When I was about 4 years old Mom began to teach me to read. She'd been taught phonics--letter sounds and multiletter sounds--in a small country school in Utah. So that's how she taught me. By age five I was reading all the books that my sister, 2 years older, brought home from school. When I was six, I had rheumatic fever and my ability to read kept me quietly entertained.
In first grade I could read very well but my hand writing was atrocious. My teacher kept telling mom that I needed to improve my penmanship. I remember looking at the other children's writing papers and wondering how they did it so neatly.
One day the teacher told me in front of the whole class that if I didn't start writing neatly, she was going to spank my bottom. I was furious!!! I didn't dare say anything out loud but I remember exactly what I was thinking. "Why you old (she was at least 70) Blaaghtta!! You think you are so smart!!! You think I don't want to write neatly??? If you're so smart why don't you show me how??? You just wait!! I'll grow up and be a first grade teacher and I won't ask any kid to do anything if I can't show them how!!!"
The venom and daggers my face sent her really took her back a notch, because she never again said anything about my writing, and of course it didn't improve.
Next year in second grade we were learning cursive and my teacher stopped to look at my attempts. It looked much like preschool scribbling. She didn't say anything for a long time, so I said, "the e and i and l and t are all alike because they go up and down." She said, "Oh, look. The e is a short letter and open. The i is a short letter and closed, with the dot. The l is a tall letter and open and the t is a tall letter and closed with the line across it."
AMAZING!! I had not figured out that we had short and tall letters. I remember going home and writing manuscript letters nearly all night because my writing was finally neat.
I determined to never, ever, ever call someone else dumb because they couldn't do something well. And I kept trying to find out what little thing they didn't get. I fought my elementary teachers every year for separating kids into "classes" because they weren't performing adequately. My fifth grade teacher let me tutor some kids that were having problems and I learned even more about filling in the cracks in their learning.
All kids want to learn and they want to succeed and should never be labeled as a problem or a dummy because a teacher hasn't figured out what's missing for the child. And if I can't figure that out I'M the one who deserves the bad grade--not the kid!
Thanks, Susan, for reminding me why I like to teach. See her blog for Oct 25.
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