Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reading Reality Check: What I (Re)-Learned During Maternity Leave

My last post was on February 22.  Six days later, I had my sweet baby boy, and over the last ten weeks, I've been fortunate to have time off from school to bond with him and to help his big sister adjust to her busier, louder, stinkier, and -- hopefully -- even more fun life.

The little man is most relaxed when he's snuggling on me.  This was especially true his first few weeks of life outside the belly; he's very much what I call a "fourth trimester baby."  He really craves the warmth and coziness he had the three trimesters in my belly, and I am more than happy to provide it for him.  (This is a challenge when sister is awake -- we're working on making her feeling just as secure and loved as before!)

I am a hugely paranoid person, so unless my husband is around to make sure I don't squish the baby, I don't fall asleep with the baby on me.  Therefore, I've used a lot of this precious snuggle time to enjoy some pleasure reading. (Sometimes, though, I just hold him, kiss him, hug him, and enjoy his calm.  Parents know exactly what I mean.)  Rediscovering reading time has made me revisit my beliefs about what really makes real readers.

Readers Need Reading Communities
I have a handful of friends with similar reading taste, and I love getting recommendations from them.  For example, I have two educator friends who've read great parenting books; I know to seek them out when I'm in the mood for a parenting book and for people to talk to about it.  Two other friends share similar fiction interests; we like realistic drama, but they also know that I can't stand cheesy "chick lit." I can count on them for just the right characters and plots.  All four of these reading friends have given me high-interest non-fiction recommendations, as well, so I can count on them to help me expand my reading to topics I wouldn't necessarily choose on my own; best of all, I can follow up with them during and afterwards to talk it out.  My friends who are readers are some of the most interesting people I know; I try to tell my students that reading will, for so many reasons, make them more interesting people, too.

Readers Need Books to be Convenient
I love my Kindle Fire (my credit card does not!); what a source of instant reader gratification! As soon as I get a recommendation, I can pop open my e-reader, swipe through the Kindle store, and have my next read ready to go. Not every reader needs an e-reader, but every reader benefits from ready access to pleasure reading; how valuable to be able to go grab a book in the community library, the school library, or the classroom bookshelf while the recommendation is hot!  There's something so cool about getting that new story in my hands right when I want it; the longer it sits on my "to read" list, the more stale it becomes.

Readers Need Time to Read
I know that, when I'm reading a book, I can't hop in and out of it in five minute increments.  I think it's Kelly Gallagher who wrote or spoke about the power of getting lost in a book (I cannot remember his phrasing, but it was brilliant, of course); I know some of my students have never experienced that.  I know this about myself -- and about many other readers: if I don't devote longer chunks of time to reading, I can't get in to a book.  I can read other texts in short chunks (blog posts, magazine articles, cereal boxes -- you name it, and I'll read it), but without the satisfaction of getting lost in a book, I find myself abandoning my longer reads.

Readers Need Time to Talk
Recently, several friends and I read a popular -- and somewhat controversial -- choice that had big-time, thought-provoking implications for our career lives and our personal lives.  My reader friend Staci and I spent 45 minutes during a run pouring out our reactions and talking through the connections to our lives; we'd still have plenty of other great things to talk about even if we haven't had read this book, but the book has planted another anchor for us to come back to in our hours of conversations each week. We didn't need to do projects for each other or fill out worksheets about our book; the power of the read was in sharing a literary experience that we could talk about intelligently (I hope) and that will transfer over time.  This kind of reading satisfaction (the social piece!) makes reading so much more real and so much more rich to me.

Returning to Authenticity
The instructional implications for my reality check are pretty clear. In my away time, the majority of my email has been from vendors touting Common Core-friendly products, or about updates on testing.  It's easy to get caught up in the anxiety of doing more, more, more, and certainly, we DO have to challenge ourselves to do more and to try new things ... but when I think about the heart of independent reading, I know that I have to be authentic.

When I return to school from my maternity leave, I'll have nine days with my students. I don't have much time with them to reinforce the authentic reading habits that I know I need to stay true to. I do have the obligation to continue to do more for myself as a real reader and to think about (and write about) what it looks like with the real readers with whom I'm entrusted every day.


  1. This is full of so many important truths, Gretchen! I love how you were so thoughtful in reflecting on your reading life and what you want for your students' reading lives! It is such a struggle to find ways to make those things happen for kids who have never experienced them, but so rewarding to see them turn into readers one by one. Your students are so lucky to have you!

    1. Jen, I think the next step for me is to flesh out each of these points and figure out how to improve each of these areas in my classroom. I just saw that you have a blog, too! I'm sure I'll be snagging some great idea from you. Have you ever looked into joining the Columbus Area Writing Project? Bet you'd love it! It's been the BEST outlet for my ongoing professional development.

  2. I couldn't agree more, Gretchen! I feel very blessed that you had my son, Joe, in your class this year. He is over-the-moon excited about your return. I will look forward to reading, learning and collaborating with you as a fellow passionate literacy teacher and reader.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Lisa! I look forward to returning to that wry smile and witty sense of humor next Thursday :)