I learned in my first few years as an English teacher about the importance of making time for independent reading in my classroom. I read a lot of research about how to find the time for reading, incorporating student choice, and giving constant book talks to share the latest and greatest books. Those weren’t the hardest parts of implementing independent reading though. What proved difficult was building a classroom library.
I was teaching 8th grade, and in my second year of teaching, when I first incorporated independent reading into my curriculum. My students spent a lot of time in the school’s library, for I had maybe 80 books in my classroom. Some students asked me about them, but they were rarely checked out. At the time, I didn’t see an issue with it. Books were getting into my students’ hands, and I thought that was all that mattered. When I looped with my 8th graders up to 9th grade, I saw that the 80 or so books I had were never leaving my shelves. I asked one avid reader why, and he told me that I had “old baby books.” It was then I realized I needed to find more books that peaked my high schoolers’ interests.
By the time I began teaching at my current school, my classroom library had doubled. 160 books is not much of a library, but through garage sales and donations, I had found some books that my students enjoyed. I still needed more though. By this point, I had been teaching for six years and had learned the importance of having a large classroom library. I knew students had to see the books in order to be interested in them. Knowing there was a library in the building wasn’t enough. Thankfully, a colleague introduced me to DonorsChoose.org. After reading over their website, I found that all it took was 15-20 minutes to fill out their “application.” I chose the books I knew my students would want, and then explained why my students would benefit from having them. My first project was fully funded soon after, and I was shocked! I was receiving 55 books for my students that didn’t cost me a penny. DonorsChoose’s only requirement of me was to post pictures of my students with the books, as well as have them write thank you letters to the donors. (My students were more than happy to oblige, for they received the books that had been on their wish list for some time.) When I saw my students light up at the sight of these new books, my first thought was, I have to do this again!
In the past seven years, I have received funding for seven DonorsChoose projects, and five of them were for new books for my classroom library. I applied for other grants, like the Book Love Foundation grant and Adopt a Classroom, but I did not have the success with them that I did with DonorsChoose. Sure I still spent my own money on many new releases throughout the year, but I couldn’t have the collection I do today without DonorsChoose.
Today, two weeks before I begin my thirteenth year of teaching, I received word that my eighth DonorChoose project was fully funded. (I still jump up and down when I receive that email!) My new students for the 2014-2015 school year don’t even know me yet, but when they walk into my room the first day, they will see thousands of books to choose from. They will see an unopened box of books that will be for their eyes first. They will see sophomores, juniors, and seniors sneaking in to check out a book between class periods, or asking me if I have the latest Mortal Instruments book. They will see my knowledge of my book collection as I pick out books for my former students, who trust me enough to just grab it from me and run out so they aren’t late for their next class. They will see, without a doubt, that I am an avid reader who knows her books. I am proud of my now enormous classroom library, for it is vital to my success with independent reading.