Scout Led Me to Love Reading

On the first day of school in my 14th year as a high school English Language Arts teacher, I was sharing my passion for reading with a group of seniors who had signed up for my book stackCollege Prep Reading class. I was confessing that reading did not come easy to me as a child. I could read words at a spectacular rate, but upon finishing the read, I had struggled with comprehension.

I recalled a moment in fourth grade when my dad sat on the living room floor next to me, our backs resting against the couch.  I was reading the words on the page of the school book I was assigned earlier in the day. When I read the last word on the last page, my dad began asking me questions about the book. I could not recall what I read.

I was silent. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed.

Not because of my dad, but because of my confusion and the startling reality that I had a problem, that I was different from my classmates.

Our session ended soon after with my dad commenting, “Boy, you really do a good job reading. It’s just that you have trouble remembering what you read.” I nodded.

I continued sharing my passion for reading with my seniors and how it has been a crescendo ever since that moment.  Even though my dad identified a gap in reading and comprehension, I don’t remember ever learning how to bridge the gap…from anyone. I carried that excuse around with me until I was a senior in high school.

It was then, in Mr. O’Rourke’s American Literature class, when I was introduced to Jem, Scout, and Dill. To Kill a Mockingbird was the first novel I read from the very beginning totkam the very end. I was delighted by each and every character in the story. Somehow, I knew I would fit right into that small town of Maycomb, meandering freely through long, hot summers, running barefoot, climbing trees, looking for treasures, and, of course, desperately hoping to get a glimpse of Boo through the windows of the old Radley house on the corner. I fell in love with Scout’s narrative and couldn’t resist her as she led me by the hand through her summers of adventure.

As I was ending my story and getting ready to present the syllabus for the semester, Rachel, an engaged, intelligent, goal-driven student, commented, “I have never read a book cover-to-cover.”

 Wait…what?

My life as a professional educator turned on those nine words and has not been the same since.

I made it my personal mission to keep putting books into Rachel’s hands until we found one that she could not put down. I built a classroom library targeted at all high school students; I even went so far as to have a bookshelf built by students mounted on the wall outside my classroom door, my effort at a Little Library in the back hallway.

I became eager to find answers to how and why students lose their love for reading. Children who are exposed to books love them. What happens to the appeal? I wanted to learn more and, soon thereafter, I began pursuing a reading teacher certification along with a reading specialist certification. My passion for reading continues today.

Most recently I have been hired as a Literacy Coach.

kids-who-read-succeedI have been given a tremendous opportunity to pursue my passion for helping students become better readers and writers and fully enjoy all the benefits of being successful in these areas. I am hopeful that all students can claim there was one book they couldn’t resist finishing.

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About jpsteltz

Proud husband and father of four; Literacy Specialist; Reading Teacher; Literacy Coach; HS ELA Teacher; Published Author
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