Opinion Your Views — 09 May 2013
What is a literacy coach? Our educational system has no idea

To the editor:

To combat illiteracy, American public schools employ literacy coaches. But it is nearly impossible to find a job description that is consistent across schools and districts, if at all.

Why do I care? I am a literacy coach. Without a job description, understanding the roles and responsibilities is tricky. Through my graduate literacy courses, I discovered there truly is no job description. Researchers of education and literacy suggest the literacy coach determine and create a description to be shared with administrators and teachers.

Coming into a new position, it is daunting telling your boss what you think your job is. This difficulty is exacerbated when your boss — the school’s leader — doesn’t understand the job you were hired to do. Anxiety increases if, as in my case, your locality’s literacy supervisor also happens to be a leader in the educational community, so much so that their published work is the chosen reading material for your graduate class.

With such an expert heading up the program, wouldn’t common sense dictate that the role of a literary coach was defined? In this case, wouldn’t this renowned expert at least follow her written material? You can imagine my dismay to realize that my realistic assumptions were just that — assumptions.

How is a literacy coach to do her job when her role is not established? Without an established role that the faculty understands, very few high school teachers are willing to accept a coach’s guidance. Many of these instructors simply close their doors and continue to teach in the same manner they have in prior years.

As a literacy coach, I create professional development plans and modeling strategies for content teaching. Less than 10 percent of the school’s staff has participated. My principal, however, thought it was a great turnout.

The administration fails to understand my job; therefore I am overloaded with tasks unrelated to my role as a literacy coach. Spending time on these tasks blurs my real job in my eyes and the eyes of my administrators and the faculty I was hired to coach.

The model — or lack thereof — for literacy coaching wastes the education system’s money. Changes must be made.

A job description is necessary, and administrators and teachers must be informed and trained in collaboration with the coach.

Without essential changes, money will continue to be wasted; teachers will continue to instruct without research-based strategies; and the coach will sit idly fulfilling various jobs. In the meantime, declining literacy levels will persist among American students.
- Ashley McCarthy
Alexandria

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