Think of the most heroic and moving theme song you can. Soaring instrumentals or perhaps a throbbing base line or thrilling guitar lick. Compositions by John Williams come to mind or the amazing Wonder Woman theme from the DC film. This is what I hear when I open up boxes of books I’ve ordered for my classroom.
I am a hero. I am a champion. I am a literacy queen.
I don’t buy shoes or splurge on haircuts. I spend all my extra dough on books. Well curated and thought out book purchases to enhance my students’ reading selections.
I’ve been teased about my commitment to books. I’ve been asked, by fellow educators, why I need more books. My organized collection has been viewed as unsightly and its purpose called into question. Every negative comment has come from someone who is not a reader. It they had been in a class at school with relevant reading materials, they would not question my shelves. They would be searching out their next read.
A classroom library is easily the most important investment advocates of literacy can make for the progression of reading. Taking the time and effort to build a stock of materials kids can’t resist should be prioritized like professional development and state testing.
This leads me to my point: it is imperative that English, language arts, and reading teachers cultivate and maintain an exemplary classroom library. Books I can’t buy I beg my librarian to purchase. Books she can’t get I ask my campus to procure. I’ve even sent ridiculously long lists to my curriculum coordinator in attempts to get more books on my shelves. And not just any old pile of books. Books kids want to read. Books that represent a wide range of students and interests. Books kids can see themselves in.
To have a classroom library, one needs to read. If you are a reader, your kids will know. If you are not a reader, your kids will know. In education you can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake a passion for reading. When I see empty bookshelves in my colleagues’ classrooms it breaks my heart. How are you going to promote literacy without any literature? Just as terrible are shelves with “vintage” paperbacks that teachers have collected from lost and found, got for free for second hand stores because no one else wanted them, or books that have just been there forever. How is a limited collection of classics going to meet the needs of your students? The Giver and The Outsiders are great books, but there is so much more out there. Books that have characters that aren’t limited to caucasian males. Books written in the last 20 years. Books actually written in our student’s lifetimes.
I work at stocking my shelves with texts that students want to get their hands on, talk about and share. I talk about my books and lend them with impunity. If I don’t get them back, well that stinks but it’s a risk I am willing to take. I tend to look at my books as consumables. I replace the ones that are frequently absconded with and just keep reading. Frankly, kids almost always return books-it’s the adults you have to watch! It’s pretty cool when teachers send kids to me to search for a text. I get a jolt of satisfaction when our school librarian send kids to checkout books from my classroom library because she knows I have the stock.
My entire family reads, which is a huge boon to my classroom. It’s the one thing we splurge on. Once those books are read, they end up on my classroom shelves. Amazon is amazing. I can click on a title and it arrives almost in an instant.
15 or so dollars for entry into a new world created by words? This is an investment I am willing to make repeatedly. It’s actually economical if you think about it. So treat yo’ shelf.