Reading, writing, and strange buzzing sounds

By Anna Boratyn
Staff Writer

English teacher Karen Kruse goes through a four-level analysis with her seventh hour class.
English teacher Karen Kruse goes through a four-level analysis with her seventh hour class.

Every classroom has an unruly chatterbox.  In second grade, Karen Kruse more than fulfilled her classroom’s quota of chatter. Unfortunately, Kruse’s bold loquaciousness did not endear her to her teacher, and she soon found her grade slipping.
Kruse may have even ignored the injustice had the points not been deducted from her pristine reading grade, transforming it into a hideous “C”. Kruse’s grade in reading was more important to her than any other facet of her schooling because of how much she excelled in and enjoyed it.
As a second grader, Kruse was reading at a sixth grade level.
To bolster her cause, Kruse had her mother report to the principal’s office and demand explanation.  Kruse’s mother came back somewhat victorious, without a change in grade but with the assurance that it wouldn’t happen again.
Now, instead of receiving the grades, Kruse is giving them.
Kruse is an English teacher at Prospect High School and has been for five years, with two years prior at Saint Viator.
Working as a teaching assistant at Loyola University, Kruse didn’t know that she was going to be a high school English teacher.
“My career has been a total evolution,” says Kruse.
Kruse thought that she was going to be a professor, but, as she soon realized, she didn’t want to spend more time researching than helping students. She also knew she didn’t want to teach young children- so she gravitated towards teaching high school.
Kruse now recalls being read to by her parents and books being all over the house.  After being exposed to literature at an early age, Kruse developed a love for reading.  Her reading obsession even got to the point where her mother would take books away from her to compel her to spend more time with friends.
Kruse first became interested in teaching in her junior year of college.
“In college, you really tend to gravitate towards what you enjoy doing,” says Kruse.
Because of her earlier positive experiences with reading, she chose to teach language.
A few years later, and firmly into her teaching career, Kruse discovered the book Readicide, by Kelly Gallagher during her research on reading in the summer of 2005, she was intrigued.  The premise of the book was that teaching reading with an emphasis on testing was hurting the ability of students to enjoy reading.
There are correlations between a student’s regular reading and their score on standardized exams, not to mention the increase in reading skills that result from reading often.  But Kruse also believes that reading should be a source of pleasure and inspiration for teens, and not one big exam.
“The way we teach reading is actually killing a love of reading in kids,” says Kruse, referring to Gallagher’s premise.
Kruse now feels that that approach to reading is counterproductive, teaching kids to view reading as a test, causing the entire ordeal to feel like a quiz.
To fight the process of “readicide”, the killing of the love of reading in kids through over-analyzation of texts, Kruse has changed her ways.  Part of it is emphasizing between class reading and personal reading.
She classifies difficult, ancient texts as class reading, and personal reading as reading for pleasure.
Kruse says, “If [class reading is] the only kind of reading you do, that’s what kills it.”
So Kruse instituted SSR, Sustained Silent reading, twice a week in all of her classes.   Kruse says there are visible benefits to a practice that some teachers see as a waste of time.
“I see kids conversing about books that they wouldn’t have read had there not been SSR,” says Kruse.
Isheeta Shah, a student of Kruse’s Honors Literature and Composition, has experienced the effects of the program firsthand.
Shah views SSR as a positive component of her class- it gives her time to “warm up”- get her brain ready to think literature.
“Some students don’t read assigned material- they just go on Sparknotes for outside reading-[with SSR] at least you know they’re reading”.
For all of its benefits, SSR has put a drag on speed of curriculum.
Kruse says that her class is already behind Michael Andrews’s Honors World Literature and Composition in some areas, such as grammar.
Beyond the obvious and numerous benefits of reading that most people enjoy, reading has an added benefit for Kruse- it helps manage her high decibel hearing loss.
A symptom of high decibel hearing loss is tinnitus, or a constant buzzing in the ears.  Kruse has trouble hearing some pitches because of buzzing, but it becomes less irritating when she’s distracted.
If I’m in a totally quiet room, but I’m reading a book, I don’t notice it,” says Kruse.
In her twenties, Kruse had gone to an ear, nose and throat specialist wondering if a sinus infection was causing her mysterious headaches, and had a standard hearing exam done.
“And the doctor asked, ‘have you ever noticed this?’ and until then I hadn’t even really noticed.”
Kruse doesn’t seem upset about her hearing loss at all.
“I’m a person who looks forward instead of back”, says Kruse.
Kruse probably inherited the hearing problem from her father and grandfather, who both had hearing problems.
“I don’t know if listening to my walkman as a teenager helped,” jokes Kruse.