I know there must be a reason for the phrase “reluctant reader,” but sometimes I wish it could be “emerging,” or “gradually improving,” or even “promising reader.”
To my ear “reluctant” sounds too gloomy and unpromising. Maybe that’s because I truly believe that every young person has the potential to love reading… once they learn to overcome their difficulties and master the skill.
I’m sure that I myself would have been labeled a reluctant reader. In June of 1958, when I reached the end of third grade, my parents were told by the school principal that due to my poor my reading ability I was not ready for fourth grade. Instead I would have to repeat third grade the following year.
Back then, labels like “reluctant reader” and “learning disability” didn’t exist. Dyslexia probably did, but I don’t recall hearing it applied to me. Instead, I was labeled an underachiever, which basically meant I was lazy.
To this day I don’t know why I struggled with reading, or why I still read slowly, or why I still have difficulty spelling. I do know that I was fortunate to have parents who cared enough to send me to a reading tutor that summer, a tutor who got me to read by doing two pretty simple things:
Upon learning that I loved animals and hoped to work at the Bronx Zoo someday, she found the wonderful (and sadly not always in print) stories of Gerald Durrell, a naturalist and zookeeper who traveled the world collecting critters.
She motivated me to read those stories by supplying me with pretzels and ginger ale (we weren’t allowed to have candy, salty snacks, or soda at home).
As a result, I spent the summer reading (and only gained a few extra pounds), and was able to go into fourth grade the following fall. Even more importantly, I developed a life-long love of reading.
These days, I have a special place in my heart for those “promising,” and “gradually improving,” readers. When I’m doing school visit or Skyping with classes, I make a point of telling students about my personal struggles with learning to read and write. Because I think they need to know that it’s okay to struggle, and it’s even okay to fail … as long as they keep trying.
After all, that’s what I learned to do.