This is why we teach.
A few weeks ago school opened and we welcomed around 20 new students to our K-5 building. Since I get to meet nearly all of our new friends before they begin, I make a point to follow up and see how it’s going for them in their new classes. Often it’s a smile and “How’s it going?” Occasionally, it’s an additional reading assessment–an extra chance to hear them read and finish pinpointing a just right starting place. I chat with the children, and their teachers.
It was the first week of school when I met “Fred” for the first time. He arrived to us from a very different community and school. For him the early grades were not a positive experience. He was prickly and defensive.
“I do NOT read,” he declared. “I DON’T do work.” And to make matters more challenging, he constantly expected to be disrespected by peers (and possibly adults), so he lashed out quickly if he felt threatened.
His teacher negotiated with him to read one page of a book during the day’s reading workshop. When I pulled him to my office to get to know him, I managed to coax and cajole a reluctant three pages.
Last week, his teacher reported that he finished his book, came to her and announced, “This level is too easy for me now. Can I have a harder book?”
That was two days after he laboriously plodded through the entire state-mandated universal screening assessment online, carefully reading and rereading every passage although it was well above where he was reading independently.
Two days after that he finished Andy Shane and asked for harder books again.
This past weekend I was at nErDcampNNE in Freeport, Maine. At the author evening on Friday I came across a few Andy Shane books. I looked up and there was Jennifer Richard Jacobson. We chatted and she signed a copy to “Fred.”
Back at school today I made a visit to his classroom. I pulled up alongside him at his reading spot on the carpet and listened as he worked his way through a page–solving ‘engineer’ along the way. I interrupted him and explained how I’d met the author over the weekend.
“When I met her, I thought of you so she signed this copy of the book for you,” I flipped to her inscription. His eyes rounded. “This one is for you to keep forever.”
He turned to look at his teacher and she smiled at me over his head. “He’s smiling so big,” she mouthed when he turned back to me.
As I moved to speak with her, he got up from his zone. We soon realized that he had taken the book and was showing the inscription to the other students.
“This is for me. The author signed it,” he repeated to each one. Just a few short weeks after he arrived, he trusted that they would be as happy for him as he was.
He came up to me and said, “could a teacher write a note to my mom in case she doesn’t believe me about this book?” I agreed thinking I’d drop off a note before the end of the day. He immediately handed me a pad of sticky notes and his pencil. He wasn’t letting me leave his sight until he had airtight proof.
I’ve lined up at midnight for book releases. But I have never, in my life, seen someone so happy to receive a book.
I’m glad he liked the book. But I’m ecstatic that he now views himself as a reader.
His teacher is wonderful. She’s shown him both respect and limits since he arrived. She’s managed to convince him that our school is the kind of place where we’re all readers. Where we all care about one another.
He believed her, so now he believes in himself.