Reading to Students

By Susan Black

On the first day of school, 12 boys sauntered into my first hour English class, slumped into their desks, and glowered. The 13th boy came late. He towered over me, an eighth-grader who was 16, with a crime sheet, time served in a detention center for assault, and one chance to make good or go back to a cell.

I was a rookie teacher, unprepared to teach the toughest boys in my middle school. The boys knew it. One boy with a jagged scar across his face told me that I was too young and too inexperienced to deal with “a bunch of losers.”

The lesson I’d planned was hopeless, so instead I told the boys about some of my favorite books. “You read?” one boy scoffed. Still, I noticed a flicker of interest. Maybe, just maybe, I could get them interested in a story.

On the second day, the boys filed in, some resentful, some resigned. I lowered the lights, and without a word, sat in a wooden rocking chair and opened a book. Softly, I read aloud: “He rode into our valley ... I was a kid then ...”

In no time, the boys were riveted, catching the cadence of Jack Schaefer’s Western novel Shane. I read on, the clock ticking, the hour passing. At the bell, the boys filed out, less sullen. The tall boy turned and nodded at me on his way out.

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