzy of the last week. One former student introduced me to his brother, who will be in my class this year, then shyly asked me if he could check out a book. We go forward, but we go back, too.

I realized that I am not engaged in a race with a shaky start in August and a finish line taped across June. I am traveling an endless journey with my students, all of us readers together, with no beginning and no end. There is only the next child, the next book, and the next opportunity to connect the two. Teaching kids to love reading is not about me and what I can (or cannot) do; it is about the children and what they can do. While I may doubt myself, I must never lose confidence in them and what they can accomplish, do accomplish, every single year.

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.