Defining Success

Defining Success

I believe I hold the world record for taking the fastest showers. Shampoo. Conditioner. Soap. Rinse and Repeat. All under two minutes and before an entire Beyoncé song can finish.

I became notorious at summer camp for my showers. One night when the line for the shower house was in the double-digits, my fellow campers wanted to see if I could live up to my title and take a shower in under a minute. With shampoo in one hand and conditioner in the other, I worked my magic. “That girl” had done it in 57 seconds!

I cannot remember a time when I haven’t loved a challenge, especially at things in which I excel. In the same way I wouldn’t let myself fail at taking a shower in under a minute, I wouldn’t let myself fail in school either. In first grade I was selected to read the book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type in front of over 100 students and parents. In fourth grade I had the highest reading score in my class. Therefore, I was overly confident when I signed up to be a reading tutor at a program called STAIR, but then I met Yahara.

This was my second year as a tutor, so I expected to follow the same routine as the previous year in that my student and I would work through the lessons and consequently her reading score would greatly improve. Yet my new student, Yahara, was different.

Each year the STAIR student begins with placement test. Yahara started the test, but she could only write her name and recite her ABC’s. Not only could she not read as a second grader, Yahara couldn’t read at all. We had to start from scratch.

The following week, I confidently created a game plan to teach Yahara the joys of reading. We started with the basic words such as “the” and “am”. She would repeat the word after me and seemed to be learning, yet when we hadn’t looked at the words in 10 minutes she would completely forget them. I quickly became frustrated. Was I a terrible teacher? Each session during those 9 months was spent reviewing the basics over and over. My whole life I had been taught that hard work equals success, yet our hard work was getting us nowhere. When I said goodbye to Yahara on the last session, she could barely get through the program’s easiest book. I failed to teach her how to read at her grade level. In 9 months, I had failed to teach someone what I do best.

At the STAIR graduation, Yahara gave me a big hug and thanked me for being her teacher. Even though Yahara learned little, I was proud of her perseverance and her positive attitude. Yahara continued to smile and show up to every lesson eager to learn. When both of us got frustrated, she would look at me with her bright eyes and tell me it was ok because one day she would get it. Failure didn’t faze Yahara. She calmed me when I was overwhelmed with teaching her. She showed me that success isn’t always measured with grades or with a timer or with mastering something. Not only is failure part of success, but it is also a success in itself because failure is what builds who we are.

After she finished the STAIR program, Yahara was diagnosed with dyslexia and received a special tutor at her school. She still attends other reading programs at our church because she is a girl who will not give up even when something is hard. I may have failed to teach Yahara to read, but Yahara didn’t fail to teach me about how to define success.

STAIR is an after school reading program which seeks to help second grade children become strong readers for third grade.

In the fall of every school year, STAIR works with the Birmingham City Schools to identify second graders who could benefit from our program. These students attend school regularly and their teachers believe that with one-on-one help from a trained tutor, their reading skills will improve and blossom.

To find out more about the STAIR program, click here

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