Racing to Read

I confide to some teacher friends that I don’t think my new school’s leadership likes me very much. This surprises them, since I am generally known as a nice person.

It’s not that, I explain. It’s my low test scores.

Now they’re looking at me with confused faces. But you’re not in a testing grade, they argue.

It doesn’t matter. Regardless of the grade, it’s about a test score. In my case, it’s how much my kids can read. 

There are several strikes against us. Poverty. Truancy problems. Language barriers. Trauma and possible PTSD. A more transient population than I have ever seen in all my years of teaching.

Never mind that an overwhelming majority entered my class–whenever they entered–speaking little or no English. They were unable to recognize the letters of the alphabet. Many couldn’t even recognize their own names.

But why aren’t they reading? is what I hear. All of the reasons I listed above? They’re just excuses. I must be doing something wrong. My expectations are too low.

If I tried harder…if I was a better teacher…if…if…if I wasn’t me, then they would know more. The scores would be better.

So for a period of several weeks, against my better judgment, I succumbed. I tried it their way. We still briefly practiced letters and sounds, but in small group time I pushed them to read texts independently. And guess what? Very little progress was made in their alphabetic knowledge.

And they still couldn’t read simple text independently.


This year has been a series of contradictions. Me on one side, trying to defend play-based learning and developmentally appropriate practices. The powers that be on the other side, mandating program after program in defense of “The Test.” Even kids as young as five years old are supposed to be prepped so that one day, they too can take “The Test.”

Do I think my kids will learn to read? Yes. I have seen progress in the skills that you need to have in place to become a reader. I have seen my kids develop a love of being read to. I have seen their oral language and their vocabularies increase. For some kids, it has been a victory to just get them comfortable enough to tell me hello in the morning. For others, they can tell me much more detailed stories than they could earlier in the year.

But do I think my kids are going to hit an artificial benchmark by the end of the year? No.


They need time. They need more exposure to print. They need more opportunities to practice their English. They need more experiences, which build their background knowledge.


I know that. Research supports that.

Those who make decisions disagree.

And they are the ones who hire and fire.

Before the end of the year, there will probably be discussions in the office. Notes or emails sent to me, asking why they can’t perform. As if my kids are willingly choosing not to read.

They will read. When they are ready.

Not when an artificial timeline dictates.




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10 thoughts on “Racing to Read

  1. Erikka April 27, 2016 / 3:02 pm

    You sound like a caring, intelligent, and EXCELLENT teacher. Consider doing video interviews with your students in which you ask them how they feel about themselves as readers? storytellers? and if they want to learn to read? how well THEY think they are doing? Maybe do this with parents too – as they too have probably seen the positive signs and developments you see. And if you’re admin team doesn’t see this amazing, research based, supportive work you are doing, and discredits student and parent feedback and fires you – I’d tell them to “Go F**K Themselves.” I know that sounds harsh, and you don’t know me. I am an educator too and I identify as a female/woman, so I say with my experiential authority that women teachers try and try and try to do better, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE DOING AWESOME! Because sometimes, Admins just don’t see the gems and jewels and gifts right in front of them, people doing excellent work, building something great for their schools. If they can’t see that, nothing you do will change that and you will constantly fight to feel good enough, to feel secure in your position, and to feel confident in your work. I hope for you they see you, hear you, and support your work. If they don’t, find the place THAT WILL. You deserve that place and that place will help you grow, and your students, too.


  2. maribethbatcho April 27, 2016 / 4:03 pm

    This piece makes me so sad, but it is a reality in the crazy political environment of our times. I think the most important thing you said was this (and it is also the line that no one cares about): They will learn when they are ready.
    When they are developmentally ready and developmentally able to read, they will. And they will read regardless of whether I am there or not..


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