From the desk of Karen…This true story is one I live by and I offer it to you for reflection.
A darling little boy was born into this world. His mother was thrilled.
There were problems, of course. In the first 10 days, the baby would not stop crying. Despite all her efforts, the baby was uncomfortable. Finally, her mother said, wrap him in swaddling cloths. And grandma wrapped the baby up tightly in towels and held him. The baby stopped crying, at least for periods of time.
When he was one, his mother noticed that he did not enjoy going out as much as she did. She loved taking her son on trips to the mall, to visit friends, to the park and to church. But her precious little boy would pull on her leg and say, “Mama stay home.”
When he was three, his grandparents came to visit at Christmas time. They suggested a visit to Santa. By now the boy had a one-year old brother and the mother thought, “Oh, this will be fun!” But the boy said he had seen Santa before and he wanted to stay home.
When it was time to enroll in preschool, the mother carefully selected a place just for him not far from their home. The sweet teacher made a trip out to the house to get to know the boy. All the children in the neighborhood were going to preschool.
This mom knew preschool would be just the thing for her little toddler. He would make friends and go on field trips and be with children his own age. When she strapped him in the car to take him his first day, he surprised her by saying, “You are taking me to school to get rid of me. Let me stay home.”
By the time he was five, mom selected another school just for him. It was called the Open School. He would learn to make choices, be independent, work on projects all in a big room with lots of other students. The spaces were wide open and so was the structure. He never complained. His teachers said he was a model student.
In third grade, the counselor showed the mom a profile that said her son would always be successful in school. He was gifted, of course! Beyond that, however, he fit the mold for making it in school. He had a photographic memory, he loved learning, he could read far above grade level, and he was compliant. “We would love to have whole classrooms made up of children just like yours,” the counselor told the mom.
But in seventh grade, the boy left his school in January and never went back. At first, he complained of being sick. Another child was sick too – the boy’s independent project partner. They were out of school for 2 months with a virus, both doctors said. As mysterious as it was, the mothers stayed in touch over the phone, consoling one another and praying their children would get well. It was all they could do. The project partner went back to school in March. The boy continued to be sick.
When the sickness dragged on into the spring, the mother sought a homeschool teacher. She came to the house 2 times a week and the boy loved it. He aced his assignments. He laughed. He passed seventh grade.
You probably know by now that the boy is mine. When I saw his reaction to his homeschool teacher and how he played with visitors, I knew my son was not sick any more. I sat on his bed and told him that he never had to go back to that school. We would seek the world over to find a school he loved. And the next day, he was well.
You see, I chose a school for me, not my son. I loved the plays, the sports, the loud noises, the crowds. He loved quiet and structure, reading and friends one on one. He returned to a structured school where he excelled, found friends, and even a wife-to-be. He smiled and cracked jokes lot.
We have talked about the experience from his perspective and from mine. He doesn’t mind me sharing our story because he wants to help other children who are different from their mothers and their teachers.
So when I am tempted to say, “Well this worked for me. Why can’t my students learn the same way?” I remember this story and look deeper at why it’s not working for my students.
In just a few months the reading goddesses will visit our region: Debbie Miller, Stephanie Harvey, and Cris Tovani. They will help us reflect on our practice and gain new insights. They will challenge us. Our practices are not working for all our students.
The story I lived is only one example that reminds us: we are not all the same. Even the children we birth are not like us! As a matter of fact, a bundled-up baby may not even need a sweater. But you see, a baby only wears a sweater when his mother is cold and that may not be a good thing. Reflect with me on that as you prepare to participate in the best workshop in the state.
Karen Haag is is a teacher, a researcher, and a coach. She is the owner of LikeToWrite. She maintains 3 websites: www.facebook.com/LikeToWrite, www.liketoread.com, and www.liketowrite.com and is co-author of Thinking Out Loud on Paper (Heinemann, 2008). Karen would love to hear your comments.