I’d read the research. I knew that being motivated to read was the key indicator in raising attainment. I knew that a love of books would increase engagement in my class. I knew that it didn’t matter for my pupils if their parents hadn’t succeeded in education if they were on board with encouraging their children to read.
I had no idea how to do it.
I thought it sounded the simplest, most elegant of solutions. It made sense. Bookworms would love learning – it felt instinctively like the solution we’d been looking for. Not the endless interventions, not extra booster classes, not more ramming teaching down their necks.
The children had to be working harder than we were. They had to want to learn.
But how was I supposed to get my class to love reading when they loved screens more? Even their playtime games revolved around what they were playing on their consoles.
One tip I picked up was on how influential reading role models were. I kept going round in circles though – how could I make parents read to their children at home? It felt outside of my remit as a teacher and outside of my sphere of influence. I could tell the parents why they should read but I didn’t think they would act on it. A lot of our parents thought education was our job.
I also didn’t want to nag my children into reading.
I created a poster to show what I was reading at home to show I was a reader outside of school. The first book cover I put on there was ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt, a glorious book.
I wasn’t reading very much myself at that point. As a child I’d always devoured books, spending hours reading Ballet Shoes or Enid Blyton or Redwall or What Katy Did or… Yet as a teacher & mother I’d stopped reading. There always seemed to be something more important, or I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. I started reflecting on myself as a reading role model.
My own children never saw me reading.
They saw me reading the news on my phone, but did they know I was reading & not playing a game?
If I did read a book for pleasure it was in bed for ten minutes before I fell asleep exhausted & they’d already been asleep for hours.
I read with my children every day – we read school books together and enjoyed bedtime stories every night, but when it came to me being a reading role model, I simply wasn’t. How could I expect my pupils’ parents to read in front of their children when I, who had been an avid bookworm, didn’t? It occurred to me that maybe they’d never found the joy of a good book themselves.
It was up to me to be a reading role model, both to my own children and to my pupils.
I needed a good book that I could get lost in, something that hadn’t happened for a long time. Hence The Goldfinch – it was getting rave reviews everywhere at that point.
I started reading in front of my own children, sitting down with a cup of tea. How guilty I felt! Stealing ten minutes out of my day to do something so self-indulgent! My children were already booklovers so didn’t see it as the radical act that it felt. ‘Mummy can’t come just now, I’m reading my book’ felt liberating. We’d already instilled a love of books in our own children, so this felt unnecessary.
The world didn’t stop turning. My children were still fed, clothed, clean, loved, thriving.
And so was I. I felt a little less run-ragged. I felt the stress-relieving benefits of reading for joy instead of knowing about them. I fell in love with books again.
I realized that I could be the reading role model for my pupils. Arguably, they needed me to be a reader more than my own children did. We had a reading for pleasure culture in our home. We had a reading rich environment. We had books.
I knew some of my pupils had no books, no bedtime stories. I knew some didn’t even read their reading homework books with a parent at home.
My classroom was a busy place, my days full of teaching, marking, putting up displays, learning. How could I fit in being a reading role model to my pupils alongside everything else?
Hence the poster. ‘Mrs Millar is reading…’
It felt like a bit more of white noise in the background. It didn’t show the children I was a reader. It told them. I realized the only way to demonstrate I was a reader was to read.
The first time I did, I felt so guilty. I closed my classroom door in case the headteacher walked past and saw me skiving. This was our secret. My class were doing a piece of extended writing and normally I would be supporting individuals. Just ten minutes, I told myself.
I sat in my comfy chair at the front of the classroom and held ‘The Goldfinch’ in front of me. It took me a few minutes to concentrate, stop the fizzing in my head. To stop thinking I was doing something wrong, something as radical as reading a book.
The magic happened. I was transported, I relaxed, I felt better. I didn’t want to put it down, but the sense of being naughty & neglecting my pupils took over & I put my book down, got back to work.
It felt like it had been pointless. What good would come of me wasting time when I should be helping the children in my class who needed my support? I didn’t pick up my book again, but I kept my poster on the wall & I talked to them about when I read at home.
Two weeks passed.
I was on playground duty one day, ambling about. And then I overheard Holly talking to her friends. It was just a snippet, but it changed everything.
“I know Mrs Millar likes reading, because she smiles when she reads.”
That is why we need to read in front of our pupils. That is how we become reading models – by demonstrating the behaviour we want to see in our pupils. Showing, not telling.