Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher @AmandaSteeley
Yesterday, all of you who completed your statewide reading test did an incredible job. And yet, I went home feeling agitated, and while I have slept well this entire school year, I am up at 2 AM unable to go back to sleep. I think that I am sad and I am trying to figure out why. This afternoon, when I told my husband the news of your testing success, he was surprised that I didn’t share it with more excitement in my voice. “Aren’t you happy?” he wanted to know. “It sounds like they did great!” I assured him of my joy, but my actions didn’t match my words.
Right now, I am reading a book that one of you recommended to me. It’s The Cay, by Theodore Taylor. It’s the story of a young boy who is shipwrecked during war when trying to leave his home in the Caribbean Islands. Due to a blow to the head, he finds himself blind and trying to survive on an island with an old man and a cat. These three characters come from three different worlds, but their happenstance meeting changes their lives and perception of the world. I am on chapter fifteen – a hurricane is coming to the island and the young boy fears losing either of his new best friends…
Class, I think I know why I am sad. I am sad because that test, the one you did so well on, marks a closure to our time reading together. Do you know how much I have grown because of you all this year? I have read more books in the past 9 months than I have ever read in such a short period of time in my life. Before we all began reading together, I loved to read, but I had a problem – the books I chose were emotionally draining. They were novels where the main character had to overcome intense hardship. I’m all for character development, but the books I was reading were bringing me down! You all taught me that you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy juvenile fiction. Now I retreat to my books for a well-loved treat.
When I think back on this year, the simplest memory stands out; it is something we did every day: Some of you are sitting at the tables, others on the floor, a few on the couch, two huddled in the easy chair; Mr. Beasley is sitting at a table with a group of you, and I am sitting on the carpet in the front of the room. In my memory, we are all reading. It is silent, and the energy in the room is filled with excitement. We all feel like we are getting away with something! When we are supposed to be at school, learning, we are secretly taking time to read for 40 minutes! The energy in the room dances, and 20 minutes in we all stop to share what is going on in our books, then retreat back to our stories until time is up and a unanimous groan of disappointment washes over the room.
You know what else I loved? I loved how you all would come in in the morning asking us if you could tell us what was going on in your books. Without this little trick, I would have never read The Land of Stories, The Lost Track of Time, The War That Saved My Life or so many other goodies! You all have been like my personal book recommendation force!
But you know what is so crazy? Even though we were sneaky and read whatever we wanted to all year, every one of you still did amazing on the statewide reading test. Am I glad you rocked it? Sure, I’m glad! But taking tests is not how I got to know you, how I saw you grow, how I grew myself, or what I will remember from this year. Instead, I will remember being a member of a very elite reading community and what a gift that time in my life was.
In writing this letter, I feel a little better, because even though you all will go off to change the world and I won’t see your smiling faces every day, I will always think of you when I open a new book, wondering if you’ve read it too and what you would think of it. Thank you for growing my mind and soul.
Love, Mrs. Steeley
If you want to learn more about developing a culture of reading in your classroom, we highly recommend Reading in the Wild, by Donalyn Miller.