Lots of Children Left Behind

A child of the 80s, my dyslexic husband didn’t have that great of a time in school. Teachers spent his elementary years telling his mother how smart but lazy he was. She insisted he couldn’t read. They said of course he could. Finally after fourth grade she took him to Dallas for tests. Within minutes everyone knew. He couldn’t read, and it wasn’t his fault. At that time dyslexia was something new and unknown. He stayed in Dallas for school, learned to read and repeated fourth grade.
Problem solved. Or so you’d have thought.
In high school, he loved business classes, but his counselors told him he needed to focus on a trade. College wasn’t a valid option for a kid with dyslexia.
One teacher, Mrs. Reser, told him he could do whatever he wanted, but at that time in his life, he listened to the counselors and became an auto mechanic. He didn’t really like it, though. And in the back of his mind he remembered that teacher. Mrs. Reser. Telling him he could do anything he wanted.
Within a few years he was in college. In four years he finished his degree in marketing. The dyslexia was still there, but he dealt with it using the skills he’d learned so long ago at the school in Dallas.
In fifth grade my daughter’s reading teacher asked me if I’d considered modifications for her. Seemed she just wasn’t performing up to the level expected. The teacher felt modifications were in order.
I was stunned and outraged.
My daughter was hyper-active, but she’d scored in the 99th percentile on every reading test since she’d started testing in second grade. She’d certainly pulled the wool over her teacher’s eyes, but the teacher should’ve done a little research. Needless to say modifications weren’t discussed again. And amazingly, when the teacher’s expectations changed, my daughter’s grades did too.
I see this same thing play out so many times in schools and often the kids have no advocate, no one to stand up and say you can do it! I like being that teacher, but sometimes it’s hard. A few years ago I had a student in my introductory journalism class. She drove me crazy. She insisted she wanted to be a journalist, but she could barely write a coherent sentence. She’d been tested for special ed, but her scores were too bad to make it in the program.
Every day the girl came into my room, prepared to write. And every day she’d stay after. And every day I’d groan to myself at the wasted time I was spending on this girl who certainly had the desire but was never going to make it.
One of the best moments in my teaching career was the day she turned in a perfect lead. 5Ws, 1H. One sentence. 30 words.
We both jumped up and down. It might’ve taken two six weeks, but she’d done it.
By the end of the semester, she was turning in perfect summary news stories in inverted pyramid format. The simplicity of the form had freed her from her problems with grammar. The stories took lots of revision, but they were done and they were decent.
The girl transferred out of my school the next semester. I don’t know where she is today.
But she taught me an incredible lesson.
Want to,desire, perseverance…they’re every bit as important as ability and intelligence, probably even more so.

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