I’m a reader. You name it, I’ve read it: classics, mystery, fantasy, historical, nonfiction, sci-fi, comic books, stereo instructions, the back of the shampoo bottle….
Well, you get the idea.
Being a person who loves books, I’m fortunate to have found a career that’s all about passing this love on to young people. Here are all the reasons I love being a reading teacher.
Because I love books (I’ve mentioned that, right?) I could probably teach any book effectively enough. Still, it’s a real treat to work with a curriculum full to the brim with the very best books available for young people. If it sounds like I’m making a distinction between the “best” and the “not-so-best” books, that’s because I am. This distinction is real, and it makes all the difference to my students. The very best books are those which captivate their readers. They have compelling characters, exciting stories, and the ability to transport us to places that are at once fantastically new and profoundly familiar.
When my students read great books, they imaginatively participate in a world that has been created just for them. They meet characters who will be the companions of their thoughts long after they’ve turned the last page. They find answers to some of the most important questions they will ever face: What does it mean to do the right thing? How can I be a good friend? Why must there be pain and loss as well as joy in the world? Having the right books makes my job feel entirely effortless at times. The book is doing all the hard work; I’m just leading students through it.
If there’s one thing that makes great books even greater, it is the experience of reading them with other people. That’s why it’s so important to me that my classroom become a place of shared experience where I get to know my students, hear their ideas, and help them develop and refine their unique voices. That every student is unique brings wonderful variety and meaning to my work. I teach students of all age levels, of all backgrounds, and of all reading skill and interest levels.
I’ve taught four-year-olds who love books and high school seniors who tell me they’ve never liked or finished a book in their lives – until they took my class. For students who are already strong readers and love books, it is a privilege to help them take their strengths to the next level. For students who say they do not like reading, it is a pleasure to give them the tools, skills, and encouragement necessary to turn their relationship with books around. I have had countless students tell me, brimming with pride at their achievements, that they love reading now – and hearing that never, never gets old.
For every awesome, unique student I’ve had in class, there have been awesome, unique parents behind her. I’m struck time and time again by just how hard these parents work for their kids, how much they love them, and how much they want them to succeed. There’s little more rewarding than giving parents the tools to do just that. Often this makes a huge difference not only in a student’s relationship with books, but also in his relationship with his parents. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Many parents have had the experience of sitting down with their kids to do some kind of reading homework and having the session end in tears, shouts, or both. It’s a painful and demoralizing experience which I’ve witnessed firsthand. In fact, it happened in the very first class I ever taught with the Institute.
The class had barely begun reading when a young man going into first grade put his head down on the table and began to cry. His mom buried her face in her hands and followed suit. As I watched the two of them, I felt confident we could, together, figure out a better way of doing things. And we did. I knelt down by the desk, asked questions, identified the problem, and showed them some specific strategies to remedy it. Word by word, high-five by high-five, the three of us got through the entire book, and by the end of it mom and son were glowing with a shared sense of accomplishment.
I have had countless students tell me, brimming with pride at their achievements, that they love reading now – and hearing that never, never gets old.
Mom later thanked me with a lovely letter about how her and her son’s relationship with books had totally changed. Reading a book together went from a dreaded chore to a fun routine they both looked forward to. She also baked me a dozen chocolate-chip cookies.
A hint for all you parents out there thinking of a way to thank your reading teacher: baked goods are always appreciated!
Q&A with Chris
How long have you been a teacher?
Five years and counting!
What three words would you use to describe your teaching style?
Inspiring, warm, and direct.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I’ve always been a curious person and always enjoyed sharing what I’ve learned with other people. Still, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take on the profession until I tried it out. By the end of my first day in the classroom, I realized I’d never had more fun in my life and that no other job could even come close to the extraordinary experience of teaching young people to love books.
What role has reading played in your life?
I distinctly remember being in 1st grade and having reading “click” for me. One minute I was struggling to sound out “cat” and the next minute something “clicked” and I was reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. Red books, blue books, old books, new books – I started reading them all and never looked back. At first it was simply fun to read books, but as I became older books became a way for me to deal with the challenges life threw at me. I made friends in books who taught me lessons which stay with me to this day: What it means to be a good friend, how to deal with a loss or setback, why it’s important to stay true to your values, and so much more.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned in your years of teaching?
Before I became a reading teacher, I couldn’t fathom how it was that people didn’t like to read. It was completely foreign to me. Then I met students – really sweet, smart, hard-working kids – for whom reading just hadn’t “clicked” yet. I came to appreciate that students don’t actually hate books, even if they say they do. Books are just stories, and I’ve never met a person who didn’t like stories. Instead, kids hate failure, they hate feeling stupid, and they hate not having the skills to succeed. As I learned why some kids struggled to read, I also learned that this was within my power to remedy. With the right skills, strategies, and encouragement, any child can love reading.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Video games! Most of my students are surprised to learn that I am an avid gamer and love to try out the latest games. I even follow professional e-sports leagues. I think it’s helpful for kids to see that you can enjoy screen time and still be an awesome reader.
Chris Cognetto has been an Institute teacher for 5 years. She lives in Albuquerque, NM with her husband and two extremely silly dogs.