What Is Necessary: Did I fail my students this year?

Take a look at these darlings in their pajamas, then try to guess: Which six children did I fail?

At the beginning of the year, seven of the 22 children in this photo were reading on or above grade-level. As of this week,16 of those children are reading on or above. Nine have caught up. That leaves six students who are still below.

Have I failed those six children?

It’s not as simple a question as it sounds. True, each of them has made at least a year’s growth. But if they make one year’s growth every single year between now and high school, they will still be behind. Their chances of going on to college, getting a good job, and living the lives they dream will be vastly diminished.

These six kids aren’t reading below grade-level because they’re lazy or dumb. Their parents aren’t lazy and dumb, either. Neither is their teacher—I swear.

I met with them every day of every week for guided reading. I sent books home with them. I observed other teachers in kindergarten and first grade to get new ideas for teaching phonics and phonemic awareness.

Each child received a home library of 25 books matched to their interests and reading level. I tutored these kids at 7:00 in the morning every Tuesday, and my partner teacher and I made sure they got the services they need—including a pullout intervention by a remarkable reading teacher named Ms. Acosta that brought about a dramatic increase in their growth.

Winston Churchill’s words reverberate in the back of my mind like a struck gong that won’t stop ringing.

It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” 

I didn’t.

I have a luxury most teachers don’t: I will be looping with these children to second grade. I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge McDuck in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, exclaiming with glee and gratitude, “The spirits have given me another chance!”

In August we can hit the ground running with increased tutoring, more targeted guided reading, conversations with their parents about what to do at home, and everything else it will take to help these six readers reach proficiency before Earth completes its next orbit around the sun and May 2016 looms like an unstoppable asteroid.

Did I fail these six struggling readers? After one year with them, my answer is a cautious “Not yet.”

Ask me again next May. If they have not caught up by the end of second grade, my answer will be different.

The spirits have given me a second chance to do what is necessary. I won’t get a third.

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