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Teachers: Don't Kill MOCKINGBIRD

I just finished reading Paul Acampora's I Kill the Mockingbird. When I first picked this book up, I thought it would be a book for youth, but I'm starting to think this is a book for teachers.

The premise is simple: A beloved teacher dies, and soon-to-be freshmen Lucy, Elena, and Michael vow to keep his appreciation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird alive in the face of a mandatory summer reading list, of which Lee's novel is one of many possible titles. They want to inspire others to love the book, so they develop a plan that basically follows the rule of supply and demand: if they make it seem as if fewer copies of Mockingbird are available, people will obviously seem interested in the book. (I learned this economics lesson growing up when I may or may not have wanted a Furby.)

In English class, I wish helping students see the beauty that is Lee's work was that easy. While I still search for ways to bring all students to the page (that was my nErDcampMI session and if you have ideas, please share them with me!), the novel did serve as a good reminder about summer reading lists.

I'm thankful that I work in a district that doesn't issue a summer reading list--especially one chockfull of difficult texts from the canon. Those books are tough, and we give students a false idea of what it means to be a reader when we hand them something they are unprepared for, expect them to read it independently, and then return to face a test in the fall. This practice is akin to my dislike of the "packet reading" that students all too often endure.

I think it was in Deeper Reading that Kelly Gallagher presented the idea that teachers are like literary docents. We are students' guides to reading complex works as we work to help them build the skills that will enable them to make meaning with all texts independently. But if there's one thing that I know about my own summer reading plans, it's that I want choice. I have a mix of professional books and young adult/adult literature that I plan to read, but it certainly wasn't dictated. Perhaps we should, instead, move students to develop their own to-read lists for the summer and then assist in the acquiring of library cards before students leave our classrooms.

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