This week is Thanksgiving – a time to give thanks. Every year I do an activity with my students which involves us making “thankful trees.” Each student gets an outline of a tree that they color and write things that they are thankful for on. (I make one too!) We mat these on construction paper and then I put dozens of cut out leaves on each table. For this part, the students take some leaves and they write a classmates name on one side, and then a personalized compliment to them on the other side. They try to make these for as many kids in the class as they can within the time limit. I deliver them to each student and their faces lighten up when they read compliments from their classmates (and me!).
This year went just like the other years that I have done it, and I monitor to make sure every student is getting adequate leaves. I received the standard ones from students such as “thank you for teaching me,” “I love you,” and “you’re cool.” We talk about it, reflect on the activity and then write in our journals about it. It came time for lunch and we put them away and moved on with our day.
At the end of the day, I was packing up my things and found a single leaf on my computer with my name on it. I turned it over and it read “thank you for helping me pick out books I like. No one’s ever done that before.”
This was a relatively hectic day in the classroom, and one that led me to think things such as “why did I come in today” or “I wonder what it’s like to have a job where you don’t have kids being loud and all over you all day.” But everytime I have a thought like that, I find a lot more reasons why I DO teach and why I love what I do. This leaf was that sign today and hit me harder than I would’ve expected.
Every week when I conference with individual students, we talk about what book they’re reading, how it’s going, and if they need help finding another one. This child in particular is very picky when it comes to reading and struggles a great deal. He is below grade level and used to sit in stamina reading staring off into space or drawing pictures on post-it notes. I happened to notice this and I talked to him about it. We went to the classroom library together and talked about how to pick out a good book. My library is leveled so we were able to easily find books that he could manage independently. From there he began browsing the books. I talked about ones that I have read and what they’re about and he immediately gravitated towards the mystery books.
I told him that he may not love every book, and that’s okay. I don’t love every book I read either! If he finishes a couple chapters and doesn’t like it, he can take a new book. He seemed confused by this, but eventually started doing that. He now asks me almost daily if he can read a chapter out loud to me and has increased his fluency and comprehension tremendously this year!
I knew all of this, but never really reflected on why he had made so much progress. I assumed it was fluency drills or progress monitoring tests, but I genuinely think his progress is because he has finally found an interest in reading. Taking the time to help him pick out a book may have been the difference in his literacy education. It may be other things, but at least I know it affected him positively. I drove home from work that day and thought about my career. He had amazing teachers throughout elementary school before he got to me, but no one took the time to help him find a book he liked. It makes me wonder how many of my current students still have holes they need filled and how easy it is to fill them once you figure out what it is.
Of course I want to see my students test scores improve and know that I’m helping them learn, but knowing I did something to help one of my kids enjoy learning was enough to remind me that this is why I am a teacher. Through all of the paperwork, meetings, and late nights at home grading papers, these kids need someone in their life that they can look up to, and I am very happy to know that I am making a difference in some of their lives.