We asked, they answered: Teachers weigh in on how they learned to teach reading

When we invited teachers to respond to a survey on reading instruction, we received nearly 70 responses. We heard from teachers in Colorado and several other states who said their educator preparation program didn’t provide the skills they needed to teach reading. We also learned that most respondents agreed with recent critiques that American schools pay little attention to the science behind reading instruction. Here’s a sampling of responses.

“While methods vary from school to school, on the whole we have neglected explicit, systematic phonics instruction, which has disproportionately affected our students with the highest needs … In [Denver Public Schools], a host of factors, particularly flexibility with curriculum, has led to very inconsistent phonics instruction in the early grades, even when schools have adopted curriculum with a high-quality phonics program.”
— Caitlin Mohl, K-5 literacy, Denver Public Schools, Colorado

“I began teaching when whole language was the buzzword in education. I was convinced that it was the latest and greatest thing … It did not take me long to realize that it was not. I was fortunate enough to have mentors who still taught phonics.”  
— Sandra Sanchez, fourth-grade teacher, Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District, Texas  

“I don’t agree that there is little attention to the science behind reading instruction … My graduate program at the University of Colorado Denver has covered reading instruction in-depth. I have had classes focusing on whole language, phonics, balanced literacy, theory of reading, and assessment, etc. The classes were very effective in teaching me how to identify and instruct readers of all abilities.”
— Laura Miller, secondary language arts teacher, EdAdvance regional educational service center, Connecticut

“I received my teaching certification in 2007 and even though the teacher ed program for special education was heavy in speech and language, it did not provide any classes in how to teach reading … My program included two courses, but neither one included specific background on reading science. The focus for both was on comprehension.”
— Laura Wynfield, K-12 special education teacher, Boulder Valley School District, Colorado

“My undergraduate degree and my first master’s degree didn’t touch on reading instruction. Looking back, I think the consensus was that children automatically learn to read and that reading comes naturally. Ineffective beliefs for today’s children.”
— Diana Murray, elementary special education teacher, Blue Ridge Unified School District 32, Arizona

“I graduated with a teaching degree and had no idea how to teach reading. Imagine my panic when I landed my first job and didn’t know where to start. For years, I hid this and took as many classes as I could. I learned later that I was not alone.”
— Kimi Riter, elementary literacy specialist, Boulder Valley School District, Colorado

“After 28 years of kids coming into my class who couldn’t read and then leaving my class and they STILL couldn’t read because I didn’t know how to teach them, I found the Orton-Gillingham [approach to reading instruction] on my own. I took an 80-hour class that changed my teaching and changed the lives of countless students.”
— Mary Binnion, former Indianapolis teacher, now a private reading tutor

“I think I knew precious little when I started out as a teacher. It took many classes after becoming a teacher. Reading Recovery is your answer, and when I took the training, I had been a teacher for 23 years and my learning curve was quite steep.”
— Louise Sherrill, retired Denver and Cherry Creek teacher

“[My teacher preparation program] really focused on teaching students the love of reading and how to foster that environment. It wasn’t until I was a teacher and had struggling students (that) I went looking for curriculum and programs to understand the development of reading stages.”
— Robin Pigford, fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, Denver Public Schools, Colorado

“Neither my teacher preparation program nor my first master’s [degree] in education covered reading instruction as a science. It was all whole language and completely useless in teaching struggling readers to break the code … I know that the Colorado Department of Education has taken a small step forward with the READ Act, but it falls far short of what is necessary to help all students learn to read. If the state were to further develop the legislation and increase the knowledge base and accountability of stakeholders, it could make a huge difference for students across the state.”
— Cindy Kanuch, K-5 reading intervention teacher, Calhan School District, Colorado

“My students are unable to sound out names and multisyllabic words. They need phonics instruction. I have a master’s of education degree in reading, so I got ample instruction on teaching young children to read, but not much on teaching middle and high school students who can’t read well.”
— Susan Norwood, high school reading intervention teacher, Metro Nashville Public Schools, Tennessee