I am reading the Little House On The Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my daughter. I kept my old copies from childhood, the ones I read in fourth grade. I have kept these books for years because they were the first chapter books I read on my own. When I look at the tattered 1970’s-era covers with shockingly low prices, I remember what it felt like not to be able to read. I am dyslexic and reading did not come easily for me.
The words swam on the page. I could not understand the powder blue phonics book my cheerful teacher brought to me each afternoon. I could not seem to spell or remember how words came together. When I was asked to read aloud, I stumbled and felt like there was a spotlight on me. The creeping dread of making mistakes and being exposed filled up my face until I was red and flushed and aching.
I dreaded reading time. By the second grade, I had a problem: I was in the slowest reading group. Each reading group sat at a colored table. These primary colors were like banners announcing each student’s reading level. Blue was for the best readers. Yellow was for mid-level readers. And red was for the slowest readers. Even though the red table received extra attention and devotion from the teacher, I longed to move from the red group to the blue one. To me, the blue table represented a great frontier to be conquered.
I was determined. I remember my envy of those at the blue table. But like many children with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia, I was faced with both reading challenges and focusing difficulties. I often failed to hear instructions or to retain information. Additionally, I frequently drifted off into my own little world, only to tune back in to find the lesson had moved forward.
My teacher was a lovely woman who spent time with me after school, and she seemed to know that I was paralyzed by reading aloud. She encouraged me to work hard, and over the next two years, I moved from a person who could not read to a person who could read. By third grade, we had individual desks and our reading levels were no longer color-coded. But to this day, I am proud that I was able to escape from the little red table.
Eventually, my hard work paid off. Once I began to read, I loved it, and I read voraciously. I also learned a powerful lesson: hard work and extra help can pay off. I understand the children I coach because I once was like them.