The air was thick with the scent of rubber erasers, recently dittoed paper, and pencil shavings. Although each paint-chipped window across the wall was raised halfway, the room was warm. The morning heat had already filtered in so heavily that droplets of perspiration formed on the upper lips of at least three of the children at my table. No one moved. It was time.
An idle fly slowly worked its way around the room. It found the red curls of an unsuspecting pupil until, amid giggles and pointing, it was shooed away. One severe flash of dark brown eyes and the giggles were cut short. I can’t remember what was more stifling, the stagnant air … or the silence. No one moved. It was time.
With a slight nod (the 10 a.m. signal), the sound of scraping wooden chairs filled the room as we assembled in a semicircle around the large wooden chair. Hands folded on laps, we waited. We knew that the slightest infraction would result in a delay, or, worse yet, a cancellation. So we knew what to do. We waited.
As far as I was concerned, from 10 o'clock to 10:30 every morning, the world's energies were funneled into the voice and inflection of my 3rd grade teacher.
Our efforts were rewarded as Mrs. Mann, my 3rd grade teacher, opened Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and began to read aloud.
Despite her stern demeanor, Mrs. Mann read to us in a way that opened doors, exposing a new gift. Although I was not capable of understanding it at the time, she skillfully modeled fluency, pace, and expression for future independent readers.
In the 1970s, many educators believed that as soon as children were capable of reading autonomously, they should be left to their own devices. But Mrs. Mann must have seen a value in reading aloud to her students. And so did we. As far as I was concerned, from 10 o’clock to 10:30 every morning, the world’s energies were funneled into the voice and inflection of one 3rd grade teacher.
Discovering that stories could come to life from words on a page astounded me. It was as if I were Alice in Through the Looking Glass, falling into another dimension, and I wanted to own a piece of that magic.
Slowly realizing success as a reader in my own right, I read what I felt connected to, and reread what I liked. Reading gave me the opportunity to look at life through someone else’s eyes, and this exposure helped me understand my own world.
As we try to infuse reading instruction with attempts to instill a love of literature, we will find that it is the quiet, reflective moments that matter. It does not make a difference whether a child is sitting on a grandparent’s lap listening to a picture-book story or being enthralled by a teacher who takes the time to sit in a large wooden chair surrounded by wide-eyed students to read aloud. The love of reading literature often begins with the love of listening to it being read. And with teachers like Mrs. Mann.
A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as The Teacher Reads Aloud