New York native Hayley Brower is a new reading specialist at the high school. She earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Rochester, and through a program called Teach for America, she discovered her love for teaching. She was an English teacher in Chicago for three years, and after experiencing a failing education system firsthand, she went into the graduate program at Harvard University to become a reading specialist.
What made you decide to become a reading specialist?
When I was a teacher in Chicago I was working on the South Side. The history there is that it’s racially segregated, and a lot of the schools are just terrible. I had a lot of students that had tons of difficulties with reading. They were coming to me as 10th graders, and they were reading at a 4th or 5th grade level. I knew that I wanted to go back to school and become a reading specialist so I could help kids that were in that position.
Have you always wanted to be a teacher?
For the longest time I thought I was going to be a lawyer, and then I graduated college and did not know what I was going to do with my life. I applied for this program called Teach For America. Basically, through this program, you have to teach for two years, and then you can go on and do other things. Within my first week of teaching through this program, I knew that I loved it and that it was going to be a lifelong thing. I was so glad that I did not go to law school.
What is your teaching style?
More than anything, I focus on relationship building before we even get into the curriculum. Kids with reading difficulties especially need to be able to trust their teacher before they are willing to take that leap and feel comfortable reading with you. Typically, by the time they reach high school they’ve experienced so much failure in their careers that they are avoiding it. Them knowing that I’m someone that’s safe to be around and safe to fail around is really important to me. All teachers will say relationship building is important, but that is key to my practice before I can even start material.
Who are your mentors, and in what way have they influenced you?
In Chicago, I had this wonderful instructional coach named Shariba Rivers. She taught me the value of getting kids to just love reading. She really taught me that kids need to love you. They need to love the material that you’re offering them, and so instead of offering some of the classics that were boring to kids I would try and pick books like The Kite Runner or a book called Little B that would appeal to them. She also taught me the value of a loud classroom. She loved loud and boisterous learning.
What do you say to your students when they are struggling?
I think it needs to be specific to the kid, and you need to know their learning style. Are they the type of kid who if you say, ‘you can do it’ they’ll get right on it or are they the type of kid that needs you to say, ‘hey, you’re slacking, stop!’? So knowing the kids’ personality and knowing what their goals are outside of high school is really valuable too. Then you can say things like, ‘yes, this is hard. Yes, you’re struggling, but you need to be able to read in order to get to this place in life, whatever that place is.’ Really knowing the kids inside and out is important.
Do you have any specific goals this coming school year?
It’s still early to tell, but the main goal is to have students see me this year and then not need to see me again. Our goal is to get them up to grade level, and then they are out, and they are ready to tackle the high school. Whether or not I will meet that goal with everyone, we will see, but that is what I have in mind.