As a poor migrant family, we did not travel to many places other than Mexico, and my exposure to life was limited due to my strict Catholic upbringing. My life experience skills were limited to what I learned and saw at school and in the community. My sheltered life changed when I was introduced to the power of words in fictional stories. Through stories, I discovered the power of traveling, discovering, and exploring through characters. Even though abstract concepts were interesting, I was the type of reader who wanted to psychoanalyze and understand the character’s deep thinking and feelings. As a child into my late teens, I dove deep into fiction to uncover the deep secrets of characters. Through the years and through the teen tribulations, I found reading was my escape from the drama of life. I chose the drama of characters rather than real life. Consequently, the stories and the characters in the books that I read became my teacher for surviving the teen years.
In Choice Words (chapter five) by Peter Johnston, the author suggests that teachers use various strategies to help students transfer learning from content areas, but also strategies and experiences from home to school. Often, as teachers we separate home and school experiences to deter negative behavior, but we have to embrace the student as the whole package. Students come with baggage, but as teachers, we guide students to extract positive lessons. Johnston explains that problem-solving from past experiences can help students in the future (44). As a strategy, Johnston advises teachers to encourage students to “step-into” characters to help students make connections and transfer life-experiences (43). Johnson recommends that a teacher ask students to put their writer’s hat or to take on a character’s role from a book to help build understanding and empathy. The connection between a character and a student’s struggle will therefor help a student become aware of their choices in academic subjects and in life.
As a teen, I opted to use the power of “stepping- in” to a character’s life to help me survive adolescence. As I reflect on my childhood, I found a pattern that the books that I choose to read were topics that generally dealt with similar problems I was experiencing. For instance, when I started to notice the opposite sex, I wanted to read books about relationships and romance. The darkness and romance of the V.C Andrews series fed my need for romance. Through V.C Andrew’s collection of Flowers in the Attic, I learned about sex, romance, and betrayal, but I also learned about the consequences of the lack of moral character. The lesson of moral character was abandon to fulfill my craving for romance and throbbing hormones. I remember my first kiss, it was in the dug-out at the baseball field, but I was pissed after the kiss. The kiss was absolutely horrible. It was sloppy wet, and I felt the young man was trying to gag me with his tongue. The kiss was nothing like the kissing scenes from the V.C Andrews collection. I wanted passion, but I did not find it with teen boys. As a result of being exposed to fictional smut, it curbed my desire to pursue sexual relationships in high school.
As an adult, I had a mental list of qualities that I liked in characters, especially attributes in male characters. Ironically, I accepted to marry my husband sixteen years ago because he fulfilled the majority of the traits that I desired, but he also satisfied my passion from the V.C Andrew’s collection. So, the connection between life and reading exists. My learning went down the dark path, but as teachers we can channel the learning to benefit academic content areas and avoid the smut.