by Michelle Cardaronella, IRA Teacher Advisory Panel
My journey to IRA leadership seems unusual. I first became aware of the International Reading Association through its publications. I was familiar with The Reading Teacher journal as a result of my desire to pursue a post-graduate degree. I completed many course assignments using this resource.
After a few years of teaching and well on my way to earning a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, I noticed a flyer advertising a meeting of a local council affiliate. I had not been aware of IRA’s organizational structure prior to this time. The flyer announced a meeting and a contest. By attending all of the meetings of the local council, members would be entered in a drawing for a paid registration to the IRA annual conference. That was very motivating for a young teacher with limited finances. I did attend all of the meetings, however I didn't win the “advertised prize”.
My “prize” became assuming a leadership position within the local council.
It went something like this, "the bylaws prohibit me (current president) from returning and we need a new leader—can you do it?" With very little information, I hesitantly agreed. Within a week, I was attending the state leadership conference. After contacting our state coordinator and being under the misconception that I was the new President-Elect, which was quickly corrected to President. I began learning what my new responsibilities were. I returned home and began contacting all of my friends and colleagues and urging them to become members.
After three years of serving as a local council president, I moved on to hold a state committee chair position. My network of contacts continued to grow. I was sent to workshops in Washington D.C. as part of my committee responsibilities. Soon after that, I was nominated to serve on an IRA committee.
I began a three-year term on the Governmental Relations Committee. I had colleagues from across the country now! Initially, this was very overwhelming for a young teacher (who had no desire to leave the classroom). I began to find my voice.
I continued to serve as a committee chair, but was approached to serve on the Executive Leadership Team for our state association. I declined, stating that my responsibilities as a classroom teacher would not allow me sufficient time to dedicate to that position. Of course that was not the last time I was asked! Due to a family crisis, the Vice-President would have to resign, and I was asked to fulfill her term. Without any other members willing to serve in this position, I again hesitantly accepted.
I attended IRA’s Leadership Training in Toronto, Canada. My network again expanded. I was meeting with the top leaders and researchers in the organization. I returned to my state and began planning our annual state conference. I have such a deep appreciation for all of the hard work that goes into a conference now! My presidency was marked by a devastating hurricane.
I don’t think any amount of training could have prepared me for the year I served as president. Many members relocated, our conference (which was responsible for most of our revenue) was cancelled, and we began rebuilding our infrastructure.
I have stepped back from state leadership for a while, choosing to spend more time with my family. But recently the “call” to serve reached my ears again. I applied and was selected to represent IRA on the Teacher Advisory Panel. In this capacity, I can provide input to the board while continuing to devote time to my classroom responsibilities. Already, I have worked with an international panel (colleagues in Ireland, Kenya, and Canada) to represent classroom teachers within the organization.
I would not have had the experiences, opportunities, or lasting friendships I've made without the International Reading Association. I may not have won “the prize”, but I certainly have gained more than I ever imagined. I hope I can inspire other classroom teachers to look to IRA leadership as a rewarding opportunity.
Michelle Cardaronella and Margaret Muthiga await their TAP colleagues
TAP members at the 2012 meeting in Chicago
New TAP members Thomas Leis, Michelle Cardaronella, Maura Rose McMahon, Mary Lou Benesch, Margaret Muthiga, and Michael Henry meet at the IRA Annual Convention in Chicago. Photo by Chuck Fazio Photography.
Michelle Cardaronella teaches first grade at Hammond Eastside Elementary Magnet school, located in Hammond, Louisiana, and is a new member of the Teacher Advisory Panel.