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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

At the end of the day


Time to say goodbye to Dr. Turner's 50th Literacy Practicum Teachers. 12 teachers providing 55,000 dollars worth of free tutoring to local school children. Our Literacy Center has provided over a million dollars of free services during my 20 years as our director. But, it is not about me, it is about these amazing teachers who come to study and earn their advanced graduate degree in Literacy. The journey usually takes about 2 years and requires dedication, deep study, and intense commitments from teachers with full-time teaching positions during the day. What can I say to them in their final class? That explains they inspired, they lifted our children, parents, Literacy Center, and their professor. They are our heroes, our COVID Warriors!

At the start of this course, I tell them I am their Captain. I am a good captain who brings all his passages to port safely. I ask them to trust me, to take me at my word, and then I do everything I can to bring home safely. I fill up a glass of water halfway. I ask what kind of Literacy Specialist do children most need? Half-Empty, or Half-Full ones? Everyone calls out Half-Full ones. I say they deserve more than Half-Full Literacy Specialists. Then I place the glass in a large glass bowl, pour in water until the glass overflows. I say children deserve Literacy Specialists who fill their own glasses. With each pour of water, I call out one of the 10 courses they take to earn their advanced degree in Literacy. Then I welcome these glass filling teachers to our Literacy Center Practicum.   

For our last class, there is some course business, not much, and then there is my letter to these teachers we called our Literacy Clinicians and Reading Professionals.

At the end of the day

Dear Clinicians, 
Our teaching and learning voyage together has ended, but really your journey is only beginning. You’ll need to sail this ship of change together on your own for a little longer. Who would have believed that our practicum would become remote, because of COVID? This may be your last class at CCSU, or maybe you have one or two more courses left, but know that you are in my whispered prayers every day. 

             My hope is your case your professional fellowship circle continues to grow stronger. I am honored and privileged to have been your LLA 518 and 518 Captain. My purpose from day one has been to teach you to sail your own ship. This is not goodbye, but a celebration of your strength, courage, and independence.  You are our Literacy Center COVID warriors, never quit teachers, and there will not be another group like you for another hundred years. 

Dare I say it – it’s been some 36 years ago that I began my own journey to become a reading Literacy Specialist. My Captain was Dorothy Menosky on my own journey, one of the original Miscue Researchers. She prepared me well and set me on a greater mission, a mission to bring light into the darkness of illiteracy. From day one she told us literacy is bigger than any test score. She said literacy liberates us. Teach to liberate learners.

Just like you, I took a “diagnosis course”, and wondered why any teacher would want to leave the classroom to become a Literacy Specialist. Never in my widest dream back then, did I believe that one day I would end up teaching the thing…  Yet, here I am. I promise you this pandemic shall end; better days are coming. You will have many new teaching and learning adventures. Your lessons shall bring hope and humanity to all you teach. It’s all good people. 

My hope is that, because of this Literacy Practicum, you take with you the understanding of what a Literacy Specialist really is.  An effective literacy leader who understands the necessity of having a Balanced Assessment framework. Rather than building data charts, Balanced Assessment seeks to build respectful and caring relationships. Remember to follow the child not the test score. Literacy Specialists are key players in improving schools. Excellent Literacy Specialists help to transform schools into better learning communities. They understand the bigger picture of how diagnosis offers the potential to reach all learners ~ given time. They are "change" walking into the lives of our most needy learners; they are lights in the darkness, and purveyors of hope. 

This job is so much more than improving reading skills.  This is about believing. Believing so much in something that you are willing to lead the struggle, not follow, but lead others. Dare to sail your own ships. You are captains of hope. I say, unfold your sails, look out, and chase new horizons. More than anything else Balanced Assessment is about planting seeds of honor, dignity, and hope in the children you teach. Be good Captains; bring all your passengers to port safely. 

           Be like the StarFish Saver, if you cannot save all today, then save 1, and if you can 1, why not save three. If you can save 3, then save 6, then surely you can save 10?.  Imagine this saving 10 dream of teachers saving 10 children? There are 6 million teachers. Now imagine, 6 million teachers saving 60 million. Then this dream becomes every child in our public schools is saved. No one teacher has to save them all, if we all save 10 then we save them all. Trust your Captain when he tells you, someday all with be saved. My faith in this “saving all” is like a rock. That rock is built upon saving one child at a time. 

I have taught 50 practicum courses in the last 20 years here at Central Connecticut State University. On the last day in every one of them, I become a little frightened.  I think to myself, yes, they have a few new tricks in their bag, and they have survived. Can they sail this Literacy liberation ship on their own? I am concerned that too often our leaders focus on low-test scores and failing teachers. This endless assault on teachers can at times wear us all down. The insanity of forever changing COVID policies that no teacher ever had a say in. Better days are coming.

You cannot allow the negativity to wear you down.  Struggling readers don’t need just any teacher; they need incredibly talented and committed Literacy Specialists. Be unshakable in becoming the Reading Professional you always dreamed of becoming. Stand up, be counted, and never waver, for you are becoming Connecticut’s most highly certified Literacy Professionals. You shall become the experts you have always waited for.  

I hope that you leave this Practicum with a better understanding of the responsibilities and challenges that Literacy Specialists face today. Remember Dr. Turner, said he would not hire either half empty or half full glass teachers. He expects his Literacy specialists to say, “I’ll make a difference - I’ll change the world” I will fill my own glass, fill it until it runs over. Save one child, and work your way forward to 10 more and more every year. May, we land at that saved them all port one day. I believe in us.

             Find your heaven in the faces of the children you teach. Teach in order to change the world, and then please drop me an e-mail just to let me know how it’s all going from time to time. Don’t hesitate to ask for some advice.   Let me remind you, just one more time – a captain’s job is the best darn job in the world - and even after 35 years - I can’t wait for the next 30. 
In the end, I am of course; honored to have been your teacher. Connecticut’s best and brightest ~ CCSU’s most tested ~ and our present and future literacy leaders ~ this is who you are now.  I have been blessed by your presence here in LLA 518. 

            Today I am giving you a new name for this ship you are sailing. I christen your ship “Ye Mighty teachers. Sail her well, and thank you for giving me the honor of teaching you all.  
Your Captain ~ Dr. Jesse P. Turner

At the end of the day, I thank God for blessing me with this work, and I imagine what the 51st practicum group will be like come January. I can't wait1.  

If you like to listen to the song that inspired my morning walk it was Bette Midler's "Wind beneath my wings"



  1. If only all children had the benefit of the Literacy Specialists that you nurture, Jesse. Yes, the key is in the relationships, and the empowering of the children, especially those who have had their belief in themselves worn away. Best of luck to your graduates, and on to year 51!