Former Students

I was reminded of this experience after I read Mare's post on her blog, Zoaring with Glinda.  She posted this quote from Haim Ginott.

My heart was racing at 150 beats of minute.  I couldn't seem to bring it down.  Having suffered from tachycardia (rapid heart beat) and arrhythmia for years, I usually can just soldier through these attacks.  This time,  the racing just would not stop.  I had my husband drive by the hospital on our way home from our walk.

After barely being able to walk into the emergency room, ready to collapse when I got to the window, I said, "After a walk, my heart began racing, I can't bring it down, and I'm going to collapse."  Immediately, a pulse sock was placed through the window, "Yep, it's racing."  I was in a wheel chair immediately and wheeled back to a room in the ER.

In came four nurses.  In came the doctor.  I was quickly placed on an EKG machine.  I didn't even know I got an IV.  I described my symptoms.  I tried to keep calm while I chewed the four baby aspirin.  Even on the EKG, my heart was still beating at 140.  Thankfully, it was not showing anything but normal sinus rhythm, but the doctor said we had to wait and see what the blood enzymes showed.  So, I tried to relax again and wait it out.

After all the emergency personnel exited, with a blood pressure cuff on one arm, an IV in the other, I was left alone in the room half dressed.  I think someone had barely covered me up, but I couldn't reach to finish the job.  

About then, a familiar looking young man walked into the room.  "Just checking on you," he said.  "I'm Nolan," he said.  Then his eyes went down to the floor as he quickly walked over to me and gently took the corner of my gown and snapped it at the shoulder.  "Yes, Nolan, I recognize you now," I say.  "Tell me your last name.  I've forgotten.  I had you in ninth grade English, didn't I?" 

In my mind's eye, I could see him sitting just a few seats up from my desk.  He was always a quiet, but respectful student.  It seemed odd to see him in my hospital room.  I felt so disheveled, so vulnerable.  My hair was a fright.  I had on no make-up.  I could barely form a sentence at that moment, let alone teach how to write one.  It seemed as if the tables had all been turned.  I was no longer the professional delivering services to my students.  I was now a patient, barely clothed, being attended to by a former student who was now the professional.

I apologized for my appearance.  I asked what he had been doing with his life.  I was happy to hear he had chosen to become an EMT and had finished the course of study.  All the time, I kept thinking how you just never know when one of those former students will show up.

Just before he left, I said, "Thank you for looking after to me today, and for checking on me.  I saw the concern in your eyes."  With a laugh, I added, "My husband has always says, 'Be nice to your students because you never know when they could be taking care of you in the hospital.'"  He smiled.  I then said, "I hope I was always nice to you."  His reply meant the world.  "Yes, Mrs. Wessely, you were always more than nice."

Respect for those we serve is best experienced on the receiving end.  I learned that lesson again when this young man's first move was to avert his eyes while he covered me up so I could maintain some measure of dignity in his presence.  

My Life As An Educator

In this post, I'm sharing an article that I wrote for the Fall 2010 issue of  "The Colorado Communicator," a newsletter for the Colorado Council International Reading Associate.  Serving as co-editor for this newsletter is one of my "retirement jobs."

My Life As An Educator

A photo from The Herald Democrat recorded my work with Head Start in 1965

During the summer of1965, just before I was beginning  upper level courses that I hoped would lead to a degree in elementary education at what was then Colorado State College, The Office of Economic Opportunity began an eight-week summer program that would launch Project Head Start.  Across the country, there was a rush to hire tutors and teachers to serve the over 560,000 children who would enter this newly created program.  It was my good fortune to be hired as a tutor to work along side of other  early workers in Head Start in beginning a “comprehensible program for preschool children that would meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs."
I wish I had kept a journal of those days because now, nearly 44 years later, my mind is a bit fuzzy about it all. Young and idealistic, I had great dreams about the kind of educator I would become.   Coming of age during the 60's,  I embraced the Civil Rights Movement and the "new" ideas about education, but I also respected and looked up to those who had been in education for a long time.  
My mentor for the summer of 1965 was Idelia B. Riggs.   As I reflect back on her now, I consider this consummate educator as one the best with whom I have had the privilege to know throughout my entire lifetime.  She must have been in her sixties when I was a young college student.  She had already taught everything from kindergarten to college.  She had even been the principal of a one-room schoolhouse at one point in her career.  
Mrs. Riggs knew what children needed to grow and to prosper educationally, emotionally and socially.  She embraced the ideals behind Project Head Start and imparted them to me as she spoke of all of the reasons why she believed the program could be successful.  
She said that the children of poverty in the our local area were beginning school without the skills that other children brought to school.  Sometimes, they didn't even know how to use indoor plumbing.  Yes, in 1965, in our program in Leadville, Colorado, some of the children did not have indoor plumbing.  We had to teach them how to use the bathroom facilities.  Many did not receive proper nutrition at home and were undernourished.  They lagged behind their peers in knowing how to grasp a pencil or how to turn the pages of a book. Many did not know the alphabet.    Many did not know colors or shapes.  They did not have group or personal social skills. 
Project Head Start’s comprehensive program was based on a belief that  school readiness was achieved by giving the children equal portions of playtime, story time, art activities, and basic academic preparation such as learning how to recognize and form letters through reading and writing.  
Our lead teacher, Mrs. Riggs was a very practical woman who put up with no nonsense from anyone.  Her character was stellar.  She saw her role as an educator as one as a public servant.  She was not interested in feathering her own nest or building her career.  She was there for the children she taught and for the families she served.  
In my mind's eye, I see her now.  She is wearing an apron with pockets so she would have "a place for those tissues to wipe a child's nose or tears," or as a place to keep stray crayons, pencils or rubber bands that she might need while she was teaching.  Patient, kind and loving, she was also demanding when it came to giving something your best efforts.  We ALL learned from her.   

Now that I have retired as a classroom teacher, it is nice to reminisce about those days of both my own personal and the national idealism that abounded  60's.   Mrs. Riggs, and the ideals of Head Start, greatly influenced my philosophy of my own role as an educator. I am grateful that I came of age as a person and as educator when programs like Head Start were new and fresh and perhaps idealistic.  Those early lessons and philosophies, rooted deep in my heart,  are still driving my passion today as I serve CCIRA in supporting teachers as they strive to make sure that all children are on The Road to Literacy.