being a teacher, being me, Reading, Reading Identity

On Not Being a Reader…Yet

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She tells me she doesn’t want to go to first grade.  That she no longer wants to be a first grader.

This child who loves school.

This child who loves her teachers.

This child who has been beaming since the day she realized that after kindergarten came first grade, another year to learn, another year to grow.

And yet, here she is, declaring that for her school is no longer where she wants to be.  So I ask, what changed?  Why not?  And she gets a little quiet, sinks a little bit into my body, snuggles up as if the secret is hard to carry and tells me quietly, “I don’t know how to read…”

Because in her mind, all first graders know how to read.  Because in her mind all first graders know how to look at a book and automatically unlock all of its secrets just like that.  And why shouldn’t she?  Hew twin brother, 21 minutes younger, is already deciphering words, putting letters together to uncover the mystery of the page before him.  Asking me what this word means.  How to spell this word.

And yet she sits in front of a page still working through her letter sounds, trying to remember the foundational blocks before she pieces them together.  She sits in front of a page and instead of seeing opportunity she sees something that she cannot conquer, that she has not conquered, despite now being an almost first grader who supposedly should have conquered it.

I realize that once again, our well-meaning intentions, those benchmarks we put in place to ensure every child is a success has claimed another temporary victim whose self-esteem now relies on a part of her that her brain simply isn’t developmentally ready for.  Because that’s it.  There is nothing wrong with her capabilities.  Nothing wrong with her skills.  Nothing wrong with that smart brain of hers, other than that it is not ready.  Not ready right now, no matter how many district mandates tries to say she should be, but she will be.

And so I wonder how often do we lose kids within our standards?  How often do we add labels because of a rigid system that tells us not only how each child should learn but also when and then lets us decide that a perfectly fine child is now behind.  How often do we, because of outside forces, lose a child’s place in school because a chart, a book, a system, told us that the child was lost.

I will tell you this, much like I told my Ida, she is a reader.  She is a reader who is figuring it out.  She is a reader who is growing.  But more importantly, she is a child.  A child who will read when she is ready.  Who is ready for first grade despite the benchmarks reminders of what she should be able to do.  She is ready and until the first day of school, and for every day after, we will snuggle into bed together with a book, reading the pages together, developing at the pace that was intended.  Not the one dictated by something that will never know the nuances of my child.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

15 thoughts on “On Not Being a Reader…Yet”

  1. Amen! My strongest goal for our sweet second grader is that she keep her love of reading!! She has stacks of books under her bed, in her bed, in the toy room, on the deck, by the book shelf, in the van. She has to continue to see the joy in reading no matter how “behind” she may be.

  2. Dear Pernille,
    I follow your blog and feel so much connection with your teaching philosophy, but lately what I’ve felt is connection with your pain in being a mom and trying to help your children navigate this broken world. Your post today brought me back 18 years. My son Reade was walking towards his first grade open house. He suddenly stopped, grabbed my hand, and burst into tears. When I could get him to talk to me, he said, “Mommy, I can’t go in there. They will want me to read…and I can’t.”

    We were lucky. Reade was blessed with a smart, loving teacher who helped him to understand that he would read when his mind was ready. That he was, in fact, already reading by following the pictures and listening to the auditory clues in read alouds. But it was a long road for him because even as a five year old, he had somehow internalized the need to “conform” and to “succeed.” I still struggle with my own unintentional part in teaching him that he somehow wasn’t enough because he couldn’t read at 5. Sigh.

    I will be thinking of you and your sweet Ida as you walk this path together. She is blessed to have you as her mom. And yes – she IS a reader.

    Thank you for sharing your heart. It matters.

  3. There are so many ways that we “lose our kids within our standards” both explicit state standards and the unwritten standards that so many of us feel the need to “enforce”. Watching my little man struggle with the standard of sitting still all. day. long. was heartbreaking. I asked him one day why he didn’t want to go to school anymore and he said he was “tired of not being a girl, girls are perfect and never get in trouble.” Absolutely heartbreaking. As the year begins, I implore all classroom teachers to remember that these little people are children, they are doing their best, they want to learn, they want their teacher to like them. Please make an effort to meet them where they are at.

  4. This post brought back painful memories for me. My son didn’t read until January of his first grade year, and I sent him to school a year late, so he was actually the age of a second grader. We even did tutoring over the summer, to no avail. His brain was just not ready to read, YET. Thankfully he had a kind and incredible first grade teacher that helped him, and me, through this time.
    Fast forward 10 years later. He is now a rising senior and just got his AP scores back. He got a 5 on AP Euro, AP History, and AP Language. A 5 is the highest score possible, and than 8% of all students that take these tests earn 5’s in these tests.
    I am hoping his story will help ease your heart and your worry. Because I worried so much about my son back then. I don’t know how to help you ease her worry however. But like my son, your daughter has a devoted educator as a mother, so I know it will be ok. ❤️ Julie Reulbach

  5. Reblogged this on Jump off; Find Wings and commented:
    Blueberry picking: that’s what comes to mind when I read Pernille’s heartfelt plea that we honor each individual child’s timetable, that we put our rigidity aside.

    Just last week, my husband and I drove to a nearby local farm to pick blueberries. A friend had urged me to give it a try—being a recent convert to this berry, something about the texture, I wasn’t immediately spurred to action—but on this blue-skied, sunny day, we set out. Arriving early, we had a grove of picking almost to ourselves. The young volunteer who led us to our row said, “Pick all the blue before you move on in that direction,” and she pointed down our row into an unending line of green bushes. So we begin, and there’s A LOT OF BLUE! When I’m directed to do “all” of anything, I take it to heart, so I’m gently lifting canopy branches to discover clusters of unseen blue, blue, blue. Then I realize that, despite these bushes having been planted at the same time, nurtured with the same attention, feasting on the same sun, soil, and air, all of them are not blue. There are some still deep red, some hard green nubs, some so ripe they’ve fallen to the ground ahead of pickers, all by themselves, just ready to get scooped up—or squashed if we’re not careful.

    You see where I’m going with this, I’m sure. Why can’t we learn more from the lessons nature provides? The volunteer tells us that, at some point, a mechanized picker will roll down the rows and shake whatever lingers off the branches, but until then, the joy of hand gathering what’s ripened in time will continue in waves.

    Isn’t is wonderful what nature allows, an ongoing unfolding to elicit wonder rather than concern, in the fullness of time?

  6. My heart breaks when I read this. Please tell her that she is a reader. And that first grade is a wonderful year where she will become a great reader. That’s what first grade is for. I’m a first grade teacher who because of admin decisions will be teaching g PreK next year and no matter what stage a primary student is in, I always tell them what a great reader they are!! I hope she gets a teacher who understands how she feels and supports her by praising her every step of the way. She is blessed with you as her mom. I know this too shall pass but it’s very sad that children go through this as it is completely unnecessary. Hugs and kisses to her!!

  7. I understand this road! If reading doesn’t click or get easier soon, I highly recommend seeing a developmental optometrist. We went to Dr. Gary Etting in Los Angeles. Oftentimes, there is something with the eyes/muscles that makes it hard for kids to read. We were given eye exercises and went to his office once a week for a set number of weeks. Eyes muscles are working great now and reading has exploded!!! I had never heard of developmental optometry (and I’m a music therapist that specializes in developmental disabilities) before but am so glad I happened to come across it when we needed it. It made all the difference!

    1. This is exactly what we did for our older daughter after great advice from other educators and it turned out that she also needed vision therapy. We have just started and are so excited to finally be heading toward something that may help rather than just constantly searching for answers.

  8. Kia ora from New Zealand. Your story resonated with me as I have twins. They really struggled by comparing themselves to their twin. I teach maths and my son is strong at maths. He also reads well above his chronological age but not as well as his sister so he felt he was bad att reading. She was similar in maths. It has improved as they have got older. Thanks for sharing

  9. I appreciate your thoughtful and important reminder. My daughter felt the same way – loved school until she realized that her friends were entering first grade as readers when she was struggling. We were fortunate that her school was piloting a program that recruited retired teachers as volunteer reading tutors. She spent time with a patient educator in a relaxed environment and was reading independently within a couple of months. That little girl graduated from college and is a voracious reader; the reading program that helped her was eliminated years ago.

  10. Thank you for sharing this. As a librarian, books and reading are such a huge part of my life. I struggled as a young reader and I’d always hoped my three children wouldn’t and would be passionate about reading. My eldest was reading on his own at 3. He was so curious about patterns in everything, so it came naturally to him. My middle son, struggles like I did. As a fifth grader last year, he read not ONE book in school; instead, read passage after passage. He has no desire to read in his free time. He sees it as a chore, even if the books are ones he does like (humor, fantasy and graphic novels.) My baby girl, entering first grade in a few weeks, reads to some extent, but only feels comfortable with Elephant and Piggie books. She loves books and loves being read to, but the idea of her sitting down with a book and reading the words on her own, intimidates her. I love that you brought up the developmental factor that seems to get ignored. She just turned 6 and will be one of the youngest in her grade. It’s a gentle reminder that time is all she needs and my job is to keep reading to her everyday. She is so much more than a benchmark. Thank you for your rawness and honesty.

  11. It is pretty amazing how tactfully you handled the situation. Understanding the learner has never been a strong point of our education system. I feel sad for Ida because it is the system our society constructed that has failed her, through no fault of her own. I hope it all works out soon enough 🙂

  12. Thank you for sharing! This puts my OCD mind at ease as my youngest of three, age 9, goes through a reading slum. Thank you for reminding me of the key idea..yet!

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