Every Educator Should Read [Teachers Who Don’t]

I believe that a great deal of the problems in the United States are caused by problems in education. This is caused by the nature of democracy. In order for voters to made good choices, they need to have the proper information. Education enables them to not only be taught some information, but properly gain the correct information throughout their life. I will be addresses several areas of deficiency in our education system over a series of posts.

As I pointed out when arguing for giving e-readers to children, I think that reading is a key skill for not just children, but all people. There are two components to this. The first is basic literacy; the ability to actually read. While this is a concern, it is not the topic of this post. The United States needs to be better at promoting literacy, but it is something that is well established as a concern.

The second comment to making readers is to instill a love of reading. Too many people have the ability to read; they simply never use this skill. This condition of having the ability but no interest is known as aliteracy. This is a problem in America that continues to grow with time. A 2007 poll found that “one in four adults read no books at all in the past year.” The same article talks of a 2004  National Endowment for the Arts report that found “only 57 percent of American adults had read a book in 2002, a four percentage point drop in a decade.”

So people are not reading very much, and what little they a reading is less than they have read in the past. What is the cause of this? The reasons are multiple, complex, and not able to be summarized in its entirety in this post. Instead, we will address a single issue: when learning to read, why do children not also learn to love to read?

The most common answer is something known as the Peter Effect. This is a metaphoric reference to the biblical story of the Apostle Peter who, when asked for money, told a beggar, “How can I give what I myself do not have?” The name refers to teachers how are tasked with conveying an enthusiasm for reading to their students that they themselves do not have.

Survey results asking students about their reading instruction, you get lots of interesting answers. They speak of how it consisted of “reading dull books” and “doing book reports.” Complaints of teachers was that they often “did not make reading interesting.” Students were very good at identifying the attitudes of their teachers about reading, with the majority of their impressions negative. How bad are attitudes about reading?

The Applegate study found that 54.3% of prospective teachers were unenthusiastic about reading. Only 25.2% of teachers had an unqualified love of reading. Even more depression, even those who identify as enthusiastic readers often do not do much actual reading. A separate study of preservice and inservice education graduate students found that only 57% of enthusiastic readers had read two or more books over the past summer (only 6% of unenthusiastic readers had). Most importantly:

We found a statistically significant difference between enthusiastic and unenthusiastic readers who had an elementary school teacher who shared a loved of reading. We found that 56% of unenthusiastic readers did not have a teacher who shared a love of reading, whereas 64% of enthusiastic readers did have such a teacher. These findings suggest that the teacher meaningfully affects student enthusiasm for reading.

This means that we need to change our tactics. Rather than focusing on students, we need to help encourage better reading habits in our teachers. Classroom instruction is largely driven by the beliefs of the teacher. It seems reasonable to then conclude that some teachers will be unable to promote the value and pleasure of reading through their instruction because they have had no experience with it. This will cause the Peter Effect to perpetuate into many of the students and the cycle to continue unchanged.

So what can we do? There are a variety of suggestions in the studies I read. We can focus efforts when training teachers to encourage them to have a greater enjoyment of reading. While hiring, we can put greater emphasis on reader enthusiasm as part of teacher screening and hiring practices. When dealing with students, we must give greater opportunities for self-selection of reading material and put a larger emphasis on talking and analyzing reading.

These strategies and may others can be vital to changing the educational system in America. The more citizens read, the better all of us will be. A key step? Changing our teachers who don’t read into teachers who do.

-That is all.


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