Required reading

Last night I finally finished my “required” reading for the summer. I think it took me at least two weeks to read the book, but I felt like it took two months! Now, don’t misunderstand, I totally understand why my school’s administration team wanted us to read this book.  I shared ideas from the book with my mom (we love to talk reading!). I even found the idea of changing your mindset interesting. I reflected on the material by connecting to my own life and analyzing friends and family.  The ideas in that book even led me to my next book.

So then why did I trudge through the book; literally sigh at the thought of reading; avoid reading at all costs (I watched Here Comes Honey Boo Boo instead! What?); and stare longingly at my pile of want-to-read books each night as I settled down to read? I disliked the experience so much because I had to read the book; I was required to read it; in other words (not that you need other words after two statements, but I’m emphasizing here!) I felt like I was forced to read it.

These feelings got me thinking about the books I require my students to read each year.  They’re great books with a lot to offer including literary merit.  And like any “good English” teacher, I have the one book nearly memorized down to obscure details. But would my students enjoy these books more if they’d chosen them for themselves? Would I be okay if an eighth grader left my room having not read The Outsiders? Shouldn’t I be? Because these books are required curriculum, I have to continue to require them and teach them, but what can I do? After much thought, I think my best course is leveling with them and sharing with them my experience this summer.  I’ll continue to introduce the novels with enthusiasm, but I’ll also be honest. I’ll tell my students that I understand that these novels interrupt their personal reading. I’ll help them make a plan to finish the required reading without losing the desire to keep reading what they like. I’ll tell them how joyful it is to finish the required reading and go back to their old friends.

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