Recently, someone thinking about becoming an English teacher asked me, “Do English teachers need to read constantly?”
Quickly, I thought, “Gosh, no. English teachers just need to want to read constantly!” But the more I thought about it, the more I focused on words like “need” and “constantly.” Then I wondered, read what? Fiction? Historical documents? Convoluted student prose? Poetry? Professional journals? Do English teachers “need” to do the kind of reading that made them love the subject in the first place? How much do I nurture my love of reading as it competes for time with the reading I do grading, preparing lessons, and keeping up with the profession?
I also read newspapers to keep up my citizenry, and I read aloud to my kid. I flip through a variety of cooking magazines. However, my love of fiction and poetry, the reading that led me to teaching English as opposed to chemistry, doesn’t get much dedicated time. Honestly, when I sit down with some serious new fiction, I often fall asleep. Unlike in my college years, when I found poetry cathartic, I now find the emotional potency a bit overwhelming. I read some light fiction for fun, but I’m running dangerously close to becoming one of those English teachers who thinks 1984 is cutting edge contemporary fiction.
So what’s my answer? “Do English teachers need to read constantly?” Well, I think good English teachers probably do read pretty constantly. It just doesn’t happen to be the kind of recreational reading that we loved before we taught full time. This sincere question, from someone reflecting on whether or not she should pursue the profession, has reminded me that making time to read new, contemporary voices in literature is part of my professional responsibility. I think I need to prioritize reading new fiction like I prioritize other parts of my job instead of leaving it on the nightstand to usher me into sleep. Keeping up with new voices in literature will only enhance my ability to teach tomorrow’s students, right?co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher