Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Future is Bright: A Day in the Life of a Literacy Specialist

This week, I am going to reflect on my spring semester as a teacher of incredible grad students who assure me the future is bright for children, learning, and education.  In theory, I am supposed to be their teacher; however, as we all know, I am learning right alongside of thiem and from them as REAL teachers learn as more from their students than they could ever imagine. 

This first post is a copy of a reflection one of my students wrote this about her morning with a literacy specialist!  I'm dedicating it to all of the teachers out there - superheros all! 

What's Your Superpower? A Reflection on the Day in the Life of a Literacy Specialist

There are a lot of requirements when you're enrolled in a Literacy program in graduate school. Papers, case studies, readings. As a student and current teacher, I apply my new-found knowledge as best I can in my classroom and to course assignments. The problem with this, however, is that it isn't preparing me for what my degree will be inevitably give me the option to become: a literacy specialist. So, when one of this semester's requirements was to spend the day shadowing a literacy leader, I knew I had to get the most out of the experience.
I wasn't prepared for what I saw. Sure, literacy specialists are responsible for working with students. Of course they offer support to teachers. Naturally, they work with administrators. I knew this (I read about it, heard about it, prepared theoretical projects around it). But to do all of this IN THE SAME DAY... EVERY DAY!? Again, I wasn't prepared.

Our morning began with administrative work. The leader (this was her job at this moment) was reviewing a survey she had created for the school's staff to complete. It had already been through the hands of a "higher-up" who offered some suggestions. Where I would have probably slaved over the alterations, this leader had changed, spell-checked, and sent it off within five minutes. She then glanced over the daily bulletin and off we went- time to get the kids!

We flew down the hallway and picked up our first group. Without wasting any time the group was reviewing vowels and digraphs. She seamlessly transitioned to reading, where each student whisper read while she went around and did a running record on select students. STOP! Time for word work, where students tapped and blended root words and added suffixes. Back to the books! The students went on a hunt for suffixes in their texts. GREAT! Onto the dictation, where neatness earns stickers and all of that tapping and blending is put to use! Finished early? No problem, here's a book (made by the teacher, no less) to find even more suffixes! Everyone is done? Time to write sentences! And then...time is up. My class spends 80 minutes doing this...she did it in under 20. Did you get that feeling?
I saw four more groups before 11AM. Each one was fast-paced. Each one offered new activities for the needs of the students. This super teacher knew just how to engage each student, whose attentions may or may not have been on the task at hand. For instance, a group of two students decoded six words and then played a clues game ("Which can you wear?" [cap] "Which you can wipe your feet on?" [mat]). Later, a group of three students played, "What says...?" with vowels, consonants and digraphs. Who knew that flashcards with sentence starters and stick figures on them were so motivating to get students to write a sentence with a suffix? And a reward for hard work? Show-off reading! In one minute you can make a student the star that will inevitably have him shining all day.
There was a break in "reading club" (another secret weapon used by this hero) at 11:00, but that didn't mean she got a break. Time to put on your coaching cap and have a last-minute conference with one student's teacher. Talk about knowing your students! She brought whatever formative assessments she had to the conference, but she didn't need to look at them. She knew right away what the plan for this struggling reader was going to be, and was willing to fight for him and the teacher to get the plan approved. We moved from the table to the computer, where the coach sat right next to the teacher and provided her with support. I didn't know that teacher, but those 30 minutes had an obvious impact on her comfort and stress level.

11:30: Time for another group! It was at this point that my observation ended, but my reflection really began. (I found out later that the afternoon was filled with surprise observations by "higher-ups" and their "higher-ups"...does it ever end!?)

After my visit, the only term that seemed appropriate for this woman's occupation was superhero. She could fly down the hallways (without a cape). She was a mind reader when pinpointing a student's struggles. She obviously has super-strength to carry these struggling readers through from level to level as they progress. Super-speed is another power, whether in completing administrative tasks, moving through a lesson, or conferencing with teachers. She doesn't wear a red suit or a mask, but it appears that everyone knows who to turn to when they need a little (or a lot of) extra help with their literacy learners. I challenge you to think of a better term for this woman and all she does, because "specialist" "coach" and "leader" do not seem like strong enough descriptors, do they?
Now I sit here, a relatively new in-service teacher, who is eager to receive her Master's degree in Literacy and begin to change the lives of struggling readers and writers. I cannot help but wonder if I will ever be able to do what this one teacher does, day in and day out, making it seem easy and having the success rate to prove it. And while I'm sure it is difficult to juggle all of these roles, one thing was powerfully clear: this teacher, mentor, colleague, organizer, leader, hero LOVES and is PASSIONATE ABOUT what she does. And I suppose, in the end, as long as you have those two things, you really can save the world. In teaching, at least.

No comments: