Having been a teacher for more years than I care to mention, I could write a book on the funny things kids say and do. In fact, one day I just might do that. But for now, I’ll keep it short. You’ll be able to read the unabridged version when I write the book – someday. And I’m sure the topic will centre on the reading process – which always seemed to elicit a funny anecdote, or two.
I’ll apologise (in advance) to any student I taught way back then, just in case they read this and recognise any of the stories as theirs. I will change the names to protect their identity, but I have no doubt they’ll know who I’m talking about.
Please, past students – no hate mail! Just know that I loved every one of you and I will be forever grateful for what you taught me. Since you will all be grown up by now, and probably have children of your own, I hope you can look back and enjoy the memories as much as I do.
It Was All About The Reading Process
The reading process was always a big part of our day. It happened right after the morning routine of ‘check-in’, followed by meditation (…had to call it ‘relaxation’ back then), and then the reading process. I structured the lesson so that I could listen to every child read – and there was never a shortage of volunteers to be first. I made a big deal of every improvement, no matter how slight it was. By praising every effort, every new sound or word learned, I was ensuring more of the same. And each day, a book was sent home to be read to someone in the family. My mantra was:
“Read the book to someone at home, and have them sign the data sheet” – followed by “If everyone is busy, read to your dog. Don’t forget to dip their paw in ink and put it on the sheet”. This was usually met with laughter, but they got the message.
And to make sure the students read – a lot! – I scrounged books from everywhere. Library off-casts; charity shops; family members. Anything with words on it that I could get my hands on, ended up in our classroom. Books were literally spilling out of the two large bookcases (that I’d also scrounged) that made up ‘our library’. I made sure the books covered the wide variety of interests of the students:
- fishing books for Roscoe (do you like my creative name-change?)
- cricket books
- first-aid for Alan (yep! That’s what he wanted to read about)
- farm books
- the newspaper for Lockie – the Courier Mail actually – it wasn’t easy to manipulate because it was still a broadsheet back then
- John didn’t particularly care what he read – he just wanted to find as many of his spelling words as he could
- recipe books
- books of maps
- phonebooks – Brett was always in a transition stage between one foster home or another. He didn’t stay long with any of them. The phonebooks provided him with the comforting thought that he might one day find someone he knew, from another time in his life.
The system worked
The routine was simple: the class had free reading time, while I listened to individual students. There were no rules about what they read, as long as they were reading. I should explain, at this point, that most of the class was at the ‘emerging’ reading stage – some having emerged more than others. Lockie was probably at the very low end of the emerging scale.
I’ll never forget the Monday morning that the Deputy Principal wandered in to introduce us to the new school Psychologist. Mac spotted Lockie hunched over the Courier Mail, seemingly reading the page, and was obviously confused, knowing that Lockie wasn’t up to that level of reading. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and he sauntered over to see what was going on. Lockie kept on reading – he was not about to be distracted. To put Mac’s mind at ease I offered an explanation – Lockie was probably catching up on the weekend sports news. When I got to Lockie’s desk, I could see the paper open at the financial pages. Without missing a beat, I explained that Lockie was just checking his stocks and shares – no big deal – well, not in my mind anyway.
The Deputy left with an incredulous look of disbelief on his face. That look was aimed at me, not Lockie. I was curious about how Mac explained it to the new psychologist? He probably assured her that I was in more need of her services than any of my students.
Don’t Forget To Bring Them Back
The students could borrow the library books at anytime. We even had a borrowing system. The data helped me re-stock the shelves with more of the most popular genre, see who was reading what, and when, and who needed a reminder to bring their book back.
While checking the data one day, I noticed that Roscoe hadn’t returned the fishing book he’d borrowed weeks earlier. At the next opportunity, I causally asked him if he was going to return it anytime soon? His response has stayed with me all these years.
”I can’t”, Roscoe nonchalantly replied. “My dog hasn’t finished reading it yet.”
“Okay, Roscoe”, I said. “Just bring it back when your dog has finished… reading it….” My voice trailed off at the end of the sentence as I pictured Roscoe’s dog, tucked up in bed each night, reading the book about fishing.
I gave my head a shake, and carried on teaching.
I Could Never Figure It Out…
The response from Roscoe haunted me until about a year ago. I must have been thinking about the bigger picture that day – the context of the whole reading process back then. Suddenly, it made some sense. I had to assume that because I always insisted that the kids read to their dog if all the humans in the home were busy that night, that Roscoe may have decided to cut out the middle man and just give the book to the dog to read. My reasoning might be way off the mark, but it has given me a small measure of closure on the matter. Better not think too much about it, just in case I’m wrong.
Naturally, I didn’t expect to see the book again, but true to his word, Roscoe returned the book to the bookshelf a few weeks later, and in good condition – not even slobbered on. Obviously, the dog had finished reading it. All was well with the world, and life, as we knew it, went on.