Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thank You For Believing In Me. . .

I just realized that it's teacher appreciation week. There's something ironic about it being finals week here, when all of the instructors and professors and buried alive in grading. Seems more like teacher torture week, if you ask me. And, while it's tempting to take this moment to soapbox about the plight of adjuncts or some of the ugly things the Texas legislature is doing to teachers, I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to spend some time appreciating the amazing teachers in my life because that's what it's all about, right?

So here's a little tale about two of the most important people in my life. . .

When I was a little girl, I couldn't read or write. I have a pretty severe case of dyslexia that made simple things like reading enormously difficult. I think too many people overlook the severity of dyslexia and the lifelong challenges it presents for the persons afflicted. My mother was concerned because I couldn't read or write, and when I did write, I wrote mirror images, but she wasn't completely sure what to do about it, either. She (my mom) was always my biggest advocate and the loudest voice to find me help, so after seeing some specialists I found my way into the Resource Specialist Program (RSP) at my elementary school.

If you don't know, it's a fancy way of saying special education, though I don't know if they still call it that. It's a program tailored to help children who're learning challenged. Children like me. I'd spend a good part of my day in RSP with Mr. Gray and his staff, and a few periods in the normal classroom with the other kids. This wasn't easy. Kids aren't gentle or kind, they would bully and torment the RSP kids. I dreaded going to the normal classroom, a combined first/second grade class, where I'd have to hide under the desk so that the bigger girls wouldn't beat me up.

I was in this program from the first grade through the fifth grade. Gradually I learned to read a little bit and to try to make some sense of the jumble of letters going on around me, where I couldn't seem to get them in the right order. More frustrating was the fact that I couldn't tell that they weren't in the right order to begin with and so fixing it became a maddening problem. Without Mr. Gray, my RSP teacher, I might never have overcome this. He was a nice older man who treated me with respect, even though I was a little kid, and who always believed in me. His unending patience and willingness to explain, however many times it took to get it right, is the only reason I was even able to begin to learn to read. His creativity in lessons, which were interesting and informative, and the way he approached teaching kids with learning disabilities was inspirational, even to a six year old.

He was the most profound influence in my life, apart from my parents, until the fifth grade when I was placed in a fifth/sixth grade class with Mrs. Clemens. She was an amazing teacher who took an interest in seeing me removed from RSP. She wanted me to be in the regular class full-time, not because she didn't believe in what Mr. Gray had been able to do to help me, but because she believed I had come far enough to help myself. She felt I was ready to make it on my own, said so to the facilitators and to my parents, got me retested and had me put in her class on a full-time basis. That was the year I left RSP behind. It was also the year my baby sister was born, the first year I went to 6th grade camp (when I was in 5th grade), and the year my class took a field trip to the tide pools at Dana Point.

It was the best of my formative years. I've never had a teacher I loved, or respected, more than I respected Mr. Grey and Mrs. Clements--at least not until I reached the university, some 15 years later, and met Dr. Mallory Young (go read that link while it's still teacher appreciation week). These two teachers, both elementary school teachers, still hold a special place in my heart and when each of them passed away I felt as though the world had lost something wonderful. I will never forget them, nor what they did for me during a time in my life when I couldn't do for myself, a time in my life when my brain was forming and when I was developing the basic education that would make me who I am.

If they were alive, I would thank them for what they helped me to learn. I would share with them my successes, which are in large part due to the foundation they gave me. I would never have been able to recognize a teacher, or professor, who believed in me had they not shown me what it looked like. It was in the fifth grade, with Mr. Gray's influence and Mrs. Clemens encouragement, that I was finally able to read, even if not fluently. I've come a long way from the ten year old who could hardly read, who had to think about the shape and order or every single letter she put down on the page, largely because they showed me the way.

I still have moments when I stall, when something just doesn't look or sound right, when I have to think through every letter I'm writing (or typing). I always will, but they don't define me anymore. Dyslexia doesn't define me anymore. But how I learned to over come it always will. Thank you Mr. Gray and Mrs. Clements. You truly changed my life.