The Reading Level of a Middle School Teacher

I was smart once.

I majored in English in college and read many difficult books and wrote numerous intelligent essays. Now, when I come across papers like my senior honors thesis or essays I wrote in graduate school, I find words I don’t even know the meaning of anymore.

As I prepare for the honors class I’ll be teaching beginning this August, I’ve been reading more advanced books. I’m rereading Walden for the first time since college. Now, I’ve been teaching middle school for quite a while now. And I read books like The Outsiders and The Giver and The House on Mango Street. These are all good books, but they certainly are no challenge for an adult reader. In eighth grade we read To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet, which are more advanced, but still not terribly difficult.

But right now, Walden is kind of hard for me. Have I reduced my reading level by reading things like Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars in my free time for all these years in an effort to relate to my students and find books they would enjoy? Perhaps it would have been better for my brain to continue reading really challenging books.

I mean, it isn’t like I don’t read. I read all the time. But my choices are not challenging to me. Maybe they should be.

I think this honors class is going to challenge me as much as it challenges my students. Maybe more. Yikes!


5 thoughts on “The Reading Level of a Middle School Teacher

  1. I have that same experience reading papers I wrote in seminary – wow – I had a brain! I kind of enjoyed not using it as much, but one reason I started writing my blog was to kick start my creativity & see if I could wake my brain back up. And that worked for a while, but now I’m on hiatus again. Maybe I should read Walden!

    • I had already decided to spend the summer reading the classics… but that was before I had a new class for which to plan. Walden is a bit obtuse; it’s certainly not a typical summertime read!

  2. I think it will be nice for you and your students to be on a journey of discovery together. If you find the book challenging too, you will be better able to relate to their struggles with it than if you were just dispensing wisdom from on high.

    I teach molecular biology and genetics to a group of middle-school-aged homeschoolers. As part of my class, I assigned them to read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (the original book, published in the early 1990s).

    What surprised me was how much I myself got out of reading it again and discussing it in the class. Back when I was in graduate school I had dismissed the book because of its scientific inaccuracies and overspeculation (and what I perceived as anti-science sensationalism). But with hindsight I’ve gotten a new respect for how well the author integrated his speculation with what was known at the time. That book actually provided plausible hypotheses that could be tested scientifically. It changed the course of real science. And the kids loved it.

    I’m glad I kept an open mind and didn’t just bore the students with all my high-level nit-picking about what was wrong with the science.

    • Thanks for the encouragement! I haven’t made a definite decision about Walden yet. I’ll probably at least teach “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” but I’m not sure about the rest of the book. There are interesting parts, but there is a lot to wade through to get to the interesting stuff.

      • Yeah . . . I read Walden a long time ago and even then had the same reaction. It might be boring for middle school age students.

        I actually live near Walden Woods and have visited the pond and the replica of the cabin a number of times, which is not boring. There are some interesting supplemental resources online, like this one:

        And as a biologist, I find this totally fascinating: Using Thoreau’s observations to track climate change. Richard Primack is a professor at BU and he’s written an entire book called Walden Warming based on his phenology research. I heard him speak at the public library.

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