Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Student Recommendation That Was a Pleasure to Write

Last week, I received an email from a parent of a former student. She asked me if I would consider writing a letter of recommendation for M.  who is in the process of applying to some top-notch prep schools. This was an unusual request for me because, before I became the district's Writing and Social Studies Coordinator, I was a special education teacher. Most of my students with disabilities do not see their pathways leading to the doors of prestigious admission offices.

For me, this young man represents all that I want to see in our students. When I began working with him as a fifth-grader, he could barely read and is writing was legible only if you waded through multiple spelling and syntax errors. I wish that M. could explain what happened so that it would be easier to replicate for other students, but in around October, he began to make tremendous growth. He went from reading his nonfiction books about birds to reading and LOVING My Side of the Mountain. I kept questioning his comprehension because his oral fluency was so low, but he was getting it, so I let him read it. At the same time, his oral reading fluency was taking off. I had set goals for him and I showed him the graph of his progress. He wanted to know how fast he had to read to be "normal." I tried to engage him in a conversation about "normal", but he would have none of that. Instead, he set his own goals, much higher than I was initially thinking. "I can do it, Mrs. Meehan," he said. And he more than did!

At night, M. practiced his Wilson words, he kept his own list of spelling words, and he practiced his fluency, sometimes even recording himself. As the slope of his progress line increased, so did his motivation. By the end of sixth-grade, he was reading on grade level, writing without supports, and functioning independently in the classroom. We sent him to middle school with support on an as-needed basis and he has since been dismissed from special education. I look for his name on the honor roll and I almost always find it on the high honors list.

When I listen to lectures about grit and mindset, M. comes to mind. He learned at a young age that hard work leads to achievement and this work ethic has transferred into other areas of his life. He is accomplished musician, as well as a high level soccer player. And the comments that I hear repeatedly about him reference his discipline, work ethic, and resilience.

So much is written and tweeted about the concept that success comes from failure. M. is such proof of that! It was my pleasure and my honor to write his recommendation. Let's all keep our fingers crossed for him.

Enjoy the upcoming weekend,




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