Monday, August 19, 2013

A good teacher makes a difference.

" We cannot teach Tiffany here. She cannot read, and all of our students in the kindergarten already can. She can no longer attend our school.
She needs to go to a place that can care for her special needs."

These words were spoken to my mother in an after school meeting by my kindergarten teacher. I was sitting quietly by her side and knew by the look on her face that something was terribly wrong and somehow it had to do with me - because the teacher had said my name. My mother that evening sat down and told me that I would have to go to a different school. I cried and begged her not to make me leave. I told her that I would try to be better and that I would listen to the teacher - that I would be good. She rocked me in her arms, as she assured me it had nothing to do with being "good," and that I would learn more at my new school. My feelings were soothed a bit, but deep down the damage of that one teachers conversation had already taken root. A week later I was enrolled in the nearby school, and spent the rest of my kindergarten year trying to be "good".

The next year was first grade, and was the year that reading was the primary goal. One day, my teacher asked me to read a sentence. I remember looking down at the page in front of me, the words were all fuzzy and jumbled. I saw that the picture next to it was of a cat sitting on a rug, so I said "the cat is sitting on the rug." Not knowing that when I "read" the words I was looking right into my teachers eyes. The game was up, she knew that I couldn't read. I was put in the lowest reading level and began to believe that I was stupid, because the words never made sense to me.  As the days went by, I began to withdraw. My classmates teasing me quietly during reading time; inflicting wounds that would leave me scarred for many years. I hated school, but the love I had for books still remained. I would spend hours on my mothers lap, listening to her read. Enthralled by the pictures and so confused by the written squiggles. I often heard my mother asking my teacher repeatedly, "why can't she read? Is there anything we can do to help her?"

My mother was called in again one day. This time there were 3 teachers sitting in wait for her. I was told to sit outside the door, but I peeked around the corner to listen. Earlier in the day, I had been tested and the results were alarming. I was exceedingly smart, high functioning, and eager; but I couldn't understand simple phonics or "see" the words. Yet, I had tested too high for special education. My mother was confused, "You can't help her?" she asked. Two of the teachers shook their heads; but one remained calm, hands clasped, looking down, and keeping silent. The meeting concluded with no recourse for me; no help but to let me struggle.  Tears in her eyes, my mother came out to get me; closely followed by the third teacher -the one who had remained quiet during the meeting. She rested her hand on my mothers arm and whispered "I can help. Please follow me." My mother grasped my hand and we followed. Down to the back of the school, no talking until the door was shut. While in this teacher's classroom, my mother was given the news she needed to hear. That I was smart, that I could read in time, but I was dyslexic. The reason I didn't qualify for special help was due to my high function and ability to cope with situations quickly. In a nutshell, the school system didn't have a place for people as special as me. That's how she put it, and she smiled when she said it. She offered to secretly tutor me after school, one on one - I was to be her trial run of sorts for a new learning method called reading recovery. I was told to keep the private instruction a secret, the school wouldn't allow it, and the tutoring would put her job at risk. Then she smiled again, and said "but your daughter is worth it".

I began the next week, and, oh, this teacher was magical. The effortlessness of her style and the patience she had with me. She made learning fun again and I felt safe around her. I remember, many days later,  she said, "I think you are ready for this today. Go on you can do it."  I looked down at the page and felt my heart skip; for the first time I understood what was there. I read the sentence, then read another! I could feel the grin spreading across my face and I looked up to see the face of my teacher, hers was beaming. "You did it!" I had never felt more proud. My appetite for learning had been reignited and I soon bypassed my fellow classmates in reading and writing. This one teacher, with the help of determined parents, had unlocked the majestic world of literacy for me. I will forever be grateful for the courage it took to change the life of one child. The strength to stand up to a broken system and say "not this child."

 Teachers change lives, but great teachers can magically change the course of one students life forever. Gratefully, I was blessed with a great teacher, and here is my thank you that is long overdue.
Thank you for never letting dyslexia define me, instead you taught me how to refine it and tame it. And once tamed, oh the places I did go...
I became a teacher, and my first year I taught students who struggled with reading.

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