Preparing to Educate

Everyone remembers their favorite teachers. A good teacher can light up your mind and shape a child’s learning for years to come. But what makes a good teacher? This month, as we explore the topic of early literacy, we wanted to learn more about teacher education. As students prepare to read, how do educators prepare to teach? To learn more, we talked to Joan Rhodes, an Associate Professor of Reading and Early/Elementary Education at VCU. 
How do Virginia’s teacher education programs prepare teachers for literacy instruction?

The Virginia Department of Education establishes guidelines for the preparation of teachers and reading specialists licensed in the Commonwealth. At VCU, our pre-service elementary educators take four courses in literacy instruction including children’s literature, the teaching of writing, teaching reading and the language arts and the diagnosis and remediation of reading difficulties. Virginia’s secondary educators all take a course in reading in the content areas. Pre-service teachers also learn about dyslexia and complete the online dyslexia module developed by the Virginia Department of Education. Our courses include lectures, project-based activities and most importantly direct experiences working with children.

Support at home plays an enormous role in students’ ability to read at grade level. How are teachers prepared to work with and support families?

Today’s families are under pressure from growing demands on finances and time. Teacher preparation includes study of the factors that challenge families and the services that are available to offer support. Educators practice a variety of methods of communication to foster positive teacher–parent relationships. Teachers are also taught how to design programs that help parents understand how to assist their children with reading and writing tasks. Developing activities that encourage the use of literacy practices for real purposes inside and outside of school is particularly encouraged in teacher preparation programs.

As a former classroom teacher, how do you incorporate your past experience into your current role in higher education?

My own experiences as a classroom teacher allow me to share the ways instructional theory can be directly applied to classroom practice. As the spouse of an Army veteran, I have had the good fortune of teaching in a variety of instructional settings in multiple geographic areas with children from ages 2 to 17. I use my own classroom experiences to illustrate information we read in our textbooks and research articles. (My students would probably say I tell a lot of stories about my days in the classroom.) I maintain this connection between theory and practice today by partnering with local schools through my reading diagnosis class where we provide one-on-one tutoring for at-risk readers.

In your opinion, what are some of the greatest challenges teachers face in literacy instruction?

One of the greatest challenges facing literacy educators today is the extensive planning and preparation it takes to successfully meet very diverse student needs in the classroom. Literacy teachers are expected to provide instruction that addresses the needs of English language learners, gifted students, students with disabling conditions as well as students participating in the standard curriculum simultaneously. To meet this challenge, teachers require extensive knowledge of a variety of instructional approaches and a thorough understanding of reading and writing development. I am very proud of the efforts our teachers make to accommodate the needs of their students and their continued efforts to accelerate the learning of at-risk readers.

Joan A. Rhodes is an Associate Professor of Reading and Early/Elementary Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. She teaches courses in the diagnosis and remediation of reading difficulties, media literacy, foundations of reading education, and home – school communication. She has over 15 years of teaching experience at the preschool, elementary and middle school levels in diverse roles including work as an English as a Second Language educator and reading specialist. Rhodes was awarded the VCU School of Education Distinguished Scholar Award in 2007 and the VCU, School of Education, Alumni Council Faculty Award for Exemplary Application of Technology in 2012. She is the President of the Virginia State Reading Association. Rhodes and her husband, Bill, love traveling and spending time with their five granddaughters and their families.