**This is a bit of a departure from the kind of writing you’d typically get from me, but given what’s happening in our city, I thought this was an important story to tell. I dedicate this blog to Mrs. Brown and all of the amazing Chicago Public School teachers who deserve respect and dignity in the workplace.
When I was in Kindergarten, I had this amazing teacher named Mrs. Brown. And every Wednesday at 11:00 a.m., Mrs. Brown hosted reading circle.
The way reading circle was supposed to work, was that my classmates and I would sit at Mrs. Brown’s table in small groups, and take turns reading with each other. I’m not exactly sure how she grouped us (because I was only 5 years old at the time), but I think she divvied us up by reading ability. The beginning readers read together, as did the advanced readers and so on.
Well, I have no idea why, but, for some reason Mrs. Brown put me in the reading group with the advanced readers. The only problem with me being in the advanced group was, I didn’t think I knew how to read. Yes, I was the best at sight words in pre-school, but those were just a couple of words and that was pre-school, kindergarten was the big time; you had to read whole sentences! I mean, I could see the words on the page and I thought I knew what they meant, but I wasn’t sure. When I read books at home with my mom & dad, I just followed along with my eyes while they read aloud; I had never tried reading out loud all by myself before. What if I messed up? What if I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was? What if I wasn’t smart at all? And worst part for me was that I was with the advanced readers. It would have been one thing if she’d put me with the beginners, but she put me with the advanced kids because had high expectations for my abilities. I was absolutely petrified that I wouldn’t be able to meet them. I was ashamed of my perceived inadequacy.
So what did I do when it came time for me to read with my group? Absolutely nothing. I just sat there. I refused to open my mouth; I just stared at the words on the page. I thought I may know how to read, but I was afraid I couldn’t do it. I allowed fear to paralyze me, so I sat there because I would rather people think I was shy than think I was stupid. And it the beginning my silence worked. When my time to read came and I didn’t say anything, Mrs. Brown just instructed the student next to me take my turn. Which, I thought was perfect; I could fly under the radar and not say anything and not face any real consequence. But you remember I said my teacher was amazing, right?
Well, after I sat there for about three weeks without saying anything during reading circle, Mrs. Brown decided she had had enough. She looked me right in my eyes during week four of my silence, and said “Listen, you have sat there for the past three weeks and refused to let that smart person that’s inside of you come out. Well, she’d better come out today or you’re going to go back to the beginners reading group!” And with that, for the first time in life that I can ever remember, I made a conscious decision. I could sit there, say nothing and end up back with the beginners for sure OR I could give it my best shot and maybe, just maybe I would be able to read and stay in my group. And I guess in that moment I reasoned that even if I had to go back to the beginners, at least I’d given it my best shot. And heck, maybe I could read, I had to find out for sure.
So I took a deep breath, I opened my mouth and before I knew it, the words were flying out, one after the other; no one was stopping me to any corrections. And suddenly I realized, I’d made it all the way to the bottom of the page! I could read, and I couldn’t just read some, I could read a lot and I read really, really well! I just had to take the deep breath and really try.
And even though it’s been more than two decades since I was in kindergarten, I still remember that like it was yesterday. I remember it because it was the first time I knew what it felt like to be inadequate. It was the first time I worried that maybe I didn’t have what I took to do something and let me tell you, It most certainly would not be the last. But I always come back to that story, because I’m reminded of what happens if I just take a deep breath and try.
No, I didn’t always have the success I found with my reading ability, but I was always able to sleep at night, because I tried.