How My Second Grade Teacher Changed My Life

I was a weird child.

I didn’t realize this at the time.  I never understood what it was about me that was different. I guess I still don’t. I was different though, that’s for sure. For one thing, I was smarter than most kids my age. Intellectually and emotionally.  I know this SOUNDS like bragging, and it would be if it were still the case.  Alas, I was simply an early bloomer, and sometime in high school, everyone else caught up and began surpassing me.  Now I am of average intelligence intellectually and probably below average emotionally. When I was younger though? I had little use for kids my own age.

For example, I didn’t like playing Barbie’s with other people because they didn’t play right.  Barbie cannot fly.  She can’t be at home and then magically at the mall.  Girlfriend either has to get in her pink car and drive there, or bop up and down one jump at a time.  [Making her legs mimic actual walking was tedious, but, ‘cmon, you gotta put SOME effort into it.]

Also? I had this problem at what now-a-days is called “choice time” but I don’t remember what we called it. Free time?  A wild rumpus? That’s what it felt like, anyway.  Whatever it was called, it was the time in the day where you could pretty much do whatever you wanted.  In fact, this might have actually just been “indoor recess”, aka letting us run amuck in the classroom when it was gross outside.  This is where most children exercised their social abilities playing with tinker toys or board games.

I, however, chose to read.  Almost every time.

I remember one time, in second grade, I was sitting against the wall under the chalkboard, on the rug, engrossed in the book I was reading.  Though I remember with eerie accuracy exactly where I was in the room and exactly how the room was set up, I don’t remember what I was reading.  Knowing second grade me? Probably a Babysitter’s Club book. Or Goosebumps. I read every book in both series.  Anyway, I was pretty into this book and I was finding it hard to concentrate.  Everyone else was being so LOUD.  Laughing and yelling and playing.  Horrified at the situation, I marched my usually-soft-spoken self up to the teacher and informed her that I was having a hard time reading with the ruckus that these CHILDREN were making.  Hoping she would take pity on me and make everyone else be quiet, I was shocked when she basically told me to suck it up.  Of course, not in those words, because not only was I in second grade, I was also a teacher favorite.  (Not a teacher’s pet – big difference. I never actively sucked up to a teacher.  At least not before high school.  No, I was just smart and well behaved.  In fact, I was so well-behaved that it was a good thing I was smart.  Because if I was having trouble in school? I would have been that kid who falls through the cracks.  The kid you don’t even realize can’t read by 4th grade because they’re just SO well-behaved.)

Moving on… Upon telling me she had no intention of quieting the other kids down during the one time in the day they’re free to do as they wish, she gave me the best (and yet, the simplest) advice a teacher ever gave me, in all my years of schooling.

She said, “You have to learn to tune them all out.”

As a 23 year old, this seems almost silly.  Elementary, if you will.  However, at seven years old, it was something I had never thought about.  I looked at her curiously, and she followed up: “You have to focus on what you’re reading and let the rest of the world disappear.  Make your own thoughts louder than everything else going on around you.”

I considered this as I trotted my scrawny, blonde self back to my spot on the rug.  Maybe I wasn’t reading “out loud” in my head before. Maybe I wasn’t focusing enough. I’m not sure.  All I know is that from that moment on, the teacher usually had to call my name specifically to tell me it was time to get back to our seats, because I didn’t hear her when she addressed the whole class.  I had learned how to tune the world out and get completely and totally lost in a book.

It was the most useful skill a teacher had ever taught me, and one that I still use to this day, more than 15 years later.

Sometimes, when I’m snapped out of a trance that my most recent literary adventure has put me in by someone calling my name or my subconscious reminding me that I’m supposed to be paying attention to which train stop I’m at, I will think of this teacher and silently thank her.

She’s the same teacher who once told me that someday I would write a children’s book.  She also told this to a children’s book author who had come to our school to do a reading/signing for us.  She actually took me by the hand and brought me up to this author and introduced me, telling this stranger who, in my eyes, was just about the coolest person ever (I mean, she WROTE a BOOK. A book!) that one day, I would write a book too.  I had never even CONSIDERED that possibility until this moment.  Yet, since then, it had been a secret dream and goal of mine.  I have drafts written.

When I do write this book, (And I will. Even if it never gets published or circulated. I will write it, because she said I would)  I will dedicate this book to that teacher.

I don’t remember ever NOT knowing how to read. I learned before kindergarten.  I started learning before preschool, really.  Which, for those of you who didn’t go to school to learn about how and when children learned to read, is quite young.

But this teacher? She changed reading (and writing) for me. Forever. In the best ways possible.

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~ by Valerie Anne on 11/06/2010.

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