Why I Teach

In Reading Lab we read every day. Books and stories have plenty of things to teach that don’t involve words or vocabulary. There is art and music, history and science, and even a bit of social skills. Take Matt de la Pena’s charming Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book I read to a group of first graders.

After church, CJ and his grandmother catch the city bus. He complains about the rain, and Grandma points out the tree taking a drink from a straw. The illustrations give us a hint of roots.

“Why should we love the rain?” I asked the students.

The first graders aren’t quite sure. One of them thought of flowers. Another said we need water to take a shower.

“What about the food we eat?” I prodded.


“Where does food come from?”

A shrug, then, “Wal-Mart?”

“How did the food get to Wal-Mart?”

Another shrug. “Trucks?”

I waited. More silence. Finally, I said, “Plants feed us and they feed our meat. Every bit of food we eat grows.”

“Even cupcakes?” asked the Wal-Mart girl.

Yes, even cupcakes. I tried to explain sugar cane and wheat and fat. I didn’t sully the story with salt. She wasn’t buying it anyway.

It took us all period to read that one important book. The next day I read E-I-E-I-O: How Old MacDonald Got His Farm. Then we planted seeds.

Burpee and Wal-Mart provided the seeds—tomatoes, squash, basil, marigolds, and zinnias. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

Most of the students chose to plant flower seeds.

I wonder what they’d think of fried squash blossoms or salads with nasturtium blossoms?

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