It’s small group time. I have my five students sitting around my rickety kidney table. One of the legs has part of the base missing, so whoever is talking will be randomly interrupted by a soft bump bump as the table tries to stabilize itself. This is my group of lowest readers. Three are reading at a first grade level, one is at a second grade level, and the fifth speaks about six words of English. She moved to the states less than a month ago from Mexico, and every time she learns a new word, the whole class celebrates with her. It’s pretty touching, actually. Sometimes it seems like they celebrate their classmates more for the sake of making noise and being rambunctious than to actually congratulate them, but with little Mia and her timid smile, hidden by her thick curls, their applause and shouts of “Way to go, Mia!” are always genuine.
I want this group to really understand the story we are reading – a scintillating tale about Uzzle and Jupe, two monsters who go fishing – so I have them read the tale again, silently this time. Except for one of my boys. I ask him to read it aloud to Mia, pointing to each word as he goes, to help her grasp the language.
I wasn’t sure how it would go. If he would breeze through the tale, barely paying attention to her. If he would become annoyed at having to slow down. If he would even try to help her. This boy has a great heart, but he’s one of my kids that I need to love the most. I say his name at least fifteen times a day. Asking him to be silent. To focus. To pay attention. To sit in his seat. To stand in line. To take his sweatshirt off the floor. You name it, I’ve had to remind him how to do it properly.
So pairing him with Mia was a bit of a gamble. Sometimes those bets fail. Sometimes, they don’t. Because sometimes, just like in Vegas, you win big.
A few minutes later when I looked back over at him and Mia, I wanted to give him the biggest hug possible. Because he wasn’t just reading to Mia. No, he was focused on her. Making sure her eyes were on the page, helping her to follow along. Pausing when he thought she was distracted, and bringing her back to the story.
“Right here, Mia. His stomach grumbled.” He held the little paper book up in front of her and pointed. Mia shined a small smile on him, and he continued.
It took them a little bit longer to finish the story than my other three readers. It meant we didn’t get quite as much done as I wanted.
But at the end of the day, does that matter? No. Because while I am here to teach reading, math, science, and social studies, I’m here to teach something bigger.
Did I have anything to do with what happened? I have no idea. And truthfully, it doesn’t matter. Because moments like this give me hope. They renew my purpose. They remind me that even at the end of yet another crazy day, there is a reason why I am here.
Look, Mia. They’re fishing.
And they say I’m supposed to be the teacher? Moments like these remind me that in reality, there are twenty-four teachers in my classroom and one student, not the other way around.