I just returned from my first professional speaking experience. I was asked to present at two of the 2017 Scholastic Reading Summit locations, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking.
Did I have anything to say? Scratch that. Did I have anything NEW to say? I feel that I am kind of out here saying the things that many of us already know. Many of the things that so many teachers already do in their classrooms. Then, I realized that I am saying these things and sharing my classroom experiences mostly with educators already inside the kid lit community.
Each time I step outside of that community, I worry about what I see. I worry about the posts flooding Facebook Literacy communities. I worry about the posts I see on Instagram. I especially worry about the general education questions that flood my DMs. A friend recently told me that you can tell a lot about where a teacher is in their journey by the questions they ask you. As someone who has come a long way since their first year of teaching, and as someone who still has many miles to go, I have recently been thinking a lot about how I approach these educators.
I remember a few summers ago when I was filled with questions, more so than normal. It was the school year that a representative from the county told me that "I ask a lot of questions," in front of my colleagues during a PD session. It was also the year that I joined Twitter and stumbled upon the hashtag #nerdcampmi. I had just read Reading in the Wild, and could not ask enough questions. I wrote down every literacy person mentioned in the book, joined social media outlets with my educator hat on and fell down so many hashtag rabbit holes. It was a year of tremendous growth for me.
It was a year in which I had a lot of questions.
A lot of questions that probably felt stupid, or obvious to those I was asking.
Now my thinking is hanging in the balance. Each day, the pendulum swings from "hey, let me get you some great resources for that" and "I'm still growing my learning on that topic as well," to "You just read The Book Whisperer and you STILL don't get it?!" It is an overwhelming piece and it is one that I think about more than I need to.
I want to help others, like those that have helped me along the way. We need support from each other. I will help others. I will continue to open up dialogues (especially ones that teachers don't want to talk about), I will continue to post articles and link to research we all should know, as I hope others will continue to do for me, and I will continue to answer the questions I am asked, but at some point... I need teachers to start helping themselves. Yes, the community is out there to provide support, but I have put in a tremendous amount of self-guided work along the way. I have read many books, I have used trial and error in the classroom, reached out to others, and I've even taken to Google when I have a question that could easily... be answered... by a Google search.
My frustrations are not with the questions asked.
My frustrations lie in this space: when we know better, why are we not doing better?
Kylene Beers said it best:
If children want to learn vocabulary,
they should read.
If they need to develop fluency,
they should read.
If they need to learn about a topic,
they should read.
If they need to be a person they are not,
they should read.
If they need to grow, to stretch, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to find a friend, to vanquish a foe,
they should read.
We know this, right? Yet, what do so many teachers have children doing?
It just all feels like complete madness to me.
We should get something out of the way here. It is bogging down teachers and inadvertently, kids, everywhere.
It doesn't matter that YOU don't like the book. I'm looking at you, parent or teacher, who is clutching your pearls at this very moment because I started with an image from the new Captain Underpants movie.
Authors know what I'm talking about. You receive it in scathing Amazon reviews, you might receive a nasty letter from a parent who has never sneezed or burped or farted (say that last part in a Gru voice), or you might even be lucky enough to write a book that has been placed on a Banned Books list. As late as 2012, Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was still making the yearly top ten list because of uptight people contacting the Office for Intellectual Freedom. This book was released in 1989 and if my elementary librarian had a record of the amount of times I checked it out, I'm pretty sure my mom would have said "wow, my kid was reading... and reading a lot. Well done fine librarians and Alvin Schwartz!" I was obsessed with all things scary as a kid. My attitudes about reading might be different now if I was censored when it came to checking out children's' books in my own school library.
Look, no one needs you to publicly declare that you don't like Captain Underpants, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Guess who does? Kids. (And a lot of cool adults, like me). Need data to support that statement? There are now more than 164 million copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid in print. When Old School was released in 2015? Over a million copies sold in the first week. (Independent, 2015). This is about them, not you. The last time I checked no master villains have been developed because of reading funny books. We probably could have defeated some epic jerk faces IF they had read funny comics as a kid.
Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading Report shows us what we already know: kids love to pick out their own books. Just like adults do. It also shows us that kids want books that make them laugh. They want fun reading experiences. Books like the ones I've mentioned give kids exactly that. This article from 2012 sums up my sarcastic attitude towards these parents who are upset that their kids are having enjoyable reading experiences. It is all about Captain Underpants being the most challenged book of 2012. I highly encourage you to read it.
This past weekend, my family went to go see Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. I haven't heard my husband laugh that hard at a movie in years. I was in tears because I was laughing so hard. My almost eight year old, glued to the screen. My three year old? Cried because we had to take her to the bathroom right when Professor Poopypants was getting his. Underneath the humor was this sad realization that Dav must have had years and years ago. So many schools are sucking the fun and life out of kids. Complaining that kids can't think critically when they haven't been given the time they need to play and explore their own interests. This system is bringing kids down and this movie highlights this, just like all of Dav's books. I believe if we as teachers, and parents, helped our kids find what they really love and gave them time to explore it, lives would change.
My dad always gives me great perspective in this area. He has always been an avid reader. I am talking taking the whole family to Barnes and Noble to read and explore, whole room dedicated to his beloved motorcycle magazines, always something in his hands avid reader. I was explaining the movie to him and the commentary it provided on education. He said that his first favorite motorcycle magazine, Cycle, is what taught him writing mechanics. Not his teachers drilling isolated grammar and sentence structure, but reading an actual mentor text is what showed him how to write. He battled the stigma around being a kid that wanted to make and work on things with his hands. He became a reader despite the adults around him, limiting him. I want my kids to become readers with my help, not in spite of me. But how many of our kids are forced into these same situations because of teacher attitudes?
This movie is powerful, just like Dav's books. The movie that I had posters for up in my classroom, and one that my fourth graders were pumped to add to their must see lists for the summer. Imagine if I would have had a bad attitude about that book and movie as their role model? I might not have had kids writing Dog Man inspired comics literally all year, I might not have had kids experience a resurge in the original series, I might have even decided to keep these books out of my library all together. In that case, what message would I be sending my kids?
That I don't value these books and reading experiences.
What an awful message to send to children. I won't be the one to do it. All reading experiences should be valued. LET KIDS READ! I am about sick of all these adults standing in the way! You want readers, so stop attaching rewards, AR quizzes, leveled baskets and shitty attitudes about children's literature. LET KIDS READ!
The kids will find the comics.
And then they'll read them.
Stop being a baby.
Sit down next to them and read them too.
It might just lower that high blood pressure.