“T……Tom…..live…..lived…in..a….big….city…..” I glance at my timer and see 26 seconds to go. “He….li….lived….with….his…br…brother…and…” BEEP BEEP BEEP
Zeus’ head drops to his shoulders. I can see the disappointment in his eyes. His voice is full of shame and regret. I told him his reading score for the beginning of the school year: 11 words. Nowhere near the 60 that students are expected to be at.
I look him in the eyes and tell him, “Our goal is to get you at the end of year benchmark, and to help you become the best reader possible. What can we do to work on this?”. By goal setting and directing the question to the reader himself, I catch Zeus off guard. “I dunno…..read? Like all the time?”. His eyes search mine expectantly, waiting for me to guide his response. I smile and say, “Reading is something that must become a daily habit; if you want to become a lifelong reader and learn to enjoy it, we must practice daily. I want you to start by coming in each day after breakfast and selecting a book that you are able to read. As time goes on, you may notice your taste in books change, or that you can read difficult words on your own. You are I are in this together, Zeus.” He nods and turns to walk towards our large classroom bookshelf. I see him narrow his eyes upon picking up a book. He puts it back when he realizes it isn’t something he is ready for. After a few minutes, he settles on a well worn book and reads it to himself at his seat. I watch him repeat this routine each day for the next nine months. As time goes on, I see him transform before my eyes. I make it a point to encourage him on small victories. One example is when he read a story for me and made only five errors, compared to the sixteen from several weeks earlier. I advise his classmates to make positive comments to him when he reads aloud in class, or when his reading score increases after a fluency test. He beams with pride when the school principal pats him on the back and congratulates him on moving up over ten words in a month. There are bad days too, though. I see him silently comparing himself to the other students who quickly meet the end of year goal effortlessly. I know he is wondering why he must put in more work. There were days when I spent extra time reading with him because I knew he wasn’t reading at home. There were times when I could hear him sigh from across the room, and it knew that he was having a rough day. At his conference, his parents and I discussed his strengths and weaknesses in school. We spent the most time talking about his growth, and what he needed to do at home to improve. “This is our priority”, his mother told me firmly, looking Zeus in the eyes, so that he knew he would be held accountable. “I know he can become better.” Yes he can. Yes he will, I had thought to myself. Encouragement and consistency are what will help him succeed.
“I can say all my numbers from one to ten. I can count very well for my age. Listen to me say all my numbers from one to ten. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. My teacher says I am becoming better in school. I know because I practice my numbers each day.” I smile as I listen to Zeus pointing and reading the words out loud, and he is so incredibly close to the end of year goal. When the timer hits 10 seconds, I realize he WILL make it. As the timer goes off and he looks up to hear his score, I jump up and hug him. I scream, “96 words!!!!.” His eyes are as large as the analog clock on the wall. I feel so proud when the other students circle around him for a hug. I see tears in his eyes. He is ready for his end of year reading test. He has come a long way. Only two weeks to go.
Today, Zeus took his end of the year reading test; a similar story, with the same amount of time. This time, I noticed several differences. He strode into the room with his shoulders high, head held confidently, and read with ease. When he first became my student, he had cringed at the large amount of errors staring back at him. Now, he proudly tells me that he only made two whole errors! He came close to meeting the end of year goal. He missed it by nine words. I can tell he is slightly disappointed but still proud of how he finished. He smiles at me and says “Thank you”, before walking over to my bookshelf and finding a book. He sits down and starts to read.
About the Author
Rebecca Brinkman is a fourth-grade teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. She has taught at the same school for her entire 17-year career. Her campus is a second home and it has a strong family feel to it. This is what draws her back every year. She is excited to begin her “Sweet 16th” year of teaching! She has taught 2nd grade for ten years and 3rd grade for six years. She has served as a team lead on her campus for six years. She earned a Masters in Education with a focus on Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University, as well as a Masters in Reading. She also earned her Bachelor of Arts in Education from Arizona State University.
Rebecca achieved National Board Certification in the fall of 2019 in Early to Middle Childhood Literacy. She is passionate about building relationships and creating magic in the classroom for her scholars. She credits her former speech teacher as her reason for becoming an educator. She profoundly impacted her attitude towards school and self-esteem as a young student; Rebecca realized she wanted to make that same impact on children by helping them realize their strengths and pushing through personal challenges.
Her second biggest passion is travel! She can often be found planning her next big adventure. She also enjoys hiking, reading, storytelling with The Moth, volunteering and bucket listing. The quote that resonates most with her is, “The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately.”