A recent episode of Glee brought back some old memories for me. Yes, I watch and love Glee. One of the characters (Ryder Lynn, played by Blake Jenner) confesses that he cannot read, and after some tests, he is informed he actually has dyslexia. In an emotional scene where he breaks down and shares his feelings about this, he says something that reminded me of when I was a kid. He mentions how kids are broken into reading groups by levels when they are young and how nobody says anything about it, but everyone knows which groups are the smart kids versus the dumb kids (I paraphrased all of this).
It’s so true. I was allowed to begin my fantastic school career at the age of four since my birthday fell a day before the cutoff date. Being younger than everyone else didn’t matter so much later in life, but for the first few years of school, I felt behind in my ability to learn (probably just not mature enough- oddly, I still feel that way now sometimes about the maturity part), and I was placed into the One Potato, Two Potato reading group, with the bilingual kids and the kids who stuttered. We were the lowest reading group and everyone knew it, especially me. So, beginning in first grade, I felt I was stupid and I lacked self-confidence.
As an educator I absolutely understand the purpose behind grouping kids this way. It makes it easier to focus on the needs of each child when they are grouped according to their levels in various subjects; it’s just too bad that these groups are so obvious to others and that kids in these groups begin to feel the labels define them, especially at such a young and developmentally formative age. However, this doesn’t mean kids cannot overcome the stigma and grow out of these levels and labels. It takes determination.
I always loved books. I remember sitting on my mother’s lap, even before I was school-age, while she read nursery rhymes and Golden Books to me. I remember pulling a stack of books off my bookshelves when my grandmother would visit, and making her read all of them to me. I even remember when I began to recognize the words, how I spent time pouring over every book on my bookshelves, and the excitement when a new Disney book would come in the mail each month for a period of my life. I loved books with a passion that only grew as I grew. I read myself to sleep quite often, and as I aged, I not only read until I fell asleep (though I fought it by using the one eye at a time method), but when I awoke the next morning, I often picked the book right back up, as long as it wasn’t a school day, because Mom would tell me I was dawdling. I not only loved the stories, but I loved the way the words were put together to create these stories and the chance to learn new words.
My love of reading transferred into a love of writing and my reading and writing scores on standardized tests were in the above average range, yet I continued to be placed in the lower reading groups for some reason, so I continued to feel stupid. When I moved to Virginia, I was never tested, nor were any scores taken into account; I was placed in the class that had room for a new kid in the middle of the year, with the kids who didn’t know how to pause at commas and stop at periods when reading aloud. It was so frustrating. Finally, my freshman English teacher recognized my need to be in an advanced English class. My self confidence grew and I finally realized I wasn’t stupid and was in fact more talented in that area of my life than any other. Now math was a totally different story…
My point? Don’t let labels hold you back. Do what you love with confidence because you never know where it can take you.