I was sitting at the dining room table with wide-ruled paper, a corrected draft of my writing in front of me, and a pencil – which I faithfully had chewed on all day – in my hand.
My pencil looked how I felt – chewed up and disposable.
Night after night, I sat in that dreadful chair. I HATED doing my homework. Regardless, there I was again having to rewrite another excruciating assignment.
My second grade teacher’s red ink dominated my paper. In the midst of all of the red, I could barely see my writing. It was being attacked by my teacher’s vicious red penmanship.
The letters I formed, the words I phonetically spelled out – d a t (that) – and the sentences I created – I thought made perfect sense to me – were not pleasing to her.
My paper depicted how I felt.
One word – Defeated.
I never had a chance.
When it came to homework, it was my dad’s responsibility to help. Back then, I wasn’t aware of this, but my mother was illiterate and she didn’t feel comfortable helping me.
My father worked 12 hour shifts- 6am to 6pm. Though, he never said so, I am sure the last thing he wanted to do was come home from a long, exhausting day at the factory and help his daughter with her homework.
But many times he did.
Sometimes he was patient, and then there were those times he wasn’t. He was tired and stressed.
I, his oldest daughter, was struggling to learn how to read and write, and he certainly didn’t want me to end up illiterate like my mother.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post- Breaking Barriers: A Mother’s Advice and a Daughter’s Dream- I was diagnosed with a learning disability in second grade..
I attended a Chicago Public School- Robert Fulton School in the Back of the Yards- neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago. In the early 1980’s the school population was 98% African American and 2% hispanic/white.
I was the quiet, timid hispanic girl, yet often times I was referred to as the “white girl”.
I had barely passed first grade. I can still remember my teacher- Ms. O’ Malley telling my dad, “she is passing, but I am recommending she gets evaluated next year for a learning disability.”
In second grade, my teacher assigned us to reading groups. I was in the lowest group. It was me and another student, but he read better than I. Everyone else had the more challenging books, while I had to read baby books.
During round robin reading- when students take turns reading sections of the text while the classroom listened and waited for their turn- I use to count how many students were ahead of me, so I could practice my paragraph. That strategy never worked for me. Somehow, I usually picked the wrong paragraph, and my teacher would get upset because I wasn’t following along.
I hated reading aloud!
As I struggled through the text, students would make their annoying moans, and shout out the word I was taking forever to sound out. My teacher would hush everyone, as she attempted to assist me with the word. Most of the times, she only allowed me to read two sentences because it was too painful for everyone, including her. One word sums up that experience- torture.
In the middle of second grade my special education services begun.
I remember the first time I met my special education teacher, Mr. Walker. I was sitting at my desk trying to read my book. I heard a deep voice coming from the doorway of the classroom-
“I am here to pick up Rosabel.”
I looked up from my book. There he stood… A tall African American man with dark sunglasses.
He had a dog with him.
During our first session, Mr. Walker told me he was blind. He introduced me to his seeing eye dog.
I can recollect my asking him- “If you can’t see, how do you read?” In my head, I was also wondering how he was going to teach me. I was quite puzzled.
Mr.Walker explained that though he was blind, he knew how to read.
He handed me a book.
I opened it.
Just a bunch of little round bumps.
I became even more baffled.
He explained to me how braille worked.
For two years, Mr. Walker read from his braille books, as I read from my books with printed words.
Mr. Walker invested in me. He gave me the necessary skills I needed to become a reader. He was patient, positive, and passionate. I usually left his presence feeling encouraged, motivated, and confident that I would become a reader.
Forward ahead to fifth grade.
I was no longer receiving special education services. I had become a proficient reader. I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on, especially Sweet Valley High books.
But, I still lacked confidence.
My fifth grade teacher was Mr. Moore. He was also African American. He was the personification of positivity.
He made every student feel extraordinary!
In his class learning was contagious!
Looking back, I know he was a believer- a Christian.
In class, we would daily sing church songs: “Kum ba yah, my lord, Kum ba yah”, “This Little Light of Mine”, and “He Got the Whole World in His Hands”.
We memorized and recited speeches: “I Have a Dream”, “Gettysburg Address”, and “Paul Revere’s Ride”.
We had to create our own speeches, and recite them to upper grade students.
Before I knew it, I was no longer that shy and timid “white girl” in the classroom.
I was confident. I was determined. I found my voice.
Mr. Walker and Mr. Moore were teachers that cared. I wish there was a way I could personally thank them. These men worked hard at their craft and I am fruit of their labor.
One of my favorite stories in the bible is Esther. God was never mentioned in the book of Esther. However, to quote John Piper- “…he is everywhere- the invisible hand that moves empires for the sake of his people.”
Looking back, I know my God was with me. He was behind the scenes orchestrating things on my behalf, placing people like Mr. Walker and Mr. Moore in my life.
As a teacher, I spend part of my mornings teaching struggling readers how to read. This is by far the most meaningful, delightful time of my day!
When we trust in Him, he makes all things work together for our good- even our struggles.
I could only hope and pray that God uses me to bless others the way he used those two teachers to bless me.
Books I recommend for students with reading difficulties:
“Thank you, Mr. Falker,” Patricia Polacco
“Junkyard Wonders,” Patricia Polacco