Our Reading Lives

How I Teach Reading by Example

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Nikki DeMarco


The inimitable Nikki DeMarco is as well-traveled as she is well-read. Being an enneagram 3, Aries, high school librarian, makes her love for efficiency is unmatched. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is passionate about helping teens connect to books. Nikki has an MFA in creative writing, is a TBR bibliologist, and writes for Harlequin, Audible, Kobo, and MacMillan. Since that leaves her so much time, she’s currently working on writing a romance novel, too. Find her on all socials @iamnikkidemarco (Instagram, Twitter, Threads)

An important tenet of my classroom is everybody reads. This includes me. While often times I’d much rather be catching up on grading notebooks or responding to that parent email, it’s important that my students see that I read also. At first, I was focusing on reading YA exclusively. This way, I could recommend books to students and gasp during silent sustained reading to pique their interest and start a waitlist for what I was reading. But now that the school year is well underway and my expectations are clear, everyone needs to push themselves.

YA is one of my favorite genres, but only reading and recommending YA to my students is doing them a disservice. A common conversation I have this time of the school year goes something like this:

“All these books are boring.” The student puts down the third book she picked up that was just like all the other books she’s read this year.

“They’re boring because they aren’t challenging you. You’ve gotten much better at reading since the start of the school year. Here, try this.” I hand her a book that’s at least a hundred pages longer than anything she’s read this year. Her eyes go wide.

“I can’t read this!” she says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Look at the print. It’s way too small.”

We end up debating until she finally agrees to at least give it a try. More often than not, the student takes the book and keeps reading outside class.

As an educator, how can I not rise to the same expectations I hold my students to? Here are two books I’m using to challenge myself in the coming months:

All the Single Ladies CoverAll the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

This book follows the history of unmarried women in America and how they have shaped our nation. I have loved Traister’s shorter work on women’s culture, specifically the Post-Weinstein Reckoning. I have to stop at least once every two pages to look up a word in the book on my Merriam-Webster app, but it’s making me a better reader. Also, letting my students see me as a continuing learner instead of a know-it-all English teacher is another lesson worth teaching. 

pushoutPushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris

This book examines the education system and how it is designed to push out many girls of color based on unspoken cultural expectations that these children are not only unable to live up to, but also unaware of. Morris tells the real stories of so many girls that haven’t been listened to previously. This is making me a better reader by also making me a better teacher. Many of the stories are difficult and make me uncomfortable, which is even more reason to finish.