Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Defining Moment ( no, not this picture...)
I am an actor. In between parts, I work as a teacher. Somehow, those inbetween times while waiting for my big break have spread to 25 years. Hmm. Pretty soon I will have to admit that I am a teacher, and in my spare time I act.I am a consultant for children and adults who have learning challenges. I have been teaching people with Dyslexia to read for the past 25 years, the last 12, successfully.I would have probably stumbled along, doing what I had always done for another 12 years if it hadn't been for Joshua. But there he was. Josh, you may never know the effect that a certain walk you and I took together back in 1995 had on me- my career, the rest of my life.This is one of the defining moments in my professional life, but first, the background.I was a special education teacher in an elementary school. I started working with Josh when he was almost 9 years old. He was a dark eyed pale skinned little boy with a mop of black hair. He was always smiling back then. He didn't say much but he noticed everything. Josh was in grade 4 and could barely read at the grade one level. What he did read was painfully slow and laborious, and he dragged out each syllable desperately trying different vowel sounds hoping to recognize a word. When he came across the same word further down the page, he didn't recognize it and started the whole process over again. The other children would roll their eyes and groan when it was Josh's turn to read. And these were children who had their own challenges.Josh grew more and more withdrawn over the year, and the smile slowly faded from his face. Josh continued to come down for special help all through grade 5. And 6. And finally grade 7. I adjusted what I was doing from time to time, and when the results didn't change much for Josh, I commiserated with his parents about how severe and stubborn his disability was. He wasn't smiling at all any more. In the spring of his grade 7 year, Josh and I took a walk down the lane to the high school. I was taking him to meet his new special education teacher. We were half way down the lane, when a wave of clarity hit me with such force that I gasped and stopped in my tracks. It was as though a cloud lifted and I could finally see what was in front of me. Poor Josh. I must have scared the daylights out of him. He stared, and then asked carefully, "Are you ok?". I stared back at him as wave after wave of understanding washed over me. What was I doing? What had I been doing for the past 4 years? Why was Josh still not reading, and why was I letting him accept blame for all of this? Didn't he come to school everyday, even though he knew someone would call him "stupid" at least once that day? Didn't he come prepared to sit through yet another day of feeling inadequate and confused because we asked him to? Didn't he come with renewed hope every day that this would be the day that he would finally "get" it? Yes, he did, because his teachers and I kept promising him that it would happen. I felt the heat of self loathing rise up in me. I felt like a cruel master who holds a treat just out of reach of a starving puppy... for 4 years. I had to fight to keep my professional wits about me. We went to the meeting with the new special ed teacher and while it was brief, my heart sunk even more. The high school philosophy was pretty much, "let them sink or swim". The special ed teacher talked about wanting to prepare Josh for the real world, and the real world wouldn't make things easy for him. It would be best if he figured out his own survival strategies. The sooner the better.