When It Clicks

“Where do wolf live?”

One of my favorite recess conversations a few years ago was with one of my students that spoke English as a second language. This child had a smile that would melt your heart and a personality to match. I had enjoyed watching him learn and grow. It was not the easiest process for him. Reading and writing, in particular, had been a struggle for him throughout the year. I worked tirelessly to help him make progress in these areas.

This child worked HARD to learn new material. He always put a lot of effort into his work and practiced at home every night. His parents were devoted to helping him each day at home. With all of this extra help, he still struggled with reading and writing.

I’m sure that as an educator, you’ve had those moments where you just feel like it’s not sinking in. No matter how hard you teach or how hard you plan, there are some students that just do not fully grasp the new information. I was having one of those weeks where I was just feeling a little down about some of my struggling students and how I could help them.

I was lying in bed at night trying to figure out exactly what I could do to make it click for each child. We had been working on punctuation throughout the year and some of my students were excelling in their writing. However, I still had those students that struggled even when you all but said the word for them when editing. “This is the end of a sentence you need a ______. (Blank stare) You need a per___. (Nothing) You need a period. Remember? Your stop sign for the sentence.”

This little boy was one of those students. He was having difficulty distinguishing between periods, question marks and exclamation marks. I worked with him whenever I could to fill in these gaps with the skills that he needed. The conversation that came next, really put my mind at ease after spending some time worrying about what I could do next.

Student: Mr. Vaughn, my mom said that when you die you go into the stars.

Me: That’s interesting. Is that what you believe too?


(Pausing for a moments of reflection)

No. I believe that we turn into ghosts. Where do wolf live?

Me: Buddy, those two things don’t really relate to each other. Do they?


(Looking at me with a smile on his face and trying his hardest to justify what was going on in his mind.)

“I said, we turn into ghosts, PERIOD.”

(Holding his hand up to signal stopping.)

“Where do wolf live QUESTION MARK?”

I laughed so hard after hearing his explanation. Sure, the two topics were completely unrelated but that wasn’t the gem of this whole conversation. This little boy had FINALLY understood the difference between the punctuation marks and their functions.

He had remembered our many conversations about how a period tells you to stop after a sentence. In his mind, his period was there and that’s all that was needed to continue with the rest of his conversation. It clicked!

He had taken what he was learning and applied to his daily speech. I was entertained. He was smiling. I was proud! Next we would work on making sure he made words plural when needed. Wolves would be our next challenge! But that is not what this story is about…

In this post, I just want to encourage you to never give up on your students. There will be days when you feel like it’s just not sinking in. There will be days when you don’t know if they will ever “get it.” Do not spend so much time stressing. They will get it. After all, they have you to keep drilling it and practicing it until they think they cannot possibly hear it one more time! But in the end, the moment will come when it clicks. It’s an exciting moment. It’s a moment when you realize as an educator that your hard work is paying off and when your daily planning and preparation are culminating into a year of newly learned knowledge. You can see it on their faces when it happens.

At the beginning of each year, I have my students write their names on a sheet of paper and I have them complete a self-portrait. At the end of the year, the students have forgotten that this ever happened. Again, I ask them to write their names on a piece of paper and complete a self-portrait. When they are finished, I take out the artwork from the beginning of the year and I place them side by side. Their reactions are priceless! I explain to them how they have grown throughout the year. I explain that they now know way more than they did when they stepped into their first grade classroom that year. At that time, they always love to share some of the things that they have learned and are now able to do. It’s fulfilling to hear their stories and know that I’ve helped them develop into more knowledgable students that are excited about learning.

“Look how much I can write now, Mr. Vaughn!”

“I’m a better artist now, right?”

“My handwriting has changed a lot!”

Their faces glow as they realize how much they have changed!

This is a joyous time and it should be treasured. You are in this profession for a reason! Don’t be discouraged when things are not going according to plan. There is a moment, when it clicks! Aren’t those moments worth every single day of teaching your heart out?

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