Sonja Cherry-PaulAuthor and Teacher, Co-Founder, Race Matters Committee
I began my studies in the Literacy Specialist department already a seasoned teacher, having taught middle school for more than a decade. I entered the program craving challenge, knowing that good teaching is about revision. The coursework in the Literacy Specialist department does exactly that. It has invited me to examine my work as a teacher again and again and to make the changes necessary to improve my practice. Rigorous courses such as Constructing Critical Readers place pedagogy front and center, and are designed to directly inform classroom practice. This program has set me on a renewed course of reflection and learning that continues to push my teaching to new heights.
It was at Teachers College, over dynamic interactions with professors and students, where I was encouraged to publish my first book, Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning, co-authored with Dana Johansen. I have also been invited to lead workshops at several TCRWP events and to present at national education conferences such as IRA, AERA, Tech Expo, MRA, and Literacy for All. And for a second year, I will be teaching a course for the Literacy Specialist department.
Throughout my doctoral work, I have been lucky to have one of the faculty as a mentor, continually challenging me to reflect on how the work I do as a scholar can help me develop the analytic tools to inform and transform curriculum. I am an infinitely better teacher for this reflection.
Stacey ShubitzAuthor, Adjunct Professor, and Co-Founder of Two Writing Teachers
As a part-time Literacy Specialist student, I lived the ultimate educator's dream while living in one of the greatest cities in the world. By day, I taught fifth grade at P.S. 171. By night, I had my thinking pushed by some of the nation's finest professors. Taking two years to complete the program worked for me since it allowed me to remain in the classroom while attending TCRWP Calendar Days and working on my Master's Action Research Project.
I am honored and excited to begin my service as the principal of Maxwell Elementary in Denver Public Schools this fall. I come to this work after three years of learning, engaging with, and leading work related to outstanding reading and writing instruction at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.
I’ve spent the past two summers teaching at the TCRWP Reading and Writing Institutes. My current path has, in many ways, been defined by the thoughtful work of the TCRWP, by the learning experiences and one-on-one guidance afforded me by my time as a Literacy Specialist at TC, and by my deep-rooted beliefs in balanced literacy and in an authentic, engaging reading and writing workshop. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with teachers affiliated with TCRWP as they rethink and grow their instruction. Now I eagerly anticipate my opportunity to do the same with my school community at Maxwell Elementary.
Mike GrimaldiEd.D., Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction; Former Elementary Principal, Long Island, NY
No experience in my life has been as professionally rewarding, or stretched my learning more than my time in the Literacy Specialist Program. I miss the Tuesday classes with Lucy Calkins and the intense "boots on the ground" learning I experienced as a TCRWP Fellow.
Havilah JespersenAuthor and Lit Coach, Edmonton, Canada
When I entered the Literacy Specialist program, the school where I worked expected me to take on more of a leadership role around its high needs in literacy. Before I could do this, I knew I would need to take a step back from my day-to-day work to rethink my teaching practice and beliefs. Doing so turned out to be the smartest professional decision of my career.
Every evening, my thinking was stretched through readings, discussion, debate and instruction. What I loved most was that these conversations weren’t contained within the walls of classrooms, but instead travelled down the street, into subway cars, coffee shops, emails. Each morning, I tried out my latest thinking with children in public school classrooms, and each evening, I took new observations back to my courses. This balance of theory and practice, and the learning that happened as the two intersected, is one of the reasons I was drawn to the program and one factor that makes it unique.
Also unique to this program is its close partnership with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. The opportunity to intern with TCRWP during the second half of my year not only allowed me to study literacy instruction taught by one of the best in the field, it also gave me insight into methods of staff development. I was then able to try out some of this work myself, coaching teachers as they worked with emergent readers, supporting the development of assessment tools, and contributing to the writing of curriculum. The experience was invaluable.
After a while, working in an environment this intellectually engaging begins to feel normal—that is, until you take a moment to pause and reflect. This happened one afternoon when I struck up a conversation with a visiting professor who asked about my program. In a rush to resume my work, I gave her a quick description and concluded by saying that it was overall pretty great. “Pretty great?” she responded, and then shook her head at me. “You do realize that you have won the literacy lottery…don’t you?”
I had to laugh. A few minutes earlier, I had finished revising a piece of writing for a course with Lucy Calkins. At that moment, I was preparing for a discussion on multimodality in a class taught by Marjorie Siegel. The next morning, I was going to be shadowing staff developer Amanda Hartman as she worked with teachers in one of New York City’s highest needs schools. Over the course of the year, I had participated in workshops led by a veritable who’s who in the world of literacy—the likes of Peter Johnston, Stephanie Harvey, Charlotte Danielson, Kylene Beers, Ellen Keene, Timothy Rasinski, Smokey Daniels. I had also met and learned from beloved children’s book authors Kate DiCamillo, Pam Muñoz Ryan, and Sarah Weeks. She was right. I had indeed won the literacy lottery.
I entered this program as a teacher committed to the importance of literacy in the lives of children. I left with that conviction reaffirmed, the skills to do something about it, a network of people to support me, and a vision for what is possible in schools. But I also left with something more—a sense of possibility for the future that comes with seeing myself in ways I had never before considered. Yes, I am a teacher with a commitment to the importance of literacy, and now, I am also a researcher, a leader, a writer. I have Teachers College to thank for that.
Dana JohansenAuthor and Teacher, Blogger at LitLearnAct
There is nothing quite like watching my fifth grade students’ eyes sparkle as they read literature that captures their imaginations, and as they write their own stories they’ve carried in their hearts and minds. As Albus Dumbledore says, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” They are indeed. After seven years of teaching, I became a doctoral student in the C&T department in order to deepen my understanding of teaching reading and writing—of close engagement with words.
The course work in the Literacy Specialist Program has transformed my teaching and research. Being mentored by Lucy Calkins and Marjorie Siegel has been an invaluable experience. These professors each pushed me to work hard, to ask the tough questions, and to reflect in meaningful ways on what is happening in the classroom. The work I did in this program not only shaped my teaching, it changed the course of my career. The discoveries, discussions, and course work ultimately led to the publication of my first book,Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning, co-authored with another TC colleague, Sonja Cherry-Paul.
The work you do in the Literacy Specialist Program will forever shape you as a teacher and a learner. You will come away knowing how to foster a love of words in your students, bringing magic to your classroom.
Carl CiaramitaroJunior Staff Developer, TCRWP; Former middle school teacher, Arkansas
The Literacy Specialist Program's close relationships with The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project puts me 'in the rooms where it happens' and gives me the opportunity to dive deep into areas I'm most passionate about.
Alexandra Aleman QuinteroElementary Teacher, Balboa Academy, Panama
The Literacy Specialist program at Teachers College allowed me to see another face of literacy. When the writing and the reading become so personal to the student, the energy and effort they put into their daily literacy work need to be seen to be believed.
Daniella AnelloHead of School, DC Bilingual Public Charter School
The Literacy Specialist Program surrounded me with people who were so passionate and talented that the love for the work was contagious. The program broke down barriers and taught me that everyone, regardless of gender, culture, home experiences, or type of schooling can become a life-long reader and writer.
Program Director: Lucy Calkins and Marjorie Siegel
Teachers College, Columbia University Literacy Specialist Program
525 W. 120th St.
New York, NY 10027