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Teacher's task is to turn students on to reading

December 31, 2000

Teacher's task is to turn students on to reading



Editor's Note: The Herald-Mail is featuring one middle-school teacher each month through May. The eight-part series highlights excellent educators on the first Monday of each month. Coming in February: Northern Middle School.

By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


There's never a typical workday for Gerald Haines. That's because his role as a literacy resource teacher is multifaceted.

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If he's not teaching an eighth-grade language arts class at Hancock Middle-Senior High School, he's consulting with teachers of all subjects, devising strategies and helping students one-on-one to improve their reading skills. Then he goes to the Alternative Learning Center two days a week and does it all over again.

Haines, 51, says the most difficulty eighth-graders have with reading is responding to what they read. He's constantly meeting with teachers to try to make reading strategies more effective. Sometimes as students get older, they tend to read less than they did in elementary school, he said.

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"It's a struggle because there's a lot out there that's competing for kids' attention these days," he said. "Reading just seems to be something students can so easily be turned off on, but it's such an important thing."

One method that helps students respond to reading is to assign questions that require them to go back to the textbook and use excerpts in their answer.

That way, students are dissecting what they read and more likely to remember it.

During a recent language arts class, Haines filled in for another teacher and put the strategy to use.

Students were assigned to read the book, "The Witch of Blackbird Pond," by Elizabeth George Spears. Haines showed the class a picture and asked students what part of the story it illustrated.

One student raised his hand and answered right away.

Students were also asked to read several paragraphs from different sources that interpreted a historical account different ways. They were told to pick out the differences in interpretation and explain them.

An important element in getting students to become more interested in reading is to change their attitudes toward it and getting them to see its importance, Haines said.

"You try everything that you know how to do," he said. "We want students to be lifelong learners and to enjoy reading, so they find value in it. If they do that, they will be good readers. They'll be good writers."

To achieve that, he said sometimes the best strategy is for teachers to make a connection with students and show them that teachers truly want their students to succeed.

"When kids know that teachers care about them, they're much more receptive," Haines said.

He does this by working individually with them and by volunteering for student-driven events.

Robert Meyers, principal of Hancock-Middle Senior High School, said Haines has become a leader in the school with his commitment to student achievement. Students and teachers respond to Haines positively, he said.

"He literally not only delivers the information, but he participates in the process," Meyers said. "His ability to communicate with adults has put our program at the forefront of that literacy effort."

Meyers said Haines is often at school until 5 p.m., working extra hours to fine-tune reading strategies.

Haines is married with 13-and 10-year-old sons who attend school in the county. He's a Washington County native who graduated from Boonsboro High School. He received his bachelor's degree from Loyola College and got a master's degree in English from Shippensburg University.

He also has a master's degree in computer science. He taught English at Boonsboro for 12 years and has spent the last nine years at Hancock Middle-Senior High School. He became the literacy resource teacher there last year.

Outside the classroom, he likes to travel with his family in a 1970 travel trailer and work with computers. He's the webmaster for the Hancock Middle-Senior High School web page.

Haines said he doesn't mind the hectic schedules that his job brings, just as long as what he's doing continues to impact the lives of students.

"I'm able to interact with teachers as well as with students," he said. "I'm enjoying what I'm doing now."

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