Thomas Courtney is a passionate advocate for education and champion for children’s literacy as a civil right. He teaches 5th grade at Chollas Elementary School in southeastern San Diego, home of many culturally and linguistically diverse students. He has taught students who live in disadvantaged areas for 26 years and has been a part of the California Reading and Literature Project since 2006. He is a proud CRLP ambassador because the organization reflects his philosophy of teaching. That, and also because, as Tom says, “The CRLP saved my students and saved my teaching career.”
The first time Tom attended CRLP trainings and taught in Summer Readers Future Leaders (SRFL), a program of the Diamond Educational Excellence Partnership (DEEP) in which CRLP is an implementing partner, he knew he wanted to come back for future summers because while in that classroom, CRLP helped him for the first time separate all the different reading elements that he knew his students needed. “Before, all the non-negotiables our district mandated didn’t allow for that.” Tom was quickly reaching a point in his teaching career that many teachers who teach in schools where opportunity and equity gaps exist face. “The CRLP brought back the common sense that putting test scores first doesn’t work with teachers and with students, but more often than not, leads to burn out for both.” Tom was ready to leave because of that, but CRLP helped him to deepen his content knowledge and expand his repertoire of teaching strategies in language, literacy, and bi-literacy. It rekindled his passion and purpose as an educator. It brought literacy and content matter back into his classroom.
CRLP’s Results for Reading Comprehension (RRC), a piece of the SRFL’s training he attended, is reading comprehension instruction through the lens of an assets-based pedagogy that includes linguistically responsive routines to frontload vocabulary, setting a purpose for reading, during reading routines and checking for understanding. This all helped Tom develop his students’ academic literacy by guiding him to choose appropriate strategies and scaffolds for comprehension of challenging texts. Tom says that this reading pedagogy has fundamentally transformed his teaching. It is what his culturally and linguistically diverse students need to foster their curiosity and to thrive. For Tom, the CRLP showed him “…good work that he can trust. The CRLP honors kids’ thinking. What we do fundamentally, in the inner city, is that we look at underserved kids like, ‘you can’t figure it out, so let me teach to the test’, instead of ‘let’s figure this out’. But don’t kids have a natural curiosity to want to know this stuff? Trust kids to use their own thinking with text, then let’s reflect with them how we did that work in the first place. That’s CRLP. It’s a product that’s right for kids.”
The CRLP has become part of the answer to that fundamental angst inside of him; encouraging students to share his love of reading, writing, and the entire literacy process. “Kids want to read! They respond to being given a purpose for reading, a purpose for why they’re learning phonics, a purpose for learning.”
If Tom had a magic wand to make education better, he says, “I’d have every teacher bring their own child with them to school, because we wouldn’t stand for teaching that didn’t center around content knowledge, literacy instruction, language development, foundational reading skills, and content-area literacy that is grounded in the latest California frameworks, CA CCSS ELA/literacy standards, CA ELD standards, and the CA SLD standards. That’s CRLP.”
Thomas Courtney is an Ed Source advisory committee member, a podcaster, and has written for multiple educational publications, such as the California Commision on Teacher Credentialing, Edutopia, and The San Diego Union-Tribune, to name a few. In 2021, he was selected as the SDUSD District Elementary School Teacher of the Year. You can find Tom on Twitter at @MrCourtneyRm801.
Want to learn more about the Results for Reading Comprehension skills Tom mentioned in his vignette? Click here for more information.
Keywords: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders, community, resilience, mid-career teacher, foundational reading skills, literacy, multilingual learners, leadership, equity