Glenda Ritz treasured books as a child, and she sees literacy as Indiana’s most important education goal

Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

Glenda Ritz was previously Indiana’s state superintendent. Before getting into politics, she spent her career in Washington Township as a teacher and media specialist.

I grew up in Lafayette, Indiana. I come from a very hardworking, low middle class family. I was the oldest of five children, and school was something I loved.

We didn’t have many books in my house, and I don’t recall ever being read to. I did have a grandmother who knew I loved to read and would give me books every Christmas, and I treasured them.

The Wizard of Oz was probably my favorite book and my favorite movie during that time period. I read mostly fiction books.

When I got to school, I remember thinking, oh my gosh, the whole world opened up.

READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

By the time I was in high school, I had a feeling I might want to become a teacher. I took a course called cadet teaching, and I would go and be in an elementary school classroom for a couple hours a week. My family did not have money to send me to college, and so I worked two to three jobs every summer to save the money I’d need to go to college. I chose to go to Ball State University — I didn’t want to live at home.

I spent 34 years in Washington Township. I worked in six different schools … teaching at the elementary, middle and high school level. I went back to school shortly after I was hired to get my master’s at Ball State, and then I really got involved with a librarian at Fox Hill who was just a fabulous librarian and media specialist.

She said, “I want you to partner with me on a project for the library of congress.” And so we went to Washington D.C.

I came back and thought, you know, I think I want to get a master’s of library science. They had an opening at another school in Washington Townships for a media specialist, so I applied.

It really gave me a sense of working with teachers as an entire faculty. My focus has always been on literacy. Learning and reading really develops you into the person you are — at least, it did with me.

So I want to make sure that children know that literacy has to be a part of their lives, always. It can take them on different paths, but being a great reader and communicator and problem-solver is really what it is all about.

Which is why I’m so determined about our testing system because every test you take is first a test on reading. You need it for math, you need it for science, you need it for social studies — you need reading for everything you do. That’s really the key to kids being great learners. And once they get hooked on it, they can read whatever they want to read as long as they do it.

Because reading is never going away. Ever.