In my 40+ years of teaching and private tutoring, I was accustomed to having people referred to me. In fact, they were often referred from several sources–the most being 5! That mother said she came to me out of self defense since everyone she went to sent her to me:-)
But this one was a bit different. I received a phone call from a baffled but not beaten mom who somehow had managed to keep her sense of humor. She skipped the introductions and went onto the bottom line: “I hear you can teach a rock to read.” Nothing in my training or experience had prepared me for this so I initiated a slight pregnant silence before I countered with, “I have to wonder who told you that.”
She said an occupational therapist had mentioned that. I knew the therapist to be quite professional and capable, but was a bit taken back by the expectation. Her path and mine had crossed many times over the years, so she did know my work.
Before I had too long to muse, the charming southern mother said definitively, “Well, I’ve got a rock for you!”
So began a series of tutoring in the afternoon sun which shone pleasantly through the windows of our tutoring room. He did make steady, if slow, progress, and showed he was willing to work hard and put in the time. We had a regular routine of skill work followed by oral reading for fun and application of learning. I often bragged on him and told him how proud I was of him, but never mentioned that his own mom had referred to him as a rock!
One day we were reading a science article about space travel. I thought it showed real snap on his part when he joked that the kids probably asked every week or two, “Are we there yet?” Obviously he had processed and understood the vast distances and time factors involved. This exhibited more intelligence than he was being given credit for.
This experience planted a grain of doubt in my mind about the idea that all kids should be “on level” and I’ve dedicated much of my energy toward changing that mindset about the philosophy of education. Perhaps kids who learn differently could be taught, and even more importantly, tested, at their level of functioning. This simple approach would turn many reluctant learners into eager learners.
To get a clear bead on reality, adults might ask themselves how often they ask their friends what level they are on in academic subjects. Never! We admire our friends because of their personalities, their strengths, and even their foibles. Most adults know every person has worth, and levels only define their function, not their value.
I must admit that one of my finest teaching moments was when I was hired to “teach a rock to read.” How lucky I was to meet such a pleasant and admirable young man:-)
Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission from author for use online or in print.