My early memories of literacy began as a four-and-five-year old. My parents created posters listing words, their definition, and images. They would hold the poster and recite each item with my sister and I. Learning to read was fun and slightly competitive. I was also one of the first generations raised by watching television. Sesame Street, Electric Company, and Schoolhouse Rock were entertaining ways to learn basic vocabulary, letters, and numbers with puppets, actors, and cartoons. Pop culture played a role in my literacy development. Sesame Street was followed by a Spanish-language children’s program called Via Allegra. My sister and I could count to ten in Spanish at the same time we could recite the alphabet. I wish my Spanish-speaking skills had continued to develop along with my English skills. Alas, they did not.
I’ve always loved to read and because of that I was always an excellent speller. However, if I didn’t like a teacher, or if I thought they were condescending, I would shut down. I remember being an advanced reader, but I had issues in first grade. One day, in frustration, my teacher sent me to the remedial reading classroom. The remedial teacher immediately realized I had skills above my grade level and sent me back to class. It wasn’t until fifth grade that I was identified as near-sighted. I couldn’t read or respond appropriately to what was written on the board because I couldn’t see clearly. I thought everyone saw things the way I saw things. My teachers, all the way until fourth grade, were flummoxed because I could complete workbooks and oral assignments, but was horrible with class and board work. This really negatively impacted my self-image. From a young age, I learned to doubt myself and think something was wrong with me. I even thought I was a faker, because that was the implicit and explicit feedback I was getting from the teacher.
Throughout middle and high school and college I switched from being a voracious reader to a forced reader. I had to read material I didn’t choose or necessarily like to pass the classes. Textbooks became a large part of my reading life. I began working afterschool and on weekends when I was 15 on through college and beyond. I stopped having time, and soon after, desire, to read fiction and non-fiction. In part, my education and poverty seemed to squelch my love of reading. It wasn’t until I was in the West African country of Cape Verde during my Peace Corps service that I rediscovered reading for fun. Since electricity was limited and electronics scarce, I picked up a One Hundred Years of Solitude. Before I knew it, I was lingering on the final pages because I didn’t want the experience of reading to end. My fire for the written word was reignited and still burns brightly today.
Reflecting on writing about my reading literacy is a fun and engaging way for me to put myself in my student’s chairs and minds. It makes me sad to think that some students may have had negative experiences that have formed negative opinions about reading. It also reminds me that giving students a choice is incredibly important. Also, if my students never had the chance to develop a love of reading, now is their chance. Hopefully my love of literature and the world will be contagious in the classroom. Their perspectives and literacy autobiographies frame their learning just as mine frame my teaching.