Like many parents, my husband and I showed the appropriate amount of concern about our healthy Kindergarten age son, who in 1995 demonstrated to his teachers that he was not even slightly interested in pursuing this thing we adults called "reading."
Not wanting to smother our son, we took turns working with him at home and as a mostly stay-at-home mom, I accepted the responsibility to reach out to other moms for advice when/if the opportunity occurred. Otherwise, I thought we did a great job of managing our concern.
So when our 6 year old son entered 1st grade, we were slightly worried about his lack of progress in reading and had our doctor check him for hearing/vision problems to eliminate them as factors.
At the start of the school year, one of my friends knew a reading specialist in another state, who I called for advice. She gave me lots of suggestions which we were able to integrate into our family routines.
Being the first person on my side of the family to receive a college degree, I placed a lot of value on education and both my husband and I are avid readers. I did not want to pressure my child and tried never to let on to my son, that I was doing anything out of the ordinary. This went on for a several months and I noticed that while my son did not openly resist my efforts, he was not showing signs of improvement (or interest) at all.
At our first parent/teacher conference with Teacher Rosemary, she offered her own evaluation of our son. While she agreed that he was reading below grade level, Rosemary recognized and focused on our son's other qualities. Although he was a quiet child, he was friendly and kind and seemed content to play alone or with others. She also told us he was confident and secure in his identity and seemed to have a maturity beyond his years.
Then Rosemary, who was aware of the additional reading help we were providing at home, confidently explained that she thought our son, who was achieving above grade level in all other academic areas, was just not interested in reading. She went on to explain that she thought even our "gentle" pushing would not tip the scales to help him succeed. Her recommendation? Back off with the additional reading activities and let our son progress at his pace.
Wow! Can you imagine a teacher telling you to back off? (politely, of course!) It was an option that we had not even considered! Let-our-child-progress-at-his-own-pace-even-if-it-meant-at-below-grade-level!
The choice was ours and our son's future lay in our hands. We walked away and ultimately decided to listen to the teacher. We backed off with our special activities and offered support on request.
In 2nd grade, it was much the same thing and the 2nd grade teacher recognized the same strong character and sense of self and seemed satisfed to accept that our son was not yet interested in reading.
Then in 3rd grade, our son came home weekly with stories about a book his teacher was reading aloud to the class. The book was "Harry Potter" and after much badgering from our son, we bought him the book and he sat down and read it through over several days. At the time, it did not occur to me just how "right" Rosemary had been about our son.
We're not sure how much of that first book he actually read, but he was able to understood the story and the fire was lit, so it seemed.
In Middle School, our son progressed and grew into a bright, curious young man who advanced from 7th to 9th grade, skipping his 8th grade year. He graduated in 2008 and was accepted into all 4 institutions of higher learning to which he applied.
Ultimately, he chose to go to our local community college, because in his mind, it made economic sense.
Progress continued and our son decided to enroll in the business program in a foreign university in Denmark. Somehow he coordinated his own travel documents, visas and living arrangements (with the help of a very special girl!) and now he successfully attends the university in another country.
Teacher Rosemary has since passed away and I think of her often and those moments after that critical parent/teacher conference in 1st grade, when she dared to say something daring to parents who, like all parents, only want the very best for their child. At the time, we could not imagine doing nothing, but as it turned out, nothing was the best course of "action" in our son's case. Thank you Teacher Rosemary.
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