|Doherty, Ryan||(630) 617-2468||Assistant Principal|
My Reading Autobiography
It’s tough as an English teacher to tell my students that reading has always come easily to me. Usually, that comment is followed by groans or snickers or “of course it did,” so I have learned to keep that comment to myself, especially with my students who struggle; however, I think it has been a blessing in disguise because—over the years—it has forced me to look at how I got there.
My mother and I are very close, and I believe it started with her willingness to read to me every day. It was our time together—just her and me. Even when pulling the late shift, she would sit on her bed cross-legged, and I would crawl up for the story. Placing the book in front of us, she would read, using voices for different characters, using her finger to follow along with the text. As the story goes (since it’s been told many times, almost becoming folklore in my family’s history), one evening when I was almost 3, I began to say the words with my mother. Although she was surprised, she felt that it could have been a coincidence, so she stopped saying the words aloud—only moving her finger underneath the words. I, however, continued to say the correct words (even when she would skip words).
The years that followed at Jefferson Elementary pushed me into pullout advanced reading classes with Mrs. Hopkins, the shark reading group with Mrs. Parent, my deep and unabashed affection of The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown and Judy Blume. This personal knowledge of reading quickly turned to writing when I first fell into Choose Your Own Ending books in the early 80’s, causing me to dabble in creating my own books. Looking back on those early efforts makes me smile and shake my head, wondering how I didn’t know that one day I would teach English and not become a dentist...(it's a long story).
Twenty years later, I stood before my first classroom of students, and it took me about five minutes to realize that not all of my students fell into literacy as quickly, easily, and lovingly as I had. After sending my students home with a four chapter reading assignment in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with no other instructions than, “Okay, everyone. Be sure to read chapters one through four tomorrow. We’ll discuss them at the beginning of class.” Ouch. I am sure you know the rest…half of them read the chapters and were ready to go because they created their own purpose for reading, visualized the text, made predictions, and asked questions of themselves when their predictions didn’t come to fruition. The other half…well…there were a variety of reasons for not completing the assignment: “I didn’t get it;” “I fell asleep while reading;” “I read it, but I don’t remember any of it;” (and the good ol’ standard) “I never read. I hate it.” Those first few weeks of class taught me more about how to teach literacy than all of my college classes combined, and I’m proud to say that I’ve never made that mistake again.
As an Honors / AP teacher, I have always thought that it’s important to keep some sense of balance: only teaching high-level, motivated learners can prevent educators from challenging themselves and updating their teaching practices; therefore, I ask administrators to give me at least one struggling class each year, and in doing so, I have learned to have a very good relationship with my literacy coach. After a while, however, I wanted to become a bit more independent, so I became CRISS trained and earned my own Reading Specialist degree. This had an impact on my teaching in two ways: it reinforced the strategies that I was already using with my students, and it gave me a whole new bag of tricks. An unforeseen benefit was that I really looked at my texts, causing me to swap out Huck Finn for Puddin’head Wilson and to implement a student choice (student driven / teacher guided) unit that was incredibly successful with my reluctant learners. In fact, one of those kids read Lone Survivor in 2009 and loved it so much that he bought me a copy.
I just got an e-mail from this student last year because it was becoming a film, and he was telling me that he was proud that he “could give his teacher a good book to read for once.” It’s moments like these that keep me pushing forward, reminding me that I can do for my students what my mother did for me, opening a world of words beyond the latest Kardashian tweet.
What I Believe...
1. A True Education Is Not Getting Information; A True Education Is Fearlessly Asking
Questions And Passionately Seeking Answers.
2. Positive Thinking Provides Positive Results
3. We Can Achieve More Than We Think We Can
4. Building and Maintaining Positive Relationships Is Crucial For Success
5. Good Writers Are Made, Not Born
6. The Best Writers Are Reflective Thinkers Who Make Deliberate Choices
7. Honesty And Trust Earns Respect
8. Teachers Must Have Open Ears, Open Minds, and Open Hearts
9. "Never, Never, Never, Never Give Up" (W. Churchill)
10. The Fear of Risk Is The Enemy of Progress