BUFFALO, N.Y. – Graduates of the University at
Buffalo’s Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction (CLaRI)
gave their alma mater a meaningful gift to celebrate its 50th year
of service: One after another, they have circled back to tell their
faculty mentors how the Graduate School of Education’s
literacy specialist master’s degree program made it easier
for them to get jobs.
“It has been challenging for young teachers to find jobs
since the economic downturn, but things seem to be looking
up,” says Mary McVee, PhD, director of the center known as a
CLaRI is an established reading center at UB that has been
providing reading services to Western New York since 1963. Besides
assessing children’s literacy development and offering
individualized reading instruction, CLaRI conducts research on
literacy teaching and learning, and trains teachers to use literacy
assessments and research-based teaching techniques.
In a job environment that has frustrated talented teachers, the
experiences of CLaRI graduates have been different.
“Having a literacy-specialist certification made a huge
difference in getting a job,” says Jena Albee, who began her
first full-time teaching position this year as a kindergarten
teacher in Brockport Central School District. “I absolutely
Chad White, another CLaRI alumnus, recently began a job as a
middle school social studies teacher in South Carolina.
“I had three interviews and was offered a position at each
school,” says White, “one high school and two middle
McVee recalls emailing White after she was contacted as a
reference, thinking he would be encouraged to hear that.
“Chad responded that he already had one job offer and was
expecting another,” McVee says. “It just confirmed what
the school principal who called had told me: They were really
impressed with Chad and how well-prepared he was.”
“The principals and teachers I talked to were always
really impressed by the literacy background I have,” says
White. “They thought it would be very useful and helpful, no
matter where I was, whether it be a suburban school district or
more of a city school district.”
The deep “literacy background” White referred to is
a signature quality of the UB literacy specialist program. UB
students learn traditional content, such as theories and
instructional methods, but also spend time teaching struggling
readers and writers in one-to-one tutoring or small-group,
school-based settings engaging in “clinically rich
practice.” And while they are tutoring, they receive feedback
from instructors and mentors.
David Fronczak, a full-time literacy specialist and reading
department chair at St. Amelia’s School in Tonawanda, agrees
that a hallmark of the literacy specialist EdM program is this
intensive process of feedback and growth. These clinically rich
practices are one reason Fronczak chose UB.
“You’re allowed to really become that
self-reflective practitioner here because you’re doing all
these activities live, in front of real kids, and you’re
getting real feedback,” Fronczak says.
Teachers digitally record each teaching event on site at
CLaRI’s North Campus center. They then log in at home later
through a secure interface to reflect back on the day’s
“It’s also kind of cool to tell our students that
the same cameras we use for recording were also used by the
Pentagon for security,” says McVee. But there is real
educational value behind the “cool” factor. Graduate
students use the video to examine and critique their teaching, and
researchers use the video to study issues related to literacy
instruction and learning, McVee says.
This process of having teachers record their own teaching and
then analyze it later is part of a model of reflective video
pedagogy developed at CLaRI by a team of literacy faculty and
This reflective pedagogy and these literacy practices also are a
hallmark of the work UB graduate students carry out when teaching
children during the summer. CLaRI has long-standing partnerships
with the Amherst and Maryvale Central School districts, where UB
graduate students work in classroom settings with children who are
struggling readers and writers.
“What I love about the program and what I encourage the UB
clinicians, as we call them, to do here in the classroom teaching
is to embrace this experience,” says Patti McCabe, UB adjunct
literacy faculty member and a full-time teacher at Smallwood
Elementary in Amherst.
“I call it ‘literacy nirvana.’ UB clinicians
and the children get time in their day that is dedicated to those
important pieces of literacy that every student should have on a
daily basis. But it is also a time for UB clinicians to avail
themselves of a mentor who is in the rooms with them, who is
guiding them and is there to offer ideas and resources, and support
them on this journey.”
McVee says CLaRI belongs to a very small cadre of literacy
centers with physical space to provide services to children,
families and teachers, but also has a strong research component
that includes teacher education and professional development.
“Teaching is an incredibly complex endeavor,” says
McVee, “and there is no way we can prepare teachers for every
situation they will face.”
Instead, CLaRI tries to prepare teachers to think critically to
allow them to help struggling readers and writers using research
and reflection as educational tools.
Noting that he has only begun the literacy specialist program,
UB student Nick Sperrazza already has seen the benefits of the
CLaRI educational model.
“As a result of reflecting on my own practices as a
growing teacher,” says Sperrazza, “I have begun to
further develop my craft.”
For more information about application to the GSE advanced
degrees in reading or advanced certification in reading go to: http://gse.buffalo.edu/programs#lai