"Parenting is the most important profession in the world, but parents have no credentials and take no classes. You don't even have to want to do it or know how it happened to become a parent," says Pat Koppman, a reading specialist from San Diego who serves on the nine-member board of the International Reading Association. bilities is reading aloud "every day -- even after your kids can read to themselves." Daily reading helps develop that most successful of creatures in Koppman's eyes -- the "avid reader."

It's a creature whose time has come, she says. "It's true that there's more published material than ever before, but just a small segment of the population is doing most of the reading," she says.

"I just read a study of teenagers' main activities -- reading wasn't anywhere on that list!" laments Koppman, the daughter of a Kentucky preacher and the mother of two college-age children.

Koppman gives about 300 lectures each year to parents and fellow teachers on the art of developing readers -- including a sold-out lecture this weekend at the Greater Washington Reading Council's spring conference in the Springfield Hilton. While she prefers leaving the job of teaching to the teachers, Koppman says society has "turned parenting over to the schools," and she, for one, would like to turn it back.

One way is for parents to support and motivate their children. "You've heard the expression: You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. I believe we teachers are leading kids to water and then drowning them," she says.

Children are motivated when given a chance to succeed, so Koppman says that teachers should give out small, manageable tasks that children can master easily and give them opportunities to show off their new-found skills. If homework is designed instead to teach new skills, she says, "Pretty soon, the parents and kid are screaming at each other, and the next thing you know, they're blaming the teacher for not teaching well."

Lack of teacher respect, Koppman says, often leads to disruptive behavior in the classroom: "We are losing our professionalism." Parents can alleviate some of this disrespect by speaking positively about the educational system at home, says Koppman, but teachers need to command the respect themselves:

"When I get on the plane for home, I'm going to ask the pilot, 'Can you get me home?' And if he says, 'Well, gee, we'll sure try to,' I'm staying." Teachers need to exude the same sort of confidence as the pilot who tells her, "You've got yourself the best team, lady. Go on back and sit down."

But even the best teacher can't overcome a lack of parental concern and involvement. "It's more common than you think. In many homes, the parents don't even talk to the kids," she says.

Time for sharing with children is at a premium today with working and single parents -- a fact Koppman says shouldn't become an excuse. "If you've got time to go to the hairdresser or clean up the house before your mother-in-law arrives, you've got time to spend 10 minutes each day talking with your kid. Take him into the kitchen with you while you make dinner," she advises. "I think the 'poor working parent' is a cop-out. In the working world, family is the first responsibility to be cut."

Parents can do a number of reading- related tasks with their children in addition to the bedtime story, says Koppman, who has developed newsletters and activity sheets full of such ideas for Ginn textbooks. Keeping track of a plant's weekly growth, planning vacations together or looking for the attention-grabbing adjectives of TV and newspaper ads are a few specific activities.

But Koppman says that nearly anything you do with your child will help build the confidence and motivation he or she needs to learn. Here are some of her suggestions:

* Let each child know you care about learning. Plan family outings to museums, zoos, art shows.

* Read to, talk to and listen to each child.

* Limit the time children watch TV; encourage the viewing of educational programs; talk to them about what they see.

* Support the school's educational program; treat schooling as important.

* Teach responsibility and respect for school and for teachers.

* Create a home atmosphere that encourages learning. Make magazines, newspapers, books and educational games available.

* Look for your child's strengths; don't dwell on weaknesses. THE READING TEAM

Although Pat Koppman's lecture this weekend is filled, she's expected to return in the fall. Meanwhile, addressing the same topic of what parents can do to encourage a child's reading, Greater Washington Reading Council is offering a parent workshop April 21, 7:30 to 9, at Good Shepherd Preschool, 9350 Braddock Rd., Burke. Call 922- 7354. READ IT ALOUD

Pat Koppman, a reading specialist, says that families should read aloud every day, so Caroline Parr, children's librarian at Arlington Country's Central Library, drew up a list of books that are fun to read aloud: PRESCHOOLERS

"Good Night, Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown. A simple bedtime story, good for the youngest child. "Millions of Cats" by Wanda Gag. A rhythmic tale that's just bloody enough to please a tot. "A Story, A Story" by Gail E. Haley. An African tale about Anansi, the clever, tricky spider man.

Parr also recommends the classics -- for example, "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" -- but says such fairy tales as Hansel and Gretel should be saved until the child is four or five because "they're too scarey." A good sourcebook for parents of this age group: "Babies Need Books" by Dorothy Butler (Atheneum, 1967). EARLY READERS (FIRST & SECOND GRADE)

A chapter each day of such series as "Mary Poppins," "Winnie the Pooh" orr"Paddington Bear" work well at this age "because the characters remain the same, but each chapter is a different story, so they don't have to remember the story line." Other favorites: "The Enormous Egg" by Oliver Butterworth. Tale of a boy whose chicken hatches a stegasaurus. "My Father's Dragon" by Ruth S. Gannett. A boy frees a baby dragon from captivity on Wild Island in this silly, adventurous book. Sequels: "Elmer and the Dragon" and "The Dragons of Blueland." "Henry Huggins" by Beverly Cleary. The story of a mischievous young boy and his various scrapes, with nine sequels, including "Ramona the Post." THIRD & FOURTH-GRADERS

"The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" by Joan Aiken. The language is rich and inventive in this tale of wicked governesses, slavering wolves and children alone. "Footsteps" by Leon Garfield. Set in the 18th century, this Dickensian tale tells of a boy's attempt to avenge his father's mistreatment by a business associate. "Bunnicula" by Deborah and James Howe. The funny tale of Harold the dog, Chester the cat and their attempts to save the family from a vampire bunny. "Five Children and It" by E. Nesbit. Five children find a sand creature who grants wishes that last until sunset. FIFTH, SIXTH & BEYOND

Books need "introducing" at this point -- "You may read the first chapter and get them hooked, and then they take over," says Parr. Some families have a read-aloud night, for such books as: "The Dark Is Rising" by Susan Cooper. An amazing fantasy for graduates of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series. "Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe" by Bette Greene. Set in a small town in rural Arkansas, this story tells of an 11-year-old black girl and her competition and affection for a classmate. Good, realistic fiction. "Zeely" by Virginia Hamilton. Parr calls Hamilton the best stylist writing today for children. This is her easiest book, but it may still take some introducing. "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" by Robert C. O'Brien. Better than the movie. "Traitor" by Jean Fritz. The story of Benedict Arnold told by one of t: * Lehe best biographers for children. Check her work on Paul Revere and Ben Franklin, too..