I have always loved a story: a fable, an autobiography, a short one, a comedy, a tragedy, a classic, a yarn, something the children tell you about their weekend … aren’t we all just a collection of our own stories?
What inspires me to teach English is my absolute conviction that everyone needs to be able to do their own story-telling at some point in life: an exam answer, an interview, to their own child in the future; and we are all enriched by hearing and learning from the stories of others, fiction or fact. If I can instil that same curiosity (or at least a passing interest – enough to get through a GCSE), in one or two of the children I teach in a year, then I’m making a difference.
As teachers, we are in the uniquely privileged position of having a real and lasting impact on the future lives of the children who pass through our classes. We all know someone who, in the ‘bad old days’ of education, was told that they’d amount to nothing or might as well give up whatever notions they had of being an astronaut to making do with filling space on the shelves in the local supermarket. I absolutely believe that those days are firmly buried in the past and we are in a more inspiring, egalitarian world of education but, with that, comes the responsibility of encouraging young people to make the most of the opportunities available to them in their secondary schooling years.
With every subject there is a book. It may come in the form of a study guide or a text book or a book of musical scores or even, heavens above, a novel. Teachers have to read to acquire information in the first instance and must continue to read to remain current in their topic, and the students study books both independently and alongside the teacher. If we, as the teaching professionals, can share our passion for our subject, I think that’s what enthuses students to get involved in the subject at a deeper level, sometimes even reading around a subject voluntarily! And then there’s just reading for pleasure – a whole separate can of words.
The BBC iWonder website currently has an interesting article entitled, Why is Reading Good For Me? with a section headed, Hidden Health Benefits, which reads:
Studies show that it can increase our emotional intelligence as we understand a range of perspectives and motivations.
There is some evidence that mental stimulation is one of the factors that can delay the onset of dementia and reading is among the activities that can help to keep the brain active. It is far from a passive pastime. When we read we create mental simulations of the activities, sights and sounds of scenes in a story, blending these with our own memories and experiences, all of which stimulates the neural pathways.
As well as this, research suggests that reading for 30 minutes a week increases health and wellbeing. Reading for pleasure has been found to improve our confidence and self-esteem, providing the grounding we need to pursue our goals and make life decisions. It can also aid our sleep and reduce feelings of loneliness.
To the onlooker, reading can appear to be a solitary and passive activity. But the simple act of picking up a book can do us a world of good.
So, the next time you have your young person asking you if they reeeeeeally have to read out loud for 10 minutes for homework, or if they moan when you suggest reading for 20 minutes instead of tinkering with technology, just tell them with real conviction that yes, they really do, because research has shown that it genuinely is for the good of their health!
27 Jan 2017