606. Gregory

Gregory is a boy in third grade who does not particularly want teachers to teach him. He doesn’t mind doing what he considers learning, but not if the way he has to do it is by having teachers teach him. When he reads, he says words, and he says them pretty fast. For the most part, the words he says are the same ones that are printed on the material he’s reading, and so at least in one sense, no one can legitimately say he isn’t reading.
It wasn’t easy for Gregory to get to be as skilled as he is. Some children seem to glide gracefully into being able to read, as if they were born to read, and it was only a matter of time. Not Gregory, though. The ink stains on paper that mean so much to so many people didn’t mean much to Gregory in first and second grade, and now, after much struggling and many battles with teachers, he can look at those ink stains and almost immediately say the words that those stains represent.
Teachers tend not to be satisfied with that kind of reading, though. True, they work hard to get children to say the right words. But even when children get so that they can do so, that’s not enough for teachers. Those insatiable grown-ups then want children to be able to make sense out of all the words and answer questions about what is read. If not, then according to teachers’ standards, what was supposed to be read still has to be read.
That’s the kind of unreasonable world Gregory has to live in. Imagine working hard to learn the rules of a system, learning them, having a moment when you congratulate yourself for having done what seemed impossible, and then being told that you have a long way to go. It reminds me of poor Sisyphus, who kept pushing his boulder up the hill, only to have it roll all the way down just as he was almost sure he was about to finish the job.
Sometimes I work with Gregory. When his regular teacher works with him, he’s one of many, and his problem with comprehension is not so conspicuous; the teacher is dealing with lots of variables, and when Gregory reads, part of his teacher’s job is to help him feel okay about his standing in the group, so there isn’t too much emphasis on Gregory’s trouble with comprehension. Not that his teacher doesn’t deal with it. But there is enough other stuff going on that it doesn’t seem to be as big an issue.
But I don’t work with a group, and so I’m freer to focus on Gregory’s reading. And a lot of my job is to ask questions as Gregory reads. That slows him down, and he doesn’t like that. When I work with him, he has to face his problem head-on. On the one hand, I want to be Mr. Likable Volunteer – the guy children feel good with. On the other hand, I feel good about the role I’m playing with Gregory. And I think that somehow, we’ll get that boulder up that hill.

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