By Michelle George
About two years ago I was busily teaching a seventh grade English class. We were working on a writing assignment that I had every hope would be engaging, instructive, and maybe even fun. I was wrong.
One of my male students was particularly annoyed. As I was walking around the room, checking progress and encouraging my young writers, this reluctant scrivener brought me back to reality by muttering, “Real men don’t write or read.” Of course I was quick to inform him that they certainly do. In fact, many of the most famous and influential writers in the world have been men. He looked scornfully up at me and quipped, “Yeah, but they’re all dead.”
I didn’t have much to say to that, and for a good week or two afterward I kept mulling that conversation over in my mind. This future man truly believed that the written word was just “women’s work,” with no true value in his world. What to do?
After a few days of ruminating, I came up with an idea. I would assemble a group of muscle-bound, sweaty “real men” who actually do read. I knew a few … several, in fact. And I thought they might be willing to come and share their literary passion with my students. But as I looked over my class, I quickly realized that many of my students would never become that stereotypical “real man.” My class was composed of an array of fascinating characters. I had the bookish, the artistic, the athletic, the ladies’ man, the comedian … every type of boy imaginable. This reality made my search much more interesting.
Starting that year, I took the cold, gray month of February and labeled it “Real Men Read Month.” I invite all sorts of men, from all walks of life, to come into my classroom and share their passion for reading. We set aside each Wednesday of the month for classroom visits.
In January, I work with my students to write appropriate questions for the visitors and practice the seemingly archaic skills of a good audience. When the visitors come, we sit back and enjoy. So far we’ve had readers of fantasy, nonfiction fanatics, history buffs, self-taught experts, young poets, and novelists.
The best part is that, not only do my young students realize that real men do, in fact, read, but my “real men” also discover that junior high students really are rather intelligent and pleasant after all. Now that’s a great way to warm up a February.
Michelle S. George is a language arts middle school teacher in Orofino, Idaho. She has a B.A. in English and secondary certification in English, reading, and journalism. Michelle has been teaching seventh and eighth grade for 20 years, and still loves going to school—as a teacher and a student. She has published a variety of lesson plans and written several award-winning grants.