Friday, July 29, 2005

Institute: And we're off!

Institute is over. Now the 750 of us who have spent the last five weeks eating, sleeping, working and teaching together will scatter into our regions to begin teaching in the fall. Only six weeks to get ready for our students who will enter our classrooms for the first time in September. There is still so much work to be done!

The last day of teaching (Thursday) was great. We reserved the last hour of school for games and a party for the kids. They had so much fun (and we did too). We let them ask us questions. The most frequently asked questions were How old are you? and What's your real name? At the end of the hour none of the kids wanted to go home. Some were crying (including our "tough girl" who was our biggest behavioral challenge and who in the end scored the highest on the final assessments). In particularly girl in the class stood out. I had been working individually with her in reading for the four weeks of summer school. She's going into seventh grade in the fall and on a low first grade reading level. At first I didn't realize just how low her level was. She's gotten pretty good at faking her reading over the course of her elementary school career. Using context and the beginning letters of words, she can guess correctly most of the time. Finally, I stopped to assess her actual level and realized we'd been working on books that were way above her level. I realized that we had to start with the basics and we began working on phonics and reading beginning first grade decodable books. At first she was reluctant to read these babyish books. The other kids were reading 4th and 5th grade level books out loud fluently and she was struggling to decode first grade words. Eventually, she started seeing the progress she was making and became excited to read. Then there were days when her face lit up as she read an entire page without stumbling and others she struggled with one too many words and became so frustrated that she put her head down on the desk cried. Together we made some progress this summer, but four weeks just isn't enough. I was concerned that I wouldn't be there to help her in the Fall. Her school doesn't have a special reading program for kids like her who've been looked over and are now going on 13 and still can't read. I made a summer reading project for her to work on before the school year and tried to encourage her to ask for help from her 7th grade teacher. She promised to practice all of the words and sentences that I gave her. As she left the classroom on the last day of summer school she gave me a card that said "Best Reading Teacher Ever." Inside she wrote that she hated reading before because she didn't know how and now she wants to learn. She wrote her phone number in the card and said I could call her to make sure she was reading over the summer. Once again she was crying. She said "I don't want you guys to go!" It was the hardest thing to say goodbye to these six kids that we had just started to get to know and see make some small steps towards academic achievement. Now more than ever I can't wait to begin teaching in the Fall. It's all about the kids.

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