One special part of my job as an elementary reading consultant is to welcome each and every student new to our school. Of course the official reason behind it is to screen students’ literacy skills and readiness so we can make an informed decision about which class to place the child in and how best to meet their needs. My reason is different.
I like to meet our new readers and writers, to get a sense of who they are and how they feel about reading, about moving to our school, and to help them get to know us as a community of readers and writers. No one will know these children as well as their classroom teachers, but I hope each child feels before they even set foot in their classroom that this is a “together” place. I want them to have a familiar face in the hallways. Someone to wave to from their lines.
Today I met our newest student, a first grade friend. She arrived with little notice so I didn’t get to see her on her first day. We chatted in the hallway between her classroom and my office. What do you enjoy? Tell me about yourself.
I sat down and patted the table near me, inviting her to sit with me.
“Oh, these chairs are fancy,” she complimented as she ran her hand across the patterned back of the chair.
“Thank you,” I smiled. “That’s because I want this to feel like home instead of like school.”
She smiled as she climbed into the chair and scooted into the table. I leaned closer and asked, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” She told me about her little sister at home and settled in.
We read a book together about a boy with a new baby sister. I complimented her on her thinking when she noticed the moment when he started to like the baby, before the author told her so. We started another story about being new at school. I smiled when she felt comfortable enough to act silly and play games with her reading.
But I noticed the moment when something changed. I could see it in her eyes and the way her chin quivered. Her face blurred.
“I don’t know if my mom loves me.” Tears glistened but didn’t spill.
“Oh, my goodness! Of course you mom loves you! She loves you very much. Moms always love their kids; I know, I’m a mom.”
She sniffed and watched me, deciding whether she could trust me. In a moment I decided we needed both a reassurance and a distraction.
“Would you like to see pictures of my boys? Come on, I’ll show you.” We pushed away from the table and gathered around the back of my bookcase gallery. “This is my son, Daniel, when he was little. And this grumpy looking boy is Qaiden.”
“Who’s this one?” she pointed to another photo.
The crisis passed in two minutes of picture gazing. When I was about to suggest finishing our book, she looked around, then looked up at me and said, “Will you make my picture?”
“Yes! What a good idea.” I pulled open my iPad and she posed.
After inspecting her picture she looked around again and pointed to a blank spot on my wall. “This is where you should put my picture,” she declared.
“OK. But will you do something for me? Will you sign the picture after I print it?”
“You mean like an autograph?!” she asked with wonder in her voice. “Yes.”
And just like that she found a place for herself in our school. In spite of her worries about knowing which special she’ll have tomorrow or about her mom—who I absolutely believe loves her—this new little person feels special to someone here. And so this unfamiliar place begins to feel like a home to her.
This is a favorite part of my job. And I think I’m going to need a bigger wall.