It's Teacher Appreciation Week!

Teacher Appreciation Week provides us with the opportunity to celebrate great teachers who change lives and inspire young people to reach for their dreams. First Book is especially grateful to teachers who work tirelessly to fight illiteracy and  introduce children to the joy of  of reading.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked our guest blogger, Sabrina Stevens Shupe, to share her advice on how to inspire students to discover the joy of reading. Shupe is a teacher, writer, and education activist in Colorado. She has worked with students in struggling communities in Philadelphia and Denver, and currently works with grassroots education movements around the country.

I’m sure it’s not surprising to hear a teacher say this, but I absolutely love books. Some of my earliest and fondest memories of childhood involve reading: being read to by my parents and teachers, cuddling with a book while the weather was too bad to play outside (or even when it wasn’t!), sharing a book with my sister or a friend. I still enjoy those things today, and feel a little rush of endorphins whenever I step into a library or smell fresh pages as I enter a bookstore. 

When I first started teaching reading two and a half years ago, I began with some questions: Why do we read? Why is reading important?

I was so depressed when I heard my students’ first responses. “Because that’s what we’re supposed to do in school.” “To get a good grade.” “Because we’re told to.” “To pass a test.” Clearly, reading had become a “have to” instead of a “want to”—which isn’t surprising given how hard it is for working families to find time to read together these days (when the parents can themselves read, which isn’t always the case), and the resurgence of boring, often humiliating, drill-(and-time-and-graph!)and-kill methods of reading instruction.

It was clear I had my work cut out for me—we needed some positive, fulfilling experiences with books!

After lots of read alouds (one of my favorite things to do!), Readers Theater, buddy reading, and book clubs, here are some of the better answers we discovered.

We read because…

  • Reading, and being read to, open us up to experiences we may never be able to have in real life. In real life, money or time or physical constraints might keep us from traveling to the Moon, or around the world, or backwards and forwards in time. But we can go to all of these places in books, stretching our minds in the process.
  • Reading makes us think and see things in new ways. By looking at different books, examining characters, or reading multiple perspectives on the same topics or events, we learn about new things, and learn how to consider multiple perspectives and possibilities. That helps us not only become better readers and students, but better theoreticians, better problem-solvers, better friends, better family members, and better community members.
  • Reading helps us escape when times are tough, and celebrate when times are good. Reading is a great way to take your mind off of your own problems in life, or commemorate special events by reading about how others greet those same events.
  • Reading teaches us how to write. By reading the writing of accomplished writers, we learn about how to effectively tell a story or impart information. Mentor texts are powerful tools for learning how to do everything from learning conventional spelling to developing voice.
  • Reading teaches us about ourselves. I shared with my students how books like Harry Potter led me to question what I might do when faced with injustice or evil, and that began many conversations about “what if?” and “What would I do?” In asking those questions, we reflected on our personalities and character traits, and thought about who we were—and who we’d like to be.
  • Reading is a fun way to bond with others. Nothing made me happier than being able to share the same kinds of cozy memories I have with books with my students. I loved stealing low-key moments to allow everyone to spread out and get comfy on the rug while listening to a story, or watching kids put their heads together and read from the same book on the pillows in our classroom library. Growing your mind in the presence of a friend is just priceless.

Reading is a crucial part of learning, but not just because it’s a way to gain information or pass tests—but because of the way reading helps us grow as people. Here’s hoping every child can discover the love and wonder of reading, and that every child can have books of their own to cuddle with, on rainy days and sunny days alike.

Why do you read? What do you love most about reading?