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Why I teach, where I teach: Empowering children through literacy

Kylie Altier headshot

Every child has great power, and literacy is the key to tapping into it. The power of being able to read not only opens endless doors for young learners but can also shape the way they feel about themselves and positively impact their academic success across all subjects.

My journey of being a first-grade teacher actually starts with me as a first grader. It was in first grade that I began noticing that learning to read was harder for me than for my friends. I didn’t know it yet, but I would later find out I have dyslexia. As a child, I had a deep desire to make the adults around me proud, so instead of asking for help, I tried to hide that I needed it. I have deep-rooted memories of staring at spelling lists and practicing them over and over again — ensuring that my struggle would go unnoticed on Friday’s spelling tests. I leaned on my shyness to get out of reading aloud in class and stared at the pictures in books hoping it would look like I was reading the words. The longer I hid, the more I wondered why I wasn’t as smart as my classmates. It wasn’t until second grade that my mom saw my struggles and got me the help that I needed to learn to read. While dyslexia therapy gave me the tools I needed to cope in school, the notion that I wasn’t smart enough would stay with me long past second grade.

It was my own personal journey as a struggling reader that set a fire within me to ensure all young learners receive their human right to literacy. Students need not only the tools to proficiently read, but also to flourish in the classroom. I spent the beginning part of my teaching career intensely working late nights trying to craft the perfect materials that would help my young readers grow. Nothing in my provided curriculum seemed quite right, so I began writing my own decodable books, drafting my own assessments, and spending hours on end reflecting and revising. By laying a strong foundational skill base for my students, I began seeing tremendous reading growth and I became even more driven to learn more and help more students.

This goal drove me to seek a master’s degree on a path to become a reading specialist. I stepped out of the classroom for two years to work as a reading interventionist. I went from working with one class of students to over 150 students. While foundational skills skyrocketed again, I didn’t see the same transformational and sustainable gains I had seen in the classroom. Students would breeze through fluency passages with me, then head back to class and struggle when tasked with reading a science text. When I thought back to what made reading in my classroom so special, it occurred to me that it wasn’t the reading skills in isolation that made my students shine, it was the connection — it was the ability to make students feel seen. It was the chance to tell them all that throughout the day, in every subject, there was value in reading and how amazing my students were at reading. The classroom was calling me, for while my reach may have been wider, I so desperately lacked the depth that children and teachers thrive most with.

As I stepped foot back into the classroom, I felt the power of clarity. I brought the best explicit and systematic reading instruction that I honed through my work in reading intervention to all students. Originally, I believed that this worked best for students with dyslexia, which is a staggering 20% of our population; however, I’ve learned that this approach to teaching reading actually benefits everyone — I felt the power of connection like never before. Being a teacher gives me the unique honor to spend 180 days becoming my students’ inner voice. An honor that I believe comes second only to a child’s family. Every day I tell them they are deeply loved, they are brilliant readers, they are immensely powerful, and exactly who they are is perfect. It is those words that I hope follow them as they journey into adulthood.

In July of 2023, I was named the Louisiana State Teacher of the Year. Through this program, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the many rooms where educational policies are being made that impact my entire state. I have had the chance to connect and work with educational leaders who are trailblazing what education looks like. Again, the reach is much wider and vastly important work; however, I have found that nowhere compares to the depth of impact that occurs in the classroom. I teach because I believe there is nowhere else in the world that compares to the connection in the classroom. I teach because I believe all children should learn to read. Reading is so much more than words on a page. Reading is confidence. Reading is independence. Reading is freedom.

Mrs. Kylie Altier is a first-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School in Baton Rouge, LA and the 2024 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year. Altier believes that all students deserve to feel immensely loved in school and be excited by an engaging curriculum while having their learning tailored to their individual needs and interests. To that end, she has received over $30,000 in grant funds to enrich not only her students’ educational experiences but also the whole school community. With these grants, she brought life to a school garden focused on sustainable urban agriculture, created a mobile kitchen where students cook fresh vegetables they harvest,  designed a curriculum employing virtual reality headsets to boost experiential learning, has recently broken ground on a new outdoor classroom, and most recently design a free at-home family literacy initiative which you can check out at www.readwithkylie.com


By: Redante Asuncion-Reed
Title: Why I Teach, Where I Teach: To Empower Children Through Literacy
Sourced From: edtrust.org/the-equity-line/to-empower-children-through-literacy/
Published Date: Tue, 07 May 2024 10:00:37 +0000

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