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Who's Reading What?

Ask your teacher: What do you read?

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2003

who's reading what?You probably won't be surprised that this month's focus on educators as readers is filled with bibliophiles (book lovers).

We do have a few surprises up our sleeves, though. Like a former math teacher who is crazy about reading. And a history-making Pinellas County School Board member.

Think about the teachers in your school. Ever wonder what goes on in their reading lives? Might be a good time to ask. The answer may surprise you.

Reading: The Key To Succeeding

"Books have an impact on everything you do in life. Without them, you can't get far," says newly elected Pinellas County School Board member Mary Brown. "Reading is an intricate part of everything."

Mrs. Brown
Mrs. Brown.

An avid reader, Mrs. Brown, 67, is the first African-American to be elected to serve on the Pinellas County School Board. "I wanted to be on the School Board because changes were needed," Mrs. Brown said. She is a quality improvement specialist for Coordinated Child Care of Pinellas County, a state-supported agency that provides subsidized child care to working families.

Mrs. Brown, who has been married for 46 years, is the mother of five adult children and the grandmother of nine. Like any proud grandmother, Mrs. Brown shares that a granddaughter she and her husband raised was a 2001 graduate of St. Petersburg High School's International Baccalaureate program and now attends the University of Miami.

As a child growing up in Cleveland, Mrs. Brown spent much of her time reading in the library -- drifting off to historic events from hundreds of years ago and getting lost in the lives of famous people. "Reading history books helps with your thoughts," Mrs. Brown says.

Reading Matters logo
During her campaign for the School Board, Mrs. Brown's reading time was frequently spent at her computer, searching for information to help her learn even more about what's going on in education in Pinellas County.

Of course, reading for Mrs. Brown is definitely not "all work and no play." She enjoys relaxing with popular magazines such as O, (the Oprah Winfrey magazine) and reading fiction that deals with everyday life. Mrs. Brown's list of favorite "recent reads" also includes a book by noted African-American poet and author Maya Angelou.

With a certification in early childhood education, Mrs. Brown has definite ideas about ways kids can become better readers. She believes in an interactive method where children become involved with their reading.

One way to do this, she says, is to have the child retell a story once they have read it (or had it read to them), to clarify their comprehension. According to Mrs. Brown, the most powerful stories are ones that "offer an opportunity to interact. For older kids, it can be a mystery novel, in which you can make up the ending. For babies, it can be textured books, which stimulate movement."

Mary Brown believes everyone should have goals, and states one of these on her Web page: "Our children are the future of the world, I believe we must provide them the best education we can give them. I believe this community can work together to accomplish this goal."


Understanding the past through reading

Jeffrey Elliott is the kind of social studies teacher who makes history come to life. His lectures are similar to storytelling, except that all of the stories actually happened.

Elliott, 25, inspires his students, as they say on television, to "read more about it." This comes in handy, because eighth-graders have a lot of reading to do in Elliott's class at St. Paul's School in Clearwater.

A teacher at St. Paul's for four years, Elliott has a history with the school that is much longer. He attended Saint Paul's from elementary through high school. One teacher who especially inspired him was Pete Fisher.

"I really enjoyed his personality and respected him greatly," Elliott says. "I learned a lot from him, not only in the classroom, but also just by talking with him about things after school. He encouraged me to read, and even tutored me in math for awhile."

Fisher's influence was so great that Elliott decided to attend Florida State University and major in social studies education. After graduation, Elliott returned to Saint Paul's, looking for a job.

Fisher, who had since become the Middle School director, welcomed Elliott back to teach in the same rooms where he had learned so much. The rest is, well, history.

Elliott starts each day by reading the newspaper. "In order to understand the importance of history, you constantly need to relate it to what is happening today. Reading the paper helps me to be more effective in the classroom, no matter what era we are studying."

Currently, Elliott is reading Ethics for the New Millennium: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which he says helps him in his teaching as well. "Much of what we discuss in history involves ethics and morality," he said. "I feel like it's part of the job of a social studies teacher to instill the importance of those qualities in my students, and explain how they have affected the outcome of history."

According to Elliott, being an avid reader is important in teaching social studies. He stresses how important reading is to understanding not only the past, but how it affects our future.

"Reading history can be very exciting, kind of like a soap opera, with twists and turns. At first it seems like it could be made up," he said. "To understand history, you must do a lot of reading. It's much more than just lectures and note-taking."


Reading and achieving

What do you do when you're stuck at home while recovering from knee surgery? If you're Debra Hall, an achievement specialist for Pinellas County Schools, you don't watch television; you read. During a recent telephone interview, Mrs. Hall says that reading has played a powerful role in her life.

Mrs. Hall
Mrs. Hall.
Mrs. Hall graduated from Florida State University with a major in elementary education and a minor in mathematics education. A classroom teacher for 21 years, Mrs. Hall now works with schools sharing strategies that will help all students be successful.

Not surprisingly, reading helps Mrs. Hall with her work. It helps her to find answers to questions, and she shares what she reads with others.

Mrs. Hall reads articles in professional journals, but also enjoys reading magazines just for fun. Like many readers, she likes to check the newspaper for her daily horoscope before heading out the door each morning.

Mysteries and other novels, especially those written by Danielle Steel, are her favorite books. "I read for pleasure," she says. "Reading helps me connect to the world around me."

Mrs. Hall discovered her love of reading while growing up in Michigan. "I remember reading Judy Blume books when I was a child," she remembers. "I also read The Babysitters Club (series), Little Women, Five Chinese Brothers and the Mother Goose rhymes when I was very little."

She also read Dennis the Menace cartoons in the paper. "My older sisters read all the time, I remember," said Mrs. Hall, who moved to Florida when she was 12. "My parents read the newspaper."

When Mrs. Hall was in middle school, her seventh-grade English teacher inspired her to read. "I had never read all of the beginning, middle and end of the books we had to do for our book reports. Just enough to write it. But my teacher handed me a book and said, 'I think you will like this book.' So I read the entire thing, cover to cover, and loved it," she says. "I took it to my teacher and said that I loved it and asked if she had anymore like it. From then on, I really liked to read."

Mrs. Hall makes this suggestion for readers: "Read every day. Put yourself into the story while reading it. And then retell the story to someone. It helps you understand the story better if you retell it to someone."


* * *

NEXT MONTH: blue collar workers as readers


  • Justin Leiser, 13, is in eighth grade at St. Paul's School in Clearwater.
  • Haley Germack, 14, is in eighth grade at Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg.
  • Mary Ellis Glymph, 12, is in sixth grade at Oak Grove Middle School in Clearwater.

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