For the past few months, I have been working with a 3rd grade class of low readers. When I signed up for the job, I thought I would only be working on reading, but I found myself working with kids on: reading, writing, math, science and art.
I'm not going to lie, I thought this job would be a cake walk. I couldn't remember how hard 3rd grade was, but it couldn't be any worse. Boy, was I wrong. These kids are expected to know SO much by the end of 3rd grade! Cursive, fractions, higher reading standard, sciences, reading comprehension, story problems of so many kinds, etc. When looking at their work load, I admitted to their teacher that I believed it was too much. I still remember when Ms. Allen looked at me and said, "It's a lot, but you'll be surprised at what these kids can do."
For four months, I watched Ms. Allen teach these 8 and 9 year-old kids in math, science and encouraging them in their reading. (she was very pushy in getting the kids into reading and, as both an author and avid reader, I can appreciate this.) She would give them several blocks of time each day to read and would reset the time if a student wasn't reading. I thought this would drive the kids nuts, making them hate reading, but, when the alarm clock went off, shouts of "2 more minutes" or "but I got to the best part" would be thrown at Ms. Allen. She was nurturing a love for books that's difficult to find in upcoming generations.
Now, when I was hired, I was to focus on 7 students. Most of their problem was sounding out the words. Remember sounding out the words? Yeah, these kids had a hard time doing it; most of the time they would just guess. But, there were three particular students who had problems with reading that astounded me. Ms. Allen informed me that 2 of them, when first arriving in her class, couldn't read at all. One of them was actually didn't even know all of the letters in the alphabet. In only a few months, before my arrival, Ms. Allen had helped these boys, not only know their letters, but also started them reading. She and I would, during reading time, take each struggling student aside and work on their reading for 10 minutes apiece.
This took a lot of time, but the difference was easily seen within three weeks of my start. Ms. Allen had laid out a plan of working with these students and, as we followed it, the students would become faster at reading and have a better concept understanding. Honestly, looking back on it, I can't help but smile thinking about these kids working so hard to catch up to the reading level of everyone else. With Ms. Allen's support, these kids work harder and enjoy reading more than most adults I come across in my travels.
Now, last Thursday was my last day with these 3rd graders. As I walked in, I was greeted with a scene all too familiar too me. Each student sat at his or her desk, nose buried in a book and eyes flying across sentences. Ms. Allen and I began reading with the ones who had struggled so much. Listening to some of them read, I would put them on par with some of the better readers in the class. It was so gratifying just to sit there quietly and listen.
But, after working with these kids for so long, I couldn't just leave them with just a "goodbye". Mr. Jeff, as they know me as, needed to do a little better. Along with fun bubble wands, I brought them A Campfire Nightmare bookmarks, replacing their little pieces of papers. I couldn't help but laugh when one student read my name on the book mark and asked, "Mr.Jeff, are you related to this Jeffrey guy?"
When I answered I was that Jeffrey guy, the kids lost it. "You wrote a book" and "No way" was echoed through the room so many times, it was hard for them to hear me explain that I had written the book! For 30 minutes, we talked about writing and why I enjoy it. They asked about A Campfire Nightmare and what it was about. I'm sorry to admit it, but those little buggers wormed a few spoilers out of me! haha
By the end of question and answer time, the several of them began saying that they wanted to become authors and write books. A few of the girls even came up with stories they wanted to share right there and then. One boy even admitted that he had actually started writing a book and that he was 10 chapters in... a 3rd grader was 10 chapters into writing a book. I don't care who you are, 10 chapters is a lot!
So, I'm writing this story because, at the end, Ms. Allen allowed the students to write me notes and draw some pictures for me. Some of the pictures were amazing, bringing a tear to the eye. The creativity and skills that were being taught and nurtured in that classroom was incredible to witness. When it comes to the next generation, as long as there are Ms. Allen's in the world, I know that reading, writing and creativity will always be encouraged in the public school system.