Teacher X arrives in her classroom on Monday morning in a breathless huff (she'd just spilled some of her take-away cappuccino on her pants while navigating her way out of the crowded forecourt of the BP garage). "Never mind," she thinks as she turns, smiling, to face the neat rows of desks and expectant little faces. Her huff dissipates at the sight of the children in various states of alertness, awaiting her lesson.
Teacher X gathers them all on the carpet. She can't wait to get them going on the project of turning waste materials into zoo animals which she'd proudly devised over the weekend. But first, it's reading time. She settles herself on the chair (still aware of that pesky stain and angles her legs towards the blackboard somewhat self-consciously) and begins reading. Her new nail extensions fumble a little with the dog-eared pages of the library book and point distastefully at the grubby pages so that the children read a few words aloud. The bunch of little wriggly legs and hands in front of her give off a restless, irritable energy. "I can't really blame them," she thinks somewhat cynically, "the book isn't exactly riveting." After all, she could well remember being forced to read all kinds of boring things at school and suddenly their behaviour prickles more at her sympathies than her sense of irritation. Then she sighs to herself and admonishes them a bit too sharply, "Children, stop it! Reading is important."
Finally, with a sense of relief she tries not to betray in the lightness of her intonation skipping over the final words, she concludes, "The End. Was't that wonderful, children? Did you enjoy it?" She gazes at the up-turned faces, pleased with herself and thinking how rewarding the art activity would seem now.
"It was boring!" The comment catches her by surprise. "There's always one," she thinks as she sweetens her voice to respond, "But why, my dear? It was a lovely story!"
"I don't like reading. It's boring."
That sets off a chorus of agreement from around her feet.
"Well, Miss X, do you like reading?"
The point of that little story is that there is unfortunately too often a gaping contradiction between what teachers say and what they actually do. Reading for pleasure falls into that gap. While almost all teachers (and student teachers) would agree that reading is important and that children should be encouraged to read, few are true reading role models themselves. This may be due to a lack of time or simply that they do not enjoy reading, which then raises the question, can you teach others a love of reading when it is something you don't have yourself?
I'm not the only one who has wondered this. In their study of student teachers' reading habits and attitudes, Applegate and Applegate ask, "But what if a significant number of the teachers of the future had no love of reading themselves? As teacher educators specialising in the teaching of reading and literacy, we were stunned to find that so many of our students had no use for reading other than as an academic obligation." Almost half of their sample were found to be unenthusiastic readers (i.e. readers who weren't intrinsically motivated to read).
This is worrying as we then are in danger of entering a recursive reading relationship, where teachers who don't read (and are, as a result, unable to recommend relevant and interesting books to children) create children who aren't interested in books and reading either. In Jo Bower and Susan Davis' article on Why teachers should read more children's books, they remind us how magical it is when a teacher can inspire a love of reading in children. As a result they impress that, "Creating a culture of reading should be on all schools' list of priorities and to do this, teachers should have access to new and varied children's literature. Sitting down with a good book is a pleasure, with gains to be made in all aspects of literacy alongside teacher and pupil wellbeing."
While I'm sure that many people who don't like reading are able to carry out the requirement s of their jobs perfectly well, I have always believed that teachers and reading go hand-in-hand. A bit like tea and biscuits. Or peanuts and raisins. Knowledge and books and, well, teachers, so in order to be a really good teacher you have to read. Ann Powell-Brown, reflecting on her first year of teaching and her experiences of teachers who could, but didn't read books, recalls, "The thing that bothered me was that we had all chosen to be teachers, and I couldn't figure out how anyone could expect children to love reading and writing when they had no teacher who was a role model in their classroom."
It's that which bothers me too. It's one thing to, like Teacher X, tell children that books are fun and enjoyable, but what is a lot more effective and meaningful is to be in a position to show them this.