Math Teachers Read Too!

By Sarah Wiggins

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I've loved books since i was a baby

From the Beginning...

My parents always valued reading, and they read to me from the time I was born. As a baby, I preferred chewing on books to reading them, but I soon grew out of that. When I was a toddler, I would memorize stories from books, recite them to my family, and proudly exclaim, “I read it all by myself!” Clearly, this was not actually reading, but it set me up to persevere through reading in school.

While I was in preschool, my mom used the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons to introduce me to the mechanics of reading. When I entered Kindergarten and first grade, I learned the alphabet, phonics, and general reading strategies. There were certain letters I would constantly confuse, but I practiced and practiced at school and at home so that I could finally make sense of the symbols on the pages of the books I loved. I knew that learning how to read would unlock a world of knowledge and provide an unlimited source of entertainment for me.

For Halloween one year, i dressed as my favorite disney princess- Belle. Her love for reading was inspiring to me as a young girl.

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Childhood Habits

My parents encouraged me to read by helping me find books that were interesting to me. My mom and my grandma often took me to the library to pick out new books, and if I could not read them on my own, my family would read them to me. The emphasis my family put on reading displayed the importance of literature to me at an early age.

My family got our first computer when I was four years old, and I loved playing Reader Rabbit games. I also enjoyed watching Reading Rainbow (the show Intro is below), which showed me how books can take you to new places.

Reading Rainbow Intro 1999-present

Because of my early love for reading and my understanding of its importance, it was never a chore for me. When we were assigned a new book to read in school, I was always excited and usually finished it before the rest of my class. As I grew in my ability to read, I breezed through the books assigned to me in school, and I always carried a book with me wherever I went. I never missed an opportunity to find a quiet spot and dive into a good read.

I was not a fast reader, and I realized that I would sometimes read things backwards. However, because I loved to read, I pushed through and built a solid understanding of sentence structure and extended my wide vocabulary. This helped me as I began to read textbooks and complex material during high school and college. Even now, I like to read material that seems difficult because I love the challenge of parsing through the author's meaning and word choice to come to a deeper understanding of a topic.

"I Want to be a Detective!"

Mystery stories were always my favorite, and I have an extensive collection of Nancy Drew novels. I loved the suspense and twists in the stories, and from the first page, I tried to predict the ending. When I was younger, I wanted to be a detective like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and the Hardy Boys. When I read the Harry Potter novels, I saw them more as books about mystery than about magic. Other books I enjoyed were the Series of Unfortunate Events, the Percy Jackson novels, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Alex Rider series, and the Hunger Games. In each book, I focused on the mystery or issue that needed to be resolved, and cheered on the protagonists until they succeeded.

For me, reading was like uncovering a hidden message from the author. I have always loved wordplay and double meanings within text. In high school, I enjoyed learning how to analyze novels and recognize symbolism the author hid within the pages of his or her work. Though the content of the book was disturbing, The Handmaid's Tale was one of my favorite works we read in high school. Our class analyzed Margaret Atwood's word choice and uncovered double meanings in her words. We learned how to dig deeper into the story and read beyond a one-dimensional view of the text. It was through my high school English classes that I realized I did not have to be a detective to solve mysteries- I had been doing it all along through the books I read!

A Big Stumbling Block

Even though I love to read, there is one aspect that has always caused me trouble- reading out loud.

When I was a child, I had a soft voice and often slowly stumbled over words. Letters and words got jumbled up in my brain as I spoke them, and this made me seem like I could not read. When I read silently, I was able to straighten things out as I read through a sentence, but in "out loud" reading, what my brain saw on the page was what came out of my mouth. I knew that I could understand any text the teacher gave me, but I was not able to demonstrate this to her through reading aloud. As a child, I would become very anxious when the teacher asked me to read, and this made my reading even more quiet and unclear. Since I did not want teachers to think I could not read, I put a lot of pressure on myself to read perfectly, but no matter how hard I tried, I could never make it through a paragraph without messing up. The mixture of my reading problems, shyness, and fear of failure caused my reading aloud to be awful. Because of this, my teachers either thought I was lazy or had not yet learned to read.

My elementary teachers eventually realized that if they asked me to read a passage silently, I could comprehend it perfectly. They understood that I had a strong ability to read, so they thought I just needed to gain confidence when reading in front of others. At home, I felt safe reading to my family, so I practiced over and over with them so that I would not be so nervous in front of my peers and teachers. This helped a bit, and my teachers let me read to smaller groups of students before having me read to the whole class. Slowly, I overcame some of my timidity and perfectionism, which helped me read aloud with more clarity. As I continued to read more and more complex material, my skills sharpened and I was able to decipher words more quickly.

During high school, I found that I probably have a very mild form of dyslexia. This would explain my initial confusion with words and my troubles with reading aloud. I now understand that my 'out loud' reading will never be perfect, but I do not let that hold me back from pursuing my goals. I know that embarrassment only makes things worse, and I have found strategies to help me work through my issue. For example, if I know I have to read to a group, I will make sure I read the passage several times to myself before reading it to others. This helps me feel more confident and prepared to read aloud.

Perseverance is what ultimately helped me overcome my issue. Even when I did not know how to explain why I could not read aloud, I kept working through it and did not let my frustration overshadow my willingness to learn.

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Me at age nine Reading to a Preschool Class

I Could Read All Day

Now, I read whenever I get a chance, which is not nearly as often as I would like. The majority of what I read now are textbooks and news articles, but I do try to keep a "for fun" book around in case I get a minute of free time. When I was younger, I mostly read fiction, but now I have broadened my scope to include nonfiction books as well.

Over the past few years, I have grown to love reading memoirs and biographies since they tell the tale of a real person. These works usually help me get into the mindset of a different era and place. They allow me to see the world through a new lens and challenge the opinions I have formed through my own experiences. One of the first memoirs I read was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and this continues to be one of my favorite books. Below is a video of Maya Angelou reading a passage from the book.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Audiobook Excerpt

Since I am about to begin teaching, I am trying to read more books about math and/or education. Though not all of my books are specific to math or education, before I choose a book to read, I try to ensure it will have some implications for me. I know I do not have much time to read, so I want to make sure what I am reading is worthwhile.

Currently, my personal goal is to read at least one nonfiction book for every fiction book I read. The last book I read over the summer was a fictional novel called The Discovery of Witches, and right now I'm reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. By widening my range of reading material, this allows me to use something I enjoy- reading- to learn more about topics that I would not be exposed to otherwise.

A Final Word

To anyone who has encountered problems with reading, I want to encourage you to keep persevering. Despite my early issues, I now read all the time. I read mysteries, memoirs, classics, textbooks, poems, recipes, news articles, young adult novels, political and religious commentaries, and even works in Spanish!

Knowing not only how to read but also how to be a detective when I read is something I use everyday in a variety of contexts. Even though I will be teaching math, I certainly want to instill in my students the importance of literacy in everyday life.

Recommended Reads

Looking for a book that makes you think? Try one of my favorites: