I was asked today how many more years I have to go until I can retire. I’ve not thought about it a lot, so had to do some calculating. After doing some advanced math, I realized that I will be eligible for retirement (25 years) in 2017. WHAT??? That sounds like Orwell’s “1984” used to sound, or “2001, A Space Odyssey.” Like a year that exists only in some far off galaxy. Not a year to actually plan for! And yet, it is close enough that I will not have any of my current students’ children in my classroom before I retire. Judging by the what I’ve seen this year, that is a good thing.
Having said that, this kind of motivates me to set some goals. What do I want to accomplish in the next 8 years? (Can I even go there?) I know that I have to become more digitally astute if I’m to hold their attention, let alone teach them anything. They are not as easily engaged by printed text as their parents were. They thing “How R U 2day?” is actually English. They have definitely got different linguistic and educational needs than those who preceeded them.
In another vein, however, I have to make sure I teach them to love books. More than ever I need to create a print-rich environment for them. Kindles and computers and smartboards and blogs are all great, but there is still magic in opening a book and being pulled in by a good story. The smell of the paper and ink and the heft of a book, even the way the pages are cut are all part of the experience.
My oldest granddaughter, who is about to turn 10, has fallen love with reading this past year. She always loved books, but someone had to read them to her until this year. Suddenly she reminds me of myself when I was her age. She always carries a book, just in case she needs to read. She dog-ears the page to mark her place, just like I did. I no longer do that to my books, but at her age I thought nothing of it. Where did she get that? Is it a cell memory? You can’t dog-ear something digital, look at the pages to see where you left off. She dislikes books whose pages are not cut cleanly. I think they look romantic, but she likes them smooth and even.
Lately she has been asking me to help her figure out how to choose books she will like. There is safety in a series like Harry Potter or the Chronicles of Narnia, or even the Magic Fairy books. I’ve always chosen books by the author, knowing I could count on liking a second or third book. I love helping her pick, but also look forward to the time she has learned what she likes and is brave enough to try something new.
The first Saturday of each month the book warehouse is open and she never forgets to remind me of that day. We go in and she wanders the aisles, picking up books to check out. Once she has a pile of them chosen she sits on a bench and reads, oblivious to the passage of time. She is a solitary child and books are her friends. In these times, she could do worse. I’m thankful that she has found them. I wish more kids would.