I can run.

My seven-year-old can’t read. I know he’s young and we’re not freaking out about it but no matter how you look at the situation, it causes all of us a measurable amount of stress.

After a rough two-week start to first grade we opted to move Rex to a different teacher and classroom. It felt a little like ripping a bandaid off after the skin has started to attach. We had no idea if it was going to cause more hurt or help in the learning and healing process.

After four days we met with his new teacher and the school psychologist for yet another round of microscopic assessment. Rex trots to the beat of his own hammer so getting him to conform to classroom policies without a good reason can be like convincing a mule to run a half marathon for the health benefits.

We sat across from his teacher (60-something but you’d never guess it) and were instantly sucked into her world of magical learning. As she described her classroom environment and methods of teaching it was like being bathed in sunlight. So full of warmth and energy, high expectations balanced by absolute acceptance.

After fifteen minutes of listening to her methodology and passionate reasoning we were fast followers and instant converts. When she finally paused and asked for an opinion, all I could do was gape before finally sputtering out, “I think I love you. Can I be in your class?”

Once we had an idea of how her wheels turned she shifted her comments to Rex. This is usually the part where my palms start to sweat and I wonder what they’ll think if I run from the room screaming.

She pulled out his letter list.

“When I first tested him Rex got 19 of his upper case letters right and 22 of his lower case letters.” I cringed. It’s hard not to take it as a personal failure when your kid doesn’t even make the bottom rung of the charts.

“We moved on to reading and I explained to Rex the importance of a good fit book,” she said while pulling out a very simple paperback titled,  I Can Run. “Then it got rough.” My husband and I touched hands under the table.

Rex is plenty smart but Jason and I feel powerless to tap into it. We don’t know how to teach him. We sit in the evening going over site words and sounding out books but never seem to get anywhere. It’s been six months of total frustration, we’re like the world’s worst three-legged creature who can’t find the right gait.

“I took his first two fingers and showed him how to track underneath the words while he reads,” she said opening the book to the first page and demonstrating the most basic reading skill on the planet…one we hadn’t even thought of.

“At first,” she continued, “he tried to touch the words while he read so I kept moving his fingers. He’d touch on top of the words and I’d move his hand. He hated it, we argued and kept going over and over that same page reading, ‘I can run.’ I could see his anxiety threatening to take over,” she said.

I felt like the mother of Helen Keller as she listened to Annie Sullivan replay teaching Helen that first crucial word at the water pump.

“I finally left him with his book and decided to give him some space,” she said. “It was silent reading time so I returned to my desk and made myself busy. After a few minutes I peeked over to see how he was doing,” she paused and I considered bolting.

“I watched as he opened his book and cautiously put his two fingers together. Then he carefully began to track the words, reading them aloud to himself. ‘I can run…I can play.’ He read himself the entire book one word at a time.”

Should I admit that I cried like a child? Even Jason was red rimmed and snuffly as we listened. It sounds like such a small step but it meant more than hearing he’d conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro or swam the English Channel.

It’s been a long and painful process to get him into the hands of someone who can teach him. I think this time we’ve finally struck gold.


  1. I’m sorry it has taken so long, but it is awesome that he has figured it out. Great for having the right teacher as well. My 7 year old can read, but his math – uggh. Writing is even worse. I discussed with his teacher about putting him back a grade (he is in 2nd now) but she said he was entirely too smart for that and would be way to bored. I have to resign myself to that fact that Cs and Ds are not the end of the world. Congratulations on this new achievement.

  2. There is a book called”Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons” by Siegfried Engelmann. It is the best book that I have ever seen for teaching your child to read. It is a 15 min lesson each day. The book tells you exactly what to say, what your child should say in response, and even tells you how to correct the child if they don’t say it exactly right. We used it with our kids and now they are all avid readers and everyone we have recommended it to has also loved it. The best thing is the kids usually love the one-on-one time with mom or dad. This is a really great book!

  3. I don’t mind admitting that I’m bawling my eyes out here. I’m so excited for Rex & you guys! Yeah to have a teacher who has experience to understand that we’re all different & special & that Rex is just as important & special as everyone else. Hip Hip Hooray!

    • annie valentine says:

      And oh, he’s doing so very very well. There is a silver lining. I cry about it all the time and for once they’re not tears of frustration.

  4. So happy for you! We went through something similar with our now 13 year old and are currently gong through with our 7 year old. It will get better! My 13 year old, who struggled with his own learning style, now makes all A’s and B’s and tests at genius level in certain areas. My 7 year old struggled tremendously last year, in 1st grade, but this year he seems to be finding his groove and I see him beginning to climb over that hill. It is so important to find that right teacher and you guys seem to be there. That is more than half the battle!

  5. I’m so happy for you and for Rex to have found a teacher who is willing and able to work with him! That is awesome!

  6. Finding the right teacher is such an incredible thing. When you feel so strongly that they are ON your team and really truly want your child to succeed, it’s such a burden lifted. I’m so glad you shared this experience and am so happy that Rex is finding his groove. You know, sometimes I wonder why we have to experience challenges with our kids that are oh, so tough. But then I think about where my kid might be if he didn’t have a Mom and Dad that fought and cried and cared to find the very best situations, solutions and environments… what then? I’ll gladly fight the hard fight. And I know you always will too.

  7. Hello! I stumbled onto your blog in a round about way from a link about The Mrs. Claus Affair someone posted on the JAG Air Force spouse page. Yep, that’s right, I just wasted at least 20 minutes I could have used for folding laundry! Anyhow . . .

    Love you blog. We are currently stationed at McChord in WA and I’m always glad to get the perspective of other Air Force wives. Makes me feel less alone on this crazy journey (even though I live right next door to a bunch of AF wives . . . you get the point). Thanks so much for your honesty about Germany, your kids, and your life. Nicely done!

  8. Been there on the switching teachers part. Also been there on the feeling helpless to help your child learn. But when the combination for learning is JUST right, oh what a glorious moment, full of emotion, and worthy of trumpeted fanfare! Keep hanging in there. There will still be gloomy trials, but now you at least know what silver lining looks like with your cherub. ::hugs::

  9. I’m sure you’re grateful…but just today, be extra grateful on behalf of those of us who never found that angel teacher outside of the home.

    I’m glad for you and Jason, but even more ecstatic for Rex.

  10. I was talking to my mother-in-law once about “tough” kids and how hard it is to keep fighting sometimes. She said, “If not you, then who?”

    Rewards like what you’ve described are so worth all kinds of tears.

  11. Annie you have to stop doing this to me!! You make me cry every time you talk about Rex! I feel so relieved and happy he has a teacher who works for him! I can imagine how it feels to sit in that chair hearing how your child is struggling, heart wrenching! He’s wonderful, and he has wonderful parents, everything will work out!

  12. what a beautiful story this was. YAY for this God sent gifted teacher. I would have cried too.

  13. Sometimes there are things that teachers can do for our children that we cannot do–sometimes it’s our own skills, and sometimes it’s just the fact that we are a parent and the child won’t respond well. Just yesterday, Natalie had a meltdown in the morning, a meltdown with the kind of grandeur that made her 40 minutes late for school. I made her write a note to her teacher to explain why she was late. When she handed that teacher the note, the teacher read it, bent down right next to her and said, “Did you have a rough morning? That happens to me sometimes too.” And then she proceeded to gently propose some strategies to make tomorrow better. My daughter had no interest in my suggestions for improvement, but she lapped up her wise teacher’s counsel. And today WAS better. And like you, I thank God for teachers and leaders and other forms of angels that nudge our children a little closer to their potential.

  14. So exciting Annie! for all of you!
    Some of my piano students are like that. They turn the page and see a bunch of black “stuff” all over the page and immediately say “I can’t play that.” I cover up all but one note of the music and they play one note at a time until guess what? They learn they CAN play that!!!!

  15. Good job for all of you! What a fantastic feeling!!!! Well done, Rex. Don’t give up!