Thomas Jefferson High School reading specialist Patricia Gillespie was selected as the Iowa Reading Teacher of the Year by the Iowa Reading Association. She was honored last month at a banquet during the Iowa Reading Association Conference on the Iowa State University campus in Ames.
Gillespie has been teaching reading for more than 30 years and has taught every grade from kindergarten through graduate school. She currently teaches reading skills to about 65 students.
Gillespie served as the president and vice president of the Midlands of Iowa Reading Council and was a two-term zone director for the Iowa Reading Association. She has been a presenter at the local, state, regional, and international conferences.
Ten years ago, Gillespie began the Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program at Thomas Jefferson High School. RIF named her Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was awarded her the Anne Hazard Richardson RIF Volunteer of the Year Award. While the federal government ended funding for the RIF program at the high school for the 2011-12 school year, Gillespie hopes funding will resume for 2012-13.
Gillespie’s childhood experiences have given her a passion for teaching literacy. She admits teaching herself to read when she was 19 years old. While attending school and working with private tutors, she realized she had five learning disabilities.
“I figured it out through struggling. I have auditory discrimination problems,” Gillespie shares. “I think of where I was and where I am today. I share my story with my students. I want them to love reading. The more they read, the better they’ll get.”
She taught a gifted student years ago who had serious problems at home.
“I saw her nearly every day,” explains Gillespie. Seven years later, the student, “a graduating honor student, said I had made a difference in her life.”
Gillespie also remembered working with a young girl who had difficulties reading at even the most basic level. Gillespie heard from her 15 years later.
“She told me she was the first person in her family to graduate from high school,” Gillespie glows. “I’ll keep pushing. I’ll never give up. The kids keep me doing this. You never know the difference you might make,” Gillespie said.