Secret Teacher: we’re not reading – so why do we assume children will?

The Secret Teacher in The Guardian writes ‘English teachers at my school don’t have time to read whole books, and are told to rely on extracts in class. This is no way to inspire a love of literature.’

On the rare occasion that the staff in our English department surface from their marking pile long enough to enjoy a cup of tea together, I’ll ask everybody what they’re reading. The answer is usually the same: nothing.

Teachers only read the bits of books they have to teach – and even then it’s often one chapter ahead of their students. If there’s a bit of a text they don’t understand or think is boring, they just remove it from the photocopied version before class. It means that teachers are effectively editing texts, and some are not familiar with reading entire books.

There is also the issue of time – or lack of it. Time to choose a novel, time to discuss it, time to actually sit down and take pleasure in a narrative and its characters. On average, I’d estimate that my colleagues and I are working on marking and preparation about 60 hours a week. Most of us also have families and spouses, who have to fight for our attention.

But reading is important. It increases our vocabulary, helps us reflect, builds our empathy, and improves concentration, focus and memory. It can reduce stress. I find few activities more relaxing than reading – and yet I confess I don’t have the time for it that I used to.

Every few years schools will push a literacy drive. They’ll try the Accelerated Reader programme, reading passports (pdf), and even sponsored readathons. But how teachers act matters, too. As the University of Coventry (pdf), in alliance with the Book Trust, states: “Teachers have been shown to have a big impact on children and thus it is imperative that they model the behaviours they want to encourage.”

English teachers are too bogged down by workload to take pleasure in what often brought us into our job – a love of literature. But if we aren’t reading, how can we encourage our students to?

Read more Secret Teacher: we’re not reading – so why do we assume children will?

Do you still read? Is it so difficult to get children to read? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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