Teacher Talk: It's all about reading - not just the book

Posted: Friday, October 24, 2003

My husband and I had our first major fight when my 200 boxes of books inserted themselves into our marriage. After five months of marriage we were moving from our separate houses in separate Bush Alaska villages to Haines. I was five months pregnant. So he had to move all those books from Alakanuk to Anchorage and from Anchorage to Haines, and finally into our new house. He was, to say the least, irritated, a fact he still reminds me of from time to time when he trips over a pile of books in the living room.

I admit it - I am a bibliophile. I love books. If I don't spend at least an hour reading during a day, my family knows that I am really, truly sick. The hardest part of delivering my four children was that for at least a day afterwards nothing I read made sense. However, for me it isn't just the reading - it is also the owning of books that is my passion. I love the feel of books, the smell of books, the weight of them in my hand. Hardback, paperback, library bound, I love them all, and I have the overstuffed bookshelves and boxes of books to prove it. My husband, however, does not share my passion.

He is a teacher, too, and he enjoys reading, but for him it is the reading that is the thing, not the book. He reads our children Sports Illustrated and I read them "Green Eggs and Ham." Our children benefit from both. He would like me to use the library more often than the bookstore, but he welcomes my help in finding good literature to share with his students in his classroom library (which consists of many of those original 200 boxes of books).

When I started back to work as a substitute and volunteer at my children's school, I found that reading really is the thing. Some students take to reading right away, easily, with little or no struggle, while others struggle with it, agonize over it, get bored by - hate it. So, when the opportunity arose, I went back to school to learn more about this reading thing. I wanted to share my love of books, but more, to understand why reading is so difficult for some and not for others. What do some readers do that others don't, and how can I share my passion for stories, for poetry, for literature and, yes, my love of books with people who don't even like to read?

I am in the process of learning some of the answers to these questions now and working to share what I learn with students and teachers in this district. I am finding that even though reading is easy and natural for some people, taking that natural process and breaking it down shows how amazingly complex it actually is. Because of that complexity, many readers struggle in some part(s) of the process and it is my joy as a literacy leader to help them learn the strategies that will enable them to make those processes natural to their reading, and then perhaps become passionate about reading, too.

Sharing our passions is what so many people in Juneau do so well. We discover something we enjoy, learn more about it and then share it with others. In this way we all take part in building a community of educated, lifelong learners. We share what we love with our families and with others.

My children are passionate about reading. I know this when my son's teachers complain about having to get between him and his book to get his attention, or I catch my daughter reading at 11 p.m. on a school night. Real passions sometimes get in the way of "real life" even while making life so much richer. Balance is important. So I try to set a good example by being willing to set down my book when one of my children wants my attention, or dinner needs cooking, or homework needs to be done, or...

But I continue to applaud my children for their passion and I look for the passions of others so that they can share them with me. Then perhaps I can find them a good book to read.

• Valorie Ringle is the literacy leader at Juneau-Douglas High School, is a member of the Glacier Valley Elementary School Site Council, and is working toward an endorsement or master's in reading at the University of Alaska Southeast.

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