What the Gift of Books Means
“My students are growing up in difficult situations. A state prison resides in our town which means that many of these students are living here in temporary situations with extended family or friends because their parents are in prison. Their home lives are unstable, ever-changing, sometimes lonely, and discouraging. Books are not valued and are not in their homes. This situation creates a cycle of devaluing reading at home. I must prove to students that reading is worthwhile and enjoyable. I must give them the choice to escape reality and expand their horizons with books. I become a reading role model and create an atmosphere that values their opinions and choices. I read fervently to stay in touch with my students' possible choices. Also, when a student shows interest in an author, curiosity about a specific book, or a desire to read a sequel, I buy it for them immediately. Giving attention to individual choices has created a bond of trust in my intentions.” -Amy Dunmire, Marion, OH
“Education is the greatest social justice issue of my generation. I have diligently pursued jobs at ‘high-risk’ high schools. I serve nearly 85% free and reduced lunch and nearly 85% Hispanic students. Working in a school with high teacher turnover, at year five, I am considered a veteran teacher. Because of this revolving door, students don’t always readily trust their teachers. When I use class time to find an interesting book for a student, it shows the investment I am making in them; not only in the initial finding of the book but also through checking in on a student’s progress throughout their reading. It helps students see I am here to build their love of reading.”-Claire Gibson, Commerce City, CO
“I teach students who read below grade level mostly because of gaps in their education for various reasons: foster care, juvenile detention, transience, undereducated parents, etc. Most of my students come hating reading. And the main reason is that they are not good at it. They are slow readers or have trouble with comprehension, and they have made it all the way to high school without learning how to improve their reading. They are stuck in the cycle of the Matthew Effect: they aren’t good at reading, so they choose not to read, so they get even worse at reading.Unfortunately, many of my students have read all the books they want to read in my current library by midyear. When they have to get a book from the school or public library, I can’t help them while they choose. They do start to have some favorite authors by midyear, but they are still new readers who need a mentor."-Sarah Mandish, Hilliard, OH
"My classroom library has a huge impact on my reading instruction. My school district currently has no librarians on its staff, and our school library has not had funds beyond a couple hundred dollars in the last several years to purchase new books. Our city’s library was almost shut down, but was saved – open only for limited hours – by volunteers. The closest bookstore is 20 miles away. While some of my students bring in books from home or the library for our reading workshop, most of my students choose from my classroom library. Because most of their reading gains come from books they choose to read on their own, my classroom library is an integral part of their improvement as readers."
–Serena Kessler, Romulus High School, Romulus, MI
"As students grow as readers, they are more likely to create the time and space to read beyond the classroom. I also have started to witness how my classroom library can affect the community. My students become reading mentors both the year they spend with me and in the years to come. Younger siblings and relatives witness passionate readers and a reverence for reading. As they become adults, they will share this love of reading with their own children, nieces, and nephews. I know there are other teachers out there with a more minimal classroom library, but mine still isn’t sufficient to meet my readers’ diverse needs. In the two years that I’ve been here, our librarian has not ordered new books, nor has she read any teen books. There is no public library on the reservation; I currently have 10 books checked out for students from the public library 60 miles away. I need so many more books than what I have to fit the needs and wants of my readers to help this larger community develop into a rich reading community."
–Melissa Cournia, Standing Rock Middle School, Fort Yates, ND
"Additional books for the library…would expose students to new characters and new worlds, and to enable them to feel proud, empowered, and supported when they find a character in the book who shares similar experiences with them. More importantly, this would show my students that generous people believe in them and their education. It would prove that others value their success and education nearly as much as themselves and their own community. This extra support and encouragement can make a huge amount of difference when too often my students are faced with negative images and stereotypes of urban high school students in Detroit."
–Kelcey Grogan, Southeastern High School, Detroit, MI
"Classroom libraries are not spoken of at my school. Some teachers have one shelf of books, most have none at all…To my dismay, no budget is set aside for building classroom libraries."
–Jennifer Brinkmeyer, Iowa City High School, Iowa City, IA
"Having a library in our classroom has changed everything about the way that students view reading. Having this variety of books in the room shows students how highly it is valued and also helps to entice them to give it a try. It also provides a great deal of opportunity to discuss book options and help them to find texts or text types they are interested in investigating. They share books with each other, get comfy on the floor and ALWAYS beg for five more minutes."
–Lindsey Tilley, Northview High School, Grand Rapids, MI
"If you don't count WalMart, driving to the local bookstore takes 45 minutes or more for my students, so few have access to a large selection of novels outside of my classroom, the school library, and the town library…98% of the books in my classroom library come directly out of my pocket. I took a job as a server at a local restaurant, and the majority of that income goes to books and classroom supplies."
–Molly Jackson, Earlville High School, Earlville, IL
"We know that the greatest way to combat low reading proficiency among adolescents is simple: more reading. If I can help spread the book love that my students feel across the rest of the district, I know that we can continue to tackle the greater challenges of poverty, access, and character, but we’ll be able to do it together, each with a book in hand."
–Erica Beaton, Cedar Springs High School, Grand Rapids, MI