Disclaimer: There are countless ways to save money when securing books for your classroom library. I, however, often lack the patience for such measured and responsible procurement of texts. This is my story (and possibly my defense should my husband discover just how much I spend on books).
My husband Nick is a dear man. He has to be, to put up with the amount of time, energy, and hard earned cash I devote to this passion called teaching.
In the 14 years I’ve been at this, or rather the 2 years I’ve been building a genuine classroom library, I have probably spent $4, 398,291 (hyperbolic numbers are my favorite, because I’ve never been good at math).
It often happens before I know what I’m doing. Like those poor souls who sleepwalk and end up in the middle of a busy road in their pajamas, I find myself “just putting a book in my Amazon cart so I remember the title,” or “checking Thriftbooks for a minute (or 27), to see what’s new.”
Hi. My name is Lisa, and I buy a lot of books for other people’s children.
This “problem” sort of took me by surprise. With my head hanging low, I must admit there was a time, not too long ago, when there were very few books in my classroom. There were very few books in my life period, besides the ones I “taught” year after
year. My classroom was rich in many valuable thoughts, inquires, and experiences before workshop, but it was not full of books.
How, as a teacher of literacy, had I allowed my classroom to become devoid of the very tools of reading I kept suggesting to my students would be their salvation in the face of collegiate ambitions, thematic exploration, and aspirations of world domination?
Apparently, it wasn’t important to me.
Ugh. That reflection looks ugly in print.
I didn’t purposefully create a text desert in my classroom, of course. If someone had said, “Hey, Dennis. You teach English. Where are all the books?” I would have smiled and pointed to the textbooks and countless copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Students bought any books they needed for independent reading, and I happily progressed with assigning reading, providing study guides, giving content quizzes, lather, rinse, repeat. This is what I knew. This is what I had experienced myself. This is how I was taught to teach.
But then, one day, a big rock fell on my head. I dreamt of rows upon rows of book shelves lining the walls of my classroom and students clutching copies of countless titles to their bosoms. Ryan Gosling walked into the room and said, “Hey girl. I really love the work you’re doing for public education. Let’s get those kids reading more. Cool?” When I came to, I was blushing, but more importantly, I knew that my students needed more choice. More challenge. More access to books.
Ok. Not really. But the conclusions I came to after some workshop research, training by the lovely workshop team of Three Teachers Talk, and logical reflection about how I wanted my students to view reading, that part is true.
There is still a very important place for whole class novel work in my classroom. There is still a place for short lists of books with a central theme to get kids working in book clubs. There is still a place for the classic and contemporary. But there is also now a place for a lot more choice right in my classroom, always located just a few steps away.
And though we might not want to believe that we have to hold our kids’ hands and walk them to our bookshelves, instead of trusting them to take their own time to go to the library or while away the hours at the local bookshop, at least in the beginning, we do. We need to make the books so wildly available, that kids can’t help but wade through them in the course of our time together.
Think of elementary classrooms. Books upon books, upon teachers reading aloud books. If books aren’t at home, they are certainly at school, and when kids are learning to read, they are showered with books. Why not shower them with texts when we are trying to reignite that love of reading?
Given time to read, talk about books, formative and summative work around independent novel study, goal setting, book challenges, quick writes on choice reading, daily book talks, a teacher who pours passion about books all over their every class period AND shelves of books three feet away, progress in building and rebuilding readers is very possible, and even, probable.
We can teach children to read, but for reading to become a habit, they need ready access to books. We also know, they need choice, choice, and more choice (thank you a million times for your brilliance, Donalyn Miller).
When it comes down to it, we might not want to believe our students evade the reading we ask them to do, but they often do. Many fake read very, very well. Others simply smile, or avert their gaze, or defiantly say, “I didn’t do it” or “I’m just super busy.”
I’ll put it this way, my dentist hands me floss, but I don’t use it as often as I should. There. I said it. I am a college educated, do-gooder, who knows she should floss…every day. I do not floss every day. I know my teeth will suffer for it. I know when I go to the dentist I feel bad for having to say that I could probably floss more. I know it’s with the best intentions for my own self interest that the professional tells me to do it, but…I don’t do it. I’m just super busy.
Perhaps a bad analogy, but our students don’t always make the right choices when it comes to reading. They prioritize other things. If my dentist were handing me floss every day, chances are good, I’d get in the habit. Should he have to? No. Should I just do it on my own because I know it’s good for me, of course. But, I’m flawed. We all are.
So, at least for awhile, I’m going to care enough about my students teeth, er, reading habits to make it highly visible, readily accessible, and as entertaining as I can.
The payoff just this week is real:
- Josh is a super smart kid who hadn’t been devoting time to reading. He, like so many others, used to love to read, but had fallen out of the habit. With our 10-15 minutes of reading a day, and my suggestion that he add just 10 minutes before falling asleep each night, Josh is back into books. Major texts, in fact, and just book talked The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss to our a class. A little bit here and a little bit there, made the reading a habit again. I bought the book and handed it to one of his peers who flew through it too.
- I saw Brianna standing at the bookshelf yesterday morning. Sort of swaying back and forth. I skipped over (ok, I was skipping in my head, but I was excited to help her find something magical).
“What are you in the market for, my dear.”
“Uh…I’m not sure. I just read Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain. It was really good, but I might be over nonfiction for awhile.”
“Makes sense. How about a really good story? Try this. Oooo! And this…and I had someone read this one last month. And…this (The Help). Have you read this one yet? Take a look at the reviews in the front from past readers. This is a great book.”
Brianna was 20 pages into The Help and picked up the book between activities in class that day.
- The somewhat shocked and surprised smile on JJ’s face when, after book talking Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things: A Novel last week, I put in his hands a copy of her incredible new release Small Great Things. He had asked for my copy a few days later when he finished his latest read, but it had already been checked out. He looked crestfallen. When I saw it yesterday on the new release cart in the library, I checked it out, and hunted JJ down during our resource period. “Wow. Thank you!“
- And this…You might remember Nathan from a few weeks back after he finished A Dog’s Purpose:
I was at Barnes and Noble and used one of my gift cards to buy the sequel A Dog’s Journey. I think this smile is worth the expense:
Truth be told, I’m very lucky to work in a district that has put a huge amount of money into funding the classroom libraries of our English department as we’ve moved to workshop. And there are countless ways to put on your thrifty teacher cap and get the texts rolling into your room, if your district isn’t yet on board with choice reading:
- Write letters to your local bookstores and appeal to their sense of community pride, favorable Yelp reviews, and goodwill to all.
- Loiter in bookstores and flash your teacher credentials. Sometimes a pleading smile and/or a small purchase will secure some free or discounted books.
- Apply for grants (Nothing says #booklove like free books…next year).
- Rummage, thrift, estate sale your way through the summer.
- Gather some research on classroom libraries and get it in the hands of your administrators. You might be surprised.
- Ask Shana for books. She loves to give away books to fellow workshop teachers.
- Befriend authors via social media! Jessica is trying her hand at scoring some Matthew Quick books through Shana’s connection. No shame, Jessica! Twirt (twitter flirt, I believe) away!
You don’t necessarily have to spend your own money on books, but I do. Something inside of me saying that I need more. I need more variety. I need more to recommend. I need more books.
I keep telling my husband that I’m helping to inform, inspire, and impassion the electorate. I’m also in charge of the money, so my little addiction should be able to continue a little while longer. I consider you all my support group in this matter. Thank you for your support.
How do you surround your students with books? What titles have you added recently that keep flying off your shelves? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of friends at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Her latest classroom library purchases were The Hate U Giveby Angie Thomas, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, and Violent Ends, the story of a school shooting told from various perspectives and written by 17 YA Lit. authors. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum.