It stands to reason that people who struggle with literacy face obstacles the rest of us don’t, and my student is no exception. B.R. has more than his fair share of problems, but he manages to maintain a surprisingly positive attitude. Despite the challenges he faces, he is remarkably reliable in getting to class twice a week. Occasionally though, the challenges affect our ability to stay on task.

Last night B.R. apologetically explained that he was too distracted to concentrate, so we spent our time talking about what was going on. As much as I love to offer help and advice, there was no easy answer to his problems. I recognized that, and said as much. It was okay, really. Sometimes just having a safe place to vent frustration is all the help you need. Our conversation wandered toward happier subjects, and back to our work. I told B.R. that I thought it was about time for us to move on to the next section of lessons.

He asked me if I thought he was making enough progress, with such a look of concern on his face that I wanted to cry. In all honesty, I said yes.

I reminded him of how far we have come: he is easily reading multi-syllable words, and has lost his fear of writing and spelling. I told him that we have actually already touched on many of the lessons ahead of us, and I knew he was prepared to handle them. B.R. recognized the truth of what I was saying, and seemed to relax. He told me (and not for the first time) that having the lessons to look forward to, and the homework to keep him busy, helped him to keep him from being overwhelmed by his troubles. I reminded him (not for the first time) that working to learn to read was a very positive step, and that he should be proud of his commitment and self-discipline, regardless of any setbacks.

I know how he felt; I still struggle with the idea that I should be making consistent, quantifiable progress every day in my own life. It is very easy to focus on what I haven’t done, to the exclusion of what I have. Logic dictates that every day will be different, and the factors that affect “progress” are not always within our control. Sometimes everything seems futile, and sometimes, suddenly, it all seems to fall into place. Results can’t be controlled, but effort can. Trying is almost everything. I have promised myself to try every day.

B.R. and I ended early last night, agreeing that we will spend next week reviewing the main points of our current section, and start our next one the week after. I think we are both excited about moving on.

Sometimes just showing up is progress enough.