This month, Reading Today features Stephanie Grote-Garcia, an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at The University of the Incarnate Word and founding member of the new Texas Association for Literacy Education (TALE). Stephanie shares her thoughts on literacy education, her experiences working with IRA Past President and What's Hot? expert Jack Cassidy, and why she's excited that the IRA Annual Convention is in San Antonio.
When did you decide that you wanted to work in the education field?
Many factors led me to work in the education field. However, I did not make the conscious decision until I was a sophomore in college. Looking back on the decision, I believe the two most significant factors were the speech difficulties that I experienced as a child and the wonderful teachers that guided me through grade school.
My speech did not develop the same as my peers. When I was three years old, my speech equaled that of a 15 month old child. I continued to experience speech difficulties throughout Junior High, particularly with pronunciation. Since oral language impacts one’s development in reading and writing, you can imagine how this impacted my academics in grade school.
With this experience, I could have easily reacted as a “carrot,” but instead chose to react like “coffee.” You must think this sounds silly, but it actually makes perfect sense. When faced with adversity (i.e., the boiling water) the carrot falls apart ― I could have easily given up. However, the coffee reacts in a way that changes the very circumstance that was meant to break it apart. That is, the coffee changes the water into a treat that is recognized by stunning aroma.
In relation to this story, I have turned something that was very difficult for me into a true love. I have accomplished this by becoming an advocate for oral and written language.
My grade school teachers also influenced me. To this day, the teacher I most often think about is my pre-kinder teacher. I must admit, after all these years she still checks on me.
How did you begin, and how did your career progress?
My career started in a small rural, elementary school in Texas. I was a reading teacher for grades K-2nd. After my third year in the classroom, I became a certified Reading Specialist and Master Reading Teacher. I then worked in a lab school on the campus of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christ (TAMU-CC) and later as a Reading Specialist for an urban school district. Most of my elementary teaching involved working with struggling readers and writers.
Over time, I earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Reading from TAMU-CC. I also completed additional graduate coursework in Special Education. After completing this degree, I stayed at TAMU-CC for one year as a visiting assistant professor. I then moved to The University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. There I am an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education.
What drew you to researching and writing about reading diagnosis, patterned books, and teaching students with special needs?
After reading about my speech difficulties as a child, you can guess why I enjoy researching and writing about reading diagnosis and teaching students with special needs. However, I imagine you are wondering about my work with patterned books.
As a child who struggled in reading, I depended on several clues from the author. One of the most useful clues was predictable text patterns. The patterns assisted me with identifying difficult words and guided my comprehension. Pattern books also increased my engagement and in response motivated me to read and write. I found these patterns to be highly clever and entertaining. I loved text patterns so much that I even structured my own writing into predictable patterns.
I started researching and writing about patterned books when I met Dr. Mary Ann Zipprich who also recognized patterned books as powerful literature. Since meeting, we have collaborated on a number of projects.
This summer, you worked with IRA Past President Jack Cassidy on the What’s Hot, What’s Not Literacy Survey. What was that experience like?
The experience can be summarized as ― wonderful. Jack Cassidy is a fabulous mentor and friend. I was thrilled when he asked me to collaborate with him on the 2013 What’s Hot, What’s Not Literacy Survey. In addition, interviewing the literacy experts was truly enjoyable because I take pleasure in speaking with others and hearing multiple perspectives.
This year six literacy topics were identified to be the center of attention ― adolescent literacy, common core standards, college and career readiness, comprehension, high-stakes assessment, and informational/non-fiction text. Jack and I will elaborate on these findings at the IRA Convention in San Antonio, Texas.
You’ve been involved in the recent creation of the Texas Association for Literacy Education (TALE). What encouraged you to get involved, and how has it been going?
Jack Cassidy, Stephanie Grote-
Garcia, and Denise Staudt
I became involved in the creation of the Texas Association for Literacy Education (TALE) through Jack Cassidy. He initiated the planning for TALE in the summer of 2011. At the time, Texas was one of the few states that did not have an IRA affiliated group.
The Literacy Summit: What’s Hot in Literacy for 2012, which took place last February in San Antonio, was the first conference for TALE. This event was also co-sponsored by the Specialized Literacy Professionals, a special interest group of IRA. Eight months after the Literacy Summit, TALE reached over 200 members.
We have also had two publications ― one was a yearbook featuring presentations from the The Literacy Summit, the second was an edited text published by Kendall/ Hunt titled Literacy Trends and Issues: What’s Hot.
TALE has grand plans for the upcoming year including the publication of our first electronic journal and hosting two professional development opportunities for teachers. The first opportunity will be a special session at the IRA Annual Convention in San Antonio, while the other will be our second annual conference in Round Rock, Texas during the month of October. More information about these events can be found at the TALE website.
How long have you been a member of IRA? Are you a member of a local council?
I have been a member of IRA for over ten years and have continually encouraged other educators to join.
In addition to being a dedicated member of IRA, I find membership to local councils to be very beneficial and important so I am a member of the Alamo Reading Council. This is the local council in San Antonio. Like many local chapters, the Alamo Reading Council provides valuable opportunities for professional development.
Speaking about local chapters, I predict that the local chapters in Texas are going to really flourish in the next two years. With TALE being new, we are currently searching for our first State Coordinator. This person will be the liaison between local chapters, TALE, and IRA. I believe that having such a person will be extremely beneficial to Texas teachers.
What are your favorite benefits of IRA membership?
I am amazed by the wealth of resources offered through IRA. My favorite benefits included the multiple publications and the annual convention.
As someone who is interested in elementary education, the publication that I read most often is The Reading Teacher. I enjoy this publication for the practical teaching ideas, the connections to research, and the timeliness of the topics discussed.
Each year I attend the annual convention, where I enjoy meeting other literacy professionals and engaging in discussions about the latest research. I also look forward to meeting various authors and illustrators.
Which IRA Annual Convention sessions or events are you excited about attending? What are the best parts of attending the IRA Annual Convention?
I am looking forward to the session hosted by the Professor of Reading Teacher Educators (PRTE). I have been a member of this special interest group for over five years and am currently their membership chair. This year, Dr. Nell Duke will be the keynote speaker and over thirty roundtable sessions will be presented by PRTE members.
In addition, TALE will have a special session that includes various authors of nonfiction. I encourage anyone who is interested in nonfiction to join us ― you do not have to be a member of TALE to attend.
I am also looking forward to hearing Emmy-winning actor, LeVar Burton speak. I love Reading Rainbow and am very interested in learning more about his new projects.
Can you give us some fun things to do for convention attendees looking to explore San Antonio?
San Antonio has so much to offer. The conference will be downtown on the beautiful Riverwalk. There, you will be able to walk to many shops, restaurants, and attractions. Riverboats are also available for guided tours of the river.
While in San Antonio, IRA members are going to be introduced to a true tradition ― Fiesta! This citywide celebration started in 1891 when a group of citizens decided to honor the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. The event was such a success in its first year that the city started to plan the celebration every year. Fiesta has grown so large that it now features over 100 separate events and continues for 11 days.
While in San Antonio, I would also recommend that IRA members visit the various historical attractions such as the Alamo and the Missions. They are extremely beautiful and very interesting.
What are the main challenges of teachers entering the field at this time?
There are many challenges for teachers entering the field. However, I think most of these challenges can be synthesized into one ― staying connected.
Teachers must stay connected with the latest research, texts, authors, instructional methods, policies, community needs, and their students. They must also balance these demands while staying connected with their own families. Staying connected is a large task and it can be very overwhelming for all educators.
What is your advice to new teachers as they begin their first job?
There is some wisdom spoken among airlines ― “You must firmly fasten your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” In relation, I believe a teacher must spend time developing their own knowledge and passion for life, learning, and literacy before they can influence others to feel the same way.
My advice for first year teachers is to spend ample time developing who you are outside of the classroom because it will influences who you inside the classroom.
As a student, from elementary through graduate school, I could identify the teachers who possessed the passion and knowledge that I am speaking about. I could tell because they made the classroom fun, they showed they cared, and they smiled often.
I mention this, because the classroom is getting more demanding and it is becoming even more challenging for educators to spend time for themselves.
I admit that I too struggle with balance. For instance, the number of books that I read for fun has at times taken a backseat to grading papers. And jogging, the one activity that I do to relieve stress, has been nonexistent at times. I notice that when I neglect my own needs, the style of my teaching changes ― I am tired and less motivated.
This year, I have made a conscious decision to enjoy more experiences outside of the classroom. I am once again reading at least one novel a month and I just ran my first half-marathon on November 11th. In return I am laughing more, my students are smiling more, and together we are learning more.