The story I’m going to tell you today takes place a few years ago when I worked at an Elementary. By some odd chance I lucked into a rather interesting spot. Helping K through 5 read. I mostly worked with 1 – 4 as they were a bit friendlier. Hadn’t quite got their attitudes down, although some of them had been a handful. Of the students a few were always selected, these few were the special Ed children. The ones needing just a little more help then the rest.
It didn’t take my boss long to learn that I had an LD too. She found it awesome, and even told me I’d be able to connect with the kids better. I at first didn’t really understand what she meant. Until it appeared in the form of a tearful little girl so frustrated that she closed up.
It was a group of three in a tiny room. A parent helper and I were setting up the timers preparing the kids for a cold read, that’s before the practices reads. The kids had to get as far as they could in two minutes, meanwhile we circle the misread words and underline the skipped words. Most of the kids never made it past the first paragraph, I excepted this to be no different. After the cold reads we set to work on going over what they missed and what words they didn’t understand. I wasn’t quite prepared for the sudden break down of a child.
I can still remember it clear. The little girl was working with the Parent. Going over the words she just couldn’t seem to get. She clumsily stumbled over each letter. “I can’t,” she started to say as her tears begun to flow. By this time the other two had given up on doing their own work and started to watch the drama unfold before us.
“You can,” the parent returned, “You just need to sound it out.”
“I can’t,” She cried.
Then the words I loathe the most tumbled from the parent “You can, you just need to try a little harder.” The little girl broke down completely into a fit of tears. Her friends sat there stunned. The parent frustrated, but being a parent she tried to calm the little girl down. I eventually had to send the other kids back.
But that moment stuck with me. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. For awhile I didn’t understand why until I saw the girl and her friends the next week. I was alone this time, making it 3 on 1 and the kids were winning. They did not want to read. They refused no matter what I said or did. Finally I had to settle on asking them why they didn’t want to read. Their answers shocked me, “Because we’re dumb.” One of the little boys told me.
“I tried but the words are to hard and everyone laughs at me,” Said the little girl, nearing tears again.
I sat there dumb struck. What was I to say? Then I thought back to the times kids laughed at me because I messed up a word, I could still hear the sighs of my classmates when the teacher called on me to read. “It is hard,” I said to them after a while of reflecting. “It’s really hard. Sometimes it feels like you’ll never catch up huh?” All three nodded. “The sounds don’t make any sense. The words are a jumble. And no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get it. And it only gets harder when you see your friends can do it,” the kids nodded some more. “I got a secret,” I leaned in close and delighted to see the kids lean into, “It’s hard for me too.”
“No it’s not,” they huffed at me, “You’re an adult.”
“I am, but I have a hard time reading. In fact I’m a little jealous of you all. Why, when I was your age I couldn’t read at all.”
“That’s not true!” They shouted. Kids usually don’t like to believe that adults have problems too, we’re supposed to be their role models after all.
“It is. I couldn’t read even three words and forget about writing. It’d look like some alien language I swear. And my friends would make fun of me all the time and teachers didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be like the rest. It sucked.” Then we sat there for a bit, their time with me ticking away before I’d have to send them back. I was determined to change their view before that though. I didn’t want them believing that they’d never get better, that it was hard and it was going to be hard. But how do you share that kind of knowledge with barely 10 year old kids? You really can’t, all you can do is pass on your experience and hope that’ll help. So I muscled up everything I had, I was feeling a little emotional reliving my struggles with the kids, and hope my next few words would help, “It’s going to be hard. Even when you catch up you still struggle. There are still somethings I just can’t read or spell, but the key is to never give up. If I gave up when I was your age I wouldn’t be here right now trying to help you all or going to collage. So next time when you come back, we’ll go at this slow and I’ll teach you all my tricks. And if its still to hard we’ll find another way. If you’re willing to try, I can help you.”
I sent the kids off and the following week I showed them everything I did in order to read. I showed them how to break the word down, made them clap the words out. Ap/ple, Fi/le, av/a/lanche so and so forth. I begun to change the way I taught all the children and even started to show the parents. I often had to share my struggles of growing up with the kids and soon even the parents learned how better to help the them. In two months the reading scores on all the kids jumped and a few even begun to attend classes normally and even surpass the rest of their class in reading.
I don’t know if I really did make a differences. If sharing my hardships help the students at all. I do know that it was hard to work with them, that every day watching them struggle was like me reliving those hard times again. I understood, and it really did hurt to understand. Some days I dreaded, but more often then not I was happy to see them grow and learn. Eventually I had to quit, some of it was the emotional drain but mostly because I couldn’t work enough hours as a tour. But I look back at those days at the school and I remember the frustrated looks of the kids and knew that at one point in time I had worn that same look. And I also know that just like the kids I had made the choice to charge forward and challenge Dyslexia. I hope with all my heart that those kids are still working hard and can remember the many talks I had with them, and even if they don’t remember me that at least they continue to move forward and never give up.