The following post is from my first year teaching kindergarten…
When I used to teach second grade, almost all of the kids came to me reading in some capacity. There were a few really low kids, who struggled and needed tons of extra help, but even they could read a little. I knew kindergarten would be different, and boy was I right.
I have one child in my class who can read. I mean really read. The rest fall somewhere in between being able to read a few simple words and not knowing what a letter is. I have kids who can’t read or write their own name and a few that don’t know how to hold a pencil. I’m not sure what their parents were doing for the first five years of their life, but learning how to read, spell, and write their own name wasn’t a priority.
When I realized the task ahead of me, I panicked. Had I made a huge mistake? Was it possible to bring all of these kids as far as they needed to go? Was it too late to hop a plane for a warmer location and change my identity? I truly have my work cut out for me.
And then something happened. After the first few weeks of learning the rules and routines of school, we began to slowly work. One letter at a time, the kids were learning how to read and write their names. They were learning other simple sight words too. I’ve always heard people say kids this young are like sponges. They are more like those fancy Sham Wow cloths that soak up gallons and gallons of water.
In kindergarten we focus on two sight words every two weeks. That’s not many, but it’s enough. For the first four weeks of our program, we learned the words ‘I’ (yes, it’s a word, not just a letter!), ‘am,’ ‘the,’ and ‘little.’ We drilled those damn words every free second of the day. Then I pulled out the readers that came with our program. You would be amazed at the sentence variations you can make with those four simple words. Of course, there is always one word that we don’t know, but the book has a handy dandy picture above that word to help.
I am happy. (happy face)
I am sad. (sad face)
Am I happy?
Am I sad?
I am the little cat.
I am the little dog.
Am I the little cat?
Am I the little dog?
The list goes on…
One day I was reading with two of my lowest kids, Kevin and Chris. These are the kids who couldn’t read, spell, or write their names coming into school. Chris still struggles holding a pencil. I wasn’t sure how smooth this was going to be. I showed the boys the book. I asked them if they thought they could read this book on their own… two heads shaking no… I could smell the panic. I read the title. We opened our books, and I explained we would take turns reading each page. Then, I sat there and waited. Chris began reading… ‘I… am… the… little… (pause – I pointed to the picture of the cat…) cat!’ There was no exclamation point at the end of the sentence, but you’d never know by the way he read it. His face lit up. He was reading. I’m pretty sure Chris had never read anything in a book before in his life.
Then I got really excited. I shouted, ‘You’re reading!” This is what kindergarten is all about. I then did a little happy dance in my chair. The boys giggled and asked what I was doing? I told them that sometimes, you just have to do the Happy Dance. I then showed them my version. Sitting in our chairs, we shook our hands, bopped our heads, and celebrated our asses off. We had good reason.
Well today, Chris came to read to my class. He asked me a few weeks ago if he could do this, and naturally, I agreed. He came in, walked over to my seat, and smiled. After I introduced him as prior student, I asked him, “Do you want to sit in my seat?”
He looked at me and calmly said, “It doesn’t matter… I can stand too.”
Something about the way he looked at me just rocked me. He was so mature. So grown up. He wasn’t the little boy I’d helped learn to read a few years ago.
Chris read his book well. He didn’t show the pictures to the class and I didn’t ask him to. Nobody seemed to care.
I tried not to get choked up watching him read, but I’m not sure how successful I was. When he finished, we clapped, he smiled, and then he waved goodbye.