Monday, March 23, 2009

One of the best teachers I ever knew....but first.

I want to thank those that have written and those that have left comments about Dyslexia.  I tried to respond to the comments in the comment section but for some reason it mandated that I respond in a certain way and I'm not sure how to do that yet.  So for the moment, let me respond here in the blog.  

Ginger--your software sounds intriguing and I look forward to it when it is available for the Macintosh computer.  As I have already mentioned it is interesting, no, make that fascinating that some children and adults can see better on a computer monitor than they can see on a book page.  To me this says the problem could be....optical.  We do know that Dyslexic people take in more light than "normal" people.  I wonder what "normal" is?  Taking in more light may account for those with Dyslexia to prefer darker rooms.  And it may be a follow up to the research of placing a colored transparency over a book page which results in better reading for some of those with Dyslexia.  But, again, only some.  How frustrating.  But Ginger--you present some hope for the rest of us....

Konnie wrote that she appreciated the knowledge that those with Dyslexia can be successful.  Yes, that is true but we have to give the young student positive learning activities.  Too many young children with Dyslexia and other learning problems are overlooked as they are the quiet ones.  That is why I think identification is critical at an early age.  I'm hoping that early childhood classes can develop ways of finding those that may be Dyslexic early on.  Can you imagine being Dyslexic and not be able to see the syllables in a word in a phonics class.  I have colleagues with Ph.D degrees that tell me all the child has to do is look.  Not so, not so.  

Perhaps, Konnie, you would be interested in my opinion (I do not have data to support this point) that many Dyslexic people have a desire to be successful in spite of what life has handed them.  They have, in a way, a learning chip on their shoulder--saying to the world, I am not dumb, I am not lazy and I am not stupid.  So they work harder than others.  As I said earlier, they cope.


I do want to write about one of the best teachers I ever knew.  Quite frankly I have met many, many fine teachers.  As I have said earlier I really never met a poor teacher.  I am in awe of so many of them and I learned from most of them.  But one early on in my career stood out as one of the best teachers I would ever meet.

Jo (short for Josephine) was a fourth grade teacher when I was a fifth grade beginning teacher.  She was short, maybe five feet tall, very thin, with a thin hollow face that could beam at a child. She did have a smile that lit up the room or playground.  For some reason, she would quite often walk about with me on playground duty and we'd talk.  The kids adore her.  And so did the parents.  Every time the district tried to fire her, the parents packed, standing room only, the school board meeting and every time the board backed down.

For as I was to find out, Jo was an ex-first Lieutenant  in the U.S. Army.  One of the first woman officers in the Army in her role.  She was also an ex-nun of the Catholic Church--I forgot which Abby.  But not an ex-Catholic--her faith was very important to her.  But she was one of the best teachers I had ever known--so why did the school district repeatedly try to fire her?  Unfortunately she not an ex alcoholic.  I'm sure her being an ex in the other two professions was the result of drinking and I know that the district quite frankly didn't know what to do about her.  

Teachers at my school were required to be in their classroom at eight o'clock.  Jo generally made it by eight fifty nine and thirty seconds.  When the first school bell rang she would be in her classroom but it was close.  I'm pretty sure she never drank on the school campus but her breakfast I'm sure came out of the bottle and it wasn't milk.

Forget for a moment about her being an alcoholic--she was a teacher.  I will never know how she taught.  I would watch at times when my class was occupied in some other activity and they didn't need me for a short time.  I would stand in the back of the room and watch Jo.  All I ever saw was her walking around the room occasionally bending over to talk to one of her class.  They class was always a bee hive of activity.  Some kids would be reading out loud in a corner with other children listening, some would be doing work on the blackboard and others would be watching, some would be taking a test and the supervision was by a classmate or two.  I rarely saw kids not doing something.  What also impressed me was that children were grading other kids and putting grades in the grade book.  The kids were in charge of the grading!

Jo would tell me you teach everything by Thanksgiving and then all you do is review.  It took me some time to finally understand that what she meant was that you taught "how to learn" by Thanksgiving and then you just plugged in the subjects for the rest of the year.  I think they call it mega-learning now in the academic world.  But Jo had this all worked out in that she would teach her children how to perform and behave in a learning environment and the subject area would take care of itself.  And it worked.  

I can remember starting one fall, first day of my fifth grade and starting by saying, "who are Jo's kids?"  First thing out of the box.  And about five or six children raised their hands.  Then I said, "Okay, can you two get started on the lunch money and the rest of you help me pass out the text books--don't forget to get their names for each book."  And we got started.  Jo's kids.  I tried to continue throughout the year doing it her way but I never had the touch that she did.

I do think one thing she did was that she never, never talked down to a student.  She always treated them as responsible people and they responded that way.  She gave them space to learn.

But there were fun times because of Jo.  When she was ill and that was surely in January or February when she would get phenomena probably because of not eating, the principal would contact a substitute teacher to fill in for Jo.  The rest of us teachers would watch with glee as the sub would try to get control of the class.  The kids knew what to do and they went ahead like Jo was there.  Reading groups over there, math groups over here and the grade book was being passed around.  The sub would say something and the kids would say in return, "That's not how Miss T would do it."  And they go on their merry ways.  It would take a sub at least a week to figure out what was going on.  

But I do know that the kids learned and that the parents really appreciated her.  One other thing that impressed me about Jo--she mention many times that her faith was hers and not the children's.  We (the teachers) should never bring religion into the classroom except in rare occasions if it was about learning.  But I think she would think about it for a long time if she would ever do such a thing.  She was a duelist--faith was over here and teaching was over there and the two never came together.  

As Jo grew more ill from not taking care of herself, the school district became more concern as to what to do.  They finally made her a kindergarten teacher for a year but she became too sick and retired.  She soon passed away to the sadness of many of us.  Alcoholism is a tough racket and she could never beat in spite of her love for children.  

If there are any of Jo's kids out there, say a little prayer and be sure to thank her for what she gave you.  For the rest of us, be sure you thank a teacher for what they do.

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