2000 Teacher of the Year Award: Kathy Alfke

The National Right to Read Foundation is pleased to announce that the 2000 recipient of its Patrick Groff Teacher of the Year Award is Kathy Alfke, Indiana elementary school teacher, reading specialist, and teacher trainer.

Kathy graduated in 1983 from Indiana State University with a B.A. in Education and a reading endorsement. Continuing her education, she professionalized her reading endorsement when she completed her Masters Degree at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in 1986. For fifteen years she taught in second, third and fourth grades in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), finally transferring to a school near her home. There she discovered that the teaching environment was very bizarre as some teachers were restricted to using or not using their books.

She writes, “Many unprofessional things happened that year, and some teachers were scolded for having skills charts in their rooms. The principal made sure you did what she said or you stood the chance of being on the ‘hit list.’ I withstood this environment for three years until I started feeling oppressed. I was losing my creativity and did not want to come to school. I felt like I was dying inside. I knew I was a good teacher and that God put me on earth to fulfill that position, but was I to continue to be in a building where things were so stressful and we were not allowed to teach isolated skills? I was supposed to be a reading specialist, but I didn’t know how to teach phonics.”

Her frustration with methods that didn’t work and principals who hopped from one experimental program to the next, nearly forced her to leave her profession.

She took one year off to homeschool her own son, and during that time met Mercedes Russow, a 79 year old lady who introduced her to a direct, systematic phonics approach to teaching reading called the “Direct Approach Method.” This is a re-established, copyrighted, supplemental program developed in the late 1950’s by Mercedes’ mother, Indianapolis Public School teacher the late Pauline Banks. Kathy was mentored by Mercedes and then returned to teach with a real reading endorsement.

She personifies the best of our nation’s teachers. She refused to continue in her reading specialist field unless she could acquire some validated teacher training in the most effective way to teach students to read, using a system of reading instruction grounded in the findings of scientific research on reading. She felt that to do anything less would be damaging to her students.

Kathy has gone on to instruct teachers throughout Indiana, and they in turn have experienced huge bumps in rising reading ISTEP scores. These teachers are blazing a trail of reading success thanks to Kathy’s leading the way. Principals are awake and celebrating the difference this one teacher has made in her efforts to “do it right” and to pass it on to others. She is constantly leading workshops packed with tears and cheers from teachers and parents who are finding their way out of the rivers of reading failure and are delighted to learn reading teaching approaches that will consistently produce truly literate students.

Rubie Crockett, principal of IPS School 44 (Riverside) Kathy’s school, congratulates her on the wonderful progress her school has made which has led to its removal from double probation status. She writes, “Congratulations! Continue your dedicated work with our students.”

During this summer she is training reading tutors in a new school in New Palestine where she lives. The Director for Instruction is among her students also! She is receiving many requests from other principals to come and train their teachers, but her first responsibility is to her own IPS School where she will return to teach when school officially begins.

It is with great appreciation to Kathy that The National Right to Read Foundation honors her with the 2000 Patrick Groff Teacher of the Year Award. She represents many thousands of dedicated and often unrecognized teachers who are successfully teaching all of their students to read. Congratulations, Kathy!!

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