Friday, October 21, 2011

What I've Learned From Reading Over All My Years by Gina Gilmore

Artist, teacher, reader, fly fisher...some of the labels I wear. And, of course, much, much more.

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What I’ve Learned From Reading Over All My Years
Gina Gilmore

When Kaye first asked me to write a blog for her, I was honored and slightly bewildered – what could I possibly have to say that was worthwhile – particularly when I looked at the list of other bloggers! Wow…I felt like a very small minnow in a very big pond! Still do…but I’ll try to share with you some of what I’ve learned from reading over all my years..:)

History – I’ve learned a lot of history over the years from reading historical mysteries – particularly medieval history. Starting with reading the Brother Cadfel mysteries, I’ve moved on to reading Roberta Gellis’ series, then Adrianna Franklin’s series. In between, I picked up and read many non-fiction books on the middle ages in England. Then ended up getting a cd series on the history of the middle ages. I just finished a biography of Eleanor of Aquatine. I’ve become quite fascinated with this amazing woman thanks to many of the historical novels and mysteries I’ve read featuring her.

While not a mystery, I read Connie Willis’ BLACKOUT and ALL CLEAR – as a result, I’ve become fascinated with the life of the English during the blitz and I’ve started looking for more non-fiction books about this subject.

I love it when authors include a bibliography at the end of their works – I usually try to find one or more of their sources to follow up.

Right now, I am reading a book about Issac Newton and learning more about physics and calculus than I had ever thought of learning. Being a math teacher, I’ve taught calculus and taken calculus, but this is a history of both physics and calculus that gives me a much deeper appreciation for both subjects. And the book is a mystery – NEWTON AND THE COUNTERFEITER by Thomas Levenson.

But even more important than the facts and knowledge I’ve gained from the curiosity that many of these books have stirred in me, I’ve learned so much from the connections with other people - both those who read and those who write.

DorothyL has opened a wonderful world where I’ve come to appreciate authors and readers so much – over the years, I’ve developed online friendships with many of these people. I’ve celebrated and cried with them..become facebook friends with them…read their blogs..

And I’ve been truly blown away by how generous the authors are. I’ve come to realize we really do have an interdependent relationship. I have been surprised to find notes from authors in my inbox thanking me for some comment I’ve posted on DorothyL or a review on Amazon. Wow..that they even thought my saying anything was important – that they took the time to say thank you!

But the most important thing I’ve learned over the years is as a teacher. I have taught history, math, art, and computer graphics over my long career. Most of my educational career has been in schools where the majority of the students are from the lower socio-economic bracket – those who qualify as high risk. Many see little hope in their future- they come from broken, dysfunctional families that most people can’t even imagine.

For the last five years, I’ve taught in my district’s discipline and alternative school. And what I’ve found is that while many of these kids are totally messed up in so many ways, and have experienced so much academic failure that they now refuse to even try, I can usually establish a bond with them through books.

We don’t have a library at our school..but we do have a book cart. And I’ve contributed the Hunger Game series, Harry Potter, Lightening Thief, and Michael Scott’s series - which combines mythology with historical characters. I also read the entire Twilight series so I could have conversations with my students who were into that series.

I figure that even if a kid won’t do math, refuses to open a history book, snarls at the English teacher, if we can at least get him to read – we have opened a world for him that was previously closed. I can open conversations by having discussions about what he is reading, asking him questions, drawing him out – and then we began to establish a rapport. And that rapport then, sometimes, allows me to develop a relationship where I can begin to get him to want to find out more – to begin to research Greek mythology, to try to find out more about the literary and folk history of vampires, to try to find out more about the characters in Michael Scott’s books. One student was exhilarated when he found a picture of Nicholas Flammel’s house on the internet! He couldn’t wait to show it to me.

Just recently we had a student return to us who is going to finish his credits and graduate high school this next week. He started with us in the discipline section several years ago as a ninth grader. He wouldn’t do any work, slept most of the time. But I got him hooked on Michael Scott’s series. Every year, he comes back to us several times for getting in trouble at the high school. He moved to the alternative side of the school last year – and was not successful and dropped out before the end of the year. He was resentful, surly, and completely unmotivated. However, I was still able to reach him – a little – through our continued discussion of the series.

This year, he returned to us – sober, clean, motivated. And one of the first things he did was to ask me if I had read the newest book in the series. No, I hadn’t. Sadly, I had let this series lag after he left – I had kept up with it as a bridge to connecting with him. However, this past week, I picked up the newest book in the series and presented it to him as a graduation present.

Did this connection change his life? No – he changed his life. However, it did establish a connection between us – it let him know that there was at least one teacher who saw him as more than “just another screw up” – and that is what I’ve found reading does – it makes connections between some of the most unlikely groups of people.

The reading experience has enriched my life in ways too numerous to count – knowledge, armchair travel, ability to go back in time, but most important, it is has allowed me to make those truly amazing connections with people I’d never have known otherwise.


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Gina, I ALWAYS enjoy hearing what you have to share. And this was one of the very best things you've shared to date. Thank you, my friend, for being here.


L.J. Sellers said...

Thank you for a wonderful post. It's so wonderful to hear that you can still engage young people through reading. Thanks for your efforts! You've inspired me to contact my local high school and offer to be reading mentor.

Patricia Stoltey said...

This post speaks to my love of books as well. Well said, Gina.

Vicki Lane said...

Lovely post, Gina! Hard to imagine a life without books. I was taken aback a few days ago when someone commented on my blog "I don't read books any more."

jenny milchman said...

What an inspiring rallying cry of a post, Gina! I love how books were powerful enough to bring students back from the brink. I love your knowing that--and being willing, and eager, not just to present the kids with books, but to read them, too.

Learning is one thing. Giving the *gift* of learning brings this to a whole new level.

One of the things I want to do with the upcoming second annual Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day (December 4th) is offer a grant to a child who may never have been or can't often get to a bookstore. I'm not wise enough in the ways of grants to figure out how to organize this, but I thought I might make a Christmas gift to my own family by donating a fifty or hundred dollar "coupon"--bus or cab fare, if needed, maybe lunch or dessert out, + a gift card to a local bookstore--to a child and his or her caretaker. Do you think that's something the discipline/alternative school you teach might be interested in--identifying a student for such a day?

Either way--fantastic post. Kaye always draws the best!