I just read an article about Jenna Bush Hager (daughter of George W. and Laura Bush) who is joining the TODAY show as a part-time correspondent. She also works as a reading coordinator in a school in Baltimore, Maryland.
I also worked in Baltimore, Maryland in the Baltimore City School District and we didn’t have a reading coordinator. I’m sure of it because one day I discovered that one of my 15-year-old students could not read and I went looking for help only to find I was on my own.
What’s it like to find out that one of your students in the USA cannot read? It was scary. All of our reading had to be done in class because we only had one set of books which absolutely had to stay in the classroom. The books weren’t in great condition but considering that they were older than I was at the time I was teaching, I guess they were holding up pretty well. Want to read about the Vietnam War? Sorry, not possible, it’s not in our book. Want to read about the end of segregation in the South? Sorry, in our book the South is still segregated. As we were reading a few bits in turn, I called on a student to read. Another student promptly informed me, “He don’t read”. I responded that in my classroom everybody has to read. She said, “No, he can’t read”. The student in question in fact could not read or write. He was neither embarrassed nor proud of this fact. I was mortified. I mean, Jesus, Baltimore’s motto is “The City that Reads”. (It’s also the city with high levels of childhood lead poisoning and the number one ranking for syphilis and gonorrhea.) As soon as I could, I informed my bosses and asked what I could do. The reaction I got was not what I expected. From one boss, I was told to make all necessary adaptations to allow the non-reading student to be successful in the classroom (WTF???). From another boss, I got something like -Poor little girl in the big city school. You’ve got a lot to learn.
So with no reading coordinator or any assistance I tried to make adaptations. I gave the student oral exams. I allowed him to create artwork for his homework. I tried to teach him to read. Were we successful? No, because to actually pass through high school without being able to read and write you have to be a genius with a perfect memory. I’m not knocking this kid, but genius he wasn’t.
At the end of the semester, I did the only thing I could have done. I failed him. I did not see the next part coming. I was called into the principal’s office and ordered to pass him. “You don’t want to see him again next year, do you?” I refused and was written up for disobedience. In the end, he was passed by authorities over me. Sometimes I wonder what happened to that kid.
Article about Jenna Bush.