Ask Your Teacher

Alexandra is beginning to read. It’s pretty amazing, actually; it’s like magic. To watch her see words and be able to string them together into sentences and then into an entire book is super moving for me.  I am not sure if it’s because I love to read, or that I remember when I began to read and how I took such joy in reading everything from cereal boxes to toothpaste tubes, or because I am a reading teacher…I can’t pinpoint why it is making me feel a joyful stirring in my gut. But I LOVE it, like deeply LOVE it. More than her walking or talking. This is blowing my mind.

Two weeks ago I sat in on a former colleague’s class at Laguardia Community College. She teaches in the education program, and these second year students presented their research projects to me for feedback. Their projects were on the affect of low-income parents on students’ success,  of parents’ literacy levels on kids’ literacy levels, of parental involvement and academic outcomes, etc. Of course, their research (on the research out there) showed nothing that was surprising (poor kids struggle more, parents with low literacy = kids with lower literacy gains, more involved parents = more academic success), but one thing resonated in me. Their solutions were all dependent on the parents getting more involved. But my question to them–over and over again–was what if the parents don’t know how to help?

And I realized–with crystal clarity–that I have NO idea how to support Alexandra as an emerging reader. Should I tell her the word when she doesn’t know it? Should I read first and have her echo? Should I have her sound out the word? When she gets frustrated, should we stop? Do I run my finger under the words as she reads or should she? I know that learning to read must be stressful, and I was worried that I was doing something wrong. (And, of course, irreparably damaging.)

So, I emailed her teacher with all these questions. I asked if we could talk, if she could coach me a bit, and offered to type up whatever she told me for everyone else. I said I was lost. I was a secondary and college teacher, who taught reading, but I had no clue what to do with my five year old daughter.

And Alexandra came home–that night–with pages of resources on how to read to A, B, C, & D level readers and a kind note from her teacher.

I was thrilled.

And I wished that *just once* in my eleven years of teaching that a parent had reached out to me.