In my incredibly messy classroom, behind my desk are my personal books- novels ranging from Pride and Prejudice to Splintered. They are worn underlined, and some have sticky notes in them. About six weeks into the school year, one of my students wanders over there to look at my pictures, then they pick up a book and casually flip through it. Then my favorite part of my job begins, “So did you read this?” I smile and, of course, light up. Then, “So can I borrow it? Really?” Absolutely.
I know there is the school library, and they could go there and check out a book or the same one, but there is something about it being “my book.” They come up to me while I am on duty and chat about the book. They ask questions or try to get me to “spill” what happens. I love it. My books help develop a special relationship with them. Students I have never even taught pop by and say, “Can you help me find a book? I like…” My books open doors with my students. They love that I trust them. They see the piles of books I am currently reading on my desk, and there is a running list of who gets to borrow them first. Some come back over and over to borrow the same book. They shyly bring me books they know I would love and want me to read their books. Not all of them are my cup of tea, but I read them and talked with them about the book.
One of my favorite memories is of an incident with Of Mice and Men. I had a student that had never read a book, so he claimed. I am not sure how true that is since it was his junior year, and I don’t know how you make it to 11th grade without having read a book. Anyway, I handed him my college copy of Of Mice and Men. It’s a “boy” book and is short at about 100 pages. He glared at me and said, “Fine.” He charges into 2nd block the next day and slams the book on my desk, “I can’t believe you let me read that. I mean, do you KNOW what happened?!” That entire second block class knows what happened in Of Mice and Men. After he calmed down, we had an excellent forty-five-minute discussion about what friendship means and the morality of “the incident” at the end of the story. Would that discussion have been prompted if he had to check out the book? Perhaps. But by personally handing him my book- a connection was made. The student is graduating this year, and he still is angry about the book. I love that a “classic” book provoked an emotional reaction from a boy, especially one who never reads books.
Sure, my books come back a little worn, but they are loved. It’s better than them sitting on a shelf, pristine. Books are meant to be read and experienced, and I am happy to open these new worlds to my students. I am glad they give me chances to connect with my students. One-on-one time is so rare in today’s classroom. Reading the same book and discussing it allows me to understand the student differently, allowing me to become a more effective teacher. I encourage you to let your students see you read. Leave books on your desk. Talk about them. Books are more than just “learning tools.” They are all about human connection and understanding who we are, which is what education is about.