Sykesville Middle School's Greta Gilmore said most of the pupils she works with come to her classroom as "reluctant readers."
As a reading and language arts specialist, she gives them the extra help they need to develop good reading skills -- and find enjoyment in reading.
"It's really gratifying when you have a student who decides reading is not so bad after all," Gilmore said.
Gilmore, 52, of Eldersburg, has been teaching for 24 years.
She was recently recognized as an outstanding teacher by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. She was one of eight educators to receive the award this year.
The four high school, two middle school and two elementary school teachers were chosen from among nearly 200 student-nominated teachers countywide.
Gilmore said she tries to help her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders find a book or particular series that they like reading.
"What you really need to do is find something that interests them," Gilmore said. "You need to find a hook for them."
The process took nearly all year for one of Gilmore's sixth-graders, but she said the pupil recently found a nonfiction book in a series about natural disasters that he seemed to enjoy reading.
"His eyes just lit up and he said 'I always liked fires,' and I thought, 'OK, we finally found something,'" Gilmore said.
As a lifelong reader, Gilmore said her love for books is what she tries to share with her students.
"Reading skills are one thing, but reading appreciation is something else," Gilmore said.
She said she wants her students not only to understand what they've read, but also appreciate it and have an opinion about it.
In class, they are encouraged to speak out and discuss their books, which they sometimes really enjoy, Gilmore said.
The eighth-graders are reading a book that each pupil chose and a book that Gilmore selected for them to read and discuss together.
Gilmore said this year she started using a computerized "scholastic reading inventory," which makes it easier for pupils to select books that they want to read.
The program gauges pupils' reading levels and matches them with an appropriate list of books based on their interests.
Having a list of about 50 books to pick from prevents pupils from being overwhelmed by the approximately 15,000 books in the middle school's library, Gilmore said.
"When kids connect to the characters in a book ... you know you have reached them," she said. "You've done your job and they're probably going to pick up another book."
Since every school subject involves reading, it's essential for students to be good readers, Gilmore said. Pupils have to be able to understand and comprehend the words in their textbooks.
She said she tries to make pupils feel comfortable coming to her because sometimes they are reluctant, since it is an intervention classroom.
"At the beginning of the year, I have to really work hard to make them see that what we are doing is a good thing," Gilmore said.
She tries to make reading positive and uses different measures to track the pupils' success.
"They have to understand that I'm not just teaching them reading skills," Gilmore said. "I want to teach them how to be a better reader, but also better students and a better person."
Thomas Eckenrode, Sykesville's principal, described Gilmore as a warm, caring teacher.
"She certainly goes out of her way to make reading and learning interesting for the kids," Eckenrode said. "Many times kids come back after they've moved on to high school and talk about how she made a difference in their lives."
Parents also appreciate the work that Gilmore does, Eckenrode said.
"She has a very inviting classroom and it's always a pleasure to go down and sit and watch her with the students," he said.
Gilmore graduated from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in education.
She taught at Freedom and Linton Springs Elementary schools before becoming a reading specialist at Sykesville Middle. She also worked with adults at Carroll Community College.
Gilmore said she got into teaching because of her father, who was an industrial arts teacher.
"As a little girl, I used to go to school with him ... and I could just see what an impact he had with his classes," Gilmore said. "I could see they really liked my dad and they listened to him. My dad really enjoyed what he did and I could see the satisfaction that he got from it."
She said her father's retirement banquet, held while she was in college, affected her because so many of his students returned to honor him.
"As a teacher, you get to do something that you like to do and you have such a huge impact on so many lives over the years," Gilmore said. "How could you pick anything better?"