I felt guilty as I drove to work Friday morning. Here it was Read Across America Day and all I had planned was a morning of reading. No cute Dr. Seuss hats. No fun activities. No snacks. Hell, I hadn't even looked at Pinterest. All I had planned was a couple of hours of reading. Just reading.
I wasn't sure if it had been laziness, teacher burnout, or the fact that during the week I had report cards, an after-school book club meeting, and several early work departures to pick up my son from track practice that had led to my decidedly uninspiring celebration. Now that the day had arrived, I felt disappointed in myself that I had not gone the extra mile for my class.
I was standing in front of the mailboxes in the office when another teacher walked by with her stepson, who happens to be in my class.
"I love your hair!" I told my student. We were also having Crazy Hair Day to celebrate earning $20 per lap in pledges for our Fun Run the previous day. I think Dr. Seuss would have approved.
"Thanks." He followed her into the staff lounge and I finished signing the award certificates that had been sitting in my mailbox. They had been there since the day before, but I had kept forgetting to bring my certificate-signing pen with me on my journeys to the office, and I hadn't dared to carry them back to my classroom in the torrential rain. No one wants a spotted and warped award.
Walking back into the hallway where I stood, his stepmom said smiling, "He says that this must be your favorite day because you love to read."
I smiled back. "Yes! I am excited."
I walked away, oddly happy that he had noticed that I love to read. I mean, yeah, I don't make any secret of the fact that I love to read. I've probably mentioned it a few hundred times. But I have also mentioned that they need to put their name, number, and date on their papers and there are still quite a few of them that clearly haven't gotten that message. Maybe it was more than just what I said?
Later I watched my students file into class. In their arms and in their bulging backpacks were pillows, blankets, and best friends of the stuffed variety. And books. Lots of books that they were eager to show me. Each student staked out a territory, spreading out their blanket and arranging their pillow just so. As they did this, the room filled to bursting with noise. But it was happy noise. Excited noise.
Nonetheless, I was concerned that the noise would never cease. They are a bunch who love to talk. About anything and everything and all day long. I needn't have worried, though, because I know something else about them. They also love to read. A hush fell over the room as gradually each student got lost in their own book.
As every teacher knows, there are always a million things a teacher could be doing. I could grade papers. I could write lesson plans for next week. I could answer emails. I could do, probably should do, a lot of things. Instead, I picked up a book I had been dying to read and that had just arrived in the Scholastic book order, and I got lost, too.
It ended up being me who broke the silence. I just had to talk to someone about Fish in a Tree. So, I told them to tell someone about the book they were reading, and the room once again erupted into noisy excitement.
"Is that a good book, Mrs. Regan?" asked the boy who knew I love to read.
"It's wonderful. And terrible," I said, and then continued to tell him all about it. I watched his face register the emotions I felt as I read. This was a kid who gets it.
After our break, the students returned to their own little world, created within the pages of their book, and I wondered if their parents knew. Knew that their kids don't just like to play video games. Knew that they don't just like to play sports. Knew how much enjoyment they got from simply spreading out on the classroom floor and reading.
At the end of our celebration there were no complaints, only declarations of "That was fun!" I realized then that my guilt had disappeared the moment they had entered the room. No, I hadn't planned any cute activities. All I had given them was time and room to read. And that had been enough. Just reading.