Today was the start of the Spring semester at the college where I work. The beginning of every new semester is a bit hectic. There are always students trying to enroll at the last minute or switch classes. No one is quite into their routine yet, so the foot traffic through the halls seem a little more haphazard now than it will in a few weeks. While my day job is to manage our tutoring and writing center, I sometimes teach a night class in developmental reading. I enjoy teaching for several reasons, but mostly because I love the interaction with students and playing a role their personal development. I love seeing students expand themselves in some way, whether is learning the content or learning to interact with others in ways they may not normally.
A college reading class is a misnomer. I don’t teach students to read; none of my students are illiterate. The class is designed to teach students how to understand what they read: how to assimilate information and how to predict and interpret the content. It’s not as easy as students think it will be. As adults, I think it’s more difficult to learn new vocabulary and new ways to do something we all take for granted. Reading isn’t an art form, it’s just something most of us do. And a lot do it poorly. I don’t judge my students for needing the class. But it makes me thankful that I started a love affair with words at an early age, when learning was a lot easier and more natural.
I remember when I was in grade school, my parents decided to challenge my sisters and me to learn new words. They gave us a month and whichever one of us learned the most, got a prize. I don’t remember the amount, but it was enough to spur us on. I have four sisters, but at the time, my younger sister wasn’t old enough to participate, so it was just I and my three older sisters. I wanted to win in the worst way, so I set out to read the dictionary. I didn’t get too far into it before I decided that wasn’t going to work. It was not an exciting read. I quickly switched gears to using the dictionary as a means to discover new names I could call my siblings. That proved much more inspiring, and at the end of the month, it was no contest. I won hands down. I still remember the excitement I felt going shopping with my mom to spend my prize money. I found a snazzy blue satin jacket with a white stripe on the cuffs and waistband. I was so proud of that jacket.
I realize now, though, what a gift my parents gave me in spring boarding my appreciation of reading and learning. As I teach each semester, I try to keep that in mind. Sometimes it seems that my students don’t really learn all I expect or hope of them in my class; however, it may just be that I help them pick up the challenge to persist. I hope this semester I can help my students find their inspiration.