One of the best experiences I’ve had as a teacher was looping with my students. Twice I got to start with fourth graders and go on to fifth grade with them. Those kids will forever have a special place in my heart because we knew each other so well.
One of those kiddos is on my mind today. He’s one of those never-forget kiddos. He’s long since graduated from high school, quite well gainfully employed, and with a kid of his own. But his fourth and fifth grade self has a special place in my heart.
He had an IEP and he struggled in school. Reading and writing were especially hard for him. As a 10/11-year-old he could see that other kids could read more easily, more strongly, more quickly, than he could. He could see that other kids were ‘smarter.’
What he couldn’t see and what it took me too long to identify was how deeply he thought about things. During read alouds in our classroom he stood out when he shared what he was thinking about the book. During social studies conversations about Virginia history or ancient cultures, his questions and ideas were stellar.
Reading and writing might have been roadblocks for him, but his brain is brilliant. I’m grateful we had two years together because it gave me more time to try and help him see his own brilliance. While we worked on necessary reading skills I would remind him of the things he understood.
When he headed off to middle school the next year we still got together. He came to our house and helped me stain the new pantry doors we had hung. I took him to the middle school play (an Anne of Green Gables thing that seemed a poor fit for the student population).
I saw him a few years after he graduated from high school and learned how tough it had been for him. He had teachers who clearly saw his challenges but not his strengths. He told me a story of advocating for himself to complete a course and get the needed credits for graduation. Listening to him his frustration was clear. But I could also hear his confidence. His belief in himself that he had earned those credits. Had earned that degree.
I recognize the importance of the academics we teach in school. I also know, especially from this young man, how critical the social/emotional learning is as well. I have to believe that some of his confidence, some of his ability to advocate for himself, came from his time with me. I hope so. I hope I gave him that. He gave me a lens for seeing the strengths of all kids. For recognizing that no matter the challenges every kid has strengths. My job is to see them and to build on them.