Middle school came too soon. I’d barely adjusted to being a fifth-grader when I was expected to maneuver the crowded hallways of my towns secondary school and arrive at each of my seven classes on time. Each teacher thought their own instruction more critical than the last. The onslaught of homework seemed never-ending.
Mrs. White was my reading and writing teacher during my sixth and seventh-grade years. Tall with a strong build, her perfect loose curls clung to the ends of her shoulder-length white hair.
“Her eyes trailed down her nose, past her hovering eyeglasses, at the words printed on the yellowing page.”
She set aside two days of class time to read aloud. Choosing a worn book from her bookshelf, she’d sit on the edge of her desk, one foot propped on a plastic classroom chair. Her eyes trailed down her nose, past her hovering eyeglasses, at the words printed on the yellowing page. Though a bookmark kept her place from the last reading, Mrs. White scanned the sentences, reading one paragraph from where we’d stopped.
Mrs. White encouraged her students to savor the promises of a book, all the while building anticipation for the payoff. Her ability to connect with the emotions and twists set me on the path of writing fun and imaginative fiction for middle-graders.
Mostly staying with the classics such as “Sarah, Plain and Tall” and “Where the Red Fern Grows”, she read with the enthusiasm and patience necessary for excellent narration. Rarely did she stop to ask us how we felt about the passage and the impact it could have on our lives. I like to think she understood such revelations needed discovering in our own time.
I’d often read books outside of class, but the story fell flat in my imagination. A handful of partially read books later, I realized I was a wanderer, a reader whose mind needed a chance to get lost in the narrative for a bit before returning.
Dreaming up fresh ideas for stories in my adult life, I envision Mrs. White sitting on her desk, flicking her white curls with each turn of the page. Would my prose be up to her standards? Or might she notice my poor word choice and make me write definitions ten times each?
I’m certain she’d wield her red pen with kindness and dot the pages with encouraging words because that’s what outstanding teachers do. They see the potential in their students and try to lead them to their best selves.
Today, there are endless collections of audiobooks on the internet which is great for the wanderer. The careful choice of tone and accent not only dictates the way listeners perceive a story but its ability to transport them to far-off lands and times passed. Despite the richness of the narrative art, I’ve found nothing comparable to the care and immediacy of a middle-school reading teacher.
To Mrs. White and other reading teachers across the globe, thank you for taking the time to invest in your students and encourage their imaginations.