Teaching is NOT Fortune Telling

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dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

Disclaimer  #1: I could never be an elementary school teacher.  When I go to my seven-year-old daughter’s class 20 children seem like 100 children.  I cannot get out of the classroom fast enough.  All 20 of them are short, they run faster than me, and they are loud.

Disclaimer #2: There is no such thing as compulsory college.  If a student is rude and disruptive in my class thenI can just ask the student to leave.  If the student refuses to leave then I can call security.  After so many shootings at colleges rude and disruptive scares students and teachers.  K-12 teachers cannot follow the same practice and I am sorry they have to deal with such people.  They must get very tired.

That being said . . .

I did not really learn to read until I was seven-years-old.

My secret is out there now.  I was really a victim of phonetic spelling that was popular for a mercifully short time in first grade classes in 1968 in Little Rock, Arkansas.  What is phonetic spelling?  Look at a dictionary and see how the word is spelled in parentheses.  That is phonetic spelling.  I already knew the alphabet when I began first grade.  My father asked me to say my vowels before I went to sleep every night . . . A – E – I – O – U.   I could not understand why I was being asked to learn a new way of reading.  I did not see phonetic spelling again until an advanced grammar class in graduate school over 20 years later.

My best friend of over 40 years is named Wendy.  OMG. We are old. She was held back a year because she was also a victim of phonetic spelling. We bonded over our mutual misfortune. She is now a respected therapist in San Jose.

I was intelligent when I was seven-years-old.  If it matters, then I also went to Kindergarten at the Smithsonian.  Kids could do that back in 1967, particularly if their fathers worked in the Treasury building a block away.  I only remember big objects such as the paper mache whale on the ceiling and the stuffed elephant.  We had to walk single file holding onto a rope through hallways lined with polished oak bookshelves with glass windows.  There were lots of rocks on the bookshelves.  All that stuff is still there in the castle building at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.  My friend Liz took me to see it all again earlier this year.

I am intelligent now on my good days.  I am a college professor of sorts.  I am an adjunct college teacher.

I did not really learn to read until I was seven-years-old.  You are not a fortune teller.

I wanted to scream that bolded statement at the top of my lungs during a parent-teacher meeting at my youngest child’s school.   She is a year behind on her reading skills.  This does not surprise me because as I said . . .

I did not really learn to read until I was seven-years-old.  You are not a fortune teller.

During that meeting the teacher was trying to explain to me the importance of developmental skills and hitting benchmarks.  Apparently, if my daughter  does not hit these benchmarks there is cause for concern that she won’t ever catch up.

Right then and there, to borrow a phrase from the song “Losing My Religion,” I thanked a “God I don’t believe in” that I am just a plain old adjunct college teacher who teaches writing.  Period.  I teach writing.  It is my job to help 18, 25, or 30 people  (class sizes differ among schools) who enter class one week and leave 15 weeks later to learn how to write essays etc.  I do not have to predict what will happen to them in their lives after week 15.  I don’t have to determine if they will be successful . . . if they will fall in love . . . if they will win the lottery.

During this meeting the teacher/specialist asked a lot of personal questions about my pregnancy, former marriage, as well as my daughter’s eating habits and clothing preferences.  She wanted to know what time my daughter went to bed at night.  I guess I understand that because my youngest daughter is an old soul.  During the first five years of her life she lived through screaming parents, a nasty divorce, and her mom almost died of cancer twice.  That could stunt someone’s growth and cause emotional tension and worry.

I still hated that meeting and hating answering personal questions for this stranger who wrote down the answers and put them in a “permanent record” somewhere in the elementary school buiding which rumor has it is chock full of “permanent records.”  I refused to answer the questions when they became about my personal perhaps sex life as in “tell me if you have a significant other.”  I said that was irrelevant since my daughter does not date and does not meet my dates.   She is seven-years-old.  She does not date.  The teacher/specialist asked again and I told her the question was intrusive and irrelevant.

I do not do parent/teacher conferences well.

Again as a college teacher I am blessed by something called FERPA or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  If a student is over 18-years-old  then I can’t talk to parents about grades or even admit I ever met a student unless the student completes a form and a Dean of some sort is likely consulted.  This is true even if parents are paying for tuition, a car, food on the table, and an apartment.  This angers some parents.  I am BLESSED and have no desire to ever be a college administrator.  They earn their salaries because they have to talk to parents.

I have an older daughter who is now 18-years-old with a Kindle filled with Shakespeare plays that she reads for fun. She downloaded The Heart of Darkness the other day because someone told her it was good reading.  When she was seven-years-old  I erupted with a bolded statement similar to that I kept to myself this time around.  Her second grade teacher who was teaching second grade for the first time told me said daughter would never learn to read and write well unless she could spell well.  Huh?  I asked her how she knew this and she showed me the page in her teacher workbook that told her so.  I then told her about the hundreds of studies she could find say on Google Scholar or in the university library indicating that spelling well has no bearing on if one can learn the rhetorical skills necessary to write well.  There are people in the world who know no spoken let alone written English and they write well.  Maybe even more than a few such writers exist since libraries have been in existence since say the ancient times of Alexandria, Egypt.

I informed her that I earned a Ph.D. specializing in Rhetoric and Composition and the author of her workbook was incorrect.

My former husband who is a career politician/diplomat then started handling teacher conferences.

I did not really learn to read until I was seven-years-old.  You are not a fortune teller.

I feel better now.

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