How teachers can rediscover the joy of recreational reading

Responses Barker collected from her coaching sessions and professional development debriefs with teachers are consistent with the survey data. A ninth grade teacher in Florida told her that teachers at her school used to have a robust reading culture with book swaps. However, the recent push to ban books has led to a sense of insecurity among teachers. “Now we don’t feel safe even talking about what we read. We are frustrated and so are the kids,” the teacher said to Barker. 

To the extent that teachers feel safe, staying active in the conversations and legislation on book bans can help teachers feel more empowered and informed, said Barker: “Flood your politicians’ emails, phone lines, mailboxes, letting them know the harm that their actions and their words are having on students and our communities.” For teachers who are in riskier settings, she recommends finding or creating a community they can trust and avoiding sharing specifics on social media.

Be open about what reading is for you

Many educators, faced with busy schedules and numerous responsibilities, may opt for shorter reading options like magazines or online blogs. Barker acknowledged that teachers may feel  shame about their personal reading choices because they see these texts as less rigorous. These feelings can ultimately deter them from reading altogether. “However, shorter reading selections can still contribute to personal growth and development,” Barker said.

Additionally, she encouraged teachers to embrace diverse reading formats and not be bound by traditional notions of what “counts as reading.” Whether through audiobooks, e-books, or reading on their smartphones, teachers have the freedom to explore different mediums that fit their lifestyles and time constraints. “Yes, we like a solid book,” Barker said, tapping the cover of a book for emphasis. “But it’s okay if we don’t always have the time.” She urged teachers not to think about what “counts as reading” because it can be limiting. By embracing alternative reading methods, teachers can still engage with literature and continue to expand their love for reading.

Keep a reading chart

Barker said it’s helpful for teachers to keep track of what they read. She shared an idea from an elementary school teacher in Nevada who suggested using a bulletin board with three reading lists: 

  • Fun reads that showcase books teachers are reading purely for pleasure. This allows teachers to display their personal reading choices, which can spark conversations with colleagues and students about shared interests.
  • Growth reads that include books for professional development. Actively documenting these books helps teachers prioritize their ongoing learning and professional growth, and it serves as a reminder to dedicate time for self-improvement through reading.
  • Student-friendly books, that are suitable for the grades they teach. This list ensures that teachers continue to foster a better understanding of their students’ needs and interests. 

Creating a board like this encourages teachers to read a variety of materials while being aware of the balance between their personal reading choices, professional development, and students’ needs.

Find a reading community that works for you

Barker suggested that teachers find a reading community where they can connect with other book lovers and get new reading recommendations. Teachers may find it beneficial to join a professional book club with colleagues or a personal book club outside of their school. Barker said that a book club does not necessarily require physical books. She’s seen successful audiobook clubs and blog book clubs. The key is to create a space where members can come together to share their reading excitement and enthusiasm.

For teachers who can’t make time to meet regularly, there are also online communities of readers on social platforms that make it possible to connect with educators and book enthusiasts across the country. For example, teachers Joel Garza and Scott Bayer started #THEBOOKCHAT on Twitter as a space to recommend books, host discussions and facilitate conversations with authors.

Initiate conversations with school leaders

Teachers can advocate for a more reading-friendly culture within their schools by engaging with school leaders. For example, teachers may advocate for the creation of a reading community at work. This might involve exploring ways to make school meetings shorter or even replacing some meetings with email communication, said Barker. Additionally, teachers can propose that professional development sessions include dedicated time for reading and discussions about books.

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