This week, the Secret Teacher talks about their unorthodox route towards discovering the joy of reading.

I feel like I come from a different perspective than a lot of English teachers when it comes to reading. The narrative you often get from English teachers is that they fell in love with a series of books, like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Hobbit, and then they will be serial readers from thereon in. 

My story of reading is bumpy and nonlinear. If there ever was a series of books that engrossed me it was the Harry Potter series, but even though I was gifted those books at the age of six or seven, I didn’t read them until my teens. 

My love of reading came from a particular sort of journalism. This has informed parents night conversations that I’ve had. I really believe that if you want to foster a joy of reading and you’re having no luck with David Walliams or J.K. Rowling, you simply just need to ask yourself ‘what do I know about my child? What are their interests?’ and get them to read about those things. 

The Herald:
I wouldn’t read at school. I was very lazy, and my literacy was deemed quite poor for much of school. By the time I was 11 or 12, I discovered a wrestling magazine called Power Slam, and what made that different to any other pro wrestling magazine was that they wrote about it in a way that acknowledged the fictitious nature of wrestling. 

If you wanted to buy the official branded WWF or WWE magazine, it was all ‘is the Undertaker going to DESTROY Steve Austin?’, whereas this was a more critical evaluation and journalistic style of writing on the art of pro wrestling. It analysed the storylines, the themes, the athleticism and the physical story told in matches, and I ate that up. Here was somebody who wasn’t talking down to me, and when you’re that age and about to get to your teenage years, you don’t want to be patronised. 

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I still loved wrestling, but I knew it wasn’t real, and I wanted somebody who shared my fascination. This magazine, which ran for 20 years, really affected me. That’s how I got into reading, and from there I became much more open to the idea of reading other things, but that opened the gate for me. Had it not been for Power Slam magazine, two or three years later when my English teacher wanted me to read The Catcher in the Rye, I wouldn’t have bothered trying.

I gave it a chance, and that – along with subsequent books – made me a reader, because it was within my interests. Power Slam was pitched just right for me, at the age of 11 or so. When I talk to parents now, I tell them that if their child likes football or gaming, there is no shortage of journalism out there in print and digital form for them to read. Get them to read an article a week or find a magazine they’re into, and foster that love. 

The Herald:
Then, once they’ve realised ‘I CAN read and I can have the courage to look up a word I don’t understand’, they’re more likely to take on a challenge that requires a bit more commitment like a novel or something that’s longer. When it comes to the joy of reading, journalism can be a stepping stone. 

Schools are not singular with their approach, but there is still a prevailing attitude that reading is refined by the books you read, and journalistic writing is considered ‘light reading’. If you want to teach young people how to appreciate language, become critical readers and how to identify an agenda through the choice of words and imagery that a writer uses, journalism is a great place to do that. 

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I can’t speak for the primary curriculum, but I do think it should be a bigger deal earlier in first, second and third year, in what we call the Broad General Education (BGE). It’s always been the type of writing that I’ve gravitated towards. I do read novels, and I’m very passionate about audiobooks as a gateway to reading, but for me the joy of reading came from Findlay Martin in Power Slam magazine.