Diary of a First-Year Teacher: There’s Nothing Like Teaching Kids to Read

A rookie teacher shares how magical it can be to teach a child to read.
Teachers know they've done something right when they spot their students in the library. (Photo: Terry Vine)
Jan 28, 2013

Each week, an anonymous first-grade teacher will share her confessions, musings, struggles, and successes during the first year of her teaching career in rural Mississippi.

One of the greatest privileges of being a first-grade teacher is teaching kids to read. I get to watch as a whole new world comes into focus for my students as they read the signs and posters around them. Suddenly, instructions are not a mess of letters and symbols; they are like secret messages just for them.

I can only imagine what it’s like as a parent, driving with a child when she can read a road sign for the first time.

I feel so lucky to witness my students going from reading books made up of simple, decodable sentences like “the cat sat on the mat” to beginning chapter books such as Amelia Bedelia and The Adventures of Frog and Toad.

When I started the school year, I knew my most important job was to ensure my students were reading at or above grade level. Math skills and writing are important, but if I did not teach these children to read, I would have failed them.

Before I began teaching, I thought I understood the importance of literacy. I knew the sociological impact and could talk about how improving literacy would affect our society. But like many lucky Americans, I was very young when I learned to read, so I couldn't recall the difference between being literate and being illiterate.

I don’t have a memory of words suddenly becoming legible, so I couldn’t fully understand what it would be like not to read. I just knew statistically it was paramount for my children to end first grade at grade level.

What I've seen this year is how learning to read has an impact on the individual. I've seen the difference between the confidence of my top reader and my lowest reader. I've seen the transformation that occurred after the lowest-skilled reader and I began working our tails off to get him to where he's supposed to be.

Learning to read has not simply improve his reading grade; it has brought up all grades and made him feel confident enough to participate in class. Honestly, I believe it's even made him walk a little taller.

It's not just my student with the greatest reading growth who has been transformed. All of my students are transforming. Being able to read the words around them makes them feel like a part of the community. They are suddenly more independent and confident. But of course when I say "suddenly" I don’t really mean it happens like magic. It's consistency and motivation, every single day, all year long that gets those children from "The cat sat on the mat" to The Adventures of Frog and Toad. For the students, however, it sure does feel like magic!

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