You must always ask the question, if not you, then who? Somebody must take responsibility for teaching every child to read, and if you don’t do it, who will? If you are a teacher, then you must make sure that every child that comes into your class learns to read. It sounds unreasonable, but it isn’t. With very, very, VERY few exceptions, every child can learn to read. And effective teachers can teach every child to read fairly quickly.
If you are a parent, then you also have responsibilities. You cannot simply depend upon others to teach your child the most valuable skill he or she will ever learn. First, and foremost, helping every child learn to read begins with instruction at home. I’ve written a short document that describes some of the things that parents can do with their children to establish a strong literacy foundation for their children (See P is for Parents).
Beyond activities in the home, however, parents need to work with their child’s teachers cooperatively to insure that the child is getting the best instruction and support possible both at school and at home. Teachers and parents should communicate regularly, sharing information and ideas.
And if you are neither a parent nor a teacher, there is still a lot you can do. Many low-income families cannot afford reading materials for their children. Children need volumes of reading materials to practice with, and if they don’t have them in their homes, they don’t practice. If they don’t practice, they don’t succeed. There are surely ways in your community to help insure that materials get into children’s hands (check with your local library and your local school first). If you want to help, begin there.
Your local school may have other things that you can do to help the children in your community learn to read. You would be doing a teacher a wonderful service if you relieved him or her of the burden of some “busy-work” so he or she has more time free to devote to teaching children. Parents often go in wanting to work directly with the children, and that is admirable. But you may be doing the children a better service if you work to free up the teacher’s time.
And speaking of teacher’s time, teachers need time to study and learn new information themselves. The school provides a certain number of “professional development” days, but that really is not enough. Teachers need to be very well trained and skilled, and they can’t really develop the skills they need with just a few professional development days per year. If you volunteered at your local school to watch the children during recess, or to watch the children after school when they get on the busses, then teachers would have that time free to meet with their colleagues in regular study sessions.
Schools where teachers spend a fair amount of time developing their own knowledge and skills are more successful schools, and there is a lot that parents and community members can do to support the professional development of their teachers.
The solutions are there. They may not be obvious, but there is a role for every one of us in the battle against illiteracy.