“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.