Life in Progress: A weblog by Heidi Price
5/31/2006

A good start to class

On Friday, as part of a career day at McGuffey Middle School, I spent the day talking to seventh- and eighth-grade students.

Every time I do this, I walk away with a renewed respect for teachers. I wanted inspire. I wanted to entertain. I didn't want to be funny because every time I try to be funny, I end up insulting people.

By the third class period, I was convinced I was repeating myself. Had I already told the story about going to Cleveland to report from behind the scenes of a Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus?

How do teachers do this for nine months on end?

The teacher who invited me, Chantelle Nicolella, is a natural. She has the respect of her students, at the same time, you can tell they really like her.

"Hey, Ms. Nicolella, I hit a home run yesterday," a red-haired girl with a splash of freckles across her cheeks said upon entering the classroom.

On Nicolella's desk is a pile of books, well-thumbed paperbacks including the titles "Running out of Time" by Margaret Peterson Haddix and "The City of Ember" by Jeanne DuPrau.

And every day, for the first few minutes of class, Nicolella reads to her students.

Her strategy is two-fold. First and foremost, it encourages her students to read. As an added benefit, by simply starting to read at the start of every class period, the students go completely quiet. On their own, they go quiet, she told me. No yelling. No threats. The students just enter the classroom quietly, take their seats and listen.

"The students actually come to class early because they are afraid they are going to miss a part of the story," middle school principal Beverly Arbore told me during one study hall that I spent reading in the library.

A good way to start class, I'd say.

Nicolella gave me a list of some of the titles that her students loved:

"Running Out of Time" by Margaret Peterson Haddix, who, according to Nicollela, is one of the best writers for young adults out there today.

"The City of Ember" by Jeanne DuPrau.

Her students also loved "Uglies" and "Pretties" by Scott Westerfeld.

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