Hey there! I'm Vivian. Sometimes I write about life and sometimes I write about teaching.

I had to make the 5+ hour drive home from Carmel to Los Angeles on my own this weekend. That meant I didn’t have to compete for the car sound system! It was just the right amount of time to listen to this new book by Patrick Harris II, The First Five. (You can buy the audiobook for only $3.99 on Apple Books!) In this “memoir with a call-to-action”, Harris shares stories from his first five years of teaching and invites readers/listeners to do the same. When reflecting on his “why”, he tells stories of his own childhood that brought him to teaching. So of course, this got me thinking about my own stories…

Who’s old enough to remember these?


These I See Sam books were first printed in 1972 and they are still available on Amazon! (Updated, apparently.) One of the books literally contains just the three words in the title–I, see, Sam.

I was a kindergartner in 1976 and was forced to read these books and do worksheets where I did things like color in pictures starting with certain letters for the first few months of school. I don’t have a lot of vivid memories from my childhood, but I do remember coming home one day and being asked by mom, “How was school?”

My answer? “Boring.”

You see, I already knew how to read when I arrived at my kindergarten class. To this day, I don’t know how I learned to read since I didn’t have parents who read to me, but that’s another story. The point is, I knew how to read. But that didn’t matter because I had to do what everyone else in the class was doing, read books about Mat sitting on a rat. Why was Mat so rude? I couldn’t understand why we had to read these books that made no sense to me and were such a breeze to decode.

Then one day, I was taken to a different school. It was one room and had students of multiple ages. I can still picture the bookshelves filled with all kinds of books lining the wall just under the window. My new teacher, Mrs. Fernando said I could read whatever books I wanted. Being the first kid to be dropped off in the morning and the last one to be picked up wasn’t so bad because that meant I could read a little longer. I imagine if I hadn’t switched schools, I may not be the reader I am today.

Fast forward to my first year as a teacher…I spent nearly every weekend scouring garage sales for books for my classroom. (These were the days before Donors Choose.) I wanted to make sure my kids had all the books to choose from the way I did. Fast forward again to yesterday when I got a text from a friend who let me know that the book bins I gave to a teacher when I left the classroom a few years ago are now being passed on to her to use. The books may be different now, but the bins keep getting filled!

This story is not to say that decodables are bad. The availability of quality decodables is so much better now AND it’s what some kids need. What this story taught me early on, is that there is not one way to teach reading and you can’t discount the part that joy and engagement play in learning.

I’d love to hear your stories that shape your “why”.

  1. Trish says:

    What serendipity, that move to a world of CHOICE reading (choice in every way). Your take-away is key: not any one way works for everyone! (I think about this now as I read about Lucy Calkins clarifying and adjusting her position. Gurus must be open to revision or what’s the purpose of learning?
    Thanks for this great story and the wonderful Mrs. Fernando who found the key for YOU!

  2. arjeha says:

    Unfortunately, for many years the standard of teaching was that every student in the class do exactly the same work and worksheet as every other student in the room no matter what individual skill the student had or what level that student had reached. I went to a catholic school during the late 50s and early 60s. We had Dick, Jane, and Spot. Luckily I had Golden Books and a set of Childcraft Encyclopedia at home.

  3. I had amazing teachers for Kindergarten and first grade. However, second grade was a soul-crushing year. There were SRA cards to read. I dutifully completed them to the best of my ability and then fake read during DEAR time. My second-grade teacher never caught on to what I was doing. As an adult, I’m so thoroughly disappointed in her. She was the opposite of Mrs. Fernando. Thank goodness I had better teachers later on. I eventually became a reader, but there was a lot of damage done in second grade.

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