“Braden has a hard time comprehending the text,” I told Mrs. Crews. “That could be from not reading very much, or he just may have comprehension issues. That isn’t uncommon in his grade, so there are a few things we can do to improve his understanding.”
Mrs. Crews nodded. I pulled out a copy of the book, To Kill a Mockingbird. “So, for example, when he’s reading at home, you can-“
“Well, one problem I think is that he’s not interested in the book,” she interrupted.
I nodded this time. “Oh sure, that would be part of it.”
“So why does he have to read it?”
Surprised, I said, “To Kill a Mockingbird is part of the curriculum for the year, and-“
“Right, but can’t he pick something else? Because he really doesn’t like the book.”
I smiled in what I hoped looked like sympathy. “That’s not uncommon, but it is a book that’s required reading in most schools, and the ideas and themes in it are important to the American identity. His understanding of this will help him quite a bit later in high school.”
Mrs. Crews shrugged. “Well, I’m not so sure about that.”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve never heard anyone talk about To Kill a Mockingbird. I just don’t see what the big deal is, and why it seems like everyone pushes this book like it’s so great. I didn’t like it.”
I thought I liked Mrs. Crews when our conference first started. Now I wasn’t so sure. Who doesn't like To Kill a Mockingbird?
“Besides,” she continued, “I don’t know that it’s even appropriate for his grade.”
Swallowing my impulse to ask if she was an idiot, I said, “Actually, it is. Research shows that –“
“I just don’t see why he has to be forced to read this. You really can’t learn anything from a book you dislike.” She looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to agree with her.
“Well,” I tried to choose my words carefully, “You CAN learn from a book, even if you don’t like it. I’ve never been a fan of The Great Gatsby, but I understand why the ideas in it are important.”
“Oh,” she shrugged, “I’ve never heard of that one.”
What? Was she serious? I was beginning to understand why Braden didn’t like to read. Had Mrs. Crews ever read ANYTHING?
“Really?” I allowed myself to look surprised. “Most people have to read it in high school or college. I did. But what’s more important is to help him understand the book he’s reading now.”
Mrs. Crews shrugged again. “Yes, I guess so. But, I mean, I just think Mockingbird is a strange choice, especially since hardly anyone likes it.”
Once again, this didn’t get me on her side. I pushed some of my notes aside. “Not to change the subject, but can you tell me why you didn’t like it? Because sometimes we can unknowingly pass along our personal likes or dislikes to kids, and then they don’t approach the task with an open mind, which is what we want.”
“It wasn’t very interesting.”
She suddenly looked irritated. “Well, I don’t know why it matters whether I liked it or not. We’re talking about Braden.”
“I’m just trying to get some insight that might help him; that’s all. I personally don’t like science fiction, which is why I don’t recommend it much. But that is probably short-sighted because I know I have students who would love sci-fi novels and short stories.”
“Oh,” she said, leaning back in her chair. She was quiet for a minute, then said, “To be honest, I was supposed to read it in high school. I never finished it. I just remember it being boring.”
“Wow, that’s not what most people would say, honestly. Were you someone who liked to read?”
She looked on edge now. “Well, I was a perfectly good reader –“
“Please don’t mistake me, Mrs. Crews. I don’t care if a kid likes to read or not. Some kids will never like to sit down with a book, and that’s fine. They just need to be able to read well enough to get what is needed from a text.”
She opened her mouth, closed it, and then sagged. “No, I honestly didn’t like to read. My parents used to fuss at me over it. Braden’s a lot like me; he’s just more active.”
Personally, I didn’t think that was true. Braden struck me as a child who probably would enjoy reading, but had been encouraged to be sporty, which he clearly wasn’t. I seriously doubted that he got much encouragement from his mother that way.
“Is there anything he likes to read?” I asked. She shrugged again.
“I’ll tell you what. What would help him most is to have someone read the book with him, slowly, and aloud. Would that be something you could do with him?” Mrs. Crews wrinkled her nose and looked at the ceiling. Way to put yourself out there for your kid, mom. Braden’s reading problems were getting a lot clearer now.
“Would he be able to stay after school a couple of days this week to read to me? I could help him work through it.”
“He has soccer,” she started, then stopped. “Is this going to affect his grade if he doesn’t know it?”
“Yes, it will,” I replied firmly.
“Oh,” she said, looking surprised. She paused, thought, and said, “Okay, then what about Wednesdays?”
At least Braden would get some help. But how much more help might he have gotten if he’d been encouraged and pushed at home? This is a well-off parent, one who I know has the time and money to assist her kid in furthering his education.
Look, I know I should be glad she came to the conference, and I am. She showed up, which is a big part of making sure your child performs well in school, and she was willing to make sure he could come to get after school help. So she’s still light-years away from most parents, whom I never see, and whose kids are flailing around in class, trying to find their way.