There are a lot of “if only” type scenarios when it comes to reaching teen readers — especially reluctant teens readers — but I’d say if there was one “if only” chip I could be given to cash in and nevermore be able to moan about how difficult the task can sometimes be to get kids to read books, I’d say that I’d lay claim to the “If only our students came to us as blank slates” chip, take my winnings and shut my trap.
Because the truth is students don’t come to our classrooms as blank slates. They come into our classrooms carrying baggage. Emotional literacy baggage. Lots of it. And so much of it is negative. I mean I don’t start the year with a room full of teenagers who are at ground zero; I start off the year with a majority of kids who come into my room overtly disliking (if not outright hating) the act of reading. They finding reading to be a punishment, writing to be onerous and the applied combination of the two, reading and then responding to the reading through writing, to be like a trip to the dentist that is tragically exacerbated by a mandatory referral to an orthodontic specialist.
Goodness, I’d LOVE it if my students came to me as blank slates… but they don’t. And a great amount of my work is actually repairing the idea of how reading can be an awesome, worthwhile and exceptionally valuable experience. It’s a point that I do not think gets enough talk time in our professional conversations. Most of us, unless we are teaching honor’s classes at a high scoring API and AYP schools in high income socioeconomic districts, are being assigned rooms filled with kids who simply put, have a poor relationship with literacy which results in them not really being all that fired up to actually participate in too many literacy related activities.
And who can blame them? I mean if you take a moment to think about an area in which you are weak or do not much like (for me it’s auto mechanics — I couldn’t make a carburetor carb or a piston piss to save my own skin), you’ll probably also find a lack of enthusiasm to actually do much in the way of work in that arena. (I know I get pissed when I am asked to make my car pistons piss.)
So why do we not better address this? So, so many of us are starting our school years with an uphill battle and yet, the powers-that-be regard matters as if we are starting on a slate-has-been-wiped-clean, even-keel tier. It’s just not true. Our students are entering our rooms with emotional language arts baggage. And let me tell you, some of them are carrying Louis Vitton!!
Nope, one of my foremost tasks at the onset of a year is to create new perceptions of literature and literacy because the ones they all-too-often enter my room with are tattered, battered, jaded and cynical. I mean the fact is, I’d rather have a group of “far below basic” kids who are motivated than a group of “exceeds proficiency” kids who are blase’ — or even worse… victims of, as K. Gallagher so aptly put it, Readicide.
Cause so, so, so many of my students at the start of every year are.