2005 Teacher of the Year Award: Delores Scott

The National Right to Read Foundation is pleased to announce that Delores Scott is the 2005 recipient of its Patrick Groff Teacher of the Year Award. Delores teaches kindergarten at Collington Square School in Baltimore, Maryland. She uses Direct Instruction to teach reading and says that all her students leave kindergarten reading.

Delores recalls, “I have had a passion for teaching young children since the age of five. I would line up my dolls along with cousins to play school. I enjoyed pretending through dramatic play. The dress up, poetry, nursery rhymes, and drawing activities were always a part of my school environment because I wanted to make sure that the younger children had fun while learning. My grandmother kept telling my mother, ‘She’s going to teach one day.’ Little did I know how right she was.”

After receiving her B.S. in Early Childhood Education from Coppin State College in 1992, Delores began teaching kindergarten at Collington Square School in 1993. She completed her M.S. in Education from Notre Dame College in 2005. Delores taught first grade for two years, but switched back to kindergarten because she enjoys working with the youngest students.

Collington Square School (pre-K through 8) is one of three Baltimore City public schools operated by the Baltimore Curriculum Project. The Baltimore Curriculum Project has “drafted a complete K-8 Core Knowledge curriculum” and “provides support, consultation, and instructional materials to schools implementing Direct Instruction teaching programs,” according to their web site at http://www.baltimorecp.org.

In 1998, Collington Square School began using Direct Instruction in math and reading (specifically, SRA Reading Mastery from SRA/McGraw-Hill) and the Core Knowledge curriculum developed by the Baltimore Curriculum Project for every other subject. When Direct Instruction was first brought into Delores Scott’s first-grade classroom in 1998, she disliked it so much she immediately asked the principal for a transfer to another school. She didn’t like the scripted lessons and thought they took away creativity. But the principal, Harold Eason, asked her to give Direct Instruction a chance to work and so she did.

Now Delores loves Direct Instruction because it’s so effective at teaching every child to read, engages the children, and reduces her lesson planning. Before she started using Direct Instruction, her students left kindergarten not knowing how to read, but now even her slowest students leave kindergarten able to read sentences such as, “A cat sat on a mat” and even more challenging short-vowel sentences.

Delores gives her perspective on teaching with passion and creativity:

“I firmly believe that students need to feel safe and secure in their school environment in order to have a sense of belonging and self worth. If these needs are not met, students can develop a low perception of self and find it difficult to interact with others. In my kindergarten classroom at Collington Square School, I provide stimulating, appealing activities to spark the interest of my students, so they will want to learn. Whenever visitors come to our classroom, students are extremely anxious to read to them. They are clearly proud of their academic accomplishments.”

“I attribute the understanding of making learning fun to my childhood play and the eight years I taught in the capacity of an educational assistant. When teachers were absent, I was asked to teach. I had the opportunity to play at teaching just as I had in my childhood. I used a less structured teaching style than the regular teachers. Arts and crafts, role-play, painting, poetry, and music were always incorporated in my classroom lessons. After twenty years of teaching, I still believe learning should be fun. I had the chance to develop much of my teaching style before I received an official teaching position. I played around with the curriculum provided by the school system, until I was able to make the program fun for the students. I looked forward to my very own classroom with confidence in my ability to teach.”

“When I got my first teaching assignment with a group of 30 little, bright-eyed, cheerful kindergarteners, I realized that I needed to learn much more about how young students learn to read. I was fortunate enough to have learned several approaches. I used Hooked on Phonics, whole language, and the Language Experience Approach (LEA). Half of my students were still unable to read unfamiliar text. I was concerned because of the test given to kindergarten students at that time. While I disagreed with the idea of testing kindergarteners, I wanted my students to do well. I felt my students would be better prepared using a program with more focus on decoding skills. The principal and other teachers felt the same way. We voted on the implementation of a phonics-based program.”

“The principal of Collington Square decided we would use Direct Instruction (DI). I was excited about the fact that we were using a phonics approach. I was taught using phonics. My joy was short lived. I felt the approach was too robotic for students because they were expected to answer on cue as the teacher clicked a clicker. I could not see how reading a script would allow me to be creative. This became such a professional crisis for me that I requested a transfer to another school. My principal asked me to stay and at least give the program a try, which I did. I never regretted my decision. Whenever I look at the progress of my students reading on first- and second-grade levels, I am delighted.”

“Though the program is very structured and repetitive, the activities in my classroom provide a nice balance between work and play. Students express excitement and enthusiasm about reading. With evident pride, a parent told me that her son’s reading astonished the passengers on a bus she caught regularly. This little fellow is very tiny and the passengers could not believe that he was reading all the ads on the bus so fluently at his age. In an effort to meet the needs of all students, I was asked to teach a new fifth grader, performing four years below grade level. Within a few months, this little chubby-cheeked girl was able to read on a third-grade level. Students love to master skills. This little girl felt proud of her accomplishments. That’s how I want all students to feel.”

“I feel tremendous joy and pleasure when I come into my classroom and see such excited and motivated students. I experience real pleasure in knowing my children feel safe and secure. I realize that it’s possible to still be creative and teach the DI way. I have grown as a teacher in the sense that I am able to incorporate my own teaching style and values into the program.”

“My goal as an educator is to support parents by offering student school-readiness workshops. Parents are the first teachers students encounter. Helping parents to develop school readiness and pre-reading skills to teach their children will help them get off to a much better start. These children deserve the very best and I want to do all I can on their behalf. I prayed for the opportunity to teach and my prayers were answered. Now I must stay the course for the good of my students.”

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