EMinNM

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 21 2013

Minor and Major Accomplishments

Almost every teacher I know (well, at least the ones who like children) have a “take home” club. These are the kids who you love so much you would take them home in a heartbeat. I had one last year, and I have another couple this year. Let me tell you about one of them.

She’s this skinny little kid with not an ounce of fat on her, long braid down her back and bangs falling into her face. She will lie on the carpet with her face in a book, nose pressed so close to the page that her hair makes a little fort around her face. At recess, she’ll go play at the farthest end of the playground, just for the sheer joy of sprinting back when it’s time. And she’s faaaaaast.

She’s one of my most struggling kids and has a whole bunch of learning issues, but she shows so much perseverance pushing through them. This kid needs SO MUCH wait time that I’ve been constantly biting my tongue all year because just when you’ve given up and are trying to think of a new way to explain, that’s when she comes out with her answer. It’s definitely a processing issue plus a language issue; she does the work and the processing a little slower, and even after she’s done with the thinking she has such a hard time finding her words. But she’s an amazing kid, and I love her to death. She totally knows it, too. Last year I would get kids who made hangman puzzles saying things like, “We love Ms. EMinNM!” This kid made one that said, “Ms. EMinNM loves us!” When she knows an answer (which has been happening more and more lately), she does that whole-body hand raise that little kids do, all her joy and energy thrown into her arm in the air. It’s adorable.

When she took her end-of-year reading test, I literally cried. She started the year at a level 16, lowest in the class, which corresponds to a mid-first grade level. We had to go down and down the levels three times to find one that wasn’t too hard, which you hate to do because it makes kids feel dumb. She couldn’t read endings, she couldn’t read multisyllable words, and she confused sight words constantly. Any small words—and, the, she, but—were interchangeable.

She ended the year at a level 38. This is two years and a bit of reading growth, which is amazing, but the difference is really bigger than that. In one year, this kid went from being, essentially, a non-reader, to being able to read. She’s not where she should be, which is a level 50, but she is a heck of a lot closer than she was before. More than that, she likes books now because she can actually understand the story. This child who never raised her hand at the beginning of the year is bouncing off her seat as we finish Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I got teary when I was talking to her about her growth this year, because I am so darn proud of her, and she just grinned.

The other thing that blew me out of the water happened yesterday at the end of the day. She was going to the token store to spend these tokens we give out for good behavior. She had one token worth 37 and one worth 17. She looks at them, and says, “So I have 54, huh?” This doesn’t sound miraculous on the surface. But at the beginning of the year this student could not read four-digit numbers. She could not subtract with regrouping. She sometimes couldn’t add on paper. And now she is adding two digit numbers in her head. I asked her how she did it, and she just looked at me like I’m crazy.

“7 and 7 is 14, so then it’s 54.” Duh.

These seem like small accomplishments. But when you see a kid every single day, and you see them struggle every single day, and you work with them and encourage them and cheer for them and love them…When they accomplish things after all that, it’s the best feeling in the world.

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