The Power of Teachers and the Joy and Importance of Reading Aloud – Jacqueline Harvey

Hi Westworders,

Today we’re going to talk about teachers (and reading aloud – but we’ll get to that in a little bit). First up, teachers. We all have them – even if you’re homeschooled you have a parent or caregiver guiding your learning. Teachers can have a profound influence on your life (good and bad). When I was very young, some of mine were pretty scary. Let’s face it – I’m old enough to remember the bad old days when corporal punishment was permitted in school (that meant teachers could hit kids – usually with the cane but there were other things like the ruler and even the sandshoe!). I had one teacher in particular who scared the socks off me – not literally as then I would have been in trouble for not wearing socks – but you get what I mean. He loomed over us, tall and angular with his pointy elbows and caterpillar eyebrows that shaded his beady eyes. He was a big fan of the cane and used it with great regularity. Learning wasn’t really fun when I was in his class. It was scary and we lived in fear of doing something that might upset him. So when my parents told me we were moving house and I would have to change schools, I was ecstatic – and rightfully so.

From the moment I laid eyes on Mrs Hogan (or Miss Ryder as she was then), I knew my luck had changed. I went from being the scared little girl who wasn’t particularly in love with school to the girl who never wanted to leave. Mrs Hogan was funny and kind and clever and she didn’t even own a cane. Her creativity and the joy she brought to our lessons made a huge impact on my young self and I learned from her that school should be fun – that kids should feel happy and comfortable and that you’re going to learn a lot more if that’s the case.

One of the things I loved the most was that she used to read to us every day. I still remember sitting in our classroom on some stifling summer days listening to Colin Thiele’s February Dragon. The book is about a bushfire and all of us who live in Australia are aware of the rampaging power and turmoil that is unleashed when the fiery dragon is of its chain. That experience was life-changing for me as I came to understand the power of shared stories.

When I became a teacher myself one of my favourite things was to read to my classes every day. It also helped me become a writer, as when you read something aloud you know what works. For me, Roald Dahl is the absolute master of the read-aloud. I have read books like Matilda and The Witches, Esio Trot and The Twits aloud to classes more times than I can remember.

When I write my stories, I hope that they will be read aloud too, so it’s important that they have the right meter and sentence structure, and that the character voices are just right. To that end, whenever I write anything I read it aloud. It might just be a paragraph or two – it could be a whole chapter or even the entire book – but I do it as it makes me slow down and really ‘hear’ the story. I absolutely recommend that you do that when you’re writing. It will help so much in the editing process and give you a feel for whether things are working or not.

Last year I had the pleasure of catching up with Mrs Hogan who had not long retired from her final role as a Principal in Sydney. We talked for hours – we have lots in common and I hope that one day we’ll embark on a project together. Sally is a brilliant musician and composer and we chatted about turning one of my books into a musical. I am so pleased that she knows how important she has been in my life. I became a teacher because of her – and I know that my creativity was fostered in her classes (I had her for Year 4 and 5). If you have a teacher who has really made a difference in your life, please tell them. I know it will mean so much.


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