Growing up, my mom used to tell me the funny stories she remembered from being a Kindergarten teacher. One of the best ones was the day that she was trying to get the kids to say "M" words: "mmmm, mother or mmmmm, mountain". One little boy raised his hand and said: "mmmmmmmm, telephone!" Gads, that always made me crack up! I never understood why he would pick 'telephone', so obviously a "T" word.
And now, I do.
I run reading groups for my first graders, which means they come to me in little groups of twos or threes and they read to me. Or, in some cases, with me. And in other cases, I read to them and they stare longingly at the jumble of letters on the page. It's fascinating. Take a moment to try and recall the feeling you had when you first were learning to read. I've found... I can't. I could read when I entered Kindergarten (my mom credits Sesame Street) and had a tutor (who was really a fifth grader that was my sister's best friend) that I met with so I could read to her while the other kids learned the alphabet. Although, I must say, that's an assumption I have today. I actually remember it as meeting with the tutor to read, while the other kids got to play longer at recess. I don't particularly remember being an early reader as a winning quality while at school. It really benefited me at home, when I could curl up in the corner of the couch or on my bed and get lost in whatever wonderful book I had going at the time.
I loved reading and still count it as one of my top three favorite things to do with my time. I try and squeeze in a good book just before I go to bed, in the morning while eating my breakfast, or commuting somewhere (I was actually disappointed the other day when I had to Bart to Oakland and ran into a fellow teacher. It meant talking the whole way there, instead of me reading my latest New Yorker magazine. Isn't that awful of me?!)
Anyway, back to my first graders: I understand now that, to some of my kids, these letters are a foreign language totally undecipherable. When I show them a letter, some of them can call out "B!", but when I say, "What sound does the letter B make?" One might respond with "bbuuuhhh", while another is going, "aaaaahhh." I can imagine it's a slightly scary feeling to realize you don't know the sound.
Then I've got kids who can read really well and are reading chapter books (i'm not sure when books that had chapters in them started to be called 'chap books'--but that's the common phrase these days). Our next title is Lindy's Happy Ending. When I asked my first graders what they thought might happen in the story just by reading it's title, adorable little M. spoke up, with a sort of resigned tone, she said "I know, I know, the story is going to have a happy ending! All stories have happy endings!" Well, I wasn't out to burst any bubbles but, as is often the case with six year olds, I felt the need to clue her in on a couple things. "Ummm, actually..." I started with, "that's not totally true." All three of their little faces dropped: They couldn't believe it! What in the world was I talking about?! I kept on, "Some stories are actually so sad, they make me cry." They were aghast. "Like what? What could happen? What makes you so sad?" Unfortunately, the first story that came to mind involved a child being abducted...that didn't seem right to mention. So, I said, "Um, well, like if a pet died. That can be really sad. Or if someone gets really sick...or, um..um..." At this point, I just wanted to change the subject and they looked as if they did too. I found a quick non-sequitur and talked to them about using expressions while reading. We came up with little hand signs for what to do when you see a comma, a period, or an exclamation point and that seemed to make it all right again.
Sometimes I've got to learn to just keep my mouth shut and, for awhile at least, believe that all stories do have happy endings.