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Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers

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"As far back as I can remember, I have always loved to read. But, I must confess that it was a librarian, not a teacher or even my parents who was most influential in encouraging my love of books. Her name was Mrs. Luex and she worked in the storefront library branch located in our section of town. Mrs. Luex looked very much like the stereotypical librarian you might find in a movie or comic strip. I remember her being round all over - round face and round body with mixed-gray hair curled in a round bun at the back of her head. "Fortunately, I could walk to our branch library, something I wish every child could do. Whenever I entered the library, Mrs. Luex would look up from whatever she was doing and give me a big smile and a wink. This meant she had something special for me saved behind the desk. Sure enough, she would pull out a book that she had personally picked for me. And even if I didn't really like it, I would read it along with the books I had selected, just because I wanted to please her. Believe it or not, it wasn't until I was a grown woman, teaching children's literature and recounting this story to a group of prospective teachers, that it suddenly dawned on me that Mrs. Luex probably did the same for many other children. To this day I am grateful to her for making me feel so special. I also realize what a gift it is to make a child feel special. "As the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Professor of Education at Rutgers University, I teach courses, advise students, and serve on many, many committees. My work takes me away from the campus too. I work with teachers and school districts in their professional development efforts. I focus on issues related to students' reading and writing development and curriculum. My work in the schools greatly affects what I do in the classroom at Rutgers. In many ways, it helps to keep me grounded in the real-life challenges that teachers and administrators face every day. I am an active member of several professional organizations. These include the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. "My teaching career began in 1955 when I started to work as a fourth-grade teacher. Nine-year-olds are wonderful. They are just sophisticated and independent enough to allow teachers to experiment with creative and innovative teaching ideas, yet they still want your approval, which means classroom life is manageable. On the flip side, however, I had two students who seemed to defy everything I tried in order to improve their reading. I knew I wasn't reaching them as I should. So, in January, I enrolled in New York University's master's program in reading. My studies helped me and they helped my students. "My graduate studies have made me a strong advocate of ongoing professional development. I am convinced that, even with numerous field experiences and excellent undergraduate courses, preservice teachers are unable to fully appreciate the challenges ahead. They simply don't know the 'right' questions to ask before they get out in the field - the questions that come from actual experiences with children, materials, and classroom organization. Teacher education is an ongoing pursuit. Still, after many, many years, I am learning, growing, and changing. After two years as a fourth-grade teacher and nearing the completion of my masters degree in reading, I felt the need to experience what it was like to work with beginning readers, and so I asked to teach first grade. This was an invaluable experience. I completed my master's, went on to get my learning disabilities certification and became what was known in those days, as a remedial reading teacher. "Then, a few years later, I received a telephone call asking me to teach a course in the teaching of reading as an adjunct at Jersey City State College. I was both delighted and terrified. Fortunately, things worked out well and that experience led to a full-time job at the college and my pursuit of a Ph.D. Over the years, I taught courses in the teaching of reading, language arts, and children's literature. I went on to teach at Kean College of New Jersey and Teachers College, Columbia University where I was named the Arthur I. Gates Professor of Education. This named chair and my current position at Rutgers are very special professorships of which I am very proud. Over the years, I have remained active in the profession and my contributions have been recognized in many ways. I am a past president of the International Reading Association and of the IRA Reading Hall of Fame. I received IRA's Outstanding Teacher Educator of Reading Award and the National Council of Teachers of English Outstanding Educator of Language Arts Award. I was a recipient of the NCTE Rewey Belle Inglis Award as Outstanding Woman in the Teaching of English and the National-Louis University's Ferguson Award for Outstanding Contributions to Early Childhood Education, and an honorary doctorate from Bank Street College of Education. "I feel that the best teachers are those who are not just professionally knowledgeable and skillful. They are the ones who include a love of reading, writing, and books in their personal lives. Needless to say, they care deeply about children. As my friend Bee Cullinan would say, 'these are the teachers who hand down the magic.' It will come as no surprise that I have a deep commitment to families as the most influential and enduring educators of children." Kathy became a teacher because she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. "I later discovered an added plus," she says. "Teachers were great people to work with, be around, and get to know." She earned her master's degree and doctorate from the University of Virginia and taught in classrooms in the Midwest, Rocky Mountain West and East. She is currently a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey and teaches graduate and undergraduate courses. She also consults on a variety of literacy-related topics. She loves teaching because "there's never a dull moment. You get to be creative and reflective, and you can make a difference in the lives of children." In professional development settings, she likes to keep the pace moving, keep participants thinking, and actively involve them in learning. "My approach to writing a book is to think and mentally plan, draft on the computer, revise on hard copy and computer, let it all simmer for a while, then revisit it with fresh eyes. I try to create books that I would like as a reader and teacher." Joanne spent her career in education: in addition to classroom experience in both primary and high school classrooms, she worked as a language arts and social studies supervisor and an instructional specialist for the New Jersey Department of Education. She is a past president of the New Jersey Reading Association, and was most recently the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum in the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District (New Jersey). Joanne is now enjoying her retirement.

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