FROM STRUGGLING READER- TO THIRD-GRADE TEACHER
"I'm not a good reader."
"I hate reading."
"I'll never get better at reading."
"Learning how to read it's just too hard."
As a child, these are a few of the phrases I would tell myself time and time again.
But these thoughts didn't arrive until 2nd grade.
Before then I enjoyed school. I enjoyed learning my ABCs, making friends, learning new songs with my classmates, having story time on the large bright colorful rug, and being a kid.
THE EARLY YEARS: LOVING SCHOOL
In Kindergarten, it was an even playing field.
Most of us were working hard hoping to read as we learned our ABCs and how to make the sounds for each letter. Those were the good days when I couldn't wait to come to school to socialize with my friends.
First grade was fun as well, as we continued to learn how to pronounce and sound out words and learn sight words. I remember getting my first book from my mom- "Where's Spot," by Eric Hill. I read that book from cover to cover every day.
I felt like I was such a great reader because I could read each word in the book without any trouble. I could even read big words like "under" and "behind" without asking an adult for help. I just knew that I would do well in second grade.
Yet, in second-grade school became boring and I felt dumb.
My peers from the previous grades were able to read longer stories and even chapter books. while I needed the teacher to help me with practically every word in my baby book.
When the teacher called students to read out loud, I would pray that she would not call my name. I feared that my peers would tease me for my reading struggles.
The same peers who were my friends in the previous years had become less friendly. They made fun of me and refuse to play with me because they thought I was dumb.
Recess became the worst part of the day. I felt so isolated during recess. I took the advice of my mother, "if no one wants to play with you baby, then play by yourself."
I spent many days playing by myself, wishing that dismissal would come sooner, so I could go home and watch cartoons with my brother.
By this time, I would tell the teacher that my dog ate my homework, knowing that I never had a pet in my life. I was barely passing, and I was fortunate to get promoted to the 3rd grade.
I remember my second-grade teacher giving me my final report card. She told me that if I didn't attend summer school then I would not be promoted to the 3rd grade.
So, that summer I attended summer school and was promoted to 3rd grade.
Third- grade was the worst!
The books and passages were longer, and the words on the paper were even more challenging. I could no longer cover up my reading struggles by making excuses and taking shortcuts through assignments to get by.
Third grade was different from the previous years.
No longer were we learning to read, we were reading to learn, and since I couldn't read well, I couldn't learn. I was unable to keep up and felt like a fish out of water every day. I hated school!
So, I got in trouble a lot for talking to my classmates while the teacher was teaching. I never turned in work, and when I did, it was done without effort.
I became the "bad" kid as I made friends with the students who usually misbehaved. I enjoyed being with the "bad" crowd because they embraced me and seemed to understand me.
THE STATE TEST
In addition to falling behind in my classwork in 3rd grade. That year we would have to take something called the state test for the first time.
I hated reading. So, as soon as I saw a text with a lot of words, I would be disinterested. I would daydream about being home and watching television with my brother.
Immediately, when it was time to take the Reading State Test, I bubbled in anything without reading the passages. I completed the exam within 20 minutes.
I was scolded by the teacher and was told to return to my seat and show effort because this test was very important.
I went back to my seat, opened the test booklet, and pretended to be reading the text. I underlined random sentences and waited for enough time to pass so that it would appear that I had shown effort.
However, I handed in the same bubble sheet with the same made-up answers.
That year I failed the state test and was held back.
I couldn't believe it when my 3rd-grade teacher gave me my final report. She told me that I would have to repeat the 3rd and attend summer school.
I felt like a failure and that my life was over. I was afraid to tell my mom and I was embarrassed for being dumb, for not knowing how to read well. I felt helpless because I didn't know how to make my situation better.
I watched my peers move on to fourth grade while I stayed with the babies in 3rd grade because I didn't know how to read well.
Once my family and friends heard that I was repeating the 3rd grade, many of them teased me and said I was dumb. While others shared their experiences of having to repeat a grade to encourage me to feel better about myself.
REPEATING 3RD GRADE
My second year of 3rd grade was a little better.
Although I put effort into everything I did because I didn't want to repeat third grade. I still wasn't reading on grade level and still needed help with many of the words that I read.
It was so frustrating to have to read sentences repeatedly until I understood them. It would take me a long time to finish my classwork and homework, so, I still thought school was boring.
I just knew I had to pass to avoid being teased again for being held back. I was determined to pass the 3rd grade.
So, when I had to complete the state test again, I gave my best effort and scored a 37% on the reading state test.
Although I failed it, I wasn't failing my classes and if I attended summer school, I could be promoted to 4th grade. So, I attended summer school for a third summer.
LEARNING ON PURPOSE AND NOT KNOWING IT
Fourth grade was one of the best years of my life because I met one of the best teachers in the world.
Mr. Manuel was the best because he made learning enjoyable. He was different from my previous teachers because the way he taught was different.
He would do things like have the class create their math word problems and have us solve them ourselves. He would force us to use our minds and think. Before, Mr. Manuel, I never had a teacher like him, a teacher that would challenge me.
In the past, my other teachers would do all the work. They would stand in front of the class and lecture the information to us.
While we sat at our desks, and at times be given worksheets and tests to fill out. I wasn't learning anything, except that school was boring and that I wasn't a "good" or "smart" student.
And I learned very quickly that if you were not smart or good in school, then you were on your teachers' "bad" list.
This meant you could not partake in any of the fun parties. You would not be selected to be the teacher's helper.
And parent-teacher conferences were always a nightmare. I can remember the teacher telling my mom, "Your daughter has the potential to be a good student. She needs to put effort into her work, and she needs to work on reading better."
"Potential, Potential, Potential. I got tired of hearing about how much potential I had. And I wondered when someone would actually help me reach my potential.
Mr. Manual made learning appealing, he was down to earth and understood his students. He knew how to engage with us. He was aware that we were children.
Not robots-who should sit at our desks with our hands folded and listen to our teacher. Who would talk our ears off about what he or she thought while disregarding anything students had to say.
Every Friday, Mr. Manuel would take the class on trips to the zoo, park, and even a college tour. I couldn't believe it; we were nine years old and on a college tour.
Mr. Manuel allowed us to know that learning doesn't always take place in a classroom setting. But that learning can happen any and everywhere.
He was such a good teacher that I took interest in learning without even knowing it. I began to do well in school and not on purpose.
That year, when I took the reading state test, I scored a 45%, but I also scored a 76% on my math state test.
Although I didn't score high on my reading test. My math test scores were higher than the average student's. So, the school wanted me to attend that Talented and Gifted class for 5th grade.
That summer, I didn't have to attend summer school. It felt great to enjoy the entire summer without mandatory summer school.
I didn't belong in the Talented and Gifted classroom and those 5th-graders would remind me of that daily.
These students had attended talented and gifted classes since kindergarten. They were the best of the best in the school, scoring in the 95% percentile and above.
Many of them would cry with disappointment if they received a 97% on an exam. The talented and gifted classroom was different from my general education experience.
The students and their parents were very competitive, and I longed for my 4th grade days with Mr. Manuel. Yet, I gave my best effort because Mr. Manuel believed in me and showed me that I was smart also.
YOU ARE DYSLEXIC & SO IS BILL COSBY’S SON
But, in 5th grade, although I gave my best effort, I still was falling behind and struggled to read well.
I remember during a parent-teacher conference, my 5th-grade teacher told my mom that she thought I was dyslexic and that I should be evaluated.
Immediately after telling my mom this, she turns to me and says, "don't worry Bill Cosby's son is dyslexic as well."
All I could do was shake my head up and down as I thought to myself, WHAT, what does Bill Cosby's son have to do with me?
I couldn't believe that the teacher didn't have any true evidence behind her diagnosis. My mom took what she said as fact because she was a licensed teacher. I never got evaluated, and the teacher never gave me any further support.
That night my mom bought a bunch of phonics books from the 99 cents store. She told me that I would have to work on these books daily.
As soon as she gave me the phonics workbooks, I looked at them and I told myself, you are not dyslexic.
I knew I wasn't dyslexic. I knew that I didn't enjoy reading because no one read books at home. So, I found reading to be an activity that one does for school only, it took so much energy, and so I didn't enjoy doing it.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
That year I was on a mission to prove to my 5th-grade teacher that I was not dyslexic. And that I was smart like Mr. Manuel had made me believe. So, I would practice reading every day.
That year, I finally read my first chapter book, Horrible Harry and the Green Slime. It took some weeks, but I was able to read all 58 pages and I understood what I read, in fact, I even enjoyed the story.
Although that book was a 2nd-grade level book, I had finally read a chapter book on my own with comprehension.
From that day forward, I knew that I could conquer my reading struggles. All it would take is time, effort, a lot of practice, and confidence.
After 5th grade, I had begun to make steady improvements in my reading struggles. I began to make substantial academic progress.
In middle school, I excelled so much academically. I received a full-paid scholarship to attend boarding school for high school.
After graduating from high school, I attended college. After college, I knew I wanted to give the gift of being a skilled reader to all children.
So, I attended graduate school. I received my master's degree in childhood education and became a teacher.
As a classroom teacher, I can apply my reading intervention skills to struggling readers. I have seen hundreds of frustrated students blossom and become confident readers who cherish learning.
When the pandemic hit, and my classroom shifted to being online. I discovered creative solutions to apply my reading intervention skills to children virtually. While teaching remotely, I started holding one-on-one sessions with my struggling readers.
These sessions were so POWERFUL. I began to see students who were reading below grade level, began to read at grade level within 3-4 months. Their success in learning to read through direct intervention online convinced me to become an online reading tutor.
Providing consistent, one-on-one tutoring sessions remotely has helped me achieve my lifelong mission of transforming young struggling readers into lifelong readers.
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