Throughout nearly 40 years in education, Beulah Schrader’s approach to teaching rarely changed, even as her students and their backgrounds did.
Between the late 1950s and the early 1980s, Schrader, 89, taught first-graders in Franklin. After leaving the elementary classroom, Schrader spent about a decade helping teens and adults in Johnson County learn to read, and she trained local volunteers how to teach literacy to others.
Schrader found the key to teaching was recognizing that not every lesson works with every student but instead finding ways to tailor reading assignments and instructions based on their skills. Those are the same methods teachers across Johnson County and across Indiana are trying to perfect today, as they try to better prepare students to meet state standards measured by tests such as ISTEP and IREAD3.
“She knew what worked, and she was going to use what worked,” Franklin resident and former teacher Shirley DePrez said. “I just think that she felt that everybody needed to have that opportunity to read and enjoy literature.”
Schrader taught first grade from 1959 through 1983, finishing at Webb Elementary School. Today, most students are expected to know how to read before advancing from kindergarten to first grade. At the start of Schrader’s career, many of her students had never been to kindergarten, and unless their parents regularly read to them, they couldn’t read on their own, she said.
“(Lessons) had to be pretty simple for a lot of those children because many of them didn’t have kindergarten,” Schrader said.
To teach her students, some who were still learning the alphabet, Schrader assigned them library books to read based on their skill levels. She had them track what vocabulary words they were learning.
Schrader created her own lessons to help students understand what they were reading and to ensure they all knew how the words they were learning were supposed to sound, DePrez said.
DePrez, 64, was a high school student when she first met Schrader. When DePrez was home visiting during college, she regularly volunteered to assist Schrader if she needed help in her classroom. Seeing the way Schrader was able to create lessons for any student who needed extra help is part of what prompted DePrez to become a first-grade teacher.
After Schrader retired from teaching elementary school, she started volunteering in 1986 with a group teaching teens and adults who didn’t know how to read or who wanted to improve their literacy skills. As part of that work, Schrader traveled around the state to see how literacy rates in other parts of Indiana compared with Johnson County. In the early to mid-1990s, she trained about 100 volunteers to help teens and adults learn to read.
Students today have numerous resources to become better readers, including the books and online resources through schools and public libraries. Teachers have more pressure today than Schrader did to ensure students pass standardized tests. But it is important to closely monitor how well students keep up with what’s being taught in class, Schrader said.
Nothing can prepare a student to become a strong reader as well as starting early, she said. Parents of elementary students need to be reading to their children early and often, she said.
“I think books with words (in) them when they’re age 2. It will just make them learn at a younger age when they move to the public school,” Schrader said.
Students also should take time to learn about and visit other parts of the world, since those experiences could eventually help them land the job they want the most.
“I just think it’s so important. These young people now, graduating from college, could have a job across the ocean someplace,” Schrader said.