Last week I asked my 8th grade students to do a quick write. Their topic was their attitude about reading and writing. I asked them to be completely honest and tell me their thoughts on the subjects as well as how they think any negative feelings could be improved throughout the year. Upon reading their quick writes, I noticed a trend. Many of my 8th graders seemed to feel that if they could just read a book once in a while simply for the pleasure of reading, they might enjoy it more. It was a popular idea that “dissecting” a book seemed to take away the joy of reading and hindered their ability to really get into the story. As an avid reader myself I was taken aback by the idea that as a language arts teacher, an instructor of a subject that I truly love, I could actually be robbing my students of the same joy I experience from a great book. Uh-oh!
Since reading their quick writes, the wheels in my head have been turning about what my students said. What really is my role as their language arts teacher? Have I really done my job if at the end of the year my students have a vocabulary that could earn them a spot on the next Jeopardy Teen Tournament, but they never pick up a book of their own choosing all summer? Is it more important that my students be able to identify prepositional phrases or that they find a style of writing they enjoy and feel they comfortable using form of self expression? These are the type of questions that run through my mind day and night, and unfortunately I have yet to find the answer!
As of now, the best solution I have come up with is balance (as I find it the answer to many of my questions about teaching and life in general). I am required to teach certain things. There is no way around this, which means that sometimes books must be slowed down and “dissected” and writing must graded and grammar corrected. On the other hand, who says it is not okay to sometimes let my students just read and write with no strings attached. Part of becoming a better reader and/or writer is practicing and making mistakes. And so another goal for this year has been formed. Find that balance! Teach my students what they need to know for high school, college, and beyond. Give them the skills they need to be good readers and writers and critical thinkers. But perhaps most importantly, allow them to slow down and find joy in what they are doing.