I am definitely a lifelong learner. I am always trying new activities, attending new programs, and reading new books. It is not uncommon for me to read three or four books at once because they all feel too important or exciting to read at a later date. I have lists of books that I want to read, and pages of subjects that I just want to learn a little bit more about. Just recently I came to the realization that I will never have enough time in my life to read all of the books that I want to read. Being the efficient time manager that I am, I came up with the brilliant idea of checking audiobooks out from the library. I thought about the fact that I enjoy jogging and going for long walks, and I probably spend at least seven hours a week walking. The audiobooks that I have seen are typically six or seven hours long. Why, if I listen to audiobooks while I walk, I could “finish” 52 additional books a year! Why not exercise my body and mind simultaneously? The idea was just too exciting to pass up!
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I am nuts. And you may be right. But if you think about our lives as instructors, and all of the things that require our time and attention, pretty soon you will see the logic in my idea. We plan lessons, deliver lessons, grade lessons, work with small groups of students or individual students, and address the administrative requirements of our posts. All of these things place external demands on our time, and we respond to them to remove that external pressure. What happens to our internal desires, including our desire to be lifelong learners ourselves? They are often ignored!
While we are meeting the demands of the masses, one thing that I think we cannot neglect to do is attend to our own intellectual growth and development. How can we ask our students to become lifelong learners if they do not see us engaging in lifelong learning? How do we encourage them to embrace the joy of reading if they never see us reading? How can we encourage them to persist with writing when they do not see how writing is useful in our own lives? How can we convince them that math is a part of everyday life, and not just abstract concepts in a book if they never see us applying math to solve real world problems? How can we demonstrate the relevance of history to their lives, if we don’t refresh our own views of how the events of the past intrude into our present reality?
I encourage you this week, if you are not in the habit of picking up a book to pick one up, and get a fresh dose of knowledge to energize yourself as an instructor. If you don’t have time, consider an audiobook as a way to feed your intellect. Some people listen while driving. You could listen while you peel potatoes, fold laundry, while cleaning, and even while walking the dog. Think about all of the knowledge that you can share with your students by adding audiobooks to your repertoire in the next year.
An even better suggestion might be to encourage your students to check audiobooks out from the library. I know it seems like a horrible suggestion for a teacher to encourage students to listen to books instead of reading them, but if they are not reading already, this could also be a way to encourage reading. For example, if they really like an audiobook, you could suggest they read a book by the same author, or a simpler book on the same topic. Think about all of the other benefits. For ESOL students and students struggling to master Standard English, just think how their listening and language skills could improve by listening to native speakers speaking at a natural pace, on a consistent basis. Think about the background knowledge students can gain about topics if they simply listened. Do you know that it aids student reading fluency if they read along with a fluent reader, and that increased reading fluency increases comprehension levels? It’s true. So having students read along in a book as they listen to an audiobook (a technique used frequently in elementary schools) could actually improve their skill in reading.
I remember reading about radio personality and motivational speaker Les Brown years ago. He talked about how reading was not cool in his neighborhood, so he would hide his books in a pizza box to prevent people from teasing or bullying him about reading. Maybe some of our students have similar pressures and maybe they don’t read because reading isn’t “cool” in their circles. The audiobook is a perfect answer to that. Many of our students walk around in headphones all day anyway; it is not a hard sell. With an audiobook, if they bop their heads up and down as if to the music, no one will ever even know that they are learning.
While waiting to cross at a light during my walk last week I got to the corner at the same time as a young man (in headphones) who I assumed was about 19 or 20. He was bobbing his head to whatever music was flowing through his headphones. He looked at me, and I smiled and bobbed my head to my imaginary music, and then he smiled and crossed the street. He had no idea that I was “bumpin’” Bill O’Reilly reading “Killing Lincoln” and not the latest in hip-hop and R&B. I encourage you colleagues to pick up a book, even an audiobook, and encourage your students to do the same. Let them see that you are a lifelong learner in the same way that you want them to be!