The Sometimes Secret Reading and Writing Lives of Teachers

A teacher once told me, ‘I don’t want my students to know anything about my life. I am just here to teach.’ The comment disturbed me on a number of levels. It showed no sense of the need to bond with students. I had the impression the teacher was merely a cardboard cut out of a living, breathing teacher. When we make the effort to bond with students we humanize ourselves. We connect with our students more effectively when we provide insights as to how we operate as lifelong learners. In order to do this, we need to give something of ourselves and that requires an emotional commitment, not just curriculum support.

 It amazes me how many of my colleagues live secret reading and writing lives. Lives they keep hidden from their students. They may be voracious readers, but see no need to connect this rich reading life to their classroom practice.  Others may keep diaries and journals about their travels and broader lives. Others write poetry. Yet all this rich literate activity is kept separate from the classroom. These literate experiences fail to connect with their professional lives. And within that separateness remains a rich untapped vein.

Examine your literate life and determine what’s important for your students and your classroom practice. If reading and writing extends beyond your teaching life ask yourself- What compels me to read and write?

I make a point of letting students know that I:
  • Love owning books and have an extensive and ever expanding library of books
  • Talk about books with family,  friends and colleagues
  • Know what I am going to read next
  • Read more than one book at a time
  • Have defined interests as a reader
  • Read book reviews to learn about books
  • Love spending time in bookshops
  • Need to read in order to feed my writing
  • Use reading to extend and challenge my thinking
  • Have favourite authors that I trust
  • Read professionally to continue my learning about education
  • Record extracts in my writer’s notebook
  • Read every day across a range of genres –newspapers, e-reading, books, recipes, magazines
Examine what you do as a reader and determine to make your thinking and behaviour around reading visible to your students. This is powerful modelling of a significant adult living a literate life. Our students are more likely to follow us and expand their own reading and writing if they see we value our own literate abilities.

I make a point of sharing books I have recently purchased or am reading. I read extracts where I believe the writers have used words powerfully. I share my understandings and what I hope to gain from my reading of a particular book.

Recently I have shared the following books from my suitcase of surprises:

Noah Barleycorn Runs Away by John Boyne- the story of an eight year old boy’s journey
Land’s Edge by Tim Winton.  A coastal memoir by the master story teller.
A Child’s Garden by Michael Foreman. A picture story book about hope.
Igniting Writing-When A Teacher Writes. My own book about why teachers need to write.
Whose Nose? by Jeanette Rowe. A simple picture story book with interesting graphic elements
Mirror, by Jeannie Baker. A picture story book with a unique layout.
His Name in Fire by Catherine Bateson. A novel written in verse about country living
Pyrotechnics on the Page-Playful craft that Sparks Writing by Ralph Fletcher. A professional book about writing craft ideas from one of my favourite writers.

Even if the books you are currently reading, or intend to read next, are not suitable for students to read at this point in their reading lives, it is still important to discuss what you are reading. Students need to hear us value our respective reading lives.

I want to make it patently clear to students that as a writer, my reading life is vital to that writing. Your secret is safe with your students…


  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. To me, it's so critical that the students realize that I am as much a part of the learning process as they are-with my reading and writing life, the challenges I face, the successes I celebrate. Thanks for the particular details that enrich your opinion.

  2. The very best part about being a teacher of reading is that you read: read for yourself, read for your students and read to your students.
    What a privilege to be able to use great writing to illustrate what you teach, what a privilege to be able to delve into a book to find the perfect word picture that demands visualisation.
    And what is so much more wonderful, is that every teacher is a teacher of reading. In every subject area, writers have written and their work demands to be shared.
    I can undertake this sharing with any text, written, visual or spoken. I can share with my own children, my class of students and my friends.

    I agree, Alan. Sharing reading, illustrating and modelling a literate life is a very powerful tool for every teacher.

  3. Couldn't say it better myself! Thanks for sharing! :)


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