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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Dean, you didn’t prepare me to teach reading

“Schools aren’t teaching reading in ways that line up with the science,” concludes American Public Media’s Emily Hanford in Hard Words. Many teachers go through training programs without learning how to teach reading effectively — including systematic, explicit instruction in phonics, she found.

The story struck a chord with teachers, writes Robert Pondiscio, a former teacher.

One such response, posted to the Facebook page of Decoding Dyslexia-Arkansas, was a letter from teacher Patricia C. James to the dean of the Arkansas State University, where she graduated with a double major in Elementary Education and Special Education. James wrote that, while her teacher preparation was mostly very good, she was “totally unprepared to teach reading, especially to the struggling readers that I had at the beginning of my career in my resource classroom.” “Having been taught phonics in elementary school, I knew my students needed more than the Balanced Literacy ‘3 cueing strategy’ that basically encourages students to guess unknown words,” James wrote. “Reading should not be a ‘guessing game,’ which is exactly what Balanced Literacy and Whole Language reduces it to.”

Susan L. Hall suggested other teachers write to their ed school deans about their preparation to teach reading.

Pondiscio has posted his letter to the dean of Mercy College’s education school, where he earned a master of science in elementary education.

I mastered no effective literacy practices in the two years I spent in the “New Teacher Residency Program,” a program designed specifically for the New York City Teaching Fellows, the alternate certification program I joined in the summer of 2002. Nor was there very much “science” in my coursework. . . . if there’s anything one might expect an advanced degree in elementary education to include, it would be teaching reading. . . . To earn my degree, I had to demonstrate my “passionate commitment to learning” and show proof that I was a “reflective practitioner.” Teaching the “whole child” required me to show that I teach “responsively” and “in context,” but there’s no visible evidence, in my portfolio or in my memory, that suggests any attention to psychology, cognitive science, language development, or the rich body of research in those fields that might shape our views of teaching and learning.

Pondiscio taught fifth-graders in the South Bronx. Developing his “philosophical vision” of education was “not what I needed to be effective,” he tells the dean. “It’s not what my students needed from me.”

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