Meeting a Hero

Meeting a hero this winter…

When I was a little girl I was blessed with the best possible momma, sister, and daddy. I thought that they all walked on air from the time I was old enough to understand until today.  What you don’t realize as a child are all the little details we fixate on as adults. These are the things that make or break relationships in today’s world, and yet, why must we concern ourselves with things that are mere trifles in the grand scheme of life and the world.

What I was blessed with the most was a house hold that valued reading.

I was read to from womb until I left the house at age eighteen.

My father told me stories of his childhood at bed time, he read to me from the chapter books I selected as a pre-teen and continually read every book I was reading into high school.

My mother fostered a love for literature from infancy. I loved being read to by both of my parents and my sister. Those were some of the most vivid memories I can still feel when I slip into my mind’s eye today. The feeling of swinging in my mother’s skirt while holding the pages of the book up so she could read to me about Peter Rabbit or Benjamin Bunny.

While covered in chicken pox, facing another round of bronchitis at the age of six my sister waltzed into our folks bedroom and presented from behind her back, “Rescue Rangers,” the story of two brave little mice that save another fellow creature and jewel. I can still see he smile, tumbles of curls spilling over her shoulder while saying in a passing breath, “Here you can pass the time reading this with me, and you’ll soon look like this, once again,” as she passed my framed school photograph from the year before. Ha! Just what you want to be told when you feel like the creature from the blue lagoon.

Why share all of these strings of connectivity and literature?

Tonight I met a heroine of ours, my mom’s, my sister’s and mine. Patricia Palacco. Her book, “Mrs. Katz and Tush,” was a beloved favorite that I chose often at bedtime. I remember reading it to my nephew upon a sleep over occasion. We’ll have to revisit it sometime soon. Hearing her candid words about her youth, her learning disabilities, and her remarkable family, friends, and neighbors brought tears to my eyes this evening.

Happy tears.

Tears that made me smile, and nod, and spring forth a new well of emotions within me. Especially when she described her fourteenth year of life. The year that her deepest, darkest fear came to light, and a teacher reached out a hand to help guide her towards climbing a hurtle she had always felt was so formidable. The fear that she could not read.

She went on to describe Mr. Falker, who was really Mr. Felker in her junior high classroom in California.

I was brought back to my second grade year when my amazing mother said, “I’ve had enough of this not reading and not doing anything about it with your current school, we’re doing something now.” My mother researched, and read, and found a program at a private school that had major results for children with dyslexia.

I was the child in the classroom that had a keen ability to hear, see, and listen.  I memorized text. I repeated it, I evaded being called upon. I stumbled through the sounding out of words. I was being educated in the “whole language” classroom environment, and nothing clicked with phonics and phonemic awareness. I saw shapes, and negative space when told to sound out the word. It was not until the moment when with repeated practice, isolation of words into boxed in shape I could recognize these shapes as letters, then digraphs, and vowel combinations. Finally the sounds and the letters connected.

Patricia spoke of the moment when she finally made sense of the negative spaces that surrounded these “letters,” and the feeling of elation that followed. Realizing that a whole new world had opened up to her.

I can recall the first library chapter book I read that felt, I liken to climbing Everest. I had the best parents in the world. The most patient, supportive, and loving humans. They provided me with the tools for knowledge and they put in the work that needed to be done with me in order for my goals to be achieved. Without that reading program, Mrs. Lau, and my parents, I would not be a teacher today. I am not quite sure where I would be. But I do know that I wrote to my third grade teacher every year of my public school education. Every few years I send her a letter, and I receive a card in reply. When I graduated with my masters degree in teaching, the first person I wrote to after my sister, was Mrs. Lau, my third grade teacher. The woman who taught me how to read, and helped me make sense of the puzzle pieces that I finally knew where to place.

Thank you Patricia Palocco for sharing your stories all these years. I met you once in 1997 at the Lusac Public Library in Anchorage, Alaska. I can still see your face, your bun, and the back drop of the maroon curtains behind you in the basement hall. Life has a funny way of coming full circle. Tonight I showed you my book, signed by you in 1997, and I thanked you for doing what you do. Your stories have been read to every single class of mine every year. Each year before I read aloud her stories, especially in the winter months, I tell my students the following:

“I’m going to share with you one of my heroes. Now, this hero is an author. This author helped me feel like I was not alone. When I was a little girl I could not read, until third grade. Patricia Palocco’s words, her family, and her stories are one of my greatest joys to share in life, and now, I will introduce you to her work.”

You might wonder what the children think of her work? I’ll leave you with one word: riveted.

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Show me your numbers B.D.

What transpired in the last forty-eight hours is absolutely astounding, and yet, not surprising given the day in January when the government turned upside down. My lips drew into a firm line, and my left eye brow raised when I learned just whom was appointed to the highest position of education in our country. 

I would like to extend a round of disappointed applause to those in the Senate whom are absolutely tucked into the back pocket of a human being whom undoubtedly flaunts illiteracy, ignorance, and violent rhetoric about the very generation that will inherit the “thrown” said being sits upon today. I believe firmly in education, intellect, and action, however, I also believe in karmic retribution.  I believe that there will be a reckoning, and justice will prevail. The challenge is steep, the hill is vast, and yet I see glimmers of light still ahead.

One must persist.

When I sat and pondered upon the daunting decision I made in order to go into the field of education I came to a realization that it could be summed up into a matter of pure numbers, clear mathematics. 

I sat and thought more about my early days in this field of education and I asked myself, “How much time went into that year of graduate school and my first year of teaching?”  I decided to calculate rough facts, not calendar date by calendar date numbers, just to see for myself how much time actually went into my fundamental years of educational ground work.

It took me 1 year to decide upon, volunteer, pass exams, enter grad school, and 2nd year to work tirelessly seven days a week, graduate, apply to 200 jobs, interview in person for 10 jobs before I landed my first position in public education. Calculating my year of student teaching plus graduate studies work and my first year of teaching together roughly breaks down to: 24 months, roughly 720+ days, 17,280 hours, 1,036,800 minutes, and 62,208,000 seconds of teaching, planning, reading, grading, prepping, self higher educating course work, singing, collaborating, drawing, calculating, learning, sketching, growing, listening, loving, challenging, caring, counting, helping, band-aiding, smiling, cheering, underlining, circling, typing, standing, responding, hopping, skipping, whistling, herding, clapping, snapping, pointing, chanting, running, holding, IEP-ing, 504-ing, nurturing, embedding, and educating myself and students in the first two years of my education work. Multiply that times 8 years, as of now, and then I have the last decade of my life’s work in a nutshell calculated by time.

It took 1 week, 168 hours, 10,080 minutes and 604,800 seconds in order for a decision to be made that has the potential to derail the education system I have spent 10 years of master training work within.

I had continuous discussions with a mentor of mine about the current state of education as it stands today. I was continually told, “Hold on, hold out, the pendulum will swing back Rachel, I promise it will. I have seen it and I understand what you’re going through.”

I do not see a pendulum any longer.

I think it became stuck, far along the right hand side and cracked somehow. Much like the ticking hands of a clock stopped by someone’s gloved hand, as they pushed down upon the minute hand, our seconds flew by and yet we waited for the swing back or forward and it never came.

What the hell is going on? This is a common thought that goes through my brain when I pause to think about what has happened in three weeks time.

I was a child of the ’90’s. A product of public education. I experienced the push in of my peers who benefitted from I.D.E.A. I attended a public university for my bachelor and masters degrees. I am a public school teacher today. I have taught in Title 1, federally funded school programs for the last ten years. I cannot even count how many children, families, colleagues, and community members I have worked with any longer. It would make my head spin to think about all the beautiful, challenging, amazing, and ultimately human individuals I have crossed paths with.

But I can tell you one thing… not once have I had a public government official in my classroom. Not once.

Until this next month.

I invited the mayor to meet my students and read aloud a Dr. Seuss book on Theodore Gisselle’s birthday.

Chutzpah? I’ve got it. Right here. Right now.  Who are we going to befriend? Our own public official. I figured he might want to get to know some of his nine and ten-year old constituents. So why not now? Why not celebrate, and learn from his point of view, and he from ours.  I cannot wait to meet the leader of the town I live and work within alongside my 27 amazing students. He will surely be amazed by their intellect, humor, and courageous hearts. I know I am every day!

Children are our future.

As the witch said during the second act of, Into the Woods,

“Children will listen, and learn, and grow…”

Children are the generation who will inherit this great land and nation. Children are the essential component whom the country should focus upon. You know what is not essential?  Someone else’s money.  As well as someone else’s inability to understand the very fundamental vocabulary of the field upon which they will now be the head of. 

Perhaps I could send her a vocabulary list for homework? I think I will include the definitions because she’s going to need them. The first ten words will include a variety of nouns, verbs, and adjectives that one should familiarize themselves with prior to their first meeting with appraised individuals in education, and then the list for the following week will be a laminated definition sheet of ready to know acronyms used daily in the sphere of public education.

First up on her specialized non-IEP approved vocabulary list:

maieutics

Followed by:

benighted

Society, which do you truly value: education or money?

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