Reading Aloud: Or How I Found My Voice I Thought to Have Been Lost by Paul. W. Hankins

I’m not well-known. Not famous for much.

However, my bite wings, impressions, and molds placed in articulators have featured in at least two major universities in my lifetime. Professors gather around the display and wonder how a person with this kind of artifact may have survived to his middle-forties.

They may also wonder why he was not surgically-corrected early on. . .or ever.

Just about every reader of the Nerdy Book Club blog probably has some type of malocclusion. For some, braces have been the answer and part of a satisfying solution. Some may still wear retainers in order to keep a balance struck by orthodontic treatments.

I have a Class III malocclusion. Nothing matches up. There is no bite pattern.

Long story short. . .I’ll never feature in an Invisalign ad.

So, while I have continued to navigate the difficulties of not having a forward bite or a confident smile, I have never been too concerned about my condition until last fall when a new solution presented itself. . .and brought along its own problems at the same time.

Realizing that I would not go through a five year procedure that would include orthodontia, surgery, and more orthodontia, my dentist was relieved that I had finally come to terms with what we might be able to do together: an overlay that would at least bring some bite together if for no other reason than to bring some ability and stability to eating and digesting.

For three months, we took impressions together making regular visits for what are called “try-ins.” This is where the model of the device is continually placed to see that everything is lining up. Essentially, I have an overlay that lies over both of my bottom “wings” with a metal bar that sits behind my front teeth for stability and strength.

At first, these models were made of wax and metal. They were bulky. The bar was no where close to my front teeth which made articulation almost impossible while the device was in place. I left each “try-in” discouraged and deflated, leaving with selfies taken of this large, foreign object pretending to be natural in my mouth. My dentist assured me that the device in the end would be right up against those front teeth and I would be able to push my tongue in the necessary place for the pronunciation of the words I would need. My wife assured me that the selfies I was taking were exaggerations of the way I smile normally and that I was creating a cartoonish impression in order to affirm some silent fear that I would not “look right.”

Speaking. . .public speaking. . .is a huge part of my day-to-day work. I am up-front and center for eight hours a day. Someone had to be right in regard to this device that would be placed soon.

Ultimately, we were able to time the placement of the finished device, now in acrylic and titanium, three days prior to our return to school after winter break. With a teacher work day in place before students would return to the room, I would have four days in order to get acclimated to the placement of the device and how I might work around it for eating and talking.

My first stop after the dentist’s office and the placement of the device? My wife’s office. I had to go and say something to someone who would receive me with unconditional love. Someone who knew my struggle and also knew of my excitement for an option we had not thought possible with the technology available in the past. And her loving response:

“You sound good. You sound like you have something in your mouth. It sounds a little slobbery. Just a little.”

And I knew she was right.

So many of us have worked with students with all manner of speech impediments and difficulties. Whether they come with a light lisp or a stutter or they come at the beginning of a treatment cycle, we listen for the content of their ideas before we would ever remark upon the condition of the speech itself. And I should have been comfortable with the idea that kids are most forgiving. This kind of treatment would be reciprocated. . .surely.

“No. . .they won’t.”

My brain told me they would not. I teach in a high school. Kids are taking inventory all day long.


Their own.

Adults as “others.” Not “their own.”

And, so, I went home with my “slobbery” voice. I began my “rehabilitative work” by singing along with the radio on they way home. I could hear the difficulty of the articulation amplified in my own ears and wondered what this might sound like out in the air by those would have to hear me in the classroom.

How could I possibly get enough practice time speaking. . .out loud. . .in order to be ready for Tuesday morning? How could I use the Monday work session in order to talk to colleagues about the new device while interacting with them? What could this thing. . .or I. . .sound like if presenting professionally to strangers? What is the answer now? Non-compliance? No. The device felt comfortable. I could do what so many take for granted: rest my teeth together naturally. Non-compliance? No. The cost of the device has its own inherent value in regard to whether or not it is worn.

The answer? Picture books. And Poetry. Lots and lots of picture books. Lots and lots of poems. In my study, there are a number of picture books ranging from those I loved as a child to those I am looking at now for the purpose of remixing as art projects. And even more poetry collections that are packaged and look very similar to picture books. I began to read them. Aloud. Navigating the complexities of alliteration and hitting the familiar cadences and rhythms of rhyming texts. Sally sold a lot of seashells in the span of an hour. And my Sally came from Cincinnati by way of Sausalito. While revisiting the themes of these short stories and poems, I began to look forward to the picture breaks afforded by picture books. I revisited and remembered familiar themes only to eventually begin to see “the me” of and within reading reading in a “remodeled” kind of way.

Their words written. My voice reciting. This is what reading aloud has come to mean to me in the past few months. And because of this I will not shy away from a practice that has so much good in it by the way of prosody. Of modeling.

In the education business, we talk about approximation–of modeling how we work through difficulties in problem solving–sometimes to the point of scripted errors designed to demonstrate a think-through modality. I was doing this for real. I would be doing this for real. . .in the room. . .in three days.

And so. . .Morrie sounded like he had a little more difficulties with his “S” sounds this spring. Lennie had a little extra added to his limited vocabulary. Don’t tell my dentist, but I have had to be non-compliant for a few days while reading The Crucible’s John Proctor and Judge Danforth.

Reading-Aloud has helped me to find my voice. It has helped me to keep my read-aloud voice. This practice has been of inestimable value to me in the past few months. Now. . .what of our readers?

Many are in the “try-in” phase of reading at the end of a school year. And they are most willing. Even when the book feels bulky in the hands and busy in their heads. But they will “try-in” new titles with your gentle encouragement. Your affirmation.

But our youngest readers also need to hear the prosody, the inflections, the rhythms, the purposeful pauses. The moments of speeding up. The moments of slowing down. The playful pop of a rhyme at the end of a line. A list poem read Silverstein style as the lead reader takes a breath to finish the list. They need the breaks that come of a illustration spread, where text and image and come together and rest. But they may not know how to ask for this with their limited voice in the building and in the room.

And our older readers need these things too. We never outgrow our need to hear our language read well in the womb. Read well in the lap. Read well in the room. Read well from the lectern. Read well from the stage.

Our language read well. Helping them to hear their voice. To recognize their voice. To share our voice. But they may not know how to ask for this with their limited voice in the building and in the room.

So, I am asking you with mine. It has a little bit of a slip in the “s” and “soft c” places. I am asking you to read with your students. Read aloud to your students. To our students. To our kids.

Reading aloud saved my voice. It saved my practice which is built and sustained upon reading aloud. If Mem Fox says that “story is data with a soul,” let me be your data.


Paul W. Hankins teaches English 11 and AP English Language and Composition at Silver Creek High School. An advocate of readers and independent reading alike, he maintains an classroom library as well as a social media presence in an effort to get books to readers who need them. He reads, shelves, and shares many kinds of books. You can find Paul at Facebook: PaulWHankins. Twitter: @PaulWHankins and Instagram: paul_w_hankins. Follow #Room407 and #THIS407 for ideas in connecting readers with books and books with would-be/will be readers.