Inspiration is everywhere. As an educator it’s one of the most amazing parts about the job. One of the most inspirational moments in my early career came when I was teaching grade one. There were more than a few students in my class that had trouble reading and I knew that it was going to be a long year with a lot of hard work ahead to get these students where they needed to be.
As I began that year of teaching I came in with the intention of covering all my curricular outcomes for the year. My fancy teacher binder housed all my day, week, month, and year plans and I was ready for the year. Accompanying my plans, I had an actual checklist with all my grade one learning outcomes and I was set to go through them one by one until I could successfully say that I had done my job and taught the entire curriculum. My first mission was to make these non-readers into readers as quickly as I could so that I could check that box off and just get on with other things. On a day-to-day perspective, working with these struggling readers was daunting. There was little additional support, and success was slow or non-existent. One student would start to make gains, and then two more seems unresponsive to intervention. It felt like the proverbial one step up, two steps back. Every. Single. Day. My day plans soon went out the window. My month plans got set back. My year plans therefore also needed a complete overhaul. What were these non-readers doing to me? I was a complete and utter wreck because everything I had set up before the year had even started were now obliterated thanks to all the time I was needing to devote to basic literacy skills. I decided to turn my blame on to others - the kindergarten teachers, the parents, the school administration, my team partners, my educational assistant, my university professors, and my teacher preparation program. If I’m honest, I even thought about dropping my intervention altogether and turning my attention to my other students who could read. I thought, “maybe these students just aren’t ready to read yet” and wondered if I could just leave the heavy lifting to the grade two teachers. For a time, the despair was a constant in my world, but there was another constant, and that was a group of eager students who wanted to read. One day, one of my students with whom I was doing intervention came up to me and said “Mr. Fero, when can we read together again” and that simple comment provided all the inspiration I needed. So I didn’t give up. When one strategy didn’t take hold, I tried another. I consulted with colleagues and accessed system supports. I made sure my readers had the right materials, and I was giving them the right feedback. But the most important part of the work is that I didn’t lose faith. I persisted. And while I thought it was my efforts that encouraged my students, it was the persistence and resiliency of my students that pushed me on. You see; they didn’t give up either. I would love to say that the story had a perfect ending. I would love to say that each of those non-readers became great readers, but that would be a lie. While they all didn’t become readers that year, many did. What each of them did achieve during that grade one year was a set of skills that would benefit them in the years going forward and I would like to think that they developed a sense that there were teachers there to help them, and push them and work alongside them. For me, the year taught me many things too. It taught me that despite the best laid plans that things may need to go in a different direction. I realized that my work might not be THE work, and that the students and their needs were the most important part of the job. I thank my non-readers for providing me that inspiration, and equally thankful for the lessons they taught me.