Ten days after I graduated from the University of South Florida’s Elementary Education program, I was hired for a teaching position as a “reading resource teacher.” At that point, I had no idea what that really meant or what my true role would be. One thing I soon learned was that our school had a fantastic principal who would lead me to better educate elementary students, especially in the area of reading!
Ray King was masterful at improving student reading achievement in a high poverty, high minority school, where some people would have you believe it was impossible. But it wasn’t impossible for Ray King. He meant business; shouldn’t all principals mean business? After all, they are ultimately responsible for educating our children of the future.
Although a little intimidated by Mr. King at first, I was inspired by him to do whatever it took to ensure all children could read by the end of third grade. He knew reading wasn’t just a subject; it was the foundation for all learning. He clearly established his expectations for teachers and students upfront. He believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that all kids could learn, and he knew the importance of providing all students with a well-trained, highly effective teacher to ensure they did.
My job as a reading resource teacher was to provide intervention to students that had been identified as having reading difficulties. How did I know they struggled in reading? Well, every student in grades K-5 was screened within the first few weeks of school. This reading screening served two purposes, 1) to identify students that may be at risk of failing to meet grade level expectations by the end of each year, and 2) to equip teachers with valuable data that allowed us to tailor our instruction to meet each individual student’s reading needs. We knew in the first few weeks which students would need additional help and what type of help we needed to provide to catch them up with their peers.
As teachers, we constantly monitored the progress of these struggling readers and discussed those results with Mr. King monthly. We adjusted instruction accordingly, ensuring every student made the needed progress to become successful readers. Mr. King kept all teachers focused on conversing about individual students and the things we could control as teachers, rather than what we couldn’t control. For example, I couldn’t control whether students showed up at school every day, or whether they had a healthy breakfast, but I could control the quality of instruction they received when they did come to school. I was prepared to use every moment of the day to provide effective instruction to meet the needs of all students. Mr. King provided every resource needed so teachers could be successful. He provided frequent training, instructional tools and reading programs deemed necessary so that effective instruction could be provided, removing any excuses to get the job done.
Mr. King helped me become a highly effective teacher. By accepting no excuses and holding teachers and students to high expectations, he ensured that thousands of kids, some of which educators believed were impossible to teach, become successful lifelong readers. I count my lucky stars EVERYDAY that I was blessed with a fabulous school principal. I attribute much of my passion for helping ensure all students are successful lifelong readers to Mr. King.
About the author
Cari Miller serves as Policy Director of Early Literacy for ExcelinEd. She works hand in hand with states pursuing a comprehensive approach to K-3 reading policy, and she supports state departments with effective policy implementation. Cari is a former elementary teacher and reading coach. She also served as the Deputy Director of Just Read, Florida!, Governor Jeb Bush’s statewide literacy initiative. At Just Read, Florida!, she served in other capacities, including: Elementary Reading Specialist, Director of Reading First and Director of Elementary Reading. Her sole mission is to improve student reading achievement across the nation.