To find out what makes Charles Richard Micklos one of Anne Arundel County's most outstanding teachers, all one has to do is look at his classroom. Packed into the space at West Meade Elementary School where Micklos commands 22 sixth-graders is a collection of 5,000 books, purchased with Micklos's own money at library sales.

The volumes are an integral part of Micklos's teaching style. He begins and ends each school day by reading aloud to his pupils (last week's selection was a story about a boy in Leningrad during World War II). For the asking, interested children are allowed to take books home with them, and at the end of the school year, Micklos gives each child a book as a "graduation" gift.

"I try to get them to see that there are children in other parts of the country and the world that live differently than they do," Micklos said. "I think it's important for them to realize that although children have certain things in common, in order to understand different people, you have to understand they have different sets of experiences."

Although he specializes in teaching science, Micklos, 43, said he emphasizes the written word because he feels that is the key to both long-term learning and success. An avid reader, he frequently quotes famous scholars, authors and even Bob Dylan to get a point across. And the children seem to be getting the message.

"He has spurred an interest in reading in children {with} whom no one ever thought it was possible," said Barbara J. Mason, principal at West Meade. "He has that determination that all his students will read. To quote the students, he makes learning fun."

Micklos's efforts were recognized this month when he was chosen as one of 15 teachers from the Washington area to win The Washington Post's Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award.

Micklos has spent 18 of his 19 years in teaching at West Meade, situated on the Fort Meade Army post. He joined the profession, almost by accident, after graduating with a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Maryland.

He had planned to go on to get a master's degree in history and was substitute teaching in high school when a friend asked him to fill in for a third-grade teacher. He found himself "captivated" by his young charges and opted to get teaching credentials instead. He has worked with sixth-graders ever since.

"I probably have the mind of a 12-year-old trapped in an adult body, so I don't have that hard a time tying things in with movie characters and other things that interest kids," Micklos said.

Despite his long tenure, Micklos said he does not have a "magic recipe" for avoiding burnout in the classroom. After almost two decades of teaching, he said he is still subject to self-doubt about his effectiveness and works often in the evenings on lesson plans and activities to keep his material relevant.

"I feel that if I think I'm good all the time, I should probably get out of teaching because then I'm probably not good at all," he said.

The rewards have kept his enthusiasm strong too, such as the pupil who came in after school for extra science lessons and promised one day to name an element or cancer cure after Micklos, or the medical student who recently stopped by after 12 years to tell Micklos that he had been an important influence for her.

His main regret is that by teaching on a military base, where the pupils frequently move, he will not be able to fulfill a dream "to teach children of my students."

His advice to new teachers, who may be discouraged by the demands of the profession and the dim view the public sometimes takes of it, comes from St. Francis of Assisi: "He said, 'Don't change the world, change worlds,' and I think if you really want to have an effect on society, to influence children to become doctors or to love books or to love investigating nature, the way to do it is to become a teacher."