My 7-year-old can’t read. I know he’s young and we’re not freaking out about it, but no matter how you look at the situation, it causes all of us a measurable amount of stress.
After a rough two-week start to first grade we opted to move Rex to a different teacher and classroom. It felt a little like ripping a Band-Aid off after the skin has started to attach. We had no idea if it was going to cause more hurt or help in the learning and healing process.
After four days we met with his new teacher and the school psychologist for yet another round of microscopic assessment. Rex trots to the beat of his own drum, so getting him to conform to classroom policies without a good reason can be like convincing a mule to run a half-marathon for the health benefits.
We sat across from his teacher (age 60-something but you’d never guess it) and were instantly sucked into her world of magical learning. As she described her classroom environment and methods of teaching it was like being bathed in sunlight — so full of warmth and energy, high expectations balanced by absolute acceptance.
After 15 minutes of listening to her methodology and passionate reasoning we were fast followers and instant converts. When she finally paused and asked for an opinion, all I could do was gape before finally sputtering out, “I think I love you. Can I be in your class?”
Once we had an idea of how her wheels turned, she shifted her comments to Rex. This is usually the part where my palms start to sweat and I wonder what they’ll think if I run from the room screaming.
She pulled out his letter list.
“When I first tested him Rex got 19 of his upper case letters right and 22 of his lower case letters,” she said.
I cringed. It’s hard not to take it as a personal failure when your kid doesn’t even make the bottom rung of the charts.
“We moved on to reading and I explained to Rex the importance of a good fit book,” she said while pulling out a very simple paperback titled, I Can Run. “Then it got rough.”
My husband and I touched hands under the table.
Rex is plenty smart but Jason and I feel powerless to tap into it. We don’t know how to teach him. We sit in the evening going over site words and sounding out books but never seem to get anywhere. It’s been six months of total frustration, we’re like the world’s worst three-legged creature who can’t find the right gait.
“I took his first two fingers and showed him how to track underneath the words while he reads,” she said, opening the book to the first page and demonstrating the most basic reading skill on the planet … one we hadn’t even thought of.
“At first,” she continued, “he tried to touch the words while he read, so I kept moving his fingers. He’d touch on top of the words and I’d move his hand. He hated it. We argued and kept going over and over that same page reading, ‘I can run.’ I could see his anxiety threatening to take over.”
I felt like the mother of Helen Keller as she listened to Annie Sullivan replay teaching Helen that first crucial word at the water pump.
“I finally left him with his book and decided to give him some space,” she said. “It was silent reading time so I returned to my desk and made myself busy. After a few minutes I peeked over to see how he was doing.”
She paused and I considered bolting.
“I watched as he opened his book and cautiously put his two fingers together. Then he carefully began to track the words, reading them aloud to himself. ‘I can run … I can play.’ He read himself the entire book one word at a time,” she said.
Should I admit that I cried like a child? Even Jason was red-rimmed and snuffly as we listened. It sounds like such a small step but it meant more than hearing he’d conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro or swam the English Channel.
It’s been a long and painful process to get him into the hands of someone who can teach him. I think this time we’ve finally struck gold.
Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.