This is the first year I’ll have a student that won’t be promoted to first grade next year. I was devastated that I wasn’t enough for him. If structures in my community had been in place he would have been identified as needing extra help and placed a special needs pre-school class. I was angry at his parents for not doing more, his older brothers are both in special education. I was angry at the school system for fighting me on every step to get him extra help. I was even told he might have to wait until next year to be evaluated. I was mad that our community doesn’t have good parent education and support programs. Most of all I was mad at myself for not being enough for him.
He should have been in preschool last year, his parents should have done more, but I can’t go back and change those things. I can change his path though. Last week he did something amazing which made me forget about the anger and understand that I gave him just what he needed. He was drawing on the iPad during naptime. I was scoring some writing samples next to him occasionally giving him a reassuring smile when I saw him do something unbelievable. He was drawing a person with some funny lines coming from the arms. I wasn’t sure what he was doing until I saw him count the fingers on his own hand then double check that he drew the correct number of fingers on his drawing.
I wanted to stop everything and take him around the school to show everyone. Instead I gave him a quiet high five, but inside I was doing the most ecstatic touchdown dance imaginable. He made the connection that what he puts on paper means something, he demonstrated 1-1 correspondence, and most of all he concentrated on a task until completion.
Sometimes the amazing stories of students making years of progress to graduate on time or go to college can be difficult to hear when you are an early childhood teacher. Our students are 13 or more years away from these milestones and being promoted to first grade is an achievement most people take for granted. The areas in which they are farthest behind, social/emotional skills and vocabulary, aren’t measured by standardized tests and their importance to long-term academic success are just now being recognized. Even my mom occasionally asks if I would be happier teaching high school.
As I looked at that student’s 10-fingered drawing I realized that, while he doesn’t know all of his letters, his name is shaky at best, and his people don’t always have bodies, I still know he will be ready for kindergarten next year. I know that his year with me was important.