Do teachers read?

I know it’s an inappropriate thought to have, but thank goodness our school hall burned down! When the witch was a 12-year-old witchlet, the new assembly hall at her school burned down. Looking back, I can see how lucky we were. It decided to burst into flames on a sports day when we were all somewhere else. And because it was ‘just’ the hall, the rest of the school could continue operating and we weren’t messed about with.

What it meant was that we couldn’t have full school assemblies every morning, so instead we had class assemblies in the classroom we were in for the first period of the day, with our teacher for that lesson. So a whole host of teachers suddenly had to come up with worthy ways of ‘entertaining’ us every morning.

My all time favourite teacher, Mr Nyström, read to us. First he read The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde. He was excellent at doing voices and must have been an actor at heart. He then went on to give us Three Men in a Boat, and I still can’t read it without hearing his voice.

I don’t remember how long the hall was out of circulation, so there may have been more books, or maybe Magister Nyström moved on to other entertainment. The point is that he gave us books that we would never have thought, or known, to read ourselves.

My Swedish teacher at the same school spent one lesson a week reading to us. Again, this bunch of 13-somethings would never have considered reading John Steinbeck, but we all enjoyed The Pearl. The trick here was that both teachers chose adult books, but easy ones. We had barely grown out of traditional children’s books, but were ready to discover other things, even if we didn’t know it.

So Alan Gibbons’ most recent newsletter for The Campaign for the Book which deals with all the teachers who don’t read, came as a timely reminder of what’s important. It shouldn’t be necessary to have something called ‘In defence of reading for pleasure’. He lists the results of a survey:

‘Teachers “never read a whole book”. One in eight teachers has never read a book to their class, research has revealed. Almost 600,000 children could be missing out on great stories and failing to develop a love of reading because of the use of book “extracts” in the classroom, it suggests.

The study, commissioned by educational published Heinemann to mark the launch of reading programme Literacy Evolve, highlights teachers and parents fears that a lack of whole book reading is affecting pupils academic performance. It found 12% of teachers say they have never read a whole book to their class, while the same proportion say they read just one book a year.

Almost eight in 10 teachers (78%) say the use of “bite-size” extracts reduces the thrill of reading, with half saying that they know of an occasion where a pupil lost the thread of a story because they were not read the full book. The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, by CS Lewis, Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, Good Night Mr Tom, by Michelle Magorian, and a number of Roald Dahl books were cited as novels in which children failed to grasp the story.

Former Children’s Laureate Michal Rosen said book extracts deny pupils “the meat of the story.” He said: “The idea that children can’t manage whole stories or whole books is a nonsense. No extract in the world has the power of books.” ‘

Alan goes on to comment  ‘This report makes disturbing reading. Our education system has been moving ever more rapidly towards a functional approach. There is even an Orwellian strand called ‘functional English’ as if that has any meaning. Language is fundamental to human society. We do not interact in any sphere of life in a purely functional way. A good shop assistant swaps anecdotes with his or her customers. A good teacher engages his or her pupils with anecdotes. The best business people are as creative as a novelist, poet or journalist. To be successful in the modern world you have to be flexible, creative and literate. Interestingly a high proportion of truly original movers and shakers have got where they were without going to university or even having much of a formal education. Almost all of them developed a love of reading for pleasure. Schools don’t have to be test factories. They can become places of enquiry and broad cultural development. What better way to achieve this than by being immersed from a young age in great oral stories, poems and books?

Tragically, the world has been taken over by the latter day Bounderbys and Gradgrinds. Many children come into school with a significant literacy deficit. No amount of booster classes or remedial groups will address this without making the project of reading and writing fun. Every child should be read to at home and at school every single day. Anything less is a betrayal of a generation.’

There are teachers who manage to read, despite the dreaded National Curriculum hanging over their heads. So more teachers could do it.

The teacher at Daughter’s secondary school who started up a lunch break reading club quickly forgot it was extracurricular fun, unfortunately. So in the end it was more of a turn-off than enjoyable. I know there are many ‘horrible’ school children, but how about forgetting to tell pupils off some of the time?


11 responses to “Do teachers read?

  1. Thanks for highlighting this, Bookwitch. It’s a real scandal and for the children involved, a huge hole in their education. To say nothing of the teachers’ own education….I do hope this initiative gathers massive momentum. A whole books movement to go with the Whole Food movement…

  2. What an interesting and important topic! I completely agree that children should read whole books and have them read to them – after all authors put a lot of time and effort into writing a beginning, a middle and an end, all of which, with any luck, add up to something much more than a series of extracts.
    It’s also hugely important that schools promote reading for fun and enjoyment. Like many people, I lost the will the read in my teens and only regained it in my twenties. I would have missed out on so much, and my whole life would have been different, if I hadn’t got into books again…

  3. Pingback: In the Classroom: Bit ‘o Book « educating alice

  4. To be fair, until recently I would have believed excerpts to be OK, because to me a tempting snippet would make me go for the whole book. But that’s no longer the way for many.

    Last year while I was still doing my ‘reviewing club’ at the local bookshop, with very keen 13-14-year-olds, I read some excerpts aloud in the hopes that they’d be tempted by a couple of new books.

    They seemed to really like the books I’d picked, and since other things were quickly rejected, I don’t think they were being polite. Unfortunately the bookshop, which is now deemed the best in the country, didn’t think me reading to them without their express permission was a good thing at all.

    So you live and learn.

  5. As a teacher I loved to read whole books to my class. There was nothing better than recapping before each session, then chatting as a class about what could happed next. I know lots of teachers who say they don’t find the time, but to me it was my favourite part of the day.

  6. When my daughter was about 8, she complained that her teacher (who was lovely) was the worst reader in the world. So I started going in twice a week to read The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (carefully chosen to appeal to boys and girls) — always the last half hour of the day. I don’t know who enjoyed it more, the kids or me.

  7. And the teacher just let you..? Wow!

  8. Stories are potentially the most powerful educational tool, and schools turn their backs on it/ Madness. Like starving to death in a cornfield because you don’t know this funny grassy stuff is edible.

    Aside: I was interested to learn the other day that in order to study medicine you now need A Level maths. I fail to understand why. To me, a lot of medicine, (esp. general practice) is very much about storytelling – understanding the story your patient is telling you, getting to the bottom of their problems, working out what is really wrong, which is not always obvious. Yet English is not the compulsory subject; Maths is. So we train a generation of doctors who understand equations and dosages, but not the subtle narratives of the people they are paid to understand.

    Just thought that was a relevant point…

  9. You don’t want doctors who can understand their patients, or be understood by them in return!! Where would the challenge be?

    Medical school is SCIENCE, you know. Hence the maths.

    And my GP is frightfully impressed by the number of books we own, despite some of the house not yet being covered by books.

  10. Wow, every teacher should be a reader. I can relate, having to read a lot of professional materials, but if we forget the power, the passion, the impact that another’s words can have, where are we in terms of being able to educate children? Even if you have only a few minutes a day, the kids will connect from one day to the next. Carve out that time and read, read, read. If you need 20 reasons why reading aloud to your kids is beneficial, helps meet standards, etc. visit http://www.Reading is for The evidence is there.

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