Sunday, March 7, 2010

     Kim*, one of my younger students, lights up whenever she sees me.
     Okay, it doesn't take much to get most little ones to like you. Smile a lot. Tell a few jokes. (They don't even have to be funny.) Hold their hand -- if they want to -- as you walk down the hall. Show them you care. (How could you not?)
     No wonder people like to work with the primary grades. Such unconditional love.
     Kim, however, misplaces her assignments, her classroom teacher tells me. She loses books. And her reading lags far behind that of the other children.
     I listen to Kim as she reads. She skips words, misses others I just gave her, reverses the letters of "slap." Sight words she should know she doesn't.
     As soon as Kim joins my class, I see what the teacher has reported. Kim checks out a book from me but has excuse after excuse why she doesn't bring it back. "It's on my table," she says, or it's on her bed, or it's in the car. When she does finally return it after three weeks and checks out a new one, that, too, takes over a week to return. Meanwhile, the students talk in class, and I hear Kim is in dance class and something else, either Scouts or baseball.
     I try to set up a time to meet with her parents. One meeting is missed. A second one never quite materializes. Phone calls are exchanged, but her mom can talk but a moment. I run into her in the hallway, and I can tell she is frazzled. "I'll call you," she says, stretching her fingers into that unmistakable handset shape. Of course I don't get the call.
     Everyone today, it seems, is overloaded. This certainly seems to be Kim's family. But I'm afraid that by trying to do more for their daughter, her folks may actually be doing less. What Kim needs now is structure. A bit of playtime when she gets home. Chores. Homework. Reading. Dinner and family time. Packing her book bag for the next day. Bath. Storytime. Bed. Other activities saved for the weekend.
     And filling up with stories. Learning to read well.
     This prescription isn't for everyone. But for Kim, yes, Kim needs this. Her other things will wait while she catches up on her reading, while her life organizes a bit saner.
     Then it will be time for her to go out and conquer the world.
*Name changed