Well, my family was so patient and supportive through all my years of study, I figured it was time to earn a real paycheck. As it happened, I was in the right place at the right time when I finished my doctoral program. I was hired to fill a position as a clinical faculty member in the College of Education at UMCP. In this position, I taught teacher interns how to teach and assess reading. These students went on to graduate with degrees and teaching certificates in elementary and secondary education. One semester I had my whole class read The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I planned activities around it and it went very well. I had several students tell me how much they enjoyed it and some of them told me it was the first book that they had ever read in its entirety.
At UMCP, I also taught graduate students. These students were already full-time teachers and were enrolled in the Master of Education degree program to earn a certificate as reading specialists. An important part of the graduate program for reading specialists is a summer reading clinic. This is a program for children who struggle with reading or writing. Children of all ages came to the clinic, which was taught by my graduate students. I supervised the children and the graduate students to be certain that the students’ needs were accurately assessed and addressed with appropriate instruction. This experience brought me into contact with so many wonderful individuals, many of whom were very negatively affected by their struggle to use reading and writing. I worked very hard to make the program interesting and fun to get the students more motivated to read and write. I made sure the teachers read aloud daily and that students had a chance to read silently and write freely every day as well. I stressed that the reading practice is as important as the reading instruction.
After 18 years at the University of Maryland, I accepted a position as Instructional Resource Coordinator at the College of Southern Maryland. In this position, I worked with freshman college students who were taking developmental reading courses. These reading courses are required because the students have not scored high enough on the college placement test. They must pass developmental reading before they can take college English classes. I taught a developmental level course myself and worked with all students in these courses. I tested students and conducted workshops on reading strategies for them. Many of these students didn’t like to read or write and they had never developed reading or writing habits. This led to few literacy experiences, limited practice, and literacy skills that were not as strong as they would have liked. I remember one of my first classes. I liked to start class at the beginning of the semester talking about reading, asking students what they had read recently, asking about their favorite books. This time, there was total silence in the room. Further questioning revealed that, not only were they not reading anything at the time, most agreed that they couldn’t remember the last book they read. Some said they had never read a book in its entirety. And several proudly proclaimed that they hated to read and had no plans to read. I continue to marvel at the fact that so many students truly believed that they could get a college degree without reading. This mindset would present significant problems when they were faced with the reading and writing demands of college. In my position at the community college, I also helped faculty to support their students in science, math, nursing, and other classes. These faculty consistently confirmed my own observations – that students were not prepared for the rigors of college and their attitudes were quite negative when it came to reading and writing.
In all my personal and professional experiences, I have been fortunate to work with many, many people who have struggled to learn to read or write well. I have found that these individuals are strong, talented people. I have also learned that people who have trouble learning to read and write or who aren’t very good at it, often have very negative feelings about reading, writing or school overall. Unfortunately, many of these people also feel embarrassed or ashamed and not very motivated to do any kind of reading or writing. I have seen these negative effects too often and I have become highly sensitive to the emotional and motivational concerns of struggling literacy learners. I am proud of my experiences and the skills I have developed because they have made me uniquely qualified to work with such individuals, and it is my privilege to do so. It is my hope that the support I provide through Literacy Matters will enable more people to experience the joys of reading and writing for a lifetime.