My Nephew, the Future High Achiever

One of the highlights of my week off was the opportunity to spend lots of quality time with my nephew. He's almost two, soaks up words like a sponge and overall is insanely adorable. The time I spend with him is never enough, and I love the challenge of finding new ways to entertain him. Way beneath the surface of our time together, there's always a bit of sadness when I contrast his development with my students.

What does a toddler have to do with my third graders? Well, developmentally, a lot. Watching this baby develop into a little person is an amazing front row seat to the development of the young brain. It also has given me a deep appreciation for what research already shows: a great deal of academic success is established before a child even enters the classroom.

This is not to say I am relinquishing my responsibility as a teacher. It is my job to help students regardless of their performance when they enter my classroom. In fact helping kids struggling below grade level is a major reward of teaching in a high-need school as well. That said, I can't help thinking about the missing pieces in many of my students' formative years.

This is not about me pointing fingers or (dis)placing blame from schools and teachers onto the shoulders of parents. But I do think that the role of years 0-5 in a child's future success should not be discounted. The number of words my nephew is learning daily sometimes seems to rival the vocabulary of some of my students. By the time he enters kindergarten he will have thousands of words at his disposal and the means to communicate at a level largely absent from my classroom. I relish the challenge of bringing my struggling readers (speakers and writers) to grade level and above. But if we're serious as a society about closing the achievement gap we need to look beyond "high standards" and standardized testing and find a way to erase the disadvantages that begin before kids even enter school.

Comments

I had a similar experience the summer after my first year teaching. I was babysitting a 20 month old who had all of these alphabet letters to play with in the bath. He was obsessed with the letter B and could name many of the other letters. One time, I was reading Knuffle Bunny to him and he pointed to the letter B on the cover of the book, giggled, and sad, "B!" I couldn't believe it. It made me sad for my students too, especially the ones who come in to first grade with no letter names or sounds.
bronxteach said…
I didn't even mention his budding math skills! While I was there he (sorta) counted to 5! Today one of my kids couldn't tell me what 10-1 was! Argh.

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