Teacher Monica Damron is using her story to inspire the love of reading.
At BookPal, we believe in the unique ability of books to inspire learning and growth. This statement could not be truer—as evidenced by the students and faculty at our Fall 2018 Sponsored School, Rockmart Middle School in Rockmart, Georgia. Sixth grade English teacher Monica Damron shares her story, and how she discovered a love for reading:
Tell us a little about yourself!
I am a weird case! I come from a family of book lovers, teachers, and librarians. As I was growing up, I despised going to the library—you had to be quiet and whisper. What kid would ever think that was a cool place to hang out? Well, certainly not me! Why my cousin wanted to waste her Saturdays volunteering at our local library working alongside our grandmother, who did this job for a living, was beyond me! To make matters worse, when I got in trouble at home, my punishment was to volunteer at the library and help.
I was no dummy; I could read. I could read well. I just did not like to read. I did not understand why my parents would come to my room saying, “Monica, you have to read this! This is a classic!” I, of course, had to read it, or more time at the library, where I would be forced to be quiet and “help”.
I was a freshman in college, at home for a weekend, and saw my mom had this Janet Evanovich book on her coffee table. I looked at it and asked, “What is this?” My mom did a good job playing it off: “Oh, it is just a book I picked up, it is nothing.”
I picked up the book and casually read the first few pages, and then kept reading. I was hooked. I have loved reading ever since. It took 18 years for me to become a book lover! I realized that what I liked watching on TV—crime and mysteries—was the kind of subject matter in books that hooked me in. That is what I tell my students now; when I see the lost book soul out there.
I did not go so easily into the teaching path either. I fought that, like a two-year-old, kicking and screaming all the way! I was not going to be a boring ole’ teacher or no stinking library lady! (I did love my grandmother very much, just not the school ones!) I got conned into working a summer camp with a friend of mine, and I fell in love with working with the at-risk kids. I saw what an impact I could have on someone with doing so little. The fall of my sophomore year, I went to my counselor and changed my major to Middle School Education. I continued on to receive my Master’s degree in Reading Education.
Could you tell me a story about a time you’ve seen a book change a student’s life?
This is funny that you should ask. One of the books that you sent, We Beat the Street, I read to a group of students I had several years back. They were 8th graders, and they were a tough bunch to teach. They all seemed to have a lot going on in their lives besides school. I had one pregnant girl, I had a couple of girls that had big chips on their shoulders (because how could a “white” teacher know what their life was really like at home), and I had several kids move in due to Hurricane Katrina who were traumatized, to say the least. I was determined to prove to these kids that their teacher did not grow up with a white picket fence and have the “perfect life” growing up.
As we read We Beat the Street, these kids started sharing stories with me. I had one boy, Brian*, who I had not seen pick up a book all year. He actually started picking the book up as I read it to them, and we learned his father had died in some type of drug overdose. He was being raised by his grandmother. At the end of the book, Brian came to me and asked, “Yo, Mrs. Damron, you think that we could, you know, write these doctors?”
We did, and they wrote us back! Brian continued writing to them throughout the school year.
Sometimes, these kids start in this world without a fair shot. It is so unfair. If I can help them accomplish one thing, like writing to an author, or letting them know there is hope for their futures; I want to do that. My dad got mixed up in bad things, and when I was 17, my whole world was taken from me. My dad ended up in prison. That could have made me turn and do bad things like drugs or quit school, but it didn’t. I graduated and went on to college. I want kids to know they are in charge of their futures, too. Not their parents. It’s up to them.
That year, the boy from New Orleans laughed at least once—at me!
The pregnant girl read books about how to take care of infants.
The girls with chips on their shoulders read more and more and eventually started being nicer in my class.
Brian, well, he had a good year with me. I wish the high school teachers loved him like we did in middle school. He did end up dropping out, but at least he did dream, and he did think about what he could be for a moment.
How does reading benefit kids?
Research shows that if a child reads at least twenty minutes a day, they score in the 90th percentile on standardized tests. As the cliché says, the more you read, the more you know. There is so much research behind the adage.
We really do not have a reading program in place right now. We have been in a transition phase, for a while. We went through a stage where everything we did was on iPads—including our books. The circulation in our school media center was almost nonexistent. Teachers were strongly encouraged to implement the technology. The powers that be quickly learned that not every kid needed complete immersion. Now we have a nice balance. However, we are still recovering from all of the funds being placed on the technology. We have not had new book sets in our school in over 11 years. We tape, glue, and do whatever we have to do, to make do with what we have.
BookPal has been a blessing to Rockmart Middle School. I have brought in a bookshelf from my house, and I have cataloged the books for the school. I have the books on display. Currently, my gifted classes are reading the books that we received, they will have book talks when they are finished with this round. When I am finished, I have several other teachers already signed up to check them out for their classes. We are all excited for the opportunity to offer our students new books in different genres, by authors that will excite their interests.
Thank you, Monica, for sharing your story! We love hearing about the amazing things teachers across the country are doing with books to inspire learning and growth in their students. Want to be a part of our next Sponsored School program? Apply now!
*Names have been changed in consideration of the students’ privacy.
This post was written by Megan Habel, the brand strategist at BookPal. She is currently reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.