Literacy opens the door and opportunity to freedom—to engage in a world separate from the one in which you reside. If you allow yourself to enter, your options are endless. Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Literacy offers that opportunity. It opens a door to freedom that can be conceived only once it is obtained.

However, lacking in this ability connects to a prison of the mind, a prison that holds many of our Black and Brown children hostage, and a prison that can prevent all students from experiencing the joy that we know literacy can bring to their lives.

Teaching to dream

Finding the joy in literacy requires the ability to dream. We know our students come with many different needs and differences. But the ability to dream should be afforded to everyone regardless of skill level or ability. A dream is a cherished ambition, aspiration, or ideal.

As educators, we must believe for our students what they sometimes do not believe for themselves. Your dreams for your students’ achievements and expectations go hand in hand and can open the door for a reality that can supersede your greatest expectations. Having great aspirations for your students will increase their desire to reach them.

Research has proven that high expectations improve performance. What you believe about your students can be a motivating factor in or a deterrent to their progress. You may see scores you don’t like or a curriculum that does not support your aspirations for your students. But I urge you: Do not allow your eyes or your present reality to deter your dreams. Believe what can be. Help your students by allowing them the freedom to dream. Let the dreams that you have become the goals that you set. Communicate the dreams you have about your students to them so they know you believe. Make your dreams visible so students can see them. Display vision boards so students can connect with what you envision.

Help make dreams become reality. Push for necessary changes to curriculum. Do not let policies stifle the possibilities that are endless when dreams and high expectations collide.

Time for change

I can speak confidently because of my special education background. I have seen students find their joy in literacy. For eight years, I was immersed in it. I taught high school life skills. My struggle daily was having to use a reading program that lacked both a focus on phonemic awareness and texts that were grade-level appropriate. Students’ reading levels were between first and fourth grade but their ages were 14–21.

Once my district found a program that concentrated on phonics, as well as grade-level culturally responsive texts with diverse representation and relevant topics, dreams became realities. I saw Lexile levels soar 30 to 50 points in three months. Confidence that I never saw before in the eyes of my students appeared, and I saw the doors of opportunity and possibility open, and areas of darkness become lightened.

Opportunities were on the horizon for my students. That same possibility can exist for more students if we just begin to shift the narrative and change our perspective. I never stopped dreaming no matter what my reality was. Because of that, I firmly believe that all students can walk in freedom and the joy of literacy.

Trenèe Chimère Lurry has been a special education teacher for the past eight years. She is a firm believer that representation matters and there is a greater need for it in our schools. This led her to pursue her master’s in educational leadership, which she completed in May 2021.

This post is a companion piece to the July/August/September issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine, which focuses on the theme of Joy in Literacy Instruction.

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