What are the qualities that endear students to teachers? What makes a particular student one of your favorites? For most teachers, the charming students are the ones who work well with others, complete all of their classwork, pay attention during class, read well, and speak respectfully to others. For me, it wasn’t like that. As a teacher of students with reading disabilities, I rarely had students who possessed all of the qualities listed above. The students I became very fond of were the ones who were resilient. The ones who had been thru much trauma, neglect or indifference in their little lives and still came to school each day with a smile on their faces. During my eight years of teaching, I had many students who were resilient. But, there was one student, in particular, that I formed a close bond with and still keep in touch with 15 years later.
It was the first day of school in 2000. The bus driver walked into the school with the cutest, little, five-year old boy wearing shorts and a bow tie. He was lost and the bus driver wasn’t even sure he was supposed to be at our school. He had been left at the bus stop early that morning and hopped on the bus with the other children. No adults were present. I was on bus duty that day when the two of them arrived and helped figure out where the little lost boy was supposed to be. Jayden (not his real name for confidentiality reasons) was at the right school and later that week, I found out he would be in my resource class for reading. At the age of 5, he was already behind in his pre-reading skills. He had an Individualized Education Program (IEP). I fell for his quick wit and huge smile almost immediately. In some ways, he seemed much older than five. I learned that he lived with grandma, his younger sister and two cousins. Jayden was definitely resilient. There had been many struggles in that family. Jayden was born to a fifteen-year old mother and had not seen her in years. He barely knew her.
Since there was no transportation for the family, I went to Jayden’s house for the first IEP meeting. It was at that meeting that I realized Jayden had not had the opportunity for many experiences outside his neighborhood.
As Jayden’s special education resource teacher, I worked closely with his general education teacher to provide strategies and interventions to help Jayden improve his literacy skills. Jayden’s literacy skills did not improve much over the next few years. He continued to lag behind other students his age, in reading and writing. He repeated first grade, and was still not reading at grade level by the end of third grade, although he was receiving approximately an hour a day of extra reading from the resource reading room. A national study Double Jeopardy: How Third Grade Reading Scores and Poverty Influence High School Graduation shows that one in six students who do not read on grade level by the end of third grade and are living in poverty, drop out of high school. That rate is four times higher than the drop out rate for proficient, third grade readers. The study shows a correlation between third grade reading scores and high school graduation rates.
Next Thursday, I will continue writing about Jayden and the impact his third grade literacy skills have on his future.