I was sitting next to the fabulous Donalyn Miller yesterday (yep, The Book Whisperer. We were both at the Michigan Reading Association’s Annual Conference – whatta GREAT state conf, btw) and of course, we talked shop for quite a few hours.
One thing she mentioned over the course of our conversation about the challenges of turning non-book reading kids into readers struck me as notable. She said, “So often, teachers have higher expectations for kids than parents do.”
I paused. That’s really, really interesting, I thought.
I mean expectations and hopes for positive achievement frequently have their roots in love, don’t they. (i.e. I have high aspirations/expectations for you because I care so much about you and see such wonderful potential in you – and the more I care, the higher my expectations/hopes. Conversely, the less I care about you as a person, the less I care about what you do with your life… as long as you don’t break the law, tread on me, or whatever. And isn’t there a degree of self-fulfilling prophesy which often plays into all this as well?)
But if my theory of “degree of how much you care equates to the hope/expectations one holds for a child” then Donalyn just blew it up.
Or did she?
Was she saying that teachers often care about kids more than parents? No, I don’t think so. (Yet, to call out a pink elephant in the room, in modern-day America, this is certainly the case in more than a handful of situations.)
Unfortunately, I had to get to the airport and didn’t get to finish the chat. (Note: my limo waits for no one. And the private jet can’t really whisk away until the whiskee is comfortably seated in a leather chair with a scotch in hand. Neat. I’m drifting, aren’t I?)
Anyway, I think what she was saying is that reading specialists know more about what is possible than parents do (because they are laypersons and we are “in the industry”) and as such, we do need to set a higher bar because we know that when it comes to books, the hurdle of dormant literacy can be awakened by a skilled professional.
So yes, converting the non-reader to reader is a culture war in many ways because in so many households it’s Home vs. School. And when parents aren’t readers and aren’t modeling the habits of readers in the home, the work of reading teachers is made even that much more difficult in the school.
Yet, how do we better slant things so that the reading teacher stands a greater chance of being successful?
Expectations, it seems, are the Archimedean point. If teachers don’t believe a non-reader can be converted, won over, awakened (use whatever switch term ya want) then aren’t we defeated before we even begin?
And why is it that talking about reading makes me want to read more?
This is what happens when you sit next to big brain people. YOU THINK MORE. It’s also why educational conferences are inimitable.