Who says teachers have summers off? This summer, Tennessee educators gave up their time by the pool to participate in Reading 360’s Early Reading Training. Educators across Tennessee — classroom teachers, instructional coaches, principals, and others — took part in training designed to prepare Tennessee teachers for implementing a phonics-based approach to reading instruction.

Part of the state’s Reading 360 initiative to boost reading skills for Tennessee students, Reading 360 Early Reading Training has two parts: Course 1 is asynchronous and gives the participant a foundation in the science of reading prior to Course 2. Course 2 is an in-person, five-day course that continues to teach the science of reading along with the application of best instructional practices.

After one of the hardest years most educators have ever experienced — dealing with everything from extra cleaning protocols due to COVID-19 to quarantines to working extra hard to fill in learning gaps — Tennessee teachers showed up in a big way. They did this because they want what is best for their students, families, and communities.  

I was fortunate to facilitate two weeks of training in my East Tennessee region in July of this year. I did not enter my busy summer after one of the hardest years of my educational career knowing that I would be a facilitator. However, when the opportunity presented itself to help with this incredible movement across our state, I jumped at the opportunity. This important work on literacy is something I knew Tennessee is on the cutting edge of, and I wanted to be a part of something that I believe in so strongly. 

I had an amazing time with Sullivan County Schools and Sweetwater City Schools teachers. They each had their own differences and backgrounds but also similarities. Two things rang true: East Tennessee hospitality and the love of students. There were so many moments where I was given a recommendation for a restaurant as an out-of-town guest or was able to listen in on a funny student story. (You know, the kind we educators love to tell! And there are always good stories from kindergarten teachers. Bless them.) 

Having taught first and second grades for most of my 14 years as a Tennessee educator, I know that if students do not learn the correct way to read, we are setting them up for failure. This training is so important — it shows how to do this correctly in the classroom with a sounds first, phonics-based approach. Regardless of how many years in the classroom or where you received your degree, there are going to be discrepancies from teacher to teacher, building to building, district to district. This training levels the playing field and ensures that all of us are on the same page with the most effective way to teach students to read. 

I am passionate about foundational reading skills and the science of reading, because I know firsthand the difference that a strong foundation in literacy has on a child’s life, especially those students who struggle with learning to read.

I am not only a teacher but the mom of a reader who struggled early on. I know what it is like to feel helpless as a parent and to question why my child is not yet reading. By deepening the preparation that we are providing to classroom teachers and equipping them to help our students succeed, this training will help change that.

Teah Shope is a third-grade teacher at Waterville Community Elementary School in Bradley County. She is also a member of the 2020-21 cohort of SCORE’s Tennessee Educator Fellowship.

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