What is a Reading Specialist? The most honest post I have ever written.

Reading Rumpus is mainly, by far, a place where I babble about children's literature with an educational slant in mind. But occasionally, no matter what good intention my bibliophile heart holds, my work life emerges. Usually this is a passing sentence or a neutral comment, tightly tethered so my employer won't fire me.

Recently I met with a young teacher to discuss his "data" (because there is a lot of discussing of data in education these days) and our conversation turned to my job description. When I became a reading specialist I had two lofty goals: help kids become stronger readers & help my colleagues guide young readers. I adored teaching reading under a principal who believed in my professional freedom in the age before high stakes testing took it away. I devoured children's literature, understood its complex nature, and thought that I might have the collaborative skills to assist my colleagues in building strong readers. In explaining my job description, here is what I told the young teacher.......

"My job is to extinguish the flame of the next Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan."

I have a new job idea, having worked 4+ years in the trenches as a literacy coach (the latest tag name for reading specialist, so named as to not actually require the hiring of licensed specialists). In all honesty, I knew this within a month of taking the position, but thought I might be wrong, thought my state's insane idea of how to teach a secondary kid to read would change. I was green enough then, having only been in a classroom, to believe that people would see the error of this legislative decision and surely the insanity called "intensive reading" would end.

It hasn't. It doesn't look to be going anywhere. And every time that I take away a child's elective class, their artistic self - their athletic self - their techno self, I die a little inside. I was that band kid. Where would I be if someone had stolen that from me and added a second (and sometimes third!) math class? I honestly do not believe I would have ever made it through without the excitement of my music classes in high school!

To keep from going crazy, from possibly murdering a politician, I will keep building a love of reading across my campus and guide my colleagues to that love of quality, study-worthy, children's literature. I will work alongside dedicated teachers who are focused on building a world of inquisitive, diversely interested, humans who can thrive in a constantly changing global world. And I will keep hoping that somehow sanity will ensue and this model of exclusionary education will end.  That way, the next time a young teacher asks me what a reading specialist does, I can answer with pride.