Teaching the Value of Literacy: Inspiring Words from a Teacher on International Literacy Day

I fell in love with books long before kindergarten. I remember the steady, soothing voice of my mom as she read to me and my sister from our many books. We spent countless afternoons reading from well-worn pages until we memorized our favorite parts. However, school brought a whole new level to my love for reading. Sitting restlessly at the edge of my seat, I would groan when my teacher would end our reading right at the very best part. I couldn’t wait for our time in the library when our librarian read aloud tales of adventure or spooky mysteries. Like many in the United States, my love for reading and the respect for authors was cultivated by my home and my school. Sadly, this is not the case for every child in the United States nor around the world.

Not every student has grown up in a print rich environment with a plethora of books to grow their skills for reading and writing. However, time and time again, I have seen the community and my colleagues band together to reach the needs of the struggling readers and writers to supply them with time, support, books and materials necessary to build an even stronger community of readers and writers. After all, reading and writing is what makes all other options outside of the classroom achievable. We know this. The students know this. The world knows this. What happens when communities are denied this access completely?

In my journey as reader, writer, and teacher, I have come to realize the even larger role I fill in education. To teach my students strong skills as readers and writers, to teach them how to appreciate and admire the skills of authors, to teach them how to develop their own writing, is not enough. Instead, it is my responsibility to teach them the strength of writing. This begins with an understanding of communities and children around our world. It requires a study of the causes and alarming effects of illiteracy. And it demands attention to this issue. Illiteracy impacts all of us, not just those denied literacy education.

My students and I have just begun to scratch the surface for what is needed to draw more attention to the issues impacting quality and balanced literacy education for our community and for those in communities across the world. We strive for ways to create change. We have once again celebrated World Literacy Day almost as a launching pad for the important weeks and months ahead. We shared the work of authors that have written stories and books that serve as strong examples of perseverance, hope, and breaking boundaries. As we reflect on our own reading background, we return to the study of illiteracy. I watch their faces as I listen to them discuss the stories of the people, their communities, and the future. The numbers are not just numbers, they are people. Be grateful for this opportunity to learn. Understand the power of education.

These students are mine for a short while, but their choices will belong to the world long after our school year ends. I hope that they will continue to search for ways to create change. I hope they remember the work they have completed in this year. I hope they remember that because of the gift of learning to read and write, the sky truly is the limit.

Kimm Murfitt is a teacher at Harris Road Middle School, North Carolina.