I teach middle school. It’s the kind of thing that people respond to in either two ways: “Oh, GOD! That’s terrible. What hell!” or “Ugh, that must be really hard.” Yeah, I think it speaks to people’s general feelings about puberty and adolescent hell that I strangely didn’t really harbor. High school scarred me to no end, but I remember middle school mainly through the grateful eyes of a choir kid who loved her choir teacher a lot. Being in an a capella choir in middle school that competed and toured was an amazing experience, and it became a kind of social therapy for a painfully shy girl to become more brave.

But as a teacher there are few moments that I really get to appreciate the work that I do and how it reflects outside of the walls of my classroom. One thing that a parent said to me really struck me as the reason why I do what I do now. She told me that under my tutelage, her daughter has read more books than ever before and absolutely adores me. So yeah, I got a little verklempt. I felt a little proud, and more than that, I understood ways that I could help spread a little book reading magic.

I get that teaching writing and other skills in the English classroom is important, but if anything, I want kids today to walk away with a book they love, any book, any genre, any length. Just a book that makes them think more, escape a little, cry and laugh a little, and hope against hope that the protagonist makes it out of that trap alive. For me, empathy and reading go hand in hand. We get to read about how other people are living, are surviving, are becoming who they want to be. Maybe that’s why I like YA books so much.

But for all the horror that I get when I tell people I teach middle school, I wish I could put them in my place when a parent tells them that their kid has read more books this year, and it was because of you.

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