Thoughts about reading from a classroom veteran

Fewer tests. More reading for pleasure. And stop buying programs.
Published May 9

Michelle Hamlyn teaches English at Coleman Middle School - when she isn’t telling members of the Hillsborough County School Board what the schools are doing wrong.

Much of the trouble with reading, she told the board at Tuesday’s meeting, comes from state mandates and well-intended actions that had unintended consequences. Nevertheless, one in four Hillsborough students is a poor reader and the district is now paying a consultant $500,000 to try and figure out why.

Hamlyn shared her views with the board and got a round of applause from the audience. Here is what she said:

"Reading is one of my biggest passions. It has become one of society’s biggest problems.

"Who would have thought that testing students all year long would make them hate reading? Who would have thought that teaching lessons like “Tackling the Text in Ten Steps,” and close reading, and reread at least twice no matter what the grade level, would make kids hate reading? Who would have thought that not focusing on reading for enjoyment, or for the benefits of reading, especially in the secondary grades, would make kids hate reading?

"Pretty much every teacher in America, that’s who.

"So the solution to low reading scores is by no means a simple fix. But every program that we purchase, every time a new initiative comes in, every change in curriculum, every new training we go through has only compounded the problem. It seems that common sense has been replaced by Common Core and close reading.

"So now you’re going to pay a consultant $500,000 to to tell you what your teachers are trying to tell you. Remember us?

"We’re the experts in our field. We’re the teachers who work with kids every day, five days a week. We’re the ones who you, Superintendent Eakins, said that you would start relying on when you were first appointed and held town halls. We’re those teachers.

"So here are a few suggestions for you from someone who understands kids and poverty and technology and learning and teaching.

"Stop buying programs. It’s going to take more than a program to turn this around.

"Once we settle on the methodology and potential curriculum and all that, we need time. We need time for it to work. Our students are not robots. There is no immediate fix here.

"Push early literacy, especially in communities that can’t afford books. Half a million dollars can buy a lot of interesting reading material for those communities.

"Stop focusing on the test. The focus should be on the benefits of reading, the love of reading, the joy of reading, not read and answer these questions that will be on the test.

"Do some research on your own about reading. some of the reading experts that your secondary teachers follow. Kelly Gallagher, Janet Allen, Nancy Frye....

"And please stop using technology in elementary grades to teach reading. Read the World Health Organization’s latest report on screen time.

“Get out of our way and let us do our jobs, please!”


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