Jamie Candee stood nervously at the back of the class in second grade. Would her teacher realize that she couldn’t read? Or worse, would she make her read out loud? Jamie had been in speech therapy intermittently as a part of an individualized education plan in her public school. It was clear she had trouble processing information, but the IEP program lacked consistency, which made it twice as difficult to accurately diagnose her learning differences. The best option for Jamie’s family was to work with the resources offered by her public school. While her parents were industrious and hard-working, private tutoring and evaluation services were expensive and out of reach. Looking back, as a second-grade student, she felt a little lost and unsure about how she would keep up with her peers.
Enter Mrs. Rubright, Jamie’s second grade teacher. Before Mrs. Rubright, Jamie didn’t think she could love reading. This teacher took the time to sit with her for months on end to figure out what was going on and to work with the school’s speech therapist to find a plan that would work for her. Jamie was one of the lucky students who had someone believe in her enough to personally oversee her development throughout the entire school year. Not only did her reading skills improve, but by the end of the year, she was reading at a fifth-grade level. “As someone with learning differences, I realized the power of one educator who cares enough to really work with a child,” Jamie said, her voice thick with emotion. “And that fundamentally changed the course of my life. I decided from early on that I was going to work as hard as I could to pay it back.”
Many teachers go into education to make a difference in the lives of children. In Jamie’s case, she lucked out over the years with a series of teachers who helped her work through her learning differences to ensure she kept up in class. Her father worked hard to provide for his family, went to night school to complete a college degree when Jamie was only six, and spent his career as a machinist and boiler operator. Her mom worked as a stylist at her own small hair salon. Because both of her parents worked 12–14 hours a day, Jamie was often with her brother at their grandmother’s house during the week. Though there was a lot of love in her house, she did not have the kind of additional familial resources she needed to get ahead. Most of her family graduated high school and immediately entered the workforce. Had Jamie chosen this path, it would have been perfectly acceptable. She was neither pressured nor expected to pursue a post-secondary education.
Without the influence of those teachers, Jamie questions whether she would have graduated high school. She also felt the weight of her parents’ sacrifice. She saw how much aptitude they had, but because they hadn’t continued in school, they were relegated to jobs that were below their skill level. She resolved to make them proud and to work hard to combine aptitude and a post-secondary education to pursue a career path worthy of her abilities. Her family situation no doubt fueled her innate need to achieve.
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