aha moment, being me, parents, Reading

Because I Can’t Help Comparing My Kid

“It’s ok mom, I already know those…”

Thea, my now 6 year old kindergartner, looks me square in the eye and waves away the cut out letters I hold up that were sent home from school.

“Awesome, so what’s this one?”  I hold up an “R” knowing that she knows this one for sure, after all, it is in her first and last name.

“Ummm….n?” Thea says, smiling and totally not focused.

We try again, clearly, we have differing views of what it means to know something and I feel the tiger mom in me rise up and rear its sometimes ugly head.  After all, some of her friends are reading, and not just a few words either, but books with whole sentences and beginnings, middles, and ends.  How come mine is not even getting her letters?  How come mine is not getting it?  What am I doing wrong here?  I stop before I get frustrated, no point in continuing when it won’t be a good experience.

Later I call my friend, a kindergarten teacher, and ask her if this is normal.  Should Thea know her letters by now?  What is her problem?  She stops me mid-sentence.  “She’s normal, Pernille.  Kids learn to read at different ages.  Don’t force it.  Don’t push her too hard.  Make it magical.  Make it fun.  It will come.”

And you know what, I know this.  I know this in my core.  I know this because I say it all the time.  I tell my students that they will learn at their own rate and that they have to keep trying.  I tell their parents that their child will get it as long as they keep at it.  I tell it to myself when I teach something for the third time and wonder why it isn’t clicking.  Kids learn.  And kids learn at different rates.  Yet, why do I forget it with my own kid?

I forget because we learn in an environment that is obsessed with labels.

I forget because most learning is ranked, tested, and compared for it to matter in an official way.

I forget because numbers define my child in school just as much if not more than her personality.

I forget because letter grades, scores, and assessments is the language we use to speak about our children.

It is so easy to focus on, it is so easy to remember, even if her amazing teacher tells me other things.  Even if our district doesn’t believe in standardized tests.  Those numbers still tell part of her story.  It is my choice whether I listen to that part or not.

Until we remove the numbers, until we remove the levels in our conversations, until we stop sending home the test results; they will always be there to lead the conversation.  They will always be there for parents like me that cannot help but compare, not because I want to but because I automatically do it.

Our children’s educational journey deserves to be bigger than a number and it starts with me.  Thea will get there.  Thea will read one day.  Not because I forced her, but because she wants to.  She believes it, now it is my turn.  Now it is our turn.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

8 thoughts on “Because I Can’t Help Comparing My Kid”

  1. No matter what we tell our parents about their child’s wonderful nature, social skills, creativity, deep thinking, participation and interest in learning etc….etc…. it all comes down to the A to E grades on the report card. I loathe giving my students a D or an E.
    We try so hard to build up their confidence and differentiate their learning, to make them feel and know they can achieve, and then we ‘downgrade’ them because we have to!
    One of my students told me D is for Donkey and E is for Egghead. Doesn’t this say it all?

  2. Pernille- You have the right perspective on this. Our kids learn at different paces and have varying strengths and needs. I try very hard not to compare my own children, whose reading development has been quite different. They are each taking their own path to learning to read. There is not one way. Thea will find her path,

  3. And isn’t it sad that as teachers, we find ourselves questioning our core and momentarily buying into the push for more? We’ve got to keep our minds and continue to inspire parents to do the same.

  4. Thank you for this I have a 6 year old son and he doesn’t know his letters either but I notice his peers are reading sentences and even books now on their own, it often feels like he’s the only child his age in this situation. As a parent we can’t help to compare but knowing he loves stories and books despite not being able to read them gives me some encouragement that he will one day understand I just need to be patient and let him learn in his own way and time.

  5. Your words resonate with me. When my son was in third grade, he was diagnosed as dyslexic. Until that time, I thought it was an excuse dreamed up by parents of lazy children. It was an eye-opener for me. In Texas, standardized tests are the be-all and end-all. I admire your school for choosing not to use them.

  6. I was blissfully ignorant when my middle son started kindergarten not knowing his colors and not having a firm grasp of letter recognition. I had sent him to preschool for socialization and just assumed he was fine and would be fine. Teachers worried about him because he was so quiet. Oh, what a difference a few years make! He learned his colors, learned to read, participated in student government in high school, and was elected Biggest Flirt in his senior class. He is a college freshman who knows his colors and can read. Be patient. Be positive. Trust yourself and your daughter.

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