Friday, April 17, 2015

To Reading Teachers

Dear Teacher,
I know there must be a reason for the phrase “reluctant reader,” but sometimes I wish it could be “emerging,” or “gradually improving,” or even “promising reader.”
To my ear “reluctant” sounds too gloomy and unpromising. Maybe that’s because I truly believe that every young person has the potential to love reading… once they learn to overcome their difficulties and master the skill.

I’m sure that I myself would have been labeled a reluctant reader. In June of 1958, when I reached the end of third grade, my parents were told by the school principal that due to my poor my reading ability I was not ready for fourth grade. Instead I would have to repeat third grade the following year.

Back then, labels like “reluctant reader” and “learning disability” didn’t exist. Dyslexia probably did, but I don’t recall hearing it applied to me. Instead, I was labeled an underachiever, which basically meant I was lazy.

To this day I don’t know why I struggled with reading, or why I still read slowly, or why I still have difficulty spelling. I do know that I was fortunate to have parents who cared enough to send me to a reading tutor that summer, a tutor who got me to read by doing two pretty simple things:    

-- Upon learning that I loved animals and hoped to work at the Bronx Zoo someday, she found the wonderful (and sadly not always in print) stories of Gerald Durrell, a naturalist and zookeeper who traveled the world collecting critters.

-- She motivated me to read those stories by supplying me with pretzels and ginger ale (we weren’t allowed to have candy, salty snacks, or soda at home).

As a result, I spent the summer reading (and only gained a few extra pounds), and was able to go into fourth grade the following fall. Even more importantly, I developed a life-long love of reading. 

These days, I have a special place in my heart for those “promising,” and “gradually improving,” readers. When I’m doing school visit or Skyping with classes, I make a point of telling students about my personal struggles with learning to read and write. Because I think they need to know that it’s okay to struggle, and it’s even okay to fail … as long as they keep trying. 

After all, that’s what I learned to do.

Sincerely,  Todd