Dr. Richard Foss
"My Experience with Literacy"
Growing up, I was not the best at reading and writing in English. My parents are both from India and would always speak Urdu at home. Since Urdu was the only language I heard throughout my childhood, that was the first language I learned and spoke. I was able to speak Urdu well, but I was not able to read and write it. When I entered kindergarten, I realized that I needed to learn a new language, which was English. The kids in my class would try to talk to me, but I would struggle with responding in sentences and only knew a few words. I would always ask my parents to help me with learning English, but they themselves were not fluent in it. They tried their best to help me learn to read and write English by buying me small books to read. I struggled a lot with learning this new language throughout my childhood, but it all helped me get to where I am with my literacy in English today.
Before elementary school, I had to take tests regarding my reading and writing skills. I remember waking up to my parents saying we had something important to attend. I got up, changed, and hopped in the car with them. I sat in the car wondering where we were going. What mysterious place were my parents taking me? I did not recognize this route either. My dad was driving past big buildings that I had never seen before. I looked at my dad, a tall 50-year-old man with chestnut brown hair and glasses, and asked him where we were going. He ignored me, which was confusing because he never ignores me. I assumed that we were going to a doctor's appointment since they did not want to tell me where we were going, and I kept quiet for the rest of the car ride. When we finally arrived, I looked out and saw a small building with faded red bricks and a triangular styled roof like a hut. The building had water pipes on both sides and three concrete steps in front of the door. We started walking towards the door and I noticed a bunch of kids my age walking in with their families as well. We finally walked in and were nicely greeted by a short woman with ginger hair in a ponytail. She was wearing a bright red shirt, with bright green pants and had a big welcoming smile that could shine a room. She greeted us and asked, “What is your name?” I responded, “Mir Ali,” with a confused look on my face because I still did not know what I was here for. She then asked me, “What school will you be attending this year?” That is when I realized what I was here for: a test. Looking back, I now realize why my parents were so secretive about where they were taking me. If they had told me beforehand, I would not have gotten up and come to this place. I hated taking tests. Every time I had to do something that was timed, I would freeze up like a snowman because of the pressure I felt. To make things worse, the lady told me this would be a literacy test to see where I am at with my reading and writing.
I sat there with my parents, waiting for my name to be called out to go and take this test. They had soothing music playing from a radio that you would hear at an office. This music was supposed to be calming, but I was not calm at all. I was anxious and kept looking around me to help keep me calm. The waiting room we were in was a small and basic room. It had a TV in the top corner that was playing PBS Kids, and had a couple of small black chairs to sit in. I would watch as the kids came out of the room after finishing their tests with smiles on their faces as if they won the lottery. How were they so happy? How were they not anxious like me? I started to bother my mom and begged her to somehow get me out of here. I looked at her and desperately asked, “Can you tell them I am sick and cannot take this test?” She gave me the ‘mom look’ — the look where they are not trying to get mad at you and stay calm. Her face got serious, and she said, “Just take this test, sweetie. It is not a big deal.” I always look back at this moment and realize how dramatic I can be sometimes. My mom was right; this should not have been that much of a big deal to me. But I was a child who was not fluent in English about to take a literacy test for school, so maybe my actions were justified. As a kid, I cared a lot about what others thought about me. Watching all these kids read, write, and speak English so easily made me feel like I was not as smart as them. Screwing up on this test would mean that I have poor literacy. Some people would not think of this as a big deal, but I wanted to feel like I was on the same level as all my classmates and did not want them to think I was any less than them based on knowledge.
The lady we were waiting for finally walked out with a paper in her hand. She was wearing a long yellow dress that matched her curly blonde hair. She called out my name and I got up to approach her. I looked back and my mom and she whispered, “Just try your best.” We started to walk back to the classroom as she asked me a question. Looking down at me with her big shiny glasses she excitedly asked, “Anything fun planned after this test?” I knew I was not going to have any fun after this because of this test, but I lied and responded, “Yeah I am going to watch a movie.” She responded with the casual, “Oh fun!” We finally arrived at the testing room, and I saw a bunch of kids that looked like they were from various parts of the world. The room was really inviting and consisted of colorful desks, chairs, and a binder that separated all the kids from each other. A tall lady with long brown hair, glasses, and a suit walked around handing the students a paper. Once she was done handing out all the papers, she went to the front of the class. I looked around to see if anyone else was nervous. There were a few kids that seemed confident, and like me, looked nervous.
The teacher started to read this long syllabus explaining what the test would be about. As she was talking, the kid behind me tapped my shoulder. He looked at me and said, “Why are you shaking?” I did not realize I was shaking, but I told him sorry even though there was nothing to be sorry about. I did not want him to think of me as a weird kid. I did not get the name of the kid, but he was a joyful kid with brown hair, had a lot of freckles, and had these big eyes that were blue like the ocean. The kid continued, “It's just reading and writing; nothing to be scared about.” I turned back around and tried to use his words as motivation. The teacher finally finished her reading and asked the typical, “Any questions, comments or concerns?” Of course, I had a ton of questions and comments but kept quiet. I did not want to make the class wait another 5 minutes because of my questions. It would just have been a way for me to stall and not take the test for a couple of more minutes.
The teacher grabbed the stopwatch and said, “You guys have 30 minutes to finish this test.” My heart started pounding. I can feel the thumps as it beat on my chest like a boxer punching a boxing bag. She looked around and said, “You may start.” The first few questions were multiple choice questions about reading. I tried to spell out the words one by one: “w-i-ch- of th-ee-se do not be-long.” As time went by, people started to put their pencil down indicating that they were done with the test. I looked at the kid behind me, and of course he was finished as well, with his head rested on the desk. I kept looking around and noticed a kid in the front of the room turned around staring at me with his deep brown eyes. I felt like he was staring through my soul as he impatiently waited for me to finish my test so the class could be dismissed. I did not understand how this test was so easy for some people. I ended up not finishing the test and was disappointed. The teacher came and grabbed all the tests from the students and dismissed us. All the parents were standing waiting for their kids. Most kids looked stoked, but I was still disappointed.
I later found out that I did not do well on the test since I ended up getting placed into ESL (English as a Second Language). I remember everyday throughout my first two years of elementary school, a teacher would come in and take a few students and I out of the class to help us with English. She was a short Mexican teacher with brown hair with dark highlights. Her name was Mrs. Hernandez, and she always was in the happiest mood and wanted the best for her students. In her class, we would do small problems to improve our writing and reading skills. The first few days were tough for me. I did not really improve from the summer before and would get stuck on simple words. I would sometimes take the longest to read when we did class readings and felt embarrassed because I would be scared about what the other kids thought of me. The worst was when the teacher would make groups. I did not want to be the kid that did nothing to help the group. I specifically remember this one time where my group consisted of 4 other people, and we had to write what this short passage was about. The other kids started to talk only to each other and outed me, because they knew I was a slow reader. Looking back, I appreciate our teacher doing these group work. Even though it was scary for me back then, it got me out of my comfort zone and helped me talk to people. The activities Mrs. Hernandez had us do eventually helped me with my literacy in English. I realized this from my results of the monthly tests. Once a month, there would be a test for reading we had to do. The test consisted of us reading a passage while being timed. We had to improve every month and I remember being excited after seeing how much I was improving. ESL and school helped me a ton with these tests. It taught me to read, write, and understand English better I thought I can at the time.
I challenged myself in my junior year of high school and took AP English. If you told my younger self that I would be taking a challenging English class, he would not believe it. I went from a kid who would only read Dr. Seuss books, to now reading 800-page books in my English class. My AP English class had a lot of work. We had papers due every week and would have to read a ton. I learned that essays are easier to write about if you are passionate about the topic. For me, argumentative essays were always the easiest because you write about your thoughts on a topic. The topics I would write about would be what I honestly believe, which helped me in my writing. When the papers are something that you do not care about, it is harder to write about. I ended up doing good in my AP English class and was proud of myself.
All the challenges I faced while growing up have taught me lessons which help me to this day. I feel like now I am good and confident with my literacy in English. My knowledge of texts is better than ever. I continue to read and write every day without struggling as much. It is mind blowing to look at where I started, to where I am today. I struggled with reading and writing simple 4 letter words when I was younger, and now I have written multiple paged essays. I never gave up even when I doubted myself, and it helped overcome my challenges.