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Mr. Whitley deserves our appreciation

By Yolande Robbins

Tillman Whitley, I think, is the most successful and needed teacher of reading in Vicksburg.

Of the 50 some children he has taught to read since 2013, nearly all have successfully mastered their mandated reading by the third grade.

He’s surrounded by a coterie of successful children and very grateful parents.

Mr. Whitley, long retired from the Vicksburg Warren School District, decided a long time ago not to abandon these children just because he had retired from their schools. His retirement had almost directly comported with stress-driven technique in the schools. So he began to teach on his own.

Whitley believes in phonetics, and that is his manner of teaching. But he also helps children internalize the dynamics of language; that it is a symbol for something else; of sounds standing for things; and signs (meaning letters) that stand for those sounds.

But teachers and schools still believe to this day that reading is word recognition, roughly analogous to memorizing the clock in order to tell the time.

Reading isn’t remembering though. Who can remember how to spell nearly 150,000 words? Or just the 3,000 most of us use all the time?

Reading is breaking words down and decoding. It is learning to deconstruct “a predictable, but complex language that children can approach with confidence…if presented with logic and structure.”  Ineffective drills and reliance on memorizing do not make children able to read. “Reading is a visible representation of sound” and must be presented as such.

Language depends upon sound. Babies know that a loud-enough sound will get them whatever they want. A little while later, they begin understanding that “b-o-t-t-l-e” gets them what they want.

And we all hear and say things long before we ever start writing them down. All of us speak language before we can write it. That’s universal. But when someone’s too far away to hear, there must be another way (it’s called writing, the graphic symbol of sound).

Kids get that from Mr. Whitley!

He’s also without peer at creating a culture for reading that the kids like. And as all the technologies threaten it, he, almost alone, makes it live. While professionals lament children’s lack of skills, they seldom read books themselves. Just go ask a teacher, a doctor, a friend: “What was the last book that you read?”

So Mr. Whitley is also essential. He’s that one in a circle of grown-ups who simply don’t read anymore. That makes him example as well as necessity. That is why he’s so needed now.

Over my lifetime, I’ve loved many books and kept many lists of my favorites. But one’s never moved from my all-time Top 10. And that’s Dr. Seuss’s “Sleep Book”.

“99 zillion, 9 trillion, and two

Creatures are sleeping.

So how about you?

When you turn out your light, Then the number will be 99 zillion, 9 trillion, and three.”

And that includes readers.

Thank you, Mr. Whitley.

Please visit Mr. Whitley’s website, readby3rdgrade.com.
Yolande Robbins is a community correspondent for The Vicksburg Post. You may reach her at yolanderobbins@fastmail.com.