While Dr Maya Angelou talked about her rainbows – about being rainbows – I started thinking about who were the rainbows in my clouds.
The first person I thought of was a reading teacher I had in 7th grade – Mrs. B. She was the first person to see me and my potential and point it out to me.
While I was never a bad student, reading was an area I was made to feel like I was a bad student. How you can take a kid who was tearing through 2-3 books a week and question their reading skills is beyond me. Yet, this happened yearly. I was put in low groups because – I couldn’t read aloud. And I was continually sent to the reading specialist because if I can’t read aloud, I must have a learning disorder or reading problem.
Spending most of my early childhood with the volume of the world turned down thanks to an ongoing hearing problem, I never learned what the words should sound like. Phonics were interesting but lacking. Sound the word out was not something I could do because – I was unsure about the nuances of the sounds. And sadly, no one ever put it all together – take a kid with a hearing problem, teach them to read using phonics – and they are going to struggle.
But if I read a passage and were asked to summarize what it was trying to say, etc – I could do that in a heart beat. Just because I couldn’t say the words didn’t mean I didn’t know what they meant – or couldn’t read them.
They used to run out of things to test me with in the reading assessment lab because I had either read all of the material that it was extracted from or they had used it before.
Mrs B sat down with us 1×1 and did the reading assessment. I remember sitting there – embarrassed because I knew how it was going to go. Poorly. She was going to ask me to read words aloud- and I wouldn’t be able to do it. But I took a deep breath and dove into it figuring it was for the best – just get it over with.
She stopped about halfway through – and said “you know, I give you credit – you are trying. Let’s just stop. I need to find a different way of looking at things with you.”
I should mention that Mrs B was a tough teacher. You did not mess around with her. She took no crap from anyone. She demanded and got respect. She would call you out if you did not do your work. Or if you were wrong. So, that added another level of anxiety to this for me. Her response to the situation was, therefore, unexpected by me. We did a few other things – and she sent me on my way.
A couple weeks later, she was running into some issues with my class. People weren’t getting their shit together – screwing around – doing a half assed job on homework, etc. She launches into this huge rant. Then in the middle, she points out that it isn’t about getting the right answer – it’s about trying – it’s about not giving up just because you aren’t sure you can do it. Then she pointed to me – “she doesn’t give up – she never stops trying even when she knows she isn’t getting it right. That is what I need more of in this class.”
I was dumbfounded. I was an example of what she wanted to see in her reading class??? The girl who can’t read aloud if her life depended on it. The girl who was repeatedly tested for learning disabilities and reading problems is who these kids were supposed to look at?? HUH?
Thankfully no one at 13 looked at me as the teacher’s pet or anything. I think my own dumfounded expression saved me.
What it did do for me is make me believe that there was no problem with me. While I always knew from sports and such to keep trying – never give up – I never put it together for academics until Mrs B connected those dots.
She was my favorite teacher throughout Jr High. I liked her take on things. I liked how she knew how to push. She is the reason that today I can still recite most of several poems from memory. She – like Maya Angelou, believed kids should learn certain poems to hold onto for inspiration. A very interesting connection.
It’s funny because even today – as I’m married to a teacher – I often think of her when I tell my husband he isn’t being too hard. I know how the right teacher with the right push can turn things around for a kid.
Oh, and I should mention – after that teacher, no one ever thought I had a learning disability again. I can’t help but believe that was her doing too.