The moment I had been waiting for all day finally arrived. I pulled into the driveway, grabbed my lunch bag from the passenger seat, shouldered my school bag, and skipped up the steps to my kitchen door. Four days had passed since my husband had been home with my kids and I. Going home to the three of them was what had gotten me through a long day at school.
Upon opening the door, I was met with the sullen face of my 13-year-old son. "What's up bug?" I asked. He then unloaded the stress of his day. His teacher informed him that the book he is currently reading would not count toward the trimester reading requirement unless he finishes it by next Friday. It's an 800+ page book. He's almost halfway through it and is worried that he won't finish it in time. Since the understanding is that books over 500 pages will count as two books, he asked if he could count his current book once he got to 500 pages. She told him it wouldn't count unless he finished it.
So, I took my son, an avid reader who has always loved getting lost in a good story, to the book store to find a book to read before the end of next week. My son, who loves Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, 39 Clues, Lord of the Rings, the Mossflower series, Where the Red Fern Grows, and The Yearling spent 20 minutes in the bookstore flipping to the end of book after book to see how many pages were in the each, quickly casting aside any book that he didn't think he'd be able to finish by next Friday "and still have a life." He has dropped the book he was halfway through and chosen to read The Lightening Thief for a second time because his teacher doesn't know he has already read it (in 4th grade) and he can "get through it quickly." He will also read The Giver because he saw the movie and figured he could "get that one done quickly too." All this so he can meet a trimester reading expectation that promotes quantity over quality.
When I was pregnant with Benton, my firstborn, a colleague told me, "being a parent will make you a better teacher, but being a teacher won't make you a better parent." This advice has proven to be true on so many occasions. Today is no exception. Seeing my own child struggle with the burden of homework and the weight of reading expectations causes me to reflect on my own homework expectations as a teacher. I ask my students to read for 20 minutes each night and to complete a practice page for math. Why do I do this? Because the philosophy on which our school homework policy is based says that assigning homework will prepare them for homework in middle school, which will prepare them for homework in high school. It will teach them time management, organization skills and responsibility. But, I have to ask...aren't there better, more effective, more meaningful ways to do this? I can honestly say, my kids are more likely to pick up a book and enjoy reading on their own when it's not assigned as homework. This might be because they see adults reading at home for a variety of reasons. I know this might not be the case in the homes of many of my students. There might be a small handful of students who read because I have asked them to, expecting that they will. But there are many more that won't, whether I assign it or not.
Today I witnessed the deflation of a reading life. I am confident my son will recover and will once again return to reading for pleasure. Not because reading is assigned to him as homework and not because he is expected to read a certain number of books each trimester. He will be a lifelong reader because reading is just something we do and because of the example we have set at home.