My best day teaching ever was actually before I was a teacher! I was working as a tutor for struggling 1st grade readers. I had a curious and bright young man, I’ll call J, from Haiti. At home, his parents did not speak English, his older siblings read to him but he was on his 2nd year of 1st grade and was well below in reading. I had been working with him for weeks and his reading level barely budged and I was getting frustrated. I had asked veteran teachers for ideas and suggestions, I tried high interest and easily accessible texts, I even tried bribery but nothing seemed to work.
One day we were reading a repetitive text, “Mom goes to the store. Mom bought 2 fish. Mom bought an orange.” You get the idea. For weeks, we had been reading the same 3 books getting no where - It was killing me but on the next page of this book was the key: it said “Mom bought Mangoes.” J read it aloud as ‘Man’- ‘Goes’. He turned and asked me what a ‘Man-Go’ was. I pronounced it for him and asked him if he had never had a mango before? He said no and I proceeded to explain them. J asked more questions and I answered them as best I could. I explained red and green mangoes, the taste, the smell and the many different ways to eat them. J was fascinated and engrossed. He asked me if I could buy him one. I told him I would but only if we had a really good two weeks of reading. To my surprise, he was hooked.
Those two week J applied himself like never before, we blew through books and levels. He read all the books and asked really good questions. He reminded me every day not to forget the mango on Friday! I asked him if he wanted to try a red or a green one. Shyly he asked if he could try both - I said if his classroom teacher was impressed with his efforts I would definitely get both.
The Friday came and he had move 3 levels and his classroom teacher asked me what I did - I told her and I also told her I was concerned that he would stop once he got the mangoes. She suggested we read the text again before eating the mangos. Mango day came and it was a big production. I took him to the teachers lounge (that alone blew his mind) then we prepared and ate the mangoes.
He loved them but what I loved was I actually saw the switch go off in his head. He learned that there were things in books he didn’t know about and if he read he could find out about these things in the world. And he was actually hooked - he ended the year actually ahead of the class and this year he graduated high school. What I learned was I wanted to become a teacher. I still see J around town, and when I see him - he still asks me if I remember the mangoes and smiles.