Teaching My Baby To Read

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Ann Cameron, and Ravenswood Flashbacks

Bruce(7) and I both read Gloria Rising by Ann Cameron tonight, and loved it.

It tells the story of fourth grader Gloria and her friend Julian who must work hard to believe in themselves despite an emotionally crippling teacher named Mrs. Yardley.  Gloria Rising continues the storyline of characters from The Stories that Julian Tells.

Ann Cameron is also the author of The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, which is part of my Inspired by SLE reading list #2.

When I began my Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers I meant to review all of Ann Cameron’s Julian and Gloria books, but you’ll have to forgive me for letting Bruce do the rest of the reading for me.

The language and characters from Gloria Rising started inducing serious flashbacks from teaching in East Palo Alto. (An excerpt from The Stories Julian tells was part of the third grade Open Court reader, and I read it over and over again.)

I think my brain must try to protect my heart.

Normally I operate with a complete mental block of everything I witnessed in the Ravenswood School District. But if the door to my memory opens just a crack, then a lot of horrible stuff comes back. Hearing about Gloria and Julian again was just that type of trigger.

Tonight I’ve been thinking about eight year old Jose who was in my class for just two weeks and spoke no English. I watched CPS take him away in a police car when I found cigarette burns on his arms. I gave Jose a hug and never saw him again.

I’ve also been thinking about Lola, who slept on her kitchen floor and thought I was rich because my apartment had stairs. Lola was in the same class as Jaime, who suffered from untreated impetigo. That reminded me of the fifteen percent of my class that had peijos (lice) almost constantly. Maria’s mother told me she was going to be sent to Mexico, because peijos were too hard to get rid of.

I’m thinking of M—- who desperately needed special education services for Dyslexia, and didn’t receive help for five years. I wrote a letter to the lawyers who were suing the district because of their failure to offer federally mandated special education services. I wrote the letter in Spanish, and had M—‘s mother sign it because she couldn’t read either.

I’m thinking of our school facility that lacked smoke detectors and fire alarms, even though the library had just burnt down. I’m thinking of my friend “Amy Pike” whose classroom was robbed within the first month of school.

Most of all, I’m thinking of all of the veteran teachers I knew who were the opposite of Mrs. Yardley.

In Gloria Rising, Mrs. Yardley is a teacher on the verge of retirement. All she cares about is flashcards, studying, and making her students pass the standardized tests. There is no room for fun in her fourth grade classroom.

As a literary device, Mrs. Yardley is awesome. But in reality, she is nonexistent (at least in my experience).

The teachers I knew in Ravenswood fell into three classes: brand spanking new like me and full of hope, a few mid-career teachers who still hadn’t bothered to get their teaching credentials but knew they wouldn’t be fired (the school district was desperate for warm bodies), and veteran teachers who had been there for 30 years and were sticking it out because they loved children.

All of the teachers at my school were told over and over again that we were crap.

We were told that our students were failing the STAR test because we were worthless. We were told that if we took the third grade Open Court textbook and religiously followed it, that English Language Learners who had just arrived from Mexico and were reading at the Kindergarten level would miraculously pass the third grade standardized tests.

That was pure garbage.

It didn’t matter that Open Court had quality material written by fine authors like Ann Cameron; it was the wrong level material for our population of students. And when you deny children art, music, PE, field trips, their native language, and all of the rest that makes school wonderful, then you deny them a love of learning.

The real Ms. Yardley and her coworkers were teaching children what they needed to be taught on the sly. When the Open Court police came in they were on page 156 of Collections for Young Scholars. When the doors were closed they were making homemade books, teaching blending, and basic letter formation.

Still, that doesn’t help a whole heck of a lot if you only have a child for two months, because they are constantly moving back and force from Mexico because of poverty reasons.  Or if you have to teach third graders for a whole year in the cafeteria without a real classroom because the school district is too broke to purchase a portable.

The real Mrs. Yardleys taught me that children deserve to be 8 years old.

They do not deserve to be chained to their desks for seven hours a day cranking out worksheets and test-prep materials just because they are poor. Children deserve to be taught in a way that makes learning enjoyable.

That’s why if I was going to make a kite and tie a wish on the tail like Julian and Gloria do in the Open Court textbook, I know just what wish I would make.

I would offer my hope that all of my former estudiantes remembered what I tried to teach them; that learning was fun and that education was their best hope for a successful future.

And that I loved them.  Forever

Thank you “H” for this picture.


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