Since school is starting back up again, I thought this would be a great time to talk about my horrible first grade teacher. Also, my friends Jason and Cate have a post up on their book blog about what turned you into a reader; commenting on that post led to this post.
Unlike now, children did not enter into kindergarten knowing how to read. No, back in 1991 kids were still learning about the sounds letters made in kindergarten. Real reading (from actual books and not the early 90s equivalent of Bob Books) wasn’t supposed to start until first grade.
Or that’s what my mom understood until she realized that all the kids in my first grade class learned to read over the summer. So I got placed in the red reading group (red for warning problems I’m sure). This wouldn’t have been a problem and I probably would have learned to read just fine except for the fact that my teacher, Mrs. N we’ll call her, was a complete and total B-I-T-C-H. I’ve blocked most of that year out but from what I remember, she made me feel about an inch tall every time we “worked” on reading. I was constantly made to feel dumber than the rest of the class (including the kid who put glue on his arm, peeled it off, and then ate it). I started going home sick with a stomachache all the time and it somehow came to light (years later) that I had an ulcer. At seven. Because of my first grade teacher. Instead of helping me learn to read, she told my mom that she thought I had a learning disability and needed to get help.
My mother, who doesn’t take shit from anyone, knew that wasn’t true. She knew that her smart-assed, overly verbal daughter did not have any sort of learning disability and took it upon herself to teach me to read over the summer. I have very good memories of us reading books aloud in the car and of her finding me books that she knew I would like. By the end of the summer, not only was I reading well, I was plowing through books several grade levels harder.
I never got over the way Mrs. N made me feel. Even though I was only 7 and didn’t realize exactly what was going on, I knew that I didn’t like her and that she wasn’t a good teacher. I knew that I felt ridiculed and inferior to the other kids in my class. Every so often I like to image running into Mrs. N somewhere like the grocery store and being able to give her a piece of my mind. Being able to tell her that the little girl she thought was stupid actually grew up to be rather smart.
I’d like to tell her that I
- was in an enrichment program in third grade; reading enrichment no less
- was on a ninth grade reading level at age 10
- took 4 AP classes in high school, passed the tests, and got college credit for all of them
- made a 34 (out of 36) on the reading portion of the ACT
- got a full tuition academic scholarship to two major universities
- graduated magna cum laude from college
- was paid to go to graduate school
- taught children how to read (ha! this one makes me almost gleeful)
- became a freaking librarian
Despite her horribleness, I grew up to be someone who loved books and learning so much that I made it my career. I would love to tell her that I spend my days reading and synthesizing medical literature. I would tell her that one of the reasons I tutored for so long was so that no child should ever have to feel as humiliated as I did at such a young age. I would tell her that I hoped I was the only child she ever educationally tortured (though I doubt it).
And then I would tell her to shove it.