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ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

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Teaching and Joy

Edited by Robert Sornson and James Scott

Table of Contents

Chapter 14. The Birthday Card

by Caryn Edwards

The relationship between a teacher and a student offers special gifts to each. Caryn Edwards describes her special gift.

When I first began tutoring Clark in reading, I was impressed by his keen desire to learn to read. Clark was 56 years old and could only recognize the letters in his first name and print them in unorthodox fashion. All his life he had wanted to learn to read; but none of the programs had worked for him, including public school education, adult basic education, and numerous literacy programs.

During our initial session, I asked him what his goal was in reading—what did he want to achieve by learning to read? Clark told me that he wanted to be able to read the Bible. Knowing what a difficult reading task the Bible can be even for high-level readers, I realized my work was cut out for me. On the positive side, I had a highly motivated student, unwilling to give up even after numerous failures in other literacy programs.

Clark proved to be one of the most dedicated students I had ever worked with. He did daily homework before he went to his regular job. Monday through Friday, he would set his alarm for 5 a.m. to allow an hour of study before heading out to his construction job. He also worked on weekends. Clark had a severe learning disability, and even though the multisensory approach was working, he needed many reinforcing activities and lots of practice—his progress was painfully slow. But he never complained and was always enthusiastic and diligent during our sessions.

The first real breakthrough came several months after we had begun our work together. One night Clark arrived early, which wasn't unusual, but he seemed agitated. I could tell that he had something important to tell me; however, he didn't seem comfortable volunteering the information. Therefore, I progressed through the lesson as usual, waiting patiently for his news. Clark was so anxious that I was afraid he would quit. Finally, at the end of our session, Clark asked if we could talk. I said, “Sure, what's on your mind, Clark?”

“Something very important happened to me yesterday, Caryn, and I need to tell you about it,” he said. “It was my wife's birthday, so I went to the card shop for the first time to buy her a card,” Clark began. “We have been married for over 30 years, and for the very first time in my life I was actually able to find a birthday card for her. First, I went to the section that started with “B's” and I sounded out birthday. I have never been able to do that before, but yesterday I did it because you taught me about b, ir, th, d, ay.”

While Clark was telling me this, his eyes were aimed straight down at his shoes, but now he paused and looked right into my eyes and said, “Thank you.” Tears were in his eyes and I felt my own glistening. I cannot recall a happier, more rewarding moment in my teaching career. I had given Clark the gift of the written word, and he had used that gift to bestow a gift of love on his wife by selecting her birthday card.

Clark and I seemed to reach a new level of friendship after that day. He began bringing me a small token of thanks at each lesson. One time it would be donuts, once raspberries, sometimes cookies, or tomatoes, or flowers from his garden. We shared many happy moments as he discovered the world through the written word, and I rejoiced in each new skill he mastered.

I wonder if Clark ever knew that he had already given me the greatest gift a student can give a teacher when he allowed me to share in his joy and self-pride as he learned to read. The last time I saw Clark we read from the Bible together, but the memory of his learning struggles and his accomplishments remains and often provides a special strength that I can call upon when facing the many challenges of teaching a new “slow learner” to read.


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