Based on a three-year project conducted in Australian secondary schools, this paper captures a developing disenchantment with reading in and for subject English. As part of an extended professional learning experience for teachers, students and their English teachers were interviewed and students were asked to draw reading. Paying attention to the sensitivities both students and teachers express about classroom reading experiences and to the impact institutional culture has on what they do and feel, this paper identifies a developing culture of disenchantment that is veiled by recurring busy and technically oriented activity. We suggest that in a pervading culture of valuing what we measure, students regard reading at school as ‘work’, find it difficult to keep their minds on task and experience a loss of independence in thinking. Teachers, loath to take risks in a culture of compliance, also describe their disenchantment with current practices.