Open Letter to Our Teachers
Updated: Mar 24, 2019
March 13, 2019
To Our Teachers,
Many of you may have heard about Everyone Reads T/E and our work advocating for all readers and their families in our district. We thought it was time for you to hear from us, and perhaps address some misconceptions.
We have a lot in common – in fact, one of us is a former teacher. Especially given that experience, we deeply respect you as educators. Teaching kids is hard work and dealing with parents is challenging. T/E has the good fortune to have the most talented educators in the region in our schools. It was T/E teachers who saved our own kids from needless frustration and pain, and we are incredibly grateful for that.
What you may not realize is that a national conversation has recently built around how kids learn to read – with a growing understanding that the research around the “science of reading” has been missing from many teacher prep programs:
• Education Week wrote about the outcry from teachers about their pre-service training after a major documentary featured the issue – and also the reading growth in a Pennsylvania district that invested in professional learning for its team.
• Teachers have been vocal on social media about their concerns.
• District leaders have spoken out about the "national reading crisis," saying they only learned key reading research as district leaders, and called for a national movement to complete “unfinished learning” about reading in a “No Shame Zone.”
Many districts across the country are having ‘aha moments’ about these issues, and rushing to provide information about and training in science of reading approaches for their teams. We have been asking the administration to provide such professional learning for T/E teachers; we believe you deserve the very best training on the latest reading research. To date, the administration has been resistant to investing in this PD.
We hope you will support our efforts to get the administration to invest in the kinds of training that other districts are providing. Many of you are allies on this journey with us, and we share a mission: to ensure that all students in T/E learn to read to the best of their potential.
Below, you’ll find more detail about us and our requests of T/E administration. We welcome any questions you have and hope to see you at the March 14th School Board meeting.
We are not “crazy” moms, but well-intentioned parents with formal, academic training in teaching and English language studies.
Kate Mayer received her teaching certificate from San Francisco State University, where she was trained—like many of you—in the methods of Gay Su Pinnell, Irene Fountas, Lucy Calkins, and other balanced literacy proponents. Throughout her time teaching, Kate questioned why she could not reach her lowest performing readers even though she believed she was creating ideal literacy environments that exposed her students to all the things “good readers” need.
Jamie Lynch studied literature at Chestnut Hill College under Dr. Joanna Shaw Myers. While Kate was teaching, Jamie applied the skills she acquired during her literary studies to the world of finance. She saw, first hand, the importance of rhetorical fluency and critical thinking/reading skills in a field far outside the humanities.
When we became mothers, we were committed to raising strong readers. Both of us did what our training told us to do: we filled our homes with books, we made frequent trips to the library, we sang rhyming songs, we talked to our children constantly, we read BOB books, studied sight words, on and on. And, yet, for some of our children, it didn’t work.
The intricacies of our children’s emotional experiences of dyslexia and dysgraphia in school
must remain private. However, we can say with confidence that, upon entering school and
struggling to read despite their hard work, our children experienced a declining sense of
emotional well-being. And so did we as we watched our children fail to thrive in their early
elementary years. For both of us, it was the intervention of a classroom teacher that finally
helped us identify and take the needed steps to help our children.
After our children were diagnosed, we became careful students of dyslexia and dysgraphia and then we began to educate ourselves in best practices for teaching students who require explicit instruction rather than balanced literacy approaches to become readers. We quickly discovered that we are part of a national movement of literacy leaders promoting the incorporation of science-based approaches in reading instruction so that all kids—those that learn to read through balanced literacy and those who need more explicit instruction—can read up to their potential. Our personal experiences gave rise to the mission of Everyone Reads T/E, but the practices we advocate have a strong foundation in academic research, broad support among teachers nationally, proven success turning non-readers into readers, and demonstrable benefits for all developing readers.
This is how we came to our mission and why we are working so relentlessly to reshape the
literacy curriculum in T/E.
Our efforts have upset some within the T/E administration and caused them to present you with the narrative that we are somehow anti-teacher and that our expectations of teachers are too high. We assure you that we do not feel this way. We respect your work, and know that you, like us, are not satisfied with a status quo in which some T/E kids never learn to read.
OUR PROFESSIONAL LEARNING RECOMMENDATIONS TO T/E ADMINISTRATION
We are committed to giving you what AIM Institute’s Nancy Hennessy claims is critical for all
teachers in top-tier districts that will continue to be literacy leaders: access to the body of
scientific research, protected time for your professional learning communities to discuss it, and the empowerment to implement it in your professional practice. We want you to have
administrative support to access outside expertise and the resources to attend professional
development conferences in science of reading that the administration currently has provided to very few T/E reading specialists.
We have looked for partners in T/E administrators and found some but not enough to deliver to you the access to science of reading training that will help all your students and, especially, the ones who are struggling.
Collaborations between parents, teachers, administrators, school boards, and literacy
advocates are bringing to light the complex nature of reading instruction and yielding amazing results in other districts across the nation. Take just a few moments to listen to two fellow teachers, Heidi and Peggy, talk about how science of reading changed their classrooms and their students. We can replicate these results in T/E and live up to our inspirational high school mascot by being among the “Pioneers” who refuse to accept that our kids in reading support— some 20% of our students—cannot learn to read on grade level. We must keep trying and, thankfully, we have ever-increasing community support for helping you access proven methods that are radically changing reading outcomes in other districts.
We challenge our district administration to be pioneers—to bring together all stakeholders and to support teachers in their journey to the science of reading evidence base. We ask that a task force be developed to begin this discussion. We want a dynamic, evolving, leading district that adopts best practices in reading for the benefit of all our young readers and, especially, for those who require science of reading strategies to read at all.
We invite you to join us in rethinking our district’s balanced literacy approaches. Share with us what works in your classrooms. Use the links to learn about the national movement we are a part of and, then, consider whether you might lend us your support. Know that no matter what you hear or what you decide, we value your work with T/E’s students. Know that we are much like you—literacy advocates looking for solutions to help our kids and all kids read to their full potential. Teaching reading is rocket science!
On March 14th, we will be at the School Board meeting, where the administration will deliver their review of T/E’s Reading Support Program. We hope for candor and the beginning of a long overdue partnership between T/E administrators and regional and local literacy experts. We are proud Pioneers in this district, and we have the opportunity, perhaps even the obligation, to be literacy leaders in our region. We will be there ready to work with T/E’s teachers, T/E’s parents, T/E’s Board Members, and, hopefully, T/E’s administrators to have the open, transparent, data-driven conversations necessary to find and implement best practices. T/E has got to talk about reading, and we are ready to have a great conversation—let’s do this together.
With deep gratitude for your work and the time you gave to read our letter,
Everyone Reads T/E