On my way home from school on the last day, I made a side-track to drop off a book for a student. As I left the book on the porch with a post-it note attached, I jumped into my car and drove off excited for her to get this surprise. We had just spoken on ZOOM in the chat extensively about this book, and how I thought she should add it to her summer reading list. This is a student who I have only met in person once this year, but created and maintained our connection via messaging back and forth during class. I knew what books she had read, and some of her interests, so I had the perfect book for her to read next.
Early on, I set an expectation of daily independent reading to start class, and while I could easily monitor and conference with my face-to-face students, the virtual realm is where it got trickly. My in-class kids liked to tell me that the virtual kids weren’t really reading, and the ones that returned were quick to come clean about that fact. Nonetheless, I didn’t give up, and found my readers, nurtured those that needed suggestions and created a dialogue of honesty and frankness about reading habits. Some read the news all year; others listened to podcasts. Through it all, they had a choice. And the ten minutes of solitary silence also did something for our collective mental health. That I know for sure, because students told me weekly that they enjoyed that time to read and regroup. The act of focusing on the words on the page, getting caught up in a story, or hearing the familiar voice of the narrator was calming, something we needed so much this year.
The gift of words can come in many forms. Sharing these words together, sharing these experiences, sharing these situations–that is what I choose to continue. I am not naive to the fact that my students on the other side of the screen may not have actually been reading, but when I played an audio, or read aloud to everyone (yes even in 10th grade), those were always the best days. Sharing words, sharing stories, sharing experiences together – that is the silver lining of the year.
Time and time again, my students told me that they enjoyed reading our one class novel that we did together this year, and they asked for more. That was the one thing they asked for, to read more books together. Due to the nature of the school year, we actually read and listened to our class novel. The conversations that ensued were like water in a desert. Talking about ideas, themes, characters and more was a shared experience that brought us together.
Sharing books together is the biggest joy of being an English teacher for me, and always has been. We have the important duty of sharing what we love, welcoming new perspectives and ideas, and creating readers of all ages. Kids want to be challenged to think, discuss, be engaged, enlightened, listened to. Getting virtual students and in-person students to talk together as one class was the single most important and rewarding aspect of this year. I knew that if we were reading something that day, it would be a good day.
Sandi Adair has been an English teacher for 23 years. She was a Dallas Morning News Teacher Voice Outstanding Columnist in 2014. Currently, she teaches high school in McKinney, Texas.