The secret to producing confident and capable teachers

On March 2 we celebrate National Read Across America Day, a day organized by the National Education Association (NEA) each year to celebrate reading throughout the United States. While this special day serves as a time to celebrate literacy, the Elementary Education students and faculty at Lees-McRae are doing what they can to boost literacy every day.

To ensure that new teachers are fully equipped to instruct the next generation in reading and comprehension skills, the state of North Carolina requires all teachers to pass the Pearson Foundations of Reading exam and be trained in the LETRS program.

LETRS, which stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, is a training that seeks to ensure that educators and administrators possess all the necessary tools and skills to educate the next generation.

“North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has implemented this initiative about the science of reading based upon what they have seen in research,” Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of Elementary Education Teresa Santis said. “They’ve decided to use the science of reading, including language, phonics, spelling, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, and have decided to require all elementary teachers to take the LETRS training. It’s an assurance to make sure that teachers understand what good practice is, and it gives them the tools to be able to teach the curriculum effectively.”

According to Santis, this initiative is extremely important because of the increasing trend over the last few years of children consistently struggling with reading. With reading being such a fundamental skill, Santis said it is imperative for instructors to find the best way to help young students learn.

“We have to understand that not all elementary teachers have been trained previously through their undergraduate programs on how to teach reading effectively,” Santis said. “We’ve been teaching the science of reading forever, but until you start checking in on people like the state is doing now, you can’t know that these teachers know how to teach. Students are certainly not performing well. They’re not proficient in reading, and we need to do everything we can to help them become proficient.”

According to Lexia, the literacy organization which sponsors LETRS, current research shows that only 35% of students are reading proficiently. This is a huge disconnect from the 95% of students they estimate could develop the skill with proper training.

Bridging this gap is a main priority for the faculty and students in the Elementary Education program here at Lees-McRae. Professors have been trained in LETRS so that they can better prepare their students for the training they will receive in the field.

Additionally, Elementary Education students are required to pass Pearson’s Foundations of Reading Exam to graduate, giving them another leg up in preparedness.

“All undergraduate students have to take the Foundations of Reading exam through Pearson to be licensed. Fortunately, Lees-McRae requires our students to pass that before they even get their degree, but a lot of universities don’t,” Santis said. “Ultimately a student could go through an undergraduate program, get their degree in elementary education not having passed the state exams, and then they get up there and are teaching and are unable to pass the state exam because they were not effectively trained.”

All these steps ensure that the students who graduate from the Elementary Education program feel confident and prepared to tackle the classroom. Santis said that it is important to produce capable teachers who are not only competitive in the job market, but produce well-rounded, intelligent, and prepared students of their own.

“It is an exciting time to see that for years we watched children struggle with reading, and now to look at North Carolina finally saying, ‘Hey, what can we do to make sure that there’s consistency across the state from higher ed to our classrooms?’” Santis said. “It’s a really good thing.”

By Maya JarrellMarch 02, 2022